.
.
Matt's rating system:

   GO!   I liked the book a lot and recommend it to you without reservation.
   CAUTION   I liked it, but your tastes may be different.
   STOP!   I really didn't like this book at all.
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Books in 2006
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Comments
About Books in 2007
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Comments
About Books in 2008
Under the Dome by Stephen King  At almost 1100 pages, reading this book feels like buying fiction by the pound.  I feel like a fraud for
saying anything at all about the book because when I got to page 714, I thought to myself, "I wonder if I would really miss anything if I just
skipped the next 200 pages?"  So I did, and as near as I could tell, I don't think I missed much.  It's an intriguing concept--on a bright morning
in October, a small town in western Maine finds itself sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome that keeps out everything
except light, a little air, and the occasional telephone and Internet transmission.  Some of the residents of the town behave heroically; some act
like skunks, and the majority--as you would expect--act like sheep. But no one acts in a way that is really memorable.  I think that Mr. King
was trying to say something profound, and if so, it was probably in the 200 pages I missed.  His tale of a government out of control and
wrecking people's lives sounds like what's going on in Washington now.  Both his heroine and villain are Republicans, and the hero is a
decorated veteran of the Iraq war who may or may not have done something bad in Falujjah; so you really can't say that the book is a political
allegory.  In fact you can't really say that it's anything at all.  (12/13/09)

Ford County by John Grisham  I wonder what the process was for someone to recommend to Mr. Grisham that he should pen a collection
of short stories.  Since the editors and publishers would be pestering him for another novel as quickly as possible, I 'm sure the idea didn't
come from them.  Regardless of where it came from, the idea was both prescient and inspired.  Mr. Grisham's strengths as a writer lend
themselves to the short story format very well, and if this first collection is an indication of what he can do, I might suggest to him that he
never write another novel.  Ford County, Mississippi, might be small, but it's got its share of scam artists.  My two favorite stories are about:
1) a guy who takes low-level jobs at nursing homes and then works with local attorneys to profit from reports of abuses; and 2) three misfits
who take off for Memphis to give blood but get sidetracked by strip clubs.  It's sort of an update of the William Faulkner classic,
The
Reivers
.   Well done!  (12/1/09)

1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus   The Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 is usually characterized (as I'm sure you know)
as a somewhat restrained, almost genteel recalibrating of the English monarchy that had more to do with the deposition of the Catholic James
II by his largely Protestant subjects than anything else.  Not so much, says Dr. Pincus.  The revolution of 1688-89 exhibited the three major
characteristics of later revolutions in Europe and North America--it was popular, it was violent and it was divisive.  Over the course of 486
pages of text and 128 pages of notes, Dr. Pincus pounds away at this point.  If you're serious about your history, you'll appreciate the book.  
If not, take your business elsewhere.  (11/20/09)

Promises I Made My Mother   by Sam Haskell  This is a book about which I cannot be objective.  Mr. Haskell and his wife Mary were
co-chairs of the university's
MomentUM capital campaign last year and were very helpful to me.  I would feel like a heel if I didn't say
something nice about his book.  Happily, this is not an ethical dilemma, because there is much to praise about
Promises I Made My Mother.
Mr. Haskell has had a wonderful life so far, and he relates many of the details of it here in a crisp an entertaining manner.  On a couple of
occasions, he makes a point of saying that the book is not a "Hollywood memoir'--as if that were a bad thing.
Of course, it's a Hollywood
memoir.   He lived there for 28 years and did some pretty incredible things.  He should own it.  "Stand in the light," as his mother used to say.  
(11/3/09)

If by Whiskey   by Quentin Whitwell   Hotty Toddy, Gosh amighty, what the hell is this?  Flim flam...well, let's just leave it at that.   I can't
remember when I've
hated a book as viscerally as I do this one.  It's been said that people respect the University of Mississippi, but they love
Ole Miss.  (I was there in 1975 when the guy said it the first time.)  I see the point, but I don't agree.  I love the university, but sometimes
"Ole Miss" makes me want to hurl--especially when I have to watch politely as otherwise intelligent 21st-century college students say stupid
crap like "the South shall rise again"--just as atavistically and cretinously as their parents and grandparents did thirty and fifty years ago.  
Please don't get me started. (10/23/09)

What Americans Really Want...Really by Frank I. Luntz    So how do I know this is a worthwhile book?  Here are two indicators:   1) as
of this writing, the book, which has a cover price of $24.99, is being sold on Amazon .com for...$24.99; and 2) after I finished it, I went out
and bought nine more copies that I'll distribute to my staff.  Dr. Luntz checks his ideology at the door, and provides "honest broker"
information about the information he has collected from the years he has spent talking to thousands of people throughout the country.  His
research runs  the gamut from why people will work for less money if they love their jobs to how teenagers rationalize downloading music
from the web without paying for it.  These are profoundly odd times in our country, and we should all thank Dr. Luntz for helping us to make
a little more sense of it.  (10/04/09)   

They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick by Todd Starnes   Mr. Starnes is a reporter for Fox Radio News who was told in
his 30's that at 300+ pounds, he was literally eating himself to death.  So with the help of God, a sunny disposition, and a team of trained
cardiologists and physical therapists, he pulled himself back from the brink, lost 160 pounds and got in sufficiently good shape to run the New
York City Marathon.  I guess "dipstick" is the operative word here.  Mr. Starnes gives us a lot of profoundly shallow insights (California is
very different from Mississippi.
Really?   And New York is even more different still.  Wow!) This book is less an autobiography and more of a
testimony.  I don't think Mr. Starnes would argue with that observation, but potential readers should be aware of that going in.  (10/18/09)

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe by Christopher Caldwell    Mr. Caldwell asks the question, "Can you have the same Europe with
different people in it?"  (No.)  Where, you may ask, are the Europeans going?  Actually, they're dying.  Europe is aging faster than any other
continent, and their birth rates are among the lowest in the world.  The places of Europeans of all stripes (white , black, what have you) are
being taken by a tsunami of Arab immigrants who are swamping the countries of the EU and feeling no pressure to assimilate to their new
homelands.  In any corner of Europe, Arabs have access to Arab television, the Internet and lots of company.  In France, there are so many
Arab immigrants that in order for the United  States and France to have the same proportion of Arabs among us, the Arab population of the US
would have to rise from 2 million to 80 million.  And he says that it's only a matter of time before the minority populations in France and
elsewhere start flexing their political muscle in ways that their countrymen--to say nothing of Americans--will not like very much at all.  Mr.
Caldwell (who seems to be much smarter than his picture on the dust jacket would indicate) likens the immigration problem in Europe not to
the immigration problem in the US, but to our race problem.  And to see what he says about it, you're just going to have to get the book.  
(10/16/09)

Munich, 1938 by David Faber   Mr. Faber is a former Conservative member of Parliament, whom I suspect entertains thoughts of regaining
his seat.  His recapitulation of the events leading up to Neville Chamberlain's infamous "I believe it is peace in our time," quote is painstakingly
researched (and as he is the grandson of former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, I suspect that he had access to some pertinent family
documents, as well) and stolidly written.  Early in the book, he recounts a sex scandal that causes a shake-up in the German army.  Mr.
Faber's telling of the story is so circumspect that you're left wondering, what, if anything , really did happen.  If Mr. Faber's prose is not a
particularly compelling, he does provide a format for explaining the delusion and wishful thinking that characterized a sorry time in western
history.  (10/12/0
9)  

The Lost Symbol  by Dan Brown   If this is the book (from the author of The DaVinci Code)  that's going to be salvation of the retail book
industry, I'm guessing a lot of folks in said industry are brushing up their resumes even as we speak.  If you read
The DaVinci Code--and I
know you did--you know the formula.  The only questions to be answered are: 1) what's the big secret the Masons are trying to hide; 2)
where is it hidden; 3) who is the guy that is trying to keep the hero (let's just cut to the chase and call him "Tom Hanks") from finding it; and
4) why does he have to be stopped
right now?  Let's see.  1) If you know anything at all about the Masons, you know that their big secret
really isn't so big.   2) if you're paying attention at all during the first fifteen pages, you know where the secret is "hidden."  3)  You'll figure
out who the bad guy is long before Mr. Brown tells you.  The reason for No. 4 is just stupid.  Still.  Mr. Brown knows how to keep the pages
turning, and you won't want to put it down until all of your suspicions are confirmed.  As they say,
That's Entertainment! (9/21/09)

Arguing with Idiots   by Glenn Beck    If you follow this page, you night have noticed that I don't really include a lot of current affaris/public
policy books in my regular reading diet.   Generally speaking, I wouldn't have included this one either, but Mr. Beck's unique ability to annoy
the people in public life with whom I disagree the most made me want to check it out.   There's not a lot here, and what there is sounds more
like common sense--which, by the way is the name of Mr. Beck's last book which went unreviewed by the
New York Times Review of Books,
but nevertheless has been No. 1 on the
NYT list for the last ten weeks, thus proving the point I made in the last sentence.  The most
provocative thing about this book is that Mr. Beck no longer has much respect or use for either major political party.  This will surprise
Republicans, but since Democrats won't be reading the book anyway, they'll never know.. They'll just continue their yammering about how
he's a GOP mouthpiece. (9/21/09)

Waiting for Columbus   by Thomas Trofimuk  Let's call this Crazy in Spain , Part 2 (see The Angel's Game below)  A man claiming to be
Christopher Columbus turns up in an asylum in Sevila.  There he befriends a nurse that I hope will be played by Penelope Cruz, if the book
ever gets made into a movie.  He's not a very convincing Columbus (cell phones ring during the meetings he describes between himself and
Queen Isabella's advisors) and he has
A Secret.  This book drags on for a long time before we find out what the secret is, but it's a good one,
and so we're willing to drag on for another long stretch as he prepares himself to reenter his old life.  I wasn't  a big fan of this book, but I
didn't begrudge it the hours it took out of my life.  (9/20/09)

The Wilderness Warrior:  Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America   by Douglas Brinkley   Mr. Brinkley is nothing if not a man
with an agenda, and in this work, that agenda manifests itself in practically every paragraph as he describes President Roosevelt as a devout
Darwinist.  So insistent is his endless repetition of that assertion that on our about Page 150, I put the book down and reread
Origin of the
Specie
s and The Descent of Man (and wasn't that fun) to try to be sure that I wasn't missing some obscure subtext that wasn't already
apparent by Mr. Brinkley's relentless affirmations.  (In retrospect, I realize that there was no need for that.  Mr. Brinkley couldn't do obscure
subtext  if his life depended on it.)  In 803 pages devoted almost single-mindedly to TR's naturalist proclivities, there's lots of information to be
had about the conservatism movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. What impressed me most was that when TR opened the
Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition in St. Louis in 1903, he was in the midst of a Presidential term that would see more than 245 million
acres--about half the size of the Louisiana Purchase itself--set aside as national parks, monuments, forests and wildlife areas.  (9/18/09)  

South of Broad by Pat Conroy   OK.  Here's a metaphor for you: South of Broad is the South.
It can lift you up in a hundred ways and break your heart in a hundred more.  Few people in the history of our planet can romance a sentence
like Pat Conroy.  Some of the passages in this book bring tears to your eyes and laughter to your soul.  And yet, you don't believe in what's
going on for a minute.  I also grew up in the South at during the time span that this work covers, and while the blacks, the whites, the gays,
the straights, the rich, the poor, the educated and the ignorant could and did form lasting bonds of friendship during those times, ALL of them
didn't form ONE group that stuck together for decades as they do here.  There's lots of character development going on in this book (always a
good sign) and lots of plot--but it's really too much.  And yet.  I recommend this book to you.  Mr. Conroy's writing lifts this soap opera to
the heavens, and I'd hate for you to miss it.  (9/9/09)   

Best of Enemies:  Britain and Germany: 100 Years of Truth and Lies   by Richard Milton  Mr. Milton has a number of fish to fry in the
book, some of them have little or nothing to do with the relationship between Britain and Germany.  He has more than a few comments to
make about the hypocrisy of the British Empire ("We really didn't mean to establish an empire.  It just sort of fell into our laps."), Charles
Darwin and the people who ignorantly say that everything that he said was true ("Do those people really believe--as Darwin did--that blacks
are inferior to whites?") and--of all things--advertising.  (Did you know that the first Madison Avenue advertising agency was founded by
Sigmund Freud's nephew?).  All of this peripheral information is secondary to Mr. Milton's main point, which is that the German Empire
which emerged in the second half of the 19th century was looking for a role model and found it in what was at the time  the greatest empire
the world had ever known.  It's a fascinating subject and--despite its diversions--a compelling book.  (8/16/09)   

The Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Iles  We'll always respect John Grisham, but Greg Iles is Mississippi's best living writer.  (And I don't say
this
JUST because Mr. Iles has urged readers to give generously to UMMC.)  In the Acknowledgements of the current book, Mr. Iles points
out that his beloved Natchez isn't as dangerous as the book seems to suggest. To which I can only reply "I hope not."  In the short time frame
of the book, enough crime is exposed in Natchez to keep all of Mississippi's law enforcement community busy for weeks.  As usual, It all
centers around Penn Cage, a successful prosecutor/author/local boy who is now serving as mayor and perhaps the only idealist in town.  
Penn's the kind of guy you like reading about , but you know that if you ever met him in real life, you wouldn't have much to discuss.  He's
surrounded by other characters from Mr. Iles's past books, but don't feel as if you had to have read them before you pick up this one.  Greg
Iles is one of Mississippi's treasures, and I promise that you'll thank me for recommending his work to you.  (7/27/09)

Germany 1945   by Richard Bessel  provides just enough information to keep the reader moving along in this chronicle of the year in which a
brutal war turned into an ugly--but nevertheless welcome peace.  I'm not enough of a scholar to know whether or not Mr. Bessel is presenting
anything new.  The relative dearth of information about the eastern sector of Germany suggests that he hasn't spent much time looking
through recently-opened files in either Germany or Russia, but I could be wrong.  I also suspect that the students he teaches at Cambridge
must hate his repetitiveness.  Whenever he makes a point (practically every other page), you can rely on the fact that as soon as he makes it,
he'll restate it in some way that says the same thing.  And then for good measure, he'll do it a third time.  After a while, it gets tedious.  But if
the subject matter interests you, check it out.  (7/24/09)

The Angel's Game   by Carlos Ruiz Zafon  Like the next book, this reads like a fable about a young man who finds himself as a journalist in a
strange city and falls in love.  Unlike the next book, this one really is a fable.
The whole of Barcelona stretched out at my feet, and I wanted to
believe that...its streets would whisper stories to me.
And they do. Dark stories about love, abandonment and  disillusionment that drive him to
despair and beyond.  It's an amazing book that will keep you up all night turning its pages.  If you know Barcelona--or even if you'd like
to--this is a book that will immerse you in its glamour and intrigue.  (7/21/2009)

Going to See the Elephant  by Rodes Fishburne  reads as if it's geared to not-very-bright seventh graders.  In a nutshell, "going to see the
elephant" means leaving home to follow one's own personal star and see what everybody's talking about.  Here, a 20-something would-be
world-class novelist (who hasn't yet published anything), finds himself in that most unexplainable of American cities--San Francisco-where he
rises from an unknown reporter at a fourth-rate newspaper to the journalistic toast of the town.  His journey reads like a fable, but it is neither
interesting nor pleasant.  I suppose that if I were still a not-very-bright seventh grader, I'd be engaged by this story.  (7/19/2009)

An Honorable German by Charles McCain  This book makes me realize that I really miss books about American soldiers and sailors in
WWII.  Has it become unfashionable to write about American war heroes?  (Who am I kidding.  Of course, it has.  But I digress.)  Max
Brekendorf is practically the Forrest Gump of the German Navy  (Kriegsmarine).  He personally scuttled the
Graf Spee, served on a
commerce raider in the Indian Ocean, and captained a U-boat in the North Atlantic.  Along the way, he got to see Paris, Berlin and Jackson,
Mississippi.  Yes, you read that correctly. And oddly enough, I was fine with the book until Max turned up in a POW camp near the fictional
settlement of Poole's Corner, Mississippi--where,
of course, everyone is racist, slovenly, obese and grammatically challenged.  I was
marginally engaged up until that little vignette, but afterward, my interest waned considerably.  (7/2/09)

The Legend of Colton H. Bryant   by Alexandra Fuller combines the worst of two genres, books about industrial malfeasance and books
about cowboys.  Frankly, I knew what the book was about when I picked it up, and I strongly suspected that I wouldn't be much enthused
when I put it down.  I was sorry to have my suspicions confirmed.   Colt Bryant was a good old Wyoming boy who overcame a few
challenges as a boy, had some fun, got married, had a child, died in an accident on an oil well, and was much beloved by lots of folks.  Ms.
Fuller suggests that Colt would have lived to a ripe old age if the oil company had shelled out $2000 for a safety rail on the well.  And she
might be right.  I don't want to sound disrespectful of the dead, but nothing about Colt Bryant's life was "legendary".  That Ms. Fuller asserts
that it was speaks to a certain degree of literary treachery, suggesting that the legendary cowboys of the American West are being brought low
by evil oil companies.  The cowboy profession started its decline about the time that someone figured out how to produce beef without having
to move herds of cattle hundreds of miles to the slaughterhouse. (6/30/09)  

Dead and Gone   by Charlaine Harris  If you've been paying attention to this page, you may remember that about this time last year, I was
praising Ms. Harris's previous eight books in the Southern Vampire series as tasty summer guilty pleasures.  Well, a lot has happened to the
vampires, bar girls and were folk of Bon Temps, Louisiana, since we last we checked in with them.  First and foremost, of course, they've
become HBO stars.  I don't get the channel, so I haven't see
n TruBlood, but I'm told that although it's not particularly faithful to the books in
what is now called the Sookie Stackhouse series, it does offer some pleasures in its own right.  I don't know how involved Ms. Harris has
been in the production, but I'd have to say her writing  has suffered.  The latest in the series reads like she's phoning it in.  The book owes
what heft it has to the fact that over the past eight books, Ms. Harris has created a whole parish full of dysfunctional characters, and I think
she felt she owed it to the readers to let them all drop in and anchor a mini-drama.  The result is something of a mish-mash and not terribly
satisfying.  I
n Dead and Gone, lots of people and things we don't care for are dispatched to whatever lies beyond for them, and a couple of
characters we're fond of are just dispatched without much said about it.  I thought they deserved better.  But that's just me.  (6/22/09)

Sunnyside  by Glen David Gold  Just as I didn't think I'd be much impressed with "A New Day in the Delta" (next) and found it to be
wonderful, I was sure I'd love "Sunnyside," and it turned out to be something of a what disappointment--not terribly so, but definitely a little
bit.  It's story of-well, lots of things.  Mostly, it's the story of Charlie Chaplin at a point in his career when he had made over 60 movies and
was the highest paid star in Hollywood, but he hadn't yet made any of his greatest movies and was at a spiritual crossroads in his life.  Also,
it's the story of the California lighthouse keeper and the dog that would become Rin Tin Tin--and the story of an Anglo-American invasion
force in the post-tsarist Soviet Union in the waning days of the War to End All Wars.  These three stories have little to do with each  other,
and if you're wondering how it's all going to tie together in the end, you're going to be wondering for a long time.  Mr. Gold is a gifted writer,
so you're never bored.  (6/16/09)   

A New Day in the Delta  by David W. Beckwith    I put off reading this book for a long time because I was reasonably sure I'd hate it.  
Happily, I can say that I couldn't have been more wrong.  Mr. Beckwith is now retired and living in the Florida Keys, but in the late 1960's, he
spent a year on the front line of the racial revolution that swept the town of Leland, the State of Mississippi and the nation.  Mr. Beckwith was
a white novice school teacher at an otherwise all-black school in Leland during the year that federal courts ordered schools in Mississippi to be
desegregated.  His memory is clear; his story is powerful and inspiring; and his writing is insightful.  Apparently, Mr. Beckwith is a staunch
record-keeper, a brilliant researcher and/or a memory savant.  After forty years, I'm amazed that he could recall his year in the crucible in
such detail.  I'm also delighted.  Bravo.  (6/10/09)

The Devlin Diary  by Christi Phillips is a satisfying yarn about a female doctor in London in the late 17th century who becomes a key figure
in various court intrigues in the court of Charles II.  I think she really existed, but it doesn't really matter.  Her story is paired with that of an
American scholar who is serving a term as a visiting lecturer at Cambridge who unearths her story in a college library.  After enough of these
shadows o
f The French Lieutenant's Woman, you kind of stop caring about who's real and who's not.  The book is entertaining enough, but
along the way, you began to feel as if you've read it before--about a hundred times.  (6/8/09)

The American Future   by Simon Schama   In eager anticipation of Mr. Schama's new book, I spent the better part of the month of May
re-reading some of his earlier works that I had been crazy about.  Most prominent among them was, of course
, Citizens, Mr. Schama's
masterwork on the French Revolution.  While he has few peers as a writer, I don't think he has chosen his subject well in this instance.  Now
that he is on the faculty at Columbia, he writes more and more about America--in this instance, America in the pivotal year of 2008.  I just
don't really think it's possible to judge history as it's being made.  But having said that, Mr. Schama adores the United States, and thinks that
the Obama-esque future is so bright we have to wear shades.
"...however dire the outlook, it's impossible to think of the United States at a
dead end. Americans roused can turn on a dime, abandon habits of a lifetime (check out the waiting list for Smart cars), convert indignation
in to action, and before you know it there's a whole new United States in the neighborhood
."  Well, from his computer to God's ear, I hope.  
(6/04/09)

If the Delta Was the Sea  by Dick Lourie  Mr. Lourie grew up and now lives in the Northeast, but about once a year, he spends a month in
his spiritual hometown--Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Nothing wrong with that.  However, to reflect his love for Clarksdale and its people, he has
created this book "as a record of an extended encounter between the Mississippi Delta, particularly city of Clarksdale, and one poet/blues sax
player...."  Uh oh.  Yes, it's the history of Clarksdale in abstract poetry.  Considering  that his selection of the facts about the place is eclectic
indeed, you are left to judge the book by how the poetry appeals to you.  I read the book to myself, and I read it aloud in lots of different
ways, and I'm sorry to say that it never really sounded much like poetry to me.  I accept full responsibility for my inability to react to the
author's vibe--but there you are.  (6/2/09
)

A Trace of Smoke  by Rebecca Cantrell  is a compelling tale of love and death (or at least sex and murder) in Berlin as the Nazis are rising to
power in the early 1930's.   Ms. Cantrell has done a wonderful job of capturing the ambiance of Germany as it totters on the precipice.  The
heroine of the piece is a 30-ish crime reporter whose beautiful brother has apparently seduced most of the men in the city, and someone is
sufficiently annoyed about it to kill him. The difficulty of solving the murder is compounded when a six-year-old boy shows up on her
doorstep bearing a birth certificate stating that she and her brother are his parents.  It's a tale well told. Check it out.  (6/01/09)

Vicksburg 1863   by Winston Groom  I wasn't much impressed with Mr. Groom's last book of war, 1942, and I'm even less impressed by
this one.  I think the main reason is that he tells his story sequentially--starting at dawn of time.   He takes up plenty of the reader's valuable
time talking about the causes of the Civil War.  Is that really necessary?  The story starts to pick up when the campaign actually starts
(somewhere around Page 100).  While more pertinent, Mr. Groom doesn't really tell the story in a way that I would consider to be more
interesting. Eventually, Vicksburg falls.  Mr. Groom says somewhere in the introduction that he will demonstrate how the leaders of the
Confederacy would have been well-advised to end the war after the twin disasters of Vicksburg and Gettysburg.  He says as much, but he
doesn't really provide "real time" information that the Rebels might have had at the time to prove his point.  (5/30/09)   

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi   by Geoff Dyer  is for all practical purposes two novellas about a 40-ish London writer who is not
someone that anyone aspires to be.  Jeff is defined by the people around him.  To him, it's not important to be smart, charming or attractive,
but it is important to him to be seen that way.  He's the kind of guy who would take being told that he's clever as a compliment.  The author
crafts his character very well--the downside is that the character is someone you'd like to see get beaten up in an alley somewhere.  Mr. Dyer
is great at describing Venice and Varanasi, and he makes you want to start planning trips to Italy and India right away.  You just don't want to
meet any of his characters there.  (5/27/09)   

Soul of the Age by Jonathan Bate  Some time when you've got an itch to learn more about the influences in Shakespeare's life and writing and
a couple of spare weeks on your hands, check out this book.  This is actually Mr. Bate's second book about the Bard.  I didn't read the first
one, but I'm led to believe that it was more or less a straight telling of Shakespeare's life story.  Here, Mr. Bate attempts to up the ante and
explain what he experienced and what he read that might have influenced his writing.  It's fascinating, but ultimately exhausting.  (5/20/09)

Dust and Shadow  by Lyndsay Faye  Once again we walk the fine line between fiction and non-fiction as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
(who somehow seem gay in this book) solve the case of Jack the Ripper.  Someday, I'm going to make a stand on where I think the limits of
historical fiction should be, but it's not going to be today because I liked this book too much.  Ms. Faye, in only her first book, has proved
herself to be a worthy disciple of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Her book feels as if it were penned by the faithful Watson.  She brings wonderful
characters to life and presents her story in a way that encourages the reader to try to solve the mystery right along with the Fabulous Baker
Street Boys.  I eagerly await Ms. Faye's next works. (5/4/09)  

Waveland  by Frederick Barthelme marks, I think, an encouraging development in Hurricane Katrina literature.  It's actually about people who
lived through the hurricane and got on with their lives.  They're not very interesting people, but still.  I hereby christen this book to be the first
book of the Post-Katrina Era. They're not wallowing in post-K anger and resentment because they have lots of other things to be angry and
resentful about--mostly about how boring their lives are.  But as the story  goes along, they embrace their boringness and make it their own.   
The book is insightful in lots of little ways that add up to a few big ways.  All in all, it's about coming to grips with the idea that your life didn't
turn out the way you thought it would or hoped it might.  (5/2/09)   

The Perfect Plan  by Pete Boone   So.  What do Baton Rouge business leader Milton Womack (a real person), East Baton Rouge Parish
District Attorney Doug Moreau (another real person), the Archangel Michael (a real archangel) Satan, the Antichrist and a fictional Irish Setter
named Molly all have in common?  (Take your time.  I'll wait.) They're all characters in this vision of the Antichrist by Ole Miss Athletic
Director Pete Boone.  Less a book and more like Mr. Boone's personal testament, the book hosts a perplexing plot that I don't think Mr. Boone
has thought through completely.  Suffice to say that the Archangel Michael appears to an Ole Miss graduate and orders him to save the world.
(Stop laughing.)  And he does.   But doesn't saving the world from the Antichrist really go against God's prophesy?  Just a thought.  I admire
Pete Boone a lot, and I look forward to whatever he endeavors to write in the future--as long as someone besides the SpellCheck is doing the
editing.  (5/1/09
)   

The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East  
by Neil MacFarqhar is a welcome change from the usual left-wing and right-wing diatribes about "the changing Middle East" that are fairly
falling off the shelves at Square Books these days. Mr. MacFarqhar is a forme
r New York Times reporter who doesn't let his own political
views prevent him from writing about the things he has seen and the people he has met during his years in the region.  He writes in a
professional--and surprisingly optimistic--manner.  Sure, he gives all appropriate blame to the U.S. for what it has and hasn't done in the
region, but at the end of the day, he recognizes that the future of the region--for good or ill--is in its own hands.  Reading Mr. MacFarqhar's
book
almost makes me wish that I had bothered to read the New York Times in the days he was writing for it.  (4/29/09)

More Information Than You Require   by John Hodgman.  Indeed.  (4/27/09)

After You've Gone by Jeffrey Lent   If someone sent you an unsolicited book in the mail whose first sentence is If love had a language, I
realize it would be this, not words or gestures but the mellifluous richness he'd heard that summer evening, anchored between a pair of violins
and a bass..
.would you keep reading?  If your answer is no, I wish I were as smart as you.  Mr. Lent's effort is more of a failed experiment
than a bad book.  An author has to be on top of his game to pull off a book in which two stories are told simultaneously.  Mr. Lent attempts to
tell three at once--, which is about two too many.  I like Mr. Lent's writing, and had he told his story a tad more prosaically (which probably
would have bored him to death), I would have liked his book a lot more.  (4/20/09)

Sultana   by Alan Huffman  For those of you who have forgotten, the Sultana was a steamboat that was overloaded with more than 2600
passengers when it blew up and sank near Memphis two weeks after Lee surrendered at Appomattox and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  
Because of what else was happening in the country of the time, the sinking of the Sultana--still the greatest maritime disaster in our nation's
history--is often overlooked.  I'm sorry to say that this book probably won't do much to raise awareness.  Mr. Huffman follows a few soldiers
from Indiana through their Civil War experiences that climaxed in the Mississippi River that April evening.  By the time the young Hoosiers had
fought in Sherman's Atlanta campaign and been imprisoned at Andersonville, Catawba and Vicksburg, you're more than two-thirds of the way
through the book, and you haven't even seen the boat yet.  Whether Mr. Huffman wants us to be able to identify with some of the ill-fated
and/or lucky passengers--or whether there's just wasn't that much source material for Mr. Huffman to draw on, there's really not that much
information about the explosion and the people who went into the water that night.  (4/18/09)

Red Orchestra   by Anne Nelson tries to tell the story (or at least a story) of the German underground in WWII.  I'm sure the author
probably knows what she's talking about, but she tells the story in such an anemic, uninteresting and light-weight manner that it's impossible
to establish any kind of empathy--much less appreciation for these characters, who in reality were undoubtedly brave and heroic.  (4/15/0
9)    

The Frozen Thames   by Helen Humphreys   is a queer little book.  Based on the premise that the Thames has frozen solid forty times since
1142, Ms. Humphreys has presented vignettes representing each of those episodes. The stories average about four pages in a book that's about
four by six inches, and the stories run the gamut from disease and death to life and the beauty of the ice.  My personal favorite is about a ship
in the river that is tied to an inn on shore.  When the ice breaks up and the ship is released from its hold, it pulls down the inn, killing the
innkeeper and his wife who are sleeping in an upstairs room.  Maybe it's me....  (4/13/09)

Vanished Smile: the Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa  by R. A. Scotti  A few years ago, I read a book called Becoming Mona Lisa, which
told the story of how da Vinci's masterpiece became the most famous painting in the world. If you're looking for an interesting book abou
t La
Gocon
de (as we call her in France), try that one. Most of the material in this book is presented better there.  Generally speaking, Ms. Scotti
focuses on the theft of the painting in 1911.  The painting was missing for two years, and it was presumed that she had been sold a to wealthy
collector who kept her in hiding for his own enjoyment, since he could never show it to anyone else.  As it turns out, the painting was taken
by an Italian worker at The Louvre, who claimed that he wanted to return Mona to her native Italy.  Ms Scotti alleges that the theft may or
may not have been part of a larger conspiracy to sell fake copies of the painting.  (4/12/09)

The Devils Garden  by Ace Atkins  If I were a writer, I'd consider selling my soul to be able to write like Ace Atkins.  He can take the least
interesting story you can imagine and make you want follow it through to the end.  In fact, he's done exactly that in this book.  Fatty Arbuckle
and Dashiell Hammett are famous people about whom I have absolutely no interest in learning more.  Yet, Mr. Atkins breathes life into the
story of the allegation that Fatty killed a woman during sex (he was acquitted after three trials, but never worked again until the last year of his
life) which Hammett investigated the case as a Pinkerton's agent.  My less than effusive praise is completely my fault.  I just wasn't interested
in the story.  If you are, I'm sure you'll love the way Mr. Atkins tells it.  (4/11/09)   

The House of Wittgenstein:  A Family at War   by Alexander Waugh  If you are unfamiliar with one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein or his
brother, the misunderstood (by everyone) philosopher Ludwig, this is not a book for you.  At it's best, it's a breezy still-life of the upper crust
of Vienna in the first half of the twentieth century.  But most of the time, it's a straightforward recounting of the lives of the two Wittgensteins
and their siblings--three of whom killed themselves.  If your interested in the subjects or the era, it's a reasonably good overview.  Otherwise,
I'm guessing that you've got better things to do.  (3/6/09)  

The Rules of the Game  by Leonard Downie, Jr.  Once every few years we find that Inside a jaded Washington journalist who's been doing
his job too long, there's a novelist who yearns to tale of an intrepid (and hot) young reporter who breaks the biggest news story of the decade.
This book is hardly the worst of the genre, but for the life of me, I can't remember what the
best of the genre was.  (3/4/09)

Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach  by Laurence Leamer  For years, I've been telling
aspiring fundraisers that their role model should be Angela Browder Gauntt Koch Stockham (hereinafter referred to as Angela).  Angela and
her first husband Sonny Gauntt moved from their native Montgomery, Alabama, to New Orleans in 1990 or thereabouts.  They were young,
attractive, rich and fun.  While they might not have crashed the doorways of "old" New Orleans (not that I can even imagine anyone wanting
to), they were active in what passed for the young crowd of the city.  But they grew apart and divorced in 1996.  Angela didn't need money (I
know this because I think I STILL have a copy of her divorce decree), but she did need some structure in her life, so we hired her to be a
fundraiser for the Tulane Children's Hospital.  She didn't last long in the job.  One night, a friend set her up with a date with a VERY wealthy
man named Bill Koch.  They hit it off, and got engaged on their fifth date.  I even had an engagement party for them, that in retrospect, Bill
must have thought was very low-brow indeed.  Anyway.  They moved to Palm Beach.  Apparently, a couple of years later, he hit her hard
enough to break the pre-nup.  I mention this because the rest of Angela's story is one of several presented in this book about people behaving
interestingly in a tropical paradise.  I especially recommend this book for fundraisers who want to know if the very rich really are very
different from you and me.  They are.  (3/23/09
)  

With Wings Like Eagles   by Michael Korda  The story of the Battle of Britain never interested me much, I think, because Winston Churchill
never interested me much.  I know that he's probably one of history's indispensable people, and I'm sure he had amazing leadership abilities.  
Still, he's just not one of my favorites, so I assumed that the story of the Battle of Britain would be all about "W" and the huddled masses
waiting out the raids in tube stations during the Blitz.  Unbeknownst to me, the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, although they overlapped, are
considered two different things.  The BoB is considered to have run from July through October of 1940, and it was an effort by the Luftwaffe
to neutralize the RAF prior to the planned invasion in the summer/fall of that year.  The Blitz began in September 1940 and ran through May
1941, the eve of Hitler's invasion of the USSR.  Churchill is all over this book, all right, but the author gives him a mixed welcome.  While
extolling his leadership in trying times, the author also takes him to task for undermining and failing to support Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh
Dowding, the genius who created the organization that the RAF to hold off the Nazis during those critical months.  The book is interesting, but
if the history of warfare in the skies "don't impress you much", you might want to skip it.  (3/19/09)   

The Brass Verdict  by Michael Connelly   I give Mr. Connelly props for telling a good story, but his lead character (I guess there aren't any
hero
es anymore--only superheroes) is someone that I know I would find so objectionable if I ever ran into to him in real life, I know I would
detest him.  And maybe it's a compliment to the author that he writes so well that his characters are so vivid.  Whatever.  While I got a little
irritated by rampant dei ex machina that seemed to be falling from the sky near the end of the book, I do appreciate the point that it was
perhaps the author's way of saying (as he had throughout the book) that his lead character really was a pawn in the games of others. Although
I can't give the book a ringing endorsement, I admit that it kept me turning the pages at a steady clip.  (3/14/09
)  

The Missing  by Tim Gautreaux The Clearing, the last book by the gerund-tastic Mr. Gautreaux, must have been some book.  The jacket for
this one is saturated in its praise.  Unfortunately, I didn't read that book, so all I have to go on to judge the author for myself is this one--which
I really didn't like very much.  It's not terrible; a bad book.  I just didn't much care for Sam Simoneaux, the country boy from rural Calcasieu
Parish who returned home from the War to End All Wars to make a life for himself as a floor walker in a New Orleans department store that
sounds a lot like the late, great Krauss's.  For one thing, while I suppose that the central "crime" committed might have warranted his getting
fired from his job, I don't think it obligated him over an extended period of time to a Cincinnati family that didn't much care for him anyway.  
But the author, I think, wants us to know that even unpredictable and unfair occurrences like these can turn out well.  Mr. Gautreaux is a
good writer and tells his story in a competent manner.  As odd as this may sound, I think that what turned me off most about this book is that
while some of the places in the book like New Orleans and Natchez are real enough, he makes up names for practically everywhere else.  
Why?  Does Woodville, Mississippi,  really have to become Woodgulch?  Does Hughes, Arkansas (or someplace like it) really deserve to be
called Bung City?  I think not.  (3/11/009)   

The Justice Lovers Case  by Bob Bertelot  In fairness, I should let you know up front that I've met the author--and Bob, if this is your first
review, I'm sorry!  As always, I am in awe of those who have the persistence and guts to sit down and start writing after saying for most of
their lives that they think they can write a book. Having acknowledged that, Bob, your book drives me crazy.  The premise is that a couple of
Jacksonians, a geologist and nurse who sound suspiciously like Bob and Yvonne, decide once a year that they're going to kill someone whose
bad behavior has gone unpunished by the authorities.  And yet.  After murdering six people in cold blood, where is the justice that the
protagonists so richly deserves at the end?  Except for the ending and a hostage situation in the middle that seems like filler, you did good!  
(3/9/09)

We'll Always Have Paris    by Ray Bradbury  Welcome to the "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual" section of the bookstore, Ray
Bradbury!  The story which gives the collection of 21short stories (plus a poem) its name is actually about anonymous gay sex in a Left Bank
gymnasium.  (Note to self: Resist the urge to buy a book just because it has the word "Paris" in the title.)  I'm guessing that Mr. Bradbury is
the kind of guy who keeps a pen--make that a pencil--by his bed so that when he wakes from a dream, he can write it down and grind it into
fiction at a later date.  Most of the stories in this collection have that feel.  Not that I'm complaining; I'm sure that even Mr. Bradbury's
crummy dreams are better than the best dreams of about 99 percent of the rest of us.  This isn't his best work.  If you're looking for vintage
Bradbury, well--look for vintage Bradbury.  But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the one poem in this collection
, America, is
wonderful.  If you can still craft a line like, "We are the dream that other people dream.  The land where other people land....," you've still got
it.  (3/8/09)

Drood   by Dan Simmons  I can't remember reading a book that was so frustrating and exciting, irritating and delightful, boring and
wonderful.  Over the course of almost eight hundred pages
, Drood is all of these things.  It is the story of two (and maybe more) 19th century
writers, Wilkie Collins
(The Woman in White, Moonstone) who narrates, and his friend, Charles Dickens, who is the immortal writer that
Collins will never be.  Mr. Collins is a most unreliable narrator--an opium and morphine addict who may be walking around with a live scarab
or beetle living in his skull.  He also may or may not be a murderer.  For all of his protests to the contrary, he's certainly one of the biggest
hypocrites of his century.  Mr. Simmons has a woven a compelling and complex (and long) tale of the wages of envy, pride, lust, gluttony--oh
hell,
all of the seven deadly sins are covered.  It's a great book.  (3/6/2009)   

Germania   by Brendan McNally and Pictures at an Exhibition    by Sara Houghteling   I've never combined like this before, but the two
books are so alike thematically (essentially, "people putting the pieces back together at the end of WWII"), that I thought I'd do it this once.  
Of the two, Mr. McNally's work is the more ambitious and the more satisfying.  The author said it was his intention to "tell the story of the
Flensberg Reich," the few weeks in the spring of May 1945, after Hitler had killed himself, and the civilian government of Germany (such as it
was) consisted of Grand Admiral Donitz and a few others in the town of Flensberg.  Holding the story together (and doing considerable
damage to the author's credibility) are the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers, four brothers who had a acrobat/magic act that broke up in 1933,
when the Nazis came to power, and who reassembled for the first variously attached in some way to Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Admiral
Donitz himself, and an underground group called the Blood of Israel.  I liked all of the Loerbers to some degree or another, but by end of the
book, I was wishing the author had found another way to tell his story of that fascinating time.  Meanwhile in Paris, a young man (Jewish like
the Loerber brothers) is trying to recover paintings that the Nazis looted during the course of the occupation.  His father had been a noted art
dealer, but for a reason that feels awfully contrived, he forbids his son from following his path
.  Pictures is not nearly as interesting as
interesting as
Germania,  and frankly the only reason it got a passing grade at all is that there were a few interesting tidbits about artists like
Picasso and Manet.  (2/23/09)
 

The Associate   
by John Grisham   As you near the end of Mr. Grisham's book and see the dwindling number of pages ahead, you ask
yourself, "When is it going to get exciting?"  The original premise of the book was pretty flimsy, and it kind of made you doubt whether the
main character was really clever enough to have been the editor of t
he Yale Law Review.  But hey, you've seen flimsy premises before (like
maybe a Tulane law student uncovering the dark secrets of the Supreme Court), so you went with it for the first 300 pages.  Now you're at
the end of the book, and you're really disappointed because after a shaky start, nothing happened.  Some have said that this book is a
throwback to the "old Grisham" that was--you know--interesting.  The book starts poorly, goes nowhere you want to follow and ends badly.  
Word on the street is that the movie rights have already been sold to Paramount.  If that's the case, I hope they get M. Night Shyamala
n (The
Sixth Se
nse, etc.) to write the screenplay and/or direct.  I'm sure he'll come up with a more interesting conclusion.  It might be a goofy as
hell-but it least it will be an ending.  (2/17/09)  

Beat the Reaper   by Josh Bazell   So if literature is a banquet, Beat the Reaper is the Cheezinator combo at Krystal--you know you'll hate
yourself later, but it tastes awfully good going down.  Pietr "Pietro" "Peter Brown" "Bearclaw" Brnwa: 1) might or might not be the grandson
of Holocaust survivors; 2) had a bad childhood; 2) fell in with a bad crowd (the Mafia); and 3) eventually entered the Federal Witness
Protection Program and became a doctor in a hospital that did NOT make the Thomsom "Top 100 Hospitals in America" list.  Mr. Bazell tells a
wonderful story of finding your roots, learning to become a hitman (apparently more dangerous and  less glamorous than it sounds) and being
a doctor in the 21st centur
y (definitely not as glamorous as it sounds).  If and when this book gets made into a movie, I see the guy who plays
Jim
on The Office as Bearclaw--maybe it's just because he, too, has what would be a great Mafia nickname, Big Tuna.  And it's funny--really
funny.  Mr. Bazell is a young man, and I look forward to reading his work in the future.  I think I recall hearing that he might still be a medical
resident.  If the medicine thing doesn't work out, I hope he'll keep writing.  (2/14/09)  

Eat, Drink and Be From Mississippi  by Nanci Kincaid  Would I have liked this book more if it had been written by someone from
Mississippi, not someone who probably couldn't find Mississippi on a map?  Probably.  At the very least, I'm reasonably sure that if the author
were from Mississippi, teenage roadtrips from Jackson to New Orleans wouldn't stop in Meridian, and that the great soul singer from New
Orleans would be Irma Thomas, not Erma Thompson. (Yes, I know there's a great jazz artist named Earma Thompson, but that's not who
we're talking about.)  People make up fictional characters from places they don't know much about every day, but generally speaking, that
those characters aren't explored in such minute detail as they are here.  The characters in question grew up in Mississippi and got the heck out
at the first possible moment to find fortune and some other things in Northern California.  Speaking as someone who has a family member
who did precisely that, I can't say that I saw a lot of either my brother's or my own journey in this book.  It's fine as far as it goes--it just
doesn't go very far. (2/9/09)

The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History  by James J. O'Donnell  I'm guessing that you never expected to read the following
sentence in a history of the Roman Empire
:  Ceremony proliferated at the court like kudzu on a Mississippi roadside...  And so it goes with
this imminently readable history of what happened to the Roman Empire.  Mr. O'Donnell disputes the notions that the Roman Empire ended in
the west in 476 AD and in the east in 1453.  He pegs the date in the sixth century, during the reign of the Emperor Justinian.  I like the way he
deftly draws comparisons to our own da
y:  Readers of this volume should recognize many of the rhetorical blunders of antiquity--mistaking
Rome for civilization and the opponents of Rome as the opponents of civilization , for example, still living and flourishing in our midst.
  The
book is a sobering warning to those of us who are now living in a time when many say that the decline of the American empire has already
begun.  Check it out.  (2/7/2009)

Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision for Our Nation's Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers and the
Invading British Army  
by Les Standiford.  Isn't it interesting how the bigger the book is, the shorter the name?  For example, The Bible.  
Eight letters.  I'd have to go back and check, but I'm reasonably sure this is the longest title for a book about which it's been my pleasure to
share snarky comments with you.  But I digress.  The book is just okay.  From the title alone, you can guess what it's about and deduce that
the author is going to tell the story in a rather pedestrian manner.  If you're interested in the history of the federal district of Columbia, check it
out.  (2/2/2009)  

Marie Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter  by Susan Nagel   (See, that's the problem with books these
days.  The titles never tell you what they're about.)  Actually, this might be one of the most interesting books you'll find about someone you've
never heard of.  Yes, I knew that Marie Antoinette had a daughter with her while she was in prison during the Revolution, but in most of the
histories I've read, the author has said that after the Queen was murdered, her daughter went to live in Austria.  Which is true, but it's hardly
the end of the story.  Before she even got to Austria, Marie Therese was being used as a pawn by imperial power brokers across Europe to
stake their claims to a reinstated Bourbon dynasty.  That game-playing would continue until well after the Bourbon restoration in 1815, and
even the abdication of Charles X in 1824.  Ms. Nagel has written a very interesting account of the child and later the woman who was
frequently referred to as a saint or an angel by those who encountered her.  If you are looking for an aspect of the Revolution or the
Napoleonic era that followed it that you might not have considered before, I highly recommend this book.  (1/27/2009)

Hitler's Empire  by Mark Mazower  claims to describe how the Nazis "designed, maintained and ultimately lost" their European empire.  And
then some.  Mr. Mazower is exhaustive and exhausting in his descriptions of how Hitler and Co. ruled Europe.  It is commendable in that
regard, but the last fifty pages really set this book apart.  A series of essays how on how the Nazis might have ruled after they had won the
war, how their ideas influenced what eventually became the common market and the EU.  I was especially intrigued by one essay which
claimed that Hitler was really the last of the 19th century imperialists.  The theory is that although Germany sent as many refugees/emigrants
to the New World, Africa and Asia as any other European country over the centuries, it has less to show for it, in terms of colonies, than any
other European power.  Hitler sought to redress this by colonizing Poland, Russia and points east.  Also, Germans and others sympathized
with National Socialism at some level because for centuries, European powers like the French and especially the British had been mistreating
the natives of the lands they had subjugated
.  They had needed Nazism, in a sense, to bring home to them what racial prejudice produced.  
They had failed to grasp the true nature of colonialism because racism had prevented them from sympathizing with the plight of those they
oppressed.  They tolerated Nazism before it was inflicted on them....they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because until then, it
had been applied only to non-European people
s.  Interesting stuff  (1/21/09)

Gate House  
by Nelson DeMille  Mr. DeMille has been called "as keen a social satirist" as Edith Wharton.   (It says so right there on the book
cover.)  I'm not saying that's not true, but such keen satire isn't really on display between the covers of this book.  I don't mean to say that it
isn't enjoyable, It is.  Mr. DeMille is a very observant chronicler of social habits and customs, especially in Jay Gatsby's corner of Long Island
known as the Gold Coast.   (Case in point, I copied the pages of the book on which a characters writes a beautifully composed note of
condolence to a relative of a friend who has passed away.  I plan to keep the copy at my desk to copy the next time I have an occasion to
write such a note myself.) I liked the book a lot.  It takes its leisurely time in getting to where it wants to go, but when it gets there,  you feel
as if you'd been somewhere.  (1/15/09)

The Magical Chorus  by Solomon Volkov  The first thing you'll read in this book is that From the reign of Tsar Nicholas II to the brutal cult
of Stalin to the ebullient uncertain days of perestroika, nowhere has the inextricable relationship between politics and culture been more
starkly illustrated than in twentieth-century Russia
.  Oh, really?  Maybe so, but I wish that Mr. Volkov (who lives in New York) had turned on
his television at some point during his residency in America.  He defines culture as painting, prose, poetry, and classical music--and to a lesser
extent, cinema.  Television never entered the equation as a Russian cultural medium in the 20th century, and radio seldom did.  So within the
narrow confines that he sets, I am willing to accept his hypothesis, and in those terms, the book is interesting--but not for everyone.  For
example, if you don't know who Anna Akhmatova is, I suggest you begin your study of 20th century Russian culture elsewhere and come
back to this book at a later date.  Finally, I wish I could read Russian.  I don't think that the author of this book was particularly well-served
by the gentleman who translated his text into English.  There's a lot of awkward idiom here that I suspect was not present in the original text.  
I hope so, anyway, and I encourage the author to look into it.  (1/12/09)

Second Violin  by John Lawton is a book of two halves--and neither one is compelling.  In the first half, people like Winston Churchill and
Neville Chamberlain are pottering around, waiting for WWII to start and doing not much in particular.  The second half is a profoundly
ordinary police procedural in which an overprivileged and oversexed Scotland Yard inspector examines the murders of rabbis in London's East
End.  And he doesn't solve the case!  Somerset Maugham, who laid down the "rules" of murder mysteries (murder is committed; murder is
solved; perpetrator is punished), would heartily disapprove of this hash. As do I.  P.S.: The book bills itself as "An Inspector Troy Thriller", so
there is a chance that the author is a serial offender.  Beware.  (1/8/09)   

Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor  Mr. O'Connor is an undeniably gifted writer who can write circles around almost anyone else
currently writing fiction.  This novel, told through the recollections of the characters, official documents, poems, news articles and
telegrams--among other things--relates the post-Civil War tale of the troubled and probably cursed citizenry of the town of Redemption Falls,
capital of America's mythical Mountain Territory.  Mr. O'Connor holds your interest with his sheer talent--not because you want to know
what happens to the characters.  You can't wait to discover what Mr. O'Connor puts into the next paragraph.  For example
:  The old man, a
Republican, did not care much for monarchists, but he disliked all extremists, regarding them as discourteous bores.  This Irishman, he later
commented, talked about England the way that Methodists talk about gin
.  The story itself isn't particularly interesting, and eventually the
format wears you down. But for as long as the magic lasts, it's dazzling.  (1/4/09)
2009 BOOK COMMENTS