Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Books of 2011: 16-20

16. Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson (from 2008 library list)

I enjoy Bill Bryson's writing, and I enjoyed this short biography of playwright William Shakespeare -- if, in fact, one can call it a biography, since the main point of the book is that historical research proves that we can actually conclusively prove hardly anything about William Shakespeare, including how he got involved in theater. Bryson does not subscribe to the theory that "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare," but does touch on a variety of these conspiracy theories, with a look at the leading contenders for "who Shakespeare really was."

17. Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that's Changing Your World by Hugh Hewitt

Published in 2005, this book is already outdated in some respects (for instance, there's no coverage at all of feed readers and how they impact blog audiences). It has some interesting things to say about blogging, particularly as it relates to commercial/corporate blogging - but it takes a lot of wading through a bunch of politically motivated rants to get there. The author (whom I had never heard of before) is apparently a conservative radio show host in California, who started his own blog to continue his political discussions. So I suppose it makes sense, from his point of view, to continue this discussion in his book -- but he frontloaded the beginning of the book with so much of this stuff that I almost quit reading. He also, probably based on his own perspective, seems to have political myopia when it comes to blogging and the blogosphere -- except for the corporate blogging stuff that is the most useful part of the book, he almost exclusively discusses politically focused blogs.

18. Tea Bliss by Teresa Cheung (received for my birthday, 2008)

it is obvious that this author has no children. Much of the book is about various relaxing, self-fulfilling, self-care things one should do  -- and some of it is fun to read about -- but almost all of them require large chunks of dedicated, uninterrupted time. And, given that she thinks one should get adequate sleep -- and not, I am guessing find such large chunks of dedicated, uninterrupted time between, say, 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., which is the most realistic time slot for such things for me -- one would have to do nothing else but her exercises during the waking portions of one's day. On the other hand, there are some intriguingly fun recipes for tea blends, information on types of teas that are good for certain ailments, etc. I've filed this one in the kitchen with the cookbooks.

19. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (from 2008 library list)

"Eat Food. Not too much. Mainly plants." That's the eater's manifesto - and the book explores a lot of the reasons, research and explanations behind that. My family and I are not wholly healthy foods eaters, but it's a process to get there, and this book is an intriguing help in the process. It explains the "whys" of why refined sugar, flour from the grocery store, excess corn syrup, etc. is bad for you. There's also a lot in there about how research has shown that the introduction of the "Western diet" introduces the "Western diseases" -- heart disease, diabetes and stroke -- and about how the government's supposed instructions for healthy eating and/or farm subsidies have just messed with our common sense about what to eat. For instance, "eat food" sounds simple -- except when the author points out that many things in our common grocery stores are "food products" instead of food. Years ago, you couldn't sell something fake and call it food -- I recall my dad, who grew up in Wisconsin during the 1940s and 1950s, discussing how margarine (or "oleo," as it's called in all the handwritten recipes from my grandma) was sold in white gelatinous packets with a little container of dye that you squirted in and rubbed through the margarine to spread the coloring around so it appeared yellow: it was illegal to sell yellow margarine, a competitor with butter, in the Dairy State. One of the most helpful and intriguing suggestions in the book was "if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it." For my family, as I said, this is a process, and we have not yet arrived -- but I did sign up for a CSA for this summer during the timeframe around when I was reading this book.

20. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (from 2008 library list -- and, coincidentally, selection for this year's church book group, May)

I put this on my "to-be-read" library list in, well, 2008, evidently, and it is finally not so hugely popular that there were 500 other people on the waiting list ahead of me. Having read it: it's OK. The narrator is a dog, and that's kind of a fun concept, when he gets into doggy perspective on the world -- although he does seem wise beyond dog years. The main character (other than the dog) is a race car driver, and that was kind of a fun aspect for me, too, as there was a lot of discussion of racing in my home growing up (my dad's a fan; I used to go to the races with him as a kid). The plot, which involves the illness and death of the race car driver's wife and the ensuing custody battle for his child, is interesting. Overall, though, it just didn't come together into "great" book for me, as it apparently does for some others -- it was just OK.


  1. I came here from The Motherload and I enjoyed your wide variety of book reviews. : ) Living in Southern California, I remember when Hugh Hewitt co-hosted a local affairs show on the PBS affiliate in Los Angeles. He seemed more humble then ...

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the reviews, and thanks for providing an interesting perspective on Hugh Hewitt.