Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cry, The Beloved Country -- Alan Paton ---- 4 STARS

While taking education classes at the prestigious University of Virginia (ok ok, northern Virginia campus), I met an awesome guy from Kenya. Besides sharing our thoughts and views on all aspects of education, we also recommended books for each other... this was one of his recommendations.

I feel proud reviewing a book that is what most would dub -- literature. Rather than what others might call airport trash, like much of the other books I read. Anyway, this book is about apartheid South Africa. It was written over 50 years ago, so it lacks the every single line of every single page is supposed to keep you interested like current books. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful story. Brilliantly written, it describes both the rural settings and city slums with such care and detail that your mind can't help but wander off dreaming of this beautiful place.

The story is told in 3 parts and it's done very well. Subtly, the author questions why whites separate the blacks as they do and what policies are created to assure their dominance. All of these questions are alluded to though the story, which is only about a few individuals.

I rated this book 4 stars, though if you are don't care for history or sociology it may be less interesting to you. I found it both a wonderful story about people and their actions and also a superb narrative describing life in South Africa pre-Mandela. The charecters are so richly developed that you can't help but feel their pain... and yes, this is not the most cheery book. But, like many good stories an ending with hope for the future exists.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Predictably Irrational -- Dan Ariely -------- 4 STARS

Little known fact, I am in a book club; well, sort of. I have gone twice in six years, but I now have made two in a row. The book club is with some Mary Washington Political Science alums and we recently read Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.

The book is about behavioral economics which is more or less the study of the psychology of economics. It was a really fun, cool book and it made me think alot about why I and others spend money as they do.

Some of the major themes that I summarized from the book are: think about what you value and why you do so, enjoy what you have and don't let too many options ruin the enjoyment of your life, be honest, and if that's hard to do, think about being honest and it will be a lot easier, and everything you spend money on is relative so understand the TRUE value of things.

Not bad for a book on economics. It really is a fun, easy to read book that I really suggest if you have any interest in getting a better perspective on the money in your life or you think about the value of things as you do.

The book came in at 4 stars as Ariely provides some great stories from his research that help illustrate each major point of his book. Each story is told creatively, easily and in a very "non-economic" way. The book is a quick read and it's definetley recommended.

The Road -- Cormac McCarthy --------- 1.5 STARS

Oh how this book sucked, let me count the ways.... I recently finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it was, how do you say, pretty much awful. I wanted to like it, I really did, but after finishing it, it just was so dreadful I could not.

I read McCarthy's No County for Old Men recently. It was decent but this book pales in comparison, that's not a good thing. I have really tried to like Cormac McCarthy... he is this old dude, whose got this ruffian, I miss the good old days attitude, but after two books I think I am done with him.

The book starts off sad and boring, moves through continuing that theme and eventually you get to the ending and he doesn't keep you guessing.... MORE SAD AND BORING.

Although he does a great job describing the two main characters and vividly recalling each scene the plot was just not for me. Besides the downer plot of post-apocalyptic Earth, I just could not get into the whole idea of the book.

The best part was when I finished. This was not so much because I finally finished it (though I was quite happy) but because I was able to reflect upon it. I am pretty sure it's one of those books with symbols, themes and all sorts of "deep ideas". Unfortunately I don't teach English and am not a literature critic so must of that stuff is lost on me. I read for entertainment and getting something out of the book. I didn't get much of either.

They are said to be making a movie about the book. I bet it will be better than the book, but really, pretty much anything in comparison would be better.

The Billionaire's Vinegar -- Benjamin Wallace -- 4 STARS

While watching a video on recently (really cool website with great videos about the future of technology and such), I saw a guy who was talking about the most expensive things in the world and he referenced the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. In the book, The Billionaire's Vinegar,Benjamin Wallace explains the selling of this bottle of Chateau Lafite 1787 sold at Christie's London in 1985 for $160,000.

I gave this book 4 stars. I was a bit unsure going into a book like this but it was far better than anticipated. Wallace does a great job starting with the auction and then diligently explaining the mystery behind a bottle purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. He then goes into great depth about the story of the bottle going through today.

To help arouse your curiosity, I will let you know that there might be a possibility that bottle is in fact............FAKE! Actually, a lot of the book questions that authenticity of a number of expensive, old wines sold recently but you will have to read the book to find out the final result.

Overall, very fun, cool book. More than I ever wanted to know about wine, but it certainly makes me appreciate red wine much more now. Think about it, wine is one of the few foods/drinks whose taste actually changes and improves as it encounters oxygen... so cool and enjoyable, just like this book.

The Pillars of the Earth -- Ken Follett ------- 5 STARS

Well I felt it was fitting to include a 5 star book for my first review. If anyone ever reads this they will learn that I am not what you would call a creative writer. All I can say about this book is that it is: really, very good. 5 stars.

There you have it, not eloquent but accurate. The Pillars of the Earth really is an incredible book... great characters, wonderful story, moving dialogue and action. For a book that is so ridiculously long (973 pages), it flew by. Normally a book of that length would not even be considered by these eyes but SO many friends had SO many positive reviews I had to give it a try.

Now, I would not say 'I could not put it down'. That's just not accurate, I have to work, shower and do other things that I really can't read a book to do. However, whatever free time I did have, I dedicated to the book until it was finished.

If you have read it, you know what I am talking about. If not, go get it very soon and read it. It's really that good.

As a friend of mine said about it, "I don't think I can be friends with someone if they don't like this book". Yeah, that's right, it's that good that people are willing to lose friendships on it.

My First Blog -- So Nervous

Well this is exciting, my first ever blog. I was worried that I would have to spend a lot of time pondering my writing. Is the grammar ok? The spelling? Too boring? Offensive? But then I had a revelation... most likely nobody is reading this. Thus, no pressure. So with that mindset I will start this blog about books.

My point in writing this is to do something while bored that is probably better for me than playing Spades online or watching old episodes of West Wing (albeit only slightly better... I love that show).
So the blog is about old books I've read and new books I am reading.

I plan on writing a short review about each book. Not what it's about... you can find that on Amazon, but rather what I thought... you can only find THAT HERE! I have a rating system, it works like this:

1 star -- Why did I read this? It was a waste of time, a true waste. I no longer trust ______ (person, source, etc.) to recommend books again.
2 stars -- Well it wasn't a 1 but it was pretty bad. I wasn't bored the whole time reading it but there were some major issues.
3 stars -- Not a bad book. I wouldn't recommend it but I have read worst. It had some interesting parts but it's not a "keeper".
4 stars -- Pretty good stuff. Kept me reading and not wanting to put it down for the most part. Actually read it at home rather than just at the gym. You should check it out.
5 stars -- The Pinnacle. As good as a book gets for me. Fascinating, captivating, educational... just plain awesome. Read it at the gym, at home, all the time. GO GET IT RIGHT NOW.

It will take me a while to get all the older books I have read up here but I will do reviews of the books I read as I go forward and put up the older ones as I see fit.

So that's about it. Great first blog if I may say so myself. Anybody else??? Oh yeah, probably not.

-- David