Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nazi Games

Well there's nothing more fun to discuss on a pleasant summer-like autumn Sunday than National Socialism right? I'm being sarcastic of course but I just finished reading this book so since its fresh in my noggin its going to be the subject of my post.
I read this book because my suburb's library never has any of the new releases I actually want to check out. So seemingly every time I end up strolling despondently through "New Non-Fiction" and pick something up. I'm not sure why this caught my eye, I think because I took a lot of German History courses in college (they were always scheduled for the afternoon).
But anyway it certainly is an interesting historical footnote that Adolf Hitler hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics and this book tells the story of how exactly that came to be. Berlin was chosen to be host during the Wiemar Republic before the rise of National Socialism, but despite the complaints of many people with foresight in this country and elsewhere the Games went off in Hitler' s Germany without nary a boycott or protest by any of the nations invited.
Besides the obvious political story of the event and its use as a propaganda tool by the Nazis the book uses primary sources to re-examine the accuracy of many oft-told fables surrounding this event. Most notably, Hitler's reaction to Jesse Owens and other black Americans dominating track and field events literally under his nose...which was of course a visible and undeniable rebuke to the concept of Aryan supremacy.
But most importantly this book addresses the fact that the world allowed the Olympics to be held in a nation that had already, through measures such as the Nuremberg Laws, made it patently clear their ideology regarding a minority of their population. And I think it was the Olympic movement's reaction to the protests of Jews across the world that gives an insight to the seed of National Socialism and in fact the Holocaust itself. Basically, the protests against a Hitler-led Games were denounced as Jewish "agitation" and efforts to politicize a peaceful non-political sporting event. Hindsight is of course, 20/20, but a lesson from this story is that many leaders of the world were not very concerned about Hitler's treatment of the Jews until it was much too late.
That all said, this was not a quick or easy read and in fact I think Oak Lawn has a 70 cent late fee coming their way. See you next time.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I just watched this Showtime series on DVD last week and was hooked immediately. And it has a bookish connection, too, since the show is based on the Dexter books, starting with Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay. Dexter is a sociopath who lacks emotion, except for that dark desire to kill people, of course. His adopted father Harry, a cop, discovers his dark side after he kills a few animals. Through flashbacks, we see Harry teach Dexter how to fake his emotions to get by in the world and how to channel his dark side into something positive. Harry realizes he is not going to be able to stop his son from eventually killing people, so he sets about teaching Dexter a code--basically to just kill the bad guys--and how to get away with it. That's the setup, and the flashbacks are just a small part. Dexter is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami PD and the department is trying to track down the Ice Truck Killer, who chops up his victims after draining their blood and leaves the collection of parts in unusual displays. Dexter develops a fascination and admiration with the killer, even as he tries to hunt him down. Meanwhile, Dexter is also trying to manage his personal life with his sister and his girlfriend Rita, and trying to unravel his past and figure out how he managed to become who he is. Dexter is convincingly played by Michael C. Hall (from Six Feet Under, another excellent TV on DVD choice). If you have an aversion to blood, you might want to stay away, though.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

Angstrat and I had been toying with posting some movies and DVDs and since I seem to be unable to finish a book lately I though I'd take a crack at it. I went to Great Britain in 1997 (ten years ago!) as part of a college study abroad trip. While we where there our Brit Lit professor found out the BBC would be replaying this miniseries and basically moved heaven and earth to find a TV to watch it on. About a dozen (of both genders) of us watched with her, and became transfixed. I had read Pride and Prejudice before but because I'm an extremely literally minded person I hadn't really seen the humor in the book. Mr. Collins was a minster who came to Longbourne to propose to his cousin. ok. Now, watching the movie, I saw just how funny he and the Bennets could be. I also completely feel in love with Colin Firth's Darcy (along with every other woman on earth). I came home and got my husband, Angstrat and several other friends hooked on this great movie. My husband (then boyfriend) watched the first half (all I had rented) and said to me in a wail, "you HAVE to tell me what happens to Charlotte Lucas!!". This is a great adaptation, a great movie, and great fun.

Opening Line Trivia Quizes

Sorry for the missed post we had some technical difficulties with our internet. This link is to a series of first line quizzes. They give the first line, you ID the book. I did well on the children's lit one, but not so well on the others. Post your results if you dare.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Making Money

A con-man by trade, Moist Von Lipwig was rescued from the hangman's noose in Going Postal by the Patrician Vetinari, the tyrant who runs the city of Ankh-Morpork. Seeing a use for a man of Moist's talents, Vetinari puts him in charge of the city's crumbling post office. In Making Money, we find Moist growing listless and bored at the now efficient and smoothly running Ankh-Morpork Post Office. Fortunately the Patrician has another job in mind for the former con-man: running the city's mint. Moist, forced into the position, suddenly finds his life far more exciting as he fends off the aristocratic owners of the bank and mint, rebellious clerks, mad scientists, the City Watch, an old "friend" from his con-man days, and more.

I felt there were a few problems with the story that left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied at the end. Pratchett seemed to spend nearly half the book getting Moist into a position to run the bank, but then we don't seem to do all that much with the bank once we get there. The Lavish family, while entertaining, didn't seem to be particular menacing as the villains. The golems that appear late in the book seem out of place, as if they stumbled into the wrong story. Despite these criticisms, I really did enjoy the book. While the story was perhaps not as strong as some of the other Discworld books, but it's the humor and characters, both new and old, really make the book enjoyable.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

This book is the story of Lia Ling, a Hmong child from a Laotian refugee family. Lia was diagnosed as having severe epilepsy (the title comes from the translation of her disease). Her family and her medical team struggled to over come the culture clash between them in order to treat her condition, but without much success. Factors such as difficulty finding translators (the Hmong people have not integrated as fully as many other groups), the fact in Hmong culture western medicine has been embraced for short time fixes such as antibiotics, but not for long term conditions (so her parents don't understand why she needs her medication forever), and mistrust on both sides ultimately result in heartbreak. The book is a great cultural study of both our culture and the Hmong and raises the question of how so many well intentioned people could have gone so wrong.

Monday, September 24, 2007

All the Pretty Horses

This is definitely not a book I would have picked up my own, and I may have given up on it before 100 pages if I wasn’t reading it for a class. As Shuttsie knows, the western is not my favorite genre, thus my reluctance to read Lonesome Dove despite her best efforts for the past ten years or so, although you could argue that ATPH is not really a western. The story follows John Grady Cole, sixteen, and his friend Rawlins as they travel to Mexico to work on a ranch. The beginning of the book is filled with long stretches of the weather and the landscape and endless searches for water. It picks up once the boys meet another boy, Jimmy Blevins, who ends up getting them in trouble later on in the story. The boys find work on a ranch in Mexico where John Grady falls in love with the rancher’s daughter, never a good sign. There are some beautiful passages in McCarthy’s writing once you get past the lack of punctuation.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

War Letters

Hello from Sunday afternoon. I know we're all gearing up for the Bears showdown tonight but since we have a few hours to kill lets talk reading.

This selection is for all the military and U.S. history buffs out there. It is a collection of correspondence from American soldiers, usually letters home, stretching from the Civil War through Bosnia. Each of the letters are prefaced by a short introduction which provides historical and personal context regarding the soldier and his deployment. The letters range from inspiring to wholly depressing, I much like any account of war I suppose. But I guess why I find this reading so essential is that provides a human perspective to the great forces of war and history.

This was published in 2001, shortly before our most recent military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But its doubtful in the age of email that correspondence is crafted and preserved in such a way to make this book possible. I suppose "War Letters" is also a history of how we used to communicate.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

I'd like to think I picked this book up because of a great review I read, but really, it was the title that made me take it home. I read a lot of good reviews but a good title or a good book cover will push that book to the top every time. Arbitrary, I know. The arsonist in question is Sam Pulsifer, a self-described bumbler, who accidentally sets fire to the Emily Dickinson house, burning it to the ground and killing two people inside. He is sent to prison and released after ten years. He marries a nice woman and moves to the suburbs, but neglects to tell her about his past. When the son of the couple killed in the Dickinson fire shows up on his doorstep to confront him, Pulsifer's bumbling past catches up with him. Then, more famous writers' homes are set on fire and Sam must find out who is behind the fires before he is blamed. I found the book to be very funny and I enjoyed all the commentary on stories and literature and their importance in our lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why I'm like this

This book is a collection of essays following Kaplan from childhood to her own experiences as a mother. She is quite funny and covers a number of different topics, from her summer camp experiences to her struggles as an actor/waitress to putting her grandmother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's into a nursing home. Towards the end of the book, where she began writing about her struggles with infertility, the book became a little more clunky, but still a very worthwhile and entertaining read.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Studs Lonigan

Hello kids,
As way of introduction my name is Mike. I've been a reader of this fine blog from its inception and Shuttsie was kind enough to ask me for a humble weekly contribution. So here we go.

We'll start with one of my all-time favorites, the Studs Lonigan trilogy. James Farrell (1904-1979) is one of many Chicago authors who is now all but forgotten from the modern consciousness. If this town was true to its history and its artists Farrell would be taught in every high school in the city. But his stuff can be a little tough to swallow so to not be controversial the kids get John Knowles instead.

Anyway the Lonigan books are the signature works of Farrell's career. They describe the childhood of the character Studs Lonigan, an Irish-American youth on the south side of Chicago over a 14 year period ending during the Great Depression. Studs is such a sympathetic character to me probably because he reminds me of many kids I knew growing up. Sadly he reminds me of myself as a teenager as well. Farrell has the inner monologue of messed up teenager down pat. Its also a look at a city in a much different point in its history. I agree wholeheartedly with the review posted on Amazon regarding some of books' disturbing content. However its this content that gives the books and its characters such sad authenticity. So anyway give it a look if you have any interest in Chicago social history. It is fiction, but it is set in Farrell's neighborhood and populated by characters drawn from his own childhood. If you really like it you can move on to Farrell's five "Danny O'Neil" novels, set in the same time and place but based on his own life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Tightwad Gazette

As a rule, I like to save money. However, I am not quite as intense about it as Amy Dacyczyn, the author/editor of the three volumes of the Tightwad Gazette. These books are a font of cheap ideas- essentially three collections of a newsletter sent out over a period of years. They include recipes, articles on such topics as tightwad valentines ( a cherry pie with a heart cut in it, a coupon for a massage), as well as calculations as to how much money things like energy saving light bulbs will save over the course of decade. There are some crazy ideas (magazine holders from cereal boxes) but learning how much per ounce soda (or pop as we say in the mid- west) is from the movie theater, a restaurant, the grocery store and versus good old water is quite an eye opener. Also, the author's viewpoint about "spending for the sake of spending" is a good reminder for anyone. Fun and helpful, even if you don't adopt all her ideas.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Atrocity Archives

I love this book. :D The Atrocity Archives collection combines Lovecraftian Horror with Len Deighton style cold war style spy thrillers, and has a pinch of Dilbert thrown in for good measure. The books centers on Bob Howard, a lowly computer nerd working for The Laundry, the super-secret British agency that deals with paranormal, demonic, and various otherworldly threats. Though his job primarily entails keeping the office computers up and running, Howard made the mistake of expressing an interest in field duty. Because magic and summoning in this world is all very mathematical, scientific and regimented, Howard's unique skillset and nerd cred make him uniquely qualified for certain tasks, and he finds himself thrown into increasingly dangerous missions involving possessed terrorists, necromantic Nazi holdovers from World War II, and world devouring monsters. This is on top of the peril he faces from his evil, soul sucking, pointy-haired supervisor at The Laundry. Luckily our protagonist is up for the challenge.

The main story from the Atrocity Archives collection, the The Concrete Jungle, is available online under the creative commons licence. I'm about to finish The Jennifer Morgue, the sequel to The Atrocity Archives. It's has more of an Ian Flemming/James Bond flavor, and is also quite good. Stross also has another Lovecraftian style Cold War story online called A Colder War , though this story takes place in a different universe and is written in a different style. Amusingly, Ollie North makes an appearance here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It's been six years since the 9/11 attacks and many writers have attempted to use art to make sense of both 9/11 and its aftermath. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of Oskar, a young boy whose father died in the World Trade Center and a parallel story about his grandfather surviving the bombing of Dresden. If I hadn't look at the Amazon review, the story about the grandfather would not have come back to me, because Oskar is far more memorable.
A highly intelligent but extremely weird kid, he travels all over New York trying to piece together the meaning behind the key his father left behind in and envelope marked "black" and to come to terms with the loss of his father. Brilliant and a little post-modern, this is a fine beginning toward an understand of the effects of 9/11 on our country and our culture.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Jeff Winston is 43 when he suffers a fatal heart attack while on the phone with his wife. He wakes up in his college dorm, a freshman at Emory again, in an 18 year old body, with all of the knowledge of the last 25 years intact. So begins a series of "replays" in which he lives his life in any way he chooses, usually getting rich off of sports betting and the stock market due to his knowledge of the future. Each life ends in the same heart attack, no matter what steps he takes to prevent it. Jeff experiments with all kinds of lifestyles, from the ultra straight laced to complete hedonism. His "replays" grow progressively less meaningful until he meets a woman in the same predicament and they try to discover the meaning behind what is happening to them. I was a bit horrified at his blowing off class upon his return to college and found it interesting he never seemed interested in friendships, only romantic relationships. A fast read with some interesting thoughts on what gives life meaning.

Other book blogs

Nina's Reading Blog
Conversational Reading
AbeBooks' Reading Copy
Reading the Past
Becky's Book Reviews
Comics Worth Reading
Fausti's Book Quest

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bad Monkeys

We meet Bad Monkeys' protagonist Jane Charlotte in the "nut wing" of a Vegas jail where she is being held for murder. Through interviews with her prison shrink, we learn about Jane's colorful past and her involvement with the Organization, an all-encompassing secret society devoted to fighting evil in its many forms. The Organization, which uses a variety of methods to fight evil, has Jane working in The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, or the Bad Monkeys division as it is informally known. Bad Monkeys' particular solution to evil involves ray-guns that shoot heart attacks.

Or not. Jane may simply be insane and making it all up.

The book is a very fast read, but it manages takes us through multiple twists by the time we finish. It was very enjoyable it and I was disappointed only that we didn't learn more about the Organization and its opponents before it wrapped up. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Primary Colors

This book was originally published anonymously but Joe Klein has since admitted authorship. The story of a Southern governor and his steely wife’s ride through the campaign system not so subtly parallels that of the Clintons. The book (and movie of the same name) were hyped by this fact, especially since the presidential candidate is accused of fathering the baby of a black teenage girl. For me, however, the book works better as a look inside the day to day operations of a campaign on the road, the machinations and mercenary nature of the staff, and the truly strange ways we go about picking our nation’s leaders. The book was entertaining, though I wish some of the characters, especially Susan, the wife of the candidate, were more fleshed out.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Blog news!

Faithful readers, we have a change in our line up! John is now going to take over Wednesday posts and Mike will be joining us on Sundays. Yay!! (picture me waiving my hands in the air like Kermit the Frog announcing the guests on the Muppet Show)

Learning to Bow

This book is an account of Bruce Feiler first year as teacher in rural Japan. He signs on to teach English to Junior High students as part of Japan's (then) new Living English program- to teach students true conversational English, rather than just memorization. Feiler writes about Japanese culture both in and out of school-- from daily mandatory school cleaning by students and teachers alike, to the transition away from arranged marriages and toward love matches. A lot has undoubtedly changed in Japan since this book came out in the early 1990s, given the shake up in their economy, but the book is still an interesting comparison of cultures and a fast read.