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wjmcomposer

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Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
China Miéville
Operation Greylord: The True Story of an Untrained Undercover Agent and America's Biggest Corruption Bust
Terrence Hake, Wayne Klatt
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto
Aaron Franklin, Jordan Mackay
My System: 21st Century Edition
Aron Nimzowitsch
The Wheeling Year: A Poet's Field Book
Ted Kooser
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
Francis Fukuyama
My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love
Karl Ove Knausgård, Don Bartlett
James Madison
Ralph Louis Ketcham
The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805
Richard Zacks

Nox

Nox - Anne Carson A phenomenal achievement in publishing by itself, the author explores her emotions over the passing of her brother through the prism of Poem 101 by Catullus, with the definition of each Latin word on facing pages from her clipped, collage, written, and typed snippets of thought and memory. You'll run your fingers across the page in disbelief that these effects were printed instead of genuinely pasted or stapled.

My Struggle: Book 1

My Struggle: Book 1 - Karl Ove Knausgård, Don Bartlett A semi-autobiographic work, Knausgård ranges and reminisces over a period of his life with slightly uneven, but often brilliant results. Categorized as fiction but starring himself, his family, and the events of his life, My Struggle doesn't so much as blur the line between a novel and autobiography as it superimposes them, creating a new hybrid form. Is any particular event entirely real or true? Who cares. Knausgård writes in a fluid and painfully honest style, and the only verb I can think of to describe how he moves from one event to a digression on some larger theme, how the past comes swirling to the present and back again, would be leaking. Knausgård builds a container into which he pours his childhood, his fears, and the reflection you see is your own, as you see your own image in a dark or secret thought. Then that pool drains away as the past leaks into philosophizing or to some narrative more present for our author's voice. I suspect the highly fluid style is what leads so many to make comparisons to Proust. While I see where people would say that, it's misplaced and probably does some small disservice to both. Forced to draw a comparison, I'd say that reading Proust is like drifting down a river in a raft on a nice spring day. You can't rush the experience, but are forced to sit there as the scenery drifts by, as words wash over you. People fail to enjoy Proust when they lust for form, when they seek a central narrative. "Yes," they say, "But exactly who is doing what?" Reading Knausgård is more like drifting down that same river with the raft flipped over, and you underneath it breathing in the pocket between it and the water. Yes Virgina, it's true we ARE still rafting, but...

In general Knausgård is focused on themes of growing up and the change in his relationships with his father, brother, and quite frankly, himself. Most readers will find something of their own lives staring back at them in one moment or another.

I've read many interviews, listened to readings and more interviews, heard the unfounded praise and equally unfounded backlash, as have all in the literary world. Men are made into gods, to grant us the greatest pleasure when we cast them back down. This is the first of 6 volumes, and the first two were written before he received attention for them. I'm sure books 3-5 suffer for that, as the author claims. The saddest thing about all of this isn't that he made a Faustian bargain in gaining fame at the cost of estrangement from family and friends, as Knausgård claims, but in that in all likelihood, this will be the only lasting work he produces. Quite early on in volume one I felt quite strongly that this series will destroy whatever desire, ability, and talent the man has. Fortunately for us, at least volume one is terribly good. Five Stars.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story - Jonathan Case, Jeff Jensen Much promise, but was short on delivery.
Same with my review.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves - Karen Russell To be reviewed in 2015.

Sleepwalk and Other Stories

Sleepwalk and Other Stories - Adrian Tomine Short essays on loneliness, post-adolescence, feeling of otherness. Excellent use of the medium that shows it's potential in handling short, largely emotional content where written description would weigh down and crush the experience for the reader. I'm greatly looking forward to more. A must for those looking to learn about the literary potential of the medium.

The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections

The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections - P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, Todd Klein, Shawn McManus, Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, John Watkiss, Duncan Eagleson, Kent Williams, Neil Gaiman A sterling example of the kind of achievement in storytelling that graphic novels/comics can achieve

Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812

Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812 - Mike Bunn, Clay Williams A surprisingly good accounting of a very important conflict largely ignored and forgotten by U.S. History, yet vital to understanding the formation not only of American national identity, but that which creates the massive influx to the "Old Southwest" (today the Southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi) which create the agricultural culture that in turn leads to the U.S. Civil War. Politically, it elevates the man for whom all U.S. policy would be deeply influenced by between 1829 and the early 1850's. If there is a mostly unknown war in U.S. history, it's entirely forgotten little brother is the Creek War. To understand that you cannot look at them separately is one of the glories of this book.

The book is arranged in smaller sections, taking some period or place and giving the reader an essential narrative, then following it with a breakdown of each battle, town, or fort involved in a short paragraph which includes where it lies in modern times, the status (if any) of any historical markers, parks, and reconstructions. Often these include some sense of the roads and distances required to reach them, and even pictures taken by the authors of the modern sites.

Serious historians will find a somewhat lighter treatment than they might expect, though primary sources are reprinted in the back of the book...the accounts of the fall of Ft. Mims, and the Battle of the Canoes standing out as excellent reading to this reviewer. But the easy readability of this book is to it's profit, and the most serious of readers shouldn't overlook this book, but perhaps use it as a starting point, and guide. The notes on sources are also excellent, and will leave the student with a detailed roadmap to further study.

In all, a truly excellent effort, accomplishing exactly what they set out to do. Highly recommended!

Sixty Poems

Sixty Poems - Charles Simic The world informs me,
like a distracted conductor
too busy to answer my question
if this is the right stop,
that this isn't
the book of his I should read.

'This is what they had,' I say.
Before I can explain
how I liked it
but didn't love it,
They turn their back,
and I'm left to ponder the rail map.

I'd have liked to tell
of the pockets of verse
stuffed into spare corners
that thrilled me like little else
but that I tired of
vast dusty plains of women and food.
Much like Spain.

But he had already moved on,
hassling some lady about change,
she looking like she was about to cry.

Love and Rockets, Vol. 1: Music for Mechanics

Love and Rockets, Vol. 1: Music for Mechanics - Gilbert Hernández, Jaime Hernández, Mario Hernández I can tell I'll enjoy this as it progresses...

The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812

The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812 - Troy Bickham Acceptable, but perhaps overly top down view, which I complain of only because there are others which accomplish the same. Otherwise a fine and sturdy accounting.

Spotting Deer

Spotting Deer - Michael DeForge An unseemly high rating for a 16 page book, I suppose.

On the other hand, are you rating from the bottom up, or the top down? 16 pages isn't much room to lose even a single star if using the latter.

Or is it the middle-out, which makes me think of the season one finale of HBO's "Silicon Valley", which I saw last night. (Tip-to-Tip efficiency!)

I suppose it comes down to three feeling far too low for this little book, a lovely and creepy look at a fictional Canadian species of "deer". Five seems a bit much to rank amongst Joyce, Woolf, and Shakespeare. At 16 pages, I'd suggest it's hard to be much better, and quite possible to be much worse.

The art is intense and well crafted, though not in a style you'll find pushing any of your visual boundaries unless you're unfamiliar with the genre. Again, it's value is in the lent intensity it grants to the restrained text, which really is the great technique that graphic art has over text, to say one thing whilst visually doing something a little different. But by now I'm either preaching to a choir, or at the backs of the escaping man on the street. It's his loss, he who fails to enjoy this genre.

Spotting Deer is a tiny and very worthy contribution to the form, and well worth what vanishingly little time it takes to ingest. You've no excuse.

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science, Bad

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science, Bad - Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra Shows promise, I'll be reading others in the series.

The Autobiography of Red

The Autobiography of Red - Anne Carson Sensitive and sweet, Carson crafts a heartbreaking poem you won't soon forget.

A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder

A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder - Michael Pollan I won't tired you, Dear Reader, by lamenting that this website lacks the ability to grant half-stars in it's reviews. Suffice it to say that were that to exist, the rating of this book might edge slightly higher. But this is lusting for the impossible, to dream of unicorns when all you have is corn. I speak not from desire but from the wish to impart that I did in fact rather like this book.

Ostensibly we're given to believe this is a classic Fish-out-of-Water tale of a writer who decides to build his own writing hut, a little outbuilding on his recently remodeled home in semi-rural Connecticut, as though that state comes in other flavors. Readers of the Author's other books will know that you cannot escape without whatever comes into focus of the authorial lens being offered as a deeper insight of modern life, if not the human condition itself. Pollan doesn't disappoint. The Reader is led through the process from soup to nuts, beginning with an enormous consideration of site selection which includes the Author running down hills and randomly sitting around his backyard in an attempt to see what a pre-historic man might in searching for a camp for the night. Obviously Pollan profits from having a comfortable and fully appointed home at the other end of the lawn. The book is quite good, laboring only when getting lost in mental eddies of thought about the nature of space, architecture, and man's relation to nature. All is acceptable but for the section on windows, which ironically I found fairly opaque, and seemingly interminable. Pollan's thoughts throughout the book are heavily influenced by previous thinkers, but he escapes all criticism from me on the merit of clear and frequent reference, excellent choices of source, and at least in the edition I read (loaned to me, I must say with the greatest of thanks, by a fellow library trustee and recent GR member I shall leave nameless as I lack their permission) by a full bibliography broken down by chapter.

So why not more stars?
Well, it lacks the linguistic brilliance and original design I'd require for such a life-changing estimation of five stars, and it falls ever so short of four stars by way of the occasional bloated and self-ponderous navel gazing that Pollan falls into (the aforementioned section on windows, for example) that mar the grain of this otherwise excellent book. I DO recommend it, both for fans of the author, or of those attracted to a sort of do-it-yourself back-to-nature-yet-philosophically-inclined-city-folk type of person. Those more familiar with woodwork, construction, philosophy, et al. might not be as thrilled as the newcomer to these topics.

Crash Course in Strategic Planning

Crash Course in Strategic Planning - Dan Fuller I suspect I've written too many plans for organizations and designed too many systems to read this book and not find a degree of the contrived, the arbitrary, a weariness over yet another declaration that if we define that which does not expressly require it, that if we invent some terms and acronyms we can pretend everything is ok long enough for the shadow to pass.

We can't.

The Customer-Focused Library: Re-Inventing the Public Library From the Outside-In

The Customer-Focused Library:  Re-Inventing the Public Library From the Outside-In - Joseph Matthews I couldn't quite give it three stars; it contained far too much "power language", and reads as a little gimmicky.

Most of the book is spent either in useless experiments in typography (ironic, since it criticizes many libraries for poor signage) or in telling the reader about all the terrible things they're doing wrong. Most librarians or trustees are probably already aware of this. A reader who isn't either of those must be really bored to be reading this book in the first place.

The remainder of the book is spent telling us how a few of these problems could be solved. However nearly every section is solved by telling us we need more space. Oh, and FEWER books.

This is immensely frustrating as a Trustee on the board of a tiny library. I mean this is the smallest library I've ever ENTERED. More space isn't an easy fix, it's probably the hardest thing for us to attain in fact.

Now an astute reader will be thinking "fewer books? Do tell!" This is from changing how books are arranged, cataloged, and displayed. Few would disagree that customers (patrons) have an easier time seeing and becoming interested in books displayed as they often are in a bookstore: Flat, with the cover out. Of course, this takes up more room, since if you tried to display the entire collection this way instead of spine out, you'll run out of room before you run out of books. This is usually presented as a "plus" since you don't need to spend as much budget on books, since you're then not buying as many of them.

A more astute reader will immediately see the inherent problems with having fewer books in the library. Astute readers tend to want MORE books, after all.

So this book is ok, but not better than that. A single page telling me to somehow pony up a few million to build a new, larger library would have been quicker.