Reviews

End of an Era: Read on Hogwarts Grads, Read on.

14 years ago, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in the United States. Kids who started reading that book in elementary school are now onto college, or have even graduated from college. So Harry Potter and his wizardly friends mark the end of an era on Friday, with the opening of the final film.

   
Fiction   

Mark Twain: Man in Whte

"The report of my death was an exaggeration." Most people have heard this famous quote by one of our most beloved writers. Mark Twain: Man in White focuses on the last four years of Twain's life when his fame was at its peak, and the problems that dogged his life, including the bad health of loved ones and the stealing of his money by associates also continued.

But what a wonderful man Twain was--always up for a good practical joke, always putting his entire self into his writing and gosh, thoroughly addicted to playing pool. Not only addicted to it, but he was one of those hosts that had to beat you if only by a little.

   

Foreign Fiction

There was a dustup not too long ago about Tim Parks' suggestion (in the NYRB blog ) that foreign writers are adapting their prose--even if it's still written in their native tongue--to the structure of English. He contests that it has gotten easier to translate novels because "contemporary writers [have] already performed a translation within their own languages". Whether or not this is evidence of the English language's unfortunate dominance and bulldozing of local culture, or a natural adaptation among writers wanting to communicate as widely as possible, is left somewhat up in the air. It's an interesting argument, but I wonder how much relevance it has to most readers.

   

Gone With the Wind turns 75

I ran across an article this morning that mentioned that Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind turns 75 this month. In June of 1936, Mitchell published this now classic saga while recovering from a broken ankle. It was an instant hit, and brought immediate fame to the Atlanta journalist.

What is it about? Well....er...I haven't actually read it. "I'll never go hungry again!", right? But I only know that from the movie. It is high time to put this book on my to-read list.

   
History    Classics    Fiction   

The Book of the Maidservant

Do you think you've had bad luck being squeezed between two obnoxious air travelers? Imagine what it was like in the 15th century to be forced to take a religious pilgrimage to Rome with your boss (a fervent woman who screams her prayers out loud) and a fierce man from your English town who threatens you daily. Plus, after an arduous day climbing mountains and fording dangerous rivers, the other pilgrims demand that you cook their evening meal (dried peas, anyone, or how do you skin a rabbit?) Afterwards when the pious folk are resting by the fire, they send you out to do their washing in the nearest frigid stream.

   

Young Adult Fiction Debate - How Dark is Too Dark?

Part Time IndianSeveral weeks ago, a contributor for the Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled Darkness Too Visible. The author's complaint was that contemporary YA literature, aimed at the broad range of 12-18 year-olds is inappropriate for it's heavy inclusion of "explicit abuse, violence and depravity".

Then the internet blew up. Several interesting responses have come from NPR, one from pop culture expert Linda Holmes, and another interview with a YA librarian, YA authors, and the original author of the WSJ article.

   

Freedom

If you listen to politicians and talking heads speak, you'll instantly recognize that "freedom" is a particularly powerful buzz word in American culture. Franzen achieved notoriety for a famous run-in with Oprah about his book The Corrections being included in her book club. He complained that this might scare men away from reading his book, so Oprah withdrew the nomination. In another bizarre twist, last fall a fan stole the author's eyeglasses and offered them for ransom. In this mega-novel of 562 pages, Franzen tackles the theme of what constitutes freedom in our closest relationships. He writes about a family, the Berglunds, who helped transform an old St. Paul neighborhood into a thriving community.

   
Freedom   
Family    Fiction   

Into the Storm

Tuscaloosa, St. Louis, Joplin, Missouri? Do these names ring a bell? Unfortunately, they've been ground zero for a few of this season's most serious tornadoes. While checking the new shelf, I came across Reed Timmer's new book about his odyssey from a geeky 19 year-old college student to the most famous "storm chaser" around.

   

How Bad Are Bananas?

ImageIt seems common knowledge that riding your bike to work is a low carbon activity. What you might not know if that if you fuel your bike ride with air-freighted off season asparagus, then your carbon footprint increases dramatically and you'd be better off commuting buy Hummer. The art and science of taking into account many aspects of what constitutes a carbon footprint has often been ignored.

   
Nonfiction    Science   

Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys

I am deep in the middle of Adam Hochschild's new book, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 about the anti-war movement before and during World War I (and is thus far excellent). And I recently slogged through British historian Antony Beevor's 500+ page D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, which was a bit too detailed, but very fair in representing Allied incompetence and portrayed some of the major players, including Montgomery, Eisenhower and Patton in a new light for me. Can you tell I was a history major? Standing out so far in this recent WWI/WWII kick was Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys: An American Woman in WWII by Indiana University history professor, James H. Madison.

   

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