Friday, July 11, 2008

The Know It All: One Man's Quest to Become the Smartest Person In the World

A.J. Jacobs set out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in 2003 and the wrote this memoir documenting the experiment. About one third is traditional memoir, recounting he and his wife's attempts at having a baby, his job as an editor at Esquire magazine, and his family. The rest is devoted to various Britannica entries that make an impression on him (such as the fact that many famous people including Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Darwin married their cousin), and some adventures he would not have embarked on but for the Britannica project, most notably appearing on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". He ruminates a lot on the difference between intelligence and knowledge and generally gives the impression of guy who's bright, but also able to realize he's not THE brightest and to feel inadequate in the presence of those who outshine him. I enjoyed it, especially as the encyclopedia style entries were perfect reading for the last few nights when I was suffering from insomnia.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

David Sedaris is a sure thing in my book. This is his latest collections of essays and five minutes after I got the email announcing it, I had ordered the audiobook version. This isn't quite as heart wrenching as Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim or as funny as David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall
(which should carrying a warning about the danger of car accidents due to laughter). It is still a great book and made me laugh harder than I have in a long time. The two discs are one piece, about traveling to Japan to quit smoking and possibly the highlight. Listen to it rather than read it, at least the first time.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Entertainment Weekly's New Classics

Above is the link to EW's top 100 books of the last twenty five years. I've read 41, and you? and anything you feel is over or underrated? The omission of Time Traveler's Wife is the first that comes to my mind.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

I can't really fully explain why I enjoyed this book so much, but here goes. Blue Van Meer is a teenage girl whose mother died when she was five. Since then she and her father have lived in dozens of nondescript small towns as he serves as a visiting professor at various crappy regions colleges. Because of their frequent moves, Blue does not make friends but instead reads book after book, from movie star biographies to sociological and physiological treatises. She drops quotations from these books (real and imaginary, according the reviews) as she tells the story of her senior year in high school. For the first time she and her father spend a full year in one town, and Blue joins the circle of students that have a bit of a cult built up around Hannah Schneider, the school's film studies teacher. Hannah takes them on a camping trip and then disappears before she can tell Blue a secret. Hannah is later found dead and Blue fights to prove her death is murder, not a suicide. It took a long time to get to the mystery and I see how some could find the citations a bit much, but I thought it was the best book I've read in a quite while.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Not to Read

Why not post a few bad books as I battle insomnia?

Enslaved by Ducks by Bob Tarte-- Book club hated it unanimously. We found his stories about one pet bird after another boring and his characterizations of humans non-existent.

Forever by Pete Hamill-- the title isn't kidding. This is a LONG book about an Irish immigrant who is cursed/blessed with immortality as long as he doesn't leave Manhattan. This book needs a serious edit and some less archaic ideas about women.

In the Shadow of No Towers- Art Speigelman -- This kills me as I loved Maus. There is some very compelling stuff here as he recounts his own 9/11 tale and makes some comparisons to the Holocaust experience of his parents (i.e. the smell of burning bodies) but the pages of vintage comic left me cold.