Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

  • THE BOOK
    • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
    • Published May 30, 2017
    • Other works by author include Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, The Truth with Jokes, Lies & the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair & Balanced Look at the Right and several others.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author currently serves as senator for the state of Minnesota as a Democrat (in Minnesota it is technically the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party).
    • The book documents his political life, including his contested first election when it took 8 months to wend through the courts before he was confirmed as senator by a mere 312 votes.
    • His interest in politics started far sooner than the run for Congress and he explains how even during his years as a comedian and satirist it was a topic which he was drawn.
    • Why Minnesota? That's where his family moved when he was a toddler so it is his home state.
    • He extols the value of hard work, showing up for every committee meeting, learning the ropes and dealing with the varied personalities of the political world.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was my first Franken book and I really enjoyed it. He uses humor to tell his stories but he also tells them with the humility of a born and bred Midwesterner. 
      • I laughed out loud while reading. I also got teary-eyed reading about his first piece of legislation. Well written and entertaining.
    • The author says he was advised (I forget by whom, sorry) to be a work horse, not a show horse. He seems to have taken this advice to heart.
    • In our politically divisive country this book will smack of a take-down of the conservative wing of government for many people on the right. (Sorry for all those prepositional phrases!) 
      • It will be read and liked much more by the liberal wing. That is how these things go. It does not mean the book is not well-written. The Senator is a Harvard graduate after all. And he apparently majored in government so his love of politics goes way back.
    • I was especially taken with the parts of the book that detail how things are done in the Senate:
      • Writing laws: senators don't actually do it themselves
      • Talking to journalists: a politician has to learn how to (almost) never answer the question but rather spin the topic back to the "message" 
        • Kind of like this: (NOT from the book) 
          • "Senator, do you believe in global warming?"
          • "What I believe in is more jobs for my constituents and the rest of the American people."
          • This explains so much about the interviews with members of Congress I see on TV or read about in the paper. The goal is to get their message out and they have staff members there to keep them on track. Apparently this is just the nature of the beast.
      • The travel involved: most senators spend the week in Washington D.C. and fly home each weekend to meet with constituents. There are also all the events in the home state for a senator to show up and mingle or give a speech.
    • Again, this book will probably be read and enjoyed more by liberals than conservatives. Is there an equivalent book on the conservative side? I'm trying to find a recent book that covers similar ground. Maybe Ben Sasse's? Recommendations are welcome in the comments.
    • Recommended for those interested in politics, in how a political career started and in smart and gentle humor scattered throughout. Recommended for liberals but conservatives might enjoy some of it too. Especially the Minnesotans he works for. 
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, May 15, 2017

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

  • THE BOOK
    • Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
    • Published March 7, 2017
    • Other work by author is The Serpent King

  • THE PREMISE
    • A few weeks before the start of senior year Carver's three best friends die in a car accident. The driver was responding to Carver's text message at the time.
      • Carver feels intense grief as well as guilt and some of the families blame him for the loss of their sons leading to a possible criminal complaint against him.
    • One of the boys, raised by his grandma, doesn't blame Carver but wants to have a "goodbye day" doing all the things she loved doing with her grandson one last time but with Carver in his place.
      • Then the other families, even the ones who blame him, want to have goodbye days too.
    • Meanwhile Carver's only friend is Jesmyn, the recent girlfriend of one of the boys. He is also supported by his sister and his therapist.
    • They all attend a high school for the arts in Nashville. Carver is the writer and the other boys were all artistic too: one is an artist, one a musician and the other an aspiring comic. Jesmyn is a pianist aspiring to Julliard.
    • The book is told from Carver's point of view and moves about in time as he remembers meeting each of his friends and how they became a strong circle of four.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The entire book is a meditation on grief and survivor's guilt and it almost has to end on a hopeful note, right?
      • The plot is outlined on the dust-jacket so it seems likely to include moments of intense grief with moments of hopefulness. 
      • I was glad that Carver got some real help quickly and his development of panic attacks seemed realistic.
      • Plus it has some real suspense based on the outcome of the criminal investigation into Carver's possible culpability.
    • I read this book with a lump in my throat almost the entire time. Imagine you are in high school and have a group of friends. Imagine losing ALL of them in a car accident just before the last year. Brutal.
      • My family moved across the country between my junior and senior years of high school so I understand a modicum of grief related to losing my entire group of friends in one fell swoop.
    • I liked that we get to know the boys who died even if it's only in flashbacks and through their families.
    • This isn't probably a book for everyone but I really loved it.
    • Recommended for readers of young adult novels. I think I will try to read the author's first book too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (first 5-star review of the year!)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sophie Someone by Hayley Long

  • THE BOOK
    • Sophie Someone by Hayley Long
    • Published March 28, 2017
    • Other works by author include Fire and Water, Vinyl Demand, What's Up with Jody Barton?, and the Lottie Biggs series.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Sophie remembers moving to Brussels, Belgium, from England when she is about 5 years old. When she is 14 she discovers something that causes her to start questioning and seeking answers about who she really is.
    • Her dad is a car mechanic and her mom is a recluse who never leaves their apartment or learns to speak the Belgian language. Sophie also has a younger brother named Hercule who was born in Belgium unlike Sophie who was born in England like her parents.
    • The book is written in a different way than most books. Sophie is the narrator and she uses different words for things throughout the entire book.
      • People are pigeons.
      • Mom and dad are mambo and don (or donny). Parents are parsnips. Man is maniac. Friends are freckles. Names are noodles.
      • Face is fax, voice is vortex, head is helix, ears are eels, mouth is mush, hand is hashtag, teacher is torturer, litchen is kindle, and on and on.
      • It is very similar --- only in the way language is used! --- to A Clockwork Orange. This is a book for middle schoolers, however, so I imagine this might be a more challenging book for those grade levels.
        • For me it was fairly easy to discern the meanings from context. By the end of the book you are fairly fluent in Sophie's lingo. But I can see how this would irritate some readers.
        • The character explains why the word substitutions are made by the very end of the book.
          • I must admit, at first I thought the book was about a girl who had some sort of developmentally delayed issue or was on the spectrum who just used language differently. That would have been fine but she was neither of those things.
    • The story jumps about in chronology as Sophie pieces together the past with the present.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I liked the story and was anxious to find out the big secret that her parents were trying to hide. It's a doozy. 
    • I thought the ending was abrupt. 
      • By the end of the book the family's circumstances have changed drastically and which seems to leave the family with absolutely no means of financial support. 
      • Sophie's best friend Comet, who has major troubles in her own family, is given short shrift.
      • And Sophie makes a new friend along the way who's story could use some fleshing out.
      • I have to wonder if there will be a sequel addressing these issues.
      • Spoilers are located in the next bullet point in white text so they are invisible unless you highlight them with your cursor or finger:
        • Sophie's dad, a gambling addict with large debts and with her mom's encouragement, helped two criminals rob an armored car, netting millions of pounds. The two criminals left the dad with just enough money, a few thousand pounds, to buy a mechanic business in Brussels. At the end of the book he turns himself in and will go to prison for years. The agoraphobic mother decides she better leave the apartment after all, so she can buy groceries. The end.
    • I'd definitely read a sequel.
    • Recommended for middle schoolers and others who enjoy young adult books.
    • ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel

  • THE BOOK
    • Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel
    • To be published July 18, 2017
    • My copy is an uncorrected proof I received from the publisher through Library Thing's Early Readers program in return for an honest review.
      • Naturally my reviews are ALL honest though if I truly loathe a book I TRY to be as gently brutal as possible!
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is an epistolary novel, told entirely by letters and e-mails to the central character, Julie.
    • The chronology jumps around a bit, covering Julie's childhood up until she's in her 30s. Her parents divorced when she was a child and she has a younger sister with a wild streak.
    • Some of it is very funny. Julie's parents in particular are hilarious in their well-meaning advice and thinly veiled passive-aggressiveness.
    • Some of the letters are from inanimate objects such as a treadmill or a cell phone.
    • The subtitle is "A Tragicomic Novel in Letters".

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I laughed out loud by page 10 due to this passage in a letter of invitation to teenage Julie from her aunt, which includes a list of house rules for guests:
      • "Please do not remove any body hair in the bathroom. If you must...please do so in the backyard, using the hose. Since we have been experiencing freezing temperatures this week please avoid getting water on the patio to prevent black ice."
    • From her grandmother who just got an e-mail account at her retirement home:
      • "They say it will allow us to spend more time with our loved ones. I don't buy it." 
    • I enjoyed the book but did feel it had a couple of unresolved storylines by the end.
      • I can't decide if it would have been better with Julie's end of the correspondence included. Probably not but it's a short book (just over 200 pages) and I guess I would have liked more.
      • I would definitely consider reading more from this author.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy comic novels, epistolary novels, and/or a quick read.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Inkblots by Damion Searls

  • THE BOOK
    • The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls
    • Published February 21, 2017
    • Other works by author include: What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going, Everything You Say is True, and several books as translator.
    • My copy is an uncorrected proof furnished by the publisher through Library Thing for an honest review.

  • THE PREMISE
    • A biography of Hermann Rorschach and of his famous inkblot test.
    • The first half of the book covers the life of Rorschach and his place in the founding of modern psychology.
    • Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 and Eugen Bleuler was born in 1857. Bleuler, who coined the terms schizophrenia (it used to be called dementia praecox) and autism, was instrumental figure in psychology but was overshadowed by his student Carl Jung, born in 1875.
      • Rorschach was born in 1884 and was also a student under Bleuler.
    • Rorschach developed his inkblot test in the late 1910s and published the book Psychodiagnostics in 1921.
      • He died in 1922, only 37 years old, of peritonitis due to a burst appendix.
    • Because Rorschach died so young he never got the chance to continue refining his test.
    • The second half of the book covers the rest of the history of the inkblots.
      • Various people came along later and added to the test protocols though the inkblots themselves have never really changed.
      • The test has come in and out of popularity as other tests came to the forefront.
        • It is either an amazing diagnostic tool for mental health issues or a complete pseudoscience depending on what's going on in the world of psychology at any given time.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was quite an interesting book but some parts are difficult to understand for the layman who has no background in psychology, mainly in regard to the test protocols themselves.
    • The author is very thorough in the topic and had a trove of research to use. Especially interesting is the acknowledgements section, a few pages in the back, detailing how he came to possess this trove, full of primary sources relating to the life of Rorschach and his inkblot test.
    • I found the life of Rorschach to be quite interesting, especially in the early years. He had a fascination with Russia and spent time there, for example.
      • The detail is immense, however, so some sections could be a bit of a slog.
    • It was stunning to find he died so young. One must wonder if he would be as well known as Freud and Jung are today if he had lived a full lifespan.
    • I floundered a bit when the author was describing the way inkblot test results were scored. I wished for more concrete examples to understand how it really worked but I think this would be a great book for students in psychology to read because they will understand much more than me.
    • Because my copy was an uncorrected paperback proof the text referred to color photographs that weren't included. The text pages have several illustrations and photographs though.
    • I totally want to take this test to see what it reveals about me! Unfortunately it would cost too much to find a practitioner to administer the test, especially when I have no need of it.
    • Recommended to those who are interested in psychology.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter

  • THE BOOK
    • Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter
      • This version of the book has illustrations by Gluyas Williams
        • Williams, a cartoonist, was born in San Francisco in 1888 and died in Newton, Massachusetts in 1982.
    • Published in 1948
    • Other works by author include Mr. Hobbs' Vacation; Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter; Dere Mable; and Thats me all over, Mable.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Mr. Stanley Banks' daughter Kay is getting married. The story follows his point of view as he experiences the frenzy surrounding the wedding.
    • He experiences the following:
      • Having a talk with Kay's fiance, Buckley
      • Meeting Buckley's parents
      • The engagement party
      • Choosing the caterer
      • Trying and failing to keep the guest list down
      • Getting used to the idea of "losing" his little girl
      • The wedding and reception
    • Two movies have been made based on the novel:
      • "Father of the Bride" in 1950 starring Spencer Tracy as Stanley Banks and Elizabeth Taylor as Kay, the bride. Elizabeth is at her most radiant in this film.
      • "Father of the Bride" in 1991 starring Steve Martin as George Banks and Kimberly Williams as Annie, the bride.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This book was a gift from my best friend, Lady Chardonnay. Thanks, Lady C!
    • I love the Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor movie and it is faithful to the book with a few minor changes.
      • Sorry, I have never seen the Steve Martin version. I know many people love it but it does not look faithful to the book.
    • This was fun to read and one thing that surprised me was the inclusion of a couple of prhases that would never have been allowed in films of the early 1950s. Stanley's favorite epithet seems to be "Good God!"
      • Here's an example:
        • "The Society Editor would hand your copy to the office boy, who would bitch the whole thing up anyhow."
      • Here's another:
        • One of the caterer's staff: "Too many God-damn bushes out here. Ought to get rid of 'em."
      • I find it hypocritical of society that it was perfectly fine for these things to be in books but they needed to be kept at all costs from the movies!
      • The movie is definitely rated G but the book is PG!
    • What's also amusing is the fact that I am older than Stanley Banks! He mentions his age, 50, a couple of times. Well, 50 in 1948 was "old" compared to 55 in 2017, right?!
    • The story has a few quaint moments, notably in the prices for things that would make today's father of the bride weep. 
      • Stanley wants to keep to a budget where the price per person is $3.72 and this includes everything: food, flowers, champagne and cake!
        • With the guest total as 572 early on, this translates to a cost of just over $2,100. I just looked up a local caterer choosing their "Light Garden Wedding" as closest to the book's reception plan and they estimate a cost of $45 to 70 per person!! That's a total of $25,000 to $40,000!! Not counting the flowers or anything else. 
        • I'm now obsessed with going through the menu options at this local caterer!
          • Pineapple Upside Down Cake is $8.50 PER PERSON! 
          • "Sonoma County Bounty Display" aka cheese, crackers and fruit cost $8.25 per person.
          • Street Tacos are $6.20 per person.
          • Deviled Eggs are $48 for a tray that serves 12-15 people. "Traditional deviled eggs but with the tang of Dijon mustard" is just how I make them anyway and for less than $48!
        • I think today you could probably hire a food truck or two and it would be cheaper than actual catering!
        • This might be one of those things that's like how I feel about room service: a good idea in theory but I am way too cheap to pay so much extra for it. 
    • Well, that was a fun discursion!
      • Dang, now I'm hungry for deviled eggs.
    • Anyway, this book was fun and I enjoyed the author's writing style. The illustrations were a great addition too. 
    • Recommended for those who enjoy a quick fun read with gentle humor.
    • ★ ★ ★

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

  • THE BOOK
    • Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt
    • Published March 14, 2017
    • One other book by author: I Don't Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author introduces us to an example from the early 1960s when two statisticians used data to determine which Founding Father wrote which essays in The Federalist Papers. 
      • The essays were originally published under the same pen name. 
        • Before the famous duel with Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton made a list taking credit for those he wrote. 
        • Years later James Madison made a list of the ones he wrote.
          • The lists differed. Years of scholarly debate ensued.
      • In 1963 Frederick Mosteller and David Wallace, statisticians but not historians, used word frequency as a way to solve the puzzle. 
        • In those pre-digital days they had to cut out the words and count them manually.
        • Using known works by the purported authors they could compare statistically the words used --- or not used --- and make a strongly creditable decision on the actual authors of each essay.
        • As a single example of the evidence: Madison used the word whilst but never used while; Hamilton used while but never used whilst.
    • Today all it takes is a digital copy of a given work to quantify word usage in mere seconds.
    • Some of the questions tackled in the book:
      • Do better writers use -ly adverbs less frequently than lesser writers?
      • Do female and male writers use words differently?
      • Do writers have a similar style in word choices if they write in different genres?
        • Example: J.K. Rowling and her pseudonym Robert Galbriath
      • Can you tell which co-author wrote what in a given book?
        • Examples include Tom Clancy and his various co-authors and James Patterson and his.
      • Which group of writers uses more exclamation points: NY Times bestsellers, literary fiction or fan fiction?
      • Using the Fleisch-Kinkaid Grade Level test, are books getting dumber over time?
        • Spoiler: Duh.
      • Can you tell whether the writer is American or British?
      • Which writers use the most cliches?
      • What does the size of the author's name on a book cover tell us?

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • A book which combines literature with math? Filled with graphs and charts?
      • I loved this book! It was so much fun to read and I thoroughly enjoyed all the visual aids.
      • This book combined the two things I loved best about school: math classes and English classes.
        • I was occasionally made to feel like a weirdo sometimes (not by my parents though) because I was good at math and sciences AND English and history. Apparently I was supposed to be good at one category or the other, not both. 
        • I literally remember one woman telling me I wasn't supposed to be "good at both" during high school. Like I should --- or could ---  turn that part of my brain off?
          • In college I started out majoring in writing and then ultimately switched to accounting, via mathematics and economics. I was never a big fan of statistic class but I definitely understand the subject.
    • The author explained why he picked the books he does, using various "best of" lists in classic literature and modern literary fiction along with fan fiction for various topics.
      • I had read a bunch of the examples so it made reading that much more interesting to me.
    • Recommended for readers who enjoy a trove of fun facts about writers and their writing styles. It's a quick read too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★