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(read by michael unless otherwise noted)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.
Q.B. VII by Leon Uris.
The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien.
1776 by David McCullough.
Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason.
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
Trinity by Leon Uris.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White.
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
The Earth and Sky of Jaques Dorme by Andrei Makine, translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan.
Dostoevsky - His Life and Work by Konstantin Mochulsky, translated from the Russian by Michael A. Minihan.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, translated from the Italian by William Weaver.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
Requiem For a Lost Empire by Andrei Makine,
translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan.
Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen.
North To Freedom by Anne Holm.
A Hemingway Odyssey: Special Places in His Life
by H. Lea Lawrence. You couldn't truthfully call me a real Hemingway fan. I've liked the stories and books I have read, but I really haven't read many. Based on these last few reviews though, you could probably assume I was a pretty big fan. I picked this book up, as I recall, because I had seen something about a Hemingway story called Big Two-Hearted River, and being a sucker for good titles, I was interested in reading it. This book featured that story, which is excellent by the way, but is mainly about the author's travels to the different fishing locations in Hemingway's stories and life. It was actually pretty interesting for me to have read some of the stories that the author identifies, locates, and travels to. If I hadn't known about the locations or stories myself, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed the story as much, though it is mainly about fishing which I enjoy. It was also interesting as a sort of travelog/biography of Hemingway, about whom I knew very little. Soon after I read this book I was invited with my father to go deep-sea fishing in the Atlantic which I had never had the opportunity to do before. It was a great experience that I meant to write about on this site at the time, but now have forgotten much of the details of. It was however, exciting to be a part of something that I had read about in detail and to put some of that knowledge and experience together, much like my brother and I in europe in the same places as the previous book. We caught a lot of dolphin fish (also known as mahi-mahi and dorado) and pure albacore (tuna). The tuna cooked briefly on a grill was unbelievable. The memory of the book hasn't stayed with me very well, but I was recalling the short story recently and I re-read it again only. It wasn't as good as I remembered, but it was still very good.
The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway. As I stated about the previous review I first read this book in high school. I've read it again every few years since then because something always draws me back. I can't say what that is specifically, just that I really enjoy the book and desire to be back in that place that every so often. See, when I read a good book, I often get caught up in it; I feel what the characters feel and I can visualize the places where they are. I remember first reading this book in study hall, in the band room, where there was a bunch of folding chairs and lots of floor space. Plus there were about 6 of us in the study hall, so we had plenty of room to spread out. We would often lay on the floor and read to pass the time. I would open The Sun Also Rises and read a few pages and be put into such a contented state that I would put the book down on my chest and close my eyes and doze off. It wasn't because the book was boring, it was because my mind was so caught up in the story I couldn't really read it anymore, I had to see it. This happens to me a lot. And because of this I'm a fairly slow reader- I start to think about other things while I read, thoughts brought on by what I'm reading. Or I start to think about the time and place and characters more so that what is written on the page. I think I like this book so much, in part, because it was the first book that really gave me that ability to think more that what was just written on the page. I also like the story of course, which I haven't talked about at all. And I didn't give any background where I got the book itself, like I used to. It's been such a long time since I've done this, I've lost my way. I found this book at my grandmother's house in Rehoboth, Delaware. As anyone who's ever talked to me about it knows, that place meant a lot to me. I found the book in a desk in the room I liked to stay in while I was there. That desk is now in my room in my family's house, strangely enough.. though perhaps not surprisingly. I found the book and took it with me one time and eventually read it as an assignment for my freshman english class. I liked it a lot, but I wasn't really sure why. I remember liking how the characters would be drunk a lot and sort of wanting to be in that state, though never have had a drink myself. I liked the love sub-plot that acted like more like the main plot. I liked the bull-fighting and I particularly liked the idyllic fishing scenes and the time spent with the Basques. Like I wrote before, I identified heavily with the main character, though for no reason other than you are reading from his point of view, and so I felt like I experienced those things. I still do. When I was in europe, my brother and I visited a few of the locations from the book, not as a book-oriented tour, but because the locations still seemed worthwhile, even three quarters of a century away.
The Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway. I first read this story back in high school. I
can't really remember why except that I had already read Hemingway's The
Sun Also Rises and enjoyed it, plus this looked rather short which I'm sure was appealing at the time.
I've read it again since then and now this is probably my third or
fourth reading of it. It's not that I like it so much that I have some
need to read it repeatedly, but as it is so short and tells such an
interesting story, I guess I've just felt the desire to pick it up again
every so often. The case this time was that I was thinking about fishing
for some reason and this book came to mind. I've always enjoyed fishing,
the time spent alone over the water with your thoughts or chatting with
a friend and not having to think about anything at all. This is indeed a
very solitary story about fishing, where an old Cuban man has fished for
many days without a catch and is thought of as having bad luck. But when
his luck changes, he is the only one around to contend with it, and in
many ways begins to feel an affinity towards his adversary and a oneness
with it in their struggle. It is a simple story (I try not to give too
much away in these little reviews even if most people have already read
a book like this), but one that I have enjoyed many times, mainly
because of the way Hemingway describes the scenes so completely and
imbues the old man with a wisdom and earnestness that is difficult not
to admire. Maybe it is because it is so simple that it can be so
interesting, because so much in life, the seemingly simplest of things
can have so much meaning to us.
Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
by David Sedaris. I started this set of stories awhile ago and have finally gotten
around to finishing it. That's not a reflection on the quality of the
book, I often get distracted by other books when reading stories (see
Italian Neighbors). In any case I enjoyed this one quite a bit when I
finally buckled down and read it all. It's not quite as good as Me Talk Pretty One Day, which is my favorite Sedaris collection of stories, but it
comes close. I think it's his stories about his own family that I find
the most amusing (especially about his father and brother), and Dress
Your Family has a number of those, as did Me Talk Pretty. The
stories about his childhood I find end up being more strange than funny
and even a bit melancholy, though they do lend a lot of insight into the
person you end up reading about as an adult. But it's his stories of his
life as an adult that I like the best, and often these revolve around
contact and conflicts with his family. His experiences in Me Talk
Pretty were often so strange they bordered on being outlandish, you
couldn't tell if he was making parts of it up. With
Dress Your Family you get more perspective on his life in general
and how it is currently, and I think you finally get a more complete
understanding of who David Sedaris really is. Of his three major
ranks the lowest in my opinion, because it involves more stories of his
childhood, which as I said, I don't find as good. I know this
mini-review doesn't do much to tell someone specifics about the book who
doesn't already know the author, but if you haven't checked him out
already I'd recommend both these Sedaris books highly because they are
quite bizarre, and very funny.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
by Michael Chabon. I was astounded by how good this novel was. The
intricacy of the story, the ingenious use of historical events to guide
certain segments of the story, and the combination of heroism, reality,
and comic books all coalesce to form a work that I can't help but think
of as a work of genius. I don't really even remember why I picked this
book up, other than I heard about it a few times from various sources
and thought I'd check it out. I'm certainly glad I did too, because this
has been one of the most rewarding reading experiences I can recall
having lately, and that's saying a lot since I've read a number of good
Kavalier & Clay is the relationship between Joe and Sammy: two
cousins, one from Queens and one from forced from Prague by the second
World War, brought together by the artistry and storytelling of comic
books at their zenith in the 1930s and 40s.
I would put this one on par with
Memoirs of a Geisha,
because of their shared focus on historical detail, in addition to the
incredible storylines surrounding the main characters. Both are epic in
scale too, which is not necessary in telling a good story, in my
opinion, but with both of these, the scale certainly seems like a
necessity. I was never really a huge fan of comics as a child, mainly
because I rarely got my hands on issues in the super-hero vein (like
Superman and those featured in this book), but I still was
enthralled by this novel and can imagine anyone else would be who read
Love and Longing in Bombay
by Vikram Chandra. I picked up this series of stories at a library book
sale, basing my purchase solely on the look of the cover and the blurb
on the back of the jacket. It's funny though, because I never really
looked at the cover until halfway through the book, which was several
months after I bought it. I had just noticed the colors initially, but finally
realized it was small pyramids of colored spices or sand; really quite
interesting and much more so than I had realized. And that is how the book
was too- much better than I had envisioned it being. As a whole it is 5
stories told to the author by an ancient storyteller in Bombay, all
taking place in or near Bombay... anywhere from 50 or 60 years ago to
now. They all seem to have elements of mystery and suspense, but mainly
they deal with issues of love and loss, the troubles of memory,
life and death, and the idea that however much things have changed over
the years, human relationships really have not. Written delicately, with
wit and suspense, I look forward to reading more of Chandra's work, he
really seems, at least in these stories, to understand the craft.
Memoirs of a Geisha
by Arthur Golden. Telling the life story of one of Kyoto's Geisha would
be a difficult task for any author, let alone an American one who
seemingly has no connection to Geisha or to life in the 30s and 40s in
Japan. But Golden is not only up to the task, but tells this fictional
life story with the grace and delicacy that you would assume of a woman
would could perform a meticulous tea ceremony or balletic fan dances. He
is also able to describe life in the Gion district in Kyoto during the
years of the depression and after in such a way that you begin to
believe that if this woman did not really exist, then someone else was
able to tell this writer exactly how they lived. However it came to be,
it really is a remarkable work, and a compelling read. The storyline
does have a tendency to read like a fairytale at times, but that doesn't
really detract from the story. It actually adds to the idea of fate
brought up in the novel, that much of what happens is destined, for
better or worse. It also adds to the fantastic nature of the book, at
least for me- Japanese culture already very foreign to me, and the
stories in this book do a lot to explain things, but also add to the
mystery that makes that society so different from mine. In all I found
it not only a fascinating book, but also very engaging and a good story
to get into.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
by Dai Sijie. I finished this book in 2 days, I could barely stand to
put it down. It is not the best book I have ever read of course, but it
was one that I found immensely enjoyable. Two Chinese teenagers are
relegated to a peasant farming/mining town following the Chinese
cultural revolution. They are sons of doctors, and along with the
children of any other culturally elite parents, be they writers,
teachers, doctors, or anyone else deemed to be an enemy of the state,
these boys are to be "reeducated" by the peasants, learning to be one of
the people. The odd thing for these two is, once they had come to the
age of higher-level formal education, the schools had been closed. So
for them the "reeducation" wouldn't serve to eliminate any information
anyway. But they make the best of the situation becoming the village
story tellers and befriending others that gain them more education than
they could have ever gotten at school. The novel is quick-paced and I
soon grew attached to these two, and was fascinated by how they were not
only able to get by, but also meet and make friends with the beautiful
little Chinese seamstress and read and keep learning more about the
western world. The book claims the author went through the same
reeducation in the 70s as these boys, so I assume there is a lot of
autobiographical truth in it, and that only serves to make the story
stronger. I just wish it could've been even longer.
A Venetian Affair
by Andrea Di Robilant. If this book were a fictional story, I would
consider it annoying and fantastically stupid. However, as the story is
built around a series of letters from the 18th century
(found by the author's
father in his family's former home: Ca' Mocenigo, an enormous palazzo on
the Grand Canal in Venice), it is almost to fantastic to be true, but it is. The letters combine to tell a
fascinating love story between a Venetian nobleman, a distant relative
of the author, and a young Anglo-Venetian woman who is of much lower
state in society. The premise interested me and so I indulged in this
love story and pretty soon it grew on me so much so that I was thinking
about the star-crossed lovers when I wasn't reading; I wanted to know
what was going to happen to them and grew worried about them as I read
on. Why? Well, as I said before, if the story were fiction it would be
ridiculous because some of what happens to the two, especially the young
woman in her travels, is so crazy that it is hard to believe.. it would
be too hard to make it all up! In any case, if you read this book you
will be richly rewarded with a not only a story of love, but also one
full of history, and numerous characters including the infamous
Casanova, who all play an integral and fascinating role. As a note: I
found out after I read the novel that the author (who is half Italian
half American, and who wrote the story in English), stayed in Venice to
write for a year during the same time that I was living there; we may
well have passed each other in the street.
by Nick Hornby. I decided to check this one out based on my multiple viewings of the movie
About a Boy. I really love this movie and thought reading the book on
which it was based would shed some more light on a storyline that I already
am so fond of. I was also a bit apprehensive about reading it though because
I did not want to have the book change my opinion of the movie in a negative
way (or in anyway at all actually, I'd prefer the movie to remain as it is..
so why am I reading this book?). But other than the book being in Large
Print (the only edition available at my library) and therefore seeming
somewhat childlike, and the style of the writing confirming the
aforementioned observation (only to a small degree) the book has been pretty
entertaining and somewhat enlightening on details that the movie does away
with. In fact, the movie leaves little out, only pairing down situations and
conversations, making them more compact and succinct (and more perfect in my
opinion). Nothing groundbreaking, but an entertaining, engaging story
Once Upon the River Love by Andrei Makine, translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan. One of my new favorite authors, I have been eagerly devouring each of Makine's
novels whenever I can get my hands on them. Like all of his books this
one has been a tale of life in Siberia during the Soviet rule of Russia,
not a depressing life, but one very much different from my own
experiences growing up. And yet there are similarities, as this book
delves into adolescent thoughts of love and the ability to define one's
self through movies. Written in his own glorious detail (though
translated) it is riveting and full of the stuff dreams are made of. His
working the movies of French actor Jean Paul Belmondo into the heart and
soul of the story is brilliant and makes for a very satisfying read.
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King.
reading this non-fiction narrative about Michelangelo Buonarroti's life
in the early 1500's. It is an account of his struggles to take on the
task of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel among other things. A
very interesting tale, it digresses into the lives of his rivals and
contemporaries like Raphael as well as men of power like Pope Julius II
who forced Michelangelo to the task of frescoing the ceiling. It is a
story of trials in his life, be it due to art, family problems or wars
begun by the Pope. Highly recommended. I read it as a piece of research
for my own current literary project. But it is very interesting
otherwise- I became interested in it after watching a PBS program on the
Medici family of Florence who were major patrons of the arts during the
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.
Another non-fiction book for me, this is a story about a man in
the Miami, Florida-area trying to steal orchids from the swamp
using Seminole Indians to get them (under protecting of some
laws), and then wanting to reproduce them for profit. However it
is also about much more. The story is really about desire and
the extent to which people will do things to get something they
want, or to live in a world different from our everyday one.
Well-written and very interesting, it not only follows the
exploits of this one man, but covers the history of Orchid
hysteria in the western world, as well as profiles a number of
personalities in the South Florida Orchid world. It is a strange
world and much bigger than you think. But be careful, Orchids
can be addictive as many people have come to find out. (And I
must confess I am now in love with Orchids despite never owning
one or seeing many, and despite the fact that mine would most
likely die quickly if I ever got some!) Also recommended:
Adaptation, a film "based" on the book, though it is quite
different and original- a brilliant movie
about adaptation, with amazing performances by Nicolas Cage,
Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep.
Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks.
A tale of an Englishman and teacher/translator and his wife
living in a city near Verona, Montecchio (despite the subtitle).
The book is formatted into a series of little tales, or short
stories mainly about the Italian way of life, as well as the joy
of discovery in a new land and the difficulties of living abroad
in a place as backwards (governmentally) as Italy. It is a fun
read, mainly for the enjoyable descriptions of the townspeople
and the neighbors and also the town and country scenery, though
it is not as engagingly written as I would like. It's nice to
pick up now and then and get another story about Italy (much
like Adam Gopnick's excellently (at times) written,
Paris to the Moon).
of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. Wanting to brush up on my
Tolkien before the final movie came out, I figured I would read
the final book in the trilogy before watching the movie. That
may not have been such a good idea though, because while
watching the film after finishing half of the book, and the
words still fresh in my mind, I was noticing every little thing
that was different from the novel. The movie was tremendous, but
the book is something even more monumental. Truly epic in scale
and exacting in detail, this book conjures up a well of
emotions. It was disappointing to see the movie had left out the
"Scouring of the Shire" scenes, which provide an even more
heroic end. But even more so, this missing triumphal entrance of
Aragorn by boat to the field of battle, flags waving and stars
shining, is something I find difficult to swallow (book trumps
At the End of the World by Bill Flanagan. I read this book
during high school when I was first becoming a fan of U2 and
recently purchased it so that I could review all the intricate
details of the band from about 1990 to 1995. This book covers
the time of the
Achtung Baby record,
Zoo TV Tour,
and a little beyond. Bill Flanagan writes from a first person
point of view as he was with the band through much of this time
period, intent on documenting it for readers. As these are some
of my favorite records, this is a very interesting book that
gives amazing insight into the process behind what I think it so
good. But for the non-U2 fans, it still offers a good deal of
insight into the song-writing process as well as the staging of
a mammoth-sized tour.
1984 by George Orwell.
I had always had an interest in reading 1984, though had
never managed to get around to it, as it was never required for
any class I took in school. In any case, having time on my hands
at work, I got the unabridged audio version of the book and
listened for hours on end (it's quite long). The story is much
more intricate and much darker than I had imagined. So much is
done to put down the middle class, it's really very sadistic.
And I couldn't help but imagine that this was not very far from
the truth of how the peoples of the Soviet Union lived for 50
years, perhaps never understand how backwards they were and how
free they could be in Europe and America. Also it came as a
surprise to find out what "Big Brother" really is as opposed to
the common cultural misconception used today (ie. traffic
by Tony Hillerman.
My father reads a lot of Tony Hillerman, especially this series of stories about a detective and a tribal police officer in the Navajo Reservation areas of the American South West. I also saw a televised version of this novel on PBS sometime last year and thought it was pretty interesting, so I picked up the book. Differing a good deal from the movie, the story follows the two cops as they are initially teamed up to investigate some unsolved murders (unusual in Navajo territory). Potentially also involved is also some Indian witchcraft, in the form of "Skinwalkers". A pretty detailed and interesting read.
Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum.
Having read the first installment in this "series" The Bourne Identity, during the summer of 2002, I figured this might be as interesting a tale. However, I found it had a mostly convoluted plot and rehashed a number of details made in the first book. I did not know that this was the third book in the series either, but as the second book apparently has little bearing on the plot of this novel, I guess it did not matter much. Incidentally, the book version of The Bourne Identity is quite a bit better than the movie, as the film leaves out the most interesting parts (the business with Carlos the Jackal, which is actually the point of the book).
of The Lost Rivers
by Carlo Sgorlon. Translated from the Italian
by Jessie Bright. Perhaps one of the most interesting books I have
read recently. It is a story of the residents of an area of Italy
called Friuli (on the northeast tip) and the invasion of the Russian
Cossacks during the final years of the Second World War. It is often a
tragic tale of the loss of a homeland of an entire people, by willful
mistakes made throughout the course of their history. It would be
interesting to also find out the more recent history of the Cossack
people because now I think they do have their own country in
Kazakhstan (in Russian, the Cossacks are called the Kazakhi).
of a Life
by Andreď Makine. Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan.
One of my favorite books especially that I've read recently. I
actually first picked up this book a few months ago, enjoying Dreams
of My Russian Summers and other novels of Makine, and having
enjoyed it when I first read it, I bought a used copy at a great
bookstore in Cape Cod. It is a short novel about a young pianist
sucked unwillingly into the Soviet Army in World War II in order to
survive, and his having to adapt to a new life full of an opposite
world than what he grew up with. It would be even better if it were
longer, which is saying a lot (ie. Prague).
edited by William White. A collection of some of
the articles that Hemingway wrote for newspapers and magazines during
his lifetime. I've only read the ones from his days in Paris in the
early 20s, but what I've noticed so far is that these are more
interesting for their content that the way in which they are written.
That is, his writing his very plain here, nothing special. But it is
very interesting to read plain first hand accounts of the political
and social climate of Europe at this time, not to mention how these
accounts coincide with stories in A Moveable Feast as well as
my favorite novel, The Sun Also Rises.
of Glass by Paul Auster. I picked up this book on a whim at a
library book sale, and it turned out to be quite an intriguing read.
The story follows the psuedo-detective adventure of a mystery writer,
but then becomes very intricate and complicated, much more so than the
main character can handle, and ultimately it consumes him. The end was
a bit of a let down (or perhaps even more mysterious), after a well
written novel that integrates a well thought out plot with such
interesting topics as the origin of language and the Biblical Tower of
by Ernest Hemingway. After
prose it was almost joy to rediscover Hemingway's simple descriptions
that about in this memoir of his life in Paris as a young man. I found
it interesting in many ways through his descriptions of the writing
process, to his friendships with other literary figures of the time,
and above all else, his simple prose thoughts about Paris and Europe
in the 20s. There is a sense of regret about this era that comes
across strongly in this work, I felt.
by Arthur Phillips. Perhaps the best word to describe this book is the
oft used word "peculiar". Centered around a group of
expatriate "friends" in Budapest, Hungary, soon after the
fall of Eastern-Bloc communism in the early 90s, the novel goes on at
length to show insincerity in all of its forms; from lying to bosses
and lovers, to lying to oneself and to newspaper readers for the sake
of irony. While well written (if a bit lengthy), ultimately I found it
to be unsatisfying and even infuriating because all of the characters
end up, well, insincere. The characters never get to Prague, by the
Book of Lost Tales, Part One
Tolkien. Being the first part of the "History of Middle
Earth" series compiled by Tolkien's son, Christopher. I have not
progressed very far into this book because of various factors, not the
least of which is the fact that it is so densely written. That is,
each story is accompanied by a lengthy commentary on its history,
roots and implications
to later Tolkien writings. It is intensely interesting though, but
probably only for a fan of Tolkien's other works.