Cool Reading 2009

A reading journal by Stephen Balbach

Total books read in 2009: 94

5 favorite big-name books:
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922)
A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor (1955)
Lost Moon (aka Apollo 13) by Jeffrey Kluger (1994)
The Graduate by Charles Webb (1963)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
5 favorite lesser-known books:
Maximum City by Suketu Mehta (2004)
A Life of Her Own by Emilie Carles (1977)
One Step Ahead by Alfred Philip Feldman (2001)
Le Petit Chose (first half only) by Alphonse Daudet (1868)
Man Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett (1944)

Reading journals from other years:
2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013,
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Lapham's Quarterly: Travel (V.2, N.3)


Lewis Lapham, ed. (June 2009)
Journal
December 2009
Travel writing, as a topic of discourse, is usually not very soul searching. It's like writing about water, not very profound (unless your a scientist), yet it forms the backdrop for some of the greatest literature ever written. The story of Noah is after all about water, but it would be boring to discuss it as a "topic of water". Thus it is in this volume about travel, there is not much holding the pieces together other than the common theme of travel. So it comes down to if the individual pieces are entertaining or not in their own right, and there are some good ones.

My favorite pieces include the following: Aldous Huxley provides recommendations for the best type of book to bring along when traveling, suggesting an encyclopedia, since articles can be read from start to end in a single short sitting without need for an extended attention span. Thomas Jefferson provides sage advice on why it is best to stay at home and be happy within oneself and not seek external rewards. John Ruskin quotes "All traveling becomes dull in exact proportion to its rapidity." Alain de Botton observes that the mind thinks more freely and openly while traveling, at its optimum on a train. Clydia Williams gives a vivid account of train hopping in 1932 Texas as a seven year old.

Livy's account of Hannibal's crossing of the Alps with elephants is one of the most gripping, and famous, ever written. Jack Kerouac's excerpt from "On the Road" reads as an opening shot in the cultural revolution of post-WWII America. James Baldwin, a black man visiting a remote Swiss village, is a vision of contrast, switching the tables between the observer and the observed. David Foster Wallace's excerpt from "Shipping Out" is probably the best American travel writing of the 20th century. Likewise Suketu Mehta's excerpt from Maximum City is among the best global travel writing yet in the still new 21st century.

Of the four original essays I found two to be stand out. The first by Simon Winchester because of his graceful writing style, about the worlds most remote island Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic. The other by Pico Iyer which surveys some recent travel writing history and what the future could look like, namely travel writing unconcerned with nationalism.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Canterville Ghost


Oscar Wilde (1887)
LibriVox
December 2009
The Canterville Ghost (1887) by Oscar Wilde is a funny ghost story where the trickster becomes the tricked. On the surface it's a satire of Americans, and ghost stories, but really it's a subversive commentary on aging British culture and the nature of history. The Americans, who have no history (from the British perspective), are immune to its anxieties and are able to put it to bed, so to speak. I'm not sure this is entirely convincing (from an American perspective), but it is a very funny ghost story told with Wilde's wit, charm and craftsmanship.

Listened to the excellent LibriVox recording by David Barnes.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Dog of Flanders: A Christmas Story


Marie Louise de la Ramee (aka "Ouida") (1872)
LibriVox
December 2009
A Dog of Flanders: A Christmas Story is a young adult book written by the Victorian English author Marie Louise de la Ramée (aka "Ouida"). It's a sentimental animal fable, part of her lifelong campaign to draw attention to the problem of cruelty to dogs. It's set in Flanders where dogs are routinely worked to death. The hero of the story, a peasant boy named Nello, saves an old dog Patrsche from such a fate. When Nello falls impossibly in love outside his class with the millers daughter, Alois, his heart is broken when she is denied to him by her cruel father. Nello and Patrsche then run out into a snowstorm and freeze to death in the Cathedral of Antwerp, on Christmas Eve (thus the "Christmas Story"). It is only discovered too late that Nello was a "genius" at drawing and could have been famous.

I found the story pleasant and emotionally moving. It can be overly sentimental in that Victorian way, and has some Romantic Nationalism, but the story is good and leaves one with a positive feeling in the end. Although Ouida wrote over 40 novels and was very popular in her time, she is hardly read anymore, this childrens books now appears to be the most popular of her works. But in her time her most famous work was Under Two Flags (1867), which was still being published and read in the 20th century, including 4 different movie adaptations. Likewise A Dog of Flanders seems to have inspired at least 7 movies, as recently as 1999. It also sells well in Japan.

A Dog of Flanders: A Christmas Story, available at LibriVox (audiobook) A Dog of Flanders: A Christmas Story, available at Internet Archive (scanned book w/ original artwork)
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Three Tales


Gustave Flaubert (1877)
LibriVox and Google Books
December 2009
For these short stories I both listened to the wonderful LibriVox reading by David Barnes (available here) and read along with the same translation over at Google Books (available here).

"The Legend of St Julian the Hospitaller" is a retelling of an old French medieval legend about the French Saint of hunting. Flaubert follows the general arc of the legend but adds some significant new details. In Romantic fashion it is a synthesis of Medieval, Christian and Classical Pagan themes. I don't think Flaubert set out to accomplish anything more (or less) then a beautiful retelling of an old story that once captured his imagination as a youth in a church stained glass window.

"A Simple Soul" is a contemporary story and often considered one of Flauberts best (it's where the famous parrot is introduced). Interestingly, while the story of St Julian is about the high and famous, this is about the low and invisible. Flaubert shows it is possible to write an epic story about the invisible nobodies of the world. Indeed "A Simple Soul" and "The Legend of St Julian" can be seen as a matching pair - both concern a sort of living death and loss of identity. The high and low of the world share the same problems. This sort of egalitarianism would have been appealing to the Democratic bourgeois spirit of the French Third Republic, and indeed the modernism project in general.

"Herodias" is a retelling of the biblical story of John the Baptists, in particular his beheading. I found it difficult to follow, most of the people and places are unfamiliar to me so I will return to it later.

"The Dance of Death" (1838) is a "prose poem" in the tradition of Danse Macbre. It reminded me of the Rolling Stones song "Sympathy for the Devil" in which we meet the Devil and learn of his role in history. It is dark, brooding and wonderfully imagined. Note: when listening to David Barnes' LibriVox recording, it is helpful to follow with the text because like a play there are different speakers who take the stage and are not fully evident by audio alone. Death personified will speak, then the Devil, then the narrator, then Nero - there is a slight change of voice, but it's not clear who it is speaking, but the text makes it clear.

This is my first reading of Flaubert, I began with his lesser known work. My immediate impressions: for a 19th century text it reads remarkably modern and easily. Laughably so since Flaubert is the father of modernism. There is a sort of fundamentalism feeling in that regard, made more vivid by the Biblical themes of the stories. The details of his prose are colorful and precise, a few well chosen items, colors and smells bring it alive.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Earth and Ashes


Atiq Rahimi (2000)
Hardcover, first
December 2009
For fans of McCarthy's The Road, this is the book to read. It's gritty, real and important - and no baby eating Zombies! Written in the Persian language variant of Afghanistan known as Darsi in 2000 (pre-911), it was translated into English in 2002. It's a simple short novella about a tragic event, the kind that happens every day in Afghanistan. Through the eyes of an old man and his young grandson we experience the trauma of war and the angst of modernity pulling the past into the present. The ancient code of honor which holds society together is falling apart and what is left to replace it is deaf to us, an unknown. Although written before 9-11 about the Soviet invasion, it could just as easily be about present day events. Because it is written by a native Afghani in the native language, his sympathy for his culture, the small details and mannerisms, are all enlightening and curious. Afghanistan is such a mystery, a land of contradictions, this short novella goes a long way in revealing some deeper truths.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson


Mary Rowlandson (1682)
LibriVox
December 2009
Mary Rowlandson's account of her captivity among American Indians in New England in 1675 is both brutal and sympathetic. The Indians are portrayed as wild killers and slave owners, yet display moments of affection and kindness. One can see they are fighting for their lives, identity and way of life as they set out to kill the English in such numbers to drive them back into the sea. But it becomes clear the English are too many and despite victories in battle, there is an underlying desperation as the Indians stay on the run. Mary's memoir was among the first of the "captivity narrative" genre; and is an important historical document for her portraits of early American Indian life.

Listened to via LibriVox as read by Matthew Scott Surprenant. Clearly an amateur recording and difficult to follow at times as Matthew speeds too quickly through the words in places (pauses are good), but overall a strangely captivating reading style for the subject.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Death of Napoleon


Simon Leys (1992)
Hardcover, first English
December 2009
The Death of Napoleon is a 1991 novella by Belgian author Simon Leys (pseudonym) which won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1992. On the surface it is a comic alternative history that imagines Napoleon escaping from prison only to live out his days as a Everyman selling fruit on the streets of Paris. This is a bourgeois fantasy of the Emperor getting his comeuppance making us non-Bonapartists giggle with egalitarian delight. But it's a deeper novel, also about identity and celebrity, specifically the horror of losing ones identity and existing in a living death. The loss of identity is obvious in the form of Napoleon himself, and living death can be found throughout: the conspiracy of collaborators who can not communicate because the founder has died but the conspiracy goes on existing, the rotting fruit Napoleon must sell, the old man at the battlefield, the 20 crazy Napoleons, Napoleon who fears telling anyone his identity for fear of being committed, etc.. Likewise, living death is at the center of the cult of celebrity- think of Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley who were subsumed by their own image - they may be technically alive but their true selves are long dead. Interestingly, living death and loss of identity is at the core of post-colonialism, those who are subjugated by more powerful forces - African slaves for example - loose their identity, thus it is no accident the misshapen black shipboard cook and the former celebrity Napoleon find a common bond, thus the novels final sentence. This common connection between high and low, between the marginalized and the celebrity, is well done and once again appealing to the Democratic bourgeois in us all (Bonapartists excluded once again, of course!).
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

"The Flood"(French: "L'Inondation")


Emile Zola (1880)
LibriVox
December 2009
"The Flood" (aka "L'Inondation") is a short story by Emile Zola published in 1880. It takes place in a rural village on the Garonne River near Toulouse revolving around an actual flooding incident there in 1875. Although not a religious story, it has some biblical imagery, beginning with the stories title. The main character is a 70 year old patriarch who sits down to a Last Supper of sorts with his family of 11 to give thanks for his many blessings. His daughter will soon to be married, and he plans to add another floor to the top of the house for the expanding brood. But after supper, the rains begin, and the nearby river overflows its banks. Like an Ark, the families wooden house provides shelter. But this is no ordinary flood; first the animals, then the servants are swept away, described in the type of realism Zola is renowned for. The family, moving heavenly upwards, eventually take refuge on the roof, watching the refuse of the land swept away and made smooth like the surface of a pond. One tragic incident after the next occurs bringing to mind the Raft of the Medusa, or a feeling like Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream."

It reminds me of a 19th century Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O'Connor for its bloodbath. In a few short pages he kills off an entire family of men, women and children in detail. This translation is poor, somewhat stilted, and would greatly benefit from a modern update, but still manages to move in the end.

The text is available as "The Flood" on Internet Archive, a scanned edition of the first English translation. An audiobook version is available as "The Flood" by LibriVox, read by R. S. Steinberg.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir


Elena Gorokhova (2010)
ARC Amazon Vine
December 2009
A Mountain of Crumbs was called the "Russian equivalent of Angela's Ashes" by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, while Frank McCourt, author of Ashes, calls it a "rich experience". J.M. Coetzee gave it high praise. These are some powerful endorsements. Is is warranted? I believe so. The writing is top notch and intelligent, her choice of detail from daily life in Soviet Russia during the 1960s and 70s opens new vistas into a lost world. The sense of growing up in the USSR - Gorokhova was born in 1955 - is vivid and memorable. Gorokhova comes of age and discovers the mysteries of love and life, yet she was never innocent to the pervasive control the Soviet state holds on private life, it was an open secret. Eventually, success comes - not in the form of material wealth or conquering ones enemies or inner demons, Gorokhova is likable and well adjusted - but by finding a happy home and someone she loves. Her love of books means Russian literature peppers the memoir, the real and fiction sometimes merge, just as the real and fiction of the USSR were hard to tell apart.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Man Eaters of Kumaon


Jim Corbett (1944)
Internet Archive
November 2009
Jim Corbett, an Englishman born and raised in India, recounts some of his experiences hunting man-eating tigers in India during the first 30 years or so of the 20th century. Each story is thrilling edge of the seat, simple and easy to read, but vividly photographic. It is from a different era, not unlike Out of Africa with its mix of old-world grace and charm in an exotic but deadly part of the world. There is nothing a warm cup of tea, biscuit and 2 rounds of ammo can't accomplish. A legendary book by a legendary hunter it's ranked #48 in National Geographic's list of 100 all-time best Adventure books. During the 1950's it was hugely popular, including as a Book-of-the-Month selection (more important back then), and recently a number of TV movies. Freely available online at Internet Archive in its first edition (with pictures, no map). See also the free biography of Corbett loaded with additional pictures, maps and of course a biography.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Bartleby, the Scrivener


Herman Melville (1853)
LibriVox
November 2009
Another masterful story by Melville about the American obsessive character (obsession? a story of Wall Street..). Listened to the LibriVox reading by Bob Tassinari which is pretty good. The first half is sort of dull as Melville sets up the scene, but then one realizes how absurd the whole thing is as the narrator becomes increasingly exasperated. It's actually great comical writing. Then it goes beyond believable and enters the realm of fable as the only thing Bartleby says is "I prefer not to". Well, I "prefer" to think of Bartleby as the White Whale, and the narrator Cpt Ahab, a short possibly even satirical version of Moby-Dick. Perhaps Melville's way to saying "screw you" (which sort of sounds like "scrivener", but nah..) to everyone who didn't read his masterpiece.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

16 Stories by Anton Chekhov (NPR Playhouse)


Anton Chekhov (1884)
LibriVox
November 2009
In the 1980's and early 1990's NPR adapted a number of classic works of fiction to radio called "NPR Playhouse". It aired nationwide and was very popular with public and critics. One of the adaptations was "16 Stories by Anton Chekhov". The production quality is first rate with professional actors, a series scholar, a full-cast, sound effects and original music. Much of Chekhov's wording is retained and the plays keep the artistic intent, indeed enhancing it. I verified this by reading the Constance Garnett translation right before or after listening to the radio adaptation. In most cases it helps to do this as they are complimentary - sometimes the text enhances the play, and sometimes the play improves on the text.

Although these plays could easily be sold on the commercial market, they are freely available online at Internet Archive. I won't list the names of the stories here since they can be viewed in the link above. If you want to sample one short story (10 minutes), I recommend "Sleepy" (story begins at 15:30), it's very effective. For a more complex longer story "The Man in a Shell" is fairly entertaining. Of course I recommend them all, "The Lady with a Dog" is considered one of the finest short stories ever written.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Open: An Autobiography


Andre Agassi (2009)
First edition
November 2009
Open, Andre Agassi's autobiography, is a compelling dramatic story. The first third is probably the best, concerning his childhood and teen years before he became famous. The arc of Agassi's life is not unlike Charles Dickens Bildungsroman David Copperfield: the young hero with an abusive father who is sent off to boarding school with a wicked headmaster, whom he eventually triumphs over to become his own man; the failed first marriage to the girl above his class, followed by the second marriage to the girl more like himself whom he should have married in the first; the cast of colorful characters - some so good they are nearly magical, others so evil they are like devils. Like Dickens, Agassi sees the world as fated, the good guys always win in the end, and the bad guys ultimately get their due. Agassi sees himself as born with a golden horseshoe (born lucky).

Aggasi almost breaks out of the old literary mold, of a fated fairy tale universe, with a true modern memoir, by revealing that he actually hated tennis and once did drugs. Almost. He ends the book happily playing tennis and it's never entirely convincing how much he really hated what tennis has done for him, what is has brought him, including his family. It's a Hollywood/Dickensian ending of redemption and renewal. Just as modernism taught us to be skeptical of the narrator in literature, this memoir sports a lot of style in the interest of telling a neatly packaged and compelling story - ironically, overt style is a charge he dodged early in his professional career ("Image is Everything"). Indeed, the more compelling the story, and the more neatly it fits the old literary molds, the more skeptical we should be. Of course everything in the book we assume must be true, there is no lack of credibility - it's not what he says, but what is missing.

Beyond any pedantic "literary criticism", Agassi really is a good guy, and has proven it with his philanthropy work, he is a role model for all of us on how to improve our own lives by improving the lives of others. That is the true message of the book and Agassi has only just begun to tell that story.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

In the Ravine: And Other Short Stories


Anton Chekhov (1883)
Audiobook
November 2009
Eleven short stories and one novella (In the Ravine) by Anton Chekhov, as read by British actor Kenneth Branagh in 2002. The stories are:

The Trousseau (1883)
Fat and Thin (1883)
Oh! the Public! (1885)
Misery (1886)
An Actor's End (1886)
Children (1886)
The Chorus Girl (1886)
The Orator (1886)
Hush! (1886)
The Beggar (1887)
A Story Without a Title (1888)

Overall very good although it helps to read along with the text since some of the Russian vocabulary and names are difficult to track by audio alone. It is the Constance Garnett translation, freely available online. In the Ravine is the best, a wide and colorful portrait of peasant village life - a tragic story though. "Misery" is very good. "Children" does a good job at evoking childhood. "The Chorus Girl" is also well done. The CD says "Abridged" even though all the stories are Unabridged.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920-1960


Gordon Hunter (2009)
Kindle
November 2009
What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920-1960 is a fascinating literary history. Hutner examines the vast universe of books that made up most of what was published and read in America from 1920-60. Most of it was soon forgotten in favor of a small handful of "classics" that are studied over and over like Hemingway, Faulkner and a few others. He has found that most novels published then (and now) can be categorized into a genre that he says, like pornography, is hard to define but "you know it when you see it." This genre can perhaps best be defined as "middle class literature". Hutner understands the term "middle class" is a loaded one, but he uses it in a neutral way. It is the people who have the time and money to read books and search for answers in the ever evolving and often confusing cultural landscape of America. The middle class novel is typically instructing, realistic in style, and perhaps mirrors in some way the readers own life, or sets out to show a slice of life in America - to pick a modern example, the "post-9/11 novel". These novels represent the vast majority of literature published, and by their existence, define the "Great" novel. Every "Great novel", Hutner says, has been an anti middle class novel (although to be sure not every anti middle class novel is great).

Hutner's book is long and detailed and full of novels and authors that were once the critical and popular darlings - thought to be among the immortals - and now today forgotten. This is not the exception, but the norm, as Hutner shows in great detail year by year, decade by decade. Each chapter examines each decade, starting with the 1920s, going through the major works of the period. It's a veritable gold mine of novels and authors to read more about for those so interested. However Hutner says none of the works are really lost classics, they are all just "very good" - one should not approach them as individuals, but as a class or type, representative of the realistic middle class concerned literature that is in constant evolution published year after year in America. He also examines an individual year from each decade in depth, going month by month with the major books published. He may name 20 or 30 major books published that year, of which maybe 3 or 4 titles are still familiar today.

It's difficult for this review to do Hutner's nuanced argument for the "middle class novel" of the 1920s-1960s justice, but his theory has changed how I look at present day novels. I can now scan a "Top 100 Novels of the 2000s" list and quickly ask myself, is this a middle class novel? The concept is helpful in determining not only what to read, but why I read - to find a mirror of my own life, to find answers to life problems, to find out what America is like today? Sort of like TV shows are an ever changing mirror of American culture in the moment, these novels are ephemeral as individuals, yet enduring as a class over time. I would recommend this book to anyone trying to make sense of the ocean of literature published each year. How to navigate the present is made easier by looking at the past. It's also useful for the historian interested in reconstructing a vision of the past through realist fiction, not unlike how historians have used Balzac and Zola for learning more about 19th century France. In addition this is a great book for (re) discovering very good fiction that has probably unfairly fallen by, Hutner has read 100s of these books and knows his topic well.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future


Robert Darnton (2009)
Audible
November 2009
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Hecate and Her Dogs


Paul Morand (1954)
English first edition (2009)
November 2009
Hecate and Her Dogs (French 1954) was first translated to English in 2009 in an artfully produced little book by Pushkin Press. On the surface it's a disturbing novella, sort of a mix of Jekyll and Hyde and Lolita, but darker, dealing with an evil perversion. The title alludes to it in an elliptical manner. This sort of ellipsis is the style of the book, rarely is anything said explicitly, although on occasion the truth comes clear with devastating force, hanging on a single word or phrase. It is a literary novel, not entirely an erotic story, yet at its core a hellish portrayal of sexual addiction seeking new and greater thrills. In the Afterword, Unberto Pasti says the book is best seen as "camp", that Morand was really writing about his wife, who he apparently disliked at the time (although it is doubtful she had the perversions depicted here). Nicholas Lezard, reviewing in The Guardian, sees it as autobiographical. Moran in real-life was a "Collaborator" with the Nazi's during WWII. Just as the fictional character collaborates with a perverse partner to his own demise, as did Moran in the 1940s with the Germans. Whatever the case, it's a story that will stick with and haunt you with what is left unsaid. Our own imagination can be taken to heights of evil with such polite and gentlemanly turn of phrase. I often found myself shocked that such a book could have been written in 1954, and unsurprised that no English translation appeared until now - but it is a work of serious literature. Like Emile Zola's classic The Earth: La Terre - first published in France in 1887 but not fully translated to English until 1980 because of its strong sexual taboo content - Hecate and Her Dogs has finally found an English publisher and hopefully will be (re) discovered among new readers.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Out of Africa


Karen Blixen (1937)
Kindle
November 2009
Out of Africa (1937) is a book that has changed lives. The heady romanticism on the frontier of colonial Kenya is enough to make anyone want to pack up and head for Africa - and many have tried, in reality by going, and by deep immersion in biographical study of the Kenyan colonialists that form the fabric of this book. The 1980's movie just re-enforced the legend and further spurred the Blixen fan club. It's a beautiful book told with grace and insight that captures the dieing spirit of colonialism in the middle 20th century between the wars.

Sadly for me the book is marred by a certain moroseness, an emphasis on death and dieing. Every chapter and incident seems to be focused on someone or something - tribe, culture, way of life - that is dead or dieing. Her coldness comes through in the end when she (almost) shoots her pets and animals. And we learn she later in life committed suicide. All this cast a pale of darkness over the beautiful at
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Waitress Was New


Dominique Fabre (2005)
First English edition
October 2009
The Waitress Was New (2005) is a contemporary French realistic novella about an aging everyman waiter in a small Parisian cafe. There is a plot with mystery that moves the story forward, but it is hardly interesting - the readers fantasy of what will happen is probably more interesting than what actually does - sort of like most peoples lives. The weight of the novel is in the character descriptions and being a silent observer in another persons world, to walk in the shadow of one of the many people we see every day.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

2001: A Space Odyssey


Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
Kindle
October 2009
One of the greatest science fiction stories ever created. Its impact on the collective imagination of the world can not be underestimated. Watched and read by the Apollo crews, Carl Sagan, etc.. the stories very lexicon has entered the reality of space exploration, and molded the public's view of what is possible.

Of course while the film and not the novel bears 90% of the responsibility, they were created concurrently and thus impossible to separate. The novel on its own is still widely read and appreciated more than 40 years later. The first part of the story - up until the death of HAL - is more effective on screen. The later half, which is too weird to really understand in the film, is much clearer and more interesting in the novel.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


Junot Díaz (2007)
Audible
October 2009
Masterful, colorful, humorous, large.

Oscar Wao is named after Oscar Wilde. The novel has many pop culture references straight from the zeitgeist of the Geek, reminiscent of Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, similarly loaded up with references to the current art of its day (now obscure except to the literary geek). Just as Gray leads a secret obsessed fantasy life, Oscar Wao does too, and they both perish for the love of their art and erotic obsessions, blind to its consequences.

Oscar Wao has achieved his dream of being famous, except instead of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, Oscar ended up Francis Macomber. Francis Macomber is the character in Hemingway's short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", which is the other story The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is named for. In Hemmingway's story Macomber's head is blown off by his wife, ironically after he acts with bravery, when he had previously acted a coward. It's an ambiguous story but there are connections with Oscar Wao's final days.

The audiobook adds a new dimension to the work that reading alone, silent, may not capture. This is a swaggering, colloquial, emotionally toned novel that rewards reading out loud in character.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Book of Chameleons


Jose Eduardo Agualusa (2008)
First edition English
September 2009
The Book of Chameleons has been widely and highly reviewed since it came out in English translation in 2006. At about 127 pages it can be read in a day or less but it contains many building blocks to keep one busy. There are philosophical and literary meditations. A spy plot. A love story. And some unique concepts like a narrator who is a lizard on the wall, or a man who sells invented pasts. Ultimately I found it somewhat unrewarding because many of allusions and places and events were unknown to me, and the central idea of invented histories didn't have enough space to be more fully explored.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Out Stealing Horses


Per Petterson (2003)
Audible
September 2009
Out Stealing Horses (2003) is a "quiet novel" in multiple senses: there is little character dialog, it is literally quiet; the setting takes place in the quiet rural Norwegian countryside; and, quiet in the sense some parts of the novel are simply left unsaid, it is up to the intelligent and insightful reader to piece together meaning. For instance, to find meaning in the phrase "Out Stealing Horses" beyond the literal action of horse theft, or the WWII password. These "types" of quietude come together in this work of art which fits nicely with the common perception of Norwegian character, giving it an aesthetic wholeness which is pleasing.

One of the themes of the novel is free will versus fate. The main character, Trond, believes his life is determined by his own actions and choices. Yet ironically he is a lifelong fan of Charles Dickens, the very epitome of a fateful view of the universe - the good guys always come out on top and the bad guys get their due in the end - it's fated! Dickens is mentioned numerous times including the Bildungsroman David Copperfield, an implied favorite of Tronds. A question is, how does Trond reconcile his own view of his life, versus his love of Dickens (free will versus fate); how do we as readers reconcile Pettersons novel, which is modern in approach (characters have free will), with Tronds recounted life, which seems to be fated by the pattern of life-events inherited from his father? I believe Trond does what we all do: operate according to free will while moving forward in time, but when looking backward, we search for meaning, for stories, to explain what happened, to find fate - ironically the very thing Petterson demands of his readers. Fate and free will is one of the great questions, and it is a great piece of modern literature that can play with it so.. quietly.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Zeitoun


Dave Eggers (2009)
Audible
September 2009
A well told story that wears its politics too visibly, populist in character, but with merit for its creative descriptions of Katrina.

The biographical details Eggers provides of Zeitoun's life are immense and digressive, taking up a large portion of the book, giving the appearance of an objective documentary. However Eggers is also writing an entertaining novel, he creates good guys and bad guys in black and white - Zeitoun's is a near-perfect character while the authorities are bumbling idiots. There is some truth to this but there is more to the story. It's too easy to see through the novels artifice for it to be entirely believable, giving the appearance of a "blue state" authors politics worn thinly. Still, Eggers is the master of choosing detail and the scenes of post-Katrina NO, and the prison, are memorable enough.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Forever War


Dexter Filkins (2008)
Kindle
September 2009
New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins war memoirs from 1997 to 2005, mostly covering the period 2002-2005 in Iraq. Much of it previously published so I experienced deja-vu re-reading passages I remembered from years ago in the Times. Obviously much of it is unforgettable, it has become a vital part of my own experience of the war, as if I was there before and was re-reading an account of what I witnessed, which speaks to the power of the writing and events.

I recommend Filkins's hour long presentation at Google Talks, given just a few weeks after he returned from Iraq, it's what inspired me to read the book.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker


E. T. A. V. Hoffmann (1816)
Barnes & Noble e-book
September 2009
Penguin was able to turn the short classic Nutcracker and Mouse King (1816) into a standalone volume by adding a scholarly Introduction, and a later re-telling The Tale of the Nutcracker by Dumas (of Three Musketeers fame) which composes half the book. Most importantly the translations are new, although that doesn't always mean better, but it seems OK to me.

The most important insight from the Introduction is that Hoffmann wrote the story as a critique of the middle-class in Germany in the early 19th century - serious, ridged, strict and conformist (not only German, the same could be said for 19th century Victorian culture). Children are stifled and kept in emotional check, expected to act like mini adults. For Hoffmann, freedom from this condition can be obtained by means of the imagination. In the story, time and again we see reality and fantasy merge as the children escape from the ridged confines imposed by their parents and strict social convention by way of make believe. Once the perspective of Hoffmann's critique is seen, the story takes on a new dimension, certain passages make more sense and the story seems less "weird" or dark. It is more than just a fairy-tale about toys that come to life, but a serious work of art about people.

As for the Alexandre Dumas' version in the second half of the book, I found it to be inferior to Hoffmann; I didn't want alter my memory with the retelling, so I quit it early on. I may return another time as I understand it was influential in the ballet adaptation.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Man Adrift


Bart Kennedy (1900)
Internet Archive
September 2009
Bart Kennedy (1861-1930) is almost entirely unknown today - as of 9-9-09 there are only two people on LibraryThing who have registered a book authored by him (myself included); he has no Wikipedia entry (soon corrected); and there are only 4 original copies of A Man Adrift, the subject of this review, on ABE Books, the largest used book site on the net - in other words, it was a very rare book until Internet Archive scanned it recently, where I stumbled across it. Further, a general Google search comes up empty for any recent discussion of the book. A Man Adrift is almost entirely forgotten, yet it remains a good read, and is also semi-important in the "tramp literature" genre of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A Man Adrift (1900) is an autobiographical account of a young Kennedy who leaves England for the US to work odd jobs for a few months here and there before "tramping" on to the next town over the horizon. "Tramp", as a term, was popular around the turn of the century to describe laboring men who would move from one manual labor job to the next, often begging and sleeping out of doors. Kennedy's memoir is a guidebook of how tramps lived. He ends up in California, where all tramps went when the west ran out. Along the way he worked on a skipjack oyster boat on the Chesapeake Bay, hauled cargo on the wharfs of Baltimore, mined in New York, was imprisoned in New Orleans, labored on the railroad in the Canadian Rockies, paned for gold in the Northwest, sang opera in San Francisco - his personal descriptions (usually) ring true and give the reader a vivid sense of what it must have been like. Kennedy lived and survived by the force of his body and the strength of his fist.

This is a fascinating look at life of the lower class working tramp at the turn of the century. Critical reception at the time was mixed, some "proper" critics panned it for its un-Victorian subject matter and improper use of English, but this was a period when unconventional voices (ie. not from the privileged classes) were finding publishers for the first time as the cost of printing became cheaper. Andrew Lang gave it a favorable nod when it first came out, saying "He describes, better than any other writer, the existence of a tramp, and gives an amazing account of the brutality, and even torture, practised on workers in some parts of the United States. .". The only modern critic I could find is John Sutherland (1989) who says "As an author, he [Kennedy] is one of the early advocates of 'tramping', as the source of literary inspiration." Kennedy was not the first tramp novel, Twain's A Tramp Abroad (1880) is an example-by-title (Twain was too wealthy to be a real tramp), while Henry Davies' The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) coined the delightful phrase "super-tramp", better known today as the rock band (named after the book). The tramp story reached a height with Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in the 1930's, a novel which makes more sense in the context of tramp literature tradition, which includes Kennedy and Davies who early on trampled down the road others would follow.

Read via Internet Archive
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Short Stories Old and New


c. alphonso smith (1916)
Kindle
August 2009
Short Stories Old and New (1916) is a collection of some of the best short stories of all time, according to ca. 1916 U of VA professor C. Alphonso Smith. The collection contains:

*"Esther", from the Old Testament
*"Ali Baba and the Forty Robbers", from The Arabian Nights
*"Rip Van Winkle", by Washington Irving
*"The Gold-Bug", by Edgar Allan Poe
*"A Christmas Carol", by Charles Dickens
*"The Great Stone Face", by Nathaniel Hawthorne
*"Rab and his Friends", by Dr. John Brown
*"The Outcasts of Poker Flat", by Brete Harte
*"Markheim", by Robert Louis Stevenson
*"The Necklace", by Guy de Maupassant
*"The Man Who Would Be King", by Rudyard Kipling
*"The Gift of the Magi", by O. Henry

It is an enticing list because while some of them are obviously the most well known and popular stories of all time, others are obscure and largely forgotten - who today puts "Rab and his Friends" or "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" on the same pedestal as "The Gift of the Magi" or "Christmas Carol" - much less even heard of them. But great stories they are and still worth reading. Most of the stories have the same timeless theme of redemption, passing through a trial or challenge and becoming a better person in the end (with some exceptions).

This collection is freely available from a number of sources: Internet Archive, Gutenberg, Amazon Kindle Store, etc..
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World


Zack Lynch (2009)
Kindle
August 2009
Ten chapters on ten areas where neurological science is and will be changing society now and in the future: law, military, art, etc.. Lynch is best when discussing the reality of today, I found most of his predictions for the future to be unconvincing, huge leaps of scifi geewizness hyperbole typical of the singularity crowd. It's interesting to look at things from a neurological perspective and this book shows how widespread it is. I often found myself feeling that the mystery of life, art, being human, is at risk of being turned into numbers and demystified - what makes for a great painting or religious experience could be made into a commodity and sold at 7-11 is a real possibility once we figure out the brain mechanisms at work.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Best Travel Writing 2008: True Stories from Around the World


James O'Reilly (ed) (2008)
Kindle
August 2009
The Best Travel Writing 2008 is the 5th volume in publisher Traveler's Tales annual series, begun in 2004. This volume is composed of 29 short pieces, many of them unpublished elsewhere. Given the quantity of pieces I was overall disappointed as only a handful stood out as being memorable. In particular I really enjoyed the piece by Catherine Watson ("Key to the City") and I hope to continue reading more of her collected travel pieces, for that discovery alone the book was worthwhile. I also greatly enjoyed Richard Goodman's "Tortola" about a solo trip to the West Indies that turns into an adventure with the local women and an American (Baltimore) beachcomber. Other standouts include Pamela Cordell Avis' "Philomen and Baucus", the familiar story of an expat moving to the French countryside told with grace, style and honesty. Tony Perrottet's "Mount Rushmore Revisited" is an informative and readable piece on the American Indian's view of a national landmark. Jann Huizenga's "Shoes Like Gondala's" is an excellent and funny look at Italian fashion from one American's perspective.

What made the above few pieces work, and the rest not, is that they effectively told a complete story in a limited amount of space. Most of the works in this collection are fragments of experience that don't tell a complete story. A bunch were also poetic and difficult to read, highly stylized, although I know some readers appreciate it, I found it distracting. This is my first book in this series and I am not adverse to reading more volumes because I know there is gold to be discovered but I hope the vein runs thicker in other editions.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Wind in the Willows


Kenneth Grahame (1905)
LibriVox
July 2009
The Wind in the Willows ranks up there with Treasure Island and Peter Pan. Since it's now in the public domain there are an embarrassment of riches in terms of editions and adaptations, a testament to the power of public domain to enrich culture, and the stranglehold of copyright. Anyway, I both read along and listened to a narrated version by Adrian Praetzellis for LibriVox (free); it's hard to imagine a better reading, completely enchanting.

Although most kids focus on the story, I think as adults we can really appreciate how poetic the writing is - it is true literature that transcends the fantasy/kids genre and why it will remain a classic for generations to come. It's easy to forget this was written in 1908, it often feels like a modern book, largely because it has been so influential with later authors that we have become used to stories like this, but despite this competition it still holds it own as one of the best, a true creative accomplishment.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Diary of a Superfluous Man


Ivan Turgenev (1850)
LibriVox
July 2009
The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850) is about a "Superfluous Man", a recurring Russian literary meme about upper class nihilistic men who resort to gambling, dueling and women to give meaning to an otherwise disconnected and alienated existence. The story starts of slow but eventually take on a strong narrative direction dealing with "love" lost. Some great imagery and insights on the human condition. I think the 19thC Russian "Superfluous Man" archetypal character is not well known to most English readers, but this is a good introduction (see Wikipedia for other stories), and I believe the origin of the term. Alexsandr Kuprin's masterpiece The Duel (1905) is another Superfluous Man story.

Martin Geeson's passionate narration for LibriVox deserves special attention. It's as good or better than professional and obviously a labor of love. The sort of antique sound quality I believe was done on purpose in-line with the novella's first person diary voice, and the occasional sound of an old typewriter adds to the atmosphere. I'm now a fan of Geeson and would listen to anything he narrated in the future.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Dombey and Son


Charles Dickens (1848)
Internet Archive
July 2009
I read Dombey and Son in an "Edition de Luxe" three volume triple-decker printed in 1890, weighing in at 1300 pages, not including illustrations. Unlike most Dicken's editions, the font, spacing, margins and paper are normal size, making it easier to read, and revealing its true length. It can be found online (V.1, V.2, V.3) and part of a complete set called Dicken's Works (1890; 45 volumes). It is my new favorite Dickens online reading copy, the beautiful letterpress and thick handmade paper in limited edition would cost thousands of dollars to replicate today.

As for Dombey and Son, I was charmed as always by Dicken's characters, manners and scenery. The main characters of Paul Dombey (Jr and Sr), Florence and Walter are so real, so human, so powerful, that the secondary characters reveal themselves as fairy tale cartoon characters. The contrast between the main characters and supporting cast is too stark, like the ill-fated 1980's fad of mixing cartoon characters with live action film. Mr Cuttle, the old women, Mrs McStinger etc.. they are true Dickens, not the too-terribly-real Dombey's. But this is a minor point. In all a great novel, difficult to judge since some parts shine forth and others drag onward, but certainly wonderful reading overall for any Dickens fan.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Between Two Opinions; or, The Romance of a Spahi


Pierre Loti (1881)
Internet Archive
July 2009
The Romance of a Spahi (1881), Loti's second novel, deals with a Spahi (French colonial soldiers famous for their romantic uniforms), stationed in sub-Sahara Senegal. The novel was daring for its time as it depicts a love affair between a black woman and white man. It is particularly effective at showing how French soldiers stationed overseas become entangled in foreign lands and what this this does not only to the soldier, but social cohesion back home in France. But the novel says little about the impact of the colonizer on the colonized, other than treating them as romantic backdrop scenery.

The story is slow and fairly uneventful, its dealing in small things about normal people makes it believable and human. Loti's dreamy descriptions and specific details give it an air of exotica that is pleasurable. One can still read the book today and enjoy it for these positive aspects without being complicit in the racial colonial perspective it occasionally portrays. As partly autobiographical of Loti it's a lens into a life fully lived.

Read via Internet Archive
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Little What's-His-Name (Le Petit Chose)


Alphonse Daudet (1868)
Internet Archive
July 2009
Le Petit Chose (1868), variously published in English as Little Good-For-Nothing or Little What's-His-Name, was Daudet's first published prose. It is an autobiographical memoir of his childhood and young adulthood in the south of France in part 1; and in part 2 his early days in Paris as a struggling writer, up until his marriage. It was written when he was between the ages of 25 and 28. Generally it is recognized that part 1 is magical while part 2 is overly sentimental and shows Daudet in a less sympathetic light. This review is of part 1 only.

Daudet is always at his best with a child's view of the world, and recounting his own childhood experiences is some of his best writing. As the 1898 English translation introduction says, "it is one of the most perfect representations in literature of childhood's hopes and fears and of youth's aspirations and defeats. It is perfect because it is real. The little Robinson Crusoe of the unused silk factory at Nimes with his red-headed Friday, Rouget, and his parrot; the ever-weeping Jacques; the cockroaches that swarmed in the wretched apartments at Lyons; the scene of the broken pitcher, with M. Eyssette's unending refrain, "Jacques, tu es un ane!" these things will never fade from the reader's mind because the author has seen them, heard them, lived them."

Likewise the scenes of a terrible boarding school are as vivid as anything by Dickens or Bronte, "We too stand somewhat in dread of M. Viot and his keys, we too wonder what Little Black Eyes makes of life, we too have confidence in the rugged, uncouth Abbe Germane. We should have liked to sit with the tiny scholars in order to hear Le Petit Chose tell them stories; we are glad to find him repentant toward Bamban; we take his part in the famous "Affaire Boucoyran"; and we are surprised to find how much we also are affected by the sight of the swinging ring with the loop-knot attached made of a violet necktie."

Le Petit Chose is today out of print and almost completely unknown among English readers, but for French readers it is his 2nd or 3rd most popular book. Recommended highly for Francophiles and lovers of literary biographies.

Read via Internet Archive.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Monday Tales (Contes du Lundi)


Alphonse Daudet (1873)
Internet Archive
July 2009
Contes du Lundi (1873) was first translated to English in 1900 under the title The Monday Tales. It's a collection of about 42 short stories by French Naturalist Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897). The stories are mostly autobiographical, many about the historical events of the Franco-Prussian War, Siege of Paris and Paris Commune uprising, which Daudet lived through. The book makes most sense with some prior knowledge or interest in French history, Daudet was writing close to the events and assumes a familiarity. However a few of the best stories can still be read generally. Daudet was probably the most famous author in the world between 1877-1882. He has not aged well and is mostly forgotten today, but a few of the stories from this collection still deserve attention, most of them under 10 pages each.

Best of the best (order of preference):

*The Boy Spy - unusually powerful ending.
*The Pope is Dead - reminiscent of childhood.
*Belisaire's Prussian - good "true crime".
*The Siege of Berlin - effective political satire.
*Arthur - memorable Zola-like scene of debauchery.
*A Christmas-Eve Revel in the Marais - a Dickens Christmas ghost story.
*The Concert of Company Eight - danse macabre
*At the Outposts - realistic stroll on the front.

Best of the rest (no order):

The Last Lesson, A Game of Billiards, A Renegade Zouave, The Ferry, Alsace! Alsace!, A Turco Of The Commune, The Battle of Pere-Lachaise, The Little Pates, The Last Book, House for Sale!

Read via Internet Archive
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

La Belle Nivernaise: The Story of an Old Boat and Her Crew


Alphonse Daudet (1886)
Internet Archive
July 2009
La Belle Nivernaise : The Story of an Old Boat and Her Crew (1886) is a juvenile novella with pen and ink illustrations (a few of which are quite original). It's a happy endings story of orphans who find their parents, boys who marry their childhood sweethearts, and fathers who achieve their financial dreams. But not without first overcoming the harsh realities of the 19th century working poor, including witches who steal babies so they can be trained to panhandle in the streets, sickness and disease, and natural disasters. A delightful story of life among the bargemen, boats and canals of France by one of the great French Naturalist writers.

Read via Internet Archive w/ orig illustrations.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Fromont and Risler


Alphonse Daudet (1874)
Internet Archive
July 2009
Fromont and Risler (1874) was Daudet's first commercial success, it launched his career as a famous novelist, or as he put it, "the dawn of his popularity." It was widely translated, printed in many editions and even "crowned" by the Academy.

This is my third Daudet book and each one has been very different but of consistent quality and charm. It's of course a bit old fashioned, but enjoyable, I have to admit getting drawn into the story and caring about the characters. If you enjoy Dickens or Zola or Balzac it's in the same class but with Daudet's charmingly breezy style.

Read via Project Gutenberg.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Wreck of the "Grosvenor"


W. Clark Russell (1877)
Hardcover, old book
June 2009
The Wreck of the "Grosvenor" (1877) was "the most popular mid-Victorian melodrama of heroism and adventure at sea", according to John Sutherland. Russell was admired by Joseph Conrad and the similarities are striking. Russell wrote dozens of solid genre nautical fiction novels while Conrad took it to the level of literature, for better and worse. But if your looking for an easy to read 19th century sea tale with heroic deeds, evil captains, epic storms, salty old seamen who would stick ya, this is probably one of the best. It's not high literature but the action is non-stop, it feels authentic and it's a gripping plot. All around good light fun with forgotten semi-classic navel lit of the 19th century.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Adventures of Robin Hood


Paul Creswick (1917)
Reader's Digest hardcover edition
June 2009
Paul Creswick's 1917 version of the ballads of Robin Hood is written in the novelistic tradition pioneered by Howard Pyle in his 1883 version, including a fictitious "old English" idiom, a heroic Robin and storyline for children - the modern Robin Hood most of us associate. Creswick's version, sort of the first generation after Pyle, has a tighter plot, a better origins story and includes more adventures than Pyle. The writing though can be strict and little bland at times compared to Pyle who is more colorful and new. Creswick at times put me to sleep but then things picked back up again on and off. Unlike Pyle, Creswick was writing during the age of film and some of the scenes have a distinct silent movie feel to them (one of the earliest films ever made was Robin Hood in 1907). Creswick's long downfall of Robin, when nothing could get worse but does, is well done - the explanation of his turn to crime has some emotional depth, and elements of King Arthur's legend.

It struck me while reading this that the theme of Robin Hood is "identity" - even the name "Hood" is derived from Robin's hood which hides his true identity. Almost every episode involves one character or another changing identity as the central plot device. Why is this? Well, prior to the democratization of society in the 18th and 19th centuries, who you were was everything - what you wore born into, and the clothes you wore, determined your station in life - your merit or skills or actions were secondary, class mobility was limited and your life was mostly pre-determined. As the nobility might say "Being things is ratha bettha than doing things." Thus it was a fantasy of the lesser born to break from the restrictions of social bonds and be judged fairly on skill and ability, as Robin does of his Merry Men in encounters of strength. Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor, a form of socialism - it is no accident that the legend of Robin Hood was so popular in the 19th century when the Middle Class rose to dominance and Socialism became popular.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

One Step Ahead: A Jewish Fugitive in Hitler's Europe


Alfred Philip Feldman (2001)
Hardcover, first
June 2009
Alfred Feldman (b. 1923) had just turned 16 when the war began in 1939. During the next six formative years he and his family moved "one step ahead" of the fascists from their home in Germany, to Belgium, northern France, southern France, the French Alps and finally the Italian Alps. Despite numerous close calls he was never taken captive and even managed to fight alongside the resistance. He sounds like a commando but Feldman was rather mild mannered, charming and somewhat innocent Jewish son who wanted to be a science inventor. He survived by the good will of gentiles who helped him every step of the way, his family, good luck, a natural sense of how to keep out of danger and staying on the run even when all seemed hopeless. It's a good history lesson not only of the events of the war, but witness to the kind of "grey" sliding scale nature of French and Italian Collaboration vs Resistance with the Nazis.

This is an extraordinary story that is gripping like a novel as it increases in tempo and danger to the very last days of the war high in the Alps. Feldman's writing is often understated and to the point, certain sentence are devastating in their brevity and honesty. When Feldman's memory is unsure, even on a minor point, he will say so, giving it a great deal of veracity. Ultimately it is a hopeful book and not too dark. One Step Head was published in 2001 by Southern Illinois University Press and seems to be fairly obscure. However the book, and Feldman himself, were used by Mary Doria Russell as a source for her popular novel A Thread of Grace (2005) which was nominated for a Pulitzer - her story is thus much more widely known; but Feldman's book is the original, real - and just a really good book. Recommended highly.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found


Suketu Mehta (2004)
Hardcover
June 2009
Maximum City (2004; Pulitzer Prize finalist) is a remarkable book, I was hooked from the start and completely transported to another world. Bombay is the largest city on Earth and in parts the most densely populated with certain square miles containing over 1 million people. It is the "City of No" in which resources are tight and daily basic existence is a struggle for millions. Suketu Mehta grew up in Bombay and moved to New York City when he was 15 - this book is about his return to city of birth as a young adult where he spent 2.5 years as a journalist attached to various people learning about their lives. He focuses on those living beyond the norm in the extreme, on the edge of life and death and freedom: gangsters, prostitutes, movie stars, directors, runaway teenage poets, Jainism. In this way the vibrancy and immediacy of the "Maximum" city is imparted. The writing and Mehta's insights are remarkable, he is something of an artistic genius for his ability to give a sense of who a person is and what their life is like while keeping perspective on the big picture. Although I read this slowly taking probably close to 30 hours to absorb it over a few week period, I was sorry to see it end - it could have gone on forever, the stories of Bombay are unlimited.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Confessions of a Young Man


George Moore (1886)
Internet Archive
June 2009
Confessions of a Young Man (1886) is a memoir by 30-year old Irish novelist George Moore (1852-1933). It is an unusually frank account, by the standards of the time, of an Irish expatriate's life as a bohemian artist in Paris and London during the "fin-de-siecle". Moore describes drinking absinthe in Parisian cafes with founders of Impressionism - Manet, Degas, Monet and Pissaro - before England had even heard of them. His Paris studio was adorned in "pagan" trappings such as Indian lamps, red velvet ceiling canopies "to give the appearance of a tent", Turkish rugs and couches, incense and candles of the Orient, a Buddhist temple, a statue of Apollo, "a faun in terra-cotta that laughed in the red gloom." He kept a large python (snake) in the house and once a month fed it live rabbits while Gregorian chant music was played on a pipe organ. Friends came to watch. His sexual escapades are only hinted at in typical Victorian fashion, such as two satin slippers nailed to the head of his bed and used as an ashtray, or bedrooms bedecked in trees of flowers. Moore is completely unapologetic about his debaucheries, which interestingly don't seem that shocking today.

Moore's memoir is unusual for Victorian writers because he is so outward with his feelings and views. He spares no ones reputation, including his own, in the name of honesty. Oscar Wilde quipped of Moore: "He conducts his education in public". It is eerily modern, yet clearly Victorian in style, an uncanny valley. The Modern Library chose it in 1917 (1925?) as among the first to be included in the series, but is now long out of print. Moore spends a lot of space on literary criticism - he is critical of just about everyone popular in the day (except Shelly and Balzac), but praises the school of Aestheticism and Walter Pater. The last chapter is probably the most gripping, describing a duel between himself and a young aristocrat whom Moore baited into a fight to gain notoriety (Moore is boastingly unapologetic).

The book was written in various chapters over time and can be a bit inconsistent in style and focus, like a collection of essays, but lively and full of youthful energy. Two years after Confessions, his publisher Henry Vizetelly was charged with obscene libel for the publication of an uncensored translation of Emile Zola's La Terre (which contains incest and pedophilia, among other things). Moore supported Vizetelly's efforts, and his Confessions can be seen as weapon in the war against hypocritical Victorian morality. His last chapter is a sort of "bait" to his detractors to take up a public duel, Moore knew debating morality in public would expose the contradictions. He was ahead of his time and by WWI the old facades no longer held as Modernism took the center. The morality struggles Moore fought in the 1870s and 80s, like this book, are largely forgotten today - but it's a fun and curious step back in time to see how the rebels of another era are so much alike and so very different.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The End of Money and the Future of Civilization


Thomas H. Greco Jr. (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
June 2009
Overall I found this an interesting read, a bit challenging since I have no background in economics or finance, but was still able to piece together the big picture. I was struck how similar the issues are to the online world: free software vs. commercial (Firefox vs. Internet Explorer, Linux vs. Windows), community built websites (Wikipedia vs. Britannica). If you care about open source and open content issues, then the same sort of open, democratic, egalitarian ideals can be applied to the money system. It's remarkable once you see a vision of possibility, the old (current) money system seems outdated, and somewhat evil.

Greco shows that "elitism" - the central banks monopoly of credit - is at the root of the problem. The solution is to decentralize power and wealth by eliminating the banking credit monopolies which have a stranglehold on credit (money).. in other words, more openness, participation, "egalitarianism". Greco explains how to do this using what are called credit clearing or credit exchanges that can eliminate the need for money entirely. Just as banks already clear checks between one another in clearing exchanges, without actually moving money back and forth (debits and credits cancel each another), individuals could operate at the same level, without the need for money - or interest, or needing a bank for credit. Computers and the Internet make it more practical. It's an audacious long term vision - just as Creative Commons could take generations to make a dent in the stranglehold of copyright - but check it out and understand what's happening on the forefront of monetary reform.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Cambridge Companion to American Travel Writing


Alfred Bendixen (2009)
Paperback
June 2009
Years ago, when I reviewed the remarkable Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, my only complaint was that it didn't cover more geographic regions. Now my wish has come true with The Cambridge Companion to American Travel Writing. Like its predecessor it is a collection of linked essays by 15 scholars. It is broken into three sections: 1) travel writing by Americans about America (Niagra, Mississippi, Southwest); 2) travel writing by Americans outside of America (Europe, Middle East, Pacific, Latin America); 3) and thematic topics like black and woman travel writers, and an essay on the "road book". In general I found most of the essays useful surveys of the important literature within the defined scope. The authors take unique approaches - some are more theory based, using particular works as examples to make a point, while others are more practical, attempting an authoritative survey of the field.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

This Fabulous Century, 1930-1940


Time Life Books (1969)

May 2009
Time Life's coffee table book about the 1930s is part of the series This Fabulous Century published in the later part of the 1960s when America was going through some radical changes and re-examining its past. As a Time Life book it contains many pictures, very good and very large. The written content is fairly benign, not so much a history book with analysis as a "remember when" for a popular audience. Still it's not bad and I have seen much worse in this genre. It's a good mix of popular culture media and politics. Most of the big events of the decade are touched upon, some getting more attention than others. Again, the meaning and significance of these people and events is not discussed so it's sort of flat - but the pictures themselves are worthwhile. I would read more from this series if I saw it cheap enough at a used book sale or library. See my "Recommendation" above for a very good book of this type about the 1930s, also published in the 1960s.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink


Jeff Johnson (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
May 2009
Tattoo Machine is an insiders view of the life of a tattoo artist. On the surface, Johnson is characteristic of the stereotype - tough guy, hard living, hard playing. But he's also a self-declared "artist intelligentsia" who knows how create an image. This masking of the vulnerable with the colorful - characteristic of tattoo's - is mirrored in the book, and Johnson himself. The gaze moves back and forth from tough guy Johnson, to the Johnson who listens to NPR and writes books on the side. A skin and bones human overlaid with a flashy colorful character. It's hard to say how much of it is real, but it delivers the sort of "flash" one might expect.

I picked this up not because I have tattoo's (I don't) or even have any real interest in them, but because I wanted to delve into an American sub-culture. Sort of like an episode from Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, it's a crazy trip somewhere different. I think that's what the book does best. How much you like it will depend how much you like "my brand of slightly scummy charm." (Johnson, Ch.6)
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Happy Prince and Other Tales


Oscar Wilde (1888)
The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (black book) & Internet Archive
May 2009
Apparently Oscar Wilde wrote two collections of fairy tales, this being his first in 1888, just a few years after his children were born, when he was still struggling financially and yet to become a famous playwright. The stories have a Hans Anderson feel to them. It's a short collection and easily read in an hour or two, with some beautiful color prints in later editions (see Internet Archive), plus a whole bunch of adaptations in the 20th century to film, opera etc... If your a fan of fairy tales three of them are pretty good: "The Happy Prince", "The Selfish Giant" and "The Remarkable Rocket". The two others are probably too moralistic for modern tastes.

"The Happy Prince" is typical of 19th century English fiction dealing with poor but good people who are given a second chance by some miracle of wealth re-distribution (the little bird of socialism) - it would have found a receptive audience with the rising middle classes (see also much of Dicken's fiction). Yet it seems late to the scene to be anything more than a beautiful period piece. "The Selfish Giant" is sort of a Dicken's "Christmas Carol" about stingy grownups whose cold stone hearts are melted by the spirit of Christ and giving. Again, typical genre fair by this time, but still well written and moving. Finally "The Remarkable Rocket" is a wonderful psychological profile of narcissism and selfishness. Well worth reading today and probably the story with longest legs.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Importance of Being Earnest


Oscar Wilde (1895)
The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (black book)
May 2009
One of the greatest plays ever written. Not only a non-stop roller-coaster laughs a minute ride, but satire of Victorian culture so spot on it's hard to tell it wasn't written by a 21st century author making a period piece. Wit and wisdom - the trivial and profound - merge in trademark Wilde ways. I look forward to seeing it performed on stage.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories (Oxford World's Classics)


Rudyard Kipling (1888)
Paperback 1999
May 2009
This is a collection of 17 early stories by Rudyard Kipling, most of them written in 1888 while working at his first job as a journalist for an Indian weekly paper. It was these stories that first announced Kiplings arrival to the world and made him famous in England. The Oxford collection puts them in chronological order so one can watch as he matures and experiments with creating a narrative voice. The common thread is entrapment in a bad place, starting with the first story about being caught in a sand pit, to the more subtle but powerful stories about emotional entrapment's in bad relationships, and even colonial entrapment, the last title story, "The Man Who Would Be King", is among his most famous. The autobiographical story "Baa Baa, Black Sheep", which describes Kipling's own entrapment between the ages of 5 and 10 in a Dickens-like home for wayward children, is sort of the climax of the book bringing the rest together. It's interesting to see the psychological origin of Kipling's anti-colonialism, his personal quest for freedom from oppression mirrored the struggles of his adopted country.

Considering there were 17 stories, surprisingly there were only 6 that I would want to re-read again, and of those only three stood out as the best: "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes", "Baa Baa, Black Sheep" and "The Man Who Would Be King". Two stories are notable for their Mark Twain like ability to speak in the local language and manner of the native Indian: "Gemini" and "At Flood Time" and lastly the story "Twenty-Two" is a Zola tribute to Germinal - since its one of my favorite novels and authors I was pleased to come upon it here.

Probably the best thing about reading these stories, most of them now somewhat obscure, is to discover Kipling in the same way others did. He was only 23 when he wrote most of them and his energy and optimism shine through leaving one wanting to see what he comes up with next.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis


Alanna Mitchell (2009)
Hardcover, first England edition
May 2009
Sea Sick is written by Alanna Mitchell who is a journalist by profession. She travels to environmental hotspots around the world interviewing key scientists and decoding the latest research and findings about the state of the oceans: pH imbalance from CO2, coral reef destruction, oxygen dead zones, plankton reduction. I suppose this is an important book. It is a "We're in big trouble" book, one of many. Most of the big ideas could have been distilled into a single magazine article (for the amount of coverage given) - the rest of the book is travel writing and human interest story, each chapter a sort of mini adventure. The science is not explored in much depth before concluding we're in big trouble and moving on to the next exotic locale. I had hoped for something more substantial. The books strongest elements are the chapters about the pH imbalance of the ocean due to increased CO2, and the chapter or two about coral reefs. Clearly, we're in big trouble.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Graduate


Charles Webb (1963)
Hardcover
May 2009
The 1967 film and Simon and Garfunkel songs are such a part of popular culture, when I saw the slim tattered hardcover for 2 dollars at a used book sale, I had to pick it up - who knew it was a 1963 novel originally, much less the first novel by a 21 year old recent college graduate, of course! The first two thirds are brilliant and hilarious, the back and forth dialogue some of the best I've ever read, in particular Mrs Robinson's "seduction" of Benjamin. The plot takes a turn for the fantastic towards the end, but it was an anti-Adult novel for the up and coming youth generation and struck a chord. Today Benjamin seems like a psychopath, but then so does Charles Webb.

It's a novel of the suburbs, focusing on psychological conflicts rather than the external national, economic or racial conflicts of the decades prior. It's about anti-materialism in the boom years of abundance after WWII, the idea that a life devoted to stuff - including trophy wives and trophy young men - is empty and meaningless, a forerunner of counter-culture values of more spiritual pursuits. A great novel that deserves more attention from younger readers who wish to understand the generational conflicts of the 1960s.

Update: I just read a great article "Do you get the Millennial Generation?". Apparently the key to understand American history for the past 60 years can be found in three films/books: The Baby Boomers (1943-1963) with The Graduate, Generation X (1964-1982) with Risky Business and the Millennials (1983-2003) with The Devil Wears Prada (see the linked article for more explanation).
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

O Pioneers!


Willa Cather (1913)
Reader's Digest: The World's Best Reading
May 2009
I picked this up at a used book sale with no idea who wrote it (me: under rock) or what it was about other than it was considered a "classic". I was expecting a pleasant story for young adults on the level of Little House of the Prairie but was delightfully surprised to find serious adult literature that is easy to read. Stylistically it is American Realism with an emphasis on what it was like as a pioneer in Nebraska - this was the "boring part" at the beginning many people didn't like but I loved for the many small details of period farm life. Cather said of its realism: "I decided not to 'write' at all, - simply to give myself up to the pleasure of recapturing in memory people and places I'd forgotten". And at first this is what it feels like, a novel as an excuse to reminisce about what it used to be like in the "old days" (say, 20 or 40 years prior). Cather's positive ecological message is also refreshing in a book this old and as important as ever. The books drab humorless tone - practical to a fault - artistically conveys the Norwegian pioneer world, but I hope not all her books are about Norwegians.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon


Edward Dolnick (2001)
Hardcover
May 2009
Down the Great Unknown is a re-telling of the 1869 John Wesley Powell expedition by boat through the Colorado River and Grand Canyon, the first ever descent. The advantage of Dolnick's modern archival-based history over Powell's 1875 primary source memoir is that Dolnick has the perspective of time. Drawing on diaries of Powell and other crew members, and more recent historical and archaeological research, he is able to flesh out a more complete and objective re-telling. Unlike some other past biographers, Dolnick emphasizes how dangerous the trip was, that its safe conclusion was far from a sure thing. Today when rafters run the river daily as a matter of course, Powell is often seen as the lucky one who got there first - but Dolnick successfully projects for the reader how dangerous it was for first-time boatmen to take on the Superbowl of rafting in fragile wooden boats - and not knowing what danger was behind the next bend in the river, for all they knew there could be another Niagra Falls with no place to portage around, a death trap. A little slow at times as the repetition of running rapids, portaging, camping and climbing the canyons wears on, but it is the nature of the trip, and Dolnick does a pretty good job with keeping the narrative suspense flowing by using historical backgrounders and building up to a sort of climatic scene with the splitting of the party. It's not novelistic, but it is highly accurate, Dolnick doesn't embellish, it's well sourced, and easy and enjoyable to read. If your looking for a 1-book on Powell, this is a good one.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons (Penguin Classics)


John Wesley Powell (1875)
Paperback
May 2009
John Wesley Powell's account of the first descent of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon by boat is generally considered canonical American exploration literature. To give some sense of its perceived importance, National Geographic in its list of 100 all time best adventure books ranks the Lewis and Clark journals as number 2, and Powell's book at number 4. The Grand Canyon itself ranks as one of the worlds greatest natural features, on par with the poles, Mount Everest and the Amazon - Powell's account likewise is lifted by the sheer magnificence of its discovery, the books literary qualities and story of sheer survival enhance it further.

The 1869 trip was largely funded with private money, and was supposed to have been a scientific journey of exploration. Because Powell lost in the rapids most of the science equipment, maps and records, he ended up writing most of the book years later in the first person for a wider non-scientific audience, based from his personal journal, memory and with some embellishments. Powell could be literary in his descriptions: "We think of the mountains as forming clouds about their brows, but the clouds have formed the mountains." Unfortunately the book is inconsistent and large sections contain geographic descriptions that can easily be skipped over since they were meant to be scientific, but are really more amateur science. Many of his analogies today seem dated, such as mountains with "gables" and "panels", imagery more meaningful to Victorian architecture, but this creates period atmosphere. As is usual in older exploration books, it needs a modern re-telling to fully understand and absorb the events from multiple perspectives, but reading the original account is the most authentic experience we have, short of running the river in person, which many still do with a copy of Powell's book on hand. I look forward to watching the 1999 PBS documentary done in a "Ken Burns" style with original photos, as well as the most recent and longest reconstruction Edward Dolnick's Down the Great Unknown (2001).
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled--and Knuckleheaded--Quest for the Rocky Mountain High


Mark Obmascik (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
May 2009
A light and breezy travel book through the Colorado Rockies and its sub-culture of outdoor enthusiasts united by the desire to summit all 54 of the states 14,000 foot mountains. Obmascik attempts it over the course of one summer, driving from his home in Denver each Saturday morning a few hours to the hike and back that same night. Along the way he meets other people doing the same thing, from different walks of life, united by a common quest (and website: 14ers.com). Each short chapter recounts a climb and its follies, local Colorado historical flavor, a back-story about Obmascik's hiking partner for the day (his "man-dates"), and not a few nail biting close calls with lightning, wind and cliff.

It's hard to be critical of a book like this because it makes you feel good; it's well written, funny, self-deprecating, sympathetic and educational. Obmascik is a family man with a happy marriage of 17 years, three kids, overweight, middle aged, balding - this is not exploration or macho adrenaline adventure literature - it is not `Into Thin Air`, to the benefit of every middle-aged balding overweight father who wants to do something beyond the ordinary. As A.J Jacobs says "I thank him for climbing a bunch of tall mountains so I don't have to. I was with him for every oxygen-deprived step of the way (as I lounged on my sectional sofa)." If you enjoy travel books like `A Walk in the Woods` or `A Year in Provence` this is for you.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope (The National Public Radio Dramatization)


Brian Daley (1981)
Audible
April 2009
This is one of my "guilty pleasures". At nearly 6 hours it greatly expands on the original film. The next paragraph is from Wikipedia.

"Star Wars is a 13-part (5hr51m) radio serial first broadcast on National Public Radio in 1981. It was adapted by Brian Daley from the original film, and directed by John Madden, with music by John Williams and sound design for Lucasfilm by Ben Burtt. The series fleshes out the storyline by adding a great deal of back story not in the film. The radio serials were made with the full co-operation of George Lucas, who for one dollar each sold the rights to KUSC-FM, the public radio affiliate at his alma mater, the University of Southern California. It includes original sound effects and music from the films."

I didn't know what to expect of a 6 hour radio adaptation of Star Wars but this is probably one of the best radio adaptations I've ever heard, in terms of cast, music and sound effects. The story is of course silly but still retains its ability to enthrall and captivate. The music score by John Williams is a major part of its appeal (I recommend listening to the score while flying). The plot is a bit convoluted which probably helps explain why it had so many fans going back to the theater 10 or 20 times to get all the chronology of events straight as they jump around through hyperspace and various rooms aboard ship.

I was 10 when it first came out in 1977, and while not a avid fan like some, I have re-visited it occasionally over the years and appreciate how a work of art can define a generation. More than a breakthrough in special effects it was a "New Hope" that was a break from the funk of the 1970s and helped set the tone for an optimistic 1980s (continued with 1978's Superman with Christopher Reeves). The Star Wars universe can be seen as a virtual embodiment of the American suburban landscape - unlike the world of the 1960s and early 70s, where race and class divided society, in the American suburb (and Star Wars universe) race is hardly an issue - see the alien bar scene and Wookie and the droids. Hard work and good deeds lead to rewards and advancement with no barriers (Luke's meteoric rise to fame), strong middle class values prevail throughout.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Genesis


Bernard Beckett (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
April 2009
Genesis is New Zealand author Bernard Beckett's breakout novel and probably the biggest novel out of New Zealand at the moment. Originally published in his country of origin in 2006 - where it went on to win a number of awards - in 2008 Genesis made New Zealand publishing history when it was offered the largest advance ever put forward for a young adult novel. The novel was released in the UK as two separate editions: adult and young adult, and went into bidding wars in over 20 other countries, including the US. One of the blurbs says it is destined to be "a modern classic."

It's very short, readable in 3 hours or so, but it is philosophically and symbolically dense that rewards reflection and slowing down. Although set in a post-apocalyptic world with science fiction trappings (ie. a giant metal "sea fence" around an island), it really is a novel about philosophically age old questions and ideas. It's been compared to Philip K. Dick with its emphasis on asking what it means to be human; the nature of consciousness and artificial intelligence; the nature of a soul and what makes humans unique. At its core it is an essentially humanistic story, relevant to the here and now, as the best fiction is.

If one is reading for the plot and wondering what happens, it will not disappoint, it "gripped me like a vice" said Jonathan Stroud, but the novel brings up a whole host of questions and ideas that are really at the core of the book. This is a thinking persons story. Is it a classic? I don't think so, at least not on the level of 1984 or Brave New World, but it is very good international fiction from New Zealand, a good story, and thought provoking ideas about man and machine.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters


Russel L. Honore (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
April 2009
Russel Honore (b. 1947) is a recently retired 3-star US Army General who was in command of the Federal military relief operations for Katrina. He is of Creole descent and became something of a popular hero in the press for his straight shooting non-nonsense tough guy attitude. While Brown of FEMA and other state and local leaders lost control on TV pointing fingers, yelling mad and even crying - Honore was always there tough as nails getting things done. In this memoir he recounts what happened and along the way dispels popular myths about who was at fault and why, in particular related to the Superdome debacle. In the end he concludes it's a systemic failure of a culture quick to blame and slow to take up a can-do attitude of being prepared for a disaster. To that end he has found it his "life's mission" to teach and educate on being prepared, this book is just part of a larger lecture tour, classes and other programs he has undertaken.

Survival can be approached in a number of ways: 1) as an autobiography of Honore, 2) as a first-person history of Katrina, 3) an "after-action" report on what went wrong and what could be done to improve it in the future and 4) a guide for the average citizen on ways to be more prepared, physically and psychologically. Not being a public official, I found it most interesting as a history of Katrina by a key leader who was there, it brings clarity to an event surrounded by a lot of confusion and politics.

Honore admits early on he is not a great writer and the book is co-authored by Ron Martz who no doubt technically wrote much of the book. However the voice of Honore is clear and pronounced - Honore is a great speaker and most likely much of it was dictated and cleaned up for the page by Martz. Honore's personality and character come across clearly, he communicates well and gets the ideas across with occasional humor and grace. It reads quickly and I often had trouble putting it down.

Overall, even if your not interested in the "preparedness" angle, it's well worth reading just as an easy accessible first-person account of Katrina. It's not authoritative - that may come later by an archival based professional historian cranking out a 880 page tomb - but it is easy to read and clears up a lot of misunderstandings. And in the end you may even find yourself agreeing with Honore about being prepared. Today as I write this review, the news is full of stories about a Mexican swine-flu, it may be nothing or it may be the next disaster.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Lapham's Quarterly: Crimes & Punishment (V. 2, N. 2)


Lewis Lapham (2009)
Paperback
April 2009
Emotionally difficult reading of little intellectual profundity yet a basely voyeuristic tour of the cold heart. Crime and torture by its nature is a drag on the spirit and not very uplifting, although gripping and compelling at times. Much true crime and crime literature is fantasy entertainment, it's a testament to the strength of the selected works in this anthology that the reader remains grounded in the reality of the senselessness of it all, and able to see a universal human nature across time and place. As always it's incredibly useful to read short experts of famous authors and works back to back to compare writing quality and style, a catalog of books and authors to read more.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France


Michael Steinberger (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
April 2009
Au Revoir To All That is a quick engrossing and often funny account of recent French food and cultural history. It's the perfect book if you know a little about French food history from news events but want to learn more. Such as the famous blind wine taste test in the 1980s when American wines beat French for the first time; the incident when a McDonald's was bulldozed by angry French farmers; or the relation of McDonald's to French culture in general; raw-milk cheese and the French - it's not what you imagine; etc.. Steinberger is on the ground giving interviews with famous French chefs and at the tables of 3-star restaurants trying the food (*sigh* someone has to do it) - an accomplished and skilled writer this is one of the more enjoyable books I've read in a while. A perfect balance of length and surprising new perspectives contrary to popular belief, Steinberger opens the doors to French culture and gastronomy.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002


Natalie Angier (2002)
Hardcover
April 2009
2002 saw another solid edition of BASNW, edited by Natalie Angier, who brought a more distinctly female oriented perspective in her selections. There are a total of 27 essays, 12 of which I found outstanding, with the remainder well worth reading as well.

In "Violent Pride" (Scientific American), Roy Baumeister skillfully re-examines the prevailing myth that violent offenders are that way because of low self-esteem - instead they are the exact opposite with hyper-inflated egos. Burkhard Bilger in "Braised Shank of Free-Range Possum" (Outside) takes on a familiar topic - eating odd wild meats like possum and raccoon - but does so with a wit and style that sets it above the norm. Funny, educational. In "Welcome to Cancerland" (Harper's Magazine), Barbara Ehrenreich writes about her experiences as a breast cancer survivor, and the politics behind it. This powerful essay touches on many interesting topics: the gender politics of the breast cancer movement, the social pressures to conform to devastating chemo therapy treatments (applicable to all health care).

In H. Bruce Franklin's "The Most Important Fish in the Sea" (Discover) we learn that the menhaden - a small oily fish not eaten by humans - stands close to collapse due to overfishing for animal feed protein, bringing down with it entire ecosystems like a key domino. In Malcolm Gladwell's "Examined Life" (The New Yorker) he tells the story of Stanley Kaplan, the man who beat the SAT tests by training students how to master it - and along the way reveals that IQ is partly genetic, but largely hard work, a product of study and practice. Blaine Harden's "The Dirt in the New Machine" (New York Times Magazine) is an interesting look at the Congo and its natural resource a metal called "coltan" used in electronics. Just as oil-rich countries become hotbeds of war, the electronics industry through its use of coltran is a driving engine for the wars in eastern Congo.

In another article about cancer, Judith Newman profiles Steven Rosenberg in "I Have Seen Caners Disappear" (Discover). It is an excellent look at a leading cancer researcher both his professional and private life and provides insights on how the system works. Eric Schlosser's classic essay "Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good" (The Atlantic Monthly) caused full-out riots in India when Hindus learned McDonalds fries use beef tallow and were not vegetarian. It's also just a great essay on the evils of fast food. Daniel Smith in "Shock and Disbelief" (The Atlantic Monthly) looks at Electro Shock Therapy (ECT) for the mentally ill. Long reviled by public opinion, there is actually considerable data to show it's effective - however with risks that are not fully disclosed to patients. This essay should be required reading for anyone considering ECT for themselves or others. Clive Thompson in "The Know-It-All Machine" (Lingua Franca) gives a good if now somewhat dated history of the Cyc project, an attempt to build an AI machine by the brute force method of entering every single possible fact that exists. Reviled by academics, it is either the biggest folly, or the beginnings Ai that works. Finally in "One Acre" (Harper's Magazine), Joy Williams delightfully recounts her experience fostering nature in a 1-acre plot of land in Florida and then eventually selling it with a conservation easement. The best for last, it is my favorite essay in the book.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Forests of the Night


Jean-Louis Curtis (1947)
Hardcover first English edition
March 2009
The Forests of the Night won the Prix Goncourt in 1947, probably France's most prestigious literary award. The story takes place during WWII on the homefront of occupied France, set in the small town of Saint-Clar near the Pyrenees. It opens in 1942 when the Resistance began in earnest, concluding in 1946. Stylistically the writing is straightforward and easy to read, Curtis was not a stylist, like Balzac his strength is in depicting society through a multitude of character portraits.

The Forests of the Night is historically important as the first post-war novel to question the myth that France was a nation of resistors, the idea that only a few bad apples were collaborators and that most everyone else resisted or at least objected to the German occupation. This issue wasn't openly resolved in French society until the 1970's, after many of the people involved in the events had passed away, so the novel was ahead of its time by daring to critically show what France was really like under the Germans, the good and the bad. Curtis' paints "acid portraits" of those who were apathetic, self-serving, unpatriotic and merely playing at being resistors. The novel is best read today for its historical content because it brings alive everything we read in history books. As entertainment, it is not bad, but something of a period piece. The story is believable and even exciting at times, but Curtis spends a lot of space atomizing certain French character types and classes that can seem tedious and opaque today. Still, it's an important document written just after the war describing the many faceted and complex French relationships with the Germans - as a social criticism, it's the best type of novel.

It was first published in English in 1950 (1951 US) and has been out of print since, probably very few English readers have heard of it. Curtis wrote dozens of novels over his lifetime and was very popular in France. This is critically his best, according to Martin Seymour-Smith.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Underground


David Macaulay (1976)

March 2009
David Macaulay said about Underground:

----

Underground was different from Castle and Cathedral and Pyramid, in that it really is intended as a guide for pedestrians wandering down the city street. So I start with a double page spread of an intersection that we’re going to look at in detail. And I put sort of circles around key familiar elements, like the fire hydrant, and a manhole cover, a ladder disappearing into the street, and a construction site excavation. I start with that. And you can move from this map, in a sense, to the corresponding page of the book, or you can just go through the book from beginning to end. Doesn’t matter. But it was intended as a guide, a kind of guide for pedestrians. Underground was a catalog of city sites that are clues to systems we completely take for granted until they break down, and then we say, “Hey, how come I don’t have any electricity? What’s wrong with the water?” We are so dependent on those systems, and that’s what motivated that book. I did the book because I wanted to say to people, “Hey, look again. This is amazing stuff. We all count on it.” I mean, I don’t know what we’d do without this stuff, but we just completely take it for granted.

Source (PDF)
----

Underground of course is as brilliant as the rest of Macaulay's series. It has not aged as gracefully as some of others because infrastructure technology has changed since the mid-1970's, although much of it remains the same, and of course much of it still exists in place "underground." In 2009 the word "Infrastructure" was on the minds of most Americans, and Underground shows what that really means, in a playful and fun way for kids and adults. Probably the most outstanding aspect is Macaulay's use of perspective with floating buildings and tubes in an ocean of water with bedrock as the floor and tourists looking upwards. It has the capacity to forever change how one sees a building and city, from the "ground up", to visualize and appreciate the unseen man-made ocean of curiosity beneath our feet.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order


Nancy Maguire (2006)
Hardcover
March 2009
The Carthusian Order is the most strict of all the Catholic orders, little has changed since its founding in the 11th century, it's a time portal to see how people lived in the Middle Ages. Carthusaisn are like the special forces, it is the most challenging and has the highest drop out rate. Living as hermits in a "cell" (a small two story house) for about 21 hours of the day, the monks come out 3 times a day for prayer and singing - the longest uninterrupted period of sleep is 3 or 4 hours. Of the 36 new monks who joined around 1960, only 1 stayed the rest of his life, the others dropped out.

Nancy Maguire, who is married to a former Carthusian, does a wonderful job of describing the first 5 years (1960-65) of 5 new monks - 3 from the USA, one from Ireland and Germany. She spent years interviewing the former monks and piecing together the events and perspectives, along the way showing the reader what it is like to be a Carthusian. It's novelistic in characterization and very effective in maintaining a sense of mystery to keep the pages turning- who will survive, who will crack? My only complaint is it didn't seem to convey what it was like to spend 21 hours a day alone - most of the book is centered on social interactions. This is understandable since so much time has passed since the early 1960s, the monks will recall details of the notable events 40 years ago, while the great oceans of silent time will merge into an impression difficult to convey in words.

In conjunction with the book I also watched the movie Into Great Silence (2005) which I think is essential, it fills in the visual and auditory details.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

HIST 276: France Since 1871 (Fall 2007, Yale)


John Merriman (2007)
Web video
March 2009
This is a 20-hour, 24-class video recording of John M. Merriman teaching a class at Yale University in the Fall of 2007. Merriman is a dynamic and interesting speaker and uses visual slides to augment his lectures. 20 hours is a long time to listen to any speaker but I never tired of Merriman, the subject or his passion. He has lived half his life in France, but was born and raised in Oregon, so he is an effective cultural bridge. As part of the course I also read a number of books (see my library) and watched a number of films including: Paths of Glory, The Sorrow and the Pity, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Army of Shadows, Into Great Silence, The Life of Emile Zola.

HIST 276: France Since 1871 (Fall 2007), by John M. Merriman, Open Yale Courses.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Wise Blood


Flannery O'Connor (1952)
The Library of America: Collected Works
March 2009
I really enjoyed the short stories in A Good Man is Hard to Find but found O'Connor's first novel Wise Blood less enthralling. The writing is excellent but structurally it's like a few short stories strung together, perhaps because she wrote it over a period of many years. It's a deeply religious and philosophical novel that is difficult to interpret without help - and even then challenging. It's an important groundbreaking book because she set the stage for "Southern Gothic", focusing on the outcast and unsavory southern character. It's like a comic strip, or Dickens "sketch", with colorful and exaggerated characters whose interactions create a three dimensional universe. It's a book of literary historical significance with multidimensional themes that can be approached from many perspectives but in the end the story as entertainment is not compelling enough - but hey, it's her first book, her later short stories would of course prove otherwise!
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia


Andrew Lih (2009)
Hardcover first
March 2009
The Wikipedia Revolution (2009) is probably the first serious attempt at a book-length history of Wikipedia. Unfortunately Andrew Lih is not a trained historian, it is a journalistic account with more reporting and synthesis than original interpretation. However it is still a quick and interesting read, even if Lih is a devout Wikipedian. Certain sections stand out: the history of Ward Cunningham who invented the Wiki software; the history of Larry Sanger and his role as "co-founder" (or not, depending, but it is not resolved here). The role of Usenet, Hypercard, Slashdot and MeatballWiki in the formation of early Wikipedia. A glimpse into the vastly different cultures of Japanese, Chinese, German and other foreign language Wikipedias. An overview of some (in)famous incidents such as Seigenthaler and Essjay. Lih appears to have researched the book mostly using archival sources - I was disappointed not to find new interviews with Wales, Sanger or any number of others - it takes away from the books value in the long term as a primary source, a missed opportunity to add to the historical record.

There is a short Introduction by Jimmy Wales which is a standard stump speech heard many times before. The Afterword contains a crowd-sourced essay on the future of Wikipedia and it does contain a meaty examination of the difficult issues facing Wikipedia now and in the future. I found it to be surprisingly good. The Afterword is released under a Creative Commons BY license so it's freely available to copy - it's odd Lih did not point to where it can be found online.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has been a long time member of Wikipedia and wants to learn more about 'a history experienced' over the past 8 years or so. There is so much that could be said about Wikipedia this book just grazes the surface but it's a good entry into what will certainly becoming a growing library of books about Wikipedia in the future.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

France Since 1870: Culture, Politics and Society


Charles Sowerwine (2001)
Paperback
March 2009
France Since 1870 is a political and cultural history of France from the Franco-Prussian War to about 2000. It's often assigned as a survey text in undergraduate French history courses. It's notable for its inclusion of not only political, but cultural and woman's history. I read it in conjunction with a class taught by John Merriman of Yale University: HIST 276: France Since 1871, a 24 lecture, 20 hour class freely available online.

This is an excellent book and I recommend it highly. It's about 75% political history, some of which is great, some of which is mind numbing lists of statistics. The cultural history chapters are superb, covering things such as French New Wave cinema, literature, art, post-modernism, existentialism, Anarchism, Feminism. Major political episodes are explained such as the Dryfus Affair, WWI and Vichy France, Vietnam, Algiers, May 68. These are all things I knew about on the fringe but never understood in context of France's development, now they make much more sense. As an Introduction to French history this book along with Merriman's class lectures are among the best available.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Inheritance of Rome


Chris Wickham (2009)
Hardcover
March 2009
This is a narrative history version of Wickham's Framing the Middle Ages designed for a wider audience and part of Penguin's new multi-authored history of Europe series. It represents the latest views on the period and covers not only Western Europe but Eastern as well as North Africa and the Middle East. It's impossible to cover 400-1000AD across such a large geographic area of time with any meaningful generalization so Wickham broke it down by time and place. In the process he discredits traditional narratives and shows the period to be much richer and more diverse than generally thought (ie. myth of a "Dark Ages").

One of the ways I test a survey history is to ask how well it covers things I already know about in depth, and then put myself in the shoes of a newbie and ask myself if this is a good introduction to the material. Unfortunately I think Wickham failed in this regard - he seems to know so much that he can't help skimming over the core stuff and expanding on ideas that are subtle and difficult for a beginner to understand without context. The books value for me is in the Introduction, the first 100 pages or so, and the last chapter, in which he goes into historiography and the changing nature of the field. As well the bibliography is excellent. Certa
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Every Man Dies Alone


Hans Fallada (1947)
ARC Amazon Vine
March 2009
Every Man Dies Alone (1947) is a gripping crime thriller set in Berlin, it is based on the true case of a married couple who committed acts of civil disobedience/resistance against the Nazis during WWII. The German author Hans Fallada (1893-1947) was held in an insane asylum during the war, and the novel can be seen as an indictment of German society as being insane. Those who do the right thing are insane or criminal, while the criminally insane run the state. In fascist Germany, the state (Fuhrer) thinks for everyone, the individual is secondary. This creates a situation where everyone is looking out for themselves, because everyone is guilty of some transgression and doesn't want to be revealed. Alienation and isolation divide society, "we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone." - but in the end Fallada offers a way out of the trap: "We live not for ourselves, but for others. What we make of ourselves we make not for ourselves, but for others..."

The characters are fascinating because Fallada drew on his own direct experiences so we get more than 50 portraits, good and evil. It's authentic because Fallada lived through it. The bad guys are mostly criminal brutes, hardly the super-men embodiments of evil so often betrayed, just thugs corrupted by greed, drugs, sex and power. The depiction of working class life on the home front is illuminating. The literary qualities are excellent if not at times a bit old fashioned. Yet, given the time and place it was created, by a German for Germans right after the war, it's remarkably insightful and damning. Probably one reason Primo Levi once said of it "the greatest book about German resistance to the Nazis." Indeed it seems amazing Fallada wasn't killed by the Nazi's and was able to hide his true sentiments for so long. He died before seeing it in print though, completing it in a blistering 25 days. As Hans Fallada says in the novel, "Everyone facing death, especially premature death, will be kicking themselves for each wasted hour."

Every Man Dies Alone is considered the first anti-Nazi novel after the war. On the French side, the first was The Forests of the Night (also published in 1947) by Jean-Louis Curtis. It contains acid portraits of French citizens in a small town who were apathetic about the Germans, played around at resisting, or even welcomed the occupiers. It's a similar novel from the same time period and won the Prix Goncourt - it has been out of print (in English) since 1951, an actual "lost" novel.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World


Gordon Hempton (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
March 2009
Like the aesthetic beauty of natural sound, the theme of the book is subtle - in a way the idea is almost laughable. Given all the problems in the world, who could possibly complain about a single plane flying 18,000 feet over a national park a few times a day? Yet Gordon Hempton, who has won an Emmy Award for his recordings of nature, wants to make us aware of how man-made sounds exist in just about every inch of the continental USA. To draw attention to the loss of the American soundscape, he wants to set aside a single square inch of silence in Olympic National Park, to create a place where no man-made noise intrudes above 20 dba (the lower limit of human hearing).

As Gordon drives across the USA in this sort of travel memoir steeped in the traditions of John Muir, Walden and Aldo Leopold, he records levels with a sound-meter and thus experiences the American coast-to-coast road trip through the hearing sense. The book may even be pioneering a new form of travel/nature literature, experiencing the world through the aesthetic of sound, specifically the lack of man-made noise (including music), and the presence of natural sounds. Few if any authors have ever approached a book in this way before. It may seem overly precious and perhaps a bit odd to some people, like Gordon's rebellious teenage daughter; yet Gordon really does seem to be on to something. Some have said noise pollution is where air pollution was 40 or 50 years ago, a few people concerned but becoming increasingly important.

"The loss of quiet is literally the loss of awareness. Quiet is being lost without people even becoming aware of what they are loosing." This book brings a new awareness.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Under Fire


Henri Barbusse (1916)
Paperback Penguin Classics 2004
March 2009
Under Fire is considered the best WWI novel by a French author. It was also the first major novel of the war, published in 1916 just two years into the conflict, making it very influential with later authors. It's a grotesque and graphic portrayal of life in the trenches. It is devoid of contemporary propaganda, the German enemy is an abstraction of metal shrapnel, explosions and pointed helmets - it is irrational senseless horror.

To truly appreciate this book is to understand French culture in the period 1871-1914 - Barbusee tears down many of its cherished ideals and beliefs. For example, France was a colonial power which rationalized its overseas exploitations based on the notion of a "civilized mission". Europeans were naturally, they believed, superior to the primitive peoples they subjected. WWI exposed the lie, Europeans were the most barbaric of all. Barbusse was among the first to say it and spares no prose in describing the cave man like existence on the front lines - in one scene a soldier even finds an ancient archaeological axe and uses it as a weapon. Other beliefs like honor and duty are seen as hypocrisy and class warfare.

WWI was a wrenching change, a train wreck from which the trajectory of Europe was forever altered. Barbusse's book goes a long way in showing how those in the middle of the fire were aware of the change. Straddling the old world and the new at the same time. Looking backward and at the present. Many fine WWI novels have been written by veterans who experienced the war, but mostly after the war ended. Under Fire is unique in that it was written with such close perspective, not knowing the outcome, or even caring, stuck in the trench and lamenting how the world had changed.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Art, War and Revolution in France 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality


John Milner (2000)
Hardcover
March 2009
This is a heavy coffee-table size glossy-paper book about art during the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune (1870-71). It is also a serious and learned retelling of the events. Milner is an art historian and each picture - painting, drawing, lithograph, etching, photo - is put in context. The result is a deep immersion in the period in a way a written history text can not achieve. A sense for the feel and flavor and character of the time comes alive in vivid color and drama. Photography had not yet reached the point of being practical to publish in newspapers so artists were still the primary means. France had many skilled and famous artists to record what happened, the images are lasting and remained influential for generations. Milner is an excellent guide and shows not only the context and meaning of the pictures, but their aesthetic value - one learns how to read and appreciate art. Yet more than an art book, it also can be read as a history of the War and Communue with added pictures to help clarify events.

When it came out in 2000 it cost $65 and is still in print at that price. This is rather steep for a 220 page book. Luckily the used market has copies available below $20 making it a bargain.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Life of Her Own: A Countrywoman in Twentieth-Century France


Emilie Carles (1977)
Hardcover
February 2009
A Life of Her Own (1977) is a memoir by Frenchwoman Emilie Carles born in 1900 in a remote Alpine village near the Swiss/Italian/France border, sort of the poor Appalachia of France. There are stories of hard work, poverty and a lifestyle akin to the Middle Ages - they didn't even have a metal wood-burning stove, much less running water or electricity. And we learn of Emilie's family - mother/father, 5 siblings and 5 uncles - all of whom but two die young from accident, war and suicide - a record of de-population not uncommon in 20th century France. It's a story of outright survival, strength and personal integrity in the face of adversity and hardship. It's an uplifting memoir and one feels Emilie is a friend and mentor who lived an admirable life.

I read the book as part of a course in modern French history taught by Yale professor John Merriman (free online). Novelistic in scope, it is much more than one woman's life, her story is "dense with history", without being a history book. I came away with a deeper understanding, not only of French history, but generational differences between those born in the 19th and 20th century. The change experienced during Emilie's lifespan is perhaps most striking since her village is so remote and isolated, attitudes and world view from father to daughter is a gap of many centuries.

A Life of Her Own was a best-seller in Europe when it came out in the late 70s, under the much better title A Wild Herb Soup. The small village Val-des-Prés has since become a mecca for tourists to see her house, the fields, the places she taught school, etc... The book (and Emilie herself) played no small role in stopping a highway construction project that would have ruined the picaresque Clarée Valley. Only in 1991 did the book finally appear in English translation. With the recent success of Little Heathens (2007), Emile's story is equally engrossing if not more amazing, it should find a wider audience.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror


John Merriman (2009)
Hardcover, first
February 2009
John Merriman, professor of history at Yale and author of the classic undergraduate text A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, has been called America's best living historian of France. Born and raised in Oregon, he has lived in France on and off much of his life and is skilled at bridging the cultural divide. In our current "age of terror" it is illuminating to remember that for about a 15-20 year period during the fin-de-siecle (end of the 19th century), Paris was gripped by a wave of Anarchist Dynamite bombers. The central story of this book is about one of those Dynamiters, Emile Henry, the first terrorist to bomb anonymous otherwise innocent civilians and, according to the subtitle, "ignite the modern age of terror."

The Dynamite Club is a small package (216pg, 8.5" book) but, like the subject of its title, packs a wallop amount of information. Using the creative non-fiction technique of writing history through telling the narrative story of a central hero (or anti-hero in this case), it is a biography of Emile and the bombing and its aftermath - and also the larger story of Anarchism in the 19th century. We learn about the underground world of Paris and London, teeming with hungry, unemployed and angry youth, the revolutionary intellectuals who inspired them and the state enforcement that emerged with them. Merriman not only dug deep into the archives, he traveled to the locations involved (some still in business), even retracing the steps of Emile Henry through the streets of Paris the day of his bombing, clocking the amount of time it took to verify his story (luckily traffic in Paris today is so bad, travel resembles the speed of 19th century horse and carriage).

This is a really fascinating and accessible introduction to the world of 19th century Anarchism - one of the defining characteristics of fin-de-siecle Europe. Merriman is a serious historian and I had trouble finding anything that appeared embellished, unfortunately so common with journalist-historians these days writing for a popular audience. Merriman teaches a course at Yale called France since 1871 (18hrs, 24 classes). It has been video recorded and is freely available online for anyone to watch. Merriman is a dynamic and fun teacher to watch. The first 12 or so classes are about France between 1871 and 1914 and it is a great introduction to everything fin-de-siecle. Lecture 8 in particular is called "Dynamite Club: The Anarchists", and was recorded while he was working on this book.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Camp, Court and Siege: a narrative of personal adventure and observation during two wars: 1861-1865; 1870-1871


Wickham Hoffman (1877)
Internet Archive
February 2009
Wickham Hoffman was a senior member of the US embassy in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune of 1870-71 (he later went on to become US Ambassador to Denmark). In this short by fascinating memoir, published just 6 years after the events, he describes what it was like to live in Paris during the siege - the hot air balloons and carrier pigeons used for communications; the eating of the zoo animals - Hoffman partook in eating a famous elephant - the rats and cats and dogs used as food. As a senior diplomat, Hoffman had personal access to high level officials and related some interesting stories that occurred between Bismark and US General Sherman, who was there as an observer and adviser. The descriptions of the Paris Commune days are very interesting, it helps to be already familiar with the events to follow along. He generally sees the "Communists" as criminal gangs ruled by "King Mob", but this is not surprising since the insurgents were from the working class and Hoffman would have both personally and professionally been opposed as a senior government official. Yet he is also sympathetic to the slaughter that occurred. Overall an interesting first-person account.

Read via Internet Archive
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Short History of the Paris Commune


Ernest Belfort Bax (1895)
Internet Archive
February 2009
As the title suggests, A Short History of the Paris Commune is a roughly 75 page history of the 1871 Paris Commune uprising. If you've read about it already in a history survey but want to know more, without committing to a 500 page tomb, this is a good middle ground freely available. The Wikipedia article is also good for a quick overview.

Ernest Belfort Bax was a well known 19th century Socialist (SDF) and takes an unapologetic defense of the insurgents, and for that reason the book is worth reading to get a 19th centuries revolutionaries perspective (although he was not there). He even includes recommendations for future uprisings, in case one is looking for ideas :) He mostly keeps to the order of events and is a dramatic "novelistic" writer, in particular the climatic "Week of Blood". It's not difficult reading once the flow of events get started.

To really understand 1871 one can approach it a number of ways: first-hand witness accounts; accounts written within 20 years by Socialists, Republicans and other contemporary observers; and modern histories. This book falls into the second category. Given how many factions were involved there seems an endless number of ways to read about it. There are even a bunch of fictional treatments out there - just too bad Zola didn't write more about it beyond the ending of La Debacle.

Read via Internet Archive, which has a fairly large library of books about the events of France 1870-71.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13


Jeffrey Kluger (1994)
Hardcover
February 2009
Lost Moon (1994) is a historically important work in the canon of Travel and Adventure literature. Like the journals of Lewis and Clark, the diary of Columbus, the journals of Scott to the Antarctic - Lost Moon is (co) written by a personal who actually experienced the event. Likewise, it is the first and only serious rescue mission in space. There are thousands of books about perilous explorations on the open seas, the poles and the jungles. There is only one about space, and this is it.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A Good Man Is Hard To Find


Flannery O'Connor (1955)
The Library of America: Collected Works
February 2009
Some of the best fiction I've ever read. She is a genius, but tweaked. O'Connor writes the truth. Nothing is wasted. Rewards re-reading. Many insights, in particular the psyche of women revealed, intentionally or not, through O'Conner's quest for what good women are supposed to want (A Good Man). Twisted and perhaps cynical, like the burden of the illness she bore, soulfully revealing and amazingly well written.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon


David Grann (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
February 2009
David Grann set out to write a "gripping yarn" and he succeeds. It's not a scholarly treatment, but it is an easy and entertaining introduction to the once famous British explorer Col. Percy Fawcett (1867 - in or after 1925)(*). Much of it will be old ground for anyone who reads a lot of classic travel literature, but should also fill in some needed gaps. Grann takes a gonzo approach, weaving and paralleling his own story of discovery and writing of the book, with the history of Fawcett. There is nothing wrong with this approach, a common technique taught in "creative non-fiction" schools and journalism. Grann doesn't really uncover anything new(**), that wasn't already known, but he does provide synthesis and historical perspective to bring the story of Fawcett out of the archives for a new generation, and soon to the screen. The movie will do much to restore Fawcett to popular conscious, thanks to Grann.

Fawcett's own accounts of his travels was published as Exploration Fawcett (aka Lost Trails, Lost Cities) by his son Brian in 1953. It still remains readable but Fawcett's continual reiteration of lurid stories of torture, massacre, slave raids, epidemics, and cannibalism take up as much space as Fawcett's own travels. It's difficult to know how much of what Fawcett wrote is true, but it can't help be noticed that Fawcett's continual emphasis on the worst aspects of the jungle could do nothing but glorify his own achievements and reputation, something Grann never seriously reconsiders. Peter Fleming (Ian's brother) would both confirm and lampoon these stereotypes of a dark evil uncivilized jungle in his 1933 classic travel book Brazilian Adventure, in which Fleming travels to Brazil to search for Fawcett.

(*) Grann, coincidentally, was born in 1967, a century apart.
(**) In fact Grann does make a claim of discovery, but it would spoil the book.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Fountains Abbey: The Story Of A Mediaeval Monastery


George Hodges (1904)
Internet Archive
January 2009
Fountains Abbey: The Story Of A Mediaeval Monastery (1904) is an illustrated history and description of day to day life at Fountains Abbey in York England. It is the largest and best preserved Cistercian monastery in England, although in ruins since the "Dissolution of Monasteries" in the 1530's. Its history mirrors closely that of English monasticism, and medieval history in general. Although I've read a lot about monasticism in high-level history surveys, the story of a single place is enlightening. There are a number of books about Fountains monastery, this one by an American theologian in 1904 has a romantic flair that sparks the imagination. There is an evocative full color pull out map in the back which is helpful to follow along as the book acts a tour guide through the stone vaulted galleys and passages, underground prisons, rivers that run through tunnels under buildings, twisty foot-worn stone passages, huge chambers. Fountains Abbey is a ruin today, but protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so despite old Henry's dissolution, it should last a long time, no doubt to the delight of the faithful souls who once inhabited its walls.

The book is available at Internet Archive. For more pictures and maps see also The Ruins of Fountains Abbey (1910) which contains the original 13th century document describing the Abbey's founding, a curious and fascinating read in its own right. Beyond reading, check out the Abbey's website (Google: Fountains Abbey) and look for the "Audio tour" which is about a 45 minute tour of the Abbey as a new monk who is thinking of joining. It's the same audio tour used on-site for visitors and well done.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

A History of Everyday Things in England, 1066-1499, 1500-1799


Marjorie Quennell (1918)
Hardcover
January 2009
In 1918 the English husband and wife team of H.C.B and Marjorie Quennell published the first volume in what would become a 4 volume history of England for "children", but appealing to adults as well. Each chapter roughly corresponds to a century of history from the 12th through the 19th, with volume one covering the 12th through 15th (1066-1499). Each chapter follows the same format, examining certain aspects of day to day life tracking the progression of change (and continuity) over time. Aspects examined in each century include: Costume (clothes), Castles and Houses, Churches, Ships, Toys, Games, Warfare, Food, Mills, Transportation. Marjorie was also an illustrator and the artwork, reminiscent of David Macaulay's Cathedral and Castle, is a big part of what makes the series so appealing.

The books were popular and used in classrooms in Britain and the US from the 1920s up until the early 1960s. Today they are outdated, but retain a charm that modern history books are missing. To give a sense of the books style here is a quote about clothing in the 13th century:

"Our coloured plate shows what people looked like, and their houses and churches were splashed about with the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, with a little golden thrown in, and this continued right down till the end of the eighteenth century. It was only in Victorian times we became dismal and clothed ourselves in drab, -- perhaps this accounts for the merriness of Old England, because it really is quite impossible to be dull if you are garbed like a cheerful parrot."

Impossible to publish today, but impossible to dislike.

I recommend these excerpts from Vol I (1066-1499) as the best:

*Norman Castle, page 11-20
*Benedictine Monastery, page 27-37
*13th C Manor House, page 76-83
*14th C Castle and House 113-131
*Carthusian Monastery 171-177

Copies are freely available online at Internet Archive. I also created a Wikipedia page which links to further information about the Quennell's.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Robert Helmont, Diary of a Recluse, 1870-1871


Alphonse Daudet (1892)
Hardcover
January 2009
On a fine summer day in July 1870, the famous French author Alphonse Daudet accidentally broke a leg - coincidentally the same day war was declared in what later became known as the Franco-Prussian War. Daudet, along with everyone else in the French countryside, retreated (hobbled) westward before the invading "Saxons" to behind the protective walls of Paris. However modern weapons made short work of the cities defenses, and when France capitulated 5 months later, Daudet returned back to his village. There he found an old man who had stayed behind and rode out the war as a "recluse" hiding from the Germans. The old mans tale, and Daudet's own experiences with the Germans who were still swarming around after France's surrender, sparked the idea for the novel. It is about a man named Robert Helmont (a character from an earlier novel) who - because of a broken leg - is unable to retreat and hides behind enemy lines during the siege of Paris. It's a wonderful story filled with mystery and adventure, but also Daudet's beautiful descriptions of nature, and the wonders of entire towns devoid of people in a sort of proto "Last Man on Earth" story. Before there was The Road, there was Robert Helmont. It's a short novel easily read in a few hours and includes illustrations on every other page which bring it alive. It's a realistic novel, all the places mentioned are actual locations, yet romantic (Rousseauian) in its emphasis on the primal order of nature. The contrast between nature and war is at the heart of the books beauty. It's also an interesting history lesson for a sense of mid-19th century warfare and nationalistic sentiments. Overall an easy to read but tasteful "high culture" adventure story.

Available at Internet Archive: Robert Helmont
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Seed #20 (February 2009)


Adam Bly (2009)
Magazine
January 2009
This is my first review of an issue of Seed magazine so lets start with a 1-time overview. I review anything that is "book like" in the sense of a commitment of time and complexity to complete, and Seed certainly qualifies. To read cover to cover took about 4 hours. It has 35 articles by 35 authors. It's sort of like The Best American Science and Nature Writing in magazine form, indeed many Best American selections are taken from Seed.

My favorite articles include "The Urban Paradox" (p.27) and the accompanying graphic "The Anatomy of Growth" (p.26). This really opened my eyes to the idea that more people = more ideas = we are all better off. In fact, the more people there are, the more difficult the problems become, so it's sort of like a tread-mill, the faster you go, the faster you have to go to keep up. Obviously, this is not sustainable, or at least becomes increasingly more dangerous.

"The Right Reactor" (p.44) is a nice overview of new nuclear reactor technologies and their benefits and risks. "On My Mind" (p.51) shows it is possible to predict where and when ethnic conflict will arrise using census data to look at geographical arrangements. The more segregated two ethnic groups are, the more likely there will be violence. It makes me wonder about Iraq since it has been self-segregating itself over the past 5 years.

The full-page graphic on pg. 56 shows the interconnections of global issues. Any one connection is obvious, but when put together as a whole it shows how everything is interconnected with population growth as the central engine. "Thinking Meta" (p.58) is a neat article about how we think, and the best thinkers are those who think about how one thinks. "Beyond a Theory of Everything" (p.101) is a good essay on what's really important in science as a whole, suggesting that finding a Grand Unified Theory of Everything - while important - would have little meaning or impact on 99% of scientists.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party


Kelly Tyler-Lewis (2006)
Hardcover
January 2009
Tyler-Lewis has probably written the definitive account of this expedition. Her command of the sources is impressive and she brings to light a lot of new material. More so she focuses on the relationships between the expedition members, which ultimately is the most useful reason for reading these types of accounts, as lessons in leadership and group dynamics under difficult conditions that can be applied to our own lives. Ultimately though it lacks heroes, even when looked at with sympathy, so it doesn't have the epic feel of Scott or Shackleton. This is not surprising, most of the members were younger and of the "Lost Generation" (b. 1880-1900). It was the generation or two before them who would be heroes (Scott and Shackleton), who would cast a shadow over the "Lost" men of the Lost generation. Although ultimately this expedition paid a higher price than Shackleton's did (people died and they were under more severe physical hardship), and even though they accomplished their goal, unlike Shakcleton who never even set foot on Antarctica, they did so in a somewhat non-heroic manner, as the support team for Shackleton. Likewise Tyler-Lewis' book, while a model of historical scholarship, will linger on the shelves of specialists and hobbyist's but probably never break out into the wider audience like the larger than life stories of Shackleton and Scott.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

La Place de la Concorde Suisse


John McPhee (1984)
Hardcover
January 2009
In La Place de la Concorde Suisse (1984), John McPhee attached himself as a journalist to the Swiss military and traveled on training exercises around the Canton de Valais, location of the most dramatic Alps. Switzerland is a land of postcard serene paradise but beneath the surface it is a country armed to the teeth. Mountain caves with artillery behind fake rock walls, underground bunker complexes, cached ammo and weapons everywhere, even entire airplanes hidden in mountain caves that use highways as runways. The Swiss are seriously prepared in a James Bond way and just about the entire male population is conscripted. Israel modeled its army on the Swiss.

Unfortunately this book was written at the height of the Cold War and it has not aged well. The enemy is the Soviet Union, nuclear war the greatest threat, and everyone loves America. Today in Switzerland many of the Cold War bunkers are being re-purposed for other uses and not many people proudly wear American logo t-shirts around. The general pro-military prowess of the 1980s, which The Hunt for Red October began and the book exudes, is no longer as fashionable. It's also unclear how much Switzerland does these things anymore and how much McPhee really had access - indeed the book feels choppy, as if many bits are missing by the hands of Swiss censors.

If your traveling to Canton de Valais or Vaud (the French speaking part) I highly recommend this book as it will help you to better understand something about the Swiss I noticed when there, the sense that everyone was watching, that I was under surveillance. It was not always comfortable and as a tourist I simply disarmed people by saying "Bon Jour!" with a happy smile a lot. This book goes a long way to explaining the Swiss and security. Neutrality has its price.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South


Richard E Nisbett (1996)
Paperback
January 2009
Fascinating psychology study. Compares the cultures of the eastern United States and shows the south to be a "Culture of Honor". Since I live in a border state (Maryland) I can see the clash of northern and southern culture daily. More so it explains the concept of an honor culture which goes a long way in explaining historical forces. Really a very neat book. It's a bit dry, but the ideas light up and its very pithy.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Year of the Hare


Arto Paasilinna (1975)
Paperback
January 2009
Arto Paasilinna is one of Finland's most translated authors and The Year of the Hare is his most popular novella first published in 1975. It is a sort of return to nature story and a rejection of civilization - obviously Rousseauian in sentiment, the book is very popular among the French, and Romantics everywhere. The hare is the wild heart in us all - injured by a car, the main character nurses it back to health and then takes to the woods where he finds an ongoing struggle between taming the wilderness versus going feral, one often leading to the other. It's cute, often funny, and has a geographic path that can be followed on a map that helps one to learn more about Finlands more obscure locations in the north. Apparently many of the characters who cross the pages of this "picaresque novel with an ecological theme" are stereotypical Finnish. In the end Paasilinna saves the hare but kills the bear (and the crow and the forest etc..), it is cynical, it is Finnish.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World


Jacqueline Novogratz (2009)
ARC Amazon Vine
January 2009
The Blue Sweater is a sort of multi-genre popular memoir about American Jacqueline Novogratz's experiences working on humanitarian developmental issues in Africa, India, Pakistan and other areas to help the worlds poorest of the poor become more self-sufficient. She is a founder of the non-profit Acumen Fund and the book is also a vehicle to explain its vision using market-oriented approaches to tackling poverty. Novogratz happened to be in some interesting places at interesting times - Rwanda just before the genocide, NYC on 9/11, Pakistan soon after - so her stories and the people she meets are not only interesting but topical to the headlines. It's a personal book and at least half of it is human interest story which, while usually engaging, can be tedious in the amount of extraneous detail - while some authors use food to spice up their memoirs, Novogratz uses clothing descriptions throughout to give it color.

Novogratz made and saw a lot of mistakes and the central lessons she has to offer are as follows: Giving money like a traditional charity for free doesn't work, the recipients have to be treated as equals and not victims. Institutions have to be built in the country, owned and run by the people who will benefit - with oversight help and funding from outside until they become large enough to become self-sufficient. It should be run as a company with a profit motive. Finding entrepreneurs and giving them the tools to invest their energies is the key to scalability.

Overall I'm sold on the principals. It's really no different than what we do in the West as standard practice, we know it works. She devotes a number of chapters showing what Acumen has accomplished in India and Pakistan. I've long been a giver to micro-loans, but this takes it to a new level. I will be looking into Acumen as a part of my charitable giving strategy.

Novogratz has a number of TED videos that are well worth watching and summarize much of the book. If you like the videos, check out the book for the full story.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'


Joseph Conrad (1897)
Hardcover
January 2009
From The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad (2006): "The unfortunately titled The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (title Children of the Sea in the first American edition) is Conrad's best work of his early period. In fact, were it not for the book's title, it undoubtedly would be read more often than it is currently. At one time, it was one of Conrad's most frequently read books. In part because of its brevity, in part because of its adventure qualities, and in part because of its literary qualities, the novel used to attract a good deal of attention."

Of all the Conrad I've read thus far this is the most purely entertaining, encapsulating what I imagine as the essence of Conrad - a dark brooding sea story of adventure with cantankerous old sea salts, shifty sailors and stern captains. Unlike many of his works, the theme is not so subtle that one needs a professor in literature to explain it. The plot is straightforward and easy to follow and the characters are fully realized. The storm scene is one of the best of its type I have ever read.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

Lapham's Quarterly: Eros (Volume II, Number 1, Winter 2008)


Lewis H. Lapham (2009)
Journal
January 2009
It's not easy to write a book on sex that doesn't slip into the banality of pornography one one extreme, or deadened academic sterility on the other. Between the poles is that hard to define area, what the Greeks called "Eros", and this volume perhaps goes as far as any into that territory. It's both tasteful but titillating, enlightening but enjoyable. And in a few cases deeply profound.

Some of the usual suspects are here: an excerpt from Gusatave Flaubert's Madame Bovary about a romp in a carriage around Paris "sealed tighter than a tomb and tossing like a ship." Edith Wharton writes one of the hottest passages this side of 1919 from Beatrice Palmato, "that strong, fiery muscle that they used, in their old joke, to call his third hand." Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch makes a dark appearance in From Venus in Furs, forever immortalized as the namesake of 'masochism'. And of course Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita has an excerpt, along with an essay by Francine Prose in retrospect, suggesting that despite the distastefulness of pedophilia, the book transcends the subject matter and leads to a greater sense of compassion.

Popular culture sources are more prevalent in this issue including the lyrics from the 1944 song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" ("I really can't stay"), which is an excellent coda to Anatole Broyard's excerpt on the awkwardness of courtship in the 1940's.The 1967 movie The Graduate makes an appearance, how good it is in print "Get away from that door. Let me out!" Another movie transcript excerpt that transfers well to reading is from 1959's North By Northwest, "What do you recommend? /The brook trout. A little "trouty", but quite good."

Classical sources are many. Lucian's Dialogues of Courtesans (150AD) describes a mother outing her daughter, describing her future horror in such classical grace, "shall I have to sleep with the ugly one's too? Of course you will dear." Lucretius in On the Nature of Things (58BC) is an angry but poetic rant against the double standard. It begins "Men are blinded by their appetites / And grant their loves ones graces they don't have". Petronius from the Satyricon (61AD) describes his illicit seduction of a friends son, but the tables soon turn, "Don't you want to do it again?". Procopius in The Secret History gives the famous account of the harlot Theodora who seduced Justinian the Great. Her epic scale libido changed history as described by William Rosen in the "What If..?" essay. The Karma Sutra excerpt on how women get rid of men is funny, and frighting when reflected on ones self.

Contemporary authors include Phillip Roth, who describes his younger adventures of self discovery, "half my waking life spent locked behind my bathroom door, firing my wad down the toilet". Junot Diaz (who recently won the Pulitzer) has a novelistic 2-page story called "Alma" (2007) about the incontinent sex life of a teenage Dominican and his girlfriend with "an ass that could drag the moon out of orbit."

Simone de Beauvoir's passage from The Second Sex (1949) is profound. If there was ever an explanation of what women (and men) really want, this would be it. These two pages really opened my eyes, it was the right thing at the right time. Although Beauvoir writes non-fiction, what she is saying is fully realized in living color in Flannery O'Conner's short story "Good Country People" (1955). The two make a perfect pair.
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

The Worst Journey in the World


Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922)
Penguin Classics
January 2009
The Worst Journey in the World (1922) is often cited as a masterpiece of travel literature. It is number one on National Geographic's list of 100 all time best travel literature, and is the first title in the prestigious Picador Travel Classics series. A. Alvarez has praised its "perfect prose: lucid, vivid, bone-simple, and full of feeling." The expedition was literary from the start and the "good modern fiction" the party brought along included Thackery, Charlotte Bronte, Bulwer-Lytton and Dickens. The poetry packed to the pole on the final fateful journey was Browning and Tennyson. Authors who stirred discussions included Shaw and Wells. Authors who were friends with members of the expedition included Galsworthy and Barrie. Robert Louis Stevenson is often mentioned. Each of the chapters of the book begins with poetry fragment from Shakespeare, Browning, Huxley, etc.. even the structure of the book is literary, re-telling the same events from different perspectives, building up to the climatic discovery of the fate of Scott. Cherry himself often delights with brilliant insightful views on travel, man, the meaning of life. This is Travel "Literature" with a capital L.

Apsley Cherry-Garrad ("Cherry") was the wealthy heir of two estates who joined Scott's team as an assistant zoologist at the age of 24. He was educated at Oxford in Classics and modern history. In the tradition of the British amateur explorer he took on multiple roles, ultimately becoming the expeditions historian. He wrote Journey using the diaries of the team in the years after WWI while recovering from an illness.

From their base camp at McMurdo Sound the three-year expedition made a number of trips composed of different groups. The trip to the pole by Scott is the most famous, but there were others. The title of the book, "Worst Journey", actually refers to a 67-mile 5-week trip by three members, including Cherry, in what at the time was twice as long as any previous Antarctic journey on the open ice. It only composes about 1/8th of the books length but is probably the most remarkable. They survived -70 degree temperatures and hurricane storms with primitive gear made from leather and canvas while man-hauling multi-hundred pound sleds and living on 4000 calories or less per day of nearly vitamin-free biscuits and pemmican (considered "adequate" at the time, today twice that is usual for explorers). Cherry interlaces his narrative with allusions to Dante, The Pilgrims Progress and Walt Whitman all the while maintaining that plucky cheery Edwardian foolhardiness that would run aground in the trenches of WWI. Cherry's teeth shattered from the cold, killing the nerves.

The retelling of Scott's trip to the Pole is equally gripping, and "horrific", also living up to the books title. In later years Cherry suffered from survivors guilt and wrote Postscript to the Worst Journey in the World (1948) in which he severely reproaches himself for not doing more to save Scott and the party. Cherry died in 1959.

EDITIONS: Only some editions contain this Postscript. The Penguin edition does not. Officially it was re-printed in the 1951 edition, and in the 1994 Picador Travel Classics edition with an Introduction by Paul Theroux. I also found a 2004 paperback edition with an Introduction by Paul Theroux which might contain the Postscript but I don't know for sure: The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913 (Explorers Club Classic) (2004). It should also be noted the 1951 edition was "corrected by the author" so it probably contains other changes - these changes I believe are also reflected in the Picador edition, but not the Penguin edition which is based on the 1922 text, as most are since it is now in the public domain. If you can afford it, the 1994 Picador hardcover appears to be the most up to date authoritative edition, otherwise the 2004 paperback looks like a re-reprint of the Picador for a lot less, but I have not seen it to verify.
_________________________________________________________________________

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. This license is for each book review, 1 license per book review. For No Derivative purposes, the license covers only the book review portion of each entry. Fair Use quotes are OK so long as attribution.

RSS feed