Sunday, May 31, 2009

In My Mailbox

Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts to “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable. They know the dirt on everybody . . . and Cass loves dirt. 

 She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of all of the poseurs in her school. But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Timwants her help to contact his recently deceasedmother, but Cass is less than enthusiastic.

Kicking and screaming, Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life. And she’s more surprised than anyone when she realizes that maybe some living people aren’t so bad if she’d only give them a chance.Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts to “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable. They know the dirt on everybody . . . and Cass loves dirt.


Mercy Kaplan doesn’t want to be like her mother, saddled with crying kids and failing crops for the rest of her life. Mercy longs to be on her own—until her wish comes true in the worst possible way. It is 1918 and a deadly flu epidemic ravages the country, leaving her utterly alone and penniless.   Mercy soon finds a job with Mrs. Wilder. But there’s something unsettling about the woman, whose brother died under mysterious circumstances. And then there’s Daniel, who could sweep a girl off her feet if she isn’t careful.            With Roz and Eva everything becomes a contest—who can snag the best role in the school play, have the cutest boyfriend, pull off the craziest prank. Still, they’re as close as sisters can be. Until Eva deletes Roz from her life like so much junk e-mail for no reason that Roz understands. Now Eva hangs out with the annoyingly petite cheerleaders, and Roz fantasizes about slipping bovine growth hormone into their Gatorade. Roz has a suspicion about Eva. In turn, Eva taunts Roz with a dare, which leads to an act of total insanity. Drama geeks clamor for attention, Shakespearean insults fly, and Roz steals the show in Lauren Bjorkman’s hilarious debut novel.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Book review: "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely

I heard Dan Ariely speak at the AMA Research Conference in Boston last September before I read this book (Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Harper, 2008).  He gave the audience a riveting account of his experience recovering from burns caused by the explosion of a magnesium flare.  You can read the account for yourself in the introductory chapter to this book (”How an Injury Led Me to Irrationality and to the Research Described Here”).  In a nutshell, Ariely questioned the conventional wisdom of the nursing staff that it was less painful overall to remove the bandages covering his burns quickly rather than gradually.  Ariely eventually put this to the test with experiments involving various sources of pain and concluded that the nurses, despite the best intentions, were wrong.

In the subsequent chapters, Ariely systematically dissects our decision processes, showing again and again that most of the time we are not the rational, utility maximizing creatures found in contemporary economic theory.  Ariely’s speech at the AMA conference (as I remember it) focused on asymmetric dominance.  Choosing between two different but attractive alternatives is very difficult for most people.  Ariely gave the example of choosing between a luxury vacation in Paris and a similar vacation in Rome.  But… if we throw another alternative into the mix–say a less luxurious package in Rome–the choice suddenly becomes much easier, and a majority of people will choose the more luxurious Rome vacation.  This is asymmetric dominance.  The luxurious Rome vacation becomes more attractive because we can more easily compare it to the lesser package for Rome.  We might not know whether the Paris package is better than the Rome package, but we definitely know that the more luxurious Rome package is better than the less luxurious package.  In effect, the introduction of the inferior Roman alternative has bumped Paris out of the choice process.  This topic is covered in the first chapter of the book, “The Truth About Relativity.”

This is important stuff for market researchers and marketers.  Asymmetric dominance can come into play in market research studies that rely on choice-based conjoint (CBC).  I’m pretty sure that I’ve designed a few CBC studies over the years where asymmetric dominance may have been at work (inadvertently, of course!).  

Other chapters are equally valuable.  In Chapter 5, “The Influence of Arousal,” we learn how decisions change as a function of the state of arousal.  Market researchers often ask consumer how likely they are to purchase some good or service in the future.  After reading this chapter, you’ll question whether the “cold” survey question can ever accurately capture what consumers will do in the “hot” purchase situation.  A practical implication–consumers are more likely to give “accurate” information about what they will do when they are immersed in the buying process.  There’s plenty more food for thought in chapters with titles like “Keeping Doors Open (Why Options Distract Us from Our Main Objective),” “The Effect of Expectations (Why the Mind Gets What It Expects)” and “The Power of Price (Why a 50-Cent Aspirin Can Do What a Penny Aspirin Can’t).”

Ariely writes in a personal, conversational style–you’ll not only learn something about irrationality, you’ll learn about Ariely, his family, his collaborators and students.  The subjects in his experiments also get the personal treatment.  Ariely describes his experiments in just enough detail to convey the systematic nature of his efforts, but not quite enough detail to convey the rigor required for sound psychological research.  Taking Ariely’s accounts at face value, it’s not clear that controls such as counterbalancing for order of presentation and similar procedures for assuring internal validity were employed.  Many of the experiments are conducted in natural settings.  We have to take Ariely’s word for the magnitude of the effects he observes, since we don’t get enough information to assess statistical conclusion validity.

The experiments described in this book are part of a long tradition of research in cognitive and social psychological processes that goes back at least as far as Fritz Heider (The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, John Wiley & Sons, 1958).  I’m a little unsettled by the way in which this book seems to suggest that the investigation of irrationality is relatively recent and more or less exclusive to behavioral economics.  Ariely has every right to focus on his own research–there’s lots of fascinating stuff here–but psychologists have been studying these processes for a long time.  For some classic examples, see The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me):  Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.  The contribution of the behavioral economists is to extend those themes to areas involving monetary transactions.

Bottom line:  this is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.  

Copyright 2009 by David G. Bakken

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thank You and You're Welcome. NO THANKS!

I get annoyed with a lot of things in life, but one that really irks me is when people are proud of their ignorance. 

Kanye West has now joined the ranks of the woefully ignorant and misinformed. 

“I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life,” he said.

“Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed,” West said. “I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. 

“My mom taught me to believe in my flyness and conquer my shyness,” he said, defining “flyness” as confidence.

So writes Kanye in a book that he’s recently released:

Apparently rap-stars who are popular in mainstream media have credibility when it comes to writing and as such can expound on the virtues and vices of life. I am sure that Kanye West has indeed lived an amazing life and faced struggles and tribulations the like of which I’ve never seen. But the quotation above [ click on image for more at his blog ], is something that angers me quite a bit. He certainly has every right to “write” a book and to share his thoughts and life story, or as he calls his wisdom “Kanye-isms.”

It is not so much the latter, but the former part of that quote that pisses me off. To proclaim proudly of the fact that he does not read is the height of absurdity and stupidity. 

As I’ve already said, he certainly has every right to tell his life story or his life philosophy or whatever the hell he thinks this book is about, but to share this one thought pisses me right off. Whether you want to admit it or not, fan or not a fan, Kanye has amazing influence in the world and as a result, with children. 

Another irony of his life, someone who looks down upon the written word, sure seems to rely heavily on their influence, after all what is rap if not poetry set to music. UGH!

He is sending the wrong message by telling children that everything he’s learned he’s learned in life. Kind of ironic, telling people that they should not read a book and go out and live life from a book that you’ve just published. Here’s a small peak inside from his website: 

Tell you what Kanye, you got what you wanted because I certainly won’t be picking up this trash philosophy that you’re attempting to espouse on the larger public. 

It is already difficult to get children reading when there are so many distractions in the world [ ipods, computers, television, etc.. ], the last thing we need is someone who has influence like Kanye preaching his idiotic message to the world. Here’s hoping this book fails.

Oh and the best part of this entire issue, courtesy of MSNBC:

West’s derision of books comes despite the fact that his late mother, Donda West, was a university English professor before she retired to manage his music career. She died in 2007 of complications following cosmetic surgery.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michael Chabon -- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

It’s 1939. Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay are young Jews in New York. Joe is a Czech newly evacuated from Nazi-occupied Prague. Sammy is his American cousin. Strapped for cash, the pair take to writing comic books.

Their work, like many comics of that “golden age” for the artform, poignantly conjures up a vision of the world as it ought to be, but isn’t. Their superhero, the Escapist, is a godlike figure, metering out salvation and justice in lieu of the official God, who is apparently out for lunch.

Michael Chabon’s lengthy Pulitzer-prizewinner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), evokes this lost world in intricate period detail, evincing a wealth of careful research. It’s one of those books that’s terribly eager to win historical brownie points, to the extent of chucking in cameo appearances from Orson Welles and Salvador Dalí.

Yet it’s far from a bland historical document. Chabon tells a story that’s just a little bit larger than life in every dimension, full of dramatic incidents and strange coincidences. I don’t have time to recount the 650 pages of twists and turns. Suffice to say, it’s compelling, but at a cost. It’s just slightly implausible, all the way through, not so unlike a comic book. It’s then jarring when Chabon includes genuinely tragic moments, which end up feeling like just another plot twist.

Chabon teases out the similarity between comic book superheroes and the Golems of Jewish folklore: mythical clay monsters who, when teased into life, kill the oppressors and save the oppressed:

The shaping of a golem, to him [Joe], was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something — one poor, dumb, powerful thing — exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties and inevitable failures of the greater Creation. It was the voicing of the vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straightjacket of physical laws.

Of course, all this talk of heroes can only end in pathos. Golems and superheroes are not real. No one could save the Jews from Hitler. We know that already. When Kavalier goes to war — in a short, surreal interlude  — he tries to play the Golem for real; but, posted to Antarctica, his utter impotence against the juggernaut of history is brought home to him in devastating fashion. Joe comes to realize all the more keenly the need for escape.

The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited “escapism” among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble and necessary service in life.

The novel is an unsubtle, extended argument that, despite its unreality, comic book escapism really is worth something. Myths keep hope alive.

Did I like it? Well, I got to the end, which is a testament to Chabon’s silky, flowing style. The book is a pleasure to jump into. But, for me at least, the novel shows the limitations of historical fiction. Reading their highly novelistic “adventures”, I became acutely aware that Kavalier & Clay are no more real than Batman & Robin.

I think there’s something to be said for fiction that’s a little less showy than this, and tethered a little more closely to reality — fiction rooted in the author’s real, lived experience, rather than in a mountain of meticulous research.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

<i>Three Hands for Scorpio</i> by Andre Norton

Triplet princesses (or more accurately, earl’s daughters) are kidnapped from their securely warded home and then dumped in a scary underground world called the Dismals. Now they must make their way out with the help of a enigmatic boy-wizard, find their way back to their family, and, incidentally, save the world.

I went into this eagerly: three strong female leads and a mysterious young wizard? I wrote one with that exact set-up (coming soon), though of course totally different from this one. I like reading stand-alone fantasy novels (and oh boy are they are hard to find) with good female characters (also hard to find), and this should have been exactly my cup of tea.


The only reason this book slipped past my 50-page rule was because it is by Andre Norton, the “grande dame” of fantasy, and I just kept thinking I’d get pay-off in the end. But I didn’t. It’s my first try at reading one of hers, and will be my last.

Firstly, it’s very old-fashioned, understandably enough, since this was one of the last books Norton wrote, after a career of more than one hundred books, and she was in her 90s by then. But opening with an info-dump of the history of the family and the land? Annoyingly old hat, and illogical besides, since the conceit is that the three girls are writing out their adventures for the queen, who you would think would already know this stuff.

And continually producing some new concept or piece of history or magic type just when it’s needed instead of having some foreshadowing or introducing the item a little earlier so it doesn’t come out of nowhere (eg yargargy, a terribly addictive power-boosting plant, suddenly mentioned for the first time only when they need it)? Gives the impression she was making it up as she went along and didn’t bother revising. It’s not that hard to mention something in passing when you’re going to need it later, especially when the plot is moving as slowly as this one does.

The language is also heavy-going, deliberately archaic, convoluted and formal. This matches the time period very well, of course, but it had the effect of almost pushing my attention away; I either found myself skimming, trying to get past the endless description to the next important event, or reading without taking anything in – when I could force myself to pick it up and get another page done at all. One inside cover blurb claims it’s “aimed primarily at younger readers”…I have to think if I had trouble reading it, a 15-year-old isn’t going to thrive.

All three girls take turns narrating/writing the account to the queen. Except they sound exactly alike – fair enough, they’re triplets, raised together, they’ll sound alike – but then there’s little point switching back and forth between them, especially, as happens often, within a few paragraphs. It’s distracting and unnecessary. I spent the entire book waiting for the reason for this device – would one die? (obviously not, since all three are writing the account afterwards, so there goes that tension source) Would they become separated? (never for long, though they do all take turns collapsing a lot) Would they end up on different paths by the end? (nope)

The character of the three girls was the most disappointing part. They are not active participants in their own story, but instead spend the entire time being driven and manipulated by forces outside themselves. Even their new powers that manifest themselves do exactly that – manifest without the girls having to work at them, draw them out, or do anything other than be passive receptacles. They rarely know what’s happening, why or how, it just happens through them, not because of them.

The wizard, Zolan, spends the whole time in the Dismals manipulating them, testing them – basically lying to them and screwing them around – and when he explains why, they just accept it passively and go along with it, trusting him when he has given them no reason for it.

He per force must be their guide in the Dismals, but when they finally get out to the above-ground world where he has never been, and you’d think they’d get the chance to lead now they’re in their own environment…no, he’s still the one rushing forward and being the leader. And then their parents show up, and they’re back to being the daughters of the family.

All three are so frustratingly passive and that does not change over the course of the book (despite the bit of defiance at the very end with the ‘we shall choose our own husbands’ bit).

Perhaps I went into this book with too-high expectations given the reputation of Norton; perhaps this is an unusual style of book for her. But I was disappointed by all aspects of it – the writing, the characters, and the plot. Not recommended.

Monday, May 25, 2009

[book reviews] sciences-sociales_25/05/2009

(source: Library Journal, 15/05/2009)


Greene, Bob. Late Edition: A Love Story. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2009. c.288p. ISBN 978-0-312-37530-0. $25.95. COMM

In a touching homage to the daily newspaper, Greene weaves a wistful tapestry of “the sights, sounds, and smells” of his first job working at his hometown newspaper, the Columbus Citizen-Journal, from 1964 to 1968. He recalls the wonder of his first day as a copy boy and the subsequent years spent writing for the paper’s sports and city desks. In his youth, argues Greene, when TV was just beginning to take hold, American families cherished their local newspapers as “the daily scrapbook of a city’s life.” People subscribed to the morning paper produced by one news organization and the evening edition of another in order to keep abreast of local business, school, civic, and sporting events. Greene also recollects when his “first love,” the Citizen-Journal, printed its last edition in 1985, a time when cities could no longer sustain two competing newspapers. This nostalgic look at the importance of newspaper reporting in American life is valuable reading for anyone concerned about the possibility of having no newspapers to turn to for their local news.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

Morton, Paula E. Tabloid Valley: Supermarket News and American Culture. Univ. Pr. of Florida. May 2009. c.224p. photogs. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-8130-3364-8. $24.95. COMM

Freelance journalist Morton has written a concise overview of the American supermarket tabloid, emphasizing the National Enquirer and others owned by Florida-based American Media, Inc. Drawing on interviews and various print sources, she traces the history of the tabloid format from its beginnings in England, its American roots in yellow journalism, and the rise in the importance of photojournalism in the age of the Internet. As Morton shows, the National Enquirer was developed from a failing New York newspaper by Generoso Pope Jr, who used shocking or gory content to help increase circulation. He then began to include more celebrity stories, which increased the tabloid’s popularity in supermarkets. Morton reviews the move of the newspaper to Florida, where it helped create a thriving publishing industry in the Palm Beach area. A number of tabloid covers are included here, as are anecdotes about various popular tabloid stories. Though it is somewhat brief, this book provides useful information for those interested in American media history.—Joel W. Tscherne, Bryant & Stratton Coll., Cleveland


Fox, Justin. The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street. Collins Business: HarperCollins. Jun. 2009. c.320p. ISBN 978-0-06-059899-0. $27.99. BUS

Fox, a Time editor at large and economics columnist, here takes readers through the history of academic research on financial markets since the late 19th century. He focuses on the development of the Efficient Market Theory and its fall from dominance, which resulted largely from the rise of behavioral finance. The Efficient Market Theory uses mathematical models to show that investors act on information as it becomes available, making pricing so efficient that an investor would be unable to beat the market without insider information. Fox argues convincingly that this theory has been eclipsed by behavioral finance, which studies investors’ psychology to show that markets are not as rational as the Efficient Market Theory presents. The style here is journalistic, with personal stories that make the book entertaining, but ultimately this is a history of academic thought—complete with endnotes—and is best suited for students of finance or people interested in financial theory.—Robbie Allen, St. Johns River Community Coll., Palatka, FL

Frank, Robert H. The Economic Naturalist’s Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times. Basic Bks: Perseus. Jun. 2009. c.240p. index. ISBN 978-0-465-01511-5. $26. BUS

New York Times columnist Frank (management & economics, Cornell Univ.) is no slouch at making often misunderstood economic precepts easier to grasp. This collection of Times columns is handily organized into thematic sections; Frank’s writing sparkles, and the topics, which include health care and the subprime-mortgage crisis, are timely. However, many readers may find this more a political treatise than an economic one, as Frank’s conclusions tend toward the progressive (he supports both the estate tax and a single payer health-care system). He explored such stances in greater depth in his earlier books, including The Winner-Take-All Society and Falling Behind, which housed more comprehensive and research-based arguments than this one. This book is best as a recreational read and may appeal to fans of Malcolm Gladwell; however, coming only two years after Frank’s The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas, it’s an optional choice.—Sarah Statz Cords, Reader’s Advisor Online, Madison, WI

Samuel, Larry. Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture. AMACOM: American Management Assn. Jul. 2009. c.320p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-8144-1362-3. $24.95. BUS

Samuel (founder, Culture Planning, LLC) has made a career of studying the superrich and consulting with companies that cater to them. Here, with an anthropologist’s eye for detail, he covers the rise of megamillionaires over the 20th century. Each generation has produced new industries that have created different kinds of millionaires, from the Texas oil baron to the Silicon Valley dot-commer. While these groups have varied in what they spend on luxury items and philanthropy, they have much in common, such as difficulties with hiring the help, tensions between old and new money, and the rapid rise and fall of fortunes. Samuel also analyzes the American middle- and working-class obsession with get-rich-quick schemes and the range of admiration, envy, and disgust toward the wealthy. While Samuel acknowledges the present economic crisis and its effect on the wealthy, he argues that many have exaggerated the downturn and that the superrich will rise again. Fascinating, humorous, and readable, this book is recommended for anyone—general reader or scholar—interested in wealth in this country.—Kathryn Stewart, Centreville, VA

Political Science

Allitt, Patrick. The Conservatives: Ideas & Personalities Throughout American History. Yale Univ. May 2009. c.336p. index. ISBN 978-0-300-11894-0. $35. POL SCI

The only problem with this book is that it makes you want to read so many other books, if that can be called a problem! Allitt (history, Emory Univ.) traces leading voices of American conservative thought from the American Revolution to the end of the 20th century. He is amazingly widely read, surveying the field and presenting not just the usual suspects (John C. Calhoun, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman) but forgotten giants (Edward Everett, William Graham Sumner) and some who were always pretty obscure (e.g., John Randolph of Roanoke, Jerome Tuccille). Most books on political conservatism today are full of invective, their authors preaching to the choir. Allitt isn’t trying to convert or demonize anyone; instead, he merely presents a history of ideas. He has written a marvelous book that will be enlightening to both conservatives and liberals and is the rare university press book that is a page-turner, readable while also scholarly. Libraries, be prepared for some interesting purchase and ILL requests from the citations in this book!—Michael O. Eshleman, Greene Cty. Common Pleas Court, Xenia, OH

Feinstein, Andrew. After the Party: Corruption, the ANC and South Africa’s Uncertain Future. Verso, dist. by Norton. 2009. 320p. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-1-84467-356-8. $26.95. INT AFFAIRS

Feinstein, a former member of parliament for the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party since 1994, and a frequent political commentator, delivers a detailed and very personal account of the key groups and players inside (and outside) the ANC in the fight against apartheid and for democratic elections in South Africa. Both memoir and historical account, this book is a challenging read in the best meaning of the phrase, inviting readers to look at a very difficult topic through the experiences of a man who was there. While Feinstein’s descriptions of poverty, segregation, and racism will be familiar, American readers might just learn something about the concept of apartheid and its effect on South Africa and its diverse population. Feinstein, himself a Caucasian Jew, tells of not voting in any election (even though he had the right) until 1994, when voting was integrated and Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president. The book focuses on the time from Mandela’s election to the ANC’s splintering, the author’s resignation from the party, and his emigration to London. With notes and a very helpful list of abbreviations; readers with some knowledge of South Africa will especially appreciate this book.—Jenny Seftas, Southwest Florida Coll., Fort Myers

Gerken, Heather K. The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System Is Failing and How To Fix It. May 2009. c.192p. index. ISBN 978-0-691-13694-3. $24.95. POL SCI

In 2007, Gerken (Yale Law Sch.) wrote an article proposing that states and localities be ranked on the effectiveness of the elections they administer, prompting senators Obama and Clinton to introduce bills in support of her idea. Now Gerken, who worked on the 2008 Obama campaign’s “election protection team,” explains her proposal at book length. She argues that a national debacle such as Florida’s in the 2000 election is only as far off as the next close election, since our system remains plagued by “long lines, registration problems, a dearth of poll workers, [and] machine breakdowns.” Unlike other democracies, with centralized professional administration, we rely on a “hyper-decentralized” and partisan election apparatus, often underfunded and run by amateurs. Further, we operate in a “world without data,” a problem her Democracy Index would address through data collection on matters like length of polling-place lines, number of poll workers, and number of ballots cast against number counted. Public rankings would then, she argues, serves as a nonpartisan path to reform. Addressing a timely topic in highly accessible style, this book is recommended for all interested readers.—Bob Nardini, Nashville, TN

Haas, Michael. George W. Bush, War Criminal?: The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes. Praeger. 2009. 405p. index. ISBN 978-0-313-36499-0. $39.95. POL SCI

Haas (political science, emeritus, Univ. of Hawaii) is the first author to compile a comprehensive list of alleged war crimes committed by the Bush administration during its global war against international terrorism. Haas’s benchmark is the set of Geneva Conventions adopted after World War II, of which the United States was a critical state sponsor. At the least, this work should be read with close scrutiny, given Haas’s insistence on the centrality of the rule of law even (or especially) in time of international conflict—an insistence recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), in which the Court overturned the Bush administration’s system of military commissions. Perhaps most likely to be acknowledged (and even then it’s a long shot) is Haas’s call for a truth commission to investigate the past deeds of various Bush officials, including the President himself. This work’s greatest achievement, however, may be its detailed treatment of the Geneva Conventions and their role in establishing an international regime based on the rule of law, a regime applicable to American law and politics. Highly recommended, especially for serious students of the topics covered.—Stephen K. Shaw, Northwest Nazarene Univ., Nampa, ID

Mamdani, Mahmood. Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. Pantheon. 2009. c.400p. index. ISBN 978-0-307-37723-4. $26.95. INT AFFAIRS

The World and Darfur: International Response to Crimes Against Humanity in Western Sudan. McGill-Queen’s Univ. 2008. c.344p. ed. by Amanda F. Grzyb. index. ISBN 978-0-7735-3535-0. $29.95.

Highlighted by the International Criminal Court’s recent indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the turmoil in the Darfur region of the Sudan continues to evoke both impassioned advocacy and controversy. The latter stems primarily from the power inherent in one word—genocide—and whether or not it should be applied to events in the region. The World and Darfur, edited by Grzyb (information & media studies, Univ. of Western Ontario), uniquely encompasses a diversity of scholarship by both social scientists and scholars in the humanities (all genocide scholars), who examine the West’s response (or lack thereof) to Darfur. The essays from humanities scholars are especially powerful, ranging from the deconstruction of language used by Western and Sudanese politicians to the messages conveyed in art drawn by children in Darfur refugee camps. The message is clear: genocide occurred and continues to occur in Darfur, and Western nations—stalled by bureaucracy and politics—have a moral and legal obligation to intervene.

In stark contrast, Mamdani (Good Muslim, Bad Muslim) argues that calling the events in Darfur genocide is inaccurate and irresponsible. In his sweeping history of Darfur, Mamdani claims that the political and cultural complexities of the region have brought about events that are indeed tumultuous but do not constitute genocide. He believes that the West’s concern with Darfur is a preferred distraction from the failed U.S. occupation in Iraq, offering Western citizens a means to reclaim the moral high ground. At the core of Mamdani’s argument is an explicit fear that the claim of genocide and call for justice is a thinly veiled attempt to recolonize Africa. These books offer strikingly disparate interpretations of Darfur, each stamped as truth. At times, the in-depth academic analyses betray a certain level of detachment from the human experience in Darfur that can be a bit disheartening. That aside, both books provide valuable historical and cultural background to recent events in Darfur and the sure-to-continue scholarly debate on genocide.—Veronica Arellano, Univ. of Houston Libs.

Otto, Nathan & Amber Lupton. Give Peace a Deadline: What Ordinary People Can Do To Cause World Peace in Five Years. Greenleaf. 2009. c.273p. illus. index. ISBN 978-1-929774-86-9. $22.95. POL SCI

This is an introduction to the authors’ newly launched P5Y (Peace in Five Years) organization, which puts the deadline for achieving peace at February 14, 2014. The authors are calling for an international peace movement to end politically organized warfare, offering a business-oriented model that includes accountability, deadlines, and measurable goals. Otto, who formerly organized several successful Internet ventures, and Lupton, a personal development expert, describe here an infrastructure that enables planning and development, centered at their web site ( and supporting as many peace collaborations as individuals or groups are willing to propose. Skeptics, take note: the authors assert that they do not see peace as a Utopian conclusion; they acknowledge that disagreements and struggle will continue but argue that resources freed from the machinations of war can be reallocated to other worldwide problems of poverty, hunger, and disease. While this book takes a self-actualizing approach to changing the world, it is ultimately a call for volunteers willing to devote themselves to a movement that has a recognizable and imperative outcome as its goal and is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in that goal. [A portion of the proceeds will go to support the movement.—Ed.]—Jim Hahn, Univ. of Illinois Lib., Urbana

Social Sciences

de Botton, Alain. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Pantheon. Jun. 2009. c.336p. photogs. ISBN 978-0-375-42444-1. $26. SOC SCI

This exploration of how and why we labor arrives at a poignant time, as global economic turmoil cuts off countless workers from their livelihoods—and the meaning work gives them. Essayist and novelist de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life) spends time with workers in England as well as the United States, including fishermen, rocket scientists, accountants, a landscape painter, and a career counselor, in pursuit of some fundamental truth about work. His conclusion is, perhaps unavoidably, elusive; he variously seems to praise commitment to a task and to deride it, to glorify and to condemn modern industry. De Botton filters his subjects’ experiences through his own; though he is a witty, engaging interlocutor, his dominant voice distances the reader from those he aims to portray. Photographer Richard Baker contributes visual images of workers and workplaces, including a photo-essay documenting the process by which a tuna in the Indian Ocean becomes dinner for an English child. Providing provocative insights on specialization and the transitory nature of significance, this is sophisticated reading on a timely subject. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/09.]—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs., OH

Dirt: The Quirks, Habits, and Passions of Keeping House. Seal, dist. by Publishers Group West. 2009. c.280p. ed. by Mindy Lewis. ISBN 978-1-58005-261-0. pap. $15.95. SOC SCI

In this anthology of 38 pieces, by writers ranging from Rebecca Walker to Ann Hood to Joyce Maynard, essayist Lewis (Life Inside: A Memoir) turns her attention to housekeeping. Dirt in our homes and the process of cleaning it up is a universal task that all of us can appreciate. But while some of us enjoy housekeeping and excel at it, others abhor it and ignore it as long as possible. The contributors discuss their cleaning experiences and how those experiences have shaped them; clutter, neatness, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, hoarding, and dust bunnies are all covered here. This book certainly differs from the usual how-to manuals. Indeed, even though it offers no direct help with cleaning, its heartening prose could encourage even dedicated slobs to raise their standards. It is effectively a cumulative story about our lives and a great read to pick up now and then: the short entries and interesting points of view make this a pleasing and accessible volume.—Holly S. Hebert, Rochester Coll., Rochester Hills, MI

Lemke-Santangelo, Gretchen. Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. 2009. c.256p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-7006-1633-6. $24.95. SOC SCI

Not surprisingly, Tim Hodgdon’s Manhood in the Age of Aquarius: Masculinity in Two Countercultural Communities, 1965–83 appears in the selected bibliography of Lemke-Santangelo’s book on hippie women. Both books look at the counterculture and alternative lifestyles that became popular among younger people beginning in the 1960s, and they share an academic writing style (not to mention the use of the same Irwin Klein photograph, “Alan and Mickey in Meadow”). Manhood began as Hodgdon’s dissertation, and it reads like one: earnest and kind of plodding. Lemke-Santangelo (history, St. Mary’s Coll. of California) similarly generalizes and strives to explain things (like why communes relied on food stamps), using quotes from a seemingly random selection of folks who were there, interspersed with out-of-context bons mots from people like Benjamin Spock and Barbara Ehrenreich. For a really fun read and a nice cultural history of the times, Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—And the Journey of a Generation goes over a lot better. Daughters of Aquarius may be of interest, however, to students and specialists on 1960s America.—Ellen Gilbert, Princeton, NJ

Malaby, Thomas M. Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life. Cornell Univ. Jun. 2009. c.184p. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-8014-4746-4. $24.95. SOC SCI

Examining the challenges of developing and governing one of the most hyped virtual worlds today, this ethnographic study details Linden Lab’s ongoing organizational evolution in response to its mercurial creation, Second Life. Because Linden Lab eschews vertical authority, Second Life, while based in part on game design principles, is primarily an open world where users self-govern and design their own social environments. Linden Lab sees its role chiefly as a provider of tools to aid user creativity and content construction. Malaby (anthropology, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) focuses on how Linden Lab can guide and manage a world where users are not only allowed but encouraged to take unpredictable, idiosyncratic actions that will influence other users’ experiences of Second Life. Overall, this is an illuminating study, but one caution: it’s slim on details for translating these findings into applications for other organizations. Recommended for readers familiar with Second Life or seeking to learn more about it. [For more on Second Life, see Sue Martin Mahar & Jay Mahar's The Unofficial Guide to Building Your Business in the Second Life Virtual World, LJ 5/1/09.—Ed.]—David Ward, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Smith, Paul Chaat. Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong. Univ. of Minnesota. May 2009. c.192p. photogs. ISBN 978-0-8166-5601-1. $21.95. SOC SCI

With acerbic wit and unflinching honesty, social critic Smith (associate curator, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; coauthor, with Robert Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee) offers a collection of essays that were written over approximately a 15-year period. It is an eclectic collection that chronicles the evolution of his views on the politics of being a Native American, beginning with his obvious naïveté as a committed activist within the American Indian Movement to his present employment with the federal government. No target is safe from his pointed barbs, not even himself. The explanation of how quickly his views toward the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian changed when the practicality of needing employment entered the equation is alone worth the price of the book. In addition to being an entertaining read, this book gives one much to consider as Smith challenges many of the tropes that too many authors utilize when writing about native peoples. Highly recommended.—John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY

Sweeney, Matthew. The Lottery Wars: Long Odds, Fast Money, and the Battle Over an American Institution. Bloomsbury Pr., dist. by Macmillan. 2009. c.288p. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-1-59691-304-2. $25. SOC SCI

New York journalist Sweeney offers a history of the lottery in America, interwoven with tales of individual wins and losses, as well as descriptions of the battles fought over whether or not to create lottery systems in various states. While much has been written from economic and popular perspectives on the merits and evils of lotteries, this book combines history and personal anecdote, presumably in an attempt to provide a comprehensive picture. Perhaps the best part of the book is the inclusion of personal stories taken from interviews with lottery winners, losers, and addicts; readers are allowed to make their own judgments about the relative benefits and demerits of lotteries. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of organization. The introduction jumps from topic to topic, with no statement of purpose; the loosely arranged chapters would have benefited from structural clues, such as section headings and summary sentences. Owing to these problems, it is difficult to recommend this book, though there will be readers in popular culture who will want to see it.—Elizabeth L. Winter, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta

Vollmann, William. Imperial. Viking. Aug. 2009. c.1344p. photogs. maps. bibliog. ISBN 978-0-670-02061-4. $55. SOC SCI

Award-winning writer Vollmann (Europe Central) spent more than ten years researching Imperial County, CA, and the result is this complex, detailed, but often frenetic look at Southern California’s border region. Vollmann uses Imperial’s history to explore larger issues, such as immigration policies. Unfortunately, it appears that Vollman wanted to include every nugget of information he discovered—every interesting anecdote, roadside sign, or newspaper advertisement—and cram it all into this book, with the rationale for arrangement mostly unclear and with no synthesis or analysis (though plenty of his own bias). For example, he includes a series of hand-drawn maps at the beginning but waits until the final pages to explain them and put them into context. In addition, at least 12 different font types and sizes were used throughout, which only proves distracting. Overall, this book suffers under its own weight—it comes in at over 1300 pages, and evidently no index is planned. Perhaps Vollmann’s accompanying photo book, to be published simultaneously by powerHouse (not seen by reviewer), would be a better purchase for interested libraries. Not recommended, though Vollmann fans will still ask.—Mike Miller, Austin P.L., TX

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Is Your Favorite Book?

What’s your favorite book?

Seems like an easy question to answer don’t you think? Try it. Be honest. There’s a LOT of books out there and no one has read them all. So how can you be sure that’s your favorite book? A-ha…I just made it a hard question to answer didn’t I? Maybe not.

In any case, allow me to tell you my answer to the question. My favorite book is Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  If you haven’t yet read Lolita, then I highly recommend the book. Sure, its theme maybe a little taboo, but there’s no denying the book is genius really.

Before you can understand and enjoy Lolita, I think it’s prudent that you learn about the author himself, and try to see why and how a man could write such a genius novel. If you’ve ever read anything by the author, it’s easy to see that he has a way with words. For starters, he was fluent in three languages. He was an avid chess player. He wrote everything in longhand. He couldn’t type and therefore dismissed typewriters. (I think that having to write everything out is therapeutic to a writer and I too still use longhand to record articles, journal entries, and things of the like.) He taught English at ivy leagues such as Wellesley and Cornell. Nabokov was also a lepidopterist and worked at a zoologist museum at Harvard.

Lolita was published in 1955, banned from Paris from 1956-1958, and never fully published in the U.K. or America until 1958. Since its publication, Lolita remains one of the most controversial novels of the 20th century. Simply fascinating as far as I’m concerned.

Lolita is one of those books that requires you to think. When you read it for the first couple of times, have a dictionary by your side. Regardless of where you were educated or how many graduate degrees you have, your going to need a collegiate dictionary. Period. However, please don’t let this deter you from reading and enjoying the book. It simply means the book is meant to be savored and digested, not just skimmed.

The word choice and sentence structure is amazing. Words rhyme, phrases unite and link back, and alliteration lingers on the tongue long after you’ve moved past the passage. I would have loved to meet Nabokov to see if he talked as mellifluously as he wrote. I’d love to be able to write like him.

Some authors simply have a way with words. The fact that he was fluent in three foreign languages had a lot to do with the way he delivered his depictions I’m sure. Like Edgar Allan Poe sometimes did, Nabokov would create brand new words simply to fit into his writing if he couldn’t find one he liked. 

If you haven’t read Lolita, I encourage you to buy a copy. Don’t bother borrowing it from the library. Buy it. It’s really THAT good of a novel that you’ll want to reread it several times and even allow it a home on your bookshelf. 

What’s your favorite book? Please share, I’d be delighted to know.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why Do People Add One to Their FaceBook Page?

There was a guy whom I really liked from my General Psych class this semester, who did not get as good a grade as I would have hoped for – who none-the-less added me as a friend to his FaceBook page.

What is the general criteria for this honor [i.e., facebook addition]?

I am middle-aged, and don’t always get these things…

Will George W. add me to his face book page?

I hope not, life is hard enough already…

iggy donnelly

Friday, May 22, 2009

[REVIEW] Night's Cold Kiss - Tracey O'hara

Tracey O’hara

Night’s Cold Kiss (Dark Brethren, Book 1)

HarperCollins Eos (CA: 14th August 2009; US: 25th August 2009)

Cover art by Larry Rostant

Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA)

The lines are cut thin between good and evil, and trust and mistrust, in Tracey O’hara’s creepy first Dark Brethren novel, Night’s Cold Kiss.

A woman was murdered whilst her six-year-old daughter watched. Now all grown up, and an elite Venator, Antoinette Petruscu is haunted by the parahuman who murdered her mother. Supposedly he died in a fire, but that’s looking unlikely, and it can’t just be a coincidence that women who share common features with Antoinette are being murdered.

Keeping herself safe whilst investigating means teaming up with Christian Laroque, an Aeternus. Trained to hunt Necrodreniacs addicted to the death-high of draining a human completely whilst feeding, Antoinette is not exactly friendly with vampiric people. But this is a matter of life and death – eternal or otherwise.

Whilst this series’s vampires have a decent dose of originality, they also examplify what I dislike most: blood-thrall. It has the sleaze of mind-rape, though the donors seem rather scarily into it. This never sits well with me, but please persist reading if you’re struggling early on – the last half of the novel is engrossing. The less you know beforehand, the better your reading experience. I can’t name my favourite characters because of their strong connections to major spoilers.

Though the author is Australian, the setting is American, and the only Aussies you’ll find here are in the bar – unsurprising, really

The sci-fi elements are the real drawcards, raising this above most other vampire novels on the market. With memorable scenes and a particularly unforgettable character (you’ll know when you meet her), Night’s Cold Kiss kicks off a series with strong world-building, and hopefully much more science to come.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Witches Abroad

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself in a fairy tale? What would you do if you realized it was in your hands to change the course of the story? What would you do if you realized the characters in the fairy tale were real people and did not want to be a part of the story?

Well Terry Pratchet’s ‘Witches Abroad’ supplies with all the above scenarios and does it in  a very entertaining manner. Three witches Granny Weatherwax, Nancy Ogg and Magrat – one of them a newly designated godmother- head off to the land of Genua – to prevent ‘Ella’ from marrying the ‘Prince’ . Now why would they want to do that, you may ask? Its a happy ending right? Wrong. Stories are different. Real people are different. And godmothers dont want to be godmothers. Magic shouldn’t rule people. Well these are some of the premises of the book.

What makes this book interesting is not the plot but the characters. Completely nonchalant Nanny Ogg, the up-tight Granny and the fumbling , rookie Magrat.Their interactions and their escapades define the book.

Verdict: If you like fantasy fiction you may enjoy this book.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain


What prevents Chelsea Cain’s debut novel, Heartsick, from being a run-of-the-mill psycho killer story?  I mean, truthfully, it has all the ingredients: troubled, lead detective; smart-cookie reporter with a past, crazy killer who targets high school girls, red herrings.

Heartsick opens with a flashback. Detective Archie Sheridan has been tracking the ‘Beauty Killer’ for ten years and he has finally caught her; or rather, she’s caught him. Held captive in her basement, Gretchen Lowell spends ten days torturing Archie in a variety of inventive and gruesome  ways. Strangely enough, Archie and Gretchen form a bond and it is that relationship which separates Heartsick from other novels in the genre.

Instead of killing Archie at the end of ten torturous days, Gretchen saves him by bringing him back to life and then calling 911. Then she does something even more remarkable- she turns herself in. She agrees to spill the beans about all the murders she’s committed over the years, but she’ll only talk to Archie. Their twisted relationship permeates all other aspects of his life, including his relationship with his wife, Debbie, and their two children. It’s also the most interesting thing about the book.

Archie is called back into service to lead a task force tracking a new serial killer. That part of the story treads familiar ground and is really only a framework for Cain to explore Gretchen and Archie’s co-dependancy. Archie is a complicated character; he loves his wife and children despite the fact that he no longer lives with them, he’s addicted to a variety of pain killers and sedatives, he’s as smart as hell. Gretchen is beautiful and cunning and one of the most evil characters you’re ever likely to meet. If you pick up Heartsick, do it because watching Gretchen and Archie navigate their twisted boundaries makes for riveting reading.


Read a Review

Another Review

Chelsea Cain’s Site

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: When Darkness Falls by James Grippando

This book reads like an episode of Flashpoint if ever one of its episodes got turned into a blockbuster movie. Add a defense attorney under pressure, an experienced but blind negotiator (in no means a handicap), and a beautiful female cop and you’ve got something close to When Darkness Falls. With the thrilling action, the back stories and the gripping plot, James Grippando definitely ranks among the top in the thriller and suspense genre.

As Jack Swyteck is asked to defend a homeless man who tried to jump off a bridge, something does not seem right when the man comes up with the $10,000 bail in cash. A woman’s body is found in the car where the homeless man lives. While on the run, the man takes motel clients and Jack’s best friend hostage. Readers are likely to eagerly await the reasoning and explanation behind the man’s behaviour and motive, especially after his strange final request.

Secrets unwind in this fast-paced story. It’s a real page-turner. I’ve read When Darkness Falls in one sitting. Although I do find that the hostages were being held against their will for a very long time and that the story dragged in a few places, the dialog and the short chapters really keep the story moving. I was surprised to find humor in the oddest of places — even when Jack’s best friend, Theo, was being held at gunpoint. While reading, I also wondered if a romance would spark between two specific characters. - –The Bambi Review

Monday, May 18, 2009

Where do you store all of your knowledge - book reviews, tips, and valuable lessons learned? Use our Diary section!

How many times do you read that great book, or hear that moving quote, only to write it on a peice of paper to keep for later?  Well, when you want to find it later, if you are anything like me you cannot find it.  That piece of information that you felt was so important is now gone, and perhaps you will never find it again!

This is why we added the Diary section to My Investing Tools.  In the Diary, you can record your thoughts on the market, and do all of your forecasting for future lookup and reference when reviewing your trades, but you can also store all of that important information that you never want to forget!  No more sticky notes, no more searching through journals and more journals.  You can enter it right in the Diary, and then you will always be able to refer to it.

We’ve included categories, so you can categorize your entries to make it really easy to sort by and find what you are interested.  You also add a Title to the entry, a short description of the overall entry.

Here is a summary of the categories that we have included (we can add many many more, just let us know what you need!):

  • Market Forecast – short, intermediate and long term forecasts.
  • Lessons Learned - write down all of your lessons learned the hard way here, to never forget them and to make your time and effort count in the future!
  • Book Review - record your book review information here, make that time count and never forget the moving quotes and valuable information that you picked up.

  • Useful Information - some tidbit on one of the tools you use perhaps, or just any other useful info.

  • Personal Reflection - Mastering yourself is one of the hardest things in trading, you should write down how you felt and how you acted in especially good and especially bad days in the market.  Learn how you act, and if you re-act.  Learn to master yourself and become a better trader.

  • Want to Repeat - Did you do something amazing and you never want to forget it, well jot it down here.  Sometimes it is hard to remember all of the details!

  • Want to Avoid - If you did something and you NEVER want to do it again, you will likely remember, but just in case, record it here.  You can record all the details so you do not forget!

  • Mission Statement – Write your own personal mission statements, business mission statements, family ones too!  How about imagining your perfect day of work and perfect day of play!

  • Goals and Dreams - Dream BIG and make it happen!  If you don’t set goals and dreams, what do you have to strive for?

  • General – For anything else you need

Sign up today for a FREE 14 day trial!

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Sinners in the Hands...

Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” narrated by Max McLean will take your breathe away. This is the pure, unadulterated, hard hitting Truth that, once heard, simply cannot leave you as you were before you heard it.

This sermon is regarded by many as the most famous sermon ever delivered. Written by (or perhaps through)  one of the greatest American Theologians. It begins with the Word from Deuteronomy 32:35 ‘..their foot shall slide in due time‘, and with these words, the Truth is released upon the hearer without restraint.This sermon ends with this warning:

“Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: “aste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

If you are a Christian, take heed that though you may have escaped the fate of the ’sinner’ described in this book, there are those in your life that have not.  I was moved to pray for those that I love that have not chosen the path of escape freely given and available to all – salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

If you are not a Christian, take heed.  This book foretells your future.

The text of this sermon is in the public domain and is easily accessible.  I recommend reading from the Christian Classic Ethereal Library.  This sermon, whether written as shown here or spoken as delivered in this audio book, should be read at least once in your life.

Special Bonus

At the time of this post, The Listener’s Bible site is offering a FREE download of this sermon.

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Fellowship for the Performing Arts (June 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931047405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931047401

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: Square Foot Gardening

I found Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew only recently and so far would have to say that if you are a new vegetable gardener and want to buy just one book, this might be a good choice.  After Jen Colbert recommended it to me, I have been passing the word along to friends and family.  At this point, I’ve skimmed through most of it and then focused in on various sections that are of particular interest to me and my garden projects for this spring.  I have repeated turned to its great tables and organizers in the 8 weeks or so since I got it.

Bartholomew’s approach is for intensive gardening — instead of planting in long, thin rows (the image many of us bring to vegetable gardening), he plants in blocks.  He fits a lot in these 1-foot square blocks — you’ll be amazed, I think, at how much food you can get out of even a small garden if you use this approach, or if you take the information here and apply it to wide rows (which is what I’m doing).

I am most excited about his charts — when to plant, how to plant it (seedlings indoors or direct sow, for example) and spacing.  He has recommendations for which plants to start early, which to start indoors, which to just send straight to the garden soil… He’s done a lot of experimentation with growing things vertically — not just peas and tomatoes, but also cucumbers and even squash and melons.  I am eager to try his trellis for tomatoes and vines — which should free up lots of ground space in our not-so-big garden beds.  At the end of the book he has a crop-by-crop guide with information about planting, growing, fertilizing, watering, and some FAQs.

Maybe of interest to you, too, is the Kitchen Garden Planner at the Garden Supply Company’s website (I put a link to it on the side bar).  While technically this tool is to build a 3X6′ raised bed that you can purchase from the company, the planner is free and, for all intents and purposes, seems to be straight out of Bartholomew’s book — so there’s an easy way to figure out how much you need for the space in your garden or to envision how this approach might look.  My sister-in-law and parents both used it and simply put together a few of the plans they developed to fit their actual garden beds.

This book isn’t a gardening encyclopedia by any means — but it has lots of good, detailed information for any vegetable gardener and provides a great framework for beginning gardeners, in particular.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday hodgepodge

On the personal front…

I seem to be intent on injuring my back on a semi-annual basis.  This time at least I was doing something manly and cutting down a tree that was ominously leaning over my neighbors property.  Despite a hair raising moment when I briefly had to consider if I would be better off buying him a new roof or just fleeing the country the tree came down without incident.  Why I thought I could move a huge section of the offending tree by myself is a mystery but my back clearly let me know that it was not amused.

After forty years I can no longer claim to be a lawn cutting virgin.  I was trapped into mowing my new lawn.  Fortunately, it’s relatively small so it was over quickly but I remain cautious about the lawn mower taking on a life of its own and running amok.  I shall keep the beast on a short leash.

I’m listening to the audio version of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and it is very good.  I had soured on fantasy books as generally being a bit formulaic but this one doesn’t give you good characters and multiple interesting plots.  The audio version has a phenomenal reader that makes me think I’d be missing something by reading this versus listening to it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen

Want the short review? I’m fairly confident in calling this my favorite novel of the year. You should read it–you’ll love it, too.

Want the longer version? Here it is:

Tecumseh Sparrow “T.S.” Spivet is always making maps. He maps water tables, bird migrations, his room, his home state of Montana, the paths of dreams and conversations, and the motions of his sister shucking corn. His maps have won him the attention of the Smithsonian Institution and the prestigious Baird Award. The only problem with this is that T.S. is only 12 years old and doesn’t have a way to get from Montana to Washington, D.C. to accept the award. Well, there is one way, which is to hop a train, like the hobos he’s learned about in school.

During his journey, T.S. reflects on his life’s work and on his family, from whom he feels distanced. His mother is withdrawn into her scientific studies, his tough and practical rancher father can’t understand the bookish T.S., his older sister is more sympathetic but often self-centered in a teenage, can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-here way. Then, there’s Layton, T.S.’s beloved younger brother, whose death constantly hovers in T.S.’s thoughts.

In T.S., Reif Larsen (who apparently made quite the stir in the publishing world with his debut) has created a character with a wholly original and memorable voice. I loved that, even though he is a tremendously intelligent child, Larsen stops short of the unbelievably precocious by retaining T.S.’s childish sense of wonder, excitement, and fear. This was a character I was willing to follow, wherever he decided to take me, which included many stops in the margins, where a good deal of the story is told. This is what makes the book truly unique—the margins are full of T.S.’s maps, drawings, and explanatory notes. The author describes these as “exploded hyper text,” but my initial comparison (suggested by the boy’s destination) was to descriptive plaques in a museum, offering the deeper story behind the scene or object in front of you.

It is a story beautifully told and also beautifully presented—the book is slightly oversized, with a gorgeous dust jacket and embossed cover (plus all of the marginal illustrations inside)–it’s the kind of book that makes you want to run your hands over it, pore over the illustrations, and maybe give it a hug. (Yes, I did those things when I took it out of the box. You might be able to guess that I haven’t become an e-book convert.)

So, there it is–favorite book of the year; buy a copy–buy two, because once you’re finished, you’ll want to share it (but you won’t want to give up your copy).

I recommend visiting the book’s very cool interactive website. Be sure to give yourself some time to explore!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Review: Confessions of a Shopaholic

I finally picked up a copy of Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, mostly so I could see the movie. Which sounds kind of lame, but I like to read the book before I see an adaptation. Just me.

Let me just say this: painful.

That’s what it was for me. It starts out as a fun little story about Becky Bloomwood a woman with a mediocre job as a finance journalist with an obsession for anything carrying a price tag. Harmless, right? I mean, come on, it’s fiction. It’s not like it’s real or anything.

But from my squirming reactions, you’d think it was. It was so painful to see Ms. Bloomwood make purchase after purchase with maxed out credit cards. Maybe I’m a little crazy, but I grew-up in a family that operated debt-free and potential purchases were always met with the question, “Do you really need that?” My husband and I also live debt-free, so to think of the real-life ramifications of owing thousands of dollars to credit card companies for things you don’t need is just a bit unnerving.

Other than the obvious financial frivoliousity, which is noted in the book’s tagline “Going broke was never this much fun,” Confessions of a Shopaholic meets the standards of chick lit. Girl has problem, girl meets boy, girl goes through a series of trials, boy and girl hook-up, everything ends happy.

I do wish that there were a few more confessions other than the heroines shopping woes, say her onslaught of lies? Really, is there no responsibility left even in fiction? Shouldn’t she have to “man-up,” so to speak, and face her friends and family with the truth?

I know it’s fiction, but geez can’t we get some resolution past the inevitable boy-meets-girl happy ending?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Book review: 'Best Intentions' by Emily Listfield

First came the facts: A 39-year-old woman is discovered dead in her apartment in Manhattan.

And then, especially for Lisa Barkley, come the questions: Why? How? And where did this all begin?

Emily Listfield’s Best Intentions is the story of a marriage, a friendship, a host of lies, more than a little betrayal, unrequited love and our often crazy attempts at regaining what it is we’ve felt we lost.

Lisa is a hard-working mom, devoted wife to Sam, and PR representative — clearly cut responsibilities, duties and obligations. Her best friend Deirdre, in turn, is an explosion of possibility — the opposite of predictable. She bounces from boyfriend to boyfriend, often involving herself with married men in the hope that they’ll eventually realize how special she is to them. In the meantime, she runs a boutique in New York City and plays dutiful auntie to Claire and Phoebe, Sam and Lisa’s daughters, who attend an elitist private school downtown.

Lisa is torn between several worlds — the world in which she must work as hard as possible to keep her job; the place she must come home to, her roles as mother and wife irreplaceable; the space she inhabits as Deirdre’s best friend since college, offering her advice and hoping against hope she won’t make bad decisions. And so goes life in their corner of the city . . . until Jack, Deirdre’s first love and college friend, drops back into their lives.

Told from Lisa’s perspective as the world rocks and bucks around her, Best Intentions is fast-paced, suspenseful and pretty unpredictable. I read compulsively, knowing that another twist was just around the corner — and also hoping that though the evidence pointed to something so painful, maybe it was all a misunderstanding. The book relies upon these turns — Listfield herself mentions the turning of a kaleidoscope, all of the facts shifting and changing into different patterns as you look at the situation, or turn it ever-so-slightly. Every time I thought I had my balance with the story, the ground shifted again . . . and everything changed. There didn’t seem to be any easy resolutions. I liked that about it.

And the book seemed to be realistic — the characters felt like people I could know. Though I can’t say I ever got really attached to any of them — I don’t know why — I did feel for them, especially Lisa. It seemed like she was so desperately looking for something to hold on to as everything she knew was blown apart, and I can’t imagine how terrible that must feel.

Listfield weaves great insights into everyday life throughout the story, too. Attention to little things — the tiny, seemingly inconsequential details — is what grabs me as a reader. These tidbits added up to making me wonder how well we can ever really know another person — and how far we can let them know us. We all want to do right by each other, love each other and mean something to the world; and, as Deirdre says, we’re all seeking our “In Case Of Emergency” person. But what do the pieces of our lives add up to form?

The trajectory of a life, laid out across a table, reduced to jottings in a pad, would no doubt seem both damning and inane, our imperfections difficult to justify despite our best intentions.

All in all, a solid and fast read. My only gripe? Some of the punctuation in the novel felt a bit . . . off. Too many commas where there should have been a semicolon. It was really distracting to me! But that’s certainly not a deal-breaker, and shouldn’t keep you from grabbing this one if you’re looking for a little love, some intrigue — and one giant mystery.

Best Intentions is published by Atria — grab your copy May 5.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416576711 ♥ Purchase from Amazon ♥ Author Website

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Journey with the King

Christian, are you caught between duty and grace? The weight of one obscures the other.

“Finding Home, a Parable of Kingdom Life” written by Pastor Brad Huebert of Dalhousie Community Church is a wonderfully crafted telling of a christians journey through this world.

Reminiscent of John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims’ Progress’ and Hannah Hurnard ‘Hinds Feet on High Places’, this story is alive with vivid images of the ebenezers in a christians walk, brief moments of revelation that change the course of our lives.

One of the most dramatic moments in my life occurred when I realized there is nothing I can do to make my King love me more and nothing I could do to make Him love them less.

What does one do with that kind of Love?

Ivan, the main character in this journey,  discovers that there is only one thing that he can do, walk in it.

The story is gripping and instantly identifiable for those who began their christian walk making lists and performing duties. All this is left behind when Ivan eyes look upon the King.

You will find rich illustrations of both duty and grace.  Scattered throughout are wise sayings as well, such as:

“Authority trumps power“

“Childlike and childish are not the same thing“

“Most people choose dutiful routine over passionate relationship“

My personal favorite quote was…”Passion is one of the most unbalanced things in this universe.  That’s why I love it.” Indeed the King must love passion in order to give the greatest gift.

Christians seeking authenticity and a deeper walk will enjoy this book, those caught in legalism and duty will not.

C. S. Lewis once said “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”  You will most likely want to return to this one.

Friday, May 1, 2009

<i>Reading Like a Writer</i>, by Francine Prose

I’ve always been a little skeptical of ‘how-to’ books.  I’m not worried about books that show me how to fix a faucet, but ones that try to tell me how to be a novelist or poet concern me.  So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.  Rather than the self-indulgent pedantry I expected, the book presents a critical and well-crafted examination of the power and importance of reading good books.

With fourteen novels, four non-fiction books, one YA book, and five children’s books to her credit, Prose has certainly proven herself a writer.  It is her experience as a teacher, however, which gives the book such a careful, studied air.  While she often speaks from personal experience, sometimes to a fault, she puts most of her discussions in a classroom context.  Indeed, I found reading it much like attending a graduate seminar.  I worked my way through it slowly, approaching each chapter as a new lecture.  Prose’s narrative voice is such that it’s easy to imagine yourself sitting in a room and listening rather than reading.  The flip side of this, though, is that stopping in the middle of a chapter is often just as jarring as going home in the middle of class.

Past the introduction, the book uses an impressively controlled structure to analyze the benefit of reading.  In a slowly expanding spiral, Prose begins in the second chapter with “Words”, and moves onto “Sentences”, “Paragraphs”, “Narration”, “Character”, “Dialogue”, “Details”, and “Gesture”.  Speaking abstractly, it’s as though she holds a book right up to her reader’s face and then gradually pulls it back, explaining it along the way.  Each chapter is peppered with quotations, some a page or more long, from stories both popular and obscure.  Prose uses the excerpts to both illustrate the points she makes and as opportunities to speak passionately about authors who have shaped her own writing.

In chapter six, “Character”, she manages to connect two writers which seem to have little in common, and does so with breathtaking skill.  She begins by breaking down Heinrich von Kleist’s novella The Marquise of O–, a piece I had never heard of before.  Working chronologically through the plot, she uses several long quotations to explain how the author’s manipulation of action and inaction contribute to the reader’s understanding of a complex cast of characters.  With only the slightest pause, she moves into a discussion of Jane Austen’s more cerebral characterization methods.   By emphasizing the economy of language and precise staging employed by both writers, Prose argues convincingly that the two are cut from the same cloth.  All the while, she periodically returns to her classroom, recalling the effect such technical examinations had on her students.

In chapters ten and eleven, the tightly controlled spiral of thought which I find so engrossing seems to unravel a bit.  Ten, “Learning from Chekov”, is basically an encomium.  It reads much more like memoir than literary criticism, as Prose discusses the personal growth she found in reading the Russian master.  There is no doubt that a close reading of Chekov’s technical genius can benefit any writer, but the placement of such a discussion seems awkward and a touch redundant.  Chapter eleven is called “Reading for Courage”, and covers the ways in which great writers have always had to overcome both internal and external expectations.  While I took great inspiration in the stories told, as I think was the intent, the tonal and structural departure from the rest of the book left me a little disappointed in the end.

Despite the cover, which reads “A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them,” this is not for the intellectually faint of heart. It’s an erudite argument for the joy and value of reading. More than that, though, I found it a great encouragement to reading literary fiction. Indeed, through Prose’s book, I came away with a fuller knowledge of the works she cites and an interest to read more. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the plethora of “great” books, Reading Like a Writer is an excellent place to start for both suggested titles and the wisdom to read them well.