Profile for Chicago Bookworm > Reviews


Chicago Bookworm's Profile

Customer Reviews: 37
Top Reviewer Ranking: 27,509
Helpful Votes: 416

Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Chicago Bookworm RSS Feed (Chicago)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Auralex ProPAD 2.1 Inches and 8 Inches by 13 Inches Studio Monitor Acoustic Isolation Pad
Auralex ProPAD 2.1 Inches and 8 Inches by 13 Inches Studio Monitor Acoustic Isolation Pad
Price: Click here to see our price
13 used & new from $89.10

4.0 out of 5 stars Makes a big difference in sound quality, March 25, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
These Auralex platforms are a great low-cost tweak to a sound system if you have any issues with unwanted resonance/rattling or with bass presence. I wasn't sure they were worth the money, but they are. They're sturdy and are clearly made with good-quality materials.

My Monitor Audio speakers are on a hardwood floor, and the built-in bases didn't supply any sound dampening. The Auralex platforms eliminated the occasional resonance I'd get with some frequencies, which was what I was really looking for. What I didn't expect, but got, was an improvement in overall sound quality. The bass in particular sounds more focused and clearer than before.

Music Hall MAT Decoupling Cork Turntable Platter Mat
Music Hall MAT Decoupling Cork Turntable Platter Mat
Price: $50.00
10 used & new from $50.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the money; no real improvement in sound, March 25, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I was very disappointed in this mat, since other reviews I'd read recommended it as a way of improving sound quality and reducing static. From the results I got when I tried it out, the only way I can imagine this mat producing a significant sound improvement is if you're using it to replace a damaged or really substandard mat. I'm returning mine.

I have a Denon turntable that comes supplied with a heavy, ridged rubber mat. Playing the same record on that mat and on this one I heard no real difference in sound—except that parts of the music sounded slightly tinnier with the Music Hall mat. As for static, the cork mat may reduce it over a rubber mat, if used over enough time (one reason I'm giving this mat 2 stars rather than 1). But I think you're better off with an anti-static gun or a product like Gruv Glide if you get enough static that it's a problem.

One thing to know is that this mat is really, really thin. That's not necessarily a bad thing in terms of performance, but it would be easy to tear the mat when putting it on or removing it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 10, 2014 5:36 PM PDT

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.55
192 used & new from $13.73

160 of 183 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great scenes and lines that don't add up, December 2, 2013
It's been a long time since I found a book so alternately beautiful and maddening. There are excellent scenes and lines in this novel, and I'm glad I read it, but it doesn't hold together well. In the end it reminded me of the antique shop the character Hobie runs in the book: many amazing, high-quality things half-hidden beneath mounds of less interesting stuff.

Tartt deserves credit for daring greatly in this book. It's hard to center a long novel on a fairly unlikeable character, and even harder when that character is also the narrator. In Theo Decker I felt she was trying to get at the ways a severe psychic injury plays out over a lifetime, and for the first half of the book I was fascinated by Theo even when I didn't like him. And Tartt does lay the groundwork carefully for his later misdeeds, particularly in Theo's unwanted resemblance to his father. But once Theo becomes an adult (in years if not in maturity), he makes so many stupid decisions, and is so apathetic about his life generally, that it got increasingly difficult for me to care what happened to him. It's also hard to reconcile how Theo can act as he does while having the insights he articulates. I understand that this is part of what Tartt is trying to explore (why people don't do what they know, at some level, they should do), but I don't think it quite comes off here. Theo's character felt too inconsistent to sustain the whole novel.

The high points of the novel for me were Theo's life immediately after the explosion that kills his mother, when he is taken in by the wealthy family of a school friend, and his relationship with Hobie, the furniture dealer who takes him on as a kind of apprentice. As in "The Secret History," Tartt excels in showing the dark underside of wealth and privilege, and it wasn't a surprise when members of the wealthy family turn up later in Theo's life and play some decisive roles. As for Hobie, I wanted to read a whole novel about him, because the portions that describe his sense for furniture and his love for the past were some of the strongest in the book. Boris, the Russian-born friend Theo makes during his sojourn in Las Vegas with his gambler father, is also a vivid character, and I appreciated that Tartt took his character in directions I didn't expect.

It's the ending (and by "ending" I mean about the last 200 pages) that was the real problem for me. The violence and cross-continents chase scenes just didn't ring true. This part of the book, in which more "happens" in plot terms, was actually the hardest to get through. Tartt excels at rendering the inner lives of characters, but the action scenes fall flat.

I hate giving this novel a mediocre rating, because I appreciate the ambition it embodies and the parts of it in which Tartt's prose really sings. She's engaging some important questions about the power of art in this book, and the scenes that feature Theo thinking through his relationship with the purloined painting were moving and thought-provoking. The novel as a whole just doesn't measure up to its best components, sadly.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2014 4:03 AM PDT

Beatles vs. Stones
Beatles vs. Stones
by John McMillian
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.71
78 used & new from $2.10

26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very good historical context, but some significant flaws, November 12, 2013
This review is from: Beatles vs. Stones (Hardcover)
Note: I'd give this 3 1/2 stars, if I could.

This is not the book to start with if you want to begin understanding the Beatles and Stones, but for established fans of both or either band, McMillian provides some fascinating details about their respective histories. This is also not the place to go to for musical analysis; McMillian is writing as an historian, and the (relatively brief) parts of the book where he writes directly about the music are the least illuminating, in my opinion. But if you want a close look at how the Beatles and Stones got established and made their ways in the mid- to late-60s, you'll probably find this book interesting, even if parts of it will likely also annoy you.

The most useful part of the book, for me at least, was the exploration of how Brian Epstein shaped the Beatles' early image, and how Andrew Loog Oldham shaped the Stones'. McMillian goes deeper than most other writers in his consideration of how that image shaping worked, and looking at the two bands and managers side by side gives a fuller view of the early 60's musical landscape. One thing this section demonstrates is how crazy it is to talk glibly about the "authenticity" of either band's early image. When Epstein met the Beatles, they were dressed entirely in black leather and projected a toughness they'd developed in Hamburg; when Oldham met the Stones, they were a mixed lot without a definite "look." Epstein cleaned up the Beatles' look, and after the Beatles achieved early success with that, the Stones tried it as well, before settling on the hard-edged look they made their own. It's a testament to the talent of both bands that neither could be confined by that early image.

McMillian also does a creditable job of tracing the part-rivalry, part-cooperative relationship between the bands over the years. He's at his best when he's describing concrete events, as when he paints the scene of Lennon and McCartney completing the writing of "I Wanna Be Your Man" while Jagger and Richards watched, and then going into the studio and participating in the recording of the Stones' "We Love You." There was obviously a lot of musical cross-pollination going on between the two bands, and I enjoyed learning about the direct evidence for it.

Another valuable section of the book delves into late-60s politics and the divide between the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and the Beatles' "Revolution." I already knew something about the way each song was received at the time, but not about the extent to which Lennon's song was seen as a betrayal by many on the left. I came away with a greater appreciation of Lennon's courage in acknowledging his ambivalence publicly -- but of course, your mileage may vary, especially if you're more of a Stones fan.

In general, I think McMillian is too hard on the Stones (and I say that as someone who appreciates both bands' work, but is much more of a Beatles fan). He leans too hard on the Stones' "copying" the Beatles, when the reality is that both bands were responding to similar cultural forces. He does acknowledge that the Stones influenced the Beatles musically, but does so in a way that seems half-hearted.

The ending of the book is particularly unfair to the Stones. McMillian chooses to close the Beatles' story with John Lennon's murder, which is somewhat understandable (it makes for dramatic storytelling, and Lennon's murder definitely ended speculation about whether the band would ever reunite) but also feels like an evasion. Meanwhile, McMillian spends a lot of ink denigrating the Stones' post-70s recording and touring, which is both unreasonable in musical terms (since they've released some good later music, and had some great tours) and unbalanced in terms of the book's subject (the Beatles all had solo careers, and McCartney and Starr are still performing).

All in all, this is a book worthwhile primarily for understanding the Beatles' and the Stones' early histories and their interactions with each other in the 60s. If you're looking for a comparison of the two bands in musical terms, DeRogatis and Kot's book on the Beatles and Stones focuses on that, though it too has real weaknesses. After reading both books, I'm more convinced than ever that it's a mistake to take that "vs." seriously. The only conjunction that really belongs between "Beatles" and "Stones," in my opinion, is "and."

Paul McCartney Really Is Dead - The Last Testament Of George Harrison?
Paul McCartney Really Is Dead - The Last Testament Of George Harrison?
Price: $9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could be funny, but Joel Gilbert really is scary, November 11, 2013
I streamed this and can agree it was funny, to a point. If you're a Beatles fan and can enjoy loony "evidence" taken to extremes, the film is intermittently entertaining (I mean, claiming that Heather Mills caused McCartney's fatal car crash years before she was actually born is pretty hilarious). That claim at least gives anyone watching the film fair warning not to take it seriously (not that that's stopped some people). If you're looking for real insight into the "Paul is Dead" mythology, read Andru J. Reeves' book "Turn Me On, Dead Man." It's entertaining, factual, and comprehensive.

I'd be more willing to play along with this movie as a fun, if not great, parody if it weren't for two things: the ugliness directed against John Lennon and George Harrison, who aren't here to respond, and what I found out about Joel Gilbert after I looked up the rest of his work.

First, the ugliness against Lennon and Harrison: the film portrays both as long-term liars, and claims that John Lennon engaged in peace activism with Yoko Ono so people would see him as a nut. It's pretty shameful to subject two dead men to that treatment.

Now, Joel Gilbert. After streaming this I looked director Gilbert up on IMDb, and now I wish I could retract any meager encouragement I've given him by watching his McCartney film.

Did you know he's done a film about Elvis not being dead, 2012's "Elvis Found Alive"? That one claims that Elvis faked his death and went undercover as a federal agent so he could combat the Weather Underground and other radical groups. He's struggled to restart his singing career, but is currently being stymied by (wait for it) the Obama administration. Like the McCartney film, this one was originally billed as a "documentary" on Gilbert's site, and is now listed as a "mockumentary." (Loren Collins, on, has a post on "Gilbert's Mockumentaries" that describes the way Gilbert has changed his tune about both movies.)

But it's 2012's "Dreams From My Real Father" that makes Gilbert look not just shady but sinister. This film is NOT described as a mockumentary. Gilbert's site describes it as making the case that "Barack Obama's real father was Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party USA propagandist who likely shaped Obama's world view during his formative years." It "weaves together the proven facts with reasoned logic in an attempt to fill-in the obvious gaps in Obama's history. Is this the story Barack Obama should have told, revealing his true agenda for "fundamentally transforming America?"

Um, no. But this trumped-up narrative IS an excuse for Gilbert to claim that "To understand Obama's plans for America, the question is not 'where's the birth Certificate? the question is 'Who is the real father?'"

In fact, the real questions are "What is Joel Gilbert trying to achieve with the films he's making?" and "Do you want to give this guy your time or money?" Whatever your political perspective, you can find a much more worthy filmmaker to support.

by Dave Eggers
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.01
678 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Details that emerged later changed my view, March 12, 2013
This review is from: Zeitoun (Paperback)
I originally gave this book 3 1/2 stars. I thought it was flawed, but that it was important as a window into one family's experience of Katrina and its aftermath. I appreciated that parts of it were beautifully written, and that the book told readers what life was like at "Camp Greyhound," the temporary prison where Abdulrahman Zeitoun, among many others, was held without a phone call or humane treatment.

Now, however, I feel disappointed in Eggers as an author, because later events cast real doubt on his portrait of Abdulrahman Zeitoun. Zeitoun is portrayed as so noble that, even at the time of first reading the book, I wondered if Eggers wasn't airbrushing a bit. But now Zeitoun has been charged with ordering hits on his wife, Kathy, and her son by her first marriage. And Kathy Zeitoun has said she suffered abuse from Zeitoun for years, including the years Eggers is writing about here. (If you look up "Zeitoun update" online, you'll see what I mean.)

I believe in Egger's good intentions. I think he really wanted to tell a story that highlighted why the aftereffects of Katrina were so disastrous, how much of the government's response to the tragedy was misguided at best, and how Muslims in the U.S. can be unfairly stereotyped. And I'm willing to believe that Eggers was fooled by the Zeitouns -- that they didn't tell him everything about their marriage (who would?).

But did EVERYONE Eggers talked to have the same completely rosy view of the Zeitouns? Was there nothing, in all the time he spent working on the book, that raised his suspicions at all? He's a smart man, and I find that tough to believe. The degree of divergence between the nonviolent, completely loving and altruistic Abdulrahman Zeitoun and the man who would order hits on his family from prison is so huge that it made me wonder what else Eggers didn't see or averted his eyes from.

In my original review, I said I would have liked to hear more about the Zeitouns directly from their neighbors and friends in New Orleans. Eggers describes their work fixing up and renting houses, but we don't get many specifics about their friendships and business relationships. Now I find that missing dimension of the story yet more telling. More depth and breadth, more acknowledgement of complexity, would really have enriched this book, albeit at the cost of its being such a clear cut morality tale.

This book had the potential to be great, but I think Eggers wanted to keep it simple instead. Rather than dealing with shades of gray, he wanted to paint in black and white. And as I said, I think he did that with good intentions: he wanted people to be horrified by the way people were picked up during Katrina, held without proper communication or hearings, and kept in prison for weeks or months without redress. But he could have conveyed that horror without painting Zeitoun as a saint, and if he had done so, the book wouldn't look like an extended error of judgment on Eggers' part now.

In the introduction Eggers talks about how the Zeitouns went over the book repeatedly and suggested changes, and enthusiastically says they made it "better" each time. And in retrospect, I should have seen that as more of a red flag than I did. This is clearly the story as the Zeitouns, especially Abdulrahman Zeitoun, wanted it to be told. I wish Eggers had pushed back a bit, opened out the story, and recognized more ambiguities. Then it would have stood the test of time, as this book doesn't.

Downturn Abbey
Downturn Abbey
by Michael Allen Gerber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.46
27 used & new from $9.11

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For any "Downton Abbey" fan with a sense of humor, January 8, 2013
This review is from: Downturn Abbey (Paperback)
If you like "Downtown Abbey" and also enjoy humor or parody, you owe it to yourself to get this book! If you've ever laughed at a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, a Capitol Steps performance, or an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," you'll enjoy this novel.

There's so much that is absolutely, insanely hilarious in "Downturn Abbey" that I'm at risk of going on and on. Read the preview chapter for yourself; I'll confine myself to a few comments.

The one-liners by "Lady Violent" are, by themselves, worth the price of the book.

"Miss O'Lyin" and "Mr. Baits" deserve a whole Dickens novel of their own

The period illustrations add a whole dimension of sly fun. I particularly love Lady Marry's waterproof suit (worn in tribute to relatives that went down on the Titanic).

Like all great parodies, "Downturn Abbey" is obviously a work rooted in appreciation for its subject. It's satirical without being at all mean-spirited. My enjoyment of "Downton Abbey" has actually been enhanced by reading this book; I've got to believe Julian Fellowes would approve it, given the comedy in his novel "Snobs."

Price: $11.88
89 used & new from $7.61

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enduring music with newly crisp sound, May 24, 2012
This review is from: RAM (Audio CD)
"Ram" may well be the greatest rock album ever to be critically dismissed. If you don't already know it, I recommend you listen for yourself and draw your own conclusions. If you know and enjoy it and wonder if it's worth getting the remastered edition of the album, it is.

The sound difference between this version of "Ram" and the earlier one is comparable to that between the old Beatles CDs and the remastered albums. This version sounds better than the original LP of "Ram": the clarity is improved, and the range is expanded. It's now possible to hear every detail of the arrangements.

Obviously, I love this album. Critics and fans will go on arguing over its "correct" rating and place in rock history; I'll just say that few albums that have received the kind of critical hatchet job "Ram" did on its release have gone on to win so many new listeners 40 years later. (I'm a Gen Xer who discovered this album as an adult.) My advice to anyone wondering what "Ram" is all about is to turn down the critical noise, pro and con, and just listen to it.

For those interested, here's some history and interpretation.

On its release in 1971, "Ram" was roundly reviled by the rock press. In Rolling Stone Jon Landau famously called it "the nadir in the decomposition of 60s rock so far," and that pretty well set the tone for the official reviews. Paul McCartney had done something that wasn't cool in the early 1970s, especially for an ex-Beatle: he'd made an album with his wife that focused on personal emotion and experience, at a time when the former Beatles were expected to give cosmic statements. And it sounded like he was having way too much fun doing it.

The only statement the rock press of the time picked up on was the anger directed at John Lennon in "Too Many People." Never mind that Lennon had been slagging off McCartney publicly for a while; McCartney's referring to "too many people preaching practices" and saying "you took your lucky break and broke it in two" outraged the critics, and they kicked McCartney on Lennon's behalf.

So they ignored the beautiful melodies, inventive arrangements, and well-crafted songs that characterize the album, and dismissed it as fluff. But if you pay attention it's clear that this is McCartney's most personal album, and the one in which he achieved the best marriage between his melodic and lyric-writing gifts.

"Dear Boy" pairs Beach-Boys-style harmonies with a stinging dismissal of Linda McCartney's ex-husband. The musical and vocal brio of "3 Legs" and "Smile Away" display McCartney's determination to carry on despite being blamed (mostly unfairly) for the Beatles' breakup. "Long-Haired Lady" and "Eat at Home" are love songs, the latter a clear tribute to Buddy Holly. "Heart of the Country" describes escaping to a beautiful place and starting over, something McCartney was currently doing on his Scottish farm. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," the album's big radio hit, is a mock apology that turns into a soaring release of pure melody. "The Back Seat of My Car" revisits youthful longing and lust, and culminates in a full-on vocal by McCartney that's as raw as "Oh! Darling." And "Ram On" is a simple, heartfelt statement of what for him made life worth living in the midst of the Beatles' wreckage: finally giving his heart completely.

"Ram" isn't perfect. "The Back Seat of My Car" sags a bit in the middle, and the music of "3 Legs" deserves better lyrics in places. And it would be great if Lennon and McCartney had managed to sort out their differences without attacking each other publicly.

But in terms of melody and musical inventiveness, this is an amazing album, fully as great on its own terms as Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" and "Imagine." That some critics today (in Q magazine's recent review of the remastered album, for example) are leading a backlash against the album's recognition as a classic in many quarters is sad, but not too surprising. As McCartney remarked in a later song, "Some people never know."

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys
by David Leaf
Edition: Hardcover
40 used & new from $24.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book about the Beach Boys, February 7, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Beach Boys (Hardcover)
David Leaf's book is not only the best about the Beach Boys, it's one of the best-ever reads about rock music. Leaf's ability to combine his deep appreciation for the band's music with an objective view of events is exemplary. This is a book written without an axe to grind against anyone, and it skillfully combines a larger, longer view of what happened with love and respect for what the Beach Boys, and particularly Brian Wilson, were able to achieve. It's insane that this book is out of print, but it's well worth what you'll have to pay for it. (I have the expanded 1985 edition, and I recommend it if you can get it.)

One of the book's strengths is the number of direct quotations from band members, collaborators, family members, and Capitol executives. Whenever possible, Leaf includes the words of the people most directly involved in an event, and he's scrupulous about giving everyone involved an opportunity to give his or her view. Leaf does offer his own interpretations of events, songs, and albums, but never in a heavy-handed way. He clearly feels empathy for the band members,especially for Brian Wilson, but doesn't shy away from describing their destructive behaviors. I also appreciated Leaf's detailing of Brian's work in the studio, and his focus on Brian's methods as arranger and producer. I came away from the book hearing more in the Beach Boys' music and with a better understanding of the work and suffering that went into creating it.

The pictures included throughout the book are another plus; they give a concrete sense of the band's development and of the environments they lived and worked in.

This is music writing as it should be: emotionally invested without being blind to the subject's faults, focused on the music with an eye to how external events and inner conflicts affected it. It's wonderful.

Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)
Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.10
330 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great place to start, or return to, with Dickens, February 7, 2012
I was compelled to read Dickens ("A Tale of Two Cities," in my case) in eighth grade and decided that I didn't like his writing. I managed to avoid Dickens and the Victorian novelists for several years, even as an English major. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that I read "Great Expectations," and I'm glad that was so, because I was finally ready to appreciate Dickens. If you've ever picked up a Dickens novel and put it back down with relief, you might try again in a few years. If you do, "Great Expectations" is an excellent choice for meeting, or for encountering again, this amazing author.

Like "David Copperfield," this novel is written throughout in the first person, and follows the title character from childhood to adulthood. The first-person point of view gives the story vividness and impact, as we see everything that unfolds through Pip's eyes. The difference between the perspective of Pip the boy and Pip the adult, looking back and writing, colors the plot and creates suspense.

There are many possible reasons to read this book (other than having it assigned to you, of course).

You could read it for its astonishing characters -- Miss Havisham, defiantly moldering away and shut up in her never-used wedding finery; Magwitch, the escaped convict with a backstory you'd never expect; Joe Gargery, the blacksmith whose external roughness is matched only by his inner tenderness; Estella, as self-divided and self-destructive as she is beautiful. You could read it for its settings -- the spooky marshes, the busy streets of London, the gothic horrors of Satis House. You could read it for the plot -- the hidden connections, unexpected reversals, and ambiguous endings. You could read it for its social criticism -- the comprehensive view of working-class, middle-class, and upwardly-aspriring characters; the insight into what people will do to themselves and others for money; the unsparing look at ideas of gentility versus actual nobility of character. You could read it for its language -- the idiosyncratic dialects, the indelible scenes, the variety of prose rhythms Dickens employs.

In the end, there are two main reasons to read this novel: pleasure and wisdom. "Great Expectations" is of its time without being dated, and can be enjoyed as a satisfying story. The themes Dickens addresses are timeless, and speak to the 21st century as forcefully as they spoke to the 19th.

This isn't my all time favorite Dickens novel -- that would be "Bleak House," followed by "David Copperfield" -- but it's one of his best. If you've never tried it, or if it's been a while since you did, give it a try. You may well become a Dickens addict.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4