Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Kindle

Sorry I've been gone so long. It's not that I haven't been reading, but rather that I've been reading non-stop. I bought myself a Kindle for my birthday and have been devouring books ever since.

When eReaders first hit the market, I swore up and down that I'd never get one. I am a book person, first and foremost. I consider my books my friends. If blindfolded, I'm pretty sure I could identify my favorite books by their smell.

We've been living out of suitcases for 6 weeks now, with all our stuff in storage, and I miss my books most of all (and my knitting needles).

But after playing around with my mom's Kindle during a visit, I decided to make the switch. I am so glad I did.

I love that I can carry multiple books with me. I love how small and light the Kindle is. I love that when I hear an interesting interview on Fresh Air with an author, I can immediately download the book.

I have read more books in the past two months than I had in the previous six, and that's saying something.

Books are less expensive through Kindle, and books that are out of copyright are free. I've been stocking up on P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and Tolstoy. I've even been exploring older works that I always meant to read but never got around to.

Yesterday, I discovered that I can switch my New Yorker subscription to my Kindle. It's the complete issue, minus the ads, for $2.99 a month, delivered automatically every week. Squee!

There are some books that I will still buy in book form, like David McCullough's newest volume on the artists' community in Paris. It's filled with maps and photos and illustrations that just don't translate on the black and white screen.

But in the meantime, if you need me, I'll be curled up, hiding from the kids, reading my Kindle.

And I promise to make an attempt to get caught up here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Harry Bosch Novels, Volume 1

I got sucked into these books after reading the first three of Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller books. Harry Bosch shows up in the third as a primary character, and it turns out that Connelly had already a whole series around the guy.

The stories mostly run together - Bosch is a detective mostly in disgrace with the LAPD because he's not a team player and he often crosses the line into unethical behavior. But he always gets his man, one way or another, usually after a few twists and turns.

The books are stylish and funny and dark and good airplane reads, or it's summer and it's too damn hot to go outside reads. Connelly reminds me of a mix of John Grisham with the police and legal stuff and Elmore Leonard with the style. His books, all set in and around LA, have a definite sense of place to them. LA is as much a part of the story as the people are.

I think there are at least three more volumes of the Harry Bosch books, and I'll probably work my way through them as the summer progresses.


I'm going to commit heresy here, but I didn't like Tina Fey's book as much as everyone else seems to have. Don't get me wrong, I think Tina Fey is brilliant and funny and beautiful, and I'd want to be her when I grow up, except for the fact that I'm older than she is, which is depressing.

But the whole early section was just a little too self-deprecating for my taste. I mean, we were children of the 80s. Of course we had really, really bad taste in hair and music and men. It's what defines our generation. I got tired of reading about just how awkward she was and how badly she dressed and how awful her so-called dates were.

I perked up a lot, though during the sections about her life at SNL and on 30 Rock and her inspired partnership with Amy Poehler, another one of my favorites even though I don't watch Parks and Rec.

Her prayer for her daughter was funny, but her responses to hate mail felt forced and overdone. I guess that's how I felt about most of the book - it felt forced and overdone, like she was trying too hard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen

As I may have mentioned, I've become a bit obsessed about the history of Hawaii after reading Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell. Vowell mentioned this autobiography by Queen Liliuokalani several times in her book, so I went searching for it on Kindle.

Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last queen, was a fascinating woman. She was the child of Hawaiian royalty, educated by New England missionaries in their boarding school. She had the rituals and traditions of Hawaii drilled out of her in favor of Christianity and Victorian morals. The pictures of her and her family make me laugh. She is a beautiful Hawaiian woman, with dark skin and black hair, dressed to the nines in stiff Victorian attire - corsets and shiny satins and bustles aplenty. Her husband, the Prince Consort John Owen Dominis, was white, but he adopted the English attire as well - a George V beard, long coat, sashes and sword.

Liliuokalani's life was pretty amazing. As a member of the ruling family, she traveled the islands extensively, visiting her subjects. She also crossed the United States, met with presidents and legislators, and went to England to help Queen Victoria celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

It was while she was in England, her brother, the King, was forced by the white missionaries, to sign a new constitution that ceded almost all control of the Hawaiian government to them. In Liliuokalani's telling, this was a travesty and miscarriage of justice, which it truly was. But when you read Vowell's account, you realize that there was more to it. King Kalakaua was fairly corrupt, accepting bribes from the white plantation owners in exchange for land and water rights and opium import licenses. Still, what the whites did to take over the government was wrong.

When Liliuokalani ascended the throne after her brother's death, she attempted to change the constitution to restore power to the monarchy. Her actions were entirely legal according to the constitution her brother had signed, but the Missionary Party saw her as a threat, and with the help of the US ambassador, forced her to give up the throne. They arrested her and threatened to execute her supporters with treason if she didn't abdicate. The ambassador's actions were entirely outside the law, but it didn't matter. Hawaiian sugar and fruit had become entirely too valuable to the US, and the white plantation owners were entirely too rich for the course of action to be undone.

Liliuokalani was kept imprisoned in the Iolani Palace for almost a year before being released to house arrest for even longer. Once she had been freed by the president of the provisional government, she traveled to the US to plead Hawaii's case with Congress and the president. She carried with her a petition signed by tens of thousands of Hawaiians, all of whom had been denied the right to vote by the constitution, protesting Hawaii's annexation by the US. Unfortunately, her efforts were to no avail. Congress voted against annexation, but the president jammed it through via a joint resolution that didn't require the same number of votes as an annexation treaty.

Liliuokalani's book ends before the joint resolution passed, which is sad. She's hopeful that the end that her people's wishes will be heard by the American government. Too bad it wasn't. Native Hawaiians have been left with almost no land and no money, kind of like the Native Americans the white people screwed over.


After reading so much about Hawaii, I am desperate to go there, not for the beaches, but for the history. The Hawaiian government seems to have done a good job of preserving historic locations, and I'd love to visit the schools and churches founded by the missionaries, as well as the Iolani palace.

I'm going to start saving my pennies.


I read this book on the recommendation of Wendi, and I'm so glad I did. I've become slightly obsessed with Hawaii after reading Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes, so I was eager to read something more about the state's history.

Molokai'i, the island, was where the Hawaiian government, under the influence of the New England Missionaries, set up an encampment for people who had leprosy, now called Hansen's Disease. In its early days, the peninsula really was a brutal prison, surrounded on three sides by rough seas and on the fourth by some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. The early patients had to pretty much fend for themselves, building their own shelters and foraging their own food.

Molokai'i, the book, chronicles the life of Rachel, who is ripped from her parents at age six and sent to the Molokai'i encampment after her sister kind of accidentally outs her as having leprosy. Hawaiians seemed to be particularly vulnerable to the disease, and Hawaiian children even more so. Parents would hide the condition as well as they could, some even running away from home and living in the jungle with their children, to avoid capture and exile to Molokai'i.

The book combines history and fiction quite well. Rachel and her companions in exile are fiction, but Father Damien, the first priest to volunteer to care for the patients, and other doctors and caretakers are real. It is based on the combined histories and accounts of actual patients who lived on the island.

I had a hard time getting started at first - the idea of having a child snatched from her family because of a disease and then sent to live among strangers far away was too much for me. I considered not finishing the book, but I'm glad I did. I became completely caught up in the life of Rachel and the others she met in exile. Parts of the book are horrific, others are tragic, and still others are absolutely beautiful.

I rarely read fiction, but this is one of the best novels I've read in ages. I didn't want it to end, and when it did, I was in tears, but in a good way.

Monday, April 4, 2011

More Michael Connelly

After finishing The Lincoln Lawyer and enjoying it, I decided to read more Michael Connelly books. I downloaded The Reversal and The Brass Verdict. As with The Lincoln Lawyer both are quick, fun reads. Mickey Haller is again the main character - a defense lawyer practicing out of his car. He goes through the same struggles of conscience, always managing to end up doing the right thing. Again, I saw the plot twists coming, but that didn't dampen my enjoyment.

Connelly has a series of books staring one of the characters in the books, investigator Harry Bosch, that I want to read next. But first I need to work my way through my current stack of books.

Unfamiliar Fishes

I've long been a fan of Sarah Vowell, and my girl crush was only deepened by her turn at Violet in "The Incredibles." I've had the pleasure of hearing her read a few times. She was in town to read this Saturday, but I didn't make it to the book store.

I was thrilled when I heard that she had a new book coming out - Unfamiliar Fishes. I pre-ordered it through Kindle and started reading it as soon as it downloaded to my iPhone. (I don't actually have a Kindle - yet.)

I was disappointed in her last book, The Wordy Shipmates, which was dry and hard to read, especially compared to Assassination Vacation, which was a light-hearted romp through the odd topic of presidential assassinations. So I had great hopes that this new book would be a return to Vowell at her best.

And while it is world's better than The Wordy Shipmates, this new book falls short of Assassination Vacation.

The topic is fascinating: the arrival of New England missionaries in Hawaii in the mid-1800s. But there isn't as much room for humor. The clash of the two cultures was inevitable and had mixed results.

On the one hand, the missionaries managed the incredible task of creating a written version of the strictly oral Hawaiian language. They then translated books into Hawaiian and taught the natives to read. Within decades of the missionaries' arrival, Hawaii had a literacy rate of 80 percent, higher than that of the United States.

But while the Americans were educating the Hawaiians, they were spreading disease and wiping out the native culture. By converting the natives to Christianity, they encouraged them to turn their backs on native culture and tradition - such as their own religion and the hula. They had particular success with the children of the ruling families. As the elders died out, the Christian-educated children took over, changing the culture even further.

It's an interesting book and an interesting story. And it's made me want to go to Hawaii, but not for the beaches and surfing. I want to visit the historical markers and locations that Vowell describes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

P. G. Wodehouse

Roger Ebert posted on Twitter that you could get P. G. Wodehouse books for free or 99 cents through Kindle. The Bertie and Jeeves stories have been on my to-read list for ages, so when I found out that I could get them for pennies, I decided to splurge.

The stories focus on wealthy gad-about Bertie and his butler Jeeves, who is the brains of the operation. The stories were made into TV shows in England, staring Hugh Laurie as Bertie and Stephen Fry as Jeeves - pretty much a perfect pairing if you ask me. The shows are on my Netflix list now to watch.

Anyway, the short stories are charming and funny - the language alone makes them worth reading, especially for free through Kindle.

The Lincoln Lawyer

I rarely read fiction, but after wading through several biographies and Mary Roach's books, I decided it was time for some easy reading. I read several reviews of the movie "The Lincoln Lawyer," and they were all complimentary of the book, so I decided to give it a try.

Turns out, I couldn't put it down. I saw some of the plot twists from a mile away, but it still sucked me in. Connelly has a good blend of John Grisham's legal expertise and Elmore Leonard's style. It's a perfect easy, fun read. I've already started a second book in the Mickey Haller series. I can't really stand Matthew McConaghey, so I doubt I'll see the movie, though.

The Mary Roach Cannon

There are times when the universe seems to be telling me that I need to read a particular book or author. This past winter, the universe told me to start ready Mary Roach, so I dove right in.

First up was Packing for Mars, which is about the hazards of space travel and how NASA prepares for it - especially the things they can't prepare for, like the "unknown unknowns." Given that my oldest daughter is a self-described "space explorer," I loved this book, and I'm envious of the access Roach had to NASA while researching it. I'd love to go up in the Vomit Comet to experience zero gravity. I'm not so sure I'd want to test out the space toilet though.

After the space book, I read Spook, which chronicles experiments people have done through the ages on what happens to our souls, if we have them, after we die. Real, respected scientists have done research on whether there is life after death and whether there are such things as near-death experiences like those described by people who have died and then been brought back to life. So far nothing conclusive has been discovered, but I like that people are looking.

Last week I finished off Stiff, which tackles what happens to our bodies after we die, specifically those cadavers that are donated to science. Turns out not every body donated goes on to take part in ground-breaking scientific or medical research. Most go on to teaching hospitals for medical students to practice on. Others go on to conferences where surgeons can hone their skills. Still others are used as crash-test dummies for car companies. Roach also chronicles different methods of disposing of cadavers - the technical term for a dead body - from cremation to freezing to burial to composting. After reading this book, I'm sticking to my plan of donating whatever organs will be of use to someone else and then cremating the rest and scattering the ashes. Silly as it seems, I don't want to turn into a crash-test dummy or practice cadaver.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage

I saw this new book, by Hazel Rowley, while I was in New York, but just bought it on Kindle last month. I've long been fascinated by Eleanor, who accomplished so much in an era when women were decidedly limited in what they were "allowed" to do by society at large.

Theirs was a fascinating marriage, seemingly built on a real love and affection for each other, not to mention an abiding respect for each other's opinions. That's not to say it was an easy marriage by any account. She had to contend with Franklin's overbearing and overprotective mother, who paid the bills and who was present for much of their marriage.

They both had to deal with Franklin's polio and resulting paralysis, which threatened everything - his life, his ability to earn a living, his political ambitions. It is amazing to think, in this era of cell phone cameras and instant access on the Internet, that the vast majority of the country had no idea that FDR was even disabled, let alone paralyzed to the point that he couldn't walk without leg braces and assistance. The family asked the press to keep it quiet, and, out of respect, they did. Such a thing would NEVER happen these days.

Both Franklin and Eleanor had multiple affairs; Franklin kicking things off with one that almost ended the marriage. Even after his paralysis, Franklin had emotional, if not physical, affairs with several women, including one, Missy LeHand, who lived and traveled with the family. Eleanor seemed to accept that this was a part of her husband's character.

She also had long-term relationships with both men and women. There's no record on whether they were more than emotional, but she traveled and lived with women who were known lesbians. She also had a close relationship with one of her bodyguards and did not react well when he decided to marry.

Both Franklin and Eleanor seemed to need more than they could get out of the marriage, as loving as it may have been.

She was truly distraught when Franklin died, and even more heartbroken when she found out that his former mistress, the one who almost caused them to get divorced, was with Franklin when he died. Even more heartbreaking was the realization that many people know Franklin had rekindled the relationship and they had hidden it from her.

I was impressed with how much Eleanor accomplished on her own, separate from her husband. She was a remarkable woman in her own right.

The Downhill Lie

I generally like Cark Hiaassen's novels. They're good beach and airplane reads - light, fluffy and funny. I've never read any of his non-fiction before, but I decided to give this book a try after hearing him talk about it on "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me."

It's about his return to golfing after a 30-year break. A natural-born golfer, Hiaasen is not. His days on golf courses are filled with shanked drives, lost balls, alligators, and sunken golf carts.

I am not a golf fan, have never played golf, and know nothing about golf, but I still laughed out loud repeatedly reading Hiaasen's accounts of his adventures.

Next up, I think I'm going to read his book about Disney World.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My poor neglected book blog

I'm embarrassed that I haven't updated this poor blog since May. It's not because I haven't been reading, because I have been. I just haven't been able to find the time to sit down and write about the books. If you read my other blog, The Days are Just Packed, you'll know why.

But I'm going to try to be better about writing over here, too.

I've just finished a slew of books including some P. G. Wodehouse "Bertie and Jeeves" collections; a new biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, which was fascinating; a book by a former FBI hostage negotiator called Stalling for Time that made me want to start a new career as a negotiator; and two books by Mary Roach - Packing for Mars and Spook.

Right now I'm in the middle of Edmund Morris's third volume about Theodore Roosevelt, and I'm loving it. I'm also reading a biography about Frank Lloyd Wright, which is interested but slow going because I keep stopping to look at pictures of the houses and buildings online. The book could use some more photos. I'm also reading a biography of Cleopatra, but I'm having a hard time staying focussed on it. So little is really known about her, and there are so few contemporary records of her life and words, that much of the book seems like pure speculation.

What else is there? Oh yes, I read Dan Brown's latest pulp during my trip to New York City in November. It was perfect airplane reading.

I also read The New Yorker cover to cover each week, and I now get the Christian Science Monitor every week. And I think there have been a few books I've abandoned along the way, like The Help. I just couldn't get into it.

More updates soon, I promise.