Monthly Archives: April 2013

** The Art of Procrastination by John Perry

I’m not exactly in the target audience for The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing, but it’s written in a firm tongue-in-cheek style that makes it suitable for all. The short book is constructed as a longish essay on the virtues of procrastination, unevenly amusing but with some most accurate observations, including that we can be extremely productive doing something else than what we must be working on.

A perfect diversion from the tasks we should be doing instead of reading, right?

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* 1/2 The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver


The End of the Point is the story of a multi-generational family, told from their summer compound on an unnamed Massachusetts island from WWII to today. It’s written from the perspectives of a Scottish nanny at first, then from that of a troubled grandchild who comes to the island to find himself. I found the story to be predictable and leaning towards boring, both from the historical perspective (the son killed in the war,  the psychoanalysis of the 60s, the drug culture of the 70’s, the environmental wars of the 90s) and the family itself (the depressed daughter, the rebellious grandson, the demanding matriarch). And I did not care for the stuffy, entitled setting and characters, who expect to  “summer” on the island, get a nice trust fund when they reach adulthood, and inherit the land from grandma without exerting themselves too much in the process.

The best part of the book for me, by far, was the story of the Scottish nanny, and especially her fierce love of her charges, so much so that she neglects her own happiness. Not coincidentally, she is also outside the entitlement circle.

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** Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape is the personal story of the author, the niece of the church leader, and what a story it is! Separated from her parents (who were themselves, at a time, high-ranking members), forced to live in very meager circumstances with what can only be described as slave labor for children, brought up to navigate the queer un-reality of the church, she finally leaves it, with her husband, but not before creating quite a stir. The story reminded me most of insane totalitarian regimes (as told, for instance, In the Shadow of the Banyan, about the Khmer Rouges of Cambodia), and not so much of My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru or Arcadia, memoirs of other children brought up in sects.

The book itself, despite its professional writer coauthor, is full of repeats and Valley Girl-toned “he said-she said” stories that are quite tedious, but I still found the facts very compelling.

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Filed under True story

*** A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

A Week in Winter is the last novel of Maeve Binchy, in a setting that’s a tad artificial in its gathering of strangers at a newly-opened bed and breakfast, but with many endearing characters, starting with the owner, who has an entirely fictional life, complete with a fictional husband, behind her — and no one is the wiser. The chapters are told from the points of view of the various actors and are most successful in the beginning of the book but if you enjoy the fiction that hard work always win out in the end, especially if it involves sheltering or feeding people, that most every human enterprise can end well, including teenagers getting pregnant (with twins!), and above all that (mostly) good things happen to good people, you are looking at a few hours of happiness.

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* Work Like a Spy by J.C. Carleson


I thought that Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer could be either (1) a run-of-the-mill management book, a la Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (quite funny if one does not take it seriously) or (2) a thrilling description of undercover work — and I was wrong on both counts, and not happily either.

The book manages to offer both obvious gems such as “be careful with your laptop when you travel” (duh) and ” cultivate a deep network (double-duh), along with a very chilling description of continuous deception, lying, and cheating — all to the good of the country, I suppose, but rather unsettling, especially if adopted as routine behaviors…

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** Sugarhouse by Matthew Batt


Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home sounds like a remodeling story, but it’s not, or rather, the remodeling story is only a small part of a larger memoir of a difficult family, and in particular the author’s mercurial grandfather and his gold-digger girlfriends. The house stories are told hilariously, from the dealings with the amateurish realtor, to the free lessons from the unimpressed Home Depot employees, to the awkward dance with the carpet installer tasked with removing the revolting carpets. But the personal story is what shines through.

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** The World until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? is a massive book that gently reminds us of how we can look at non-Western societies to help us handle the many areas of life where technology cannot make a difference and where our needs may not be so different from those in traditional societies.

There are some gems in this book. I thought the ideas around creating connections, rendering justice, and healing rifts were particularly interesting. We almost instinctively try to find common ground with strangers, and it is indeed a way to create a connection, just as effective in traditional societies where everyone knows everyone else as in today’s anonymous metropolises. And we would probably do well to use mediation and restorative justice rather than the rather ineffective forms of legal action.

Other ideas are less successful. Life in many traditional societies is short and brutal. Many, for instance, allow or order older people to walk away or let themselves die when they become dependent; while we could treat older people better today, these traditional practices seem simply horrifying. And if raising children in a traditional way requires mothers to live within arm length of a child for several years, I can think of a few modern women who may object to that wisdom, however successful traditional mothers may be… Finally, the overall organization of the book seems rather sloppy, with a blow-by-blow account of the Deni wars in Papua New Guinea (yawn!) and numerous repeats throughout the book. Could have used a ruthless editor!

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Filed under Non fiction