Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

March Booklist

Reviews may be even shorter than usual this month (busy! lots of books read!) but as always, feel free to ask for more details about any of them.
1. The Price of Everything: solving the mystery of why we pay what we do, Eduardo Porter
Not as compelling as some of the other similar books I've read (the titles of which I cannot remember now, of course). But certainly interesting as far as talking about the psychological aspects of spending.

2. The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, Sheril Kirshenbaum
Surprisingly boring. I know, RIGHT?

3. Maskerade, Terry Pratchett
Hahahaha, Opera Ghost! Or rather, Opera Ghost!!!!! <----- five exclamations, notice. Classic Pratchett, excellent as both a spoof of Phantom of the Opera and a straight-up British humor/fantasy book. Again I say unto you: if you've never read a Terry Pratchett book, DO SO NOW. Thank you.

4. Black Heels and Tractor Wheels, Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman, is hilarious. Her love story isn't high literature and there's a fair number of eye-rolling parts (how many times to you need to tell us how great MM looks in tight jeans?), but ... well, she's our PW, and we love her. I laughed out loud so many times during this book.

5. City of Bones, Cassandra Clare
After Clockwork Angel I was eager for more of the Shadowhunters world. But City of Bones started out and it was so modern-day and there were people in nightclubs and riding motorcycles in leather miniskirts (or was it the people in nightclubs with the miniskirts?) and ugggh. The first half draaaaged and it wasn't really the book's fault  - it was mine for expecting it to be all steampunk like Clockwork Angel. But then I got into the characters more and by the end I couldn't wait to get to the sequel. [see #8]

6. Bitter Seeds, Ian Tregillis
THE ENDING YOU GUYS. Give me sequel. NOW. Definitely some creepy alt.history (WWII setting: what if the Germans had created a strange race of superhumans? And what if the British had warlocks on their side?) It took a little time to get really interested in it, and I would have left out the strange warlocks-of-Britian bits, and I wanted more details on the experiments that created the superhumans, but basically ... I just want more of the story. Also, it totally wins for Awesome Cover Art.

7. A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
Audio book, read by the author - a real treat, although there is something odd about Bryson's accent that would catch me off guard now and then. Basically, I love how he can make any topic interesting... Including weeks and weeks of hiking. I almost wanted to go hike the Appalachian Trail after finishing the book ... but notice I said "almost."

8. City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare
[See #5] I need book three now but it's checked out. =\

9. Anne of Windy Poplars, L. M. Montgomery
Obviously a re-read. I used to read the entire series every October until I was overcome with panic at Too Many Books Too Little Time and stopped rereading things unless I had a really good reason to. So I hadn't read them in years and I was missing them and finally realized you don't have to read the entire series at once, it is perfectly acceptable to pick one at random and read it alone. So I did.

10. The Girl in the Gatehouse, Julie Klassen
Oh good GRIEF. Why do I do this to myself. It's Christian romance, the lovely cover art of which tempted me into listening to the audio book. I found the reader annoying, which didn't help, but the story was about twice as long as it needed to be, and was full of all kinds of un-period moments and attitudes and just ... ugh. Skip it.

11. How Young Ladies Became Girls, Jane Hunter
A bit on the dry side of intellectual as far as reading for pleasure, but what a collection of information regarding the changing status of girls/young women in the Victorian period. Highly recommended. And now I'm going to go sell my copy on half.com because it's apparently assigned reading in a lot of women's studies college courses, and thus will fetch me much monies. (YAY half.com.)

12. Only You Can Save Mankind, Terry Pratchett
Pratchett wrote best for kids in the Tiffany Aching books, but this series isn't bad. Cool idea (video games might be ... reality? At least for the characters inside them?) and full of the usual wordplay.  [see also #16]

13. Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, Jessica Kerwin Jenkins
A lovely collection of exquisite things (lingerie, red lipstick, pillow books, the art of hot-air ballooning, water fountains.) Gentle, thoughtful, and contained within two gorgeous red-and-silver covers.

14. Among Others, Jo Walton
This wins Book of the Month. Such a beautiful, moving book - and one that really shows (as if we doubted) that fantasy can be literary too. I'd compare it to Thirteenth Tale or The Swan Thieves except that it's nothing like them save in quality of writing and the ability to keep you up late, late into the night, reading yourself into this haunting and wonderful world.
My love for this book is also not hurt by the fact that Walton dedicates the book thusly: "This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people." Awww. In a way the whole book reads sort of like a love letter to libraries, in appreciation of how even the "weird kids" can find a sense of belonging and acceptance there among the stacks.
Also, Walton is clearly a huge sci-fi/fantasy buff, and the book are full of moments that will have other such fans geeking out.
I did not buy a book called Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson, which has the temerity to compare itself, on the front cover, to "Tolkien at his best." The back cover attributes the quote to the Washington Post, a newspaper whose quotations will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they? And how dare the publishers? it isn't a comparison anyone could make, except to say "Compared to Tolkien at his best, this is dross." I mean you could say that about even really brilliant books like A Wizard of Earthsea.

I read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in bed last night. I intended to read it quickly and be able to thank Deirdre for it, but it turns out to be hilarious and also wickedly clever, so I could thank her sincerely, because I'd never in a million years have picked it up for myself, as it looks like total tosh. I wonder if the book group have read it?

Finished LotR with the usual sad pang of reaching the end and there being no more of it.
Ya'll, I love this book. Read it.

15. Pop Goes the Weasel, Albert Jack
A collection of histories behind popular children's rhymes and songs. It seemed largely anecdotal, with little in the way of hard facts. The author was always saying "It seems to me ..." or "I think that ..." and therefore while it was interesting to think about some of the conclusions, I accepted very little of it as being actually likely.

16. Johnny and the Dead, Terry Pratchett
[not quite as good as #12. But yanno, it's Pratchett, therefore it's good. Why no, I'm not biased. He's just bloody brilliant, that's all.]

17. Bittersweet: thoughts on grace, change, and learning the hard way, Shauna Niequist
I find myself thinking of Ms. Niequist as the female version of Don Miller. She's so honest and real, with none of this "If you're a Christian, everything will always be okay, life is great, I have no worries" kind of attitude. She lets you know that it's okay to hurt, it's okay to mourn, it's okay to cry, life isn't always perfect but we cling to Christ anyway. Also, she's just a really great writer, and I'm always happy to see really great writers who just happen to be Christians. [see #10 for the opposite. And don't get me started on my Why Is Christian Fiction So Poorly Written, Really Shouldn't We Be Doing BETTER in the Arts than Secular Folks rant.]

18. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
I think this one has garnered a lot of controversy for no reason - it's not nearly the kind of book it's been portrayed as in a lot of reviews. Would I want Amy Chua as a mother? No. But then, I think I was happier as a child pursuing 2340923 different random interests rather than focusing on becoming the next violin prodigy to the exclusion of almost everything else. But is Amy Chua a horrible mother? Also no. And while I wouldn't parent the way she does, she makes some points worth pondering:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it's crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because children will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.
To be honest, I sometimes wonder if the question "Who are you really doing this for?" should be asked of Western parents too. Sometimes I wake up in the morning dreading what I have to do and thinking how easy it would be to say, "Sure Lulu, we can skip a day of violin practice." Unlike my Western friends, I can never say, 'As much as it kills me, I just have to let my kids make their choices and follow their hearts. It's the hardest thing in the world, but I'm going to hold back. Then they get to have a glass of wine and go to a yoga class, whereas I have to stay home and scream and have my kids hate me.



( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2011 11:10 pm (UTC)
I see that there is a Don Piper Ministries (I had to look it up), but I wonder from your context if you meant John Piper (of Desiring God Ministries)?

I like your parenthetical thought that Christians ought to be better artists than secular artists. Good call. I think one reason the secular artists end up better at their art is because, not having God, they tend to turn to their art when dealing with the brokenness of life on this world. They count on their art to bring meaning, purpose, answers, or hope, and so are more driven to make it work.

[Edit: Simplified my grammar.]

Edited at 2011-04-07 03:44 am (UTC)
Apr. 7th, 2011 09:19 am (UTC)
I'm glad you said something - I forgot to fact-check that bit (I'm bad with author names!). I really meant Don MILLER, of Blue Like Jazz fame. Editing the post now!
Apr. 7th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
Ha-ha! What's funny is that after I wrote that response, I was mentally kicking myself, thinking that of course a librarian wouldn't aimlessly misname an author; how presumptuous of me to suggest such a thing! ;-D But from what I saw of Don Piper, what he seemed to be about just didn't seem to fit. At least I got that much right.
Apr. 8th, 2011 01:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, Mattie, don't ever feel presumptuous! I get a ton of things wrong and I want you to help keep me in line. :)
Apr. 6th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
That quote about Donaldson bumped "Among Others" to the top of my list. To date, "Lord Foul's Bane" is the only book I have ever thrown across the room in disgust with.
Apr. 7th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
I owned a ton of Donaldson books at one point (foolishly bought about six of them, assuming I'd like them) but never read any of them. I just couldn't do it.

Fantasy publishers ought not be allowed to compare ANY book to Tolkien. It's preposterous.
Apr. 7th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
I'm the same way with the Anne series. It used to be that I had to read all of them. I no longer have time for that, but nor can I stay away from them altogether, so my favourites get pulled out every so often.
Apr. 7th, 2011 09:28 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you're part of the "race that knows Joseph." :)
Apr. 7th, 2011 09:36 am (UTC)
Likewise :)
Apr. 7th, 2011 10:30 am (UTC)
I'm the same way!
Apr. 7th, 2011 10:32 am (UTC)
I'd send you the third City book if I still had it! Oh well. Apparently there's now a fourth one, but I haven't read it yet.

So glad you liked Bittersweet! :)
Apr. 8th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
A fourth! I'll have to check into that.
Apr. 7th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)
I thought about picking up The Girl in the Gatehouse, but it sounds like the other one I read by her. Way to long.:P
Apr. 8th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah. =\ Too bad!
Apr. 11th, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
That whole "Tiger Mother" thing is so bizarre to me (although I certainly know some families exactly like that - even western families). It's strange, though, because being a violin prodigy (and other similar "feats of talent") is a humongous waste of time, in my opinion. It impresses the Jones's but delivers virtually nothing of any actual lasting value.

The Atlantic did a whole series of articles on the problems of the whole Tiger Mother concept that were quite good. One was by a Chinese mother who decided not to be that kind of mom. She talks about how there are no great Chinese composers. Why? Because the Tiger Mother method simply teaches children to be really good at copying what others have done. That's the whole Chinese mindset in a nutshell really. Accurate copying = talent. When my wife taught English there she had a huge problem on her hands with students plagiarizing. They simply didn't see what was wrong with it. Copying another's good work was practically the same as creating your own good work in their mind. They couldn't hardly believe her when she told them if an American did this they would be kicked out of the University.

In reality, the truly great artists, musicians, writers, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs were all the opposite of this. Sure, they learned what they could from the greats of the past, but they also knew they had to strike it out on their own as well. The "Tiger Mother" approach doesn't really provide for this. It's kind of a "safe" approach. It'll make sure your kids are good at one particular thing... but they'll never really be great at it. Not in the true sense of the word. Not in a way that will actually make a change in this world.

If all you care about is impressing your neighbors, the Tiger Mother approach is a good one. If you actually care about having kids who might actually change the world, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Nobody cares about some one who is a technically great violinist. Nobody cares about someone who can multiply large numbers in their head very quickly. These things impress other parents, but they don't impress employers or anyone else of importance. Memorizing facts and copying others is not the way of the future. Any computer or robot will be able to do those things. Tiger mothers are going to be sorely disappointed in the future as their children get mediocre bureaucratic jobs, while the children who were taught to be creative, explore and innovate end up making a name for themselves.

By the way, I completely disagree with her when she says "Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." That's utter baloney. I was an awful computer programmer when I started to learn it as a child... but I loved it. Now I do it professionally, and I love my job. (I'm also way better than I was a child.) I had to re-learn a lot of things when I got into college, and I've had to really work hard at times, not always loving what I was doing, but I always knew it was what I wanted to do. The idea you have to force something on to kids, and that some day they'll eventually like it simply because they are better at it than other people is nonsense, IMHO.
Apr. 11th, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, I should add that thankfully not all Chinese families are like this! A lot of them understand the need to diversify, and to encourage creativity, etc. Conversely, I've known plenty of western families who fall into the same Tiger Parent trap.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )