Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car by Ian Fleming, 2/5
A strange little story, with a spindly plot and uneven tone that is sometimes fanciful and sometimes much too serious for the children that are presumably its audience. I did like the playful illustrations by John Burningham, which are quintessentially 1960s. Surprisingly, there is very little resemblance to the 1968 film, which I love (though it turns out that what I love about it is probably Roald Dahl’s influence, not Fleming’s inspiration).
Why I read it: my sister thought I might enjoy it.
Opera Anecdotes by Ethan Mordden, 2/5
This collection of short stories connected to opera just barely managed to keep my attention as I read a little bit before bed every night (more for its soporific effect than for any entertainment value). It didn’t help that the connecting prose between anecdotes was awkwardly written to a peculiar degree, and I recognized very few of the featured singers and impresarios.
Why I read it: the title caught my eye while I was browsing books in the thrift store.
I’ve always suspected that I belong to one of the thin ends on the bell curve of normality, so perhaps I should not have been so surprised that reading this book was like reading placards at the zoo about weird animal mating rituals. In this case, the strange animal is a human being who is definitely sure that being married is the key to their happiness and isn’t too hung up on the minor details, like exactly who to marry or why. After all, if you’re determined to find a spouse, Welch argues that it’s just a simple case of creating a list of more or less arbitrary criteria that can be used to sort through participants in a tireless grind of date-interviews that goes on until you find someone who is either a) if you are a woman, a man who pays for everything and is infatuated with you thanks to your hard-to-get attitude or b) if you are a man, a woman who can be convinced to love you and is as young and beautiful as your status and economic resources merit.
As a guide to getting what you already know you want in a relationship, this book is both practical and disturbingly plausible. But for people who not only don’t know what they want, but doubt even the possibility of being able to predict what will actually make them happy, this book is worse than useless–it’s nauseating.
Why I read it: it was a gift from a family member.
Argh, I hate abridged books and would never have purchased this if I’d known it only contained the first (and arguably, most boring) 100 pages of the complete book, whose unabridged summary deceptively appears on the back of this one. I was promised stories about alchemy, mesmerism, witch burnings and crusades, but all this slim collection contains is esoteric accounts of early stock market crashes. I found these to be almost incomprehensible, thanks to all the economic terminology, but an accountant, stock trader or student of finance might find them very interesting.
Why I read it: What can I say, the cover appealed to me and it was almost free.
There is a distinctly self-published feel to this book which doesn’t really inspire confidence (call me snobby, but I think the cover text shouldn’t be more colorful than the pictures inside). However, it does provide a very basic overview of equipment and skills necessary for the responsible concealed carrier. I don’t know much about the topic, so I can’t put my finger on what exactly the book is missing, but it felt light on information–there is a disappointing lack of legal guidelines and very little advice about tactics. Also, you do have to get past the author’s gun geekery and a bit of self-importance that reminds me of some of the more embarrassing scenes from Mall Cop. Kenik swears he’s not paranoid (never a hopeful sign), but he does seem borderline. For example, he actually recommends writing “detailed notes of all relevant class lectures, videos, books and magazine articles” and mailing them to yourself so “the envelope can be opened in court to prove what knowledge you possessed at a given date” (14). Hmmmm… Or you could maybe not do that and be ok too?
Why I read it: it was a birthday present (buying a gun has been on my to-do list for years).
The authors are passionate about their topic but I feel this book contributes little to a discussion that is already very much lacking in scientific research and consensus among experts (or at least was in 2012, when it was written). In an approach reminiscent of the average college essayist, Larson and Katovsky cite a steady stream of inconclusive scientific studies and often-contradictory information that they do not have the expertise to interpret. Slap on some weak conclusions and the reader is left with a few interesting facts and no real guidance on how to apply them.
Why I read it: My dad mentioned it in conversation.
Le Guin’s exploration of that inherently contradictory concept, an anarchist society, felt pointless and unbelievable, probably because anarchy itself (even the idealized, fictional version portrayed in this book) seems ridiculously illogical, unrealistic and childish, as I understand it. Is the government oppressive? Get rid of all forms of authority! Do the rich exploit the poor? Get rid of all possessions! Is anarchy failing? Apply more anarchy!
My main problem is not necessarily with Le Guin’s portrayal of anarchy in the book (though I did find that pretty implausible) but that when it inevitably starts to unravel, she falls back on more anarchy as the answer. It’s as if rebellion was a cause itself, not something to be employed in the service of a cause. Her attempts to extract some sort of deep philosophical meaning from the simple fact that a society of rebels will inevitably become a regime to be rebelled against itself did not resonate with me at all.
Another reason I didn’t enjoy reading this book is that I dislike feeling preached-at and reading fiction that contains fake science and sexual themes, all of which are prominent features of The Dispossessed and annoyed me enough to ruin any chance of achieving suspension of disbelief.
[Why I read it: Jan from choir recommended Le Guin to me a couple years ago and my friend Sarah mentioned on Facebook that she’s a huge fan.]