Monthly Archives: January 2015

*** Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart


A third of the way into Little Failure, I realized that I had not enjoyed the author’s books (one of them, to be precise) — but I thoroughly enjoyed his memoir, from a circumscribed childhood in what was still the USSR to emigration to New York with parents that never quite adapted completely to their new environment and who did not believe in coddling him. “Little failure” is one of the nicknames they had for him.

The memoir alternates between funny family remembrances and the development of the author’s love and skill for writing. Funny and never harsh — and never boring to me, as Super Sad True Love Story was.

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Filed under True story

*** All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld


The heroine of All the Birds, Singing is a middle-aged woman raising sheep on an unnamed island in the North of England. The story of her mysteriously-killed sheep unfolds in a skillful double strand, one forward and the other backwards, with flashbacks into her mysterious past in Australia, working as a sheep shearer with a disturbing past. Brilliantly done!

I would have liked a more definite ending, but the suspense of the past was most successful.

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Filed under New fiction

** The Language of Food by Dan Juraksy


The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu explores restaurant menus, as the subtitle implies, but also the etymology of ketchup (Chinese!), why potato chips cost more when plastered with negative markers (“never fried”), how entrees arrive in the middle of American meals but at the beginning of French ones (and it’s not a lost in translation problem!) —  and many many tales of words related in ways we would not suspect (bread and lord/lady, for instance).

No chapter avoids the (apparently unconscious) food snobbery of the urban San Franciscans — but still an entertaining set of stories.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** Faster, Higher, Stronger by Mark McClusky


Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes–and What We Can Learn from Them explores the methods and techniques used by coaches and athletes to meet the famous motto of the Olympic movement, Citius, Altius, Fortius. The book challenges some supposed “rules”, such as the need to practice for 10,000 hours to reach elite levels (true for violinist, not true for many athletes, and indeed young athletes should not over-practice), and shows how a more scientific approach to training is helping athletes practice less but more effectively.

A fun read for athletes, parents of athletes, and (I think) couch potatoes too!

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Filed under Non fiction

** Florence Gordon by Brian Morton


The main character and namesake of Florence Gordon is the rarest of characters: an older woman. Yeah! She wants to write her books, hang out by herself, and be left alone by her family. Fine. But she also tells people off, keeps everyone at arm’s length, and is generally disagreeable. Meanwhile, her son and his family struggle a bit. So the story is not that exciting — and Florence does not get any more enlightened about her abruptness…

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Filed under New fiction

*** Levels of Life by Julian Barnes


Levels of Life contains a series of essays that mysteriously and seamlessly segue from adventurous French balloonists of 19th century fame to the death of the author’s wife that leaves him devastated. Still able to write beautifully, though…

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Filed under Non fiction

* A Country Called Childhood by Jay Griffiths

It’s sad when I wholeheartedly agree with an author’s thesis, yet manage to dislike the book so much that I find myself looking for counter-argument for every page — every paragraph in this case. The author of A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World believes, as I do, that children would do well with more free time exploring nature without hovering parents. Great. But she bulldozes her way through the argument with little heed for logic, often stating without reserve that the life of children in primitive societies is much superior than that of children in the developed world — clearly false, in many objective ways. Still false to claim that education is worthless simply because it separates children from nature. It would be great, perhaps, for children to spend more time in nature and without constraints, but that would create some adaption problems come adulthood, don’t you think?

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Filed under Non fiction