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Miss Fuller: A Novel
Miss Fuller: A Novel
by April Bernard
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.48
94 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fuller in the Imagination, August 28, 2012
This review is from: Miss Fuller: A Novel (Paperback)
This is an intriguing, imagined history of the latter years of Margaret Fuller's life and what might have happened to her literary legacy. The author's treatment and blending of facts and extrapolations thereof even into the lives of her friends and contemporaries in service of presenting a possible and cohesive account of Fuller's last years was interesting and very much reminded me of Geraldine Brooks' approach in Caleb's Crossing (which I'd just finished reading) in terms of basing the protagonist in fact and filling in the rest through likely conjectures and imagined sub-plots. The filled-in life thus rendered was derived through a sort of extension to literary historical detective work, which appeals to my own conjectural nature. I'm otherwise unfamiliar with Fuller's work but this novel has piqued my interest enough to want to look into it.


You & Me: A Novel
You & Me: A Novel
by Padgett Powell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.11
112 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Artful Inanities, August 13, 2012
This review is from: You & Me: A Novel (Hardcover)
Whimsical is what I'd call this volume. Comprising a choice selection of non sequitur-ish conversations between 2 ole geezers sitting on a porch in an unnamed dilapidated podunk place with little more than time and liquor-fueled imagination/memory as inspiration, their inane musings embody the best of what's commonly called shootin' the breeze ... which, depending on one's mood, can seem either depressingly trivial and pointless or archly funny and delightfully snippy commentary on the absurdities of life. An easy read that can be finished in one afternoon, this was a welcome and amusing distraction.


Screw Business As Usual
Screw Business As Usual
by Richard Branson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.12
128 used & new from $0.08

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Message But Rambling & Desperately Needs Better Editing, August 8, 2012
I'm a big fan of Richard Branson and his brand of business that blends philanthropy and social development. The stories and examples of social entrepreneurship and partnerships that Virgin's organizations and others helped spur were truly inspiring and provided ample food for thought and emulation. Beyond the level of organizational collaborations, Branson wrote at length of the many characters and personal connections behind the scenes that brought about change for good in the world. Those were the highlights of the book.

The writing itself however was execrable and (for me at least) detracted from the otherwise overwhelmingly positive and inspiring message of the book. Perhaps it was a conscious editorial decision to allow Branson's personal communicative style to predominate throughout - it certainly bears a chipper, upbeat and optimistic tone that would well be immensely engaging in the course of a conversation. In the form of a book however, it comes across as rambling, repetitive in the use of stock phrases, overly self-congratulatory, and don't get me started on the name-dropping. Large parts of it seemed to go over old ground that was covered in his earlier book Losing My Virginity e.g. his childhood and early enterprises, his friends and cohort of early change-makers etc. While the intent might have been to communicate a sense of simplicity, accessibility and disarming guilelessness, methinks the services of a good editor would have made a world of difference. After all, the book had a message to deliver, and I believe a better-organized way of relating it would serve as better and clearer guidance. As such, it could have been a lot shorter and more impactful without losing the essence and enthusiasm of Branson's voice in the telling. I'm not even sure how much of a differentiation there was between the early chapters as the themes bled into each other, which made my reading experience feel not only tiresome but also less memorable (in the sense of clear lessons derived) than it should be. That said, I do realize that most people do not read Branson's books for their literary merit. As such, I'd grant that his message remains inspiring and hopeful even if the way in which it was told leaves much to be desired.


By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir
By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir
by Joe Blair
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.40
180 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Elevating, June 13, 2012
This is a surprising gem of a memoir, virtually coming from the left field so-to-speak from someone seemingly unlikely to draw fame or recognition in the normal walk of life - which made it all the more powerful and poignant for me. Blair's self-deprecating, emotionally vulnerable and heartbreakingly honest voice draws you in as he treads between his reality as a blue-collar father of 4 children living in small town Iowa and the dreams he continues to nurse - youthful dreams of escape back in time to an image he cherished of himself and his wife, of a freer and less encumbered self, of relocating to the East Coast and recovering the persons he thought they could be. This much speaks to probably most of us but in the reconciliations he makes with his reality, he does not spare us the painful yet at times archly humorous details of his quotidian concerns, his thoughts of committing infidelity, his ongoing attempts at reconciliation, his struggles with his autistic son, his sense of himself as a man and father, or his doubts as to whether he could hold on to his family. And yet how he remained stuck in the moil of life, enduring despite wanting much much more and the urges he felt within speaks volumes of a kind of love that is more real and tenacious than the hackneyed, fluffy and easier stuff we tend to associate with the word. His sense of being adrift at the mercy of time, nature and forces beyond his control runs through the narrative but there is a sense of resolution through having endured, even as life will continue to come at them like the pounding ocean waves described at the end. I'm generally more critical and scathing in my reviews than not e.g. see my review of Joan Didion's Blue Nights, but this is one memoir I'd highly recommend - for its writing, its honesty and unsentimental reflection of what our world today would tend to regard as a small, nameless and modest life that is elevated all the more for its persistence, courage and simple humanity.


The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
by Masha Gessen
Edition: Hardcover
92 used & new from $1.45

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling Portrait of a Pugnacious Leader, June 3, 2012
This is a surprisingly riveting and personable read despite the author delving into Putin's biographical and the USSR's social political history. Gessen conveyed deep familiarity and passion for her subject without lapsing into pedantry even as she managed to weave numerous events, characters and plot lines into a clear tableaux that indicts Putin's administration in particular and the Russian political establishment as a whole. Events in Russia in the last 3 decades were vividly described and set in context, helpfully framing the circumstances and confluences of Fate that gave rise to Putin as a political leader. The resulting portrait of Putin as pugnacious leader of a Russia renewed in its militaristic ambitions is highly chilling, and certainly made me wonder if the publication of this book might in turn expose the author to the threats faced (if not Fate met) by many of dissidents she wrote about.


What?: Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History--Or is This a Game of 20 Questions?
What?: Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History--Or is This a Game of 20 Questions?
by Mark Kurlansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $3.91
140 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfying Riff Off Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood, March 25, 2012
This slim volume is composed entirely of questions about what is the nature and purpose of life, reality etc., interspersed with musings on what sages and philosophers such as Nietzsche and Confucius have said on the same. To all intents and purposes, the premise seems fine ; in execution however, the project seems to strain and try too hard to fit questions within chapters nominally framed by those questions journalists ask i.e. Who, What, When, Why, Why, How and a few more besides. This imposition of structure seems a mistake as it disallows the questions from drawing us onward and upward with their whimsical tangents and possible trajectories. Instead, framing the questions within chapters had the effect of making me feel somehow inexorably guided toward a conscious conclusion or endpoint of Kurlansky's devising when I'd rather prefer a sense (illusion?) of being led by questions themselves - a notion that seems much better rendered and expressed in Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood. The latter's freewheeling and seemingly non sequitur plethora of questions projects whimsy, but the effect of the whole evokes a satisfying kind of sense and awareness of self - and which ironically accomplishes (better) what Kurlansky doesn't quite manage to do.


Travel as a Political Act
Travel as a Political Act
by Rick Steves
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.38
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Traveling with Mind Engaged & Eyes Wide Open, February 16, 2012
Unassuming and modest yet honest and reflective, this book by Rick Steves the travel show host looks at the morally educational role of travel and serves as a call to action for travelers to actively engage in the world beyond being simply consumers. Steves wrote about his personal travel experiences and the insights he gained from meeting different peoples and cultures in various foreign places. In doing so, he shared not only his take on the diverse aspects that make our world but also showed how his experiences made the person that he is. A valuable and engaging read and highly recommended for those interested in learning from and engaging in different cultures and issues.


The Caprices
The Caprices
by Sabina Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.67
77 used & new from $2.40

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immediacy of Living in Wartime Brought to Life, February 10, 2012
This review is from: The Caprices (Paperback)
The stories in this collection - told variously by characters such as POWs (Indian and American), Filipino civilians caught in the conflagration, Amelia Earhart and numerous displaced persons of that time, animate and brought to life the humanly shared experiences of war albeit from different perspectives. The tales also spoke of the capriciousness of life and the fate of those caught in the midst of war against the larger narratives (myths?) of history where portents and posterity tend to dominate official narratives. Reading them as s series brought on a strange sense of poignancy and even nostalgia for a place and time I never knew, where dying seemed so much alive and vivid than the placid normalcy of peacetime living. Murray's unaffected and descriptive prose brought to life images and places that are stark yet real in their complexity, creating a sense of presently felt immediacy to what war felt like.

At some level, I felt such stories to be necessary reading even if only to counteract the degree to which we have become inured to the images and reports of war in faraway places like Iraq and Afghanistan; we can hardly connect at a human level with what living IN war feels like. This volume also brought to mind Peter Englund's The Beauty and the Sorrow, a collection of biographical accounts of disparate civilians living through the First World War. There is something tenuous yet significant in reading such accounts (even if they may be fictionalized imaginations or composite accounts) that draw on the real. It is as if through such literary encounters we memorialize and pay our respects to those much like ourselves who happened to have lived in those fraught times, whom in all other respects could well have been us, and thus in a strange way we assert the value of ordinary lives having been in the world.


Tales of the New World: Stories
Tales of the New World: Stories
by Sabina Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.46
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vicarious Adventuring Brought Vividly to Life, January 26, 2012
I'm delighted to have discovered Sabina Murray's work - her evocations of the solitary natures of her cast of explorers in this new collection of stories sound authentic (even if most of the internal soliloquys of her characters tend to give an impression of uniformity), and I thought she captured the sense of the many situations and far-flung locales in the stories well, from Sakhalin to Victorian London to life on the high seas etc. What I found particularly interesting was how she imaginatively conveyed the many layers of complexities within the characters, their very human self-doubts, foibles and naivete in their circumstances, the sense of dealing with the unknown future they faced and how they made decisions. Murray brings them to life far beyond the singular achievements they each are remembered for in history books.

If I were to quibble though, I'd say that her writing might have evoked more fully the visceral 'presentness' of their situations as they were being experienced - the sense of desperate hardship, the squalor of dirt and smells, the sensation of cold and starvation or dead thirst, the pervasive fear and tenuousness of life on a whale or pirate boat or in the outback. Her drunks were largely well-behaved, all her characters almost too even-keeled and lucid even when raving; it may be Murray's prose but they seemed to share a general overlying sense of equanimity and somehow not enough mania, whimsy, craziness or drift in their musings. Apart from the first story in this collection about Mary Kingsley, Murray's characters were all men who seemed to share a kind of uniformity in temperament, philosophical outlook and character - or perhaps we are to surmise that explorers share those traits? Kingsley's character has the distinction of feisty wit and humor, and the way she was drawn rendered a spunkier, more inquisitive and more believably intrepid character than any of the male characters. As imagined character portraits however, I must give Murray credit where credit's due.

However closely (or not) they hew to reality and the actual persons, these stories were intriguing in the way they place the reader in the shoes of these explorers, allowing you to see and feel much of what they saw and felt at the time, and vicariously taste the lived experience of adventuring and being in the moment (albeit somewhat detachedly) in the high as well as low and more mundane moments.


Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (The Anthony Hecht Lectures in the Humanities Series)
Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (The Anthony Hecht Lectures in the Humanities Series)
by Garry Wills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.75
66 used & new from $2.27

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Rhetorical Exegesis, January 20, 2012
This was a surprisingly engaging and quick read considering the subject - I was somehow expecting a dryer and more academic (read abstruse and filled with technical literary jargon) encounter. Wills' exegesis of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar shines a very welcome and articulate light on interpreting the play and studying the texts. What I might have missed in the fleeting experience of watching or listening to a performance is here laid bare and to good effect. His discussion of the rhetorical features of speech, performance and the ends to which they were employed by different characters was as a breath of fresh air and certainly revived my appreciation for Shakespeare's genius. Would that I had the benefit of this approach during my teens in pre-University Eng Lit classes in the 80's!


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