Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Another by Bruce Chatwin - I was on a roll. I don't like this book as much as In Patagonia, mostly because the lives of the Aboriginals he chronicles seem so dreary and hard. They've been relegated to the worst, hardest sections of Australia to live in abject poverty and watch their traditional territories taken over by cattle and sheep stations and railroads. But given what our country has done to Native Americans, who am I to judge?

Anyway, while Chatwin starts out learning about Aboriginal "songlines," the creation stories and maps that are sung of the country, the book turns into something that's much, much more. He includes sections on Darwin and evolution, nomads, migratory birds, and philosophy, to name just a few.

The book peters out in the end, but it's still worth a read.

In Patagonia

I've been struggling my way through Oh, Albany, by William Kennedy, and I needed a break. So I trolled the bookshelves and pulled out Bruce Chatwin's account of his travels through Patagonia. It's been years since I've read it, but it's one of those books that is worth re-reading every once in a while.

Chatwin has an amazing talent for meeting people and getting their stories and setting them down in print. Because of his writing, Patagonia is on my list of places to visit before I die. I figure I'll hit it on my way to the South Pole, which is also on my list.


Malcolm Gladwell is a god, period. That's al I have to say about this book. Other than - Read it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

John Adams

I grabbed David McCullough's book while at Costco one day, not realizing that it had been made into a miniseries. I tried to watch it, but I just couldn't stand Paul Giamatti's stammering and mumbling.

The book, however, is divine. I've all of McCullough's works, save two, and I've yet to not enjoy one of his books. He is a brilliant researcher and writer, and he does a masterful job with John Adams.

John Adams was an amazing man. He, along with Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington, can rightly claim to be a founding father. Someone said that Jefferson was the writer of the Declaration and Adams was it voice. It's quite possible that the experiment in liberty and democracy that is our country would never have succeeded without Adams's efforts. Reading the book, I realized just how close our country came to not surviving. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

I'm more grateful for what our country has accomplished, and more embarassed at what the current administration has done to undo the efforts of the founding fathers.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Dirt on Clean

My sister handed me the book while we were in Albany, NY for our grandmother's memorial service. I declined at first, thinking it was a diatribe about how Americans' obsession with cleanliness was fueling the drug-resistant bacterium and MRSA virus.

I'm glad I took a second look, though. Instead, the book is a history of humans' bathing habits through the millenia, from the ancient Greeks and Romans, who had elaborate bathing rituals, none of them involving soap, through the Middle Ages when no one bathed, to the present with Americans' hyper-cleanliness.

The reasons for not bathing were the most interesting to me. About the time of the plagues running through Europe in the Middle Ages, "experts" decided that illnesses were caused by the skin letting in vapors or humours, and the way to prevent this from happening was to avoid water at all cost. Bathing, it was thought, opened the pores, allowing bad things into the system. People really went their whole lives without bathing - they'd get water on them when baptised and again when they were buried. Blech.

And while the rest of the world considers Americans to be obsessed with cleanliness - just look at how much we spend per year on soaps and lotions - I'm quite happy with my daily shower. I just can't start the day without it. I don't care that it's not strictly necessary for good hygiene.

Yes Man

Danny Wallace's memoir of a British Gen-Xer who has a chance encounter on a bus with a man who tells him to say "yes" more is an amusing little read, once you get past all the Britishisms. At times the slang seems a bit forced. Also, rumor has it that Jim Carrey has optioned the book, which is just dreadful. I'd hate to think of him mugging his way through the story.

Wallace embarks on a year of saying yes to pretty much every question he's asked, including offers in spam e-mails and flyers people hand him on the streets. He buys a car because a guy asks him if he wants to. He goes to Amsterdam because he said yes to one of those Nigerian scam e-mails. He goes on a date with his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend because they invite him. THe catch through all of this is that only one other person knows what he's up to. Many of his friends end up rather puzzled by his behavior.

Good things do happen to Wallace - he gets a new job, he meets a girl, he makes new friends, he travels the world. But saying yes to everything seems to be an extreme way to go about it all.