Tuesday, August 2, 2005

BOOKS: What I Read, July

OK, here we go again - it's that time of the month, let's recount what I read in July. Read eight books in July, bringing the year's total* to 49 so far. And here they are:

“Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, And Why” by Laurence Gonzales. An interesting examination of wilderness situations and how people react to them, encompassing a little bit of adventure, biology and sociology in a fact-filled tome. Gonzales uses plenty of examples and his own history to look at how things go wrong - including an interesting look at the 2002 climbing disaster on Oregon's own Mount Hood. The book bogged down some for me, though, and felt a little overlong and repetitive toward the end, but overall a good read for us "armchair adventurers."

“A Treasury of Royal Scandals” by Michael Farquahar is one of those "palate-cleansing" type books you read when you're in the mood for something light and gossipy. It's a great little compendium of violent, deviant or plain oddball behavior by assorted European kings and queens and popes over history. Fun if you're into reading about this kind of thing, although a bit gruesome at points.

“Down and Out in Paris and London,” by George Orwell. After reading that biography of Orwell last month, I wanted to check out some of his books I hadn't read, and I've long meant to read this one - a 1920s reporter's journey through the slums and squalor of Paris and London, living hand-to-mouth. Orwell isn't often thought of as a journalist these days, although that was his life's primary focus (that and book criticism). "Down and Out" has Orwell's fine eye for detail and still feels refreshingly contemporary today - remind me never to work in a scuzzy French restaurant's kitchen, OK? Short and snappy, it's Orwell near his best.

“Innocent While You Dream: A Tom Waits Reader,” edited by Mac Montandon. Already talked a bit about this book, which is definitely now one of my top 10 books about musicians. Quirky Tom Waits wisdom galore! One more nugget to share from the master, strangely appropriate for this here blog: "Every word has a particular musical sound to it which you may or may not be able to use. Like for example 'spatula,' that's a good word. Sounds like the name of a band. Probably is the name of a band."

"The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova. Reviewed here.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” by J.K Rowling. And this one I discussed right here.

“Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth and a Life Beyond 'Cheaper by the Dozen'” by Jane Lancaster. As a kid I always liked 'Cheaper By The Dozen,' the tale of early 20th-century efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their 11 (!!) children. So when I saw this serious biography of Lillian Gilbreth at the library, I thought I'd check it out to separate the fact from the fiction of the Gilbreth legend. And it's a fascinating read about an utterly amazing woman — after her husband's early death, Lillian Gilbreth continued to raise her 11 surviving (of 13 total) children, while also becoming a world-famous engineer and an amazing pioneer for women in the workplace. Lillian's life simply astounds - the having 11 kids alone would kill most, but she did so much more with her life, living on into her 90s. The book bogs down a bit for me in the second half, becoming a long list of lectures and travels by Gilbreth, but for all that it's a good read that gives a well-deserved spotlight on a pioneering role model.

"No Country For Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy. Cormac McCarthy's a modern Faulkner/Hemingway cross, with taut, tight prose that's lean, cynical, mean and occasionally overwrought. His "Blood Meridian" remains one of the scariest, most apocalyptic books I've ever read. His new one, though, lacks the epic scale of "All The Pretty Horses" or his other classics. It's a stripped-down tale of a Vietnam vet who discovers $2 million at the site of a botched drug deal, and his attempts to flee the drug-dealing psychos who want their money back. It's a good, quick read, but disappointing compared to the weight and power of McCarthy's best. I was particularly put out that a critical plot point near the climax happens "off camera," so to speak. Fine read if you're a fan, but nowhere near his best work.

*[And for the curious, here's the year to date posts: January, February, March, April, May and June.]

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