Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Reading

Here are the 79 books I read in 2010:

  • Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Armchair Economist by Steven E. Landsburg
  • Fair Play by Steven E. Landsburg
  • Never Mind the Pollacks by Neal Pollack
  • The Grateful Fred by Greg Trine
  • Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
  • Nicholas and the Gang by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames
  • Everyday Probability and Statistics by Michael M. Woolfson
  • The Pearl of Great Price by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.
  • The Revenge of the McNasty Brothers by Greg Trine
  • Nicholas in Trouble by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Sausage Situation by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  • The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.
  • Winston Churchill by John Keegan
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Winner's Curse by Richard H. Thaler
  • Terror in Tights by Greg Trine
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Nicholas on Vacation by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
  • How to Receive Discernible Answers to Your Prayers by Jeffrey R. Young
  • Love Among the Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
  • As A Man Thinketh by James Allen
  • Attack of the Valley Girls by Greg Trine
  • I, Jack by Patricia Finney
  • Doctrine and Covenants by Joseph Smith, Jr., et Al.
  • Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison
  • Getting What You Came For by Robert L. Peters
  • Dominic by William Steig
  • Jack and Rebel, the Police Dog by Patricia Finney
  • The Kitnapped Creature by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  • Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child
  • The Fake Cape Caper by Greg Trine
  • Fathers As Patriarchs by Grant Von Harrison
  • Clarice Bean Spells Trouble by Lauren Child
  • Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe
  • The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
  • Thursday Next in First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
  • Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
  • 1912 by James Chace
  • Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
  • Mike at Wrykyn by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Mostly Harmless Econometrics by Joshua D. Angrist and Jőrn-Steffen Pischke
  • The Prophetic Book of Mormon by Hugh Nibley
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  • The New Testament by St. Paul, et Al.
  • The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.
  • The Mortal Messiah, Book 1 by Bruce R. McConkie
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
  • Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse
  • William Howard Taft by Judith Icke Anderson
  • Not George Washington by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes
  • Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You by T.M. Shine
  • Tales of St. Austin's by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Pothunters by P.G. Wodehouse
  • A Prefect's Uncle by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Space Dogs by Justin Ball and Evan Croker
  • The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants by Greg Trine
  • Understanding the Book of Revelation by Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry
  • The Awful Pawful by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  • Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now by Lauren Child
  • The Path to Freedom by Michael Collins
  • Puppy Power by Judy Cox
  • The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
  • Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day Saints by Emma Marr Petersen
  • Gold by Nathan Lewis

Reading on a Kindle: a Review

I got a Kindle for Christmas, but I got in in October. I used it to read school documents, and to read public domain novels that are available for free (since the Luddite in me still doesn't want to spend money on a book that isn't an actual pile of paper on my shelf).

I love that Kindle tells me what percentage complete I am, since that was something I had always had to calculate on my own (and--NERD ALERT--I always was calculating it). I also like that Kindle is much easier to transport than a stack of books, so instead of bringing one book and being stuck with it, I can switch if I need to. I am indifferent to the need for a reading light; I know this is a huge turning point for most people in the iPad/Kindle debate, but I prefer Kindle, even though I have to have a book light to read after the sun goes down.

Here are two things I dislike: one is the lack of page numbers, and the other is the tendency of the device to reboot and lose bookmarks. Since I keep track of the pages I read in a year (there was no "nerd alert" because the previous alert is still in effect), I need to know how many pages are in a book I am reading. Since Kindle doesn't have page numbers, but "locations" (the relation of which to pages or paragraphs I still don't understand), I have to look up print versions on Amazon, find an edition that looks like one I would have read, go to its product description, and see how many pages it has. Even then, it's imperfect, since that number does not correspond to the printed number on the last page, but is more like a count of pieces of paper used (multiplied by two).

As for the second issue, I think it might be a result of the free versions I read. As with most free things, the coding seems pretty bare-bones, and I bet a "real" Kindle book wouldn't have as many problems. However, that doesn't mean it's not frustrating to have to refind my spot in my book every time I turn my Kindle on (especially since it doesn't use page numbers to help me find my way). I've had this problem with three Wodehouse books, and my wife had it with Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Quarterly Update - 4th Quarter 2010

The quarter started out slowly, as I was trying to concentrate on finishing my semester. My goal of actually reaching 25,000 pages in the year, which looked hopeless in February, looked very possible at the end of August, and then became impossible by October. But once I finished with school, I did a lot of reading in December (which was something I didn't do last year, because I was too depressed expecting poor grades; this semester I expected (and received, thank you) good grades, so my motivation did not flag), and I passed 20,000 pages for the first time since 2006 (the last year I was not a student).

Not George Washington, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Golf Without Tears, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You, by T.M. Shine

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tales of St. Austin's, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Pothunters, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

A Prefect's Uncle, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Space Dogs, by Justin Ball and Evan Croker

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Little Nugget, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants, by Greg Trine

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Understanding the Book of Revelation, by Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Awful Pawful, by Darrel and Sally Odgers

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now, by Lauren Child

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Path to Freedom, by Michael Collins

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Puppy Power, by Judy Cox

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day Saints, by Emma Marr Petersen

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Gold, by Nathan Lewis

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Gold, by Nathan Lewis

This book was about three times as long as it needed to be. Most of the excess material was still fascinating, but it was excess nonetheless. A chapter about Japan's "lost decade" begins with the monetary history of feudal Japan. It would be like explaining the 1972 Olympic men's basketball final by saying, "Well, first you have to understand the nuclear process in the Sun." Perhaps that would enhance understanding, but it's beyond the scope of the ten-second ESPN sound byte.

Also, Lewis has a habit of including only a smattering of notes. He probably should have had about four times as many notes as he did. Without them, I'm unclear how much of what I read was fact, and how much was Lewis's interpretation of the facts, since they were presented side-by-side, without sources. The only reason I liked this book was because I'm into monetary economics; a normal reader would probably have quite before the end of the second chapter.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day Saints, by Emma Marr Petersen

I got this book as a baptism present, several (but not too many) years ago. My parents sort of pooh-poohed the gift, like it was unreasonably beyond the reading level of an eight-year-old, so I never read it.

Now that I know my parents better, I realize they just didn't like the people who gave me the gift, so they found fault with it. My daughter turned eight this year, so before she got baptized I wanted to read this book with her for her to get a basic understanding of Book of Mormon plot, which would help her with her scripture reading. We were reading together, alternating paragraphs, until I got busy with school and she took the book to her room, where she was supposed to finish on her own.

Now, months after her baptism, I figured we should finish the book before the end of the year, so I could count the pages read on my yearly total. Having a deadline of December 31 made it so we had to read about 10 chapters each day, which helped drive home the point that, when you don't manage your schedule well, tasks become more unpleasant.

In terms of reading level, it's completely appropriate for a seven- or eight-year-old. Petersen decides to sequence her book chronologically, so it starts with Jaredites, which might be a little strange to a kid who's trying to square it with the Book of Mormon ordering. Content-wise, there were just a handful of times that I felt she added speculative material that isn't substantiated by the scriptures themselves, and most of those were trivial issues (none of which I can even remember). Also, since this book is older, Petersen has no problems giving a literal interpretation to the whole "light=good, dark=bad" thing, which required me to give a preemptive contradictory opinion once I saw where she was headed.

But in terms of the good accomplished, this book really, really helped my daughter learn the plot of the Book of Mormon (which is something my wife is always saying is her biggest hang-up in scripture study). Now when we read scriptures as a family, she can concentrate on doctrine.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde

I liked this book a lot more than I liked The Big Over Easy. I read a review of that other book that said Fforde ironically gave his main character a nice home life to contrast with the typical detective novel hero's shambles of a personal life. (Think Mel Gibson's character in "Lethal Weapon.") Okay, I'm fine with that, but the result was a lot of pages of charming home life scenes, which weren't what I was going for when I decided to read a detective novel.

I am thankful that this novel forgoes all that. Spratt and Mary get right to the detecting work. Ironic detective story devices still abound (for instance, Spratt gets suspended and has to work the case against orders), but they work with the story, helping it move along. I am looking forward to the next Nursery Crimes book.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Puppy Power, by Judy Cox

I loved this book. What's more, I love the author. If something happened to my wife, I'd call up Judy Cox to see if she's available. (If she's still alive. Which, her website says she is. Perfect.)

What's the source of my affection? Cox's correct use of possessive apostrophes. Many of the teachers at Fran's school have last names that end with the letter S, and all of them have their names made possessive by an additional apostrophe AND S. Every time I read another instance, I stopped and told my kids, "Judy Cox is fantastic!"

In terms of the story, I liked it, too. I liked how Fran is a sympathetic character, and that her bullying is not obvious until you've come to like her. It's better than the typical "good characters are good and bad characters are bad" of children's books. It helps kids see that all people are good and bad.

It was also nice that the parts of Fran's character that needed work were the same as her dog, Hercules. I like parallelisms because they allow you to make your point with less of a heavy hand.

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Path to Freedom, by Michael Collins

I like to read autobiographies where possible, figuring I'd rather hear from the source itself. I know this is fraught with peril about self-serving rewriting of history, but it's usually a pretty good rule. (If the subject is especially interesting, I'll read biographies afterward to compare.) So when I got to the library and decided I wanted a book on Michael Collins, they had two or three written by other people, and this book written by Collins himself. I naturally selected this one.

I wish I hadn't. It could have been entitled, Boring Irish Op-Eds From 100 Years Ago. I learned more from the foreword (written in that annoyingly breezily familiar "journalism" style that seems so popular for features these days) than I did from the book itself. Collins just seemed to say, "Irish people have it TOUGH, yo!", over and over again. If I wanted to hear that, I'd put The Cranberries' song "Zombie" on repeat.

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now, by Lauren Child

I'll tell you what I like about Clarice Bean books: they deal with an "issue," but without saying, "Here's the topic we're dealing with." You know what I mean? I hated "issue" books when I was a kid; can't a story just tell a story without being "about" something, like divorce, popularity, or bullying?

In this book, Clarice Bean's best friend Betty moves, and Clarice experiences a mild depression (without ever saying, "And I was depressed"). Eventually things begin to work out for her again, slowly, and not completely.

My daughter tends to read these books on her own, but then ask me to read them with her to make sure she's not missing out on anything. (For instance the other day I had reason to explain the bathroom euphemisms "Number 1" and "Number 2" to her, and she said, "Oh, that was in a book I read and I didn't know what it meant.") The only complaint I have about Clarice Bean books is that she works a lot of stuff out without ever telling her parents. It's not like they find out after the fact; they never find out. I don't want my daughter to think the correct thing to do with a stressful life situation is to keep it to herself.

As with the other Clarice Bean books we've read, at the end my daughter wanted me to check the progress of the Ruby Redfort books Lauren Child is supposedly writing. Well, this time there was good news! The first book is supposed to come this fall. My daughter is eagerly anticipating it, and I bet I will get to read it aloud.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Awful Pawful, by Darrel and Sally Odgers

Like I've mentioned before, my son loves these books. We've read them out of order, so the suspense of not knowing exactly what is "the awful pawful" was sort of ruined for us, but he preferred to think of it as a secret he'd figured out already. I liked the way the dogs of town hid in shame as each of them got bested by a cat. (Delayed spoiler: the awful pawful is a cat.)

For whatever reason, my son has little interest in reading. He loves to be read to, but no story is interesting enough for him to want to put in the work. (Until recently, he refused to acknowledge he even could read, even after reading something.) The closest he's come to wanting to hear a story badly enough that he is willing to do the reading himself is with these Jack Russell books.

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Understanding the Book of Revelation, by Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry

Earlier this year, I finished re-reading the New Testament. I understood Revelation better than before, but I still felt like there was a lot I wasn't getting. A few years ago, I asked for this book as a Christmas present from my wife's parents, and now seemed like a good time to read it, so soon after reading Revelation.

I can't really say, "This aspect of Revelation is clearer to me now," or anything like that, but I definitely feel like I understand the book better. What's more, I have a much greater sense of immediacy, an appreciation for the truthfulness of Revelation and the importance in my life. Previous readings of Revelation always seemed remote to me; either it was an ancient book, or it was about the distant future. This time I felt much more strongly that it was timely and important. I don't know if that is from the Parrys' book or from Revelation itself, but it is a major change in my outlook on scripture.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants, by Greg Trine

After quite a few Melvin Beederman books that were not as enjoyable for me to read aloud as they were for my kids to listen to, this one was a refreshing change. The time travel plot device allowed for a lot of jokes that Trine did well. My kids especially liked when Melvin had to pretend to be his own uncle. Also, my kids love Superhero James and Superhero Margaret, so their larger roles in this book were greatly appreciated.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Little Nugget, by P.G. Wodehouse

Another Wodehouse book that begins with one narrator and then jumps horses mid-stream, never to return. In fact, the original main character never resurfaces again, except in infrequent letters. But the replacement narrator, Peter Burns, is likable and fun. He takes a job posing as a schoolmaster (so this is a bit of a school story, but not from a boy's point of view), trying to kidnap the obnoxious son of American millionaires (the prototype to the child actor in Laughing Gas, I imagine). Several American gangsters are also out to nab the eponymous kid, which allows for a lot of the type of humor found in Big Money and Psmith, Journalist. And what's more, there is no cricket to be seen.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Space Dogs, by Justin Ball and Evan Croker

I saw this book at the library and thought my kids would like it. They had a lot of copies of it, which seemed like a testament of kids' appreciation.

The book was very, very slow reading. I believe I first checked it out in July. We renewed it the maximum number of times, then returned it and checked out another copy, and renewed that twice.

In terms of content, I was a little annoyed. There were lots of uses of "hell," mostly as a place, but once in the sense of "what the hell...." One use of "damn," implied sexual relations between two aliens, and one girl surmises that another girl is popular because she has "big boobs." If children's publishers did their job of recommending ages or grade levels (like they used to), I would have had a better idea of what was in store. As it was, I had to do some selective bowdlerizing as I read along.

Another big shortcoming of the book is how it promised to be about aliens and dogs, but spent a lot of time being about teenage love. And the message wasn't even a good one. It was "kiss first, look for compatibility later." And when the love-struck girl finally kisses the boy she likes, we read this: "She knew all the answers in class, and if she didn't, it didn't bother her because she had the only answer that really mattered: Dion Van Steenwyk [the boy she likes]" (156). I don't need my kids thinking a meaningless junior-high romance is all that really matters, and I certainly don't need my daughter hearing she should derive her self-worth from her pre-teen relationships.

Rating: two out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Prefect's Uncle, by P.G. Wodehouse

Another Wodehouse school story, still with quite a bit of cricket. The captain of the cricket team, Gethryn, has a smart-aleck uncle a few years his junior come to his school, and cause some trouble for him. The uncle, Farnie, steals some money (I thought The Pothunters established that such deviousness was beyond the English schoolboy?) and leaves school, and Gethryn has to abandon his team mid cricket match to bring Farnie back and return the stolen money. His teammates are upset, and he is ostracized for much of the football season (which here means Rugby, not association), but in the end everyone does the sporting thing. Some of the pranks (or "rags" as they were then called) are quite humorous and memorable.

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Pothunters, by P.G. Wodehouse

Another book set in a school. This one is a novel, and although it still has quite a bit of cricket, it is not central to the plot (meaning you can get to the end of a cricket section and think, "I have no idea what that meant, but I think I know who won," and you won't have missed anything vital).

The most striking feature of this book: some silver sports cups go missing, and the headmasters suspect some of the boys of pulling a prank, but when it is discovered that along with the cups, the thief also stole two pounds, they know a boy would never steal money, and so they completely turn their attention to outsiders. Oh, how things have changed in 100 years. I cannot even believe there was a time in the world's history when a school full of teenage boys could be completely cleared of suspicion of anything other than harmless pranks. I mean, schools have metal detectors now (and tony prep schools have more drugs than a pharmaceutical convention).

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tales of St. Austin's, by P.G. Wodehouse

Loosely connected short stories concerning the same fictional public (read: private) school in England. Humorous tales, but still very heavy on the intricacies of cricket, including team politics. Like the other Wodehouse books I've read that delve heavily into cricket, that cricket book I read several years ago was invaluable. Another thing this book did was make me want to read Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes, for which, if I see Wodehouse in heaven, I shall kick him in the shin. Ten percent done on my Kindle and it still have nothing to do with school, and Tom Brown just came into the story. (Although I just started The Adventures of Augie March and the narrator's brother read the book when he was young, so maybe it's just a book to get through to get other references to it.)

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You, by T.M. Shine

A book about an unemployed man whose life falls apart around him? This one hit a little too close to home. I thought there were excellent descriptions of the type of aimlessness that assails the jobless, but there was also too much that didn't seem plausible. Jeffrey is out of work just a few weeks before he takes his first assignment dancing with a sign on the side of a busy road. Isn't that about the last assignment you take? I've been out of work for 18 months and I've never done that yet. And the conclusion is completely unsatisfying. Instead of saving his relationships, or ending them, he just accepts that they are falling apart, and he doesn't really seem like he's going to do anything about them. There were also some too-timely references, like pop culture stuff from 2009 that I'd forgotten already. This book can very nearly be dated to the week.

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

A lot of the problems I had with Ginger Pye are missing from this book. Unfortunately, a lot of new problems cropped up. The end result is about the same: a book I didn't mind reading that much, and that my kids really liked to listen to.

The most glaring issue from Ginger Pye, Estes's insistence on using the word "waked" until she breaks your spirit, is unfortunately still present. I seriously think she had characters going to bed just so a paragraph later she could say they "waked up." I'd be surprised if Estes hadn't written a novel with an insomniac main character in it.

First the good news: the Pye kids aren't as dumb. In Ginger Pye they were outright fools, walking past their dog and thinking, "Too bad my dog, who was a puppy when he went missing six months ago, is still a puppy, and therefore can't possibly be this grown dog that looks just like my dog." Did they think their dog was the Emmanuel Lewis of dogs? I wanted to shout "Dogs grow up, morons!" about ten times each chapter.

In this book, the "mystery" isn't something you could expect the kids to know, so it's much less irritating when they spend pages on end speculating about the mystery.

Estes got a legitimate illustrator for this book, too, so the pictures are much, much better. I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I will regardless: Estes couldn't illustrate worth crap. Her publisher took care of that problem for her.

Unfortunately, the illustrator must have cost so much they couldn't afford an editor. The following sentences are just a few among the most egregious examples of her convoluted sentence structure.

Held captive in Papa's lap so she would not follow, as she often did, and with Papa murmuring enticing promises such as "string bean game" and "typing" in her ear to keep her satisfied (Papa didn't know that Pinky had a plan or he need not have bothered), Pinky yawned and stretched. (172)
This is supposed to be a children's book. What child can follow that sentence? Don't even begin to tell me, "Well, back in Eleanor's day...", because no kid ever has been able to follow that sentence.
Through now with throwing people, whoever they might be, or onlookers of whatever sort, off guard, Pinky sauntered into the living room, skirting the wall, and she hopped onto the living-room table. (180-1)
Two random clauses thrown in the middle of the phrase "to throw off guard." I've read Faulkner with less trouble than I had with Estes.

I usually try to get through a book without letting my kids know what parts of it are bothering me. I don't want them to dislike a book just because I do. They are kids, with kids' tastes, and it is only natural that I would find faults with books that they didn't understand. But even my kids knew Jerry was a moron when I read this exchange to them:

For a moment the children were speechless. Here was a man who had just come straight from their own town, Cranbury, from their own house, their very own tall house! "Did you see Dick Badger?" asked Jerry. "And Duke?" (138)
Jerry asked a complete stranger if he'd seen his friend's dog, by name. My daughter muttered to herself, "Oh, Jerry."

But again, the test of a children's book is would I read any of the sequels. And yes, I would read Estes's Moffats books out loud to our kids. Books from the 1950s are the perfect level of difficulty. Older books have too much archaic language, but these books have just the right amount to broaden their vocabulary without breaking up the pace of the story.

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Golf Without Tears, by P.G. Wodehouse

This book is a collection of short stories, all narrated by the Oldest Member, dealing with golf. They are unique in that they are all set at a country club on Long Island (Wodehouse spent more than half his life, I believe, in New York and environs), and they carry the further distinction of being one of the books with a different title on the other side of the Atlantic. Since either book is accessible to an English-language reader, this can spark some confusion (especially when titles are reused, like with The Prince and Betty, which is a completely different book in England). If you've read The Clicking of Cuthbert, you've read Golf Without Tears.

It was a bit much for reading straight through. It seems a fair portion of the humor comes from using funny golf words such as "mashie" and "niblick." Used sparingly, the desired effect is achieved, but when every story has it, maybe it wouldn't have become so stale if I were reading them at the original release rate of one every few months in the "Saturday Evening Post."

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not George Washington, by P.G. Wodehouse

I've started in on the less-popular, early-career books of Wodehouse. Like I've written before (I think), they tend to have more raw emotion and less farce. Humor is still there, but at times it can not be the primary focus. Wooster and Blandings book end with the boy getting the girl because basic storytelling requires all loose ends to be tied up; early non-school Wodehouse is usually the story of the boy getting the girl, with humor thrown in.

Something I've noticed about early Wodehouse is that often the narrator changes mid-story, and the reader shouldn't really expect it to ever change back. With this book that's a little more understandable, since most sources will tell you that Wodehouse had a co-author (Herbert Westbrook). The first several chapters, from Margaret's point of view, are not that funny, and I don't know if it's true or not, but I assumed they were Westbrook's contribution. The rest of the book is narrated by Margaret's fiancée James (and a few chapters are narrated by friends of James).

Something else striking about this book is how unsympathetic James is. Margaret has her hopes pinned to marrying James, but then when James becomes the narrator, I found myself not really wanted Margaret to get stuck with such an oaf of a husband.

Lastly, I can find no plausible explanation for the title. And that's always a bit of a strike against a book, isn't it?

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quarterly Update - 3rd Quarter 2010

I spent a lot of the summer looking for work and pretending to study for my qualifying exams. Then August came and I started seriously studying, which meant I spent a lot of time despairing, and I distracted myself from my despair with my reading, turning out over 4,000 pages that month. Then came September and, until I heard I had passed my exams, I was too anxious to do much reading.

The Princes in the Tower, by Alison Weir

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday Next in First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Ginger Pye, by Eleanor Estes

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

1912, by James Chace

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles, by Rupert Kingfisher

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Mike at Wrykyn, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Mostly Harmless Econometrics, by Joshua D. Angrist and Jőrn-Steffen Pischke

Rating: one and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The Prophetic Book of Mormon, by Hugh Nibley

Rating: seven out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

Rating: the first 384 pages: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Rating: the last six pages: one out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

The New Testament, by St. Paul, et Al.

Rating: I'm not assigning monkeys to scripture.

The Book of Mormon, by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.

Rating: Not on the monkey scale.

The Mortal Messiah, Book 1, by Bruce R. McConkie

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: seven out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

William Howard Taft, by Judith Icke Anderson

Rating: two and a half giant inflatable monkeys.

William Howard Taft, by Judith Icke Anderson

I was hankering for a Taft biography, and this was all my local library had. I didn't enjoy it that much. The "psychological" aspect of it was probably very trendy in the 1970s, but now it just seems silly and dated. I enjoyed the overview of Taft's life, but not the "his wife was a mother figure to him" or the "he overate to rebel" aspects of it. Unless Anderson found a journal entry where Taft admits as much, it's just a guess that we can't even run past him for his take.

I had a hard time accepting her assessment for how Taft came into his own in the White House. After an entire life of listening to his mother and wife, Anderson says he just sort of didn't need to anymore, so he stopped. And the only really fascinating psychological decision of his life, fighting his "father figure" for a position he clearly did not want, is sort of ignored. Why would Taft rebel so spectacularly for something he hated so much? Anderson doesn't really bother to ask, let alone find out.

I have to admit, I was also turned off by Anderson's dedication of her work to Fawn Brodie, whose "scholarship" in No Man Knows My History is decidedly substandard. If that's Anderson's idea of a good job, how much stock should I place in her book?

Rating: two and a half giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse

What is better than a well-written Blandings novel? Nothing at all.

Rating: seven out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown

Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling get a bad rap. "Christian" critics of Harry Potter who think The Lord of the Rings is a Christian allegory are idiots. If Gandalf can represent Christ, so can Dumbledore.

It's the same deal with Dan Brown books. While Robert Langdon has an admittedly areligious bent to his professed world view, he is constantly confronted with situations his atheism can't explain. Yes, there are evil church figures in the books, but there are also legitimately pious ones. Are Brown's critics claiming that religious history doesn't contain figures who behaved in non-exemplary ways? It's not anti-religious or anti-Catholic to explore that dynamic.

Brown gets it from both sides: the culturally conservative who don't want depictions of religious shortcomings, and the culturally elite who look down their nose at the literary value of the books. Give him a break. Being an author requires writing skills and storytelling skills. What Brown lacks in writing, he more than makes up for in storytelling. Yes, any one particular paragraph might be somewhat silly when pulled out of context, but the novel is read in context, where the story is pulling you along.

This book gave me incentive to look up the sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, which was decidedly less PG-13 than the text led me to believe. I guess in the 1600s, it was the equivalent of "Showgirls." I'm glad I live in the 21st century.

I know a woman who started reading this book and thought it was so evil she threw it away. I laugh at that woman when I think about that. I came away from reading it with a stronger affirmation of my faith.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

I read this book so there would be a buffer between the spate of church books I read and Angels and Demons. It just seemed a little weird having them next to each other, so I read this one in a day or so.

I read this book in seventh grade, and I didn't remember much of it, aside from trying to cross the street when the super-fast cars are trying to run Guy down. In terms of believability, I'm not sure I agree with top-down dystopia novels like this and 1984; I find the bottom-up dystopia of Brave New World a much more-likely scenario.

In terms of bottom-up, the interactive entertainment systems seems like a pretty good forecast of where the future opiate of the masses will be found. I didn't like the resolution, that everything will be okay because we have hobos who've memorized the destroyed books. What's the point of having books, so hobos can tell each other stories? Their preservation is trivial unless they are preserved for a purpose. In that sense, the top-down book burning needn't happen if we have a bottom-up ignorance of books, and that seems to be where we're going.

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Mortal Messiah, Book 1, by Bruce R. McConkie

The best biography of the Savior is James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ, but it deals primarily with the mortal ministry of the Savior. McConkie has expanded the scope, writing a biography of Christ from the creation to the end of the world.

That alone is fairly ambitious. In my opinion, McConkie goes beyond "conscientious" into "overkill" range, with the inclusion of every possible piece of information applicable to the life of Jesus. This book contains a 180-page section of succeeding chapters with titles like "Jewish Worship in Jesus' Day," "Jewish Sabbath in Jesus' Day." Et cetera. The frequent detours from the actual thread of the Savior's actions makes it hard to stay engaged. Luckily, it appears I'm past the worst of it. From here on out in the series (two books down, four more to go), it should be clear sailing.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Book of Mormon, by Joseph Smith, Jr., trans.

Scripture doesn't get reviewed.

Rating: Not on the monkey scale.

The New Testament, by St. Paul, et Al.

I'm sticking with my aversion to review scripture. If it passed muster with its Editor, it should be more than okay with me.

Rating: I'm not assigning monkeys to scripture.