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Pop. 1280
Pop. 1280
by Jim Thompson
Edition: Paperback
61 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Entertaining, Deeply Philosophical, July 14, 2012
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This review is from: Pop. 1280 (Paperback)
POP 1280 is a brilliant book. Fast-moving, fun to read, filled with surprises for both its characters and its readers.

Sure, on the surface it follows the formula of a merely great Jim Thompson novel: we the readers follow the storyline as it unfolds in the mind of a confused narrator, who solves his problems by killing. It all seems perfectly rational to the narrator until he gradually comes unhinged -- and we the readers realize the story is not quite as the narrator has told it.

In POP 1280, small-town sheriff Nick Corey tries to think his way out of personal and professional problems, armed only with a keen understanding of human nature. Unfortunately, every move he makes seems to box him in further. The more he is trapped by his actions, the more he takes an expansive view of the universe and his place in it. The more outrageous his actions become, the farther he goes to justify them to himself.

Most of the Thompson books I've read confine themselves to psychology, with fine portrayals of oedipal complexes, mental illness, and alcoholism. But POP 1280 takes a grand leap into philosophy. At the beginning, it looks like Corey is redeemable. We see his inner ethical dialogue represented by the three women in his life. He bounces between deliberate meanness, raw emotion, and an educated conscience. But as the story develops, Corey reflects on the way God governs the universe and its parallels to his own work as sheriff. By the end of the story, we begin to wonder if anyone or anything is redeemable at all.

Ivdu Et Hashem B'Simcha Siddur - Jewish Hebrew/English Transliterated Prayerbook
Ivdu Et Hashem B'Simcha Siddur - Jewish Hebrew/English Transliterated Prayerbook
by Rabbi David Zaslow
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.00
15 used & new from $13.27

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Key to Jewish Spirituality, May 30, 2012
Siddur "Ivdu et HaShem B'Simcha" is a beautiful book for learning about Jewish prayer. Each Hebrew prayer is transliterated and explained, with special reference to its spiritual meaning - what is has to say about God and how our souls reach out. Rabbi Zaslow's contemporary translations highlight deeper meanings of the prayers. Even if you have another familiar prayerbook that you like to use, it's worth buying and studying this one, as it will deepen your understanding.

In my own rabbinic work, I often give this Siddur as a gift to people asking how to begin a Jewish spiritual practice. I introduce them to the traditional practices for beginning and ending the day. They soar when they encounter Rabbi Zaslow's beautiful translation of the evening forgiveness meditation. Often this motivates them to study the entire book!

The Jewish Bible: A JPS Guide (JPS Guides)
The Jewish Bible: A JPS Guide (JPS Guides)
Price: $9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a "Guide", October 24, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This excellent book is designed to increase your ability to appreciate a great work of world literature, the Hebrew Bible. It teaches how the Bible is structured, what the individual components mean on their own terms, and how it has been interpreted in traditional Jewish sources. Each chapter is written by scholar who is an expert in their field. The scholars write clearly and elegantly. The layout is visually appealing and easy to read. No matter how much or how little you know about the Hebrew Bible, you can learn more from this book.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran (Idiot's Guides)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran (Idiot's Guides)
by Muhammad Shaykh Sarwar
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.36
96 used & new from $0.01

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible, October 24, 2011
The layout of this book suggests it will be methodical, simple, and helpful for those who want to learn about the Quran.

It is, however, systematically unhelpful. It's a Q & A about Islam, with answers that sometimes include quotations from the Quran. It will not help you understand the scripture on its own terms.

Worse, the authors of this book totally sabotage themselves. I would assume the intended audience is people who are not Muslims. However, every time the authors try to elucidate something by comparing it to another religious tradition, they insult their audience. They use stereotypes about that tradition that are sometimes deliberately offensive, and other times simply untrue. I hope any non-Muslim reader who wants to learn about the Quran does not do so from this book - you will only end up angry and disturbed.

I recommend The Koran: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Cook. It is short, clearly written, respectful of the Quran, and respectful of the reader's intelligence. It will make you want to know more.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.50
262 used & new from $3.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced, intriguing journey!, May 29, 2010
GREAT book! For people 10 and older.

Very fast paced. The main characters move from narrow escape to narrow escape. They must be exhausted!

All of the many locations in the book come alive and readers can enjoy a fantastic journey through places both new and familiar.

The plot relies on enough familiar magical concepts that adventures don't seem to be contrived, and adds just enough new magical trends to keep us curious.

Every important character gets to show their best and bravest side. Only a very few turn out to be irredeemably evil.

Much that is mysterious in the stories of Dumbledore and Snape is explained.

The sad and scary parts are balanced with plenty of humorous, ludicrous, laugh-out-loud details.

The overall ending is the only satisfying one that is possible given the series and its audience. Thank goodness!

Criticisms? Given all the deaths and heroic acts, I should have cried a lot more. But the author's emphasis is on plot rather than emotion. And we didn't get enough of Ginny.

No Title Available

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An informative historical novel, May 29, 2010
The reviews of this book so far fall into two categories:

1. "Great book! I learned a lot about history of the slave trade, and was gripped by the relentless ups and downs in the life of the main character."

2. "Disappointing book! Characters are drawn poorly, writing is mediocre, no deep philosophical or psychological insight is offered."

I have to agree with both kinds of reviews.

The plot of the book is exciting, and the historical teachings are very full. The main character Aminata Diallo is endowed with many talents and skills in order to make it possible for her to travel into many different situations. These include life as a free African child, abducted prisoner on a slave ship, slave plantation laborer, slave urban bookkeeper, escaped impoverished slave, free administrative assistant, abolitionist spokesperson, mother, wife, friend...and into four different countries. Her very full life enables the author to show us many aspects of the history of the slave trade. The chaotic wartime setting makes the relentless pace of danger and adventure believable. Just learning about the history and the suffering and the bravery can stir up any reader.

The writing is not highbrow. From the very first chapter, when the elder Aminata describes how beautiful her youthful body was, it is obvious that the male author will be looking at the character from the outside rather than really allowing her to speak from the inside. Many metaphors come off as awkward or silly. The dialogue is often standard and doesn't succeed in distinguishing the characters from one another.

As literature about aspects of slavery goes, it's not comparable to Toni Morrison's "Beloved," a deep psychological exploration with a philosophical thesis about past, present and future intertwined. It's not comparable to Edward P. Jones "The Known World," a masterpiece of Biblical depth in its restrained revelations about the growth and stunted growth of the human soul. But neither of those books has the goal of teaching readers about an entire century of history. Each has a much smaller historical goal and much bigger literary and psychological goals.

And neither aims to tell us about connections between Canadian, British, and American history at all, which Lawrence Hill does well.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2012 8:41 AM PDT

The Age of Innocence (Oxford World's Classics)
The Age of Innocence (Oxford World's Classics)
by Cynthia Griffin Wolff
Edition: Paperback
44 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Whose innocence?, May 29, 2010
Comedy or tragedy? Trust Edith Wharton to write a single book that is both! A feast of sensual writing or a play of subtle psychological nuances? Again, trust Wharton to craft a novel that is simultaneously both.

Age of Innocence is a masterpiece of writing, by an author whose deceptively simple descriptive writing style speaks on many levels at once.

The plot is straightforward: Newland Archer is a young man living in New York "Society" of the 1870s. He is happily engaged to marry May, a beautiful young woman chosen for him by his family. Shortly after their engagement is announced, he meets May's more exotic and openly seductive older cousin Ellen. He becomes completely captivated by Ellen, and spends the rest of his life believing it would have been better had he married Ellen instead.

The story unfolds through Newland's eyes. In Newland's eyes, he is unconventional, Ellen is sophisticated, and May is shallow, conventional, and boring. Yet - and here is Wharton's genius -- while narrating the world through Newland's eyes, Wharton manages to convey that Newland is the shallow, conventional one. Newland believes that wives are dull and fettered; unavailable women are mysterious and exciting. His own awkward behaviors become confirmation for his stereotypical beliefs. To the reader, who is treated to deeper glimpses of May's character, Newland's emotional immaturity is comical; but for Newland himself, it is tragic.

Wharton shows us two sides of social convention within a small upper-class community: on the one hand, it can painfully narrow a person's vision, as it does for Newland; on the other hand, it can create deep bonds of family connection, as it does for May. Wharton leaves it up to the reader to decide which is the truer picture.

by Paul Harding
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.03
627 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Multi-layered, May 4, 2010
This review is from: Tinkers (Paperback)
The best reason I could think of for this book winning a Pulitzer Prize is the way it compares to the Pulitzer-Prizewinning Gilead. In Gilead, a man discovers who he is late in life by looking backwards and forwards at the men in his lineage. Tinkers is more ambitious than Gilead. Tinkers deliberately blows apart the linear narrative of generations to explore the ways in which our ancestors live inside us.

The first section of the book is chaotic: George Crosby, who is dying at home surrounded by family, experiences a patchwork of memories, hallucinations, fears, and real perceptions. The author contrasts George's experience with his lifelong attempt to create an ordered life. Metaphor piles upon metaphor showing us what things meant to George. This section is difficult to read, as the author changes writing styles frequently, leaping from level to level within George's consciousness. Thus, it is difficult for us to know who George is, and to care about him.

The second section is much more linear. We learn why order is important to George. His father Howard was a tinker and a door to door salesman whose heart loved poetry, and whose epilepsy made him unpredictable and frightening. George's grandfather was a minister who wasted away with mental and physical illness.

The third section appears linear, but is actually quite allusive. The boundaries between experiences begin to blur again. Is Howard recalling that he lost sight of his father, as the linear narrative suggests, or is this really a description of George's inner experience? Does George really meet his father again, or are pieces of himself coming together? Did we not know George at first because he did not know himself, masking these many painful memories with his sense of order?

Asking these questions about George and ourselves is the payoff of the book.

Paul Harding writes stunningly beautiful paragraphs, and is master of a variety of writing styles. But the real magic of the book lies in the complexity of the weave. Transitions and juxtapositions are awkward at times, but I think that is part of the message.

by Timothy Findley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
64 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Leaves you wanting more..., January 1, 2010
This review is from: Stones (Paperback)
This collection of short stories explores the inner lives of people driven by various dark, shameful secrets: compulsion, alcoholism, incest. The writing is excellent. Findley uses both dialogue and narration to let us see the story from the perspective of the protagonist. What we see is that each character is confused about her or his own motivations and choices. Memories, perceptions, beliefs weave together into tapestries with gaping holes. Thus we, the readers, come to understand that we, too, wouldn't have a clue what to do in the character's situation.

The book certainly displays the author's virtuosity as a writer. It includes two pairs of stories that show events from two perspectives: a character in the moment of crisis, and the same character reflecting on a longer chain of events. It explores several different writing techniques. It weaves autobiographical moments from the life of the author into the lives of different characters.

My criticism applies to most of the stories, except for the two where the character reflects on events over time. Each story opens us onto a moment of confusion, madness or sudden clarity. And at the end of the story, we are perched at that moment, wanting to know what happens next. It seems somehow to be a failure of the author (or perhaps the genre of the horror short story) to bring the story to a climax and then abruptly end it, because the author doesn't know where to take the character from there.

Overall, this is a very good read, and one that can teach a reader a lot about writing. I read it in one sitting!

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel
by Muriel Spark
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.61
103 used & new from $2.67

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compact, complex, tragicomic, philosphical, November 1, 2009
Tragic, because the more the main character Sandy tries to avoid her fate, the more she creates it for herself. Comic, because the writer's matter-of-fact style highlights some of life's simple ironies.

The title character of this book is Miss Jean Brodie, teacher at a private girls' school. Miss Brodie is "larger than life," or so she presents herself. Though in the view of the author, Miss Brodie is very much a product of her time, Miss Brodie sees herself as transcendent. Miss Brodie's evolving, imaginative narrative of her own life is the main topic that her students study. Her narrative dominates her vision, and often she cannot see interpersonal or political events as they really are. We see Miss Brodie through the eyes of Sandy, one of her favourite students. Sandy, too, spins imaginative narratives in which she is the hero, using raw material from books, stories, and Miss Brodie's life. When Sandy reaches maturity, she finds she must distance herself from the mentor she too closely resembles. And yet, the more Sandy imagines she has rejected Miss Brodie, the more Sandy's life parallels Miss Brodie's life.

Philosophically, the book is a meditation on predestination. Spark mentions, almost in passing, the Calvinistic view that how you live your life has no bearing on the eternal future God chooses for you. She regularly interrupts the narrative with a glimpse of the future of one of the characters. Often there seems to be no connection between the little girls we are getting to know and the adult women they become. This in itself is a parody of the randomness of the theory of predestination. But the real irony of the theory is played out in Sandy's life. On the one hand, Sandy's dreamy, self-absorbed personality seems a carbon copy of Miss Brodie's. On the other hand, Sandy finds Miss Brodie ridiculous. Sandy tries hard to make choices that reject Miss Brodie's influence. But they all backfire, and the themes that drive Sandy's life - vicarious love and confused renunciation - parallel Miss Brodie's anyway.

Sparks writes in a deceptively simple style. She tosses us into the middle of a scene, and describes small awkward moments that capture big themes. The awkward moments make all of the characters look slightly ridiculous. Because we recognize the moments, we take a second look at our own ordinariness, and the deceptive games hidden within it. As the book opens up our perception, we might laugh at ourselves or pity others we know. We're led to ask whether we can really escape some of life's ironies, or whether we are...predestined.

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