Who’d have thought that a book written by a Marine would be so … good. The typical “military intelligence” oxymoron comes to mind, but this book was well written and smart. I’ll be looking out for Swofford’s future offerings.
Gulf war veteran describes boredom of seven months preparation for war and the disappointment of a week of actual war. Sand sand sand and pornography and girlfriends cheating and the childhood of a military brat moving around and the huge mistake it was to sign his life away at age 17 to the Marines. The friends and drinking and playing of poker, the marching and pushups and boot camp. Read it.
Continue reading “Jarhead”
Ehh. Writing style of Mr. Mezrich leaves much to be desired. However, he was handed a story wrapped up with a bow on top, and didn’t ruin it. This non fiction story follows a group of MIT whiz kids on a tour of Vegas, Atlantic City, riverboat casinos, and details their team card counting. With spotters making minimum bets at tables and signalling the BPs (big players) in to the table when the count is favorable, the teams make millions on the blackjack table. They stagger through airport security with wads of cash (50k) strapped to their bodies then begin their transformation from geek to high rollers in the restroom. The basic strategy is a hi-lo system of assigning a +1 count to all cards from 2-6 and a -1 count of 10-A. The amount of cards gone from the shoe is also factored in to generate a true count. When the count is high, it’s time to drop big bets.
Continue reading “Bringing Down the House”
Superb, fantastic, excellent, thoroughly enjoyable! Winchester disappointed me slightly with his last book, The Map that Changed the World, but he has redeemed himself hugely with Krakatoa. As always, Winchester pays careful attention to the underpinnings of his story. Details range from the origination of plate tectonics (Alfred Wegener) and Winchester’s own Artic ash sample collecting to the unsung hero Alfred Russel Wallace coming up with the term ‘survial of the fittest’ and helping the procrastinator Charles Darwin find the missing pieces to his Origins of Species.
As one reviewer noted, Krakatoa lurks on the edges of most of the narrative, looming in the background as a constant presence. I actually read the whole book and several chapters delve deeply into the subject of Krakatoa and its explosion. The force from the August 27th, 1883 explosion caused two massive sea-waves (tsunamis) to overtake the surrounding coasts of Java and Sumatra, causing 35,000 casualties. Sound waves from the explosion travelled around the world seven times.
Krakatoa was the most explosive volcanic eruption in recorded time, and happened during a point in world history when news travelled fast (telegraph), so the global village was apprised of the eruption within days, if not hours of the event. So too, the dust/ash fallout of the explosion lingered in sunsets around the world for up to 3 years afterwards.
This book is a masterful production, with careful attention to evey pertinant detail. The construction and design of the book is equally delightful: the red lava of the hardcover not entirely covered by the 1/2 dustjacket with a depiction of Krakatoa from the September 1883 Harper’s Weekly. The drawings at the front of each chapter show Krakatoa in various stages, from dormant peaceful island with boats sailing by, to erupting fury, to a drawing of the missing island after it has blown itself up.
One of my favorite parts was the section on plate tectonics, detailing the creation of the Hawaiian Islands. Each island is a remnant of volcanic activity over the same hot spot, but the movement of the plate drifts each island away from the thermal vent, resulting in a chain of islands clearly depicting continental drift.
Continue reading “Krakatoa”
I like to give the ladies a chance. However, Jacobs’ book turned out to be a fluffy quick beach read. Eye candy, of sorts. The characters of Iris and Lana were delightful, and 100 pages in I was enjoying the read. But when Iris, the model of a single, independent 40ish woman, ended the story hand in hand with the her perfect guy, my mind rejected this book.
Lana and Iris know OF each other, through their mutual friend Deena. They meet when Lana interviews Iris for Vanity Fair, detailing Iris’ showing of artistic nests. I’m not sure why the story couldn’t have ended with the two of them hanging out about town together. But what do I know.
Continue reading “Women About Town”
Great guide for novice investors/peeps who don’t know what to do with their slight and tiny nest egg. One thing that stands out is the idea that an IRA is good b/c all interest, capital gains earned with it is tax deductible until you take the money out of the IRA (at which time you might be in a lower tax bracket).
Solid stuff, easily understood advice (buy stocks you want to hold onto for awhile b/c the transaction cost of buying and selling can cut into your bottom line).
Continue reading “A Random Walk Down Wall Street”
This is the book McCarthy is famous for; however, Birds of America was tremendously better. I’m not finished, but this is my early (100 pages in) opinion.
(Later:) Now I am finished and I can declare with certainty that this book was much worse than expected. I’m sure it was quite daring for McCarthy to deal with topics such as rape, lesbians, divorce, etc. at the time. She seems a little too pleased with herself for this daring. Overlooking its flaws, the story was constructed solidly, detailing the deterioration of a group of college friends over an eight year period after graduation. Unfortunately, the solidity of the structure does not make up for the tedium of the subjects.
The story begins with Kay and Harald’s ill-fated wedding, and ends with Kay’s funeral. In between, Libbie succeeds in publishing, Priss has a baby and resents her hubby’s attitude toward her, Lakey lives in Europe and returns 8 years later with her wife, Maria. Norrine has an affair with Harald and is a miserable housekeeper. Dottie loses her heart (among other things) to an artist before finding refuge as the wife of a Western rancher. Blech, boring. Polly’s story was the more interesting, moving from love affair with married Gus to caring for her manic depressive father, to marrying a doctor in the hospital she worked in.
Continue reading “The Group”
Back to back disappointing McCarthy books is causing my enthusiasm for her to wane. Her ‘intellectual memoirs’ detailed just how much she stole from her real life to write The Group and other works. A better title would have been “Memoirs of a Trotskyite Who Slept With Lots of Men”. Boring, and skimmed through quickly.
Continue reading “Intellectual Memoirs”
An excellent history of salt beginning in early China and weaving through ancient Rome, Israel, US Civil War, US Revolutionary War, Italy, France, Sweden, Hawaii, Ghandi’s India, Liverpool, Bahamas, Poland, Salzburg, Avery Island, San Francisco. The story also touches on the Morton Salt Company buying up little saltworks and becoming the world’s largest salt company. “When it rains, it pours.” Salt is ubiquitous and often overlooked as an important facet of life. Animals (humans included) would die without salt.
Some fun facts about salt:
- the word salary comes from the Latin salarius, of salt. Roman soldiers received salt as their pay.
- olives were experimented with for centuries before it was found that soaking them in brine (salted water) made them edible
- Avery Island (home of Tabasco sauce) sits on a salt dome
- a Carlsbad, NM salt mine is being prepared to contain nuclear waste that will remain toxic for 240,000 more years
- in the 1970’s, emergency oil reserves were stored in salt domes around the Gulf of Mexico
- in the early 17th century, the Polish salt mine was used to entertain visitors: the walls, ceiling, floor, chandeliers and statues in the mine were all made from salt.
- The World Health Organization & Unicef urged salt producers to add iodine to their salt to prevent goiter, a thyroid gland enlargement.
- in 18th century England, anchovy sauce became known as ketchup, which derives its name from the Indonesian fish and soy sauce kecap ikan. Ketchup became a tomato sauce in the US, as tomatoes are native to America.
- soy sauce originally was fish fermented in salt, or jiang. In China, soybeans were added to ferment with the fish and in time fish were dropped from the recipe, resulting in jiangyou, or soy sauce.
Continue reading “Salt”
Hooray for Paula! Once again her words leave me feeling light and happy.
Shortly after news of her father’s death, Helen escapes the confines of her early life. She leaves her mother and upstate NY and travels to New Orelans to bring her aunt Lulu back to NY to help her mother run the cabin business. In New Orleans, Helen falls into a trance of soft humid Southerness, where she meets her future husband Len, and her close friend Nina. Also Claude, the gentleman who prefered boys, who ends up dead beneath the Dueling Oaks. And Gerald and Catherine, the couple with whom Helen boards. Gerald a poet who was beaten by his Cajun neighbors for exposing their way of life to the world. Lulu’s drunkenness and divorce from Sam Bridges, with whom Nina has an affair. Nina describing her life as ‘floating by’, and drinking from the “Colored” fountain out of mild defiance. Part 1 is full of violence and chaos, yet leaves no blood on your mind.
Part 2 fast-forwards 20+ years to the 1960s when Helen and Len are living in NYC and renovating her mother’s old house after her death. Helen runs into Nina in the city, then mentions it later to Len, who acts strangely and admits to having been involved with Nina back in the day. Ends very sweetly with Helen waiting for Len to wake up from a long sleep.
Continue reading “The God of Nightmares”
mouth watering prose about the joys of oysters. I have an undeniable craving to make an oyster loaf… M thinks I’ve lost it. Oyster stew anyone? She tempts me with her descriptions of the tastes. I’ve been reading this one on the bus every day this week and have caught myself licking my chops as I read.
Update: now finished with this lovely short glimpse into the head of a gourmand. I don’t even like the taste of oysters, yet MFK has me dreaming of gulping down raw bodies along with their liquid. I will be reading every book I can find that MFK has written: it is too much of a treat to my soul to pass up.
Continue reading “Consider the Oyster”
social engineering and the art of the con. examples of how to talk your way into industrial secrets and getting around the security mechanisms in place by using the people who have access to the information and manipulating them into giving you what you’re asking for. semi-interesting.
Continue reading “The Art of Deception”
Enjoying Mary McCarthy’s words… just stumbled across a section where one of the guests at Thanksgiving dinner is a vegetarian, and she trotted out her usual dialogue, and it was perfect, especially the focus on having to repeat herself three times at dinner with everyone asking the same questions. Peter is a freak but still loveable. Yea!
I finished this one today– McCarthy is an excellent writer and I’m about to dive head first into the rest of her work. The Paris/overseas section of the book was much more interesting than the American section; and the juxtaposition of both sections seemed a little forced.
Continue reading “Birds of America”
The unifying theme in this collection of women’s writings of living abroad is missing home. All of them yearned for the return to the US, with its sensible procedures and 24 hour groceries. While this idea was interesting in the first 20 essays, it became tedious toward the end. Yes, you live abroad and miss certain familiar things like Taco Bell or no smoking in restaurants. Blah de blah de blah. This theme was so prevalent that I wonder if the editor of the book asked each author to flesh the “missing home” idea out in each essay. If so, boo. If not, it’s a little strange that every one of these ladies brings it up. Still, useful information on coping with the change to life abroad, with the mysteries of plumbing and smallish cooking devices. There were some great stories in here, but overall they were lost in the swirl of sameness.
Continue reading “Expat”
Hmm. Maybe I was not in the right mood to read this. Because I did not find much of value in this tract on class and race. Luckily, my friend (whose book I was reading) had underlined the good parts, so I could just skim ahead until I found a good section to read. We had exchanged books: I gave her Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and she gave me Where We Stand. I think she came out ahead even though I hadn’t underlined any of my book.
The one useful section was when bh wrote about how class would come to the forefront for the middle class when housing became more and more unaffordable. Other lessons: make a budget and stick to it. Don’t go crazy on material things. Live simply.
Continue reading “Where we stand”
Seagull imitations, drunken hotel gatherings, family deception. Paula Fox has mad skillz in the writing department. Clara’s mother, Laura, is in town with her drunken hubby Desmond, on the eve of their cruise’s departure. Clara meets them in their hotel room where they’re joined by Laura’s brother Carlos, and her good friend Peter Rice. Alma, Laura’s mother, has passed away that afternoon, but Laura refuses to tell anyone until later that evening, after freaking out and running through the streets getting soaked. Peter is called up to the unenviable task of letting Carlos and Eugenio know that their mother is dead. Clara is not to be told, but Peter relents and tells Clara about her grandmother’s death. Ends at the funeral, where Peter’s mind floats away gently into the good night. This book could easily be reduced into a three act play.
Continue reading “The widow’s children”