In this fascinating little book (why a 320 page book seems 'little' is another story) Mr. Foer – brother to the recently famous author of a book apparently involving both immediate proximity and copious volume of noise – examines the story behind the 'athletes' of competitive memory championships. In doing so he falls Plimpton-like into the story and ends up himself competing in a U.S. Memory Championship. Along the way he tells us some of the techniques used to achieve some of the more colorful feats required, the background and history of it, and some of interesting personalities that inhabit that world, along with some fascinating insight into the functioning (or indeed malfunctioning) of the human brain. Some may feel that the trope of the Look-What-I-Did-For-A-Year-Then-Wrote-A-Book-About-It has been done to death, and perhaps it has. But rarely has it been done so well, and rarely has it been so well worth your while to read it anyway. Well worth it.
To a potential fellow reader, I should warn you that this isn't the type of history you'll find influenced by literary narration devices such as the excellent John Adams, by David McCullough, but instead a gritty, numbers-driven collection of essays packed with tables and charts and consideration of plant species and epidemiological data. This is, however, exactly why it's such a great book.
My warning complete, I will tell you that this is a great work, filled with fascinating information and data, and what surely must be the most complete study of aboriginal American culture on the Florida peninsula. I will admit I did read some of it lightly, as I was studying the book for purely epidemiological reasons, but I ended up reading the entire thing just because it was so interesting.
Highly Recommended - if you can read what I like to call "extreme history" - meaning it's filled with minute detail, data, and evidence...not "ripping good yarns". This is the story of life and death of a people, not a tale of individuals. I wouldn't want someone disappointed in what they picked up. But don't get the impression that there isn't a treasure trove of fascinating information here, because there is! The serious historian will fall in love.
The frenetic story of a young man down on his luck, starving, near homeless, freezing, manic. This is Raskolnikov minus malice, by all accounts a vital stepping stone in the development of modern literature.
I just didn't love it.
Now if I had read this around the same age I was when I read Crime and Punishment, I probably would have loved it, but maybe the romance without finance is a nuisance, to quote a line by Tiny Grimes. The writing is good, compelling even, and the narrator demands both sympathy and revulsion at times, and his exploits both tragic and harrowing.
I just didn't love it.
As I'll explain, this could be a five star book...
Hard to quantify at times, this is the memoir of its author, a combat veteran of Afghanistan. Equally hard to qualify, it's compelling, at turns gripping, and speaks a truth which (bizarrely enough) few other contemporary war records are bothering to relate. It's hard to quantify because it doesn't really end up being a memoir, nor a war record, an inspirational book, or really anything specific. It begins quite strongly, using flashback and foreshadowing to set itself up, but it's as though the editing process, the hand of which can be clearly felt in the first half simply gets up and leaves before the ending, which feels unedited entirely.
It's hard to qualify because without having a clear goal, it's hard to ascertain whether or not the book accomplishes it. For me, Mr. Wood doesn't really ever reach any specific genre...and that's ok.
So why must I sit here, feeling guilty that I've given it 2 stars instead of the raging 5's it looks like nearly everybody has given it? I suspect that those reviewers have rewarded Mr. Wood for his brutal, honest, and openhearted truth, which is very much the strength of the book. But the simple act of writing a book means you stand in contrast with all other books of it's kind, and the writing is left too uneven, too unpolished to stand on its own. Now please before you get angry at me, I used the word "left" deliberately: an accomplished, professional editor is all that this book requires, and certainly online there's speculation that the book being pulled from the author's website and amazon (there's only four copies in the public library system, AFAIK) means exactly that. There's a remarkable story here, ranging from the horrors of DAILY life in theatre, to the terrible (IMO) betrayal by the military of our wounded soldiers. Few authors, and practically zero autobiographers, are expected to both have lived a life worth words AND be able to write AND edit it. For one thing, they live too close to the subject.
With some spit and polish, this book can reach 5 stars. I hope it does so.
Workmanlike account of the famous mission, with a great deal of background of this specific operator. Seems as though they couldn't decide if this was about Neptune Spear or the life story of the narrator, "Mark Owen". I will say that the mission itself was presented very well, with diagrams, and was quite informative. Well worth reading if you're interested in the subject, but I don't think this will be read 50 years from now.
High quality photographs of the museum's collections, interspersed with mind-numbing text that manages to both dull the senses and still under-inform the reader about the large number of great artists within, which is elevated to the status of a minor crime against art in that these are the artists most people are blissfully unaware ever walked the earth, as though impressionism sprang from nothing, as well as possessing the excellent and lesser-known works of some of the more famous ones. Also the story and the architecture of the museum is given (I believe) a single interior photograph, and one paragraph, where it could rate almost a small book unto itself. Museums should learn, like high school history teachers, that history is simply a collection of the most amazing and improbable incidents of the past, and not something that tastes like old sand and cobwebs.
"I Killed Adolf Hitler", in addition to being fun to say, is a really good little graphic novel. It's quite short, which greatly limits it's ability to carry more complex feelings, but it does have enough time to transmit to the reader a sense of emptiness, loneliness, loyalty, and even tenderness. Like several other graphic novels, human form becomes animal form, perhaps in order to prevent the reader from judging or identifying with the characters quite so easily, or at least that's what I think the artists are (often unconsciously) doing, almost the opposite in reasoning to their use in "Maus".
This is a tiny little book that's easy to dismiss, but it's well worth it. I enjoyed it a great deal.
I didn't finish this book. If this angers you and require my full explanation..I'll put it at the end.
Sedaris follows a time-honored formula of presenting humorous slices of his life in a more or less chronological form, the only real innovation here being the melding of the classic scenes of autobiographical emotional poignancy with the humor vignette made popular by writers from Dave Barry to articles at the back of Field and Stream.
It's not a match made in heaven.
The combination of the two leaves both lacking. At his most effective, Mr. Sedaris writes strikingly about his experiences as a teenager struggling with homosexuality and the undercurrent of habitual prejudice against it in school, even transcending the racial tension of the time.
Less effective is his attempts to find humor within his own behavior, becoming tiresome and straining to find humor relatable to the reader.
However, humor is often considered to be the most difficult to write. It's serious business taking the serious unseriously. So while I didn't really enjoy the book, there were moments I enjoyed, such as the image of what his maternal family line's coat of arms would look like. But at the end of the day, I cannot recommend this book. I found it surprisingly dark, but not in an enriching way, and surprisingly formulaic.
-reason I didn't finish it-
I declined to finish this book after reading more than half. Hate that if you like, but life is too short, and there are too many good books to read. I read MANY thoughts and reviews on this book, and the vast majority express that the first three or so section are the best, and that for them, it went downhill afterwards. Considering my opinion of those, and the subsequent chapters, I had zero reason to believe I'd be missing out on the modern equivalence of Mart Twain by continuing to read it. If you're the author, or a friend/supporter of them, I'm sorry, it's not personal, and ask you to please tolerate my choice, and if failing to do so, I can direct you to a lengthy perambulation off of what Joyce called a "disappointed bridge"
Thus far, this book is superb! The description of Tecumseh and of the Battle of Tippecanoe is excellent and thrilling. Why Berton isn't thought of in the same breath as history authors such as Shelby Foote or David McCullough is a mystery to me. Could it simply be because he is a Canadian, writing about mostly Canadian affairs? If so, it's a great loss to all lovers of history who have yet to discover this masterful author. His ability to write about a subject concisely, yet excitingly, AND give you all the nuance and background necessary to achieve a complete understanding instead of a one-sided point of view about the actions and motivations of the principles is outstanding, and rare even when done with limitless pages devoted to the subject. Berton can do it in two and a half pages. So far, HIGHEST recommendation.