Ireadthereforeiam: Categorically

Conversazioni2014 Category Challenge

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Ireadthereforeiam: Categorically

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Gen 1, 2014, 10:09 pm

Hi folks-
This is my first category challenge, and I am hoping it will help me sweep some books off my TBR pile into my hands and get them read. I have gone for 12 categories, just because, and have not assigned a cool theme to my categories, just because I couldn't make them fit (this time?).

So- here goes!

Modificato: Nov 15, 2014, 5:53 pm


Possible/probable/intended reads:
The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson
The Hollow Men by Nicky Hager
Power Systems by Noam Chomsky
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky

Actual Reads:
2. The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson
4. Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez
14. The Fair Society by Peter Corning
19. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
21. Corporate Social Responsibility by Martin Wolf
22. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (184p)
28. The Second Plane by Martin Amis
30. The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin
31. Affluenza by Oliver James (510p)
33. Story of a Secret State by Jan Karski (421p)
34. To Save a People by Alex Kershaw (230p)
39. The Inequality Debate: An Introduction by Max Rashbrooke (76p)
41. All Rivers Run to the Sea: memoirs by Elie Weisel
45. Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm (256p)
54. Comradely Greetings by Nadya Tolokonnokova and Slavoj Zizek (106p)
55. Every Secret Thing by Gillian Slovo (282p)

Modificato: Dic 20, 2014, 4:03 pm


Possible/probable/intended reads:
Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit
Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
I was Told There'd be Cake by Sloane Crosley
The Road: Essays by Vassily Grossman
From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap by Edward W. Said
Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez

Actual reads:
5. Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez (re-read, NF, essays)
23.Making the most of your Time, essays from The School of Life (34p)
29. The Second Plane by Martin Amis
47. The Library Book, essays on books
63. On Photography by Susan Sontag

Modificato: Nov 15, 2014, 5:49 pm


Possible/probable/intended reads:
Belle and Sebastian by Paul Whitelaw
Autobiography by Morrissey
Waiting for the Man by Jeremy Reed (about Lou Reed)
How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly
Nick Drake: the Biography by Patrick Humphries
Erewhon Calling

Actual Reads
40. Purgatory/Paradise by Krtistin Hersh (60p)
42. Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh (319p)
56. Erewhon Calling edited by Bruce Russell

Modificato: Nov 15, 2014, 5:49 pm

NZ Reads

Possible/probable/intended reads:
Other Halves by Sue McCauley
The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King (read parts)
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
something by Ngaio Marsh

Actual Reads:
1. Portrait of a House by Simon Devitt
7. Other Halves by Sue McCauley
26. Miramar Dog by Denis Edwards (294p)
35. Tigers at Awhitu by Sarah Broom (poetry)
39. The Inequality Debate: An Introduction by Max Rashbrooke (76p)
56. Erewhon Calling edited by Bruce Russell

Modificato: Nov 27, 2014, 3:43 pm

Literary Fiction

Possible/probable/intended reads:
The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Executioner's Song my Norman Mailer
The Trial by Franz Kafka

Actual reads:
3. The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
16. Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler
17. How Late it was, How Late by James Kelman
19. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
22. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (184p)
24. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
37. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
38. The Trial by Franz Kafka (250p)
59. Rabbit, Run by John Updike (264p)

Modificato: Nov 21, 2014, 4:06 pm

Kids (in honor of having a big 5 year-old now, to read chapter books to before bed)

Possible/probable/intended reads:
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit CURRENTLY READING
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (re-read)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas CURRENTLY READING
Anne of Green Gables by L. Montgomery

Actual Reads
57. The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis (208p)

Modificato: Nov 21, 2014, 4:05 pm

Prize Winners, OK, Booker Winners mainly...

Possible reads:
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Amsterdam By Ian McEwan
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer
The History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
How Late it was, How Late by James Kelman
Paddy Clark Ha ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
Possession by A. S. Byatt
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis
Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Last Orders by Graham Swift
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Actual Reads:
9. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize 1975)
17. How Late it was, How Late by James Kelman (Booker Prize 1994)
24. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (Booker winner 1998)
58. The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (Booker winner 1974)

Modificato: Dic 20, 2014, 4:04 pm


Possible/probable/intended reads:
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
I Know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Runaway by Alice Munro
Other Halves by Sue McCauley

Actual Reads:
6. An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
7. Other Halves by Sue McCauley
9. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
11. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff
19. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
25. A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson
27. Night Fall by Joan Aiken (YA)
29. Why be Happy when you could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
30. The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin
32. David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky
35. Tigers at Awhitu by Sarah Broom (poetry)
40. Purgatory/Paradise by Krtistin Hersh (60p)
42. Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh (319p)
46. I Know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
49. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (280p?)
54. Comradely Greetings by Nadya Tolokonnokova and Slavoj Zizek (106p)
55. Every Secret Thing by Gillian Slovo (282p)
58. The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (Booker winner 1974)
63. On Photography by Susan Sontag

Modificato: Dic 8, 2014, 8:00 pm


Possible/probable/intended reads:
The Moral Law by Emmanuel Kant
The Reason of Things by A. C. Grayling
On Equilibrium by John Raulston Saul
something by Alain deBotton
The Fair Society by Peter Corning

Actual reads:
12. On Equilibrium by John Raulston Saul
14. The Fair Society by Peter Corning
18. Sustainable Value: How the World's Leading Companies are Doing Well by Doing Good by Chris Laszlo (196p)
23.Making the most of your Time, essays from The School of Life (including one by Alain deBotton) (34p)
31. Affluenza by Oliver James (510p)
37. Moral Relativism by Stephen Lukes
38. The Trial by Franz Kafka (250p)
43. The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser (127p)
45. Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm (256p)
54. Comradely Greetings by Nadya Tolokonnokova and Slavoj Zizek (106p)
61. The Noble Lie by Gary Greenberg (230p)

Modificato: Dic 14, 2014, 8:23 pm

Penguin Published

Possible/probable/intended reads:
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Modern Classics series, silver spine)
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (Twentieth Century Classics series, light green spine)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Classics series, black spine)
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (orange spine)

Actual Reads:
10. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
16. Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler
26. Miramar Dog by Denis Edwards (294p)
49. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (280p?)
58. The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (orange spine)
62. The Prodigy by Herman Hesse (157p) (orange spine)

Modificato: Dic 21, 2014, 2:20 pm

Out of Genre Comfort Zone

Possible/probable/intended reads:
Julius Winsome by Gerard Donovan (thriller)
Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre (spy)
The Spy who came in from the Cold by John le Carre (spy)
Night Fall by Joan Aiken (YA)
Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer (YA)
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (war) (September?)
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (dystopia)
Do no Harm by Carol Toploski (cheesy easy)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (OLTOB)

Actual reads:
8. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston (disease/thriller)
10. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (crime, noir)
13. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (OLTOB, fantasy)
15 Never Go Back by Robert Goddard (thriller, mystery)
27. Night Fall by Joan Aiken (YA)
60. The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
64. From the Mixed up Files of... by E. L. Konigsburg (174p)

Modificato: Nov 27, 2014, 3:45 pm

Series Continuation

Possible/probable/intended reads:
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (3/3)
Ghost Road by Pat Barker (3/3)
The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam (2/3)
Sons by Pearl S. Buck (2/3)
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (1/3) (February?)

Actual Reads:
On Equilibrium by John Ralston Saul 3/3 (I have yet to read #2)
59. Rabbit, Run By John Updike (264p) (1/4)

Gen 2, 2014, 1:04 am

Welcome! Are you still doing the 75 challenge too? Looks like a bunch of good choices. Plan something cheerful after reading July's People.

Gen 2, 2014, 1:17 am

>14 cammykitty: hi! I am still doing the 75 challenge, and might find myself stretched being in two groups now....but hey, a challenge is called so for a reason right!?
Roger that re: July's People.....I will have to go for cheesy easy afterwards mabye!

Gen 2, 2014, 10:06 am

I like your categories, Megan!

Gen 2, 2014, 12:29 pm

Cool categories, and I also really like the pictures of all the different numbers! Looking forward to seeing what you read.

Gen 2, 2014, 5:35 pm

Black and white color scheme. Numbers in different fonts. Looks like a theme to me. And a neat, clean one to boot. I have Runaway by Monroe on my TBR list, too, and looking forward to it. I have no doubt it will fall into the "Why haven't I read this author before?" category.

Gen 2, 2014, 6:20 pm

Great setup! I hope you like the le Carré books. Will also be interested to see what comes up in your philosophy category in particular.

Gen 2, 2014, 10:54 pm

>16 rosalita: thanks Julia! I did have 14 categories initially but had to merge a couple, for lack of titles. Shocking right!?

>17 christina_reads: Hi Christina, thanks- it was fun searching for the pretty numbers. I have to admit ;)
I am looking forward to seeing what I can fit into these categories too!

>18 mamzel: hi Mamzel (cool name!)
I have only had Alice Munro come onto my radar very recently, and hope to love her writing....I also hope not to ruin any reading experience by having too high an expectation!

>19 rabbitprincess: hi- I love the covers of the le Carre books I have, and that is the main reason I bought them. I hope I like them too, as am not generally a spy/thriller reader, but am hoping to broaden my horizons.

Gen 2, 2014, 11:33 pm

Lovely to see you here, Megan! Great categories and I am already waiting to see what you think of Catton's debut novel The Rehearsal. Your Prize Winners list also caught my eye: I have Amsterdam and Hotel du Lac on my TBR bookcase; loved the movie adaptation of The Remains of the Day - haven't read the book and I had some usual mixed reactions to Enright's The Gathering and Doyle's Paddy Clark Ha ha ha. Of the two, I found the Doyle read to be my favorite of the two and it has left a more lasting impact on me.

.... Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not wish you luck with Wolf Hall! I recommend reading that one when you are able to set aside large blocks of uninterrupted reading time to give you a chance to immerse yourself into the story.

Gen 2, 2014, 11:54 pm

15 I started doing 75 last year and had done the category challenge for awhile. I was afraid I'd be swamped doing both, but it was actually doable and quite interesting. You get different feedback on different threads, and there are quite a few people who are in both groups. Good luck!

Gen 3, 2014, 4:10 am

BOOK 1, NZ READS Category
Portrait of a House by Simon Devitt (NF, photography, architecture, letters, recipes)

Mostly full page photographs, this beautiful book showcases the architectural dream of Ian Athfield's lifelong building project in Wellington, Amritsar, aka, Athfield House. Photographer Simon Devitt moves aside and lets the building take center stage, letting old pictures of the people and lives that made this house sing, sit alongside his own arty shots of the architectural behemoth.

This building spills down a hillside, is comprised of umpteen rooms, levels, turrets, rooftop spaces, portal window and skylights, and seems to have been a work in progress for 3 decades (at least). The act of building the thing faced much opposition from neighbours and council regulations and appears to have been an act of architectural rebellion, if not a simple act of following a vision. The letters and recipes included as text flesh out the human side of the building's existence. The dwelling acted as HQ for an architecture business, and also housed a family as well as being a social hub.

This coffee table gem would improve any house. It is beautiful from cover to cover and would be lovely to dip into from time to time- if you are one of the lucky ones to get a copy of this limited edition publication to own. 4.5 stars.

Gen 3, 2014, 4:16 am

>21 lkernagh: Hi Lori-
I bought myself The Rehearsal when one of our big book/stationery shops had a 20% off books sale, which coincided with a $5-off voucher I had at the same place. I figured it was fate :)
RE: Wolf Hall....I actually got 100 pages in this winter just gone and abandoned it! I was persuaded to give it another go by various 75 members (mainly Kidzdoc/Darryl) so have not lost hope yet.
But you are right- I will need to read it:
(a) sober
(b) well (which I was not last time I tried) and
(c) uninterrupted

>22 cammykitty: Thanks for the support! Considering that I feel pushed for time already, I am probably a fool to jump in head first to another group. But I realise it is only my need to be thorough that puts the pressure on, so I will try to go easy on myself.
I will also try to go to bed now and read more than 3 pages, as it is 1015pm, and my eyelids are feeling heavy :)

Gen 3, 2014, 12:19 pm

You are brave to try and keep up with two groups, one of which being the 75ers. They are a very prolific bunch. I like the volume here which is not too much to pay good attention to everyone. (Oh, my. Is Dickens showing up in my words?)

Gen 3, 2014, 2:17 pm

>25 mamzel: oh, I am sure I will have my work cut out for me! Especially since I am enrolling to study part time this year as well.
We will see how I go with my reading, and with my presence here, and in the 75 group. Both could go very pear-shaped :)

Gen 3, 2014, 8:03 pm

Love the categories. Looking forward to seeing how they are filled.

Gen 4, 2014, 3:36 pm

Hi Lori- I am not sure they will all be filled, but I will give it my best shot. Thanks for visiting!

Gen 5, 2014, 9:45 am

Hello Megan,

I have an easier time keeping up with more folks here than in 75 but I love both groups. I failed last years challenge miserably but it was my first and very ambitious. It was also too structured. I did a much looser structure this year. My overall goal is to read 75 books. Anything over is a bonus.

I like your categories. Good luck!


Gen 5, 2014, 12:04 pm

I look forward to your reviews. I think you have some good reads in your future. Good luck!

Gen 5, 2014, 3:11 pm

Hi Roberta,
I have seen you around the 75 group, so it is nice to see you here! I think my categories might be easy-ish to tweak as I can throw stuff into the out-of-genre category if I feel like it. But I think I should have perhaps made mine looser. My goal is to get to 75 again too, even though I broke 100 last year.

mstrust: thanks! I have just finished my second book, so will be reviewing it soon. I hope my successive ones are better as 2.5 stars is not a great rating.

Gen 5, 2014, 3:18 pm

I did not know you had a category challenge thread until I read about it on Julia's thread! Very exciting! I love your categories, and I see that we may have some overlap in reading this year. i am also hoping to get to 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Schindler's Ark, just to name a few. And you have some of my old favorites as possibilities here, too: Jane Eyre, The Remains of the Day, Breakfast at Tiffany's... Looking forward to following you here and in the 75ers.

Gen 5, 2014, 3:58 pm

Hi Mamie-
You are here too....this is like a regular reunion! ;)
I will have to do a bit more searching about in this group and see who else I have missed out on. I can see my time resources are going to get a good working out this year.......and that is before I have started my university course. Ah well, we'll see, it could be just dandy.

Modificato: Gen 5, 2014, 4:00 pm

BOOK 2, POLITICAL category
The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

I started this book with great gusto. It felt good to be reading about the world, our politics and economies. But as I read on I started to have some concern about the author's tone. A few comments here and there started sounding very subjective, and then dismissive. And then when he started quoting Donald Rumsfeld as some sort of heroic genius, it was all over for me and for the content.

The book itself tries to describe the rise and fall of economies in general, and how an economy (read: country) can become static. It makes a few interesting points, but the right wing rhetoric started to overtake the theme and when the theme itself was messy and loose to begin with, there was little room for greatness.

Gen 5, 2014, 4:05 pm

So no. Thanks for that.

Gen 5, 2014, 4:07 pm

Mamie- no to my latest read? Yes, you are right. No. Don't read it, and definitely don't buy it like I did

Gen 5, 2014, 10:30 pm

Portrait of a House has caught my eye - pretty much anything with pictures of amazing houses like Athfield House, but I will pass on The Great Degeneration.

Gen 5, 2014, 11:09 pm

I'll forgive you for the pass :)
And the other, you should go for it. If you can find it I will salute you, as I am not sure it is readily distributed.

Gen 5, 2014, 11:23 pm

Hi Megan, just found your category challenge. I think ths is a great way to clear the shelves of some of those TBR's. good luck

Gen 5, 2014, 11:41 pm

Hi Lynda- that is the plan anyway (to get those bought books off the shelves and into my hot little hands).

Gen 5, 2014, 11:48 pm

Hi Megan! Nice to see you over here in the Category challenge. Welcome! I like your categories. I'm interested in seeing what you think of your Booker Prize reads. With Booker winners I either love them or hate them, nothing in between. At this point I'm tempted to avoid books that are Booker winners.
I'll have to look for photos of Athfield House online -- it sounds amazing.
How are your beautiful boys?

Gen 5, 2014, 11:56 pm

The Body Artist by Don DeLillo (novella)

This little book caught my eye because I love the style of some of what the author has written in the past (White Noise and Libra), also because I saw it in a 1001 Books you Must Read Before you Die book. Plus, it is a novella, so is easy to bookhorn in.

Immediately I was struck by the beauty of the writing. The words are put together so wonderfully and innovatively. I noticed it from the first few sentences, and it made what was actually fairly odd subject matter easier to take in. A woman has returned to the house she shared with her husband, who is now absent. She goes about her days in the type of shock that one does when they are getting used to loss. She encounters an odd person within the 4 walls of her house, and is perplexed about his existence primarily, but also the persons ability to sound exactly like both herself and her late husband. All this traipses along nicely, if somewhat oddly, and is all wrapped up near the end in a performance piece the Body Artist of the tile performs.

Not being used to the ethereal....supernaturally type content of this book, I couldn't really relate or gel with the plot, but the writing in itself is enough to be able to recommend it.

Gen 6, 2014, 11:58 am

Lovely review! I'm always glad to see folks finding The Body Artist--something about that book still stands out to me as so memorable, especially the language, even more than his other works I've read (the same ones you noted). Also, though, have you read his Point Omega? It's not so odd as The Body Artist, but another really short and lovely work by him. Another quick read that you'd probably like, I think, based on your notes above.

Gen 6, 2014, 6:16 pm

Hi Megan and a belated welcome to the Category Challenge. It is tricky keeping up with both this group and the 75ers but I usually find that it get easier as the year goes on.

You have an interesting bunch of categories and I am looking forward to following along with your reading.

Gen 6, 2014, 6:50 pm

I've never been able to get into DeLillo, although to be fair to the man I've only ever tried Libra and perhaps wasn't quite prepared for it. Maybe someday I'll try him again.

Gen 6, 2014, 7:43 pm

>43 whitewavedarling: Hi Jennifer- I love being amazed by the simple throwing together of a few words, and the effect it can have on me. Sometimes I look up from my book to see who I can re-read a sentence to, and then remember that I am in bed, and the kids are asleep and my lovely other is doing his thing somewhere else in the house. :)

>44 DeltaQueen50: hi Judy- thanks for the welcome! i need to visit all of your threads as have seriously been lazy so far, and just been hosting everyone here instead of returning the visits. I will rectify this asap. But not now as am off on a date with my lovely other.
I arranged for his mother to drop by for a few hours so we could go to a second hand book shop, cafe and just for a general wander together- sans kiddos! It is going to be a rare and special treat for us.

>45 rosalita: hi Julia- Libra was fairly complex, plot-wise. It took me some concentration to get there, but I knew to persevere as I had loved White Noise. Falling Man I also read, but wasn' wowed quite as much by. It is shorter though, if you wanted to try that first?

Gen 7, 2014, 2:01 am

>41 VioletBramble: woah, stop the bus. I just realised I missed you Kelly. I did read your post, but then went on to write my review and neglected you from then on.

I was thinking about your post today though, as I was book shopping. On a date with my lovely other (a rare and wonderful occasion). I love it that we go book shopping on dates. He was looking for vintage books on the outdoors, tramping, bush cooking, survival etc. I for the world's best (according to me) fiction and non fiction .:)

I was looking for Booker winners and remembered your comment about loving or hating them. There have been a few that I have felt ambivalent about (but let's face it, that is almost like hating one!), but most have been loved or loathed. I wonder if expectations play too high a part in it? Anyway, I got 5 books, and was very pleased. I got:
Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (biography?) for $15 (more exy than I wanted)
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (autobiography) $3
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer $7
The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa $1 (a friend recommended this one years ago and I have been looking for it ever since!)
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler $4

*happy dance*

Gen 7, 2014, 3:28 pm

That sounds like a nice date. And a nice book haul.

Gen 7, 2014, 3:43 pm

Oh, nice haul, Megan! Well done!! I adore The Big Sleep - one of my very favorites. And I have heard good things about The Glass Room - I have Trapeze by him in the stacks. The others look interesting, so an excellent use of the happy dance!

Gen 7, 2014, 4:36 pm

Oh that does sound like a wonderful time. Unfortunately I have leave my husband behind when I shop for books, he has very little interest in book buying. He does read, but I have to choose all his books for him.

Gen 7, 2014, 4:56 pm

Kelly- we hardly ever get the chance to go out alone together (!), mostly because neither of us like to ask our parents to babysit. My mum is a 40 minute drive away, and I dont like to inconvenience her. My MiL is only a few minutes away, but has a strained relationship with my lovely that is tricky too.

Mamie: I have never read any Chandler, and would like to! He would fit into my out-of-genre category too, I think.

Judy: My lovely other reads non fiction, only. He is interested in local history, music biographies, outdoors although we cant have lengthy discussions on literature in the way I'd like to- at least we can read together.

Gen 7, 2014, 9:28 pm

My BF will occasionally tag along on bookstore expeditions if I have a gift card to spend, but he is not a big reader himself. He says I read enough for the both of us.

Gen 7, 2014, 9:51 pm

Oh, I adore Chandler. And Hammett.

Gen 7, 2014, 10:48 pm

>52 rabbitprincess: haha, he is probably right- and that is a good thing!

>53 Crazymamie: That is good to know, Mamie. I look forward to the Chandler novel as he has long been on my radar.

Gen 9, 2014, 1:56 am

Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez

Having lived and travelled the year of 1983 in Chile with my parents and siblings, I grabbed at this book as soon as I saw it was not only about Chile, but that the events in it took place in 1985. A mere year after we had left. People who knew my parents thought they were crazy taking their young family into the midst of a military dictatorship, but I prefer to think of them as your typical (very) intrepid travellers of old.

So, the story is about Chilean film director Miguel Littin. He was exiled from the country he loved and featured on a list of people who would never be allowed to return. After 12 years away, he coordinated his own stealthy re-entry into Chile, alongside the legal entry of 3 separate film crews. Under their combined efforts they would film the state of Chile under General Pinochet, who was well known to be a ruthless tyrant and 'disappearer' (read: murderer) of thousands. There was a very real threat of Littin being taken into custody upon his arrival, or at any point if he were to be discovered.

With the help of various underground movements he was able to move around in disguise as Uruguayan businessman. Much care was taken to keep up appearances as an advertising executive there to film 'beautiful Chile' for his perfume commercial. Much care was also taken to not get found out in the filming and interviewing of the common person, the poor living in slums and those who cared to talk openly and honestly about real life in newly capitalised Chile. Cars and hotel rooms were changed frequently, meeting places were coded and his physical disguise kept on until the end.

The author wrote the account in first person which is initially a little odd, but did so from many hours of interview tapes. It is an exciting and gritty story, and is described well. I would have liked more of it, and would love to see the resulting film into which so much effort and risk went.

Gen 9, 2014, 9:50 am

That one looks interesting. Nice review, Megan!

Gen 9, 2014, 4:07 pm

Hi Julia- it was great. I bought it and had it read in a day- that's what you get for buying a 100p book :)
I will definitely pass it on to my dad to read, and maybe my mum too, since they were there in Chile with me too (I was only 7, turned 8).

Gen 9, 2014, 4:13 pm

>55 LovingLit: did he actually end up making the film about Chile? Or did he never put the materials together in the end?

Gen 9, 2014, 8:10 pm

I think the film was made, a 2 hour version plus a 4 hour TV documentary version. But of course it is in I don't see much chance of me viewing it. The wikipedia page for the director shows he made a film in 1986 called "Acta General de Chile" (a documentary), so I presume this is it.

Gen 10, 2014, 1:22 am

Thanks! I do understand Spanish, so I might see if I can find a copy somewhere, it sounds interesting...

Gen 10, 2014, 9:49 am

Wonderful review of Clandestine in Chile, Megan!

Gen 11, 2014, 3:55 am

BOOK 5 ESSAYS Category
Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez (re-read, NF, nature essays)

Barry Lopez is a nature writer, who writes passionately and beautifully about the world around him. This is a collection of his essays written between 1978 and 1986, and one which I devoured, reading til well past my bedtime. :)

Lopez's name is well-entrenched in my head seeing as a lovely other from a former life was a fanatical devotee. I am used to seeing his books, and this may be why I inadvertently bought this one two days ago, when I in fact already own it. And seeing as my former-lovely-other gave his copy of the book to my dad, maybe I need to track him down and see if I can offload one of mine back on him.

Anyway. It makes for lovely reading. This was a book that I carried around the house with me on the off chance I could grab a second here or there to read it. The man's gift for words is obvious, and his passion and advocacy for wildlife and wild environs is admirable. He makes a great philosophical case for preserving tracts of wild space for their sakes alone, and that it is only once they are lost that we as humans will feel what their loss really means.

Gen 11, 2014, 3:59 am

>60 Britt84: cool, you speak Spanish. How did that come about? I know some very basic stuff in Spanish, and could get by when I was travelling South America. I love the language, it is so beautiful.

>61 lkernagh: Thanks Lori! It was a quick read, like most of mine so far this year.

Gen 11, 2014, 5:43 am

>63 LovingLit: I took Spanish in college; the college I went to had a policy that all students had to learn at least one foreign language (aside from English). I also think it's a very beautiful language and since it's quite widely spoken around the world I figured it might be useful at some point. I have been making an attempt to keep up practicing, since I don't want to forget everything I learned.

Crossing Open Ground sounds great too, I love nature essays but I'm not familiar with Lopez' work, I'll have to check him out some time...

Gen 11, 2014, 11:35 pm

>64 Britt84: what a great notion, to get the masses learning other languages. I am sure it is good for brain development, to learn another way of communication. We don't do it enough here. (when I was at high school it was French or Japanese as the only options).

Gen 12, 2014, 3:28 am

>65 LovingLit:, well it weren't quite the masses, I attended a very small college with only some 600 students :)
But, here in the Netherlands, there is quite some attention to foreign languages. Every Dutch child learns English in high school, and I think most kids also take a second foreign language, namely French or German, which are offered at all high schools. Some high schools also offer other languages.
I think it's also because we are such a small country, and there really aren't many foreigners who speak Dutch, so it's more important for us to know at least English, than it is for people from English speaking countries to learn another language. If you know English, you can pretty much travel anywhere and find people who speak your language; if you're Dutch, that simply doesn't work and you need to know at least some other language to get anywhere :P

Gen 12, 2014, 4:53 pm

It's been ages since I read Lopez...I think this just drove me to go search him out in some of my anthologies, or maybe pick up that collection...

Gen 13, 2014, 11:51 pm

Great set-up. Looking forward to following along.

Gen 14, 2014, 1:39 am

Britt: Still so great to enforce the learning of other languages. Something us NZers are not that great at. Good for you.

Jennifer: I have been inspired from everyone's comments here and in the 75 group, to read some more of his works.

Eva: great to see you, I hope you get some good book recommendations here. I hope to read some good enough to recommend :)

Gen 16, 2014, 2:13 am

BOOK 6, WOMEN category
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (memoir)

It is difficult to convey how impressed I was with this book. Or even to separate which aspects of it I was most impressed by. There was the incredible skill of the author to recall and flesh out memories into these perfectly formed little scenes. There was the lyrical prose and ingeniously-combined word groupings. There was perfect capturing of the types of feelings that a child has about the most seemingly benign situations. There was the tone: neither showy nor falsely-modest. There was the time that it captured in 1950s Pittsburgh, with all the greater social issues and inner social circles it involved. It is really a wonderful book.

Gen 16, 2014, 3:08 am

Hi Megan, An American Childhood seems interesting, it's going on the neverending BB list.

Gen 16, 2014, 10:30 am

Oh, I really liked An American Childhood! I should go back and reread it one of these days (years?).

Modificato: Gen 19, 2014, 2:09 am

This is the copy I read, and the next one is the copy that I saw in almost every house I went into as a child in New Zealand. Everyone seemed to own this book.

BOOK 7, NZ category/WOMEN category
Other Halves by Sue McCauley

Liz feels she is going mad. In the first paragraph of the book she calls an institution in 1970's Christchurch and asks about gaining admittance. She ends up being admitted and while recovering meets a young man known as Tug who is there as a ward of the state, who doesn't know what else to do with him. He is half her age, is homeless and can't read. He is also Maori. Liz feels protective of him an genuinely likes him. So they become friends. So begins a book-long relationship that is extremely complex. Tug is fiercely independent and also needy. Liz is fragile and also responsible. Plus, they are an odd couple- she a Pakeha in the 30s and he a Maori schoolboy, if he had been at school that is.

1970s New Zealand was a very conservative place, and a racist place too it seems. Tug tries to get work and is declined as soon as they see him. Taxis speed away from him once they take note of his skin tone and hooded sweatshirt. Since he and his friends are sidelined from society, they think nothing of resorting to drinking, taking drugs and stealing. Liz wants him to be honest, and under her roof as a border, he tries his hardest. But the couple go from disaster to disaster. They fight and make up, and regularly take off on each other in exasperation.
It had only recently occurred to her that when they had arguments Tug was at a considerable disadvantage. She could trot out worn old homilies and regurgitated theories with some semblance of authority. He found it difficult to organise and present even the words he was familiar with under the stress of battle. She could twist and tighten sentences around him while he struggle to sharpen up one small salient word.
This book is a love story but not of the sort we are used to. The downs are more prevalent than the ups and to me this is why this book makes sense. It presents to us the lives of two very different cultures within New Zealand, and does so realistically. I was a fool to put off reading this for so long.

Gen 19, 2014, 2:17 am

>71 electrice: hi electrice- thanks for being susceptible to a BB, it isn't a book you would regret reading I don't think. It is told so well, you almost dont need the 'plot'. Lucky the story is so good as well!

>72 christina_reads: hi Christina- it is probably one I will re-read as well. One day, or as you say, one year! It would make a great gift I think, too.

Gen 21, 2014, 8:55 pm

The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

Concerning my reading, it is style over substance that I go for. If there happens to be beauty in both, I rate highly. This book was definitely substance first, style last. But the substance was so substantial it still gets a tick from me.

The Demon in the Freezer is in this case (I wonder how many cases of there being demons in the freezer there are?) the smallpox virus. Officially eradicated in 1979, scientists kept specimens of the virus alive and frozen. With the increasing threat of terror invasions of the biological weapon type, there is now a school of thought that says all stocks of the virus should be destroyed so that it cannot fall into the wrong hands and be used against human populations. This virus is not a nice one. You can get if from someone easily and unknowingly before they even know they have it, and for ten days after they show the first flu-like symptoms. Its spread in today's interwoven societies would be exponential. You die in pain and slowly if you are the one in three that it is likely to kill. This is all before the notion that stocks of the smallpox virus are probably held in freezers in Iraq, North Korea and other states of questionable repute. That they could be being modified on a genetic level to resist vaccines is of great concern to scientists and governments around the world.

Concerns about other biological weapons are discussed here too, in particular anthrax which was distributed post 9/11 via the mail in the US and proved to be both deadly to those who were exposed to its spores, and very costly to clean up after.

On a more lighthearted note, my favourite part of the book follows:
Pox hunters have so far discovered mousepox, monkeypox, skunkpox, pigpox, goatpox, camelpox, cowpox, pseudo-cowpox, buffalopox, gerbilpox, several deerpoxes, chamoispox, a couple of sealpoxes, turkeypox, canarypox, pigeonpox, starlingpox, peacockpox, sparrowpox, juncopox, mynahpox, quailpox, parrotpox and toadpox........There's dolphinpox, penguinpox, two kangaroopoxes, raccoonpox and quokkapox........snakepox and crocpox.
(Quokkapox: an ideal name for a band I am thinking!)
But fear not, only the animal in the title gets the virus just as smallpox only uses humans as its host.

This was a fast and fantastic read.

Gen 21, 2014, 9:04 pm

That sounds really, really interesting but also really, really terrifying. Pencilling it in on the TBR for when I feel up to it.

According to the pox naming convention, should smallpox not be humanpox?
Also, now the word "pox" looks really weird because there are so many occurrences of it in that paragraph ;)

Modificato: Gen 21, 2014, 10:20 pm

>76 rabbitprincess: You are right: humanpox! (or peoplepox) I was typing it thinking it sounded incongruous. But then I liked the first part of the sentence, so kept it. I guess the "just as" in my sentence could refer to the fact that the type of pox stays with the one type of host? *grasping at straws*

Gen 22, 2014, 3:00 pm

I was intrigued and had to look up a picture. This is a quokka:

Gen 22, 2014, 4:16 pm

I quite like Penguinpox as a band name, myself!

Gen 22, 2014, 4:30 pm

>78 mamzel: right you are :)
They thrive on a little island off the coast of Perth, Western Australia, called Rottnest Island (and in other places too). And in the absence of predators, they are tame. I camped there once and they were all over the place.

>79 christina_reads: hehe, who knew there were so many poxes around!? Talk about band-name fodder.

Gen 22, 2014, 5:25 pm

Oh, I didn't know that it *was* actually called humanpox! I thought I was just being clever :)

Gen 22, 2014, 8:41 pm

↑ I was just agreeing with you that it ought to be called something like that.
It is just called smallpox (as far as i know anyway)
So it remains that you were just being clever ;)

Gen 22, 2014, 9:05 pm

Haha that is pretty much my default state of being ;)

Gen 23, 2014, 12:39 am

->78 mamzel:
So cute! I wonder how well they would do as house-pets... :)

Gen 23, 2014, 11:54 pm

>83 rabbitprincess: if only I could claim the same!

>84 -Eva-: Hm, I think they could be a tad too big for house pet! But then again, you might live in a mansion and be able to dedicate a whole wing for your quokkas- there's a challenge for you.

Gen 25, 2014, 1:24 am

>75 LovingLit: Ok seems like one to put on the BB list and to read, one of this day ...

Gen 25, 2014, 2:15 am

Great thread and loving the reviews. The Demon in the Freezer has gone on my every growing BB list....

Gen 25, 2014, 5:54 pm

Getting caught up here and enjoying your wonderful reading!

Gen 30, 2014, 3:48 am

BOOK 9, WOMEN and PRIZE WINNERS categories
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize winner 1975)

After seeing past the exceedingly ugly cover of An American Childhood I discovered that I had discovered, all by myself and against all odds, this 'new' wonderful author, Annie Dillard. Imagine my delight when I hear she has written more books. And that some of them won prestigious prizes. And, I hear there are more books yet.....

This book though, not a collection of essays as has been suggested, but recollections and observations collated while living by Tinker Creek, Virginia. The story talks of all the seasons she experienced there, and of the thoughts that struck her- and she has many of these. To me, the intensity and passion of these thoughts were very much there, but so well balanced with a shrug to fate that the story does not read like a wall-to-wall rant. She re-frames the human experience by comparing it with the harsh realities of nature, and in doing so, I think, is able to make us step back and view ourselves and our own lives in a more balanced way.

The reading of this book requires concentration. You want to read each word in its chosen place, carefully. Consequently there are sections that went right over my head, but this did not stop me enjoying them purely for the language used and the way it sounded in my head. I feel I missed out a bit from not being local- most of the birds and plants are foreign to me so had to be imagined. But otherwise- this books flows so nicely, has many fascinating anecdotes and a tonne and a half of food for thought.

Gen 30, 2014, 3:56 am

>86 electrice: oh yes, do. It is not exactly taxing to read, so you should be able to squeeze it in no problems :)

>87 lilywren: I am glad to be of service Melanie- I hope you enjoy it! As I was just saying- it wont be too hard to get through either. I was able to read it while also doing other things, like cooking!

>88 lkernagh: good for you, and thanks for visiting.

Gen 30, 2014, 4:46 pm


Gen 30, 2014, 5:41 pm

Lovely review of Pilgrim, Megan. I tried to read that one many years ago, but I think I was not a good enough reader then. By that I mean that I had not yet learned how to really read and mentally process every sentence, and not skim forward to find the next bit of dialogue or plot development. I just picked up an ebook version, and I think I'll tackle it sometime this year.

Gen 30, 2014, 11:35 pm

The Demon in the Freezer sounds interesting. Coincidentally, someone recommended Preston's book The Cobra Event to me earlier today. I'll have to check out his work.

Gen 31, 2014, 3:49 am

>91 luvamystery65: *waves back*

>92 rosalita: Hi Julia- I did the same with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance- I read it too young and just did not get it. I would like to try it again now that I am *ahem* old (er), but I am a bit scared off really.

>93 VioletBramble: The Cobra Event is a novel, and The Demon in the Freezer a narrative non-fiction, but they are both quite exciting. I held more stock in the non fiction one, as I didn't feel I had to question it as much. It is fairly basic, but gripping. Go for it!

Gen 31, 2014, 11:38 am

I tell my students that Preston's book, The Hot Zone is one of the scariest books they'll ever read! It's about Ebola and the hemorraghic fevers and how close they came to being released in the U.S.

Feb 17, 2014, 8:50 pm

Ack- I am behind on my own thread! Absence makes the heart grow fonder though, right?

Thanks for visiting Mamzel- unrequited though your visit was (til now), it was appreciated :)

I am currently reading The Railway Children (to Wilbur aged 5), American Gods, Erewhon Calling and The Scarlet Letter

Feb 17, 2014, 11:19 pm

I read American Gods a couple of years ago and really loved it. He has such an amazing mind and a wonderful way of expressing his thoughts.

Feb 17, 2014, 11:23 pm

^ oh yes, I agree (the expressing thoughts comment), and he has such interesting thoughts to convey, as well. I bet he is a really interesting guy. One of the few authors I have thought would be fun to chat to.
It is under the "Out-of-Genre" category for me :)

Modificato: Feb 18, 2014, 3:21 pm

On Equilibrium by John Ralston Saul

In this work, the author calls for a more rational and balanced society. He makes a great case for relying more on our innate human intuition and thus our core feeling on whether things are right or wrong. And then, of course, the harder part- to act on those feelings in order to effect change in this self-obsessed world.

So much of this book made sense to me and encapsulated well things I already felt to be true. It encompassed ethics, justness, politics, commerce, social responsibility, thought and society: all of which interest me greatly at present.

Feb 18, 2014, 3:23 pm

Oh, yes.
And books #10 and 11 have been read but not reviewed.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
WOMEN category

Feb 27, 2014, 5:16 pm

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (620p)

Pushing myself to read outside of my genre comfort zone has not produced good results in the past. But I persist, thinking that maybe there is something I am missing in sticking to my favoured genre of modern literary fiction. Unfortunately this book did nothing to persuade me to try more fantasy writing. I can deal with a story I am not loving if the writing amazes me, but I found this writing to be fairly plain and literal in its descriptions. Even, at times, twee.
He gently patted Shadow on the back and nearly sent him sprawling. It was like being gently patted on the back by a wrecking ball.
The story itself I found engaging at first, but as soon as it got into ghosts, ghouls, gods and the like, I found I could not suspend my disbelief. I admit that having a knowledge of the mythology that underpinned the god characters would have been helpful, but in the same breath feel that a novel should be able to stand alone.

There was a mild payoff when the ending wrapped up, but the hoop-la to get there made it more of a relief to finish than anything. So my stars are for the imagination, balls and hard graft it must have taken to get this book written than for my appreciation of it.

Feb 27, 2014, 8:27 pm

>100 LovingLit: Hi Megan, I read 84 Charing Cross Road last month and absolutely loved it.

>101 LovingLit: So bad for this one. I read Neverwhere last year and I was not amazed either. So I don't think that I'll try this one but I've tried other books in the fantasy genre that I rather liked ...

Feb 28, 2014, 11:59 pm

What a shame American Gods weren't for you, but it is great that we all enjoy different books.

Mar 1, 2014, 9:01 am

It's great that you do experiment with books outside your preferred genre, even if the experiments don't work out. It can also be a relief to cross some things off the TBR ;)

Mar 1, 2014, 3:37 pm

>102 electrice: It was a real low-key treat, reading 84 Charing Cross Road, I found it a lovely meandering read. Not showy or fancy, just great.

>103 -Eva-: true! I am all for people enjoying whatever genre they read. If I was an author I would want people to have an opinion on my work, either way :)

>104 rabbitprincess: right again- getting them crossed off the list feels good. And testing myself on unfamiliar genres also feels good. You've got to know what you are missing, after all.

Modificato: Mar 7, 2014, 2:15 pm

BOOK 14, POLITICAL catergory, PHILOSOPHY category
The Fair Society by Peter Corning

This book presents an argument that there is a workable compromise between capitalism and socialism. It does so while explaining the existing theories on fairness and justice (right back to Plato) and the elements of human nature that have got the big-wigs of unfettered capitalism to the top. It talks of humans having an innate sense of fairness which is only hampered by individual greed and the complexities of society that allow us to lose sight of what is fair, and to become emotionally disengaged.

It presents a sound argument and also describes ideas and possible ways forward. All within the key idea that is our duty to re-balance our society to being a more fair one. It is written in a smooth and accessible narrative style, avoiding academic jargon. This book was right up my alley and was a riveting read.

Mar 8, 2014, 8:52 am

>106 LovingLit: You had me at compromise and fairness but the words 'accessible narrative style' sure didn't hurt :) Definitely on the BB list !

Mar 8, 2014, 8:14 pm

^ ooh, goodie!! I do love a direct hit :)

Mar 8, 2014, 9:19 pm

Howdy Megan! I hope school is going well for you.

The Fair Society sounds good.

Mar 9, 2014, 3:12 am

>109 luvamystery65: I hope it will go well for me too. It is a sketchy business when it has been 20 years since I started my last university courses. I am waiting to freak my group out by stating that my undergraduate degree was undertaken before the internet.
Thanks so much for the well-wishes :)

Mar 9, 2014, 11:50 am

I am waiting to freak my group out by stating that my undergraduate degree was undertaken before the internet.

LOL! That will be unfathomable for some of them, I am sure. ;-)

Mar 9, 2014, 4:19 pm

>110 LovingLit: - I help kids with their research paper now and remember (not at all fondly) of the days wrestling with microfiche and (in high school) a plain old typewriter. If only they knew how lucky they are!

Mar 9, 2014, 4:28 pm

>111 lkernagh: Re: age....when I was assigned a mums coffee group (people who have had babies and who live in similar areas have the option to meet each other and do so regularly if they choose), one of the women out up on facebook photos of her 21st. I though, gosh, how nice, she has looked back in her photo files and has chosen to share these now.....then the penny dropped. She actually had just turned 21!! (I was 36 then....)
It freaked me out a bit :)

>112 mamzel: typewriter. hehe, all of those things are retro- antiques now aren't they? I recently sold an old electric typewriter online for my elderly neighbour, and it sold in a day!

Mar 9, 2014, 10:17 pm

>112 mamzel: I remember staying up all night to type out my term papers and then driving, bleary-eyed, up to campus to hand them in before the submission deadline. I also remember, in my last year, my printer dying at that crunch time moment and I had to resort to handing in my final paper in electronic format (on floppy disk) and then spent the next two weeks praying that the prof would accept it.

>113 LovingLit: .....then the penny dropped. She actually had just turned 21!!

There must have been some interesting conversations during those mums coffee groups!

Mar 9, 2014, 11:38 pm

^ There were conversations anyway. Interesting not so much. I believe the deal-clincher to leave the mothers group was when 2 or 3 of them were discussing the best DVDs for their one-year olds. I knew if I piped up and said that I wasn't into getting my one-year old addicted to TV just yet, I'd be considered a snobby so and so. Other topics of discussion that alienated me were reality tv and mall-visiting. I realised I was considered an oddball in their company and bailed!

Floppy discs :) Ah the memories!

Mar 10, 2014, 6:59 am

I still have floppies in a drawer somewhere and my old and ailing computer can still read them!

Mar 10, 2014, 5:40 pm

My work computer still has a floppy disc drive! And we were actually still using floppies about five years ago. Not for long, but wow.

Mar 10, 2014, 8:08 pm

>116 psutto: >117 rabbitprincess:

Just for you guys! :)

Mar 10, 2014, 9:46 pm

Just over the winter holiday, my computer got replaced with a non-floppy-equipped one! I'm reminded, though--when I started college, it was at a point where there were a lot of folks with computers and a lot of folks without (including me). My tech writing professor assigned us to make up information pamphlets on how to work a projector, and I did mine through drawing diagrams and cutting and pasting information I typed on my electric typewriter. I turned it in, and my prof. was so confused I hadn't used a computer to put it all together and download diagrams! Before he even read it, he said he'd have to give me an A for how complicated I made my life in doing it! Sigh...I kind of miss the simplicity of that typewriter sometimes when I open my work email...

Mar 10, 2014, 11:29 pm

>118 LovingLit: That is so perfect!

>119 whitewavedarling: Sigh...I kind of miss the simplicity of that typewriter sometimes when I open my work email...

I can relate. I miss the time buffer 'traditional methods of communication' afforded one to think about the response, take the time to compose it (and edit it) and once mailed out, be safe in the knowledge that it would be days (if not weeks) before a reply came back. There is too much of an expectation in our email and text driven world for an immediate response. All of the time. People need to learn to sit back, enjoy the flowers and wait for a response to come back. Its in situations like those that I pine for the simpler 'non-techo' days.

Mar 11, 2014, 6:19 pm

I'm pretty sure that I've got an external USB drive that will read floppys for my office computer. However, I am pretty sure that it remains in a box after moving my office about 15 months ago. I just haven't needed it.

Mar 11, 2014, 10:09 pm

Good luck with school Megan. What will you be studying? And how have I missed seeing this information in your thread? Apparently I'm not paying attention.
I frequently consider going to graduate school. But having graduated university in the age of the typewriter I'm a bit reluctant. I keep hoping someone will offer a remedial class on computing and Power Point for old people returning to school.

Mar 11, 2014, 10:29 pm

Never Go Back by Robert Goddard (bookclub selection)

This author is new to me and I would not have picked it up if it weren't for my bookclub members all reading a Robert Goddard novel this month. I can't say the cover would have drawn me in either as I don't usually go for mass-market prolific-output authors and this cover is a typical cover for that genre.

So, the protagonist is an older chap going about his business when he is drawn into a drama, one that goes back to 50 years ago when he and his RAF chums took part in a cushy learning study that was offered as an alternative to a more typical RAF punishment for minor misdemeanors. Therein lies the mystery. This mystery unfolds as current events lead our man to fear for his life and the lives of his 'gang'. It is fast, the story only just holds in terms of believability and is full of snappy quips on the part of the main guy and his side-kick. It is for these three reasons that I cant say I loved the book. The fast pace is a style many people like, but I prefer a slow and prose-driven story. The story although clever and well revealed had a few points that left me sneering and the smart comments sounded cliched to me. But- after all that complaining, I still enjoyed the overall experience of reading it.

Mar 11, 2014, 10:38 pm

>119 whitewavedarling: ack, work email (from memory) was always full of junk. And I don't necessarily mean junk mail in the traditional (quasi-traditional?) way ;)
So many waste-of-time nothing emails. But all of them needing responses. Yikes.

My first year at University was 1994, we typed up our essays on the computers in the computer labs, and that was all the computer use I had, apart from some graphing programme we used in Geography labs. I had no idea about them though and got my friends to practically do it all for me. The graphs I had in my essays then were also hand drawn and cut and pasted in- with scissors and glue! haha.

>120 lkernagh: I get irate when around people who can't stay off their phones. Let's face it, they are actually only checking instagram or facebook for likes. *gggr*
When I am with someone I want them to see me and talk to me. I don't think it is too much to ask.

>121 thornton37814: I can't say I have seen a floppy disc in a decade!

>122 VioletBramble: Hi Kelly, I might have been talking about me returning to University on the 75 thread, rather than here. I had my first class last week, and only have one a week. It is manageable so far ;) (but don't expect much from me in May when my 4-5K word essay is due!).
I am officially doing Post Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences. The course time can be halved to call it a Post-Grad Certificate, or I can tag on another 2 years of part time study to call it a Masters. I am concentrating on Social Justice and hope to be able to say that my Diploma is in social justice, but I am not sure that will fly ;)

Mar 11, 2014, 10:50 pm

>124 LovingLit: Well, if it is any cancellation, I tend to look at the smart phone addicts - like jaywalkers who venture into on coming traffic while staring at their smart phones - as individuals willing to sacrifice themselves to reduce the rate of the human population. I mean seriously, why else would anyone with half a brain do something like that? :-)

Mar 11, 2014, 11:26 pm

^ like the Darwin Awards. Those are seriously funny, in a very inappropriate and macabre way.

Modificato: Mar 15, 2014, 5:30 pm

Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler

Vienna, a long time ago. A respectable doctor has a series of talks with his wife about their dreams, past likes/loves and what ifs. This brings about disquiet and mistrust between them and the doctor then goes about sabotaging the relationship in retaliation. That he is tempted by the flesh is a side-issue for the good doctor. He still manages to in fact blame his wife and her wayward and callous dream for his actions. Interesting. I wonder what Freud would have to say about all this- he was friend to the author. Fortunately for me, while reading the book, I was able to see it in the context of its ancient and unenlightened times so could forgive the sexist attitudes and just go with the story. I read it as an interesting slice of time and place.

Mar 22, 2014, 8:13 pm

Oh, Dream Story does sound interesting.... and the bit that that author was a friend/known to Freud makes it all that much more interesting.

Mar 22, 2014, 10:34 pm

The Klimt artwork on Dream Story makes it interesting too. I think Gustav Klimt was an artist contemporary to Freud, but I'd never thought of that relation before. My WL is growing too much tonight!

Mar 23, 2014, 2:26 am

How Late it was, How Late by James Kelman (374p)

I have a thing for the Vintage publisher series of books- nice graphic design cover, red spines all lined up nicely together on my shelf. Plus, I am slowly working through old Booker Prize winners, so this 1994 book fit the bill on a few counts. But when I started reading it, I was disappointed to see that from the get-go it is written not only in colloquial Glaswegian (no speech marks or even full-stops sometimes), but also in a stream of consciousness style. YIKES I thought. But after a few pages these styles grew on me. I mean really grew. So much so in fact that I feel now that this story could not have been told in nearly such an effective way without them.

We start (and end) with Sammy who is down and out. He wakes up with little memory of an alcohol-fueled weekend and spots some police officers who he decides to pick a fight with. So begins the story that is a week in the life of what sounds like a typical geezer from Glasgow. Only, very early on in this week or so of his life, Sammy goes blind. From this, let's face it, catastrophic event we get to see how Sammy copes with the fear and emotional turmoil that sets in with the realisation that he cannot, and may not ever see again. Because this revelation of his 'softer side' is written by his jumpy thoughts and many many swear words, it is so distinctive. I cant think of a time I have read such in-depth heart-felt commentary from such un-eloquent character. His thoughts jump from place to place, affectionately and angrily using the 'C' word to refer to all and sundry, revealing through repetition and just the volume of his head chatter his fears and feelings, his loves and his memories. He is alone. No one is offering help and he wouldn't take it if it were because of distrust of the establishment and his hatred of the monied upper classes. He manages OK, he always has and always will. It all adds up to a very deep book masquerading as the rantings of a down-trodden no-hoper.

Mar 23, 2014, 8:21 am

>130 LovingLit: I loved that book! I was so fascinated by how Sammy coped with his unexpected blindness. Although the week I was reading it, I did notice an uptick in my swear-word usage....

Mar 23, 2014, 10:22 am

Great review! The colloquial Glaswegian aspect of the book is very tempting. If I see it when I'm out and about I might pick it up.

Modificato: Mar 23, 2014, 11:52 am

What a great selection of books you have! I'm loving the sound of On Equilibrium and Dream Story. I also love the Vintage publisher books you refer to.

Sorry American Gods wasn't for you. I have it on my TBR list, I've had it while now and never got around to reading it. I'm not a massive fan of fantasy (I vere more towards the hard science fiction genre). I have started it once before but never got past the first few pages.

Mar 23, 2014, 2:45 pm

>128 lkernagh: It was a good little book, that one :)
A nice one to read and to have read if you are interested in film as well.

>129 cammykitty: I am so glad to be a part of your WL expansion programme!

>131 ELiz_M: I think I loved it all the more for it dispelling my prejudices about stream of consciousness writing. I vaguely remember trying to read other books in this style and just not being able to get into them- this one made me get into the character even more, I reckon.

>132 rabbitprincess: I hope you manage to snag a copy, it was my 2nd most expensive 2nd hand book so far :) (at NZD13.50).

>133 lilywren: I have started it once before but never got past the first few pages.
I find that if I get mush more past the first few pages I feel committed, which is tricky of I don't actually like the book. Silly me and my need to finish all books I start.

Mar 23, 2014, 5:45 pm

>130 LovingLit:
Such a great book, isn't it?! Happy to hear you gave the slightly trying style a chance and came out loving it!

Apr 2, 2014, 8:40 pm

Sustainable Value: How the World's Leading Companies are Doing Well by Doing Good by Chris Laszlo (196p)
This was general reading for my course topic, which is about corporate social responsibility. It comes at it from the business perspective rather than an academic perspective and its main premise is that businesses can and should be socially (environmentally) responsible as is if often profitable to be so.

He uses a lot of case studies, one written in a narrative style, to illustrate how and why companies engage in initiatives which are beneficial to society. A good one for me in particular to read, as much of the academic literature on the topic uses his phrase "doing well by doing good".

Modificato: Apr 15, 2014, 5:19 am

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (324p)

*****end disclaimer*****

The story is of and by a woman. A woman who has had her freedom stolen and replaced with sanctioned sexual servitude. Set in the future, in what was the state of Maine, society has fractured. Religious zealots have taken over and dictated that the recent trend of infertility and deformed births will be rectified by creating the position of 'the Handmaiden'. These rare gems, fertile women, are billeted to powerful men whose wives want a baby. They have ceremonial sex and await impregnation before being moved elsewhere for the same routine. The wider society is heavily stratified and restricted to the point of armed defense and walls. 'The colonies' are where you are sent if you break the rules, and there you die from over work, under nourishment or radiation poisoning. We get all this information drip-fed to us through the life of our hero, the handmaiden. Seeing as she is old enough to remember freedom, she reminisces throughout the story. In this way we are able to get a full picture of life.

It is clever, and the information cleverly dispersed. It raises so many issues about personal freedom, government and conflicting ideologies. I am so glad this book finally got to the top of my tbr pile. I hope it gets to the top of yours soon too.

Apr 18, 2014, 4:43 pm

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (172p)

Two lads are sent to rural China for re-education. They meet a girl, and a boy who has some contraband literature. They delight equally in coveting both.

This was a fairly light-weight treatment of what hinted at a deep and full novel. I was close to becoming fully engaged with the characters and resented that I wasn't able to. But it was still a lovely story and one that I kept grabbing at to continue the story.

This book is the first one I have read that has NOT fitted into any of my categories! bah humbug. On to the next then (which is Fahrenheit 451, and will go in Literary Fiction category)

Apr 18, 2014, 6:11 pm

Nice review of The Handmaid's Tale! I loved this book, though it's been a good number of years since I'd last read it.

I had also liked Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress very much. Too bad it doesn't fit into any of your categories. I cheated and left one of my categories as "Miscellaneous". :)

Apr 18, 2014, 9:54 pm

>139 mathgirl40: I cheated and left one of my categories as "Miscellaneous"
That was a good idea! I assumed i could fit most of my reading into one or other of the categories, but hey, I will just have to be more careful with my choices from now on, right!?

Apr 20, 2014, 3:10 pm

>138 LovingLit: I'd argue that Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress could fit into literary fiction…or possibly even your political category since it's set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution. I've definitely been known to do some hand-waving in order to fit books into categories! :)

Apr 20, 2014, 7:42 pm

^ I like your style! hehe.
I have self-imposed clearly defined limits to my categories though. I am a stickler for that sort of thing, much to my detriment. I just wouldn't be able to sleep properly thinking I had greyed the boundaries!
*shaking head at own rules*

Modificato: Apr 23, 2014, 4:13 am

BOOK 21, POLITICAL category
Corporate Social Responsibility by Martin Wolf (20p)

This little book is actually a copy of a speech, and questions and answers, given by Martin Wolf to an "Institute of Directors" in Wellington NZ in 2004. Martin Wolf is an economics commentator for the Financial Times and a special professor at the university of Nottingham. He worked for such dubious entities as the World Bank, as a senior economist and so was no doubt spreading his doctrine of right-wing elitist capitalism. Woops, I think I just lost my objectivity and impartiality!
What he said about corporate social responsibility to NZs business leaders over a breakfast meeting, was quite frankly scary. Gems such as:
"Companies cannot save the planet by voluntary action.....Making it richer is quite good enough."
*insert smug chuckling of middle-aged white men with red faces and taut suit-jackets here*
"CSR advocates might recommend that activities be 'sustainable'. But how can any resource-extraction industry ever be sustainable, and what would happen if we stopped all such activities?"
This sounds a little simplistic and intentionally polarising to me.
The basic gist of this anti-CSR occasional paper (which happens to be published between covers so qualifies as a book according to the Stasia-book-qualifier test) is that being a socially responsible business will hurt profit (in spite of much research that shows otherwise), that it could even hurt welfare and accelerate global poverty (in spite of much research that shows otherwise) and businesses should pat themselves on the back for creating the most economically successful century in human history. Oooooo-K.
This view is, imo, mad. And it seems the lunatics are in charge of the assylum*.

Apr 23, 2014, 9:40 am

>143 LovingLit: - I am very impressed that you made it through the book without throwing it against a wall or into the recycling bin. ;-

Apr 23, 2014, 3:50 pm

^ thanks Lori! I wanted to read something from 'the other perspective' for my course work. I am looking into motives for CSR, so this one doesn't really qualify...but I was fascinated to read about this kind of attitude, and that it prevails in some domains. was only 20 pages long! (hehe, what a coup)

Modificato: Apr 25, 2014, 10:18 pm

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (184p)
I have been meaning to read this book since I first heard about it here on LT about 4 years ago. And now I have. Yay.
It is future, and a not that great a one. Books are banned and people are obsessed with screens which broadcast the goings on of 'the family'- what soap operas have morphed into apparently. Guy Montag is a fireman...not charged with putting out fires, but with starting them. But what he burns are contraband books. That is until he wonders what is in one, so brings some home to look at.
A fantastic comment on what could be, and at over 50 years old now, scarily prophetic. I can see why it is considered a classic, but I would have enjoyed it more if characters were more fleshed out.

BOOK 23 ESSAYS and PHILOSOPHY categories
Making the most of your Time, essays from The School of Life (including one by Alain de Botton) (34p)
This little booklet was a Guardian supplement, sent to me from England in 2012. And I have just got to reading it now. 8 or so authors from Alain de Botton's School of Life (a group of modern philosophers who have banded together to promote thought) have contributed to this publication. They discuss time, why we feel we don't have enough of it and how to think about it in a way that will give us more satisfaction in life.

Apr 26, 2014, 5:18 pm

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (178p) Booker winner 1998

This book was exciting and engaging and wonderfully descriptive almost all the way through. It was the ending that let it down. It was rushed and worse than that....I saw it coming thanks to the cover image. If the ending had been written longer, with more feeling, I could have really loved this book.

It describes the friendship of two well-to-do London men. Both in high positions in their fields, and both formerly in love with a recently deceased woman. The two men both find themselves with a moral dilema and can only pick fault with the way the other friend acted. Their bitterness an anger with each other reaches fairly high stakes and the high drama takes place in the Amsterdam of the title.

Modificato: Mag 6, 2014, 3:04 am

BOOK 26, NZ and Penguin Published categories
Miramar Dog by Denis Edwards (294p)

Autobiography? No- I don't think so. More artistic license is applied than could be in an autobiography....this is a tale of yarns. Stories told and overheard by a kid, stories heard over the years, retold and heard again. Stories interwoven throughout a boy's childhood in Miramar, Wellington in the 1950s when the Catholics and the Protestants were on the brink of a much-inflated child-led religious inquisition designed to prove soccer prowess more than anything else (it ended up being thwarted by the mothers insistence on being civil to each other).

Denis is 8 and mainly concerned with winning the under 10 soccer tournament, not getting beaten up by the local protestant boys, and not provoking the wrath of his parents. In achieving these aims, he succeeds in listening in on adult conversations in his household and finds out about a lot of adult goings-on. His family is well-connected in the Catholic community, the political and the social. There is a lot that goes on. Sly-grogging, bookmaking, under-age and homosexual sex, extra-marital affairs, religious politicking, bribery, corruption. You name it. Denis know that there is significance to a lot of the stuff he hears but cannot fathom what much of it is about. But true to his age, he knows when to pull his head in and when he might get away with some back-chat. There is a bit too much in this to be all from an 8 year old's perspective, but the stories are captivating and a bit shocking as well. It goes a long way in explaining the staid and conservative front of the 1950s NZ household. Goodness only knows what was going on behind those closed doors.

Mag 10, 2014, 4:52 am

Night Fall by Joan Aiken (YA)

A book of two halves. First half, a tried and tested story of a girl growing up without a mother, and with a distant father. She finds solace in painting, her cat and her best friends next door. A light-ish treatment of a girl growing up and finding her way. Then. Second half. She starts to question an incident she partially remembers from when she was little, when her mother was still alive. She revisits the place on a sabbatical and discovers all is not well.

I would have loved this as a 10 or 11 year old. It is mysterious, quaint and dated but sweet and the story keeps you reading.

Mag 11, 2014, 4:26 am

#147 Agreed on Amsterdam. The ending seemed forced and wasn't really in sync with the rest of the story.

Mag 11, 2014, 5:22 am

>150 Henrik_Madsen: it was a shame wasn't it? I thought the book was wonderful up to the ending, and had been riveted. I felt I had got to know the characters and their way of 'going about it' at the end didn't sit well with how they had conducted themselves throughout the book.

Mag 12, 2014, 10:04 am

I wonder if Ian McEwan has a problem with endings in general. The only book I've read by him is Atonement, and I HATED that ending, despite really liking the first 90% of the book!

Mag 13, 2014, 1:48 am

#152 I don't think so. I haven't read Atonement but I loved Black Dogs and On Chesil Beach all the way through.

Mag 13, 2014, 10:17 am

>153 Henrik_Madsen: Good to know, just in case I decide to give him another chance!

Mag 13, 2014, 10:28 pm

>152 christina_reads: McEwan has been a wild card for me. I have thought that I didn't like him, and the retrospectively decided I have- twice now. Mainly with Chesil Beach which I ultimately loved.

>153 Henrik_Madsen: I loved those two too. And Saturday.

>164 LovingLit: I say give him another chance!

Mag 26, 2014, 7:15 pm

BOOK 28- POLITICAL and ESSAYS categories
The Second Plane by Martin Amis (NF essays, short stories)

This book is a collection of 9/11 themed essays, plus two short stories. The essays were mostly published in the Guardian newspaper in the decade after 9/11 and are musings on terrorism, extremist Islamism, the event

Amis is a pretty special writer. There are many great writers, I give credit for just putting pen to paper- but his combinations of words are amazing. He is able to pick apart a scene or feeling and really get into the heart of it, describe his way from the inside out to give the reader a vivid sense of it. This, along with knowing when the full bag of tricks is not needed (you've heard of restraint) and you have a very decent read. There was one description of torture that I regret having read, and I will now have to carry that very disturbing image in my head for ever. It was within one of the 2 short stories, so in order to be able to cope with that I will tell myself it was fictional.

Mag 26, 2014, 7:16 pm

BOOK 29, WOMEN category
Why be Happy when you could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

Here we have a life that screams "write my story": adopted into a fiercely religious household, the author grows up on a knife edge. If she displeases her mother she ends up locked out on the door step for the night, or in the coal cellar. If she pleases her mother she will never know as in the place of any affirmations are surprising responses of a non-sequitur variety. Her father works a lot and knows not the rock the matriarchal boat. When Jeanette is found to have a girlfriend, mother arranges for an exorcism during which the pastor attempts to have his way with her. Luckily Jeanette has guts. She is used is being independent and that is how she survives. She leaves home early and spends her life excelling in her writing career, and searching for answers about her life and her real parents and how she works. It is an injustice to encapsulate so much of someones life in one paragraph, but there you go. It is a wonderful book, and peppered with book references and insights into personality and how we tick.

Mag 29, 2014, 12:11 am

Great selection of books here and some great reviews. It's been years since I read any Martin Amis but I remember really enjoying his work and getting quite immersed into his books. I'll have to keep an eye out for that one, looks really interesting. :)

Mag 31, 2014, 10:49 pm

>157 LovingLit:
I've read about that one, but it's really the story of the title that gets me. It's on my wishlist.

Mag 31, 2014, 11:23 pm

>158 lilywren: The Second Plane is one I bought new, I usually buy second hand books, but this one was heavily discounted so I succumbed.

>159 -Eva-: The title is something her mother said to her, as if to say her 'lifestyle choices' were just that: choices. What an incredible thing to have said to you. The saying just works so much better the other way around- why be normal when you could be happy.

Mag 31, 2014, 11:30 pm

Such a crazy thing to say to someone you're supposed to love unconditionally! Or anyone else, for that matter.

Mag 31, 2014, 11:39 pm

^ Normality is so overrated anyway :)

Mag 31, 2014, 11:51 pm

Haha - very true!

Giu 7, 2014, 5:45 am

BOOK 30 ,WOMEN and POLITICAL categories
The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin

So, this French woman did a 4 year stint tracking the paper trail of Monsanto, securing interviews with anyone she could who could further her cause to find out exactly what it was/is that Monsanto were/are getting up to.

Monsanto is a company name loaded with controversy. They produced Agent Orange and Roundup, claiming them safe initially. Cover-ups and collusion are the least of the unscrupulous activities Robin outlines in detail. What concerned me most was the revolving door between high-up Monsanto-ites and officials in the FDA and EPA as well as in government. For example, a Monsanto lawyer gets a job in the EPA, oversees the change of rules to allow his former bosses to release a product formerly deemed too poisonous...then after a year or two goes back to Monsanto as the VP. Similar stories of former employees having a stint at the FDA, easing the path somehow for the chemical giant while there, and then going back to Monsanto as a 'consultant' on big bucks. It was this information with helped me to understand how these types of atrocious practices are facilitated.

Their foray into genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is outright terrifying. Sneaking patents through on their own dodgy scientific research, not allowing independents access to the raw data, making sure no package labelling was allowed which would allow consumers to choose non-GMO foods, contaminating fields with their patented crops then suing farmers for their illegal use of them, standover tactics, bullying, litigation for the purposes of bankrupting dissidents- the list goes on and on. And on.

Misinformation designed to confuse and manipulate the public about the genetic modification of food staples has done its job. You have all heard people say things like: "well, if it can feed the world, it can't be that bad." Well, it can be that bad. And it isn't designed to feed the world. It is designed to gain a few large chemical companies a very lucrative ongoing income. The consequences of such reckless pursuit of profit are many and huge. GMOs spread as crops are windblown or pollinated- organic farmers cannot be organic, but more importantly the crops- whose health effects are still unknown- infect all other crops in the vicinity. Farmers are held to ransom in an extortionate debt cycle (and a huge increase in suicides particularly in India). In Argentina the crop yields were initially so high that "roundup ready" soy beans have taken over the agricultural landscape. No more local milk or beef for them, it has to be imported at a greater cost. Huge farms have displaced small ones and any small enclaves left 'holding out', get aerially sprayed with Roundup which has caused deaths and serious disability. The huge farms are owned by foreign investors who employ heavies (with guns) to protect their investment by any means necessary, etc etc etc. It's all in the book. And it has all be explained away or litigated against by the company in the title.

Giu 7, 2014, 1:21 pm

Great review- I had no idea about any of this.

Giu 7, 2014, 4:01 pm

^thanks! It has made me even more cynical about what we hear in the media (and elsewhere) about companies. This is sad, as I was already a very critical listener.

Giu 7, 2014, 9:05 pm

"well, if it can feed the world, it can't be that bad." Well, it can be that bad.

Bingo! In the wrong hands, it can be very, very bad. Excellent review, Meghan! My knowledge of Monsanto only stems from their very aggressive patent enforcement strategies so I was really shocked to learn that this is the same company that produced Agent Orange and Roundup..... Okay, the Roundup bit wasn't a huge surprise but the the whole Agent Orange thing was.

Giu 8, 2014, 4:57 am

^oh, my first bingo ;)
Thanks Lori. I was trying to be restrained in my review, but failed I think. It was a pity that I returned the book already to the library, so I had to rely on my memory rather than check things, or quote them. But I got a review out, so that was good enough.

Giu 16, 2014, 1:19 am

Affluenza by Oliver James (510p)

This book was right up my alley, topic-wise. But my newly refined academic brain found it lacking in research and evidence. So, I read it as an opinion piece which sat well with me in any regard.

Oliver James managed to secure funds from a publisher to travel the world talking to people about the consumer illness of the title. He goes from NYC, to Moscow, Sydney, Hong Kong, Auckland and Copenhagen to London. In these places he meets with people or groups of people and talks to them about their lives. He psycho-analyses them in the process (I wonder if that part was to their knowledge) and then reports back in the book the extent of their infection with the "affluenza virus". In between all this is general observations about how the richer societies have got, the less happy they have become.
A lot of "research shows" statements semi-back these up, so what we the reader gets is a conversational style book. Sometimes the conversation could have been edited, perhaps to remove lengthy descriptions of the authors dreams, for example. But overall it makes compelling reading and all the anecdotal evidence shows that people who always want more are never satisfied.

Giu 16, 2014, 7:17 pm

BOOK 32, WOMEN category
David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky (158p)

A gritty look at a rich businessman in 1920s Paris. He wheels and deals with little concern for anything apart from making money to feed his fluctuating bank account. The bank account is heavily drawn upon by his equally greedy and selfish wife and their daughter, who uses her affections for her father as a means to get money from him as regularly as she can.

I had hope that as Golder aged, and became unwell, he would reflect more on his life and ways, and perhaps make some more changes or repair some of the damage he had done. But he seemed to just become bitter and resigned to his life's fate as the family cash-cow. It was written in a lovely way that really drew me in, and I would like to read more from this author.

Giu 24, 2014, 10:29 pm

BOOK 33, POLITICAL category
Story of a Secret State by Jan Karski (421p)

I grabbed this book from the library when I was there with time on my hands to read, and none of the books I was currently reading with me. This book quickly became my go-to book and I was up late 3 nights running to finish it. The author's powers of observation and recollection of events is amazing, considering the detail with which he writes. I believe it was originally published in 1944, so the events of WWII about which he writes would have been very recent for him.

The author is a Polish soldier whose front-line career was over before it really even got started. After being a PoW for a relatively short period he manages to escape whilst taking part in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Germany. He slinks back to his home town and after a visit to a former acquaintance, he finds he has become part of the fledgling Polish underground movement. And so begins the incredible story of Jan Karski. He describes with chilling detail the events and sights he is involved with, and gives a fantastic insight into how the underground was able to operate so efficiently and effectively. Even though his reports went directly to the UK and American leaders, change wasn't to come quickly enough for the thousands and thousands of Jewish people who were the victims of the most horrific cruelty and degradation at the hands of the German gestapo.

Aside from the extremely upsetting account of his clandestine visit to an extermination camp (which is illuminating in the most awful way), this book makes for excellent, exciting and informative reading on WWII.

Lug 2, 2014, 6:49 pm

BOOK 34, POLITICAL category
To Save a People by Alex Kershaw (230p)

This book called out to me from the display end of the shelving at the public library. I grabbed it as I flew past in chase of Lenny who was heading for the cafe section to chat to the proprietors in the hope of securing a marshmallow in exchange for his cuteness. I started it moments later and never looked back. This is how yet another one gets bookhorned in.

The back cover proclaims that the hero of this book, and of real life events, saved more people that Schindler. By the time you have finished the book you realise that this is an understatement. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who, under his own steam, took to Hungary near the end of WWII to do something to stop or slow the massacring of the Jewish people. Unable to bear witness any longer to such death under the eyes of an apathetic international community, he negotiated funds from his government and an 'anything goes' game plan to head to Budapest to beg, steal, borrow or bribe his way into getting Jews released.

His plan was as follows: create a pass with coats of arms, stamps and signatures galore, to which the gestapo would bow down to in their need to obey officialdom. The pass gave the holder of it residency and therefore protection by Sweden, who were neutral in the war. Distribute these passes to any Jewish person who had any tie to Sweden whatsoever (and later, just any Jewish person). These new Swedish citizens did not fall under Germany's criteria for Jews who could be deported, and so were safe. Wallenberg was to open up 'safe houses' where they lived, and assist in food and transportation out of Hungary and away from the Reich's rule. Wallenberg cultivated official relations with senior gestapo leaders, in his meetings he advocated for the protection of 'his people' (the new Swedes), and in doing so risked death and worse many times.

He would show up where people were being rounded up, and call out some common Jewish names as if he had specific people in mind. Those who came forward were declared Swedish citizens in a hastily prepared document and in some cases were pulled from the trains just in time. He would have his colleagues secret food to the doomed he was unable to help, and in general showed compassion, resourcefulness and a willingness to break laws and rules in a time when the allies were hamstrung by following them.

The last section of the book deals with Wallenberg's fate. He was not received well by the Soviet liberators and the direct dealings he had with the Germans was to come back to haunt him. Wallenberg was taken prisoner accused of being a German collaborator. He was never officially charged and his fate, beyond that of being a Russian prisoner of war, remains unknown. The Soviets simply could not see why someone would take that mush risk for personal gain that was limited to the satisfaction of helping those in dire need. The Swedish government was paralysed by its neutrality and refused to fight for his release. What a terrible destiny for such a hero. Another sad book in which the actions of a kind and brave man go unrewarded.

Modificato: Lug 4, 2014, 9:17 pm

Didn't read your spoiler, but To Save a People sounds like a must read... if you can stomach it. Wow.

Lug 5, 2014, 10:19 pm

>172 LovingLit:
BB taken - sounds fascinating.

Lug 10, 2014, 3:22 am

>173 cammykitty: yes, it was great actually yo rad about an individual hero amongst so many self serving and head-in-the-sand types. Very inspirational.

>174 -Eva-: direct hit! Hoorah :)
I hope it hits the spot, in the right way.

Lug 25, 2014, 10:52 pm

Hi Megan, just catching up on your thread. One of your father's photographs showed up on my facebook home page today -- the first one in a long time -- and I thought, I haven't been to visit Megan's thread in a long time. You've done some very interesting political reading. Are you back in classes or do you have some time off now? I hope you and your beautiful boys are all well. ( I should check out your 75 thread - there are probably photos)

Ago 10, 2014, 1:53 am

^ hi! Dad told me he had disabled his fb account a while ago as he was concerned with the copyright rules changing. He has since gone back on as was convinced by other photographers that as long as he watermarks his images he will be fine.
I am in the midst of prep for a 3500 word essay, on top of another one which is due the following month. So I really shouldn't be here now! Although, the kids are in the bath- so I could hardly get a big chunk of anything done in that time.
The boys are well, rambunctious (sp!?) but well!

Ago 13, 2014, 2:47 am

Glad you're busy!!!

Ago 14, 2014, 4:04 am

Um, thanks? :)
Actually, I am glad I am busy too (woops, accidentally wrote busty then!! Don't want to attract the wrong type of visitors to my thread!!). Being busy is good also, so long as it's balanced with some down time later on :)

Modificato: Set 17, 2014, 9:40 pm

Yikes, where are all my reviews? Oh, that's right....I have not been writing any :( But I have been reading some! Here they are for the last wee while:

41. Memoirs by Elie Wiesel (418p)
42. Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh (319p)
43. The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser (127p)

38. The Trial by Franz Kafka (250p)
39. The Inequality Debate: An Introduction by Max Rashbrooke (76p)
40. Purgatory/Paradise by Kristin Hersh (less than 1oop)

35. Tigers at Awhitu, by Sarah Broom (poetry)
36. Moral Relativism by Steven Lukes (158p)
37. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Set 24, 2014, 7:57 pm

Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm (256p)
Writing from 1942, this guy sure had a handle on what was going to become increasingly wrong with the world. A critical theorist, he is challenging the notion that what is (an isolating and divisive capitalist economic system and a society full of individualistic individuals), is what ought to be. I used this book as one of the sources for my last essay, but rather than pick and choose from it, decided to read the whole thing. It was worth it.

Set 28, 2014, 11:40 pm

I Know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This story of the author's life growing up in the south and her more to the city in her teens is deceptively simple. She writes in an easy style to take in, but when re-reading several paragraphs, the inferences and invitations to think deeply are there. She manages to seem unjudgemental but also to convery her anger and hatred of the system and people who were making her life more difficult than it ought to have been.
The book really started to shine for me in the last third, where her growing awareness of the injustices that surrounded her got her thinking and fired her up. Her tone is so warm and welcoming, even if the injustices she faced were repellent. I can see why this is a classic, and I wish I had read it sooner.

Ott 1, 2014, 11:53 pm

I need to read I know why the Caged Bird Sings too. I love her poetry when I see it, but I've never sought her writing out.

Modificato: Ott 3, 2014, 10:49 pm

The Library Book- essays on books

It sounds like around the time of this books publication that libraries in the UK were being threatened with closure. These essays are from authors, writers, musicians, commentators, actors and the like, on the value to them that libraries hold. It is rather political in nature, and makes a great case for holding on to provincial and smaller libraries that have been the lifeline for so many.

Ott 5, 2014, 5:08 pm

>182 LovingLit:, I hope you read the sequels also--her series of autobiographies just gets better the further into it you get. (I say this still having two more to go--I'm spacing them out--but so far, they're just getting better!)

Modificato: Ott 5, 2014, 9:33 pm

^and here I was thinking all this time there was only the one! Thanks to the lovely folks on LT I now know better. thanks! I didn't happen to find any of them at the book sale in the weekend, but I came away with 7 goodies nonetheless.

eta: Book haul!

The Summer Before the Dark, Stoner, The Bean Trees, Never Let me Go, Sabbath's Theater, Blood Meridian, and Ransom. All $2, all in great condition.

Ott 5, 2014, 10:51 pm

>180 LovingLit: -- I see you finally read Tigers at Awhitu. Did the library find it's long lost copy? What did you think of it?
>186 LovingLit: -- nice book haul. Out of all those books I've only heard of three and read one. I like the cover of Stoner

Belated Happy Birthday!! Hope you enjoyed your day.

Ott 5, 2014, 11:07 pm

^ hi!
The library did find the copy....I read it, loved it, and then lost it!!!! I took it away on holiday. Was sure I had taken it back, and then a few weeks after it was due (like about 5), I found it in a stuff sack in a back pack in a bigger back pack in my wardrobe....yikes. Woops. But, it got back to the library eventually and it apparently likes being lost.

Ott 12, 2014, 3:13 pm

Nice book sale haul!

Ott 12, 2014, 3:48 pm

>189 hailelib: thanks :) I enjoyed it and have read Stoner already now; I gave it 5 stars!

Nov 2, 2014, 4:16 pm

Townie by Andre Dubus III (389p)

I liked the cover, so I bought the book. I am that shallow. This memoir is not shallow in the slightest. I can't believe the life of this man has been laid so bare, for anyone to just pick up and read about. It is so personal, and so reflective and so emotional. Yet the life it describes is so rough and violent and difficult.
This book takes in all the grey-areas, nuances and half-truths that face us in modern society (and inside our own heads) and spits them out as a cohesive and rounded memoir. The conflict of loving parents who do a best that is not enough, of seeing your loved ones hurt and in pain and delivering a retribution that is made of the same, of needing to learn and to write but wondering what good it can really do the world. The big themes are treated like the tangled mess that they are, with the knowledge that there is no single solution.
I read the last third until past midnight, knowing full well I would be awake before 6am by way of a three year-old barrelling into my room at full speed. I read because I could not stop.

Nov 2, 2014, 5:06 pm

I liked the cover, so I bought the book. I am that shallow.

Ha! I have bought a number of books just because I like the cover. Looks like your eye caught a good one for you! ;-)

Nov 2, 2014, 5:11 pm

Yes, I too, have fallen for the interesting/beautiful cover. Often disappointed with the results, but occasionally hit the jackpot!

Nov 2, 2014, 10:16 pm

>191 LovingLit: - great review Megan. Makes me want to read the book. Oh, and I have also bought books just because I liked the cover.

Nov 2, 2014, 11:12 pm

>192 lkernagh: my eye sometimes comes up with the goods!

>193 DeltaQueen50: I have found the plainer the cover, the less colour (or more muted colour) the more I generally like the book :)

>194 VioletBramble: you should read the book! The the violence (in the form of fighting, mostly) is pretty hard to read, but the process of him 'turning into a writer' is amazing to read.

Modificato: Dic 20, 2014, 4:06 pm

The Leopard by Guiseppe de Lampedusa (222p)

This book is a favourite of a friend, so I read it. It is written in the 1950s and set at the time of the formation of the nation of Italy, when feudal ways gave way to powers that came from being 'elected' (very big *ahem* with the use of 'elected' there). The Leopard of the title is the emblem from the coat of arms of the ruler of his area. It is with a sympathetic ear that we listen to the story of his family as they reign over their own last days. Even though he a egotistical mysoginist we kind of forgive him for it as he struggles with his ebbing power and vitality. I found this a moving account of the existential dilema in us all.

Comradely Greetings by Nadya Tolokonnokova and Slavoj Zizek (106p)

Nadya Tolokonnokova is a member of Russian punk group Pussy Riot. Along with one other member of the group she was imprisoned in 2012 for 'hooliganism' because of the performance of a music piece in a church criticising Vladimir Putin. She was sentenced to 2 years and was released slightly early, just before the Sochi Winter Olympics. In her time there she worked 6-7 days a week, up to 16 hours a day in the prison workshop making Russian Police uniforms.

But the book is not about much of this stuff. It is letters to and from Nadya and Slovenain Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek. She had admired his work and he was invited to correspond with her once the opportunity for a meeting was made impossible due to her incarceration. They to and fro in highly intellectual banter, commenting on and countering each others ideas. It is very nice to read more about and from a punk princess who was in the media mainly for her mini skirt and balaclava.

Modificato: Dic 20, 2014, 4:05 pm

Every Secret Thing by Gillian Slovo (282p)

Gillian Slovo is one of three daughters of Joe Slovo and Ruth First- ANC revolutionaries/terrorists/guerrilla fighters/intellectuals/anti-apartheid campaigners/politicians/parents. And it is that complex! The girls necessarily take second place to activities that the parents engage in for the sake of justice and the greater good. The author of this family memoir struggles to come to terms with her place and needs in a situation where the needs of others are greater and of a life and death nature. As is so often the case, there is no absolute resolution, but as the story of their combined lives unfolds we get the feeling that Gillian has at least come to have peace about the actions of her heroic and largely absent parents.

This account gives a lot of information about the rise and actions of the ANC, who went from terrorists to the ruling political party after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in the early 1990s. I would have liked more political stuff near the end when it was coming clear that the ANC being in charge was able to affect little change in economic situation for black South Africans. But I think that at that time, there was just so much jubilation that apartheid had ended and that formerly exiled ANC members were now in positions of power, that the possibility of change was enough.

Erewhon Calling: Experimental Sound in New Zealand Edited by Bruce Russell (190p)

It is difficult to discuss a niche music scene without coming over as pretentious or exclusive, which some of the authors here acknowledge. Personally I have found the 'experimental scene' that I have encountered in my city to be very receptive to all types, and to new-comers. People are I suppose put off by the challenging nature of the music, and the cliquey seeming patrons who more often than not are dressed very hipply ;)

Various contributors here give accounts of the sound scene in the major centers. By all accounts it is a select few in terms of crowd numbers. Un-populist by nature, the music we are talking here is droney, looped, sampled, feedbacky, loud or very quiet, and often with little visible musicianship (ie: produced with computers or electronic equipment where it is difficult to equate the sound with the process of making it).

What I am drawn to in this scene is captured in this quote: the "...non macho aesthetic...comparatively free of rock posturing, finding beauty in the domestic and the happenstance" (p154). I like being challenged by music and finding some wonder or interest in it. This book is a good reference, but not very cohesive.

Modificato: Dic 20, 2014, 4:05 pm

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis (208p)

I read this chapter by chapter to Wilbur. It started well enough, and I kept wondering how the wardrobe came into it :) (for those who already- or want to know- it came later, much later. Like on the last page).

So Digory and Polly stumble upon Dig's Uncle Andrew up to no magic good in his loft. The children are used by him as an experiment to be sent to another magical land using his magic rings. He tricks them into going just to have someone able to give an account of the journey. They go, they come across various lands, some of which are dodgy in the extreme, and in which Digory cannot help his inquisitiveness and unwittingly unlocks a nasty witch from her slumber. From here the witch tags along with the kids, and eventually Uncle Andrew is drawn into the drama too. And lo and behold- they all end up in the newly forming Narnia where the Lion Aslan presides. Aslan is so obviously God. The religious and moral message is loud and clear. This is where I cold hardly contain my raised eyebrows. But then I remembered the 1950s in Britain were very staid and pious. Either way, it was not my cuppa, and Wilbur was not sold either. on the 2nd to last page he even suggested flagging it for a game of Ludo! (but even I could not so that, so close to the end).

Nov 20, 2014, 1:17 am

>198 LovingLit: -- I didn't read the Narnia books until I was 16 or 17 and the religious and moral message went right over my head. They were lent to me by my friend Al. Al was a Sunday school teacher. When I finished the books he asked if I had gotten the religious message. I lied and said yes. Hey, I was raised by an atheist. It wasn't until I read the Bible at University that I started to get most religious references in fiction.
On the bright side, now you won't have to read the remaining books in the series.

Nov 20, 2014, 3:38 pm

^wow, so you think you were passed on the book for some sort of attempt at religious indoctrination!? I guess you have to have at least some basic knowledge of religion for it to work though ;)
My first education in religion was going with a friend to a youth type group. I only wanted to go as it was 'going out in the evening' and there were snacks. I was sorely disappointed, as we sat around in a circle and the leader told religious stories and tried to make me feel bad for all of my supposed sins. Perhaps that particular person was not the most charismatic of leaders! I was decidedly not buying it.
I am actually going to try the next Narnia book though, as I hear it gets more adventure and less moral-grandstanding from there. Plus, I own it. I am giving Wilbur a break for now though as we are reading Captain Underpants (he loves it, of course- it has underpants in it) and then The Three Muskateers (it has swords, he will love that too no doubt- its all about weapons and toilet humour with him!).

Nov 20, 2014, 6:05 pm

The Three Musketeers *are* pretty awesome! :)

Nov 20, 2014, 10:38 pm

^ hehe. I am thinking of an 80s or 90s movie based on them.....what was it called again? (please don't say 'the Three Musketeers' or I'll feel like a goose). That was a cool film.

Modificato: Nov 21, 2014, 9:01 pm

Love The Three Musketeers!

>202 LovingLit: - Well, there have been an awful lot of film adaptations, according to this Wikipedia article. Are you thinking about this 1993 Disney version (which happens to be my personal favorite). ;-)

edited to fix year of movie. I had 'happy' fingers this morning when I typed this post!

Nov 21, 2014, 10:36 am

I just watched that trailer and I must watch that one again. What a great cast!

Nov 22, 2014, 2:45 am

> 200 Oh no, I don't think Al was trying to convert me to Christianity. I believe he truly thought I'd enjoy the books. I don't think he knew anything about my religious life except that I didn't belong to his church. Although, now that I'm thinking about it - he used to hang out at my mother's job and talk to her a lot. Maybe she told him things and he knew more than I was aware of.
The only person who ever tried to indoctrinate/ convert me was my friend Tess. She invited me on a weekend trip to the Poconos with her church. It was a great weekend. Everyone was very nice, laid back and not overly preachy. We sang, went boating and played Pictionary. A few of them actually became my good friends despite the fact that I do not accept Jesus Christ as my savior. I think it made Tess a little sad, but, she never tried to convert me again.

Modificato: Nov 27, 2014, 3:45 pm

Rabbit, Run by John Updike (264p)

This book came to me with warnings of its dark mood. Great, I thought. Right up my alley. And as I also like my books to be, it is not all about the plot.

The story unfolds slowly, allowing time for a real sense of place and personality to develop. We hear the internal monologues of various characters and however superficial their actions seem, their rationalisations for them are not. Being able to marry the action with the persons justifications for it is quite a treat. And it is this, I think, that made me love reading this book.

The plot itself does exist, and it involves Rabbit- a lanky ex-basketball high achiever, who is navigating his way around his young marriage. This is proving not as exciting for him as his heady days of sport. Rabbit is keen to explore and fulfill the needs of himself only, and has no qualms about making use of anyone who can assist his passage. He has a local church man willing to try to steer him on a more morally sound course, and his parents-in-law also care. His wife is struggling with alcohol and the stress of having a largely absent husband whilst caring for a toddler and being heavily pregnant. It is a sad state of affairs. The book ends with an incident, the result of which there is no coming back from. I look forward to reading the next installment.

Nov 28, 2014, 4:28 am

>203 lkernagh: just realised I might have been thinking about a 'bad version' starring Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen (??) and some other post-brat-packers. Yikes, excuse me, I was only young!

>204 mamzel: I have never seen the Disney Version!

>205 VioletBramble: A few of them actually became my good friends despite the fact that I do not accept Jesus Christ as my savior
That sentence makes me laugh for some reason. In a good way :)

Dic 1, 2014, 4:46 am

The Pesthouse by Jim Crace

Dystopian fiction is my new(ish) thing. With the reading of this one now complete, I think it is safe to say that I am still seeking a good literary dystopian novel.

The two main characters meet on what is a mass exodus to the East Coast of the USA, the population hoping to secure passage to a land that holds more promise of safety and comfort than what is currently possible. This is occurring long after some event that has caused the population to revert to historic societal practices and the complete demise of technology. This is also where the story fell down for me. From the near get-go, the story felt like a historical novel, and knowing the author only for his historic novel Harvest, I felt that the two were practically the same thing (bar the differing plot lines). The two are drawn to each other and on their journey to the coast they come across many a danger and challenge, and manage to fall coyly in love.

It wasn't bad, and it wasn't great. The writing was lovely at times, but overall the characters intentions were not fleshed out enough. Plenty of times the main two were doing things and I was thinking....really? Really? Which isn't to say someone wouldn't do the things they did, but I just did not see enough evidence as to why.

Dic 8, 2014, 7:59 pm

The Noble Lie by Gary Greenberg (230p)

This book appealed to me as next year I am doing a course on the philosophy of science. Sub-titled "When scientists give the right answers for the wrong reasons", it seemed philosophical in nature. And it was.

Most of the chapters deal with medical moral dilemas like organ transplants, which are accepted as morally sound. But when you get into the nitty gritty, it becomes less black and white. Organs need to be alive to be transplanted, but the host needs to be dead before they can be taken. There have been some situations in which the host has been 'moved on' rather hurriedly in order for a more viable patient to be the recipient of organs. It is these moral grey areas that the author explores.

Another chapter deals with 'the Unibomber' (who I had never heard of) who was pronounced to have schizophrenia, in spite of much evidence to the contrary. The author proposes that society feels more comfortable labelling a wrong-doer mad and evil, rather than intelligent and of sound mind and evil. The over-diagnosis of depression is explored- this was very interesting to me as there is a certain amount of crossover here with the Critical Psychology I was studying this year.

He raises some very interesting moral ambiguities, but this book was less science and more sociology, I thought.

Dic 14, 2014, 8:22 pm

The Prodigy by Herman Hesse (157p)

The back of this book talked about traditional education being counter-productive to learning and childhood well-being. It piqued my interest.

The story was written in 1905 so 'traditional' means something very different from today's education. This was my problem with the novella, that I wasn't sure which parts I was reading were contextually 'normal' educational aspects, and which parts were over the top for education, even by 100-years-ago standards. But fear not, the author soon tells you and in a few sentences neatly wraps up what we should think. At which point I felt both at bit relieved and like a dumby. :)

The student in question is very smart and has almost as high a standard for himself as his teachers and father do. He is expected to work at his studies at the expense of almost any enjoyment. He looks down on people of manual employment and aspires to the highest educational position possible. He is sent off to a prestigious college and the same rigid structure he had at home is in place...until...he meets and befriends someone who is a bit different from the pack. From here, his mindset and actions change. All very interesting, even if a few segments seemed to be plonked down in the middle of what was a smooth running novella.

Dic 20, 2014, 4:02 pm

BOOK 63, ESSAYS and WOMEN categories
On Photography by Susan Sontag

This is a collection of related essays, on the topic of photography. Photography as a practice, as an art, as a cultural phenomenon. It was written 40 years ago, and for that reason I could not help but wonder the entire time I was reading it, what on earth would this author think now? With all but the most rudimentary mobile phones having photographing capabilities, the practice of capturing images (let alone the display of them) is becoming ubiquitous.

Sontag takes a critical view of the proliferation of photography. The higher and higher ownership of cameras, the way cameras dictate the scene and become the focus of an event, the way photography has become art, the voyeuristic nature of it, the removed and passive way images can be 'taken' of people with or without their knowledge. It does go on and on and felt at times like a rant, however intellectually presented. And given that I have a problem with the way art is discussed already- some pretty far fetched things are assumed by the reviewers and the art crowd- I found the musings on whether or not photography should/could be art, rather....well, pointless. (My answer would be yes, its art, but let's not make a big deal of it.)

But, it presented some great starting points for thinking about how cameras and photos have and are changing our lives. In spite of being rather a critical observer myself, I found myself starting to stick up for photography and its value and promise. I look forward to reading her follow-up from this one, Regarding the Pain of Others, where I might find some reflection on how she thinks it stood up.

Dic 21, 2014, 10:23 am

Megan, I think I'll avoid all of the last 3-4 books you've read, they sound really outdated
Happy Summer Solstice and Happy Holidays!

Dic 21, 2014, 2:13 pm

^fair enough. They range in age from a few decades to a whole century old!
We had our longest day yesterday, and it was lovely and warm. My lovely other and me used out famed "divide and conquer" parenting technique and so I went with elder to the pool and a movie, and he went with younger to the train park :)

Modificato: Dic 21, 2014, 2:47 pm

From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (174p)

What a delightful book. 12 year old Claudia masterminds a runaway from her middle class NY home, and recruits her 9 year old brother to come along as money source and companion. They establish a daily and nightly routine in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and encounter a mystery and some purpose along the way.