Monthly Archives: August 2015

** Savage Park


Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die is as meandering as its subtitle. To simplify, one might say that the author and her two young children visits a playground in Tokyo where children are allowed, even encouraged, to play with dangerous tools, jump down from considerable heights onto cheap mattresses, and play with fire — and she becomes fascinated by the contrast between the playground and the ultra-safe environments in which American children (of a certain economy class) play.

I would have preferred a more structured approach but enjoyed the author often funny asides, such as her reaction when seeing an older gentleman who regularly visits the playground and carves sticks for the children:  New Yorkers would overwhelm the 911 system if such a character appeared in their playgrounds!

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Filed under Non fiction

** Jonas Salk by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs


Jonas Salk: A Life is a well-researched biography of a famous man, whom we think we know because of his discovery of the polio vaccine, but who actually started out by creating a flu vaccine, and in the process of testing it demonstrated the concept of herd immunity. Not bad! Sadly, his life after his big discovery seems to revolve around building a shrine of a lab and making quite a shamble of his personal life.

I seem to always get bored when reading biographies, because they seem to contain a level of details that does not add much to the overall arc of the story. Who cares about the exact date at which he met his second wife (Francoise Gilot, who perhaps should be famous as an artist, but most famous for being Picasso’s lover)? I sped-read through the second half.

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Filed under True story

** Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman


I’m a little tired of novels told from an unusual point of view, and Pigeon English, told by a young Ghanaian immigrant in a grim UK housing project unfortunately fell in that category. So I was not able to muster much enthusiasm for the musings of the boy who is investigating a friend’s brutal murder, despite its many fresh observations on language and the mores of his adopted country

I did learn some Ghanaian slang, though. Hutious means scary, apparently, and that boy lives in a hutious place.

 

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Filed under New fiction

** Why Grow Up by Susan Neiman


Don’t be fooled by the cartoonish cover: Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age is a philosophy book (I know… brainless beach reading one day and philosophy the next, it’s quite a shock!).

From the jacket cover I see that the author is, apparently, skewering our society’s obsession with youth. I must be a little thick because I did not quite grasp that from reading the book.  Still, amongst the intimidating Kant and Hanna Arendt quotes, she makes a great point that becoming an adult is all about reconciling what the world ought to be with what it is. That’s a child-rearing insight that could change the world.

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Filed under Non fiction

* China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan


Even by the minimal standards of beach reading, China Rich Girlfriend is amazingly thin. It starts out like People on steroids, with a dozen brand names to describe each protagonists’ outfit, and the private jets, jewels, and out landing lifestyles carry it for the first few chapters. After that, the spoiled (adult) kids and their decadent parents got a little less interesting, even in a voyeuristic mode. The best part for me was the Chinese New Year’s party centered on fondling and wearing the party giver’s astounding jewelry collection. Hilarious, but pretty early in the book…

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Filed under New fiction

** The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker


It may be a tiny bit uncomfortable to eat processed food after reading The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, which shows how the food industry manipulates flavor to make us eat anything as long as it tastes like something else… Happily the author (mostly) stays out of rant mode and instead gives us lively retellings of experiments of all sorts, including some that follow sheep grazing in Colorado (they are good at selecting the very foods that tame their parasites, it turns out). Fortunately, the solution is simple: seek out real food, and although the author indulges in $405 shipping fees for tomatoes, needs not be quite that extravagant!

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Filed under Non fiction