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reviewed Franny and Zooey. December 09, 2010
Franny and Zooey
   I swore to myself that I would write a review of this book before the end of 2010, so here goes. I should issue a warning - I'm totally stoked up on hot Jameson toddies due to this nasty …
reviewed A Paradise Built in Hell. December 02, 2010
A Paradise Built in Hell
   Before reading this book I was not a fan of Rebecca Solnit. Upon the insistent recommendation of several friends who rarely steer me wrong, a few years ago I bought a copy of her earlier …
reviewed Help! A bear is eating me!. November 30, 2010
   Normally I'm not beguiled by first-person narratives, especially when the voice is that of an obnoxious boorish narcissist. Mykle Hansen's HELP! A Bear is Eating Me! is an honorable …
To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents
One of the more insidious ways to fritter away your life on the internet is to play Jeopardy online, competing against random strangers for (relatively) small amounts of money. There are few things more …
Don Quixote de la Mancha (Oxford World's Classics)
In this review, I will attempt a coherent summary of my reaction to Book I, and in the process try to justify my lukewarm rating. (I haven't yet read Book II, published a decade after the first volume).   …
Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical
One of the benefits of retiring from my career as a statistician is that I no longer feel it's my personal responsibility to alert friends and colleagues to the myriad ways they are being misled …
reviewed The Ambassadors. October 14, 2010
The Ambassadors
   This is Daisy Fuentes Miller, reporting to you live from the set of MTV’s “Real World Gay Paree”. Six strangers, from totally different backgrounds, thrown together, forced …
Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks
The first foreign language I learned to complete fluency was German - after five years of high school German I spent a year at a German boys' boarding school. At the end of that year I was completely …
reviewed Forrest Gump. October 04, 2010
Forrest Gump
Gosh, where to begin?      For starters, our boy Forrest has an I.Q. of 75. Played - apparently not much of a stretch - by Tom Hanks, on a natural stop along the career arc that took …
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
This is the second in a series of six reviews focusing on books about Greek mythology. The books included in this comparative evaluation are:      Bulfinch's Mythology (Modern …
Bulfinch's Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of
Have problems distinguishing Perseus from Theseus? Can't tell a Titan from an Olympian? Do those mythology questions on Jeopardy leave you stumped? Could mythology be your Achilles heel?   …
reviewed The Pig Did It. September 26, 2010
THE PIG DID IT
This appalling mess of a book is a good illustration of the dangers of following recommendations found on amazon.com. Described as a "comic novel" set in my homeland, it has about as much wit …
reviewed NCIS. September 21, 2010
NCIS
Over the past year, I have developed a disturbing addiction to one of America's most popular TV shows. Not American Idol. No, it's NCIS . Nothing pleases me more than when Channel 42 runs one …
reviewed Skippy Dies: A Novel. September 20, 2010
Skippy Dies: A Novel
I'm the product of an Irish Catholic boarding school for boys. In September 1968, at the tender age of 11, I left the warm (over-)protective bosom of home and family and became one of the 80 or so …
reviewed Spain in Mind. September 13, 2010
Spain in Mind
This book, edited by Alice Leccese Powers, is a terrific collection of pieces by "great writers entranced by Spain". Powers has assembled a wonderful collection, which includes pieces by all …
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
   This book, which I read in its entirety, is about 25% sensible commentary wrapped in an irritating froth of supercilious b---s---. Professor Bayard has a number of observations to make about …
reviewed Freedom: A Novel. September 09, 2010
Freedom: A Novel
I read "Freedom" in two days over the Labor Day weekend. I've structured this review in two parts - impressions that I jotted down while reading it, with a few paragraphs that try to provide …
reviewed The Painted Bird. September 06, 2010
The Painted Bird
I understand that, as a general rule, assessment of a work's quality should not be confused with moral judgements about the author's character. Monsters can write like angels, and vice versa. …
Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward (Penguin
New York in the Gilded Age. Isabel Archer was setting sail for Europe. In the family box at the opera, Newland Archer and the Countess Olenska were exchanging furtive glances. Meanwhile, out in the streets, …
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
   I am not a particularly violent person. But there were so many places in this book where I wanted to sit the author down, smack her briskly and scream at her "What were you thinking? …
reviewed The Good Soldier. August 28, 2010
The Good Soldier
The evidence that I am a complete Philistine continues to accumulate, as yet another acknowledged classic sails right over my head. I did not like "The Good Soldier", for various reasons. Here …
reviewed Winesburg, Ohio. August 28, 2010
Winesburg, Ohio
This past weekend I finally sat down to read Winesburg, Ohio, which had received extravagant praise from some of my friends. I was curious to see if it could possibly meet expectations.      …
The Imperfectionists: A Novel
"The Imperfectionists" tracks the terminal decline of a fictional English language newspaper (headquartered in Rome), as its continuing slide into financial insolvency makes its extinction inevitable. …
reviewed Mr. Peanut. July 28, 2010
Mr. Peanut (Borzoi Books)
Adam Ross has got some fierce writing skills. The man can write, no two ways about it. There's a point fairly early on in Mr Peanut where he hits his stride, and for about the next 100 pages, he delivers …
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected
I had a sufficiently positive impression of Dan Ariely from his first book, "Predictably Irrational", to be willing to give this one a try. My residual impression from the earlier book was of a smart, …
reviewed At Swim-Two-Birds. May 30, 2010
At Swim-Two-Birds (John F. Byrne Irish Literature
Flann O'Brien is surely Ireland's most neglected writer. Though his talent was on a par with the genius of his contemporaries, Joyce and Beckett, he has never come close to achieving the same degree of …
Family Album: A Novel
Skillfully written, engaging characters, but ultimately this was not as enjoyable or as gripping as I had been expecting. The constant shifting around of narrative voice and timeframe didn't bother me …
The Infinities (Borzoi Books)
It has been said that the main thing a novelist needs to accomplish in the first 10% of a story is to convince the reader to keep going. John Banville obviously does not feel bound by this advice. Hell, …
Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of
According to Russell Baker: "The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him".    This is certainly true in my world - not a day goes by without some …
Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View
Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) made several groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of human behavior. He was a master of particularly inventive research: for instance, he devised the experimental …
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People
It's a safe bet the first few sentences of Professor Zimbardo's obituary will define him in terms of the (infamous) "Stanford Prison study". In the early 1960s Stanley Milgram had shocked the scientific …
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A
This is the only book I've ever pre-ordered from Amazon. Its structure and content are no secret - it's right there in the title. The road trip in question took place as David Foster Wallace was winding …
reviewed Next: A Novel. April 14, 2010
Next: A Novel
I've always enjoyed James Hynes as an author who writes well, can deliver a good zinger with panache, shares my bemused exasperation at the follies of academic life, and - most importantly - spins a good …
reviewed Fun with Problems. April 14, 2010
Fun with Problems
CAVEAT: This review may be colored by my general difficulty in warming to stories involving unlikeable characters.    The self-involved, self-destructive, tortured creative soul appears …
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its
Giles Tremlett is the Spanish correspondent for The Guardian of London. When Ghosts of Spain was published, late in 2006, he had been living in Spain for over 10 years, first in Barcelona, then in Madrid, …
The New Spaniards, 2nd Edition
Within the past 30 years, Spanish society has been almost completely transformed, with change becoming the country's defining characteristic. Transformations that took generations elsewhere have been …
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
Of the fifteen essays in this collection, there is only one out-and-out dud (Smith reporting on the Oscar weekend). The rest range from good to amazing. Even the superficially unpromising pieces have …
The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of
"To be uninterested in the public toilet is to be uninterested in life"    In her inspired exploration of human waste and all things related, Rose George more than justifies the quote …
The People on Privilege Hill
I first discovered Jane Gardam a few years ago when I read her subtle, completely brilliant, account of the life of English barrister Eddie Feathers, aka Old Filth ('failed in London, try Hong Kong'). …
Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank
"The role of sheer idiocy should not be understated. As finance minister, Charlie McCreevy's credo was a textbook statement of macroeconomic illiteracy: 'When I have the money, I spend it, when I don't …
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