Thursday, September 27, 2007

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Very funny and enjoyable!

D. A. by Connie Willis

Not a bad little novella from Connie Willis, but not her best effort either. She's turned to more lightweight stuff lately. I still enjoy her meatier stuff more, like Doomsday Book and Passage.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

Last night I finished this nonfiction account of Theodore Roosevelt's journey down an uncharted river of the Amazon. Wait! Where are you going? Come back here and listen! Are you one of those people who still thinks that nonfiction is dry and boring? Then you haven't read this book. It was so engaging and interesting and well-written (and such an amazing tale of a harrowing journey that I wondered how any of them made it out alive) that I couldn't put it down! I actually resorted to the "Mary-gulp" method of reading, where I get so excited about what's going to happen next that I skim the book more than I should. (It gets me to the end faster, but it sure doesn't help my retention rate after I close the book.)
Thanks to Kim and Diane for recommending this book -- I really liked it.

The Bourne Ultimatum (movie)

I forgot to mention that I went to see this movie with my friend Janet last weekend. I had enjoyed both of the other Bourne movies and was expecting to like this one too -- and I was not disappointed. Matt Damon makes an excellent tortured action hero, in my opinion. Plus, there was violence, but not too much blood and gore, which means I only had to clutch at Janet 3 times during the movie, which is not bad considering how much clutching and eye-hiding I have done at other movies with more violent content.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufmann

I loved this book! It's a memoir of Kenn Kaufmann's time on the road in 1973, hitchhiking around the U.S. trying to see as many different bird species as he could in one year (birders call this a "Big Year."  He was still a teenager. People who don't bird (and yes, it's a verb to those who do it) are usually a bit surprised to realize that there is a very thriving birding subculture, and this book is terrific at evoking what the world of birding was like in the early 1970s. Kaufmann (who has since written several field guides to North American birds and wildlife) is an excellent writer and he makes birding sound fun even to people who don't think they would enjoy it. Here's part of his description of a "Big Day" he did with some other birders in Texas (a Big Day means trying to find as many different bird species as you can in one long day, beginning before dawn and ending no later than midnight. It's a very active pursuit, as you can see from the following!):
"Pulling up to the Texas City Dike, we leaped out of the car like gunslingers, binoculars blazing. In a matter of moments we had checked off two dozen new birds. Two Common Loons floated low in the water, like enemy submarines. Several White Pelicans and a flock of Eared Grebes were valuable bonuses. Among the Ring-billed gulls and Royal Terns we picked out two Herring Gulls, a Caspian Tern, and a Sandwich Tern. In less than five minutes we were back in the car driving away."  (pp. 179-180)
See what I mean? He's a great writer, makes it exciting, and frankly, it's also cool just to read along and get familiar with all the weird bird names. (Eared Grebe?!)

She Got Up Off The Couch by Haven Kimmel

This is a terrific memoir of a girl growing up in a small Midwestern town, whose life is constrained by the borders of the town but not by her imagination and her adventures. It ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to downright sad. I enjoyed every last word of it. If you liked Bill Bryson's Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid or if you enjoy reading memoirs of growing up in quieter times (but no less complicated times), you might want to give this book a try.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, edited by Jennifer O'Connell

Women of a certain age (like me) grew up reading Judy Blume's books as comfort against the raging storms of adolescence. The women who wrote the essays in this book are honest about the painful days of being a teenager, and also talk about how much Judy Blume helped them survive. If you grew up loving Judy Blume, if her books spoke to you when you were a young girl or a teenager, then I think you will also enjoy this collection of essays.

Dog Days by Jon Katz

Katz's latest book talks about life on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York, where he lives with his menagerie (including an overly-friendly cow named Elvis). I am not sure he'd be happy with the comparison, but I sort of think of him as writing in the style of a modern-day James Herriot. He writes about his life on the farm, observes his animals with wit and humor, and talks openly about the physical pains and problems that plague him as he gets older, and how he deals with them. The book was both funny and touching. And I always enjoy reading Katz' insights -- not only about dogs, but about the other animals on his farm, and also about himself.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I enjoyed this engrossing book. It sort of reminded me of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier -- it's a great old-fashioned gothic novel, replete with strange summonses from the country, odd stories, brooding heroines, and just enough suspense to keep me reading, without too much suspense that I felt the need to read the last few pages first! I recommend this book. It's a fun and entertaining read.

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, MD

A fascinating and gripping book. We hope that doctors are "superhuman" and know more about things than we do, but it would be better for everyone if we all realize that doctors are just as human as the rest of us are, they screw up just as often, and they certainly don't know everything. Like the rest of us, doctors also have biases (some that they may not even be aware of), and they may also have hidden agendas. Scary stuff, but it's good to have it out in the open, because that's the only way we can address it and try to make things better. Expecting our doctors to be infallible superhumans only sets them up to fail, and sets us up for disappointment.

"Uncertainty creeps into medical practice through every pore. Whether a physician is defining a disease, making a diagnosis, selecting a procedure... he is walking on very slippery terrain. It is difficult for non-physicians, and for many physicians, to appreciate how complex these tasks are, how poorly we understand them, and how easy it is for honest people to come to different conclusions." (David M Eddy, professor of health policy at Duke Unversity, quoted on pp 151-152)

So what can we do about this? Groopman suggests: "Informed choice means, in part, learning how different doctors think about a particular medical problem and how science, tradition, financial incentives, and personal bias mold that thinking. There is no single source for all of this information... so a patient and family should ask the doctor whether a proposed treatment is standard or whether different specialists recommend different approaches, and why." (p 233)