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« January, 2003 »
The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New

Rosenberg and her husband Bern Marcowitz started out their relationship with books as booksellers, but not just any booksellers; they had a bookstore in Manhattan that only sold dog books. New books and many old books, which became the subject of this book. The bookstore is now closed but they still deal books over the Internet and as such, still have occasion to find and repair old books. This book is a handy manual for people who are concerned with books' appearances for resale purposes, or who just want to know how best to clean their own old books. The advice is sensible and the authors do not shy away from telling you “you need to have this part done by a professional” if more major work needs to be done. The dog metaphor can be a bit overstated if you are not a crazy dog fan yourself [I am, so it’s fine with me] and the authors sometimes take on a “gentle reader...” tone that can obscure their actual message soemtimes but overall this was a worthwhile book that would have probably benefitted fom a few more pictures in some of the more complicated “how to” sections.

Fast Food Nation

Big suprise, I liked this book. Since came to it late in the game, I had gotten a lot of feedback, mostly from people who either found it “too tough to read” or hadn’t read it because they were afraid it would be too awful. My take on it was that I didn’t think the book went far enough. This is not necessarily a criticism since if your book reads like a PETA advertisement, no one will even turn a page of it. On the other hand, there was definitely a slightly positive flavor to some of it that was not what I was expecting. Schlosser talks about big successful fast food moguls and kids who enjoy their fast food jobs at the same time as he is telling scary slaughterhouse stories and really creepy facts about the industry [like McDonalds makes more money on real estate than they do on food. read that again, they are NOT in the food business. surprising, huh?]

If you’ve never thought too critically about fast food, this book will be a big eye opener. If you’re constantly critiquing capitalism and GMOs and meat eating, then there will not be as much new information. Schlosser seems to sum it all up by implying that Republicans are the reason that we have all this terribly corporate food culture in this country though I think it is really more complicated than that. While Republicans are responsible for some of the more egregious legal loopholes that allow the fast food industry to flourish, a pro-business atmosphere in this country [supported by both Democrats and Republicans] is really more to blame. Add to that the laziness of the average American, the decline in numbers of people who cook at home [or even think they have time to] and the stupid “we have to earn money for our sharegolders or they can sue” US mentality of American capitalism and the mess we’ve made for ourselves should come as a suprise to nobody.

Zen for Beginners

I find Zen interesting because it is a religion that doesn’t require the worship of a higher power. It’s also interesting, though maddening, to have people try to explain it to you. Every now and then I try to read a book that explains Zen to dorks like me, and every time I feel lke there is some little pixie with a wry smile saying “Oh I couldn’t possibly explain it to you...” and then they try. This book really does give the old college try to making sense of the centuries of Buddhist teaching and subsequent Zen lineage. It has lots of graphics and short punchy paragraphs like all of the “for beginners” books. However, a lot of the supplemental text is in this all-caps calligraphy style which is very hard to read and some of the artwork [clip arty stuff mainly] is really not that nice to look at. So, while I think I do have a deeper understanding of what goes into Zen Buddhism and how it may relate to me, reading this book just wasn’t that much fun.

Forever Peace

I didn’t read Haldeman’s book on the subject of war which came out before this one. I’m not sure if I’d need to. This book posits a future dystopia where the superpower that the US has become is involved in relentless war against underpowered and undertrained rebel insurgents from other countries [sound familiar?]. The new twist is that much of the war games take place remotely. American soldiers sit in cages safely underground and manipulate “soldierboys” far away while they blow away the locals. There are groups of ten linked together via brain jacks that give the collective ewar team a group mind of a sort. There is a slight paranoiac undercurrent when word gets to the soldiers that many of the roles they are slated to play may be much more for the purpose of show than actual conflict. The rich folks have nano-technology that basically reduces everyone in the society to the leisure class. The poor still have nothing. Then the leisure elite figures out a way to maybe make it all change.

I am amazed that I have not managed to read Haldeman before. He is a skilled writer and plotsman and his interweaving of the subtle secondary plot of race relations in the semi-totalitarian future is graceful and masterful. The book has a tough intro 20 pages or so where you are sure it’s going to be one long shootemup, but perseverance is worthwhile and the book really delivers.

Magic and Madness in the Library

This book was one of those rare finds and exciting also because it was newly printed. It is an attractive letterpressed book from a small press of excerpts of library stories. If that weren’t enough, it is illustrated by custom woodcuts by Frank Eckmair. Some of the excerpts are already well-known to the library community, such as Borges' library story and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Others are just small excerpts from other well-known texts like a few paragraphs from Don Quixote or Voltaire. The overall result is a book about books and reading that is in and of itself wonderful to read and look at. A tour de force!

A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry

This book was one of the slowest books I’ve read in a long time. Not because the book itself was in any way hard, or even uninteresting, but because the subject matter is so thick and laden with emotion and packed tightly fact pressed against fact. The book has a straightforward thesis: we know a lot about what happened to Jews during World War II, but we know very little about what happened to them afterwards, this is an exploration into the lives of European Jews, decade by decade. Kurlansky follows some characters through the times and anecdotally notes others. He avoids going too much into the lives of Jews in Israel, or Jews who moved to the United States. He tells a few concentration camp stories, or his characters do, but not many.

Kurlansky is himself Jewish [which I learned by reading the semi-annoying reader’s guide at the back of the book afterwards] and this informs his writing which is always sympathetic to though not always in agreement with,the characters he discusses. The upshot was: things were tough for the Jews before, during, and after the war. In some cities, people were so embarassed by the returning gaunt hollow-eyed Jews that they basically ignored them. Some countries decided that reparations would be made to “all victims of the war” which meant that Jews who had been sent to concentration camps by Germans in cahoots with local authorities had no more rights to get back their stuff and reclaim theirlives than someone who had had a bomb fall ontheir house. Jews rebuilt their communities, moved on with their lives and fell into two very different camps: those who would not talk about the Holocaust and those who could not stop. This book talks about both kinds and particularly explores the changes in attitudes towards Jewishness and Judaism over generations of European Jews.