The Lover

I hadn’t read any of Duras’ other books, which made her pomposity a bit grating in this work; she definitely takes herself seriously as a writer. This is a trip down memory lane as a teenager in Saigon, falling in love with a 30ish old Chinese man whose wealthy father forbade him to marry her. This was made into a steamy movie with lots of sex in the 90’s. Lots of references to her older brother being a killer, when in reality he was a gambler who squandered her mother’s fortune.
15 year old Duras pops on a silk handmedown dress from her mom, some gold high heels, and a man’s fedora and attracts the attention of a fellow ferry passenger. He insists on giving her a ride in his limousine back to her boarding school. A torrid affair ensued. She insists that he take her family to expensive restaurants, where they ignore him completely.

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The Perfect Storm

I never saw the movie, but I can see why studio execs read this book and pounced on the concept. Junger’s writing style is very similar to a screenplay– laying out the main characters so that we have empathy for them, conjuring up the storm (3 converging storms that turn into mega storm), man vs. the elements.
A ragtag bunch of sailors leave Glouchester, MA late in the swordfish season and head out to find a major catch off the coast of Newfoundland. Later in the book, other boats enter the story so that they can be rescued. US Coast Guard rescue missions fly out to rescue various boats, and end up needing to ditch their helicopter and get rescued themselves.

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The First Tycoon

I got unexpectedly swept away by the biography of Cornelius, one of the original robber barons. The book opens on a scene from the court battle over his will, led by his daughters who were awarded $500k each, while the bulk of the millions went to William.
* I was surprised by his role in uniting the North and South post-Civil War– posting bond for Jefferson Davis’ release from prison, funding Vanderbilt University, marrying his southern cousin Frank.
* He progressed from Staten Island ferries to steamboats to railroads, created Grand Central station and is immortalized in the frieze outside it. Grand Central cost $6.5M in 1870. Is this why we no longer have grand buildings built? We no longer have titans who can afford it?
* He created wealth on an unimaginable scale, 1 out of every 20 dollars in circulation belonged to Vanderbilt.
* Horace Greely loaned money to Cornelius’ gambling addicted son
* Vandy was the first person to truly take advantage of Wall Street and its then lack-of rules (hello, insider trading)
* Stiles’ writing style heavily overused foreshadowing, beating us over the head with dramatic “this will be important later” ends of paragraphs.

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I Drink For a Reason

David Cross is one hilarious guy. But the only comic I’ve ever found palatable as a writer is Steve Martin, and Shopgirl was barely passable. Even John Hodgman was a bit tedious although I did enjoy some of his bits.
Fresh off watching the entirety of Arrested Development, I gave in to the temptation of overloading on David Cross and got his book. But put it down, go rent Arrested Development, buy Cross’ standup albums, and leave this book where it belongs– at the store.

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Make every book beautiful

Remember back in grade school when you covered your text books with paper bags and colored/drew/wrote all over them? This company took that concept and turned out beautiful book jackets to allow you to secretly read your shameful books you wouldn’t be caught dead with in public. I might have to get the Whale Whisperer (shown below) to cover my copy of Moby Dick, because I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a pseudo-intellectual hipster as I read that on the bus.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I intensely devoured this book in a couple of days, riveted by the mystery of the 1966 disappearance of Harriet Vanger. As in all great stories, this had interweaving of multiple plot points to keep your interest:
* Millenium magazine, founded by Blomkvist and Berger (occasional lovers), headed for financial trouble after Blomkvist indicted for libel after publishing a story about financial thug Wennerstrom.
* Henrik Vanger, old industrial tycoon, hires Blomkvist to write his family history to disguise the true nature of his assignment: to discover who killed Harriet Vanger, his niece, back in 1966.
* Lisbeth Salander, the goth hacker with photographic memory, subjected to horrors by her state guardian but who knows how to extract payback.

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The One Straw Revolution

Fukuoka was a scientist, working in a laboratory in Japan when he became sick, then depressed, and ultimately walked out on his safe life and headed for his father’s farm to try and let “do nothing” farming take its course. The idea that you can simply let nature work its course, not do terribly much in terms of plowing, weeding, fertilizing, etc, was and is revolutionary. Instead of chemically treating his crops, he allows natural predators to fight off insects that kill the plants. Instead of flooding his rice plains, he lets them sit for a week in water before draining the fields and letting the plants sprout naturally. With a cover crop of clover and barley, he restores nutrients while still growing other crops among the weeds.
His philosophy is about questioning why we do certain things, trying to get farmers to spend less time working and more time writing haikus.

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Team of Rivals

Was Lincoln a madman for inviting the people he ran against in the 1860 election onto his Cabinet? Or a genius? Goodwin nods in the direction of genius, with Lincoln pitting one against another and allowing both radical and Conservatives in the wider country think that each had a vital role in his decision making. From the inside, we see that Lincoln alone chose his path, and valued his cabinet for validating his opinions or making reasoned arguments to sway him.
The Civil War crashed upon him immediately into his first term. South Carolina ceded from the Union before he took office. Other states followed suit. While Lincoln was anti-slavery, he had to hold back some of the abolitionist furor to keep border states in the Union and to assuage popular opinion until the right time.
“I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of providing that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail we will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”
I never knew that the plot to kill Lincoln also involved the attempted assassination of Secretary of State Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Seward was attacked at home and recovered, Johnson’s attacker got cold feet and never attempted the assassination.
Great book, 700+ pages that pull you through the meat grinder of the Civil War and political infighting during that time.

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