Monday, November 27, 2006

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night

By Mark Haddon

Christopher is autistic. His view of the world is not one with which most people are familiar. So when his neighbor's dog is killed and Christopher is found with it, suspicion falls on him. He sets out to solve the mystery and prove his innocence.
You will find that some reviewers describe this book as funny. I didn't find it to be funny. I found it to be terribly sad. There is just so much of life that Christopher misses out on, it's heartbreaking. True, he does solve the mystery of the dog's death and the mystery of his parent's failed marriage. But does he understand why the dog died and why his parents no longer live together?
This book is written from the autistic point of view and is really amazing. It is well worth reading.

The Promise of a Lie

By Howard Roughan

David Remler recently appeared as an expert witness in a murder trial. His theory, as he explained on the stand, is that even the best of us are capable of murder, given the right set of circumstances. His theory comes back to haunt him when he finds himself the victim of an elaborate attempt to frame him for murder.
It starts with a new client, a woman who is so frightened of her rich, violent husband that she fears she may end up killing him. One night Remler gets a call from his distraught client saying she has killed her husband. Remler rushes to her aid only to find himself alone with a dead man just as the police arrive. And his alibi falls to pieces when the dead man's wife has never met or seen David Remler.
I didn't care for this story. David Remler just seemed unbelievably stupid for a man of his position & education. It just didn't work for me.

The Americanization of Edward Bok

By Edward W. Bok

An autobiography that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. Edward came to America as a child. His father made some bad investments and lost all his money back in the old country and came to the USA to make a new start. He didn't do all that well here but his son did OK. He worked his way up the publishing ladder until he took over the editorship of the Ladies Homes Journal. Under his leadership he increased the magazines sales to over 1,000,000; an unprecedented number at that time (1890-1920). He tells all about the changes he made in the magazine and about some of the famous people of the day. But if you want to know about Bok the man, forget it! This book isn't about Bok the family man, Bok the friend, Bok the human being. It's not really the autobiography of Edward Bok. It's the biography of Ladies Home Journal.
Why this book won a Pulitzer I don't know. Perhaps they thought it was a good example of the self-made man. Maybe they liked the little lecture on America's faults & strengths with which he closes the book. (Faults: Americans are lazy, wasteful, slackers, greedy, and don't know how to properly educate their children. Strengths: there's lots of opportunity.) It was an OK read but not a prize-winner.

Eleven on Top

By Janet Evanovich

Another in the Stephanie Plum series. Stephanie decides she has had enough. Enough of chasing bad guys. Enough of rolling in garbage trying to capture the bad guys. It's dirty and dangerous and she is sick of doing it. She quits her bond enforcement job and tries finding a normal one. The first job she shows up more than an hour late the first day. She then gets a job working at a fast food joint but somehow that place burns down. She gets a job at a dry cleaners but her boss ends up blown to little bitty pieces. Then she gets her dream job...working for Ranger at his company Rangeman. Even though Ranger also does bond enforcement, this new job is a desk job running security background checks by computer. And yet somehow Stephanie ends up locked in casket and facing certain death... Another madcap & enjoyable Stephanie Plum adventure. If you are a fan of the series you'll like this one too.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East

By Chaim Herzog

This is the surprisingly readable account of the Arab/Israeli conflicts starting from Israel's war for independence in 1948 and going up to the conflicts involving Lebanon. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the latest version & so had to read the one from 1983. But still it was very informative and interesting if you want to understand better what is going on in the Middle East. It goes into quite a bit of detail in descriptions of weapons, tactics, maneuvers and has lots of maps to illustrate the action. It does more than just describe battles, it goes into the motives and gives a lot of insight into the strategies and purposes of the different parties in the conflicts.
If you can, get the latest version by Chaim Herzog & Shlomo Gazit which was published in 2005, I think. But even if you can't find the latest version, the 1983 version is very much worth reading.

The Education of Henry Adams

By Henry Adams

This is the autobiography of Henry Adams, sort of, although you will read nothing about his wife or his family or about anything really personal at all. All throughout the book Adams keeps describing himself as uneducated and ignorant even though he spouts French, German and Latin at every turn and he traveled all over the world! But he is just a big dummy, according to him. He is a droll fellow and his caustic comments gave me a chuckle.
I struggled with this book, being, unlike Adams, a true ignoramus. It talks about philosophy and physics, neither of which do I understand or care about. Towards the end of the book, Adams gets all bent out of shape over the direction science is taking at the time (about 1900). It seems like scientists have discovered these pesky things called x-rays & radiation and, pow, everything is changed! Before these discoveries, the accepted view of the Universe was that it is orderly, planned and purposeful. But because of the new discoveries, according to Adams, the Universe has no meaning and no purpose and we are just cosmic accidents. I don't know, maybe that was a big deal a hundred years ago, but now I just shrug my shoulders and say so what? Besides, I am not sure that the discovery of particles and waves unknown to that generation proves the Universe is random & not planned or purposeful. We are still arguing about this today: "intelligent design" to quote the Republicans vs the "big bang."
The ending of the book is kind of sad. He thought that by the 1960s people would be able to generate unlimited, free power & energy and that we would all be living in peace and prosperity and would have risen above the war and strife of the past. Wrong!
The first two thirds of the book, which won the Pulitzer in 1919, were a lot easier to read and enjoy than the last third where Adams kept trying to describe history in terms of physics which completely went over my head! Still, I think it was worth reading.

The Age of Innocence

By Edith Wharton

Here is a story of star-crossed lovers. What is mainly crossing them is that they are both married and not to each other. They live in a time & society that does not accept divorce.
Newland Archer thinks he is in love with young, blonde, innocent May Welland. He and May come from the same class of society, New York old money. They know the same people, go to the same parties. Newland asks May to marry him and she happily accepts. But there is a new woman in Newland's circle, Countess Olenska. She is everything May is not: brunette, older, experienced, worldly, intelligent, artistic, and sophisticated. She also fleeing from an abusive husband. It only takes a couple of meetings for Newland to realize the Countess is the woman he wants to spend his life with, not the insipid May. Still, Newland urges Countess Olenska not to divorce her husband, as she desires, because she would be in disgrace and shunned by her peers. Countess Olenska agrees and she in turn urges Newland to go thru with his plans to wed May, which he does. But when he sees the Countess later after the wedding & honeymoon, Newland realizes he has made a terrible mistake.
I enjoyed reading this novel, which won a Pulitzer in 1921. The only problem I had with it was understanding the importance that the approval of their tight knit circle had for Newland & the Countess. It's a bit hard to see what everyone was so uptight about almost 100 years later.
I also saw the film version by Martin Scorsese, which I enjoyed too. Interestingly, he made the Countess blonde and May brunette though why I don't know. Also he uses a narrator to help explain the motives & thoughts behind the characters actions.

The Magnificent Ambersons

By Booth Tarkington

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 so I thought I'd give it a go. Eh, I don't know if it is a good novel or not. All I know is I didn't like it. I just don't like stories where the main character is a jerk. The novel starts out with the la-dee-dah Amberson family. They are rich and like showing it. They build a big house & throw lavish parties. The story centers around George Amberson Minaver who is the grandson of the founding Amberson father. This boy thinks his shit don't stink. That everyone in the world who isn't an Amberson is "riff-raff." Which is funny because, duh, he isn't an Amberson, he's a Minaver! Apparently no one ever pointed that out to him. So Georgie goes thru the story stepping on toes and treating everyone like crap, including his own mother. Everyone he crosses hopes he gets his just desserts. Which he does when it turns out that all the family fortune is gone! The story doesn't end there and if you don't mind reading about conceited pricks you might enjoy it.