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Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

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puppetmasterIt is always pleasant when someone you love recommends a book for you. I told Erin that I was in the mood for something short and light, and she advised me that maybe a children’s book would be appropriate for the end of the summer. I have picked up a novel by a first time writer, Joanne Owen, who has written Puppet Master. Here is the description on the back:

When Milena meets the charismatic Puppet Master and his menacing proteges, the twins Zdenko and Zdenka, in Prague’s Old Town Square she has no idea quite how much her life is about to change. In a story rich in the traditions of circus and theatre, myth mingles with the mystery of a missing heiress, Milena’s mother, and her daughter’s magical legacy is revealed.

How cool does that sound? I know that I’m intrigued and it’s a short 200 pages, so should be just the right thing to pass a few days. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

September 2, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Gastronomic Exotica by Louis Bakay

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Several things are interesting about Dr. Louis Bakay. The first being that he is a brain surgeon and historian on the Faculty of Harvard Medical School, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery of the University of Buffalo. The second is that in his past time he enjoys reading and writing about a history of epicures and societies obsession and love for all things food-related. The third is that he is not even a passable cook but an enthusiastic gourmet. flegel3

Random books are the best and I stumbled across this in the food section a week ago while browsing for some gifts for a few of my friends. Dr. Bakay takes the reader through a history of eating from the Stone Age where “the bones of animals found during excavations in Europe reveal what man ate in prehistoric times” all the way to modern French cuisine.

The book is full of interesting facts and random information surrounding the history of how society (mainly Western) has consumed food. For example:

“A typical example of feudal meals was one recorded of the wedding of Wilhelm von Rosenberg at his castle in Bohemia in 1578: 370 oxen; 98 wild boar; 2,292 hares; 3,910 patridge; 22,687 thrushes; 12,887 chickens; 3,000 capons; a large number of eel, carp, salmon, and pike. Also 5 tons of oysters and 40,837 eggs. It was washed down by 6,405 pails of wine.”

You have to love the excess of it all. Not that much has changed since then, but still all of that for a single wedding is impressive.

If you can find this book, it seems to be out of print, or if you can find me and remind me to lend it out, this is definitely a fascinating review of how we eat through the ages. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

August 21, 2009 at 11:27 am

End of Summer Reading Review:

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The end of the summer is here and I thought it would be nice to list everything that I’ve managed to read over the summer.

This has been one of the slowest reading summers in quite some while. I usually manage to read a bit more than this but being at work so much of the summer I sometimes struggle to read. Also, for most of July I was unable to read anything. I just found myself unmotivated and uninterested in everything I picked up. A reading summer-slump.

I have so many “half-started” books as I like to term them, chapters two and three being popular points of abandonment. Woolf, Lancaster, & Whitehead were some of the best works that I read this past summer and I recommend them to everyone. I’ve linked to the various postings and individual reviews.

Still, despite the fact that I fell into a bit of a summer-slump, I enjoyed this summer’s reading variety. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

August 11, 2009 at 8:54 am

Death of a Cozy Author by G.M. Malliet

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Death of a Cozy Author by G.M. Malliet is is described as, “an affectionate send up of the traditional or “cozy” mystery genre. The author calls it an homage to the golden age of the classic British mystery”, or so the back of the book tells me. gmmalliet1

The book centers around an aging author, Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk who enjoys torturing his children by dangling his estate & fortune in a revolving door will that seems to change with his every whim. All of the children seem on the brink of benefiting from his death and yet Sir Adrian has upped the stakes of this game by announcing his engagement to Violet, a widow with a muddled and suspicious past.

I would love to tell more but it would ruin the story. Chief Inspector St. Just ( How I do love the pun that is his name) is called to the estate to sort out what is going on and to solve the various murder(s)? that occur.

I picked this out randomly in the mystery section a week and a half ago, intrigued primarily by the title and the book cover. I am pleased that I gave this book and this author a chance. The start of the book is a bit slow and action does not take place until half way through, (not to worry though, book clocks in at a modest 286 pages) and quickly picks up speed once Chief Inspector St. Just appears. That is the best part of the story, she makes you wait and wait and wait for the actual “solving” of the story to begin. By the time Inspector St. Just appears, a number of possible suspects have been presented to the reader and all of them more than capable of the crime(s) that have been committed. I will say this, she writes the most deplorable family relationship I’ve ever read, very entertaining.

It seems that Ms. G.M. Malliet has another book in this series that was just recently released Death and the Lit Chick. If you enjoy mysteries then this book is for you, and if you’ve been a long time fan of classic mystery genre, even more so as Malliet is clearly having fun taking apart the cliches and tropes that abound in stories of this type. Oh and if you’re one of those readers who insist on peer reviews to help tip the scale in your decision to purchase a book, this work has won several awards and nominations: here at her blog you can read a full list of reviews and commentary.

For Worse

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Ok, here goes. I have a long history with this comic strip. For those unaware For Better of For Worse is a long running family comic by Lynne Johnston. The comic ran for 28 years and one of its signature elements is that it aged the characters in “real” time. So as time progressed in our world, so too did it in the characters, a young couple whose family grows and passes through various generations. Her comic is noted for tackling tough issues: marriage, parenthood, homosexuality, death, birth, etc. [ How well it tackles these issues is another matter all together. ]

The comic runs very much like a family sitcom. I think I noticed this comic in my newspaper back when I was a young adult and I would glance at the panels and usually would move on. It never struck me as anything significant, as a child I preferred Peanuts & Marmaduke. About 5 or 6 years ago I was sitting at Chapters during one of my breaks and I picked up a massive anthology of her work, a compendium of 20 years of strips and it somehow infected me. I found myself pouring through the various collections she had released throughout the history of the strip. I found myself looking forward to the events of the family. “Farley is getting old, what’s up with that?” … “Wow, he just came out to his friend, interesting.” … “She’s working with Native Americans up north, didn’t realize they had it so poor.” While the strip is not always politically correct, I mean lets face it, who among us is without a single prejudice or bias; still Lynn Johnston tackled some fairly heavy subjects and it is nice to see a Canadian work of art so popular throughout the world examining the minutia of small town family life.

Recently though, the strip has changed and is not as “progressive” as it once claimed to be.

The comic began in September 1979, and ended the main story on August 30, 2008, with a postscript epilogue the following day. The various family members, all grown up and with children of their own was given some closure. Then, beginning on September 3, 2007,[3] For Better or For Worse changed to a format featuring a mixture of new, old and retouched work, which allowed Johnston to “keep alive her partly autobiographical comic while not having to devote as much time to it.”[1] On September 1, 2008, Johnston began what she calls “new-runs”, restarting her storyline with new art and jokes. The time frame appears to be 26 years before the present day.

Stephen Pastis comic artist and writer of one of the best strips ever made: Pearls Before Swine [ Which I urge you to seek out and enjoy. comics.com & gocomics.com ] made this joke about the new format: In the strip, Pig referred to For Better or For Worse as “that great strip that was gonna retire, but then didn’t, then started running repeats, then didn’t, then ran new ones, but then fixed up the old ones, and now is gonna run new old un-new new ones”.

Ok, so why this blog post on FBoFW you ask? With the new format I and I am sure a few others thought, this will be nice. Her character who started off as a young 20 something wife/mother ended up as a retired book seller, so this “reboot” of her strip into the “classic” era would put Elly back in a more youthful place, providing some more commentary on young women who juggle family and work.

This is not what has happened. One thing that I have noticed throughout this strip is the firm adherence to the “nuclear family” model. Yes, yes, fans will cite the those historic panels and moments where she did tackle issues: homosexuality with Lawrence a friend of Elly’s eldest child Michael who came out to his mother:

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I’ll let you reflect on the way that Mrs. Johnston tackles this issue yet still conforms to basic stereotypes of how heterosexuals view homosexuality. Look at the last strip, oh you’re so witty Michael 😦 Ugh!

Anyways, you can see from this series of panels that she does indeed bring up subjects that people encounter every day and for the most part it is done well. I’m not saying it’s perfect but there you go.

Now with this reboot, she was afforded the opportunity to go back and let a whole new generation see how Elly transformed herself from a young house wife whose sole occupation was the household, to a woman who balanced a hectic lifestyle of work (at a bookstore, and subsequently bookstore owner), along with her husband, and children, and grand-children. It was a nice thing to watch her character grow and as much as the Nuclear Model was still emphasized, it did show a woman in the work force and not simply in a domestic capacity.

This “reboot” is what pisses me off. I think Mrs. Johnston has gone senile in her old age and has reverted back to a 1950’s Ward & June Cleaver idealization of the home. Her current strips reflect the standard: HUSBAND WORKS, WOMAN CLEANS AND COOKS model. Let me post a few strips from the past few months and you reflect on what kind of a message she sends to readers and young adults everywhere. Please, post some commentary and lets get some discussion going, it pisses me off so much. Cheers.

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Why work when you can clean and cook, forget your dreams...right?

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You can't be married and feel beautiful about yourself.

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I just sign shit, I cannot think or read or pay bills, I'm only a housewife."

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You know it's your fault for not keeping yourself pretty for me.

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Housewives are desperate and lonely.

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Translation: You're good enough to be a hooker tonight.

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Having a good education and career are nothing unless you're a MRS.

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I think your friends are hot and I've missed the point of this conversation. I'm an idiot husband/man.

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I'm the provider, just ask for your allowance and I'll consider it, now back into the cage with you.

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Cook, Clean, Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

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I think your son might be gay. He's crying a lot, so not manish, he's what 7 or 8 now, shouldn't he be out working and womanizing by now.

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(Loss for words and caption for this one.)

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This one is interesting. In the original series, Michael meets a girl in university who he falls in love with, they end up married and having kids. Lynn has seen fit to go back and rewrite Michael's childhood so that they once encountered each other and "liked" each other, completing that fantasy of the childhood sweetheart, it's nice when things fit into neat little boxes and packages, life is just this simple and uncomplicated isn't it.

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Don't ask me, I'm just a man and can't possibly understand "womanish" feelings and junk.

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You're doing that "thinking" business again, what have I told you about that.

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Your mom was ugly, and not tv ugly, but ugly ugly.

Written by thebeliever07

July 10, 2009 at 9:14 am

“Imagined Reading”

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I’ve mentioned on this blog at various times how I frequently wander over to the Washington Post Book Section and how I am a member of Michael Dirda’s “Reading Room”, a forum for all things literary. Each week Michael poses one or two threads about various aspects of reading:

  • What books get you through tough times?
  • What works shaped you as a reader?
  • Snacking while enjoying a good book.
  • Do movie ruin a good book?

And etc. For those as passionate about reading and literature as I am, it is a great resource for those: What would you put on your top 5 or 10 lists.

Recently Michael Dirda posted a thread asking “What are your ‘Get Well’ Books?” The following is from his post and I felt it was worth blogging and asking with my fellow readers: download

Hi, Reading Roomers. (Every time I write “Reading Roomers” I imagine semiologists trying to decipher the subtext of the latest gossip.)  I’m still in Ohio with my Mom and— in the way of these things—have just learned that my middle son has broken his leg playing basketball. It’s not the worst break in the world, but it’s changed the complexion of Mike’s summer. Right now he’s been reading through The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes instead of getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail. When you are sick or your life strands you in a place where you can’t really do much, what books do you imagine reading? Under what conditions would you like to recover as you read them?

So, let me piggy back off of his discussion, what are your ‘imaginary reads’?

I think that if I knew I was going to have a fairly long recovery time in a bed or a hospital (*knocks on wood&), that I would attempt some of the larger literary giants that have up until this point scared me off, largely due to their length: The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoevesky, Les Miserable by Hugo, Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, The Regulations by Gaddis. These are all 500-700+ reads and while I’ve read books of that length before, these authors tend to be fairly well known for being dense. How about you Erin, in what imaginary future do you foresee yourself starting and finishing Oblomov or The Kindly Ones? Some day eh….someday 😉

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The past few weeks have seen a drastic slow-down in the amount of blogging. One reason for this is that I have been unable to read anything and seeing that a majority of this blog is devoted to literature and reading, well you can understand why.

I went to the bookstore with Erin Monday and I think I may have found a book that will pull me out of a slump. It has a number of advantages going in its favor which might help me out of this funk. It is a short read at 160 pages. It is a short story collection as well so it allows me to read it in short bursts.

borges

I picked up a collaboration between Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy-Casares. The work is entitled Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi and based on my first impression is a South American Sherlock Holmesian mystery.  The “Sherlock Holmes” of this particular novella/collection is Don Isidro Parodi a man of astounding intelligence who has been wrongly convicted of a crime and currently resides in a jail cell.  This situation though does not keep people from consulting him, very reminscient of interior my

Written by thebeliever07

July 8, 2009 at 10:28 am