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Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Edith Grossman, Harold Bloom
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
Christopher Clark
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
William Weaver, Italo Calvino
Chaos: The Making of a New Science
James Gleick
'Catherine Bly Cox', 'Charles Murray'
How Proust Can Change Your Life
Alain de Botton
Remembrance of Things Past: Volume I - Swann's Way & Within a Budding Grove
Marcel Proust, Terence Kilmartin, C.K. Scott Moncrieff
Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945
Max Hastings
The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction
Helen Merrick, Edward James, Farah Mendlesohn
The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide - Mary Lou Heiss, Robert J. Heiss

The Story of Tea is a beautiful piece of work, valuable to all tea lovers. Many gorgeous photographs suggest the cultivative art, while a strong discussion of production methods in various regions is the real heart of the book. For those interested in a description of production down to the village level, this is one of the few works that will provide it. This section is followed by a longish chapter called "Journeying along the tea trail," which is both meandering and somewhat redundant, while at the same time providing many interesting vignettes. By the finish of these two parts, the reader will have a decent knowledge of which regions produce the more famous teas, and why. With that said, I was disappointed by the rather spare, even perfunctory, history of tea, trade and the tea trade's role in the world economic system. As for the "drinking guide" section of the book, I much prefer the author's better known "The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to the World's Best Teas." Moreover, the structure of the book lends itself to overlap, leading to duplication of information. Even given these deficiencies, I consider The Story of Tea to be a must read for anyone seeking knowledge about the worlds most popular beverage. It remains the best single volume concerning all things tea-related.

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles is a beautifully written account of the life and doom of Achilles from the perspective of his best friend, Patroclus. Miller combines material from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, as well as Vergil's Aeneid, to tell what is essentially a love story. This telling is from the perspective of a very different Patroclus than the one we meet in the Iliad. We learn of Patroclus' exile and boarding with Peleus, his time as a student with Achilles under the tutelage of the centaur, Chiron, of his troubled relationship with Thetis, Achilles' goddess-mother, and the myriad forces that pushed a reluctant Achilles into the Trojan War. In passages that are at times quite lyrical, Miller describes the playing out of the connected fates of the lovers, and those of their closest relations, including the captured Trojan, Briseis, and Achilles' horrid son, Pyrrhus. Overall, a very enjoyable novel, reminiscent of the best work of Mary Renault.

Master Han's Daughter: Tales From Depraved Neo-Tokyo

 Based on a review I had read, I was expecting a novel that included all of my favorite elements:  Sci Fi + Cyberpunk + Neo-Tokyo + Kinky Sex.  Midori's book included all of that (and more), but was most definitely not a novel.  It is a series of short stories based on the same setting, with loose ties, and a few parallel themes linking them together.  As science fiction goes, I enjoyed most of the stories.  The author successfully captured the cyber-punk mood and rhythm, and the often predatory element of its citizenry.  Midori is clearly a talented writer, and I look forward to a novel along similar lines.  The short stories couldn't quite carry through on some of my other interests.  For example, I would've preferred a more detailed discussion of her version of Neo-Tokyo, and its stratified society.  As for the sex, as other's have mentioned, it was pretty hot stuff--well beyond vanilla--let the buyer beware.  Midori's book was quite reminiscent of Bacigalupi's "Windup Girl," without the detailed descriptions of the devastating effects of climate change on economies and societies.  It had the same dystopian tone, including that element of hopelessness, and actors with few redeeming moral qualities.  All in all, a worthy effort, though quite short for those looking to spend a bit more time in Midori's "depraved Neo-Tokyo."    


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 - Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel, Haruki Murakami

After reading most of Haruki Murakami's oeuvre, it's safe to say that he is my favorite living writer. At his best, he can paint a picture with words, adding layer after layer of description to a canvas that, as a whole, avoids becoming dense or encrusted, but rather maintains both delicacy and depth simultaneously. His characters can often be both non-descript and unique, which he often achieves with a simple parenthetical: "In order to flee from responsibility, Tengo learned early on in life to make himself inconspicuous. He worked hard to negate his presence by publicly displaying very little of his true abilities, by keeping his opinions to himself, and by avoiding situations that put him at the center of attention...It was necessary for him to keep such contrivances in mind at all times, like the orphans in Dicken's novels." 1Q84 is a long novel in three books. Like many of Murakami's works, it involves fantastical elements and synchronicities, not to say, coincidences. It would probably be going too far to describe it as a work of magical realism. I often prefer to think of some of his fantastic contrivances as metaphors--I'm thinking of his "INKlings" from the earlier Hard-Boiled Wonderland. In 1Q84, one can only do that for so long before "air chrysalises" run into actual "little people." But Murakami-lovers must have the fortitude to get beyond, or behind, such details. Murakami is known for building his stories around an earlier novelistic archetype--e.g., his Kafka at the Shore is primarily an Oedipus story. 1Q84 is obviously riffing on Orwell's 1984, and it carefully builds and maintains throughout the oppressive mood created by Orwell's surveillance machinery. Further, 1Q84 is similarly a romance, though in this case a decades long romance between an assassin avenging the wrongs suffered by the abused and molested, and a gifted, yet not overly successful, math teacher and novelist, neither of whom has been able to surpass their life-changing grade-school encounter. And this, all set against the machinations of a fanatic and powerful cult, bent on controlling the actions of these characters and those close to them. The first two books were set up as opposing third person narratives of the stories of the two main characters, and their inter-connections. I went through the set-up, and middle portions of the book--i.e., books one and two--like the proverbial knife through butter. But in the third book, where Murakami should have continued to cleave quickly while building forcefully to his conclusion, he chose to add a third perspective--that of the representative of the afore-mentioned surveillance machinery. This character was himself, quite interesting. I enjoyed seeing this weird world through his eyes. Unfortunately, the third perspective, meant the story began jumping back and forward on three tracks. It became a chore to decipher where we were in each characters stories. At this point, I put the book down for an extended period of rest and recuperation. Eventually, though, I had to know the end of the story: Would the lovers end up like Orwell's victims of the machine? I expected so, and was haunted by that potential. I won't spoil the resolution, but however it came out--and it did include elements that were macabre at best, I was quite satisfied with the conclusion. In sum, while not my favorite of Murakami's novels, I probably prefer Wind-up Bird or Kafka, or possibly, Norwegian Wood, I consider this 1157 page door-stop, well-worth anyone's time.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/412521759

Accelerando (Singularity)

Accelerando (Singularity) - Charles Stross Charles Stross...injects...? (I was going to say throws, but that's somehow inadequate) more ideas into one's brain per page than any four other authors. His cautionary tale, following the vicissitudes of a remarkable 21st century family, across the centuries, and through the wormholes, spawning copies of themselves, backing up their various incarnations, and all the while being manipulated by a toy A.I. An A.I. whose intelligence has evolved as far beyond the human as human intelligence has beyond the tapeworm (Stross's analogy), while playing with forces that essentially put the continued existence of the species in doubt. Stross builds incredible worlds with amazing iterations of technology. But his story comes across as fragmented, by the lapses of time, and the vast leaps in technology. There's a beginning and an end, but the middle is a bit gooey. It's quite a ride, but at the end, you're still wondering where you've been.

Bookstore Tourism: The Book Addict's Guide to Planning & Promoting Bookstore Road Trips for Bibliophiles & Other Bookshop Junkies

Bookstore Tourism: The Book Addict's Guide to Planning & Promoting Bookstore Road Trips for Bibliophiles & Other Bookshop Junkies - Larry Portzline Larry Portzline had a great idea: Help save struggling independent bookstores by promoting "Bookstore Tourism," the goal of which is to get booklovers to group up for road trips to nearby mega book hubs like Greenwich Village. He provides most of the necessary tools, and several recommendations for making a successful trip. He also provides a few examples of destinations. I would've preferred to see a much more extensive list of destinations (and one less eastern-centric). Also, a more detailed chapter on the bookstores themselves with brief descriptions of their histories and quirks would've added options, as well as fodder, for potential book-tourists. One idea that Portzline described that strongly resonated with me was that of "Bookcrossing:". Where people are encouraged to read a book and then leave it "out in the wild" for others to find and read before passing it on themselves, Participants are encouraged to record their transactions online so that the books may be tracked, creating a sort of world library. Lots of great book-related ideas around! Portzline promises an updated, and potentially more-detailed, next edition. I have high expectations for this version.


girls - Nic Kelman, Iris Weinstein I came to this book as a result of a review I read that described it as a modern day "Lolita." It's not that. I'm not even sure I'd call it a novel. If it is a novel, it's emplotment is very complex. It is built around several longish vignettes-all between 5 and 16 pages-that are related by theme, if nothing else. The use of a second person narrator throughout often makes it difficult to determine whether he's talking about the same character. Most of the characters are very rich, and think themselves very powerful. It's only when he describes one of his contra characters, a photographer, for example, that you "know" he's describing the experiences of a different character. His preoccupation with using "maybe" and "perhaps," as if to avoid admitting any of his characters' crimes-- which is what sex with a sixteen year old is in most places-leads the reader to doubt whether he's faithfully describing events that actually occurred. In like manner, he often shifts, within the vignettes, from the second person narrator to the third. Between the vignettes, he uses a cornucopia of aphorisms and quotes from the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid to illustrate the timelessness of his themes-I guess, as sometimes the quotes don't fit with the events described. He also likes to describe the evolution of words like "love" and "cock," for example. It's during these often interesting interludes that one doubts that Kelman has written a novel, and not a Pillow Book a la Sei Shonagon. Several times I found myself chuckling at the pretentiousness of his "rich men," as I thought "all that money, and this is what they do with it? How pathetic!" It's clear Kelman is a talented writer, willing to experiment. I look forward to the time when he uses his talent on a subject with more depth, and less bodily fluids.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood - James Gleick A wide-ranging exemplar of the History of Ideas, Gleick's "The Information" tells the compelling story of our Information Age. Focusing on fascinating characters such as Charles Babbage, and more particularly, the brilliant Claude Shannon, Gleick deftly weaves together the disparate strands of technology, cryptology and psychology that lead to his "Flood." Those familiar with the "Steampunk" world-view will find many common strands here. A solid math background, while not essential, certainly enhances the experience. I've now added Gleick's "Chaos" and his biography of Newton to my soon-to-be-read list.

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink - Sarah Rose Ms. Rose has written a very interesting popular history, that would have been strengthened with more detailed discussions of several subjects: e.g., the relationship between tea and opium, the tea manufacturing process, the playing out of the demise of the East India Co., and the rise of the tea clippers. This book is really a brief intro to the China tea trade and the role that Robert Fortune played therein. I feel about this book the way Sarah Rose feels about the lack of a sufficiently detailed, and well-written history of the Honorable East India Company.

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution - Keith J. Devlin "The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution" enthusiastically summarizes the little that is known about Leonardo of Pisa, later more famously called Fibonacci. Those who read medieval primary texts have become used to the dearth of direct evidence related to such texts, as well as the admirable, if Herculean, labors medievalists are forced to perform to prove the most basic biographical details. In the case of Leonardo of Pisa, the proof for his role in the "arithmetic revolution" has been fairly well-established, and is nicely summarized here. Well-known for his Fibonacci sequence, his greater contribution may have been the role he played in the transmission of arithmetic and algebra from Moslem North Africa to medieval Italy. Interestingly, this transmission appears to have proceeded along two tracks: First, in a formal, Latin primer on algebra--the famous Liber Abaci (1202)--via the educated elite, and second, through transmission to the Tuscan mercantile community in a format more suitable for the problems that would interest them via a lost primer--Di minor guisa--on commercial arithmetic for the "abbacus schools." Thus, Leonardo of Pisa seems to have played a significant role in both the rebirth of classical arithmetic and science, and the economic revolution that was already beginning to pull much of Italy into its cultural renaissance.

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier - Neil deGrasse Tyson Tyson is an eloquent spokesman for his "Cosmic Perspective." Though Space Chronicles is a non-book (i.e., a compilation of "15 years worth of commentaries"), it manages to include much useful information, packaged in bite-sized snippets. Those looking for a treatise on astrophysics, or a detailed rendition of the latest cosmologies will have to look elsewhere. This is popular science, the audience of which, appears to be the intelligent voting citizen. Tyson makes the case for NASA funding ad nauseum--figuring, I guess since the politicians don't have the brains to adequately fund science, that it is up to the semi-literate public to properly motivate them. He may be correct, and they could do worse in looking for a political primer on astronomical matters than this book.

Ramayana: Divine Loophole

Ramayana: Divine Loophole - Sanjay Patel

I have had several encounters with the Ramayana over the years, first in a Hindu mythology course in college, later through its Thai incarnation--The Ramakhien. And then, through visits with its various characters at several museums with Asian collections. It has, for a long time, been one of my favorite adventure stories.

I think it's fair to say that Sanjay Patel's rendition of the Ramayana is my absolute favorite. Admittedly, Patel has produced an abridged version (3,000 pages down to 120+), that is the perfect size to read to one's children--as I have done. It is complete enough to cover all the main events, yet not so detailed that a young reader would get bogged down in the minutiae. As the subject matter involves some rather scary demons, it might not be right for the youngest kids however.

Reminiscent of one of my son's favorite cartoons--Samurai Jack--Patel's artwork continually draws me back to the book. His use of shapes creates a kind of dynamism, that combined with the compelling story-telling, generates the best kind of storybook.

Besides being the perfect story to read to kids of a certain age, The Ramayana has become a favorite of my coffee table books. I find that guests are often entranced by the vibrant colors, complex geometrical shapes, and fierce beauty of the work.

If that were all, it would be enough. But Patel includes a glossary/cast of characters including the famous gods, warriors and demons. He also has included a narrative map which points out the various story locations. He concludes the book with several pages of his sketches, and a description of how he put the story together (my favorite of the "extras").

I have been so pleased with this book that I look forward to future projects of Sanjay Patel with great anticipation.


Mockingjay - Collins Suzanne I was hoping for a little redemption in this book. Apparently Collins felt it necessary to unleash a holocaust--it certainly felt like it.

Having read much history, and many troubling books, I have to say that Mockingjay is one of the darkest books I've ever read. Is this really meant to be read by youths? Rather, it takes the form of a study in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aside from the appalling, unrelenting violence and death (it makes the Hunger Games look like the Olympics by comparison), I found it difficult to accept the casual death, often in aside, of fairly major characters. Some of them deserved better.

Additionally, the playing out of the romance, built up over hundreds of pages, was mostly unsatisfying: One of the principal conflicts of the series (Gale vs Peeta), that was very close to the surface throughout recedes to the background via its resolution in the epilogue.

Those complaints aside, Mockingjay did an effective job completing the series: Most conflicts were resolved--one way or another. I would say it was certainly not predictable. Collins continues to shine in many passages. Now, where are my anti-depressants?

The Surrender

The Surrender - Toni Bentley I wanted to like Toni Bentley's book: She's clearly a talented writer and her subject is rather enthralling.

With that said, I really struggled with her incredible pretentiousness: It's really just sex. It is rather juvenile to build one's entire life around a single act. To turn every encounter into some sort of ritualized tantric nirvana-near-approach was laughable.

Bentley's tendency to typecast men was both ridiculous and sexist. Her penchant for puns often petered out into mediocrity :) Where was the editor to tell her "puns are effective if used sparingly..."

Overall, I have to say I was disappointed. Like the author, I could not wait to get to the end.

The Last Opium Den

The Last Opium Den - Nick Tosches I've read several of Nick Tosches' longish pieces in various magazine. He is a very good writer. There are passages in this book that are incredibly lyrical. His descriptions of his opiated high are often fabulous.

And yet, the book is just too short. We barely scratch the surface of what is actually a very deep subject. Tosches skirted around the edges of his subject, but didn't really take the time to engage with it.

I would've much preferred it if he had interspersed his personal vignettes with a more in depth cultural history of opium.

This book is what some would call a non-book, i.e., it is an article in book form.

I will keep reading Nick Tosches pieces--because he really is quite a good writer--but won't be recommending this one to friends.

The Terror

The Terror - Dan Simmons As usual, Dan Simmons proves that he is a master of whichever form, and whatever subject, he chooses. "The Terror" would be a terrifying read without any supernatural reference. Simmons' detailed description of the progressive effects of scurvy was nothing less than chilling. A great craftsman, Simmons' descriptions of life on ship are on par with those of Patrick O'Brian.

The reader will have to decide for him or herself whether it was worthwhile including "the Beast." I started out thinking it was completely unnecessary, and that the story of the Franklin Expedition could quite readily stand on its own. By the end, however, I thought he had found a much more interesting role for "the Beast" than he had originally. I ended being quite content with the outcome.

"The Terror" is quite a long book, and can, at times, become the slog that was the lot of the crew, attempting to drag their boats across the ice. But generally, this was not the case: The story moved at a good pace, and kept my interest throughout.

Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed the bits and pieces of eskimo mythology and clan history that Simmons threw in so liberally at the end. They helped lighten a story that was inexorably grinding the reader down as Simmons had so thoroughly ground down his crew.

All in all, "The Terror" was a very good book. Simmons was able to transform an excellent--if tragic--adventure story into something more. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as one his best works to date.