Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quarterly Update - 1st Quarter 2010

Young Men in Spats, by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

The Armchair Economist, by Steven E. Landsburg

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Fair Play, by Steven E. Landsburg

Follow-up: I speculated in the review that, based on the level of his sentimentality for his daughter, Landsburg was either dying of an incurable disease or he was recently divorced. Last week I went to a lecture he gave and he mentioned being in a new relationship.

Rating: 6.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Never Mind the Pollacks, by Neal Pollack

Rating: 6.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Whoa, am I a pushover or what? Reading my reviews makes me feel like the other critics on the staff of the Springfield Shopper when Homer becomes the food critic: "'Nine thumbs up'? What the hell is that?!" But what can I say: I only read books I think I'm going to like (although as Landsburg points out in The Armchair Economist, those are the books that should disappoint me the most).

The Grateful Fred, by Greg Trine

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Petropolis, by Anya Ulinich

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Nicholas and the Gang, by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Wake Up, Sir!, by Jonathan Ames

Rating: 3 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Everyday Probability and Statistics, by Michael W. Woolfson

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

The Pearl of Great Price, by Joseph Smith, Jr. (trans.)

Rating: Although I'm fairly certain God has a sense of humor, assigning monkey ratings to scripture might be pushing Him a little too far.

The Revenge of the McNasty Brothers, by Greg Trine

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Nicholas in Trouble, by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

The Sausage Situation, by Darrel and Sally Odgers

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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

Rating: again, not going to chance it.

Winston Churchill, by John Keegan

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

The Winner's Curse, by Richard H. Thaler

Rating: 3 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

The Winner's Curse, by Richard H. Thaler

Thaler says this book is for lay readers. Don't let him fool you. With no previous exposure to economics literature, you'll be fairly lost most of the time. (Hell, I'm an economics doctoral student and I spent most of chapters 4 and 9 telling myself, "Just keep reading. It'll make sense eventually.") If this book weren't required reading for one of my classes, I probably wouldn't have started it, and definitely wouldn't have finished it.

Rating: 3 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

My wife recommended I read his books because she says my writing style reminds her of him. I know it's quite presumptuous for a dude with a blog to compare himself to an award-winning novelist, but isn't it presumptuous to be writing book reviews at all? To paraphrase the famous Churchill apocrypha, we've already determined I'm presumptuous; now we're just seeing how much of an ass I am. (Answer: quite.)

I sort of enjoyed the book. I didn't enjoy the teenager-ness of the teenage characters, but that's because I don't enjoy the teenager-ness of teenagers in real life. Always about themselves, never shy in their selfishness. Once the book switches from "Before" to "After," I thought there were some really well-written parts of Miles's stream of consciousness. The final prank I thought was rushed in its telling. It was a truly funny moment (not like those half-assed "funny" moments in Wake Up, Sir!), and it could have lingered longer. Also, what I took away from the final assessment was that it's okay for teens to be self-absorbed, which I don't think is really what teens need to be hearing. It's like letting Billy Joe Armstrong guest lecture at a Pakistani madrassah.

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers

I think our daughter liked this more than our son. Mary from the book is a lot less likable than Mary from the movie, but in a way, that makes the book much more likable than the movie. The chapters are too long for comfortably reading them aloud in one sitting. My daughter has since checked out two more Mary Poppins books, so that has to count for something, right?

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Winston Churchill, by John Keegan

I've read a bit about Churchill, and I've read other books from this series (Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln). This book would be a fine introduction to Churchill's life. The first half would be good to read along with Churchill's My Early Life to help set straight some of the self-servingness inherent in autobiography. However, at times this book felt poorly edited, when words were used with awkward frequency, or when a story told 50 pages before was repeated without acknowledging that it wasn't new material to the reader. Another problem is that Churchill lived an incredibly long and full life, and the scope of the series (200 pages each) doesn't allow for much analysis if he's going to fit everything in. I'm looking forward to reading Keegan's history of World War I, which I've owned for a while but haven't gotten to yet.

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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

Again, scripture.

Rating: again, not going to chance it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Sausage Situation, by Darrel and Sally Odgers

My oldest son, nearly six years old, loves these Jack Russell: Dog Detective books. Our library in Kansas had them all; our libraries here in Virginia have none of them. Luckily we've found a few at our local second-hand book shop. This was Book 6 (we've previously read 1, 4, and 7). This is one of the Australian things that's invaded our lives (along with Jessica Watson's blog, Mary Poppins books, and my wife's reading the "Specials" book series). When my son listens to Jack Russell books, he has a constant, irrepressible smile. That alone is worth a good rating.

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Three years ago I decided to make a push through the great Victorian novels. That hasn't really happened yet. I still have the plan, I just don't have the time. From what I've read online, this book is fairly atypical of Dickens (my previous Dickens exposure being a reading of Great Expectations, several viewings of A Christmas Story, several more viewings of Scrooged, and an evening in the audience of a junior-high production of Nicholas Nickleby). I enjoyed the book, although like the movie Transformers, it had about five endings too many. I got to the point where there were probably 15 pages of material remaining to resolve the conflict, and there were 85 pages left in the book. But that's what happens when novels get serialized weekly. Why do you think The Count of Monte Cristo is as long as it is?

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nicholas in Trouble, by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé

Book 5 of the Nicholas series. Like Book 4, all right, but not as good as Books 1 and 2.

Rating: 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Revenge of the McNasty Brothers, by Greg Trine

Backing up to Book 2 of the Melvin Beederman series. Same feelings as before.

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Pearl of Great Price, by Joseph Smith, Jr. (trans.)

A book from my religion's canon.

Rating: Although I'm fairly certain God has a sense of humor, assigning monkey ratings to scripture might be pushing Him a little too far.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Everyday Probability and Statistics, by Michael W. Woolfson

A good statistics book for casual reading. Probably not enough to teach you statistics if you've never had any, but enough to remind you of what you've previously learned, or to give some interesting real-world applications. One section of the book deals with how to stick it to unsuspecting bookies, which reminded me of a story Tito once told me on a business trip to New Mexico: his freshman year he ran a gambling pool on the NCAA tournament and got cleaned out by some guys on his hall who knew more about betting than he did. I love that story, and by extension I love this book for reminding me of it.

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.