Jared's bookshelf: read

The New York TrilogyThe Christmas BoxThe Night Thoreau Spent in JailPathfinderThe Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the WorldDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

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Jared's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

I'm now using Goodreads

Manually entering and cataloging the books I read takes quite a bit of time, so for now I'm using goodreads. Honestly, it's still too cluttered for me on there, but I do like the social aspect of it, so in the meantime, if you're interested in what I'm reading, please follow me there. Hopefully at some future time I'll be able to bring it back to StewardsWeb. --JS 1/30/11

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel)
Ellen Raskin,1971
E.P. Dutton

I am pretty sure I read this as a child because so much of it seemed familiar but I didn't remember any specific details. Like The Westing Game, this is a peculiar book but very creative and good to read. The basic story revolves around a woman who spends basically her entire life trying to find her husband--the one she married when she was five years old. Bizarre, but true! This would be more appealing to a younger crowd, probably around 10 years old. This is also a kind of mystery book as Mrs. Carillon travels all over America looking for her husband. There are clues and hints that the author encourages the reader to think about which makes this an interactive book. If you have a child interested in mysteries this is a good one. --JS 4/19/09

The Westing Game
Ellen Raskin,1978
Puffin Books

Ellen Raskin has a style of writing quite unlike any one I've ever read before. One thing I thought was interesting was how it's written in a kind-of omnipresent point of view so you know everyone's thoughts at one point or another. This young-adult mystery book centers around the people in an apartment building trying to find out who killed Mr. Westing, the eccentric millionaire who loved games and even created one for his will. This group of people are to figure out which one of themselves killed Mr. Westing and whoever wins the game inherits all the money! Not your standard mystery, this one even had my wife Tonya puzzled all the way through (she almost always figures out who did it). This is an excellent book but does have one drawback--the characters are consistently small-minded and annoying but even with this it was a good book to read. --JS 4/19/09

Cornelia Funke,2003
Chicken House

This book was pretty interesting at the beginning but as it continued, the narrative got to be actually kind of boring. The writing style is average so when the plot slowed down and got tedious about 75 pages in I kept looking at how I was only a quarter of the way through and finally gave up. For young adults, this probably has some appeal but as an adult it just got bothersome. I haven't seen the movie and from what I've seen of the trailer, I'm not sure that the movie follows the book very closely. Up to when I stopped, the story involves a girl and her father, a book repairer who one day found that sometimes things he reads come out of the book into reality. He accidently "read out" a bad person from one of the books and the plot involves this man's schemes and how the girl and her father are trying to fight him. The movie will probably be fine to watch, but I wouldn't recommend this book --JS 4/19/09

Life of Pi
Yann Martel,2001
Harcourt Books

I thought this was a great book, definitely one to put on your summer reading list! The style of writing is so convincing I kept asking myself is this true or not? The story is about a boy named Piscine Patel and the first part deals with him growing up in India with his parents and brother where his dad is the owner of a zoo. It's mostly written in first person and Pi also talks about his search for religion, which is actually very funny. The second part of the book is all about Pi's adventure on a life boat with a tiger, an orangutan and giraffe after they all nearly drowned on a shipwreck. How would you deal with wild animals in such a small space? Many times the book is hilarious; other times quite gruesome, since some scenes are detailed in how the animals act. This didn't bother me, though and seemed less gratuitous but more like watching Nature or a documentary. I was constantly amazed at the whole incredible journey and I would heartily recommend this one! --JS 4/19/09

Robin Hood: Prince of Outlaws
Alexandre Dumas,1872
Dell Publishing

One of Dumas's lesser-known works, if you like the Robin Hood legend and can find this book, I think you should read it. I read this many times as a young boy and teenager and think it is best suited for that age group. As an adult it was still a pretty good read. One of the interesting things about this book is that Dumas writes about the origins of Robin Hood and his upbringing by his adoptive parents Gilbert and Margaret Head and as Robin grew up "for reasons unknown" his surname changed to Hood. I'm not sure how close to the legends Dumas is as far as Robin's upbringing, but he does link Robin with his title as the Earl of Huntindon. As for his adventures, Robin's main enemy in this book is the Baron of Nottinham and has Robin getting captured, then escaping, etc. Many of the standard people like Marian, Friar Tuck and Little John are also in the story and Will Scarlet is portraid as being one of the men from Gamwell Hall which is a main part of the plot. This is a short book which ends while Robin is probably still a teenager, and it is exciting and fun to read. If you like Robin Hood, I think you'll enjoy this book. --JS 4/19/09

Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience
James P. Carse, 1994
Harper Collins

I remembered being assigned to read a chapter or two of this book when I was an undergraduate and really liked what I read. I never read any more of it and thought I'd try it this summer. I guess I've changed in my thinking at least on this because this time I didn't really care for it. I even ended up glossing over the final few chapters since it was just not very interesting. In this book Carse takes his personal experiences and applies mystical thinking to them; how he reacted to something, how he maybe should have reacted based on mysticism, how he was being mystical and didn't even know it. The most interesting part of the book are his actual experiences but when he starts talking about the mystics it starts to get too....uh, mystical for me. Here is an example: when talking about being silent he writes, "the initial awareness of our silence is deceptively simple...we don't actually stop talking. It's just that we are not talking out loud...So the obvious fact that when we are talking we are not silent yields to the more complicated fact that when we are not talking we are still not silent." He goes on more about how to be silent without actually thinking about being silent by not thinking of how we're not talking or thinking of being silent....etc. To me this kind of thinking just starts to get ridiculous. If you like that kind of stuff, then you'll like this book. Otherwise don't waste your time on it. --JS 8/27/08

Brian Jacques, 1986
Avon Books

This is a fantasy novel set in what appears to be an English countryside. The basic plot is about a rat named Cluny the Scourge who is set on conquering Redwall Abbey, home of a group of mice known far and wide for their service and peaceful way of life. The hero of the story is an unlikely bumbling mouse named Matthias who sets out to defend the abbey with a legendary sword that he first has to find. The review on the back of the book compares it to Watership Down but WD surpasses this in every area. Unlike WD, although all the characters are animals, for the most part they act just like humans. This is a well written and exciting story but it is written more towards a young adult audience. Recommended for a fun adventure. --JS 7/21/08

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Simon Winchester, 1998
Harper Perennial

As the subtitle indicates, this book is about one of the main people that helped organize the first OED in the mid to late 1800s. The "madman" truly was someone who was in an asylum for many years but contributed to many of the definitions. I was interested in reading this as the book started but my level of interest has severely dropped to where it has been sitting unread on my desk for the past six to eight months. Admittedly part of that is due to moving and starting my graduate degree, but I've tried reading it again and it just doesn't have the pull to bring me back to it. I'm sure there is something out there about the origins of the OED that would be more interesting than this book. --JS 4/7/08

What is the What
Dave Eggers, 2006

Billed as an autobiographical novel, What is the What is the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan. The preface by the real Valentino Achak Deng states that the overall story is true but many passages are fictional, presumably to seam the storyline together. In the novel, Deng tells his story as a young boy during the Sudan's second civil war which started in 1983 and lasted into 2005. Although horrific, this story is fascinating but I ultimately stopped reading because it got too graphic for me. The saddest thing is that this was all being viewed in person by hundreds of young children. --JS 8/9/07

You, Inc. The Art of Selling Yourself
Harry Beckwith & Christine Clifford Beckwith, 2007
Warner Business Books

I happened upon this book in the bookstore earlier this year, read a few pages and thought it was interesting. However, I've been disappointed: this book is written for the 30-second sound bite generation. There are eight chapters and each chapter has anywhere from seven to 43 sub-sections, with each section being two or three pages long. There are many interesting points on how to present yourself to others but the structure makes the overall reading experience less enjoyable than it could be. One of their own pieces of advice in the book is to be a specialist: "No one can master everything. No person, product, or service--including yours--possibly can be for everyone. Position yourself as the solution to almost everything, and everyone will see you as the solution for nothing. People want specialists." Sadly the authors did not follow their own advice. Rather than focusing on a few specialized ways to "sell yourself" they have thrown out a hundred or more different suggestions, thus making it difficult to know where one should really start. --JS 6/29/07

The Harry Potter Series
Harry Potter and...the Sorcerer's Stone, ...the Chamber of Secrets, ...the Prisoner of Azkaban, ...the Goblet of Fire, ...the Order of the Phoenix, ...the Half-blood Prince, ...the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling, 1997 - 2007

Those who have read the books and seen the Harry Potter movies have told me how close the movies are to the books. I didn't quite expect it to be this close! Apart from a little more detail on most scenes HP and the Sorcerer's Stone is nearly exactly like the movie. The movie is so well made that transitions from scenes don't seem out of place but there's just enough detail in the book that these transitions are a lot smoother and make more sense. [spoiler] One thing that is definitely much better in the book is the chess match at the end. In the movie it wasn't clear to me why they have to play chess but in the book they can't get across the room without playing. Plus, Ron getting hurt makes more sense because he actually got hit by another chess piece and didn't just fall of the horse. [end spoiler] In the end, I'm not sure whether to recommend reading the book or not--I'm still debating whether I want to read the next ones myself! --JS 5/21/05

I saw the second book in the series at the library a few months ago and on a whim checked it out Now I would definitely recommend reading the whole series! Even after seeing the movies the books are completely engrossing. By the third book they are just huge (700-800+ pages) but there is so much going on the size doesn't even matter. Now I would say there is definitely more information in the books that help the movies make even more sense. One of the things I think is so great about these books is that even though they are written for 10-12 year olds as an adult they are thoroughly enjoyable--Rowling doesn't "dumb down" to children; she uses hard vocabulary words and the characters are very real. Buy these books! but beware: you won't be able to put them down, they're magic! --JS 12/31/06

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Lynne Truss,
Gotham Books

Just as the title states this is a book about punctuation and its rules but it's also about the history of punctuation which I thought was interesting. Truss starts out pretty engaging and there is a lot of humor in the book but about halfway through the book the plethora of puns (although usually funny) and her desire to have so-and-so's babies (usually some guy in history who did something interesting or new with punctuation) started to get tiresome. I put the book down for about three to four weeks but when I continued reading it became more fun to read. This is not a book for professional English teachers but for anyone who would like to know a little about punctuation history along with the rules and how they developed. On the whole, this has helped me think more about punctuation in my writing and it was neat to learn the history. If you never thought that punctuation could be an explosive topic then read this book! --JS 12/31/06

History of Joseph Smith by His Mother
Lucy Mack Smith
1853 (original publication date)
Revised and Enhanced version edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, 1996

The preface to this edition states the original title was A History of Mother Smith by Herself and that is really what this is. It's a great glimpse of the life of the entire Joseph Smith, Sr. family. The benefit of this edition is that the editors in many places inform you of the changes to the text in the several different versions that have been published. Sometimes this gives more insight into what Lucy Smith was feeling or thinking. Sometimes she doesn't give clear dates (like "the first Friday in August") and the editors have tried to give exact dates. I also liked that the footnotes gave background information on many of the people she mentioned. If you are interested in the life of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith then I would recommend this book. --JS 5/24/06

The Discipline Book: How to Have a Better-Behaved Child From Birth to Age Ten
William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN,
Little, Brown

I actually finished this book a few months ago and am just now getting to the review but it is an excellent book. Parents magazine says the Sears's are the kings of attachment parenting which is basically what the whole book is geared toward. Their basic philosophy is that the child that feels a close bond to her parents will want to behave and discipline will be much easier than families without those bonds. If you have young children, get this book! --JS 5/24/06

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Bart D. Ehrman,

One thing I noticed right away is that Ehrman is so much of a Biblical (New Testament) scholar that he has nearly taken the spirituality out of it. However, this was pretty interesting and easy to read (i.e. not a boring history and not lots of scholarly jargon). I really had no idea how many times the Bible had been translated (tons). Ehrman makes it clear that the best "original" of the Biblical texts are actually copies of copies of copies of...etc. If you are interested in the origins of the New Testament and how it has been determined certain passages are incorrectly translated then you should read this book. --JS 5/24/06 Update: Ehrman has recently had a new book published, God's Problem and when I was hearing about this book found out that Ehrman is now an agnostic which would explain the lack of spirituality in Misquoting Jesus. In any case, this is still a very interesting and enlightening book to read. --JS 4/7/08

The Bourne Supremacy
Robert Ludlum,
Bantam Books

Don't even bother with this one. The second book in the Bourne Trilogy, this one has much more violence than the first, one of the characters gets raped for the second time and there's way too much cussing. The plot takes Bourne to Hong Kong and China to catch a killer posing as Jason Bourne himself. It seems as if Ludlum thinks to make a more intense thriller the action has to be harder and the violence more disgusting. Whereas the story was so good and suspenseful in the first book, this one was long-winded and gratuitous in all aspects. I definitely am not going to recommend this book and now would hesitate to read any of Ludlum's other books. --JS 3/4/06

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe,
Signet Classics edition printed 1998

It took me a while to get into this book but it's actually really good. It is very unfortunate that the persona of Uncle Tom has become something negative, far from the character in the book. Uncle Tom is a truly heroic and inspiring figure who weathers all pains and in the end is the most Christ-like character I've ever read about in a novel. The main storyline follows Uncle Tom as he is sold from a farm in Kentucky to a benevolent slave owner in New Orleans and then to the awful Simon Legree. There was a lot of controversy when the book was first published but this is probably a pretty good example of what life was like for slaves in the mid 1800s. Stowe does a great job of detailing the differences of good and bad slave owners and then contrasting that with freedom. This is a very good book, especially if you want to get a good sense of pre-civil war life in the south. --JS 1/30/06

The Bourne Identity
Robert Ludlum,
Bantam Books

This book is nothing like the movie and is much much better. First a bit of warning--the first third or so is very violent. Not as graphic as some of the detail in Panther in the Sky but there is a lot. Nevertheless, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book. I stayed up half the night reading the last 100 pages or more! The basic storyline is about Jason Bourne who wakes up with amnesia but finds out he has millions of dollars in a bank in Switzerland and also has the senses and abilities of a highly trained killer--but was he good or bad? He basically is running for his life for the entire book as he tries to put together who he was in his life before amnesia. This one is a definite must read! --JS 11/6/05

The Big Year
Mark Obmascik,
Free Press/Simon & Schuster

Here's a statistic from the book: "There are 675 birds that commonly live in North America, and there are 365 days to see all of them. Find two new birds a day and you're the new champ." But to win a big year is absolute madness! This book did a great job of chronicling the crazy travels of the top three big year competitors in 1998. I'm talking about hearing about a rare bird that's in Maine but you're in Arizona so you take the next plane to get there, then two days later another rare bird is in Florida so you take the next plane to get there. And yes, these three men were that crazy! This is a really interesting book and it is written very well. Even if you're not interested in birding you should read this book. A couple of other things I liked about the book is that Obmascik did a lot of research and is very informative about the history of big years and the bird watching world so you don't have to have any knowledge of this interesting sport. Plus, he really loves puns--they are all over in this book which makes it even more fun to read. Go to Powells.com for an essay about the book by the author. --JS 9/18/05

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey,
Simon & Schuster

This really is a great book! Covey really does have some great insights that I think could change your life if practiced. The basic gist of what Covey has to say is that we need to prioritize your life around what is truly important, not what is urgent. He also talks about how to communicate better with others. This book is good for work as well as home life. Now that I've read it I'm eager to go back and start putting into practice what I've learned. --JS 8/19/05

The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo
B.H. Roberts,
Deseret News; Reprinted in 2002 by (Deseret Book?)

Like The Moonstone, it took me a while to get used to the written style of this book. I have mixed feelings about this but overall it is a good book to read if you're wanting to learn more about the history of Nauvoo, Illinois. One of the things that were odd about the book was the way Roberts stated we should read his other history "The Missouri Persecutions" several times--almost like an advertisement. It seems almost inevitable that the book still centered around Joseph Smith but because of the title would have liked to have read more about the particulars of the city itself and its citizens. One of the things I liked best about this was that one of the appendices included "An Account of the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith" by John Taylor. Another thing I liked was that rather than ending with the martyrdom, there was more information about Nauvoo and what life was like there after Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed. --JS 8/7/05

Married for Better, Not Worse: The Fourteen Secrets to a Happy Marriage
Gary and Joy Lundberg,
Penguin Books

This is a great book for anyone that is married! The guidance in this book is best utilized if both husband and wife read the book together. One of the things I liked was that it explains some of the differences in how men and women think and how understanding those differences can enhance your relationship with your spouse. This is another book that is worth reading over and over again. There is a chapter for each of the "secrets" so if you just wanted to review one section that can be done quite easily. --JS 8/7/05

Touched by Sound A Drummer's Journey
John Wyre,
Buka Music

Simply put in the preface, "this book explores how sound has woven such an influential path in the fabric of my life." It is just that. The book is a mix of stories from Wyre's life and his thoughts on how sound has influenced his life. As a pecussionist and a fan of Nexus, the percussion ensemble Wyre was a part of, this book was very inspirational to me. Wyre has truly traveled the world as a musician and hearing of his experiences across the globe was also very neat. I would recommend this book very much. --JS 8/7/05

To Draw Closer to God
Henry B. Eyring,
Deseret Book

This is a very good book. It is a compilation of different talks or lectures Eyring has given and edited for inclusion in this book. He separates the talks into different categories of how we can draw closer to God. This is not a book you would read once but something to study and read multiple times if you wanted to apply the principles he teaches. --JS 8/7/05

The Joy of Music
Leonard Bernstein,
Signet Books

The first quarter of this book was very interesting. Bernstein wrote three different imaginary conversations he had with some other made up people about different subjects like why Beethoven is so revered and the differences between popular and art music. The final three-quarters of the book is titled "Seven Omnibus Television Scripts" from the 1950s. This part was very cumbersome to read, so much so that I stopped reading halfway through. Here he has musical examples when we're supposed to listen to the orchestra perform what he was just talking about. Too tedius for me--I'd rather just watch the show. --JS 1/20/05

Harvest Poems, 1910-1960
Carl Sandburg,
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

This smallish book had one of my favorites "Fog" but I was unimpressed with the other poems. I know Sandburg has written some very good poetry but the majority in this book did nothing for me. One thing that was interesting however was that some of the poems had a very Whitmanesque feel to them which I did like since Walt Whitman is one of my most favorite poets. You might be ok to skip this one but try another one of Sandburg's collections--it will probably be better. --JS 1/20/05

At Home in Mitford
Jan Karon,
Lion Publishing

This is a novel (first in a series) centering around Father Tim, a preacher at this small town's Episcopalian church. It's kind of written like the Cat Who...series in that it's simply about the everyday life of the main character except that instead of the timeframe being a season or just a few weeks, this book encompassed over a year. This was very enjoyable to read but the one drawback that I encountered was that sometimes I couldn't keep track of all the different characters in the story (although this may be because I only read at spurts of 15-30 minutes per setting). This would be a good book for a fun and relaxing time. --JS 1/20/05

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald,

After the first quarter or so of this book the story finally started to get interesting. This started out mainly as a mystery about who Gatsby is and from where he got his riches. What I didn't realize was that it's really a tragedy dealing with the relationships between people and those they love. The beginning of the book seemed like it was going to be about how shallow people with lots of money could be. This involved people sitting around talking about basically nothing and going to parties, but as the story progressed, the mystery of Gatsby's background became more prevalent. The story is narrated by a neighbor of Gatsby who seems to be the only logical thinking person in the whole book. Normally I don't care for narratives but this one is written in such a manner that it doesn't feel like everything is just in the narrator's thoughts. If you're looking to read something that captures the decadence of the 1920s well, this would be a good book to read. --JS 11/26/04

Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom,
Broadway Books

First of all, I think the movie was much better than the book. This is a memoir of sorts about Albom's visits to his old college professor and the words of wisdom Morrie gave to Albom before finally dying. I started reading (but never finished) one of Albom's newer books, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and the writing style is much the same in both books--in my opinion not that great. Albom likes to start some of the chapters with a flashback or some other episode indirectly related to the current story. Like The Great Gatsby, Tuesdays with Morrie is written in a narrative/first person style but is just not the same quality as Gatsby. There are definitely some inspiring passages but if you're looking for something inspiring I would recommend Anne Morrow Lindbergh's A Gift from the Sea as a much better alternative. --JS 11/26/04

Panther in the Sky
James Alexander Thom,
Ballantine Books

This is a biographical novel about the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh and to a lesser extent his brother Tenskwa-Tawa, the Shawnee Prophet. With this book I learned a lot about the history of this era of the United States (late 1700s to early 1800s) but was sometimes wondering really how much license Thom was taking in regards to the character's thoughts and feelings. It was very good to read because I really had no idea how badly the Indians were really treated and how arrogant the Americans were. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I thought it was also interesting how some of the treatment of the Indians paralleled treatment of the Mormons when they were in nearly some of the same places. One thing that I didn't like about the book was how graphic some of the scenes were, like how a scalp was taken or how a body was mutilated. There were also a few "sex scenes" while not graphic were not necessary. Because of those two things I'm not sure that I would really recommend this book, but don't get me wrong. This was a very interesting book. Thom obviously has studied this part of American history and does present it well, however the writing was not as good as Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy . --JS 11/10/04

The Ender books includes
Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind
Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets

Orson Scott Card, 1985 - 2002
Tor Books

I have a lot of different reactions to these books. I first started reading these a few years ago and have done so in spurts. My first reaction to Ender's Game was that it was an interesting book but written more on a juvenile level. Ender is a 8 or 10 year old that was basically recruited to become a warrior against the "buggers", an alien species trying to destroy Earth. The entire book takes place in "Battle School" on a space station orbiting Earth. The book seems to be trying to make some sort of commentary about children and war or children making adult decisions but I don't think Card succeeds in this very well. Although a good book, it wasn't the page-turner I was expecting to read. However, the next three books (Speaker, Xenocide and Children) to me were very interesting. I think partly because Card had grown in his writing. Also, these books were very philosophical and thought provoking. For example, if I remember correctly, one of the books deals with the extinction of species and also how two disparate species really need each other to survive. He also discusses artificial intelligence and how human computers may eventually become. One of the very interesting things about Ender's Shadow is that the time line follows the same time as Ender's Game, only we're seeing everything through the eyes of Bean, one of the member's of Ender's Dragon Army. The rest of the books then follow Bean and his life after Battle School. The Shadow series is much more politically oriented than the Ender series and there was actually a lot of things that were over my head: national alliances and how invading one country affects another, etc. Despite my lack of understanding completely what was going on, the first two books were still very exciting. But--I was getting to be pretty annoyed with Shadow Puppets because at the beginning the conversations (and there were a lot) were really banal and juvenile. After about the first third the book did improve but it still wasn't as exciting as the first two. This series is set about one to two hundred years in our future. One thing that seemed strange is that Card mentioned World War Two and people associated with it as part of the history and only once made an attempt at creating his own history between today and the books' time. To me his future would be even more believable if he was able to bridge the gap with more "future" history. He had another good try at globalization since all of the Battle School kids were from different countries and hence used different slang. This at times was confusing since I didn't know the slang and therefore still don't know if I understood the meanings of some of the words. There is yet to be at least one more installment in this series. After I read that book, I'll put in my final thoughts. --JS 11/10/04

Death in Venice, Tonio Kroger, A Man and His Dog
Thomas Mann,
1913 - 1936
Vintage Books

Thomas Mann received the Nobel Prize in 1929 principally for his novel Buddenbrooks, but I read the beginnings of these three different short stories and was not impressed. I really just so bored that I could not keep going. Mann has a tendency to be very drawn out in his descriptions and in the end doesn't say very much. Because of this the story goes very slowly. Here's an excerpt from A Man and His Dog:

"...what a good-looking animal Bashan is, as he stands there straining against my knee, gazing up at me with all his devotion in his eyes! They are particularly fine eyes, too, both gentle and wise, if just a little too prominent and glassy. The iris is the same colour as his coat, a rusty brown; it is only a narrow rim, for the pupils are dilated into pools of blackness and the outer edge merges into the white of the eye wherein it swims."
If you can imagine reading a whole short story with this much detail, you've just conjured a Thomas Mann story. No thanks! --JS 9/17/04

A Death in the Family
James Agee,
Avon Books

As good as the Foundation series is in letting you know a person's tone of voice, the Pulitzer Prize winning A Death in the Family is even better in getting you inside all the thoughts of a person accompanied with their actions (typing on the keyboard) so that you can have a very clear image of what's happening. As far as "action" goes this is a very slow book because of that very fact. One interesting point is that there is no central point of view - you get to be inside pretty much everyone's thoughts at some point so the activity is really seen from all sides. I especially liked how Agee got me to see through the children's eyes (roughly four and eight years old? I don't remember him writing specifically how old they were). It has made me think more of how (2 1/2 year old) Nicholas might feel or think about what's going on around him. Another positive note is that the excerpt "Knoxville: Summer, 1915" is one of the most beautiful poetic pieces I've read in quite a while. As the title suggests, the book centers around a family of four and their reactions after a death occurs. This is not really a light read but for its literary quality this is definitely a book worth looking into. --JS 7/11/04

The Moonstone
Wilkie Collins,
Signet Classic

This is a book that's been on Mom's shelf for a long time and just out of curiosity I decided to read it. The Moonstone has been described as the first crime-detective novel. At first it was very difficult for me to get into, but maybe that's because I was coming from the language of Asimov and jumping back 100 years (or thousands...) was quite a contrast to the Foundation books. The story revolves around the theft and recovery very large diamond (the moonstone) that was given to a young woman as a birthday present. Reading this book (and probably any book written 150 years ago) really opened my eyes to the changes that have taken place in society; politeness and dressiness as known back then is virtually non-existent today. An interesting device that Collins uses is that the book is written through the eyes of about five people, either taken from their journals or written after the fact. I usually don't like today's mystery books that are written in first-person point of view, but it works very well here. It's long--this edition is nearly 500 pages--but the story really picks up around the last 200 pages and the excitement keeps moving to the end when the mystery is solved. Overall once you get used to the old-style language it's a pretty good book. --JS 6/6/04

Foundation , Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation and Foundation's Edge
Isaac Asimov,
1951, 1952, 1953 and 1982
Ballantine/Del Ray

The Foundation trilogy won the SF Hugo Award as "Best Series Ever". (Asimov wrote the 4th book around 30 years after the first three so it wasn't part of the Hugo Award.) I definitely agree with Hugo. Because these are "hard" science fiction books there were a number of things that were over my head but the interesting things about these books is that they span over 500 years in the course of about eight hundred pages combined. It always took me a page or two to get used to the move ahead in time but don't let any of the above deter you from reading these. They are truly engaging books. The basic gist of the story is that there was a galactic empire that was falling and Hari Seldon set up a Foundation at each end of the galaxy to shorten 30,000 years of (future) barbarism to only 3,000. The books chronicle how the Foundation attempts to bring about Seldon's plan. One really nice thing about Asimov's writing in these books is that when the characters speak he is very descriptive about their tone of voice or way they are speaking so you can really feel the emotion better than in many books. --JS 7/8/04

Around the World in Eighty Days
Jules Verne,

I read this one sometime last year and I really enjoyed it. I forget much of the detail but do remember this one is worth reading again, and it's short! There were some exciting passages such as when a train attempts to jump a chasm. That's the Old West spirit for you. --JS 5/20/04

Lake Wobegon Days
Garrison Keillor,
Penguin Books

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book....well, no. Let me take that back. I got very tired of this one by the end because Keillor seems to be a bitter old man except he wasn't that old when he wrote it. The book is written in first person point of view and I can't help but think of how much of himself is truly in the book. I got tired of this because of the same reason I got tired of A Prairie Home Companion: unnecessary off-color remarks that seem to come out of nowhere. The one good thing about the book though is that because of the quirky characters there are a few of the funniest passages I've read for a long time. However I wouldn't recommend this one because the negativity just gets tiresome. --JS 5/20/04

The Eye of the World
Robert Jordan,

I know Mom and my brother Brandon really liked this series (this is the first book of the Wheel of Time series) but I finally put this one down after the first 180 pages (of nearly 800 for this book). It was just too formulaic for me: There is a town with happiness, a few young men then become part of the action when strangers come to town. The young men then go with said strangers on a journey to save the world from the new evil. This has been hailed as a great book by many but it didn't do much for me. --JS 4/10/04

The Agony and the Ecstasy A biographical novel of Michelangelo Buonarotti
Irving Stone,

This was another great read, a magnificent book. A guy at my work thought that there was too much detail in this but I thought the detail was just fine. Stone writes a lot about what was going on around Michelangelo and enough background information that helps understand the history. One of the best things I liked about the book was the amount of knowledge I gained about the renaissance in Italy and some history of the Medici family of Florence. What was also an eye opener was how much power the popes had--basically they were like kings (or maybe in their own eyes nearly gods) and what they said went, no matter what! You may know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were named after renaissance artists Michelangelo, Leonardo (da Vinci), Raphael and Donatello. What I never realized until reading this book was that they were all Florentines and even lived at the same time (except I'm not clear on Donatello. I think he either died before Michelangelo or in his early years.) --JS 2/17/04

Three Steps to a Strong Family
Linda and Richard Eyre,
Simon and Schuster

The three steps the authors focus on are a family legal system, a family economy and traditions. There are some interesting ideas here, but on the whole I don't think we'll incorporate most of them in our family. For example, when they were writing about how many different traditions they have (many can happen even in one month) I joked to Tonya that they need to write them down in a book to keep track of them. On the next page or two they wrote that they even have such a book! One thing I found a little bothersome in the writing is that the authors or one of their nine children would add their personal experiences but the way they were added it really broke up the flow of the text. --JS 9/4/03

Watership Down
Richard Adams,
Avon Books/Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.

This is definitely one of the best books I have read in a while, and one that I want to add to my collection. Believe it or not, this is actually a very exciting book about a warren of rabbits. I think the genius of this book is that Adams doesn't write the story as if the rabbits were humans, but everything is reflected as to how rabbits would really act in certain situations. The basic story is about a group of rabbits that leave their doomed home in search of a new place to live and their resolve to have freedom there. If you read only one book this year, I would highly recommend Watership Down. --JS 7/24/03

The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger,

I had heard of this book for as long as I can remember so I thought I would finally read it. For the first 30 pages or so it was kind of slow going for me because there didn't seem to be any point to the story, but then I realized it was just a narrative of this 16 year old's life after he was kicked out of school and basically started wandering around New York City. It's kind of written in a stream of consciousness style which is interesting. Although Salinger is being true to the character, the biggest negative for this book is the excessive amount of cussing. To today's way of life, the book isn't very shocking but when read in the 50s it's easy to see how it would be very shocking to the public. For example, he hired a prostitute (but after getting to his hotel room all they did was talk anyway). One thing that I thought was really good about the writing was how Salinger would reveal some things about the character that gave extra insight into why he "turned out" the way he did. These revelations could easily be missed if one was not paying close attention. Overall it was interesting and I don't think I would ever read it again but I might try some of his other works. --JS 6/11/03

Wizard's First Rule
Terry Goodkind,
Tor Books

This is the first book in the Sword of Truth series. This book was not really that exciting and was somewhat predictable. Goodkind is very wordy which really slowed down the action at times. I finally decided to quit when he started describing (not graphically but it was enough for me) how one of the evil characters liked to molest young boys. So, no more Terry Goodkind books for me. --JS 5/17/03

The Cat Who.... series
Lillian Jackson Braun

There are now 24 books in this ongoing mystery series. The first three were written in the late 1960s and she continued the books starting in 1986. The main character (Jim Qwilleran) is a newsman who has a penchant for solving murders, with the help of his Siamese cat, Koko. It sounds corny describing it like this, but these are all excellent books and the best mysteries I've probably ever read. I really enjoy Braun's style of writing because of the detail she gives each character and situation. Another thing I like is that the focal point of her books don't seem to be the mystery. It's more like you can just enjoy reading about the interesting life Qwilleran leads and, oh yeah, someone was killed and he just happens to be involved in solving it. --JS 4/30/03

The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury,

Don't bother with this one. Evidently this is just a bunch of short stories that he tried to wrap together to form some kind of uncoherent story of how we tried to conquer Mars when in the end nearly everyone that went to Mars eventually came back to Earth because of World War III. (Whew!) Chronologically this starts in 1999 and ends in 2026. I spent the first third of the book wondering if there was any real purpose to having written it, and the rest wondering why I was still reading (well, it was just for the review, really!). Some of the stories do make a point but too many of them seem to say nothing at all. I had heard of this book for as long as I can remember, and for something that I thought would have been worth reading I was very disappointed. --JS 4/30/03

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury,

I've read this one a few times and think it is something worth reading every once in a while. The basic story is set in the future and the main character is a fireman that burns books instead of putting out fires. The main point deals with censorship, but there is also a second theme of the dumbing-down of the population. What Bradbury writes about the "family" on their TVs reminds me a lot of today's "reality" TV shows. So 50 years later more than one part of the book is coming true! --JS 4/11/03

The Healing Drum, African Wisdom Teachings
Yaya Diallo and Mitchell Hall,
Destiny Books

I think I picked this up at a library book sale a few years ago and finally read it recently. Diallo is from Mali and writes about tribal society; their music, beliefs and daily life. He eventually moved from Mali to Canada and wrote about the difficulty of being Westernized. This was really an eye-opening book and very interesting. If you can find it, I highly recommend it. --JS 4/11/03