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I probably wouldn’t have touched this book if I had known what it was about. I finished it and loved it before I realized it had won a Pulitzer. It was great in that “I don’t normally like books like this” sort of way. It’s a set of family stories told through the mind and eyes of a dying man. It’s thick with pathos, even as the various stories are full of all sorts of life. The most similar author I thought of was Annie Proulx, a lot of bleak characters, stuck in intractable messes, full of longing. A great short book, pick it up even if you think you don’t usually like this sort of thing.

Spook Country

I was really excited that here was a Gibson book I hadn’t read yet. I enjoy all of his novels. I like the austere settings, the interesting female characters and the semi-scifi aspect of them. This was had all of that, set against a post-9/11 world where massive amounts of time and energy are spent on subterfuge and undoing subterfuge. As with most Gobsin books, it’s a little tough to tell exactly what’s going on and how all the pieces fit together but it’s not confusing or maddening and you can relax and get caught up in the characters and settings.

The Gore

This was a terrific Vermont-y suspense book that seems like it’s going to be a whole bunch of different stories that you’ve read before but in the end it’s interesting, exciting and makes you think. I enjoyed reading this front to back.

The Bookfair Murders

Not sure if it was the datedness of this book that caused me not to like it or just not my type of book. I won it in a library raffle with a bunch of other book-themed books and some cat food. I plowed through it despite sort of figuring out the angle of what was going on partway through. There’s a lot of publishing inside baseball going on here which is maybe interesting if that’s a world you inhabit but to me it was confusing and hard to keep track of. The book is at its strongest when it goes up to Nova Scotia but there’s such a wealth of description I sort of felt like the whole thing was a way to get the author a tax write-off for a vacation. Not great.

The Art Detective

My appreciation for this book as a whole was totally overrun byt the fact that one of the chapters takes place in my neighborhood about 20 years ago. Turns out there was an art collector, more of an art hoarder really, who had a disused church that was totally jam packed with old [and in some cases valuable] early American portraits. When the author was just starting out in his illustrious career, he made a trip to Vermont to check out this guy’s stash. This chapter made me all twitchy and jittery “Hey that happened HERE!” "Hey I want to know more about THAT"

I did manage to sit down and actually read the rest of the book, but it was a little tough to do. This book is totally enjoyable. Mould has a good writing style, an ear for a good story, and apparently an eye for seeing a diamond in the rough. This book talks about discovery. Paintings found in an old church, a picture bought on eBay for a song and restored to become a work of art that command a great price, the detective work, generally, that goes into figuring out whether a painting that looks like it might be by someone famous actually IS by that person. It’s a great set of stories complemented with photos that help you see what Mould is seeing.


Mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand I really like the anti-conventional wisdom sorts of looks at stuff I don’t know much about, with people telling me how to get data and how to interpret it. On the other hand, unlike the first book, this book is smug. The authors are too assured, too disdainful of their subjects and people’s alternate theories. They seem to believe that because there is a model that suggests or supports their interpretation of events, that it is corrct, that there is no other model. I found this book a little too jokey and a better jumping off point for REALLY learning about these topics from some other source that didn’t seem quite so invested in one particular outcome. As usual, these guys are smart and interesting and the book is well-written. Unlike last time, they sort of seem to know it this time and view themselves and the book as product in a way that seemed, to me, as a little too self-aware and the book suffered for it.

Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues

I really enjoyed this colelction of essays and other contributions to the long-running Morbid Curiosity magazine. From encourters with the supernatural, to fascinations with bloodplay to euthanizing a friend dying from AIDS these stories all share... something that is either something familiar or something offputitng depending on your take on the whole wide weird world of stuff. I especially enjoyed the “value add” of extra tidbits, tips and trivia about the article subjects that Lauren added at the end of most of the selections. People who enjoy weird stuff will enjoy this, I’m glad I read it.

Genius Wars

This is the last in the Evil Genius series. I have to say I was hoping for something a little different. This was the same “all is fine, oh no it’s not fine, people are getting hurt, face-off between Cadel and his nemisis” formula. I was hoping to see more of Sonia and more of the burgeoning family setup. And, at the end, in the final faceoff, we have the same unresolved “Is the bad guy dead or just hiding out?” question despite Jinks saying that this is her last book in the series. So, I enjoyed it a lot, it was a perfect plane read, but I think I was hoping for more.

Wild Fire

A great but not amazing thriller about the potential end of the world at the hands of a bunch of crazy right-winger types. I enjoyed the cop aspect of this but the wiseass main character grated on my nerves after a while. Still, I read it all the way to the end and it was long and compelling enough to finish.

Judgment Ridge

I remember when these murders happened. I was living alone on the side of the road in rural Vermont about 20 miles away from Chelsea Vermont which turned out to be where the murderers lived. The muders seemed totally random and it was a weird time to be living in Vermont, a place where you normally don’t lock the door. Since that time, I’ve lived in the same community, in a different location, and have gotten to know other people whose lives were in some way affected by this chain of events. Now we’re reading this book for our book club.

There are other books about the murders but this is the only one that I’ve read. The authors are Boston Globe reporters who seem to have set up a very deliberate story arc that, while effective, does sort of take a lot of the events out of order and, in my opinion, seems to be overly descriptive in the interest of getting an entire book’s worth of story out of a small but powerful event. I found myself skimming some of the more descriptive scenes because I felt that the authors really needed to try to put you in the place of, say, the high school graduation in a rural New England town and if you live this sort of thing every day it can seem sort of precious and redundant. I enjoyed the read, but I’d like to find another book about a similar topic so that I could see how other people frame and portray the same set of events. The authors very clearly had one narrative that their facts adhered to, I’d be interested in other ones.

The Barnum Museum

I like Millhauser because his writing rewards close reading. His stories are detailed and meticulous in some ways and the more work you put into them, the deeper they seem to go. This book is a collection of short stories ranging from the seemingly prosaic [a family playing a board game] to the weird and fantastical [a girl falling down a rabbit hole and what she finds there]. I think of all the stories there was maybe one or two that didn’t totally click with me and the rest were wonderful journeys to places I didn’t normally go. Every time I read a Millhauser collection, I am worried that I have reached the end of his writings and I felt this again this time. I hope there is more.

Down Cut Shin Creek

This is a great short book for kids detailing the WPA program thatpaid for librarians to ride pack horses into the rural areas of Kentucky to promote literacy and reading. It’s a great book full of interesting pictures and anecdotes.

The Speckled Monster

This book has been on my “to read” shelf for the better part of the last five years. I finally got around to reading it. I liked it. Loved parts, hated others. This book is the story of how we finally figured out that giving people small amounts of smallpox will ensure they don’t get the terrible forms of smallpox. It traces the discovery of innoculation through Turkey, London and Boston and looks at the people who promoted it while smallpox raged through the land. The author has done a ton of research for this book. Possibly too much.

While the book has a lot of great information that comes from primary sources, the author lets us know in the beginning that she has invented conversations where they assist the story, and there’s an attention to details [especially royal lineage and the names of pubs and meeting places in Boston] that really don’t add to the main storyline at all. If you like this sort of thing, you will enjoy this book. I felt that it detracted from the general plotline and made the book a little overlong.

Scarlett Takes Manhattan

A terrific porny romp through old time New York and burlesque shows and the weird relationships between cortesans and politicians and women and men. This was written and illustratd by friends of mine and while it’s likely not quite right for the library, it was great reading and enjoyable storytelling.

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

I got a copy of this book as an advanced reader’s copy from a friend who runs a bookstore. I enjoyed it so much I wrote a fan letter to the author. Here’s the text of the email, by way of a book review.

Hey there -- just a brief fan letter to say that I just finished reading an ARC of Good Faith Collaboration and enjoyed it a lot. I run an online community called MetaFilter [well, I’m one of three people who mostly runs the site] and we’re constantly in the reinventing the wheel phase of doing a lot of our work. I am also a Wikipedian, though not a very active one, and it’s interesting to see the similarities between the communities as far as things that work, things that don’t and how things go wrong.

I usually dislike reading what people write about online communities because I think they tend to focus on details like amusing usernames or bumps in the road and ignore the overarching things like “Isn’t it a miracle that this sort of thing mostly works?” I found that you did a great job both explaining that hey it’s not perfect but at the same time showing some of the ways it works well. At the same time you weren’t a slavering dork about the “zomg human potential” transhumanism wankery that I find is often a big problem with people who are maybe a bit too into the online communities at the expense of the rest of their lives.

In any case, I read it start to finish including the footnotes and I hope many other people do too. I hope working with the smarties at the Berkman Center is as much fun as it looks like it will be.

Perfunctorily, Me

Not sure what category to put this book into. It’s a collection of blog posts from the effing librarian, a library blogger who has a witty irreverent blog that I sometimes read. This book was given to me during one of my many travels. And I read it on the way home. Some of the text doesn’t really lend itself to being ported outside of the hypertext millieu, but some does. Some of the jokes don’t quite work but many of them do. I was pleased to see that the book is offered via Amazon [complete with ISBN] or for free via Scribd, so if you’re dying to get more of the effing librarian or just want a nice looking book to put on your librarianan shelf, this one might just do the trick.


I have a really difficult time with genre fiction, trying to figure out if I’ve read a particular book by an author before. Picked up this book at a library book sale and it looks like I’ve never read another book by Kellerman and I’m wondering if that’s even possible. It would explain why I somehow didn’t recognize any of the characters. This book was fine. It was an interesting San Fran mystery. The mystery part was good enough, but it concerned eco-terrorism which is a subject that I know a little bit about. And that part was less interesting to me. I don’t know if Kellerman knows a lot about the subject and was trying to simplify it for his readers, or if he’s just not that well informed but it seemed like he had a few generalized opinions about eco-terrorism, dug up a few facts and then created a few two-dimensional characters that had those facts as major personality traits. It was fine, but seemed overly simple to me, and a little too pat as a way to wrap up the whole story line. In any case, an okay book.

The Dead Beat

This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read lately. I have to apologize to Johnson because she sent this to me graciously a long time ago and it’s been on my “to read” pile for an embarrassingly long time. It was worth the wait. Johnson’s look into obituaries and the culture that has grown up around writing and reading them is a wonderful well-researched look at a subculture that most of us probably know very little about. Her compassionate look at the touchy subject of death and dying and people who immerse themselves in it for a living is interesting and funny without being too funny. Johnson has just the right amount of stories about other people and self-reflection [she is a freelance obituary writer herself] to make this book captivating and compelling. The addition of an appendix of URLs and a photo section really takes it beyond what you’d expect in the standard “New York writer talks about weird things other people don’t know have a cult following” vein. As someone who enjoys those types of books but is frequently left wanting more details, less New Yorker anxiety and more depth, this book completely delivers. Can’t wait to read her next one, also on my nightstand.

Grease Monkey

This was one of the more fun graphic novels that I’ve read recently. The introduction by Kurt Busiek really sets the stage. This book was a labor of love, dribbled out as a series of self-published [well, photocopied] comics over years and years. Finally Eldred got a deal with Tor books and the set of comics became an excellent book. When I start explaining the plot and characters it really doesn’t do the story justice “Okay so it’s in the future and 60% of the Earth’s population has been killed and so these aliens come and give sentience to gorillas after the dolphins turn them down...” It’s mostly a human story about living on a spaceport and trying to make time for having a job and a personal life and oh there’s a team of female spaceship pilots and the guy’s boss is a gorilla. The illustration, storylines and characters are top notch. I am only sorry I can not read this graphic novel for the first time again, a lament the introduction’s writer also reported.

Body Surfing

Read this book for a book club. It was okay but not my thing.

You Are Not a Stranger Here

This book was wonderfully written but totally achingly sad. Everyone is either a super messed up person with some chronic mental illness, or the victim of one. That said, I loved the writing enough to power through the stories, but I might think twice about reading something Haslett wrote again only because there is only so much pain I can take in for pleasure reading.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Usually I read non-fiction. When I’m not reading non-fiction I’m usually reading some sort of quick airplane reading genre fiction, thrillers or mysteries. I used to read a lot more deep sorts of fiction. With complicated sentences and books that made you think after you put them down. Where you wondered about the characters. And got sad when the book was over. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book like that, but this was the one. I got totally immersed in this story of near-future Tokyo and the vaguely but just barely fantastical situation our protagonist finds himself in. It’s a story that feels like it’s imbued with new technology and the internet, but there’s no real tech or internet in it, it just feels like it has it. It’s also a story that has two converging storylines that I didn’t totally hate, which is a bit of a novelty. Delicious book.

The Zero Game

Got this at a library booksale because the binding was a little cracked. Good book, up to Meltzer’s usual thriller level with some Capitol Hill [and mining] trivia tossed in for good measure.

Large Print

Enjoyed this. Love these guys. Everyone should buy a copy of this book, two maybe.


Was a little worried when I picked this up that it was going to be the totally lackluster sequel to the book I really enjoyed, Daemon. There is a part in the middle where it just seems like it’s going to be motorcycle war forever but that part fades away and this book has a lot of the same thought-provoking social-engagement stuff as the first one. I liked it and it’s nice to read techie fiction written by people who really understand tech.

Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians

Any book with evil librarians in the title is going to go right on my reading list. This was an enjoyable romp with a main character who swears he is unlikeable but who isn’t really. It’s the start of what will hopefully be a series of books of a vaguely magical kid, raised by normals, waging this sort of war where the evil librarians are the bad folks. It’s fun and sort of meta for a YA novel and I enjoyed it a lot.

Death on the Lizard

No idea why I couldn’t finish this but it just never got me going. Sort of historical fiction taking place in the Marconi era with a bunch of characters that I guess, from the footnotes, are from other novels. Between the flowery prose, the female character who had a muse that I was pretty sure was imaginary and the footnotes extolling me to read other books by the same author, I could not do anything with this book and evetually put it down.


Do not read this book withotu knowing that it is the first half of a two-part novel. That said, i really enjoyed this. I was down with a headcold and read it all in one big weekend day/night. I like getting to read books about technology that have plausible aspects to them, even if parts of them are sci-fi-ish. This book about a dystopic future where a supergenius game manufacturer has set the wheels in motion for an odd world domination scheme. You have to read it to get it, but I enjoyed it, right up until the ending which was no ending at all because even after 650+ plages I was aonly halfway through. Looking forward to seeing how it all wraps up.

The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings

Richard Brautigan willed his unpublished writings to his friend Edna Webster. They were not doscuvered and published until long after his death. It’s mostly a collection of poems and short fiction but also has two introductory essays which give a bit more Brautigan background, stuff that I as a casual fan never knew. It’s not the most cohesive group of stuff, but it was a lot of fun to find and read.

84 Charing Cross Road

Loved this, a short quick read. The subject: some back and forth letters between screenwriter Helene Hanff and the many employees friends and associates of the London booksellers 84 Charing Cross Road. Much more fun and delightful than I thought it would be.

The Last Templar

In the spirit of Dan Brown types of mysteries, this is a historical-sounding fiction book about a repressed religious mystery. It was more fun to read than the average book of this stripe, but there was a little too much pontificating in that “Let me tell you about the Templars” way in the middle.

The First Counsel

Got this at a library booksale, read it in one sitting on a long plane ride. Good book.

The Devil’s Bones

I was a little skeptical when the criminal justice teacher at the school I work at told me I’d like this. It was forensic criminology fiction which I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy. The author’s name, Jefferson Bass, is a pseudoynm that is made up of parts of the names of the two authors Bill Bass, the guy who created The Body Farm in Tennessee and Jon Jefferson a noted writer. They manage to create fiction that is at the same time based on real events and yet not seemingly sensationalized. This story combined a mysterious possible death-by-burning case and a ripped from the headlines mortuary that has been mass burying bodies instead of cremating them (sound familiar). The characters are likeable and the stories are compelling and a little less over the top than some of the other forensic type mysteries available today. I enjoyed this.

My Stroke of Insight

This book about Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke and subsequent full recovery is fascinating. I’m pretty usre my mom handed it to me, we have a tendency to swap “brain problem” books and I’m sure this was one of them. The story is pretty interesting, Taylor woke up one morning to a pounding headache and found she was having a massive brain stroke. She was [and is?] a neuroanatomist and so once she started on the road to recovery, took special note of her surroundings and what worked and what didn’t work to get her on the road back to wellness. Taylor has a brother with schizophrenia, who is mentioned early in the book as one of the reasons Taylor got into neuroscience in the first place. Most of the book chronicles her path to recovery after the stroke and what she’s learned as a result of having half her brain shut down and have to be rebuilt.

The later half of the book has a lot more of these sorts of insights, about how Taylor learned to let go of her ego and quiet her brain chatter and etc. I liked reading these parts but it wasn’t really what drew me to the book in the first place. I was really interested in Taylor’s story -- the role of her own mother in her recovery can’t be overstated -- and the more introspective chapters I found not quite as interesting.


This book took me years to finish. I enjoyed it, but kept getting dragged away and rarely found a reason to go back. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing about the book but just an observation. It’s about the year I was born, it’s chock full of facts, but the organizing principle is, I guess, sort of a timeline and sort of by incident [so the 1968 Olympics, the Republican Convention, that sort of thing] so it feels like it jumps around a lot. As individual essays, each chapter is excellent, having Kurlansky’s usual mix of well-researched facts and curious details that keep you adding little “look this up” post-its. Enoyed it, but it was hard to read and complete.

The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft

Enjoyed this book. The Gardner Heist happened in recent memory for me and I’ve been reading books about art theft generally. That said, this is another one of those “magazine writer gets obsessed with story, in jects himself into the middle of it, writes personal story about topic” sorts of books. Boser is a great writer and I learned a lot about the heist, but the second part of the book is a lot more about his attempts to find the missing paintings himself and a lot less about what actually happened. Spoiler: he does not find them. A fine book, but not exactly what I was expecting.


Found this book in a free pile I think? It is added to the list of “books I picked up that I read on planes that also themselves have plane crashes in them” Basically this book is about a terrorist who is effective at using computers to advance his terrorism. It was also written before a lot of us were really using the graphical web so much and so a lot of it winds up being about virtual reality. That said, as a book with a lot of VR in it, this was not bad. The bad guy is a little more sadistic than I usually enjoy reading about [some nasty torture scenes] but otherwise for a book about computers, I did not find it totally implausible or insuting of my intelligence.

Silent in the Grave

Found this book acidentally when I was searching for something to read on the long flight home from Anchorage. Liked the cover, took the book home. And I liked it! It’s the first in a series of ... I’m not even sure what the type of book is. They’re vaguely Victorian mysteries, only with a tenacious and interesting female lead character and her vaguely mysterious part-Gypsy (guy who winds up being) partner. As themey mysteries were, I liked this one a lot and would pick up the next in the series if I found it.


I read this stupid book again by accident. Didn’t like it as much the second time.

Spix’s Macaw

[review pending]

In The Woods

This book was terrific. Tana French manages to put together a book that is part mystery and part... nostalgia bit without any of the parts really screwing up the other parts. The modern day part of the story is about a detective who has to investigate a child who was murdered in a local woods. The kicker is that this cop was himself the victim of a crime in the same area. He has a female partner who he has a super close relaitonship with and they have a sort of nice thing going. And then, as you’d expect, things fall apart. I loved the writing and I loved the story and unlike other books I’ve read this month, this one did not have a sadistic streak in it which meant that dealing with difficult topics [childrens' death, possible child abuse and child sexual abuse] was okay reading.

The Last of the Bush Pilots

The Niceville public library had a section where they were giving away paperback books. These were not books in the booksale, these were free. I took two and when I found they were both about the same again, about MY age, I realized that they were probably weeding books that didn’t circulate that were more than 40 years old. This book was great. It tells stories from the bush pilot years, when Alaska was still much more of a frontier and before there were commercial airline flights to much of the country.

The stories the author, himself a bush pilot, tells are even more poignant when you realize that the world he describes [including knowing people who were in Alaska when Will Rogers' plane crashed there] is even more distant now than when the book was written. I enjoyed a lot of his stories of early explorations, Alaska wildlife and natural scenes, and narratives about how some of the small native villages became bigger towns and cities. This is not a great book to read while you’re on an airplane however since many of the early bush pilots' lives we cut short by plane crashes.

The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art

This was an inteersting book about art theft in Ireland. It was a little all over the place, but mostly covered two high profile robberies that took place at a famous house called Russborough which was robbed twice over a few decades. The author talks about how the thefts occurred and then backtracks and explains how the police figured out various things and how the criminals were caught. Along the way we get a decent history of the Irish police force and some lessons in art history. While I might have preferred a more straightforward narrative approach [i.e. just sort of linear and sequential] I did feel that I learned a lot of things that were otherwise sort of tangential to this story that I would not have learned otherwise.

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense

I read this book during a week that I was blogging for BoingBoing. As a result, the book is full of little scraps of paper where I put a note to look more stuff up about whatever topics online. I enjoyed reading this book, enjoyed Brooks' tone and felt like he did a lot of the extra work that took interesting science problems and conundrums and made them into a book that was a fascinating read, in many times inteviewing people who had been at the heart of a science controversy several decades ago. I have the same criticism that other people had -- the book suffers [to my mind] from the inclusion of homeopathy which [again, to me] falls more into the “woo woo” scale of non-sensemaking then say “why is the universe continuing to expand?” sorts of questions.

My Darling, My Hamburger

I haven’t read this book probably since high school or possibly college. It’s aged sort of weirdly. It’s like many young adult novels are nowadays, full of drama and bad parents and girls getting pregnant. However, unlike books nowadays, the teen who gets pregnant doesn’t have the legal abortion option, so the drama is even more dramatic and depressing.

Zindel always had a good ear for kid/parent interactions and each of these kids is so clearly a product of their weird families and the baggage that they bring into their young adulthood. At its core, it’s the story of two girls who are friends, the popular one with the terrible stepfather and the dumpy one with the decent family. The popular one is mean to the dumpy one, etc etc. I still enjoyed it, quick read that it was because the kids seem so teenlike. Even though I’m now reading it through an adult’s eyes, it really felt like the high school that I remember, hellish and dramatic and not as big a deal as I thought it was at the time.


I’m sure that Bill Buford is a delightful man, but this book struck me as another in the series of “Bill hangs out with people who are vaguely sociopathic and makes what they do seem almost noble” stories. If you’re a foodie, you’ll really love the explanations of what goes on in a three star restaurant kitchen, and you might enjoy the tantrums and general bad behavior from the fancypants chefs. I enjoy Buford’s writing a great deal but he always seems to hang out with assholes who I get tired of reading about.

Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome

People seem to have a fascination lately with reading books by or about people with Autism. Temple Grandin is a well known author and the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was also very popular. There’s even a television show that features someone with presumed Asperger’s who is played for humorous effect. That said, there are very few books written by people with permanent and yet not debilitating or degenerative disabilities. This is one of those rare books. It’s written in interview style where the two authors Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz have conversations with their parents and other family members which are then transcribed and grouped loosely into chapters. The book spans the authors' late teenage years and sees both of them through their high school graduations and planning for the future.

Both men are the product of very caring close families and both were born when very little was known about Down Syndrome. Mitchell’s mother was told he would likely never sit up or speak; her obstetrician suggested the boy be immediately institutionalized. The families grew to know each other through local channels and helped their sons grow into aware and able young men. Most of this book takes place in their own words and involves them talking about subjects like how they get along with other kids, how they interact with their families, what their hopes and dreams are for the future. I was a little sad to not be able to find more information about Mitchell and Jason online to see where their future took them after this book -- which has been reprinted in the last few years -- because I was curious to see what happened after the book ended which I think is a sign of a captivating read.

You Are Not a Gadget

I read this book under deadline. I did a short interview with Jaron Lanier that is set to appear in Library Jounrnal. I had an uncorrected proof of the book and I enjoyed reading it and wildly writing in the margins. You can read my interview online here.