“Nothing to Fear”

March 2, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Posted in History, Nonfiction | Leave a comment

My man Rocket Scientist convinced me to read Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America, by Adam Cohen.  Usually it’s the other way around – I am constantly hounding him to read things I liked, which is tough because I read approximately 25 times more than he does.  This time, he beat me to it.

We study history, as Santayana tells us, so that we won’t be doomed to repeat it.  Nothing to Fear is positively eerie in how familiar it makes those first months of 1932.  People losing their life’s savings due to poorly regulated financial institutions?  Check.  Rising rates of unemployment?  Check.  A publicly vilified lame duck president slinking out of office to make way for a tremendously popular new president?  Check.  It goes on.

If you follow current events at all, you’ll find this book a real page-turner.  Cohen explores FDR’s ground-breaking policies in enough detail that a layperson can understand the problem as well as the solution.  FDR brought together cabinet members from different ends of the political spectrum, and somehow got them to work together.  Together they hammered together a practical plan, rather than arguing over ideology and party platforms.  (Well, they did that a little).  There are a lot of lessons here that could contribute to solving today’s headliner issues.  After all, we’ve been here before.

Small Town Bookstore Blues

March 1, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

So we went to the famous reborn indie bookstore in Cloverdale yesterday.  You know, the one I thought closed but actually just relocated.

The first problem was trying to figure out where the place was.  It turns out the space is in the back of a large building that houses an antiques mall.  The second story contains some professional offices.  There is a coffee shop next to the bookstore, and the coffee shop has external signage, but the bookstore does not.  We almost walked away empty-handed when the antiques people told us it was closed for the day, but it turned out they meant the coffee shop.  (A cafe is closed on a Saturday afternoon?)  So we had to wander back through all the antique embroidered rocking chairs and old doilies and stuff, only to find that we could have come in an exterior door after all.  The owner recognized my man Rocket Scientist when we walked in.

The new space is about twice the size of the old space.  The only problem is that it has about the same number of books.

I was firm in my resolution that I would buy a book from the town’s only bookstore.  I looked around for a few titles I had in mind, but none were in stock.  My book group is reading My Sister’s Keeper, but the bookstore had pretty much every other Jodi Picoult title except that one.  The fiction section appeared to be mostly Oprah picks with some popular romance, fantasy, sci fi, and YA titles.  I was more impressed with the nonfiction section, because it had a good range of current events selections.  We finally settled on The Gunslinger for RS.

I found a Hawaii tour guide and decided to pick that up.  (We’re going to Oahu at the end of the month).  Here’s the nice part:  the shop owner told me she thought it was an older edition, and on discovering that it was from 2003, she sold it to me for half price.  Then she gave me some pointers about some of the attractions in the area.

So, there you have it.  On the one hand, personalized customer service; on the other hand, limited selection.  Shopping at the small town bookstore means trading the convenience of walking in and finding the title you want at the giant chain store for the convenience of being able to walk 15 minutes instead of driving for 40.  We know we can special order any title we want, but we are also less likely to stumble across something unusual the way we might in a big city indie shop.

1% Well-Read Challenge Wrap-Up

March 1, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Challenges | 3 Comments

1% Well Read Challenge – due Feb. 28, 2009:

1% Well-Read Challenge

I finished!  Granted, I finished at the last possible minute, but I did read my 1% of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die in 10 months.  In fact, I did an extra one, because I realized too late that God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater didn’t make the cut for the second edition, and I felt like my list should be indisputable.  Also, I already had American Psycho checked out, but I wanted to read Saturday, too.

I didn’t review all of these books when I read them, largely because I didn’t feel like I had anything to add.  Sometimes I also skip reviewing books I’ve read because I only blog 5 days a week, but I read as many as 10 or 11 books a week, and there just isn’t time or space to do them all.  Anyway, I’ve included brief opinions below.

White Teeth – Zadie Smith 2008

I really liked it, but I also took a long time to read it.  I seem to remember having to renew it twice, which means it sat next to my bed for 12 weeks.

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer 2008

Frankly, I’m not sure what the fuss was about, here.  I kinda figure the subject matter would make almost any book that touched on it at least a little moving.  A couple of people have told me they thought it was ‘amazing’ or ‘so good’ or ‘the best book ever.’  Eh.

Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith 2008

I adored this book.  It made me laugh out loud.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut 2008

I loved this book, although I didn’t think it was Vonnegut’s best, and I think I can see why it didn’t make the cut for the new 1,001 list.

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen 1/2/2009

Probably my second-favorite Austen.  Tilney is definitely my favorite male lead.

Saturday – Ian McEwan 2/28/2009

I was so tired I was going to give up and go to bed without finishing this last night.  Then I turned the page and got to the major plot crisis.  Pity me, because I had to stay up until 2 AM to find out what happened!  I loved On Chesil Beach, the first McEwan I read, and I thought Saturday was even better.  Now I’m on fire to read Atonement.

Black Water – Joyce Carol Oates 1/14/2009

This novella really got under my skin.  I always enjoy Oates, although I feel like it would take me longer to read all her books than it took her to write them.  Black Water was really scary.

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys 1/31/2009

This famous book is a retelling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of the first Mrs. Rochester.  If you didn’t know that going in, you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on it until almost the very end.  It’s beautiful, strange, and compelling.  It revolutionized literature, and it may have been the first book to borrow someone else’s story and tell it from the eyes of another character.

The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon 1/18/2009

For some reason, I had the impression that The Crying of Lot 49 would be hard to follow.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was funny and approachable.

Ulysses – James Joyce 1/19/2009

Yes, it’s true, this book is just as hard to read as its reputation would lead you to believe.  It’s full of all these words and phrases from multiple foreign languages, and my edition didn’t come with a glossary.  I would be amazed to my core if there is anyone living who is such a polyglot that she could just sit down and read Ulysses without help.  The changing voices and long run-on sentences also mean that I read this 700+ page book at a rate of about 5 minutes per page.

Other than that, I loved it.  I really did think it was brilliant.  Maybe I’ll even read it again, but if I do, I’m going to wait until I’m retired and at least 70 years old.

American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis 1/17/2009

Ugggghhhhh!  Nightmare-inducing.  Yeah, I get why it’s on the list – I think – and I’m pretty sure I understood it.  But I’ll never get the shrapnel of American Psycho out of my brain!

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