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David Zimmerman RSS Feed (Baton Rouge, LA USA)

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The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
by Edward O. Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.54
122 used & new from $0.45

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Miracle Worth Saving, November 3, 2007
I heard a sermon based on this book at my church and bought a copy at the book table after the service. Like me, the eminent biologist Wilson is a secular humanist. Unlike me, Wilson has made study and thought about nature his life's work. In "The Creation" he appeals to fundamental Christians (as one of which he was raised) to consider the commonality of their beliefs--that the miracle of creation, whether created by God in seven days, or evolved after the Big Bang over a period of billions of years, is something worth saving. He goes on to demonstrate how humans, the supposed lords of the earth, depend of the rest of the nature for their continued existence.

Wilson's sincere attempt to bridge the gap between religion and science is much appreciated by a reader like me who tries to stay grounded in both worlds. My religious tradition, Unitarian-Universalism, calls the concept described by Wilson as the "interdependent web of life". It's heartening to read some real structure to add to that foundation. I also will follow with interest his effort to create an on-line Encyclopedia of Life ([...] A prototype edition is due out in mid-2008. Wilson also offers ideas on how biology should be taught to develop a generations of citizen environmentalists who can each do their part in this civilization-saving work. After I read this book, I contacted my daughter's high school biology teacher. To my delight, she responded that Wilson was her hero, and that she assigned another of his books to her advanced placement class.

Whether you come at the subject from the scientific or religious perspective, or from somewhere in between, you'll gain a broad perspective on the issue of global sustainability and mankind's role in the struggle. Highly recommended to all readers--middle school on up--even a 5th or 6th grader with a strong interest in nature could enjoy and learn from Wilson's short but powerful book.

Peace Like a River
Peace Like a River
by Leif Enger
Edition: Paperback
79 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Above Average, November 2, 2007
This review is from: Peace Like a River (Paperback)
Published in 2002, this selection from our ninth-grader's summer reading list proved to be one of the best books I've read in 2007. First-time novelist Leif Enger tells a story from the land of "Prairie Home Companion", Roofing, Minnesota in the early 1960s, but with miracles and a something like a murder to upset the normalcy. Fittingly the story moves from Minnesota to neighboring North Dakota, home of the Coen Brothers' movie Fargo (Special Edition), where life in the badlands makes no pretension of normalcy.

Asthmatic 11-year old narrator Reuben Land and his precocious 9-year old sister Swede, a wordsmith who specializes in epic poetry about the Old West, are both well above average as they lead us through Enger's tale of the sometimes-conflicting values of justice and loyalty. Father Jeremiah and woolly woodsman Jape Waltzer add spiritual notes, on both sides of the age-old battle between good and evil. Grown-beyond-his-years brother Davey works both sides of the aisle on his own. FBI agent Martin Andreeson does his best to stay grounded in a manhunt (or man and children hunt). Several other minor characters pepper the story, with some such as travelling salesman Tin Lurvy finding their way unexpectedly into the plot. Such occurrences, unlikely as they seem, make the reader think about the nature of coincidence vs. miracle, a distinction that seems pretty obvious to an 11-year old boy who worships his father. The novel slows a little in the last third as the manhunt nears its end, but Enger concocts a surprising, touching and fitting ending to it all.

As a big fan of "the book inside the book", I loved Swede's ongoing epic poem about Western hero Sunny Sundown. I salute Enger for both mastering this form (perhaps a little too well for a supposed 9-year old--but who knows about prodigies--Mozart composed piano concertos at age 7) and working it into the story in such an entertaining and relevant manner. I also enjoyed the spiritual element brought to the story, primarily by the Land family patriarch.

As with the Georgia-based coming-of-age novel (also from the 9th grade summer reading list) Cold Sassy Tree, I recommend Peace Like a River to 100 years of readers-- age 11 to 111. I moved the bottom of the scale up a couple of years because of violent nature of the first few chapters, as the conflict and the killing are set up and carried out. As far as I can tell, this is Enger's only novel. I hope he's working on another.

Elton John - Honky Château
Elton John - Honky Château
Price: $7.39
102 used & new from $1.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cat Named Elton Hercules John, October 15, 2007
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I bought this classic CD from Amazon recently (at a very attractive price). I bought the vinyl version more than 30 years ago, soon after it first came out. A few of the songs survived the vinyl era on my self-recorded cassette tapes. Since I got the CD, I've listened to "Honky Cat" countless times in the car, and copied it onto my laptop so I can listen to it inside too.

Everyone knows the hit songs "Honky Cat" and "Rocket Man". I remembered fondly the beautiful "tribute" to New York City, "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" (it was actually a DB discussion of this song that brought the album back to mind), "Salvation", and the closing number (inspired by a rhino if you believe the CD notes), "Hercules" (Elton's stage middle name). What surprised me were the other great songs I didn't remember so well--"Mellow" and "Susie (Dramas)", the latter of which has a chorus so great that they have to sing it three times--"She sure knows how to use me/pretty little black-eyed Susie/playing hooky with my heart all the time/Livin with her funky family/in a derelict old alley/down by the river where we share a little lovin' in the moonshine." I'm gonna sing at least one of these at Karaoke some night.

The album also brought back to mind the seamless songwriting collaboration of Elton and his lyricist Bernie Taupin, who did not play or sing with the band. I'm told that Taupin wrote the lyrics (poems) and Elton wrote the tunes around them. On "Honky Chateau", an album that was primarily recorded in France, the producer filled out the sound with an exciting electric violin, used very effectively on "Mellow" and "Amy". Elton's piano composition and playing is fabulous as always. Listening again to "Honky Chateau" makes me understand why Elton John became a pop music phenomenon.

The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh
The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh
by Michael Chabon
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.48
212 used & new from $0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Writer as a Young Man, October 14, 2007
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"Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is the first novel by one of my favorite current authors (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel). It's not really a traditional plot-driven "mystery" novel, but rather a story of young man's search for his identity in the summer following his graduation from college. Chabon's potential as a novelist is apparent in the characters he creates and language he uses.

Protagonist Art Bechstein, whom you suspect of sharing more than a couple life details with the author, exists in the shadow of his gangster father, from which he's trying to escape. Aiding the escape, though not in a very organized manner, are best friend Arthur Lecompte, loose cannon Cleveland, and girlfriend Phlox (how could I forget that name?). You could easily see Art growing up to be the dissolute professor of Chabon's other Pittsburgh novel, Wonder Boys: A Novel. The book also reminded me quite a bit of Zach Braff's film Garden State.

If you like young adult stories along those lines, Mysteries of Pittsburgh is a good choice. If you haven't read any Chabon you might want to start with this one, so you'll appreciate his growth as a writer when you read Kavalier and Klay and his other, more mature novels. If you've already read more recent books, you may be disappointed with Mysteries, though it's still fun to read the portrait of the artist as a young man. Three and a half stars. I'll round up to four for Chabon fulfilling the promise he shows here in later works.

On Chesil Beach: A Novel
On Chesil Beach: A Novel
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
414 used & new from $0.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Talk to Me, October 14, 2007
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"On Chesil Beach" is more a novella than a novel. It's also nothing like the similarly-titled "On the Beach" or "Beach Music". McEwan tells the short, but intense story of a young British couple on their honeymoon in 1962. Both are virgins, but with very different attitudes about sex, and, in keeping with the times, utterly incapable of discussing the subject.

With such a narrow scope, essentially the events of one evening of the couple's honeymoon, "On Chesil Beach" is necessarily intensely personal, sometimes uncomfortably so--even though we know that we're reading about fictional characters and the events of the story "happen" almost 50 years ago. Still in the retelling of those events, and of their consequences in the later lives of the characters, McEwan makes a very important point about dangers of miscommunication or worse, no communication, in relationships.

Five stars for this short but powerful work, but for adult and near-adult readers only. The climactic scene isn't lascivious, but it is fairly graphic. Younger readers may also get bored by the British understatement and calm of the first half of the book. I look forward to reading more of McEwan's novels.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 16, 2007 1:03 PM PDT

Going Postal (Discworld)
Going Postal (Discworld)
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun with the Postal Service (Really!), October 10, 2007
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My friends in the reviewing community love this English author, so I decided to give him a try. Pratchett has written dozens of books about Discworld, an Earth-like place populated by bureaucrats, benevolent despots, and wizards, among many wondrous creatures (including golems in this story). Going Postal is the exciting story of the rejuvenation of a moribund postal service (really), led by a young swindler who's been given the choice of taking the job as Postmaster, or being executed for his previous crimes.

Pratchett's tone reminds me of Mark Helprin in Freddy and Fredericka, or Philip Roth in The Great American Novel - farcical and mischievous with language, but with a more than a smidgen of truth behind the farce. He's also done a great job of imagining all the pieces of Discworld and how they fit together into a whole. I'm sure that this impression would be reinforced by reading other Discworld books. Here, we met only one city and a few of its denizens.

In Going Postal, science fiction (or more accurately, alternate universe fiction) meets British cultural satire, a la Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Recommended to all readers with social awareness, a love of language and enjoyment of a good laugh, though younger readers may not get all the references to the foibles of adult society. On the other hand, British readers might enjoy the satire even more.

Cold Sassy Tree
Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.23
211 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a Town This Size, October 6, 2007
This review is from: Cold Sassy Tree (Paperback)
This book was on my daughter's summer reading list for ninth grade. It's the story of life in small Cold Sassy, Georgia in the early 20th century, told through the eyes of a young boy whose grandfather marries the milliner from his general store just days after his wife of many years dies. Burns wrote this book, based on the memories of her grandfather, when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease in middle age. She finished it and part of the followup Leaving Cold Sassy before she died.

Looking back, the story had a lot in common with one of my favorite musicals, Fiddler on the Roof (Special Edition), except that it's the older generation that tries to break with tradition. Grandson Will Tweedy, whose grandfather always addresses by both names, represents the future of Cold Sassy and other small towns--torn between the comfort and support of tradition and the promises of happiness and progress based on new ways of thought. Personally, I'm happy to live in a world where everyone's just a little more detached from their neighbor's business than were the people of Cold Sassy. On his duets album In Spite Of Ourselves, John Prine and Dolores Kane sang a duet about the situation, "In a Town This Size"--"In a town this size/There is no place to hide. . ." Ironically, the Internet is taking us back in time, but on a larger scale, where everyone can know everything about everyone, at least to the extent that someone is willing to share it on line.

But that's getting away from Ms. Burns' book, which shimmers with authenticity of time, place and language. You'll almost choke in the dust roiled up by grandpa's first trips in his new Buick. And, boy howdy, you'll try out some of the Southernisms out loud just to test whether people could really talk that way. (My daughter and I got a big kick out of this.)

With "Cold Sassy Tree", Ms. Burns accomplishes everything she set out to do--preserve the memory of a place and time in her past; honor the life of her grandfather; and entertain generations of readers. Five enthusiastic stars for all readers from 12 to 112.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2007 10:08 AM PDT

Landsman: A Novel
Landsman: A Novel
by Peter Charles Melman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.95
133 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Reluctant Soldier's Story, October 6, 2007
This review is from: Landsman: A Novel (Hardcover)
The author went to grad school with my stepson at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Both now live in Brooklyn, NY. Melman's first novel tells the story of young Confederate soldier Elias Abrams who joins the fight to escape the consequences of his life as a street tough in pre-War New Orleans. The title refers to the protagonist's desire to have a settled life as a landowner, a dream that his upbringing and the war are doing little to advance.

Melman does a great job with the horrors of war and with the strange nature of epistolary love, which Abrams experiences when at the depth of his war experience, he receives a charitably motivated "Dear Soldier" letter from a young woman of New Orleans. After his first battle he befriends a fellow New Orleanian from a different walk of life, professor and self-described man of culture John Lee Carlson, who by turns both befuddles and inspires the semi-literate Abrams. A villain from Abrams' shady past in New Orleans lurks in the background. Melman handles it all deftly, especially for a first-time novelist, and his skill with language will often delight the reader.

Coincidentally, this is the second book I've read in two months that prominently uses the word "Landsman" in reference to the Jewish culture. The protagonist of Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" was named Mayer Landsman. The concept of owning land is critical to someone from these largely nomadic people.

My main complaint with the book is in what it is billed to do, but never really accomplishes--telling the story of the Jews who fought for the Confederacy. We hear the story of one not very pious Jew, and a bit about his dilemma of coming from an enslaved culture and then fighting to preserve slavery. Melman tells a great soldier's story, but falls short in an attempt to describe the experience of a culture in one of the great events of American history. To me, Abrams story could have been that of a young man from any religious tradition. Maybe Abrams' dream of becoming a landsman tells the larger story well enough.

Four stars for an excellently written war story--one star missing for the promised, but mostly missing, larger scope about Jews in the Civil War. Recommended for all readers. Teenage readers will need to be fairly well read to stay with the period story and literary style.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2007 7:16 PM PST

Plain Truth
Plain Truth
by Jodi Picoult
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.45
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plainly Engrossing, September 13, 2007
This review is from: Plain Truth (Paperback)
Of the three of Ms. Picoult's family novels that I've read, I enjoyed "Plain Truth" most of all. Perhaps it's because I spent a few years of my youth living near the Pennsylvania Dutch country, giving the book a comfortable feel. More likely it's because of the research she did in advance of writing the book, living among the Plain people and learning their ways, so that the story would seem so genuine. Picoult also gets high marks for her ongoing comparison between "English" and "Plain" concepts of truth and justice, retribution and forgiveness, and family and female fulfillment.

One small quibble is that the "English" attorney's backstory is perhaps a little too diametrically contrasted to the Plain lifestyle. Still it sets up the drama in the relationship between attorney and client, an 18-year old Plain woman accused of killing her newborn child, and in how the case is handled in court, as half-understandings and misunderstandings drive the twists and turns of the plot.

Exploring complicated relationships among young people and adults is clearly Ms. Picoult's strength, and as in The Pact: A Love Story (about teen suicide), even the ultimate resolution isn't cut and dried. "Plain Truth" also benefits from being less self-consciously literate (as in The Tenth Circle: A Novel, which was modeled after Dante's "Inferno"), rather, it's a plainly told tale with enough going on to keep the reader's attention to the last page.

I started reading Picoult's books thinking they were young adult fiction, but I've come to appreciate them for her ability to cross the generational line between adult and teenage characters. I'm surprised that none of her novels have been adapted for the screen. **** and a 1/2 to "Plain Truth", again recommended to all readers of family-driven fiction.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 30, 2007 9:33 PM PDT

The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita
by Diana Lewis Burgin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.62
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars M&Ms Soviet Style, September 12, 2007
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I bought this book here after getting two independent recommendations and seeing it mentioned in another book about Russia. As mentioned by others, the satirical humor about fatalism and the all out battle for class being fought on a square foot by square foot basis in the "classless" society of the Soviet Union is priceless, even to someone who has no first hand knowledge of the society. The foibles of bureaucracy is a universal theme.

The second half of book was a wild ride for sure. The Devil and his retinue's exploits in Moscow finally involve "The Master", a failed author whose life's work is a non-religious account of Pontius Pilate and the last days of Yeshua (Jesus). Margarita is The Master's mistress, who sells her soul to the devil for her beloved. Bulgakov explores the nature of good and evil, of religion and history, and of freedom and totalitarianism, all in a world where the illusion of reality can be fractured in an instant. A good background in literature and religious history will help the reader, but the story can also be appreciated for its humorous and satirical aspects. Not for everyone, but certainly of interest to avid readers of all ilks.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2007 11:21 AM PST

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