Monthly Archives: September 2017

* Refuge by Dina Nayeri

Refuge stars an Iranian family who is split up by exile to the US, leaving the daughter-narrator to alternatively miss and bemoan her father, whom she only sees very occasionally when he can get a visa to meet her and her brother in various cities around the world. The complicated relationship of the addict-father with the rest of the family is the best part of the book. Alas, it is surrounded by many meandering stories about the daughter’s geographical moves, her marital issues, and the refugees she is helping on the side, none of which seems to get anywhere.

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* Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans

Written by a former editor of The TimesDo I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters is an uneasy mix of memoir and writing prescription, and my thoughts as I was reading it were: Why do books about writing have to be so prissy and boring? And, in this case, so cluttered? We get many pages listing cliches to avoid and bloated words with alternatives. All very useful but it does not add to the readability of the book.

The author seems to delight in showing us samples of bureaucratic and legal writing, which are indeed absolutely awful — but does he really believe that bureaucrats and lawyers want to be understood? I’m thinking it may not be pure incompetence, but perhaps a penchant for obfuscation.

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** Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard

 

I have enjoyed Knausgaard rough memoirs, and Autumn  is very different: a series of essays and letters to his unborn daughter. The sweetness is surprising at first, but there are plenty of darker corners as the author tackles buttons, lice, tin cans, children frightened by thunder, and the embarrassment of trying to get rid of a large wad of gum at his editor’s house. Nothing escapes his critical gaze.

Best read in small doses, and while some of the essays are just brilliant, others are less so.

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*** The Windfall by Diksha Basu

The Windfall is the hilarious story of an Indian middle-aged couple who, after selling a successful website, move from a crowded apartment building into a luxuiours house, discovering a very different lifestyle.  It could be a simple nouveau-riche satire, but it’s a lot more than that since the heroes are not blindly trying to imitate their rich neighbors and have a very balanced approach to wealth and the ridiculousness of spending extravagantly. There is a funny subplot of their son, who is consuming more drugs than studying at a second-rate American business school. Won’t change the literary world but the story is entertaining, and deeper than it seems at first.

 

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* The Home Decluttering Diet by Jennifer Lifford

Those who know me well may wonder why I would read The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean House but I gotta keep those skills sharp, right? And this particular book won’t help. It consists of a set of checklists, first to de-clutter the house, one area at a time, over the course of a month, and then individual chapters on how to organize each room, each topped off with a cutesy craft project, most of which add more clutter. Good grief! And the initial decluttering plan is just insane. One day is for makeup (a whole day??) while another, equal day is for the kitchen. Really? Must be written by someone who doesn’t cook much (and places layers upon layers on her face!). Avoid absolutely.

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Filed under Non fiction

** The Seeds of Life by Edward Dolnick

Is this Science Week for the FT Books blog? The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks’ Teeth to Frogs’ Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From tells the remarkably long and chaotic discovery of how babies are made. The author has lots of amusing anecdotes, including about the Italian priest that fashioned the lovely frog pants on the cover (they were effective contraception devices) and also explains how the philosophy of science changed over time, from a completely non-desirable, pointless endeavor to an amateur pursuit to the orderly testing protocols of more modern time. An enjoyable history.

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* Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I love short books, and I thought it would be wonderful to read Astrophysics for People in a Hurry to finally understand something about the mysterious undertakings of astrophysicists. I was sorely disappointed. Yes, the book is short. It’s also very hard to understand, written in a compact style without any visuals that may help a neophyte understand or retain all the abstract concepts that are raining on us. So despite the wonderful first sentence (“In the beginning…”) and lots of factoids stuffed into the slim book, I would advice against it as a learning tool.

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Filed under Non fiction