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The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction

Randomly picked this up at a library booksale. It’s fascinating to read this long and thorough analysis of both the birth of ecology and also the growing concerns about extinctions written for an age where if you didn’t go to Madagascar to see Tenerecs, you might not ever get to see them. Quammen travels to may remote locations in order to get a peek at niche populations of various animals and along the way gives you a primer on how we know what we know about evolution, biology, extinction and finally island biogeography or how animals evolve and/or go extinct in tightly bounded populations which can be islands or it can be isolated stands of rainforest if you happen to be an animal that gets around by going from tree to tree.

This was a hard book to keep going with. I must have started it six weeks ago. It has a lot of interesting (to me) expositions of different animal situations and Quammen going to inspect local populations and then less interesting (to me) discussions of the general field of evolutionary biology and various infighting and a lot of personality stuff that I was less interested in. Also I would get distracted looking up these animals on the internet to see what had happened to them in the last 15 years. Now that I’m done reading it, I may try to see if there is a companion site so I can see what happened to all of those animals. This is one of the best books I have read this decade. Quammen is an amazing writer and researcher as well as having a wry sense of humor that occasionally (but not too often) finds its way into the pages.

Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical

A friend handed this to me as I was preparing to take a long train trip and I read it in fits and starts. It’s a YA collection of freak show fiction, stories specifically about sideshows and circuses and that sort of thing. A few of the stories have no circus on them at all but some other odd or mysterious event. A few of the stories are in illustrated graphic format. Many of them stick with you. It’s a book for teens so it’s not too freakish and is more of a sideshow-starter volume, but worth picking up if you thing Geek Love may be a little too mature for your freak-fascinated teen.

The Hobo Handbook: A Field Guide to Living by Your Own Rules

Got this form a friend who knows how much I like to travel. This is a neat little guide to how you can maybe drop out of the rat race. It’s got a scary quiz in the first few pages where you answer a few questions about your personality and your comfort level with various things and then Mack gives you advice on whether you’d be good at being a hobo [for me: no]. Which is fine, I guess, assuming hobo means riding the rails. And at some level this book is good at giving you various hobo options that aren’t just freight hopping but it seems to suffer from a lack of focus. The prime example sidebars of the “Did you know X was a hobo?” are all about drifters and freight hoppers and most of the book caters towards people riding the rails with some not-too-veiled snootiness towards people still stuck in “the rat race”

And yet, at the same time, I don’t get the feeling that Mack has actually done any of this. While I’m sure he’s traveled at times and stayed in hostels or with friends and maybe met other travelers, there is no first person commentary about any of the things he suggests [making stew from squirrels, avoiding the bulls in train yards] and so instead of a guide to doing this sort of thing for real, we get more of a well-researched “this is what I have learned form other people” approach without really even citing those people. All in all while I liked reading this book, I learned very little from it except that Mack is probably a good researcher and reads the same websites that I do. The graphic design which includes pages designed to look thumbed over and messy (and the occasional black on grey text) doesn’t really add much and in fact makes the book sometimes difficult to read. All in all an okay book for someone who knows nothing about hobo culture, I’d skip it otherwise.

Is This the Way to Fiction?

I’ve got a standing search to look for graphic novels that I haven’t already read when I am browsing paperbackswap and if I have any credits available I’ll try to get the things I haven’t read that aren’t manga. This was an interesting but uneven collection of Sassaman’s work. It was strongest during his childhood recollection pieces, about the Marx Brothers and about going to the Jersey Shore (particularly poignant this month) and least strong where he was just outlining slice of life stuff. He’s a good illustrator, but a better storyteller when there is a story to tell but it seemed like sometimes he’d make up a story if one wasn’t readily available. I’d like to pick up some of his other work to see if it gives off a different vibe.

A.L.I.E.E.E.N.: Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties

Didn’t know what to expect, just knew that I loved Trondheim’s other stuff. This is definitely more weird and Woodring-like but I think that makes it even more interesting since there are a lot more options when you’re not writing autobiographically and your made up characters speak a made up language. There’s a lot of rich detail and a few simple stories that weave in and out of each other and I thought it was a good read.

Uneasy Happiness

Another in the Little Nothings series. Enjoyed this a lot but maybe not in the OMG way I felt when I read the first one. Terrifically illustrated and Trondheim gets himself into some interesting situations which makes the autobiographical stuff work so well.

The Collectors

This book was on a popular reading table at the school I work at and I noticed it was about libraries. I guess Baldacci has a whole slew of these books and this one felt like being dropped in the middle somewhat. It’s a story about cons and rare books and libraries and Washington DC and killers and spies and double-crossers. It kept me interested while I was reading it but one of the main plot points didn’t wrap up and now I feel like I have to consider reading the sequel. I’m not totally sure I want to go all in with this particular series, though I enjoyed some of the scenes featuring the library and librarians and there are little fun parts for library lovers.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

A modern retelling of The Abortion with secrets and codebreaking. I enjoyed this book which I received as an Advanced Reader’s Copy. There are old mysteries and new mysteries and Google is as much a character in this story as the bookstore and the books themselves. It’s rare to get a book about books that both gets the appeal and the hold of the printed word and at the same time can describe the passion behind a lot of the technology that we interact with daily. Usually I find authors are steadfastly in one or the other “camp” and I was happy to see Sloan was not tipping his hand in that regard and able to write characters that lived firmly in both worlds. Curious to see what, if anything, he chooses to do with penvmbra.com

The Dog Dialed 911

I always go into reading books like this amazed at the things that I can obtain through the freedom of information act. The schadenfreude that I get from seeing the weird underside of a lot of people’s private lives in a distant second. I enjoyed reading this, I don’tt know if it was always funny but it was pretty much always interesting.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Slightly more conflicted about this book than the previous one. Enjoyed it, but there were some weird dead ends and turns that didn’t make much sense. Our heroine gets breast implants? There is a missing sister who stays missing for the entire book? It’s all about freedom of the press? Enjoyed this but it was much more a Blomkvist story than a Sander story which is totally AOK but made it less fascinating to me.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency

Grabbed it because of the cover and I’d wanted to read more by Eddie Campbell since reading From Hell. This was a short turn-of-the-last-century story about crime and forgery. Well told and illustrated.

Thinking In Pictures: The Making Of The Movie Matewan

John Sayles wrote this book before Temple Grandin wrote hers. It’s a book about how he made the movie Matewan, complete with the entire text of the movie in the back. It’s great. Sayles is interesting to listen to because he has a lot of integrity and he’s really trying to explain how this stuff works, not just promote himself or his movie or some ideal of film making that he aspires to. I enjoyed this movie when I saw it and it was neat to get to go back and hear about how it all came together, particularly the casting decisions and the compromises they had to make in the interests of money or time or both.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

I had a five hour plane ride and I had this book to read. They were a great match.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

At some point I read this book over the past few months but can’t now remember when that was. I know this because I’ve now read the second book in the series and went to see what I’d written about the first book. I saw the movie before I read the book and so what people had warned me about “Sort of sadistic. Maybe too rapey” I was already ready for. In fact, the second book is a lot less sadistic than the first one though there is still a lot of violence. I like the sort of crazed female lead character, probably more so since I can picture her in my mind as looking like the woman who plays her in the movie. I enjoyed this book.

Moving Target

Another one of those great mystery books about a book. This one is heavy on the romance and a little less heavy on the bibliophilia, but Lowell does an admirable job predicting (when this book was written in 2002) what sorts of technologies people in the high class rarities business would be using that still rings true in 2012. This is the first book of Lowell’s that I’ve read and from the Amazon reviews it seems that people don’t think it measures up to her better work. I liked this book just fine but I like even more that there are better books by her yet to read.

Opium Fiend

Enjoyed this. Got it from a friend who knows the author so I read it before I’d read much about it. I enjoy reading about drugs and expat stories are often interesting and this book was a good combination of the two. This is Martin’s own story basically about how he became an opium addict, went through detox and .... maybe still smokes a little now and then, hard to say. The book is more about his fascination with being a collector of things, in this case both opium paraphernalia and lore, and how that frenzy toward collecting drove the rest of his decision-making.

It’s tough to tell by reading just this one account if Martin’s claims about himself are true. He’s very insistent that he is one of the most knowledgeable people on the history of opium and particularly the tools of opium smoking in the entire world and maybe that’s true. He has a high opinion of himself and his observations which makes this book an interesting read but also makes me want to read more about the topic generally to get other opinions. As he slides into opium dependence, he writes well about what it’s like to not really notice that you are getting trapped by a thing until you’re already too far gone. There is also a lot of space in the middle of the book where, describing his opium smoking with other people, he reaches a level of detail that is probably fascinating if you are high, and less so if you are not. This is a familiar thing to people who are recreational drug users. The sheer amount of factual detail (plus a great bibliography) makes this book really worth a looksee. For someone who talks so much about himself, Martin does not have much of a presence online besides what can be found via his Opium Museum website.

Low Moon

A weird and interesting spare graphic novel by a Norwegian cartoonist who usually goes by the pen name Jason. I found this at the library and it was one of the thicker graphic novels that I hadn’t yet read. It’s a collection of four sort of weird stories all of which feature vaguely animal-like characters in more or less human situations. There’s a bleakness and a strangeness to their interactions that I found pretty interesting.

Beanworld Book 3: Remember Here When You Are There!

Loved all three of these books. Two of them are an old set of stories repackaged and sold with the newer third volume, all put out by Dark Horse. This is one of those graphic novels that you read and enjoy so much you wonder why you have never heard of it before. It’s a very black and white, 2D internally consistent world with a few major and minor players and almost a Mister Rogers type vibe where people are more or less happy if slightly naive and the days have a peaceful repetitive quality to them. Marder’s drawings are simple and yet very full of expression. The story lines are simple and yet open to a lot of interpretation. The characters are archetypes yet also complicated. Folks may also know Marder as the president of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a really important organization that helps fight censorship. Marder also has a website which helps keep you up on what he is doing as well as BeanWeb which is a fun [and dormant] fan site.

Beanworld Volume 2: A Gift Comes!

Read these all in a row. Reviewed all together.

Beanworld Book 1: Wahoolazuma!

Read these all in a row. Reviewed all together.

The Murder Room

This was a really well put together book about the three principal figures of the Vidocq Society, a group of people with an interest in crime-solving and forensics who get together at fancy events and try to solve cold cases. They had come to my attention when one of the top members, Frank Bender a known artist and criminalist who was great at recreating faces from skulls, passed away and had a glowing obit in the New York Times. Someone suggested this book and I really enjoyed it. It goes into specific cases and how different people from different backgrounds [more standard detective, forensic psychologist and profiler, Bender the artist] approach things and how they work better often when they are together. It’s a great book for people who enjoy true crime stories but find a lot of true crime novels a bit too over the top sensationalist. This has a lot more of the seemingly boring cop work behind the scenes and makes a much more interesting read.

Cracker Ingenuity

This was a Possum Living type book with a more humorous slant loosely about how to do more with less in a particularly Southern/Redneck style. Hard to tell from just reading it how much of this advice is tongue-in-cheek and/or ironic and how much of it is worth paying attention to, but the book’s design and layout are interesting and keep you thumbing through it and I learned some things I hadn’t known before.

The Surrogate Thief

Another enjoyable cop-type procedural by Mayor. Liked this one especially because it ventured into Massachusetts where my sister works at the crime lab as well as into Waterbury to Vermont’s crime lab, so I got to see some places I recognized. Fun and interesting book, great ending. Classic Mayor.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

A collection of short essays from Thomas Lynch a Catholic poet and small-town undertaker who talks about his job and other related topics. I didn’t always agree with his perspective but it was always interesting to read.

The Extinction Club

Picked it up on a bargain rack thinking “This looks interesting, why haven’t I read it?” and then realized through reading it: because it is terrible. The author is so into his own head and his own story (about his wife who is having a baby, about the narrative devices he creates out of whole cloth, about his own musings about what he thinks is funny or interesting about this story) that he basically fails to tell you most of the story. This might be okay if you liked the guy and the way his mind worked. I didn’t.

Catching Fire

Second in the series and I think the first book I’ve read from start to finish as an ebook. Also enjoyable.


I somehow managed to not read any of these books when they came out even though I knew they were immensely popular. And then for some reason, I think because I had seen the ads for the movie, I decided to read them all over about a week. I enjoyed them, I had some issues with them. All in all I was not only happy to read them but happy to have one more popular book that I liked well enough that I can talk to people at the library about. Lots more thinky stuff about how the kids are all used as pawns and a lot of the critique of nation-states that I perceived in the texts, but as stories even the books were quite good and it’s a refreshing change to see a female lead who isn’t (entirely) either an emotionless robot or a dim-witted pawn. The books, it seems, make her out to be some of each from time to time but not wholly one or the other.

The Hunger Games

Thought I’d like this book after seeing the advertisements for the movie. I was not wrong.

The Cure for Everything

Enjoyed this. Caulfield is a heath researcher in Canada who I had previously not known that much about but I guess he’s hot shit in his field. This book attempts to look at the science behind many of the health claims we deal with in the modern world and not in that “Here are the facts that support the fad that I am currently publicizing” way but in looking at the analysis and meta-analysis to help answer questions like “Wat is the best way to lose weight?” and “Is there any proof that naturopathy works?” and “What’s the best way to exercise?” Along the way Caulfield uses himself as a guinea pig, getting his genetics tested and going on a healthy diet and talks to many other professionals in the field to get at what is really going on and why we might not be getting the best information from the media we consume. I enjoyed it. Caulfield is engaging as a writer and the stuff he says mostly makes sense. People interested in health who are sick of the usual New York Times analysis of current food and exercise trends and reporting will find this a breath of fresh air.

Any Empire

Loved this, had a little trouble following it. This richly illustrated story about kids who grow up and move and reconnect all along with a background of war and warlike activities had a bunch of interesting threads but didn’t cohere for me. Might have been the heat wave, might have been the book. It’s made me want to go track down a lot more of Powell’s stuff because while this may not have been my particular story, I like his general style and would like to try something else.

The True History of the Elephant Man

Was surprised how good this was. I’ve been interested in Very Special People and freaks for quite some time. There’s often a paucity of information just being repeated over and over again and it was neat to read something that went back to the original source material [the book has several appendices in addition to the main book] to basically get as much information as we could not just about Joseph Merrick but about the people who wrote about him and met him at the time so that more could be learned.

Library of Shadows

A good mystery book with a bit of a magical realist vibe to it, this is the story of a high powered lawyer whose father dies mysteriously who then finds himself the heir to his estranged father’s bookstore. Then he comes upon a shadowy collection of book folks who have some slightly supernatural powers, and then stuff starts to get even deeper and more involved. This book was translated from the original Danish which may or may not explain a bit of why it sounds so stilted. I enjoyed the characters and the story but occasionally felt that it lapsed into cliche and/or tropes. However, at its core this is a story about books and readers and listeners and that alone (well maybe in addition to the long train ride) propelled me forward into finishing it to figure out what happened and whodunit.

Deliver Me From Nowhere

I wound up having this book in my hands because my friend found it at an ocean cabin and we realized it had been checked out of the Providence Public Library and never returned. So I grabbed it, determined to repatriate it, and while I had it I read it. It was great. A small collection of very bleak stories about gender and salvation and poverty taking place in the rural south. Poignant and raw without being overly shocking or ... I don’t know, in your face? I have a hard time with stories that are filled with graphic sex and violence and while these stories are often about such things, they are rarely spelling it all our for you, preferring instead to imply what others might write down. I like that choice and I loved this book of stories, but I’m still returning it to the library.

Rex Libris Volume One

I got a phone call from the guy who is making this graphic novel into a screenplay soon to be a major motion picture, we hope. I had heard a lot about it and hadn’t read it, so I ILLed it from my local library, expecting great things. And while I am still looking forward to the movie, I can’t say as I enjoyed the comic. The story is great, but the illustration is computer-generated which just isn’t my taste. There’s also a metanarrative running through the entire story that I found sort of confusing and distracting. Plus the type is SMALL and while this has never been a problem for me in any other graphic novel, it was a problem here. So the book gets returned to the library, unread.

Bar Harbor Police Beat

Sassaman has combed the pages of his local paper for a decade and assembled a great curated collection of small town police activities and a reflection of the small town itself. Anyone who lives in a small town will recognize the combination of community management and occasional crime-solving that make up the job of a rural police department. Sassaman has picked out the good stuff and arranged and organized it to highlight patterns and trends that he then comments on. A fun collection, especially for people who have been to Bar Harbor or any other small vacation town.

The poet and the murderer

A really interesting book grabbed from a booksale shelf because it looked quirky. This book starts off telling the tale of an Amherst MA librarian’s quest to buy an unpublished Emily Dickinson poem. Along the way he discovers that the poem is a forgery and not just a forgery but a creation of one of this century’s greatest forgers, Mark Hoffman, the man responsible for creating hundreds if not thousands of documents creating a false history of the Mormon church, a man now in jail for murder. Worrall does a really good job of telling the story without being too precious or twee. There is a lot of good research and interviews with key players. While I think Worrall does seem to have a bit of a distaste for the Mormon church and personal sense of “This is how it went down” that I think colors the story more than it might be with a “just the facts ma’am” approach (concerning Hoffman, Dickinson, people’s feelings about the whole situation after the fact), it remains mostly very readable and a real page turned.

The Best American Short Stories 2011

I love these collections but usually there are at least one or two stories that I find wincingly terrible. Not so this year. Brooks has assembled an interesting assortment of very different stories that don’t all have that “Written for the New Yorker” feeling to them. While there are a lot of the same themes threading throughout--bad marriages, Rome, quirky childhoods, lost loves, the usual--the stories don’t all feel “of a type” the way these collections usually do. I raced through this set and really enjoyed the range and variety of writing.

The Vermont Monster Guide

This was a gift from some friends, totally unexpected and I read it all almost immediately. One of the things that is great about Vermont generally is how the whole state can seem like a small town. Reading about all these real and possibly apocryphal monster reports and sightings in towns I’ve heard of and/or been to was super fun. I like Citro’s work generally and this combination of his research and humor combined with some great illustrations by talented illustrator Stephen Bissette made it a really fun read.

Groovitude: A Get Fuzzy Treasury

What’s almost more amusing than this book, which I enjoyed quite a lot, is seeing the people who are totally ticked off and annoyed by it on Amazon. I can understand how the content -- a mean cat and a dopey well-meaning dog who live with their ad exec owner and have amusing domestic interactions -- aren’t for everyone, but I’d think that would be the sort of thing you’d know before you bought it, maybe? The only gripe people seemed to have that was legit was that this compendium is basically the first two books combined with some Sunday comics. So, if you already have one of the other books, you may not want this one. I’m not sure why I love this collection so much but having had dogs and cats a lot of my life it just makes me smile a lot of the time.

My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere

This book was great fun. Orleans is the type of person who finds all sorts of random things to talk about and makes it the most fascinating thing you’ve never heard of. She injects herself enough into her essays to make them seem real but not so much that it’s all filtered through her own sensibilities and you wind up annoyed. Every essay makes you feel that it’s about someone or something you’d like to know more about, from the Sunshine Grocery in NYC to the fertility monastery (?) in Bhutan to climbing Mount Fuji. It’s good writing that happens to be about travel. Most of it appeared previously in the New Yorker so if you know her writing there, you may have already seen a lot of it.

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"

This was one of those “Oh hey when winter rolls around I will really hunker down and finish this book” situations. But then winter never came and the book was overdue and I had to return it though I am excited to maybe try again next winter.

Internet Fraud Casebook

Was hoping to be able to finish this but it just wasn’t happening and then I’d already renewed it once and it was overdue. So, this is a neat casebook that talks about the many different ways the internet can be used to defraud people. And it’s fascinating because there are all these different scams. However the writing is really uneven and some of the chapters are ones where you feel like you’ve learned something and others are hard to even figure out what is happening. Ultimately I just couldn’t get excited to keep reading it.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

No idea where I get some of these books. This is a great collection of super short stories, most with no named protagonist. They’re magically realistic but not in that usual “then an angel appears” way but more like “here is an octopus, he lives in an apartment” sort of way. I really enjoyed the voice and the tone of these stories, plus the way many of them spoke of the sea.

Ship Fever

Someone suggested that if I like Geraldine Brooks I might also like this. It was great! A combination of historical fiction--a genre I thought I didn’t like--and weird science/medicine topics. The title story, saved til last, is a harrowing account of the quarantine at Grosse Isle for the Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Enough human interest to be interesting. Enough medical detail to pique one’s interest in the whole topic. And through it all, it’s quite well written and offers a peek into the possible lives of long-dead scientists as well as some nice gender balance which I often find wanting in these sorts of books.

I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics

This book was a belated gift from my boyfriend who knows I love stand-up comedy. This is a great collection of crazy stories from the road, from a wide assortment of people you’ve probably heard of. Some of the stories are jokes in and of themselves and some of them are just weird and unusual things that happened to people, or that they did of their own volition. A well-curated collection of stories, well worth the time of anyone interested in the real world of stand-up comedy.

Here’s Looking at Euclid

I read these sorts of hobby math books for fun. This was one of my favorite so far. Unlike other books about math that seem to get hung up on stuff like “Let’s talk about VOTING for 50 pages ...” this one is broken down into short chapters about people and things that are slightly more current and slightly more interesting. I found myself going to Wikipedia or other sources to read more about some of the topics that Bellos only touched on. I rarely found my eyes glazing over when his discussion became too abstruse and I think I really understand a few things that I wasn’t clear on before [what slide rules were for, the different sorts of infinities and the history of lottery and gambling gaming situations]. I feel like Bellos' enthusiasm for the subject is infectious and he was able to get complicated subjects across well without seeming too cutesy or jokey. He also went and did first person interviews with some of the famous mathematicians that he mentions and these provide a really humanizing look at some fairly esoteric subjects. If you can read one popular math treatise this year, make it this one.

Fart Powder: Bubble in the Bathtub

This book is the second in Nesbo’s Fart Powder series, a romp through time with two young kids Lisa and Nilly and their friend Doctor Proctor the scientist and some good and bad guys along the way. I started with this book but it’s still fully understandable without reading the first book. Along the way the kids encounter historical figures you might have heard of like Napoleon and Joan of Arc. While there’s a time travel aspect to the book [there is special soap you can mix up in the bathtub that allows you to move through time] it’s much less science fiction and much more of a wacky caper book and Amazon categorizes it under “Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths > Norse” for whatever reason. The book is translated from the original Norwegian.

There are funny fart jokes and other goofiness along the lines of Captain Underpants. This is a thick book, over 400 pages, but the text is good sized, the chapters are short and there are lots of illustrations along the way. Ultimately, it’s a story about friendship and creative problem solving. The two young characters each have distinct and enjoyable personalities and I found myself eagerly flipping pages to see what would happen next.

BirdTalk: Conversations with Birds

I’ve listened to the birds in the same place Powers lives, but I’ve never thought to talk to them before. This book is a fun ramble through many different poetic and contemplative perspectives of birdsongs and communication generally. Powers has a way with words and the connections he makes will often make you see and hear things in a new light. I enjoyed his sharing of particularly apt poems or little historical snippets along with his (sometimes apologized for) jokey turns of phrase and other allusions. The book itself is lovely to behold, feels good in your hands and is tastefully designed with lovely illustrations by Powers' wife. A great gift for anyone who has read all the “standard” bird books and who could use encouragement to not just watch and listen but to speak back and dialogue.

Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World of Food: Brains, Bugs, and Blood Sausage

Zimmern loves food and travel and he likes to go off the beaten path. This book is a collection of essays about his far-off and weird travel experiences and the food that he ate in various places. From catching bats and roasting them over an open fire to eating the still-beating heart of a frog, to going on a puffin hunt in a remote location in Iceland, Zimmern enthusiastically recounts not just the tastes but the culture and the stories of the people he meets. He makes a distinction between being a tourist and being a traveler, writing about hoe he prefers to share foods with the people who live in the locations he goes to. This isn’t always the easiest way to eat--and some of the foods he eats are downright gross, even to him--but it’s the most interesting. The whole book is also peppered with little bits of trivia about the places he goes, the words he is using and the history of some of the things he experiences.


Got this book as a gift over holidaystime. It’s a nice short book about mosses and liverworts which has a lot of beautiful photos and a lot of weirdly dull explanations of how mosses reproduce. Like, it’s a really short book and yet there’s a lot of super-detailed explication of how different types of mosses reproduce. I could see this being a smaller part of a larger book, but it seemed odd. That said, it was lovely to look at, and a quick read and now I know the word “calyptra” so that’s sort of neat.

The Colony

I started this book a few years ago and just picked up where I left off because I gave it away as a prize in a contest and realized I hadn’t gotten all the way through it. This book is terrific, a model of what all good non-fiction books on somewhat difficult topics should be like. The story of Hawaii’s transition from an island nation of its own to a US state is just the backdrop for this long and meticulously well-researched and well-annotated history of the Leper Colony on the island of Molokai. It would be really easy to stuff it with gory photos and stories and OMG LEPERS sorts of writing and probably create a book that sold just as well if not better, but Tayman has really gone for an approach where as much as possible he tells the stories using the words of the people caught up in the exiling, the incarceration, the activism and the machinations. The history of the leper colony is a long roller coaster of good news and bad news, sometimes occurring at the same time or for the same reasons. All this book made me want to do was learn and read more about the people and the places Tayman talks about.

Notes from No Man’s Land

This was a great collection of essays on race and culture by Eula Biss a young female not-white author who has a knack for research and telling a good story without seeming hidebound about her beliefs or the lens through which she views the world. I was particularly interested not just with the essays that she wrote but by the notes on the essays in the end where she explains how an essay that was going to be about telephone poles wound up being about the history of lynching in the US. I felt like I understood her process and appreciated her “we don’t have all the answers” approach to differing racial issues and inequalities. She manages to both discuss issues personally but also contextualize them in a larger cultural context. I really liked this book.

The Archivist: A Novel

One of those books that is more historical fiction than just fiction, this novel about a librarian and a student and his history and hers had some really captivating moments, many of them towards the end, but felt like a slog through a lot of it. It may just be that I’m not interested enough in literary history and/or the poetics of long doomed relationships but I found all the frosty characters that inhabited this book really tough to understand and get behind. The book is wonderfully written and probably better for someone who wasn’t me.