Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now don't be thrown by all the medals on this book. I know that it used to be in elementary school that you had to read a Newbery winning book like Johnny Tremain or something of that ilk and it was usually deadly boring. That is not the case anymore. The committees who decide on these things are usually comprised of librarians (wonderful, wonderful people!) who actually want you to read books you like rather than books that are good for you. And sometimes they run across a book that is both.

Now I can say in all honesty that An American Plague is gross. It is about disease and death and mosquitoes and smelly seaports. I had my face scrunched up into an unpleasant moue the whole time I was reading it. (And I know I am kind of showing off by using the word moue, but do you know how often you get to use that word? Almost never!) But it is a fascinating look at how an entire city was brought low by a tiny germ. The thing that amazed me most about this book is that it drives home the fact that anyone who has passed high school biology has more actually medical knowledge than the doctors who were trying to fight this plague.

Now if you like your facts wrapped around a story you simply must read Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Also The Pox Party: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson is a simply magnificent and fascinating books that really shows how backwards scientific research was at that point in time. (Of course I wonder if people in 200 years are going to look at our medical practices and call us savages!) And finally an oldie but a goodie - Steven King's The Stand is the granddaddy of all plague books. It is about a thousand pages (you can build your upper body strength by lifting it as you read!) but you will get sucked in right away. I reread it every summer for about 15 years.

If you just like a true plague book, try Flu by Gina Kolata. It is a straightforward story of the 1918 influenza epidemic - well written and understandable.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I was a little concerned about The Tipping Point. I am not always a fan of what I consider to be dry academic non-fiction. This, however, was not that. Gladwell used lots to accessible examples to pinpoint how an idea or trend is adopted by widespread strata of society. (Wow, what a dull description!) As dull as I insist on making it it was really interesting. It explained why people buy really expensive shoes, why my kids got hooked on television, why teenagers still smoke and why sometimes people can do nothing in the face of evil.

Sometimes I like a book that attempts to explain everything in the world. My two favorites are Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs which is the perfect book to keep in the car in case you are ever stuck in a drive-thru line behind someone who has never actually ordered an iced coffee in their life and is taking for-EVER to decide between toasted almond and hazelnut. It is the story of a guy who decided to read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and then writes what he learned. Again, I am taking a hilarious book and making it sound dull. What on earth is wrong with me? As for A Short History - you will fall down laughing. Bryson is the sort of writer who can make anything funny.

Friday, June 08, 2007

This is the story of Koren Zailkas who "fell in love" with binge drinking at the age of 14 and quit drinking at age 23. She wrote the book to reclaim the youth that she lost.

I don't usually like "recovery" books. There is not a lot of enjoyment for me in reading about people suffering and then getting better. I didn't read A Million Little Pieces even though people keep telling me to. I do have Dry on my personal summer reading pile. I do remember being really moved by The Late Great Me when I was in high school, but it is kind of dated now. Speaking of dated, Go Ask Alice is still really popular, even though it uses all kind of really dated language and seems kind of "scary on purpose".

I like memoirs, though. Funny ones. A Girl Named Zippy is my all time favorite. I also love Me Talk Pretty One Day and anything by Laurie Notaro.

There is a swirl of controversy lately about how true a memoir has to be because of James Frey, and David Sedaris is caught up in it too. It makes for interesting discussion.

Of course the point of this book is that binge drinking harms young women in all sorts of ways. Which is a good thing to remember.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Someone recently described The Beekeepers Apprentice to me as "a great way to learn vocab for the SATs" which makes a certain amount of sense. I would probably describe it first and formost as an exciting mystery that spans the globe (well, not all the globe, but some interesting parts) with characters both new and familiar.

I like mysteries and this is the first in a series about an intrepid girl who becomes the apprentice of Sherlock Holmes late in his career. It is cleverly written with lots of wordplay and suspense. It is set during WWI, although the war plays a peripheral part at best. It deals with acceptance, grief, intrigue, revenge, kidnapping and estrangement.

I like this era a lot. There is a relitivly new series out called the Maisie Dobbs mysteries that is similar but feels less fictional because of the lack of Sherlock Holmes. Someone just recommended the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries that I have not yet read, but also deal with British response to WWI.