Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Model City
(Michael Chabon, 180pp)
This collection of stories, published in 1991, is fun to read, but also demonstrates persuasively that Chabon needs a larger canvas than the short story to really hit stride. There's very insightful glances into the love mad male soul, but each story felt rather slight. The last half of the book was a memoir-stream of shorts, titled collectively Lost World, about a family (like Chabon's) that undergoes divorce. Over half the collection was previously published in the New Yorker.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Treehouse living : 50 innovative designs
(Alain Laurens, Daniel Dufour, Ghislain André, 200pp)
These French architects build treehouses for zillionaires. The designs are spectacular, and the use of spiral staircases captivates the eye.
Backyards for kids
(Ziba Kashef and the editors of Sunset Books, 150pp)
Here's how to design castles for your little precious ones. Many of the suggestions are over the top, but some of the ideas on water and sand looked fun. I really liked the suggestion to turn a wall into a playspace by using "chalkboard paint" to make the surface into a chalkboard.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Dew Breaker
(Edwidge Danticat, 6:43)
Not quite as harrowing as her autobiographical work, Brother I'm Dying, but still, a harsh and direct look at the life of a torturer from Haiti, who escapes to a nearly normal life in the US.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gut Feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious
(Gerd Gigerenzer, 7:29)
This book took me months to finish. It is fairly interesting, and worth keeping in mind when a complex and very fancy model beckons. Basically, there are many instances where simple, nearly stupid solutions triumph.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Punk House
(ed by Thurston Moore, photos by Abby Banks, 270pp)
Yuck! It would not be possible for an uptight guy like me to live in the squalor captured here. The guys in Bloomington IN actually looked more uptight than me (or even young David Byrne). It takes 20 minutes to page through this. Thurston Moore's 3 page intro cops to never being part of this scene; he also manages to mention the parents of punks almost as frequently as he refers to the punks themselves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Replacements: All over but the shouting
(ed by Jim Walsh, 304pp)
This oral history is sort of embarrassing. A bunch of people who loved the 'mats remember the glory days. The only fascinating voice is Paul Westerberg's, and he wasn't interviewed for the book. The implosion of Bob Stinson is also well documented here, as elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's all too much
(Peter Walsh, 7 hours -- skimmed the last 2)
I am not someone who collects a lot of crap, but that's like saying someone is thin "for an American." The obsessions of this author are a little sad, even though most people in our crap-encrusted society need a volt of his message.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Short History of Everything
(Bill Bryson, unabridged, 25 hours)
I read the abridged version back in January, and I enjoyed it so much I really wanted to dive in to the whole cosmic vastitude of the unabridged. There's a certain tendency to his writing to a) Identify a precursor scientist who's been cheated out of credit for a major discovery, and b) Glorify the personalities that build the theories under discussion. Neither is so twitchy that it's a distraction, although over the course of the book, it's such a regular pattern that I had to call it out.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

It's a boy! : understanding your son's development from birth to age 18
(Michael Thompson & Teresa Barker, stopped at 2 years)
I scanned this, and although it's message is basically sound (i.e., boys are wilder than girls), there's not a lot to chew on. I did learn that boys' hearing is not as acute as girls, and that this is part of a whole constellation of reasons for their less rapid language development. The style and tone didn't tickle me, and I generally object to writers who raise fears that some early stage experiences may lead to huge differences later.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

(Naomi Ragen, 485pp -- stopped after 217)
A pot boiler set in the Haredi community of Jerusalem. The author provides some glimpses, but the tone jangles, since she has to occasionally add narrative explanations for things that would be taken for granted among its members. Stranger still, I can't believe that the Haredi call themselves that, when it would make more sense to simply have labels for people who are not as ultra-orthodox. It's hard to read a book that's pumped out, rather than written, but the story had various hooks that kept me reading for a longish while.
Feather Merchants
(Max Shulman, 143 pp -- read maybe 1/3)
This WWII era novelette has some yuks in it (as it was clearly penned to be funny), but it also has some yucks ("From behind the green baize curtain separating the Jim Crow section of the car came the voices of darkies, as they are affectionately called in the South" p5). I mooched this book, initially confusing it with a children's book about Chelm. I learned that the title is a slang term for civilians.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Assassination Vacation
(Sarah Vowell, 7:24)
I read this 3 years ago, and I think it was after listening to the Lincoln bio of Doris Kearns Goodwin that I decided to dive back in. Ms Vowell has done her share to re-invigorate my interest in the Civil War, and I liked this book more the 2nd time than when I first heard it.