Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The time has come, the walrus said. I've finally read my 50 books for the year, and I have reviews to share with you. We'll start with the non-fiction:

Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes: Recommended. A continuation of sorts from Mayes’ book Under the Tuscan Sun, one can also read Bella Tuscany without reading the first and missing out on much of anything. Although Mayes can be a bit dreamy or wishful in her interpretation of people she meets and the supposed history of things, her narrative is enjoyable and fun to read. One particular incident I loved was towards the end of the book when Mayes is walking home from town on the deserted moonlit road and unbuttons her dress a little to let the soft Italian breeze blow against her skin. And soon as she hears a noise she quickly covers herself up, but the fact that she allowed herself that little indulgence I rather enjoyed. If you like travel literature or just enjoy reading about the ups and downs of owning a villa in Italy, pick up Bella Tuscany and prepare to be entertained.

The Pipes are Calling: Our Jaunts Through Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen: Neutral. I randomly picked up this book in the library while doing research on a fanciful trip to Ireland. At the beginning of the book, Williams and Breen claimed to be an American couple living in Ireland on a whim. However, it turns out that Williams grew up in Ireland and was in America only briefly, while Breen had spent a considerable amount of time in Ireland with grandparents. Or something, it’s been a while. Anyway, I wasn’t too entirely impressed with their writing or their claims to being brave about the way they were living. However, I did enjoy their descriptions of little villages they visited, especially on the Dingle Peninsula. I also enjoyed the sequence of the Wishing Chair up in Northern Ireland, brief though it was. I’d recommend this book, but it isn’t top-notch writing, so be aware of that, and I probably wouldn’t read this book a second time cover to cover.

A Year in the World by Frances Mayes: Recommended. Keeping in mind that Frances Mayes can have a fanciful attitude toward the world, this book is really great. I like that she talks about food so much in her travels, since food is one thing that really helps you to get to know a culture.

Silent World by Jacques-Yves Cousteau: Recommended. I first read this book in high school, and I think it was the first bit of non-fiction I’d read voluntarily. It tells of the discoveries and experiments conducted after the invention of the first self-contained breathing apparatus (SCUBA) back in the 40s. Parts of it get a bit scientific, but overall, it’s an exciting recounting of explorations into the deep. I love it and recommend it to everyone, especially people interested in the ocean, SCUBA diving, marine life, history, or anything.

Forever Old, Forever New by Emily Kimbrough: Neutral. A few years ago I read Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Kimbrough and her friend (forget the name). It recounted their adolescent adventures through Europe and was very humorous and fun. Forever Old, Forever New is not that book. Parts of it were quirky and fun, and it was nice that it focused solely on Greece (one of my favorite countries to dream about visiting), but at times it was a bore, and Kimbrough just seemed to ramble on. I recommend it only if you are prepared for it.

1066 and All That by WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman: Recommended. This little book was funny and entertaining, but I think I would have enjoyed it a great deal more if I had more background in British history. Apparently the brief summer-home-school sessions weren’t enough to help me understand all the jokes and puns. Even if you aren’t British though, it’s still a funny book. It’s non-fiction as far as the facts are straight and the jokes aren’t too…jokey.

The Wild Trees by Richard Preston: Recommended. I love this book. At times the biology talk can get a bit technical, but the rest of the book is the very interesting story of the people that found and climbed the world’s tallest tree, a redwood named Hyperion. It was a journey that took nearly thirty years. Most of it is hiking and climbing and dealing with personal relationships, but the most thrilling part of the story involves an incident where a man falls nearly a hundred feet from a tree. I won’t tell you what happens because I really want you to read it. So, do.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer: Recommended. This is the story of Chris McCandless, who tried to live off the land in Alaska one particular summer. There’s a lot more to the story than that, and this book looks into why he did it, what motivated him, how and why he failed, and of course, the story of his two-year journey that led him to Alaska. There is a bit of side-tracking from the author, including a chapter about his own solo climb of a crazy mountain somewhere in Alaska, but I can see why he’d think it was necessary to put it in the book. After you read the book (or before) I recommend seeing the movie, as it helps put some of the more emotional elements in a better, more understandable light.

Dove by Robin Lee Graham: Recommended. Graham set out on a journey around the world in his little sailboat at the age of sixteen. He returned five years later with a pregnant wife and a head full of knowledge and experience. I liked this story because it dealt with loneliness (he sailed nearly the whole trip completely alone, aside from various cats and a short stint in the Fiji islands with the woman whom he later married) and learning about the earth and the sea. Some things Graham did I certainly thought were silly, but I enjoyed reading about his journey and recommend it to others. I have to admit though, I thought it odd that he included a chapter about his conversion to Christianity and his views on politics. But that’s just me.

Blink by Malcom Gladwell: Recommended. When I first started reading this book, I was skeptical. It looked like a self-help book, and it seemed like the type of book everyone in Utah would be obsessed with (everyone I knew who’d read it and talked about it was from Utah) and I let myself stereotype and say Utahns really loved their self-help and psychology books. Blink is a book on psychology, but it’s definitely not a self-help book. There were many interesting tidbits on how people make judgments and what it all means. I’ve mentioned a few things I found interesting already in earlier posts on my blog, but one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is a particular incident where the Pentagon was conducting a war game, and the American general they asked to play the enemy did so well without using the kind of technology and tactics modern military and the United States side used, that they were upset with the result (the enemy won). The government’s response? They made them play the game again; and this time, the “enemy” general wasn’t allowed to be so good. They forced them to make decisions in ways that wouldn’t actually occur in the field of war. This isn’t preparing the military at all! I was ashamed our government would do that. Malcolm Gladwell says the point of his book is to call for social change—to try and get people to think and act differently when they make decisions.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff: Recommended. I read this in anticipation of our trip to England in the spring, since we will be visiting Marks & Co Booksellers while we are there. This little book tells of the correspondence between said bookstore and Hanff, a correspondence that lasted twenty years and spurred lasting friendships. I don’t mean to be cliché, but the book was really a charming one. It was also short (only about 100 pages), and a quick read (I think I read it in a little over an hour).

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff: Recommended. Perhaps lacks all the charm of the first book, but is still very enjoyable. I love Hanff’s descriptions of her encounters with the people of England, as well as the sites. I was a little sad that she never got to meet Frank, but that’s life I suppose.

1 comment:

LP said...

Interesting reviews. You do very well stating the reasons people should read the books, without giving away too much. I'd actually like to read a few of them, but my to-read list is so long already! Well, that's what we have time for.

My word is denzolog. Who is denzo and why does he keep a log?