The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson I gave it almost 200 pages, and I still didn't care about the story or anyone in it. Occasionally, two or three pages would peak my interest, only to be followed by ten to twenty pages of exposition and backstory, generally delivered via monologue and/or research report. I hear it has a great finish, but that doesn't make it worth my time to read a bad book.


Satantango - László Krasznahorkai, George Szirtes I loved reading this book whenever I was reading it, and perhaps if I had finished it the overall effect would have been amazing, and perhaps I would have finished it if I had been able to sit and plow through it in a couple of sittings. But I couldn't, and I didn't, and so it wasn't. I just lost interest, and maybe missed out on a great work of literature. C'est la vie.

The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine

The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine - Alister McGrath;Joanna Collicutt McGrath I am mildly surprised to see myself giving this book five stars, but I really did find it "amazing." It is a clear, concise, and thorough presentation of the many serious flaws in Dawkins's book, [book: The God Delusion]. It does not take a religious standpoint, but rather defends the legitimacy of having one, and outlines numerous ways in which Dawkins fails to consider such a standpoint honestly or rigorously. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this book is the sheer patience and equanimity with which it confronts Dawkins's virulent rhetoric.

I'm not terribly fond of indiscriminate book recommendations (e.g., "This book should be read by EVERYONE!"), but I seriously think any reader of Dawkins's book owes it to him or herself to read this one as well. If that seems daunting, after completing the nearly 400 pages of The God Delusion, take heart: its 97 pages can easily be digested in one sitting. It'll feel like a walk in the park, and you'll wonder why it took Dawkins so long to say what he had to say, anyway.


Railsea - China Miéville I wanted to like it. It's inspired by Moby Dick, after all, and the idea sounds neat. But 150 pages in, I have to admit I'm just bored. I don't care about any of the characters, I don't think the writing is as clever as it's trying to be, and no, I don't like that he inexplicably uses an ampersand instead of the word "and" throughout the book. It's just silly. Plus, really, if you think about it at all, the whole concept of the book basically falls apart. Guess Miéville's no Melville after all.

The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester Bottom line: The Count of Monte Cristo is way better.

Heroes of the Valley

Heroes of the Valley - Jonathan Stroud Man, what a bummer. I was very much looking forward to this, having just read Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy, and I was very much enjoying it, until the end, which basically stank. There really was a lot of potential here, and based onhis previous work, Stroud could have done something with it, but somehow he just fell flat.

The Making of the Middle Ages

The Making of the Middle Ages - R. W. Southern A work of consummate scholarship and erudition. It could not be better researched or better written.

The Penguin History of Latin America

The Penguin History of Latin America - Edwin Williamson Williamson's history of Latin America succeeds far more than one has any right to expect. He has struck the perfect balance between breadth and depth -- a daunting task considering the amount of time, geographical area, governments, and personalities he must describe. All of this could be overwhelming when dealing with only one Latin American country, let alone all of them. Certainly the book should be considered an introduction: read it to get a relatively quick and quite substantial grounding, not to learn everything there is to know about Latin America. Especially the closer you get to the present, there's just too damn much going on, and you're just going to have to bite the bullet and read a few more books to get a grasp on it (especially as this history ends at about 1990).

Finally, here are a few of my favorite things about the book:

1. Reading about people like Cortes and Coronado for the first time since about the fifth grade.

2. Realizing how vital an understanding of Latin America is for a true understanding of my own country.

3. Williamson anchors the first and second halves of the book in two fascinating chapters on the arts, especially literature -- an apt technique in attempting to tie together such a diverse history in an area of the world where poets and novelists have played such a vital role in social and political developments (up to and including becoming senators and presidents).

The Pretty Good Jim's Journal Treasury: The Definitive Collection of Every Published Cartoon (Definitive Collections)

The Pretty Good Jim's Journal Treasury: The Definitive Collection of Every Published Cartoon (Definitive Collections) - Jim, Scott Dikkers I like Jim.

The Hearts of Horses

The Hearts of Horses - Molly Gloss This is the sort of book I normally wouldn't have given a second glance, and I only read it because I saw the author speak and was impressed by her thoughts on the Cowboy as defining American mythos.

In any case, I was sort of taken by surprise. The novel is not, as the back cover declares, about "a woman trying to make it in a man's world." It is about the simple strength and courage of families living in the American West at the beginning of the first World War. The story is quiet and unassuming, no fireworks, just people trying to get by. It's like a less melodramatic John Steinbeck. Sort of. (No offense to Steinbeck, whom I love.)

I know that doesn't sound very exciting, but anyway I was compelled to read the entirety of this book that is completely outside of my normal reading habits, and that, I think, says a good deal for the story, the characters, and the author.

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure - Michael Chabon, Gary Gianni It's clear that Chabon wrote this for fun, and had fun writing it, but when I realized around page 80 that there just wasn't a point to it at all, and that I didn't care about the characters, I gave up. Maybe I was in the wrong mood.

No One Belongs Here More Than You

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July Miranda July has talent, but she writes like she thinks that's all she needs. It's not enough, and though there are some good moments, the writing feels mostly like imitation -- of other writers or, more often, of itself. I wanted to like it, but ended up craving Barthelme or Saunders.

A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore It saddens me to say this, but, though I tried and tried to like this book, I couldn't even make myself finish it. Enough people I trust have told me how brilliant Moore is that I may still try her short stories. But here, I just couldn't find anything redeeming. The whole thing felt like it was written by someone with no knowledge or experience of what she was writing about. I didn't care about or, even worse, believe in the characters. Quite frankly, they all seemed like bland caricatures, and the few attempts at depth felt like nothing more than intrusions of the author's own thoughts and words. The characters themselves couldn't support their weight. In short, the whole thing felt like a sham.

I should acknowledge here that I have yet to find a single professional negative review of this book, so maybe I'm totally off base. But I will also point out that many of these reviews do mention Moore's "clumsiness" at several major points in the novel. They just seem to think it's forgivable, because the rest of the book is so fantastic. Maybe so, but I couldn't see it. And I really did try.

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages - Harold Bloom To be perfectly honest, I bought a used copy of this primarily so I could have the list of canonical titles at the back of the book. However you feel about Bloom, and the rest of his writing, the list is a great reference. Fortunately, I also decided to take a look at the book itself.

I'm fairly certain that, if I had any significant training in literary criticism, Bloom would irritate me a lot more than he does. His views, right or wrong, are strongly stated, and he is mostly dismissive of those who disagree with him. I am lucky that I just don't care all that much about quarrels surrounding who influenced whom, or how important it is to balance out the number of dead, white men in the canon. I just wanted to read someone writing passionately about how great truly great books can be, and how rewarding the experience of reading them.

My favorite parts of the book by far are the introduction and the conclusion. The rest of it gets much more into that stuff I just said I don't care so much about, so I eventually grew more anxious to read some of the books under discussion than to continue reading Bloom himself (a development which I'm sure would please Bloom immensely). So no, I haven't finished it, and I'll probably just read the last third piece by piece, as I get around to reading the works themselves.

Yes, Bloom gives the literary world much to disagree with, and he likes a good fight, but far more importantly, he loves books, he loves reading, and he loves readers. Any literary critic who does not love these things, and communicate these loves, is wasting everyone's time. I feel no compelling need to agree or disagree with Bloom; as a lover of literature, I understand him.

The Anthologist

The Anthologist - Nicholson Baker What if Nabokov had farmed out the writing of Pale Fire to Alain de Botton, or maybe Sarah Vowell, or even better, Nicholson Baker? And what if he'd said, "Oh, and don't worry about being all eggheady like me or anything. Have some fun with it."?

Who knows. Fortunately, it doesn't matter, because this book got written anyway. Nicholson Baker, I love you.

P.S. I love Pale Fire, too, but it's eggheady.

Islam: A Short History

Islam: A Short History - Karen Armstrong A great first book for Westerners on Islam -- but not a great only book on the history and ideologies of the tradition. Readers will get a good grounding for further reading, but those who stop here will have serious gaps in their knowledge of the subject.

Currently reading

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