Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, 3/5
I really wanted to like this book (given to me by a friend to whom it means a lot) and for about two-thirds of it, I succeeded more or less. I’ve never been a fan of the hippy aesthetic, but Robbins’ writing style is humorously bizarre, featuring inventive descriptions and colorful characters, set in familiar Pacific Northwest locations. I found the non-linear narrative style to be stressful at first, but ultimately rewarding, and was interested in the unique plot and development of the theme–how best should human spirituality express itself in a post-Christian world?
However, I eventually became irked by the novel’s increasing preachiness. What starts as a quirky, raunchy story gradually turns into a hippy manifesto that preaches a muddled pop-paganism full of weed-infused platitudes while tearing apart a weak version of Christianity created by the author only to be destroyed. I dislike being preached at, especially by philosophical novels, where practically any point can be “proven” in the highly-controlled universe of an author’s creation. The temptation to commit the straw man fallacy generally proves too strong to resist in these cases and the level of intellectual integrity required for useful discussion of philosophical matters is difficult to attain amidst distractions of story and style. Perhaps someone from a less religious background than I could easily get past these concerns, but I found them distracting enough in this case to mar my enjoyment of the book.
Why I read it: A thoughtful Christmas present from a friend.
Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room, by Jen Rudin, 3/5
This book provides an interesting perspective into the more prosaic side of glamorous showbiz. I really enjoyed the variety of personal anecdotes, not just from the author, but from a variety of people associated with the entertainment industry. The whole audition circuit sounds intense and I’m amazed how much rejection aspiring actors can endure while still maintaining the will to live. I guess it helps that the focus seems more on finding “the one” for each role than on weeding out bad actors. So even if you’re not “the one,” it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. The author’s attitude is very positive and encouraging overall, giving all-purpose advice that emphasizes the importance of professionalism and self-confidence.
Why I read it: thought it looked interesting while wandering around the library.
helium by Rudy Francisco, 3/5
By the time my library bought this book for me (have I mentioned how much I LOVE libraries?!) and I got around to reading it, I had forgotten why I requested it in the first place and only remembered a vague feeling of excitement and anticipation. Despite the positive feelings going into it, I didn’t really connect well with most of Francisco’s poetry and found the vocabulary a bit forced, cliched, and melodramatic. It wasn’t until I reached the penultimate poem that I remembered why I had looked the book up in the first place and also why I wasn’t enjoying it. Earlier, I had come across Francisco’s powerful spoken-word performance of “Complainers” and it had inspired me to find out more about his work. Turns out, spoken-word poetry needs a speaker just like a song needs a singer. Both the artist and the performance are such an integral part of the art that it is virtually lifeless without these elements. So, this book has value as a physical collection of Francisco’s writings and as a way that fans can provide financial support for him, but to really explore his work, I think YouTube is a better option.
The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, translated by Sir David Ross, 3/5
It took several attempts over a span of many months for me to get through this short book, in which Aristotle addresses topics of timeless interest, such as happiness, virtue, and friendship. The difficulty of this book lies, for me, not so much in the complexity of the ideas but in the general lack of reasoning provided to support them. A few moments of profundity are obscured by mundane observations, personal opinions (unsupported by fact) and attempts to force nebulous concepts into various organizational schemes. At first, I felt frustrated and disappointed that the Nicomachean Ethics, similar to Plato’s Phaedo, did not meet my expectations. However, after reading the Wikipedia article and a helpful lecture on the topic, it became clearer to me that this book’s value is more in the framework it provides for discussion and thought than for any definitive claims it makes. To me, it represents just the beginnings of thought on a complicated topic, made more remarkable by its age and practical, community-centered perspective on morality. Though its broader themes are difficult to grasp, it does reward a casual reading with the always-fascinating insight that human nature has not changed over thousands of years, and occasional gems like this:
But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything (265).
Why I read it: C.S. Lewis referenced it in The Abolition of Man so I recognized the title while book shopping in Wales.
Treasure Hunting Northwest by Ruby El Hult, 3/5
This follow-up book to Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest is shorter, more elegantly written and can stand alone.
Why I read it: the title caught my eye in a used bookstore.
Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest by Ruby El Hult, 3/5
This book, written in 1957 about events that largely took place in the late 1800s, occupies a strange middle ground both methodologically and temporally. Not only was the author’s research ability limited to the pre-Information Age resources of her time, but there was the further complication of the existence of personal accounts from living people who were within a generation or two of original events (close enough to be convincing, but not close enough to be reliable). Thus, the book is an awkward mix of fanciful hearsay and dry research that takes a few chapters to get into the spirit of. Whether entirely true or not, these stories provide interesting insight into the early history of the Pacific Northwest and the world of pioneers, pirates and prospectors.
Why I read it: The sequel, Treasure Hunting Northwest caught my eye in a used bookstore so I thought I’d better buy the original too.
Never Stop Pushing: My Life from a Wyoming Farm to the Olympic Medals Stand by Rulon Gardner with Bob Schaller, 3/5
Life is tough but Rulon Gardner is tougher. His story proves that success does not always require a fortuitous alignment of luck, talent and circumstance–success can be the prize of those who are simply too stubborn and too strong to settle for less. This book is certainly not going to win any literary awards, but it is an inspiring account of hard work and good character put to the test on an international stage.
Why I read it: my wrestler boyfriend got me excited about the story, showed me the famous Gardner vs Karelin gold medal match and lent me his well-worn copy of the book.