What I am Reading

I don’t quite know how to categorize this little book by Christina Thompson.  The title, Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat you All:  A New Zealand Story,  certainly doesn’t help.  It is partly a memoir of an American woman whose own life becomes intertwined with the culture of the South Pacific, specifically the Maori culture of New Zealand, when she meets and marries a man from that culture.  It is also partly a history of the Maori people themselves and their dismal lot in the age of Western Colonization.  In trying to tell both of these stories, however, the book jumps around a lot and in the end struggles to tie all of the colonial history of Western Europe together, for good or bad, to her own family story.  On the whole, though, this touching reflection had enough interesting history and was written well enough that I must say I enjoyed reading it.  

What I’m reading.

Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry is a spy novel that manages to also be a historical thriller.   The hero of this story is an experienced U. S. undercover agent named Paul Christopher who finds himself caught up in the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   The story follows his attempts to convince his superiors of his take on the situation leading up to the assassination and obtain the evidence to support his ideas.  It is an exciting, quick paced and believable read.  The book is well written, well researched, and in the end may have you second guessing your personal beliefs regarding the Kennedy assassination.

This is one of several Paul Christopher books by the author but the first that I have read.  The book was good enough that, even though I am not normally a spy novel devote, I would be tempted to read another in the series.

What I am reading

Just finished The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. It was an interesting idea for a book and generally interesting to read but it seemed a little unorganized to me. The author was trying to imagine the world without people and he approached that question by looking at what people have done to their world and what will become of all of that stuff if they were suddenly gone. I will have to admit that he dug up some pretty amazing examples of human impact, some of which I had never heard of before. He seemed to jump around, however, and didn’t seem to build a general case for his point of view.

I was also hoping to get some sense of why he thought the question itself was a relevant one. Is there some reason to believe that humankind will be moving out of the picture at some point? He hinted at that reasoning but never actually dealt with it, even though there are many signs on the horizon that humanity may be pushing the boundaries on several different fronts.

I think it is worth a read but it was a little less enlightening than I had hoped.

What I am reading

Just finished reading Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, and have to say I was completely blown away. I have had this book on my “to be read” list for a long time and I am glad I finally picked it up. The book was originally published in 1949 and I must admit I was expecting a dated science fiction story with little connection to my experience or todays realities. I was so wrong. Not only is the book still relevant it almost seemed to speak directly to our times.

In writing this book, the author stripped away the meaningless detail that we all use to define our lives and instead told his story at the basic level at which all people actually live their lives, no matter the time and place. The result was a story that was just as fresh as if it had been written last year. If you want to really understand what civilization is all about, and how it relates to humankind and to our world, read this book. You will not regret it.

What I am reading?

Just read Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazel, and liked it?  That question mark is not an error because I don’t really understand why I liked it.  It was a rough book.  Rough language, gratuitous violence and sexual references were liberally applied throughout the book.  Indeed the whole premise was kind of rough.  The hero was a twenty something Mafia hitman who becomes a doctor through the witness protection system, and is working in a chaotic urban hospital.  When the two parts of his life come in contact the story goes into “rough” overdrive.  The structure of the book is strange and shifts between being a crime/mystery thriller and a medical journal but it manages to work somehow.  Like I said, hard to tell why, but I liked it.

What I am Reading

Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates is a look at the Puritan settler’s creation of the City Upon the Hill. She makes a distinction between the Pilgrims of Plymouth, who were technically “separatists,” and the Puritans that later settled Boston who are the subjects of the book. Her writing style is humorous but still informative and I am looking forward to digging into this book. Look for a final review when I am finished.

Completion update: The book stood up to its early promise. Ms. Vowell has a real talent for taking, what could be, very dry source material and using it as a spring board for her great stories. She manages to tie what went down on the ancient shores of New England directly into our own experiences. I will be looking for other books from this author.

What I am reading.

Dirt is an interesting book. Most of us are aware of the importance of soil as a medium for growing our food sources. Many of us have probably even thought about the consequences of abusing the soil. In this book, however, Mr. Montgomery carefully lays out the countless instances where societies have not only mistreated their soil, they have done it to such an extent that their society has failed as a result. Not often emphasized in history texts, civilization has apparently been an ongoing quest to find new soil as existing sources are piddled away. I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know if he manages to extend his observations into our own times. I will fill that in later, when I have finished the book.

What I am reading.

The Far Traveler is a little bit archeology, a little bit mythology and a little bit history. It is the story of Gudrid, a female Viking resident of ancient Greenland (1000 AD) who, according to Icelandic Sagas spent a few years living in “Vinland,” which was a Viking term for North America. I am only about half way through the book and the author is just now getting to the actual adventure, so it has been a little slow so far, but the history is fascinating and I feel like it is going to get interesting from now on. I will update this post when I have finished reading it.

Completion Update: In the end this book was worth reading. The history and archeology was detailed enough to be informative, without being too dry, and the mythology brought in another element that made the study much more personal than most stories that are as distant in time as the Icelandic tales. I was ultimately left wishing for a little more depth regarding the travels to “Vinland” while at the same time being confident that the author shared everything available. With this book, an incredibly remote and fascinating time and place became a little more real.

Editor’s note: You may have noticed that I am not running ads on this blog. Aside from the fact that I probably won’t get enough traffic on this site for it to matter anyway, this site is basically for me and I don’t like to look at the ads. I do have an Amazon and a google account, however, and once in a while you might see evidence of that. The box on the right is one example. It is easier for me to grab a ready made display panel than build one myself so I will use them to accompany my book comments.