32 books
  • The Sea, The Sea

    Iris Murdoch

    I’m so glad to finally be done with this book. This was one of those that I was hoping would have a big payback at the end, but in the end was just disappointing. Long books have no right in being so.

    There was a nice symmetry to the story, starting out fairly quiet with our retired actor protagonist beginning to write his memoirs from the seaside home he just moved to from London. As the story finally breaks out of the monotony of his liberated, solitary lifestyle, it becomes a total soap opera involving his first love, who abruptly called things off, disappeared, and married someone else as well as friends (and enemies and jilted lovers) who appear unannounced from...more

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events

    Lemony Snicket

    I read The Bad Beginning several years ago and never continued with the series, which turned out to be a good decision, as I just spent the last couple weeks reading almost the entire series, up to The Penultimate Peril, published this year. It might have been even smarter to wait for them all to be in print, as now I have charged through twelve books and am left hanging until the last one is available, most likely not for another year.

    The books are dark and gloomy and include a lot of definitions for words and phrases used. There are also several passages in any one book where Lemony Snicket will try to convince you not to read...more

  • The Elements of Typographic Style

    Robert Bringhurst

    Parts of this book are so poetic and idealistic about typography and other parts are technical to intense mathematical degrees that it’s sure to be a good reference for both inspiration and precise guidance. If you have a nerd-level interest in typography, that is. There’s a whole section about page proportions derived from the chromatic scale, and half the book is devoted to detailed appendices concerning typefaces, designers, foundries, etc. Of course, the design of the book itself is beautiful that it’s enjoyable just to flip through the pages.more

  • A Short History of the Printed Word

    Warren Chappell

    This book is likely to retain its place as a design classic, as Chappell recorded a uniquely specific point in history, balancing at the point before computers completely infiltrated design, leaving printing presses and typesetting machines to archaism. This is a history of printing starting with the earliest alphabets evolving through the advances of the printing press, with due given to major contributors to typographic design.

    It’s hard not to wonder what Chappell (who died in 1991) would think of the world of design today when he closes, saying,

    It is equally imperative that the results of applying modern technology to presswork be constantly measured against the most primitive printing, so that the lessons of the importance of impression and stiff ink

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife

    Audrey Niffenegger

    I kept hearing this one mentioned by various people with that certain weighty esteem that only favorites get, so I wanted to know why people loved it so. It is, quite simply, about a time traveler’s wife, or really, a time traveler and his wife, as the story seesaws between their perspectives. Despite the vague incredulity of a person’s chromosomes making him shift in time, the book has a similar delightful mindfuck quality as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s hard to comment too much on the plot without destroying the fun, but Niffenegger does an excellent job of establishing a shifting linearity and keeping it coherent.

    All the pop culture, or moreso the not-quite-mainstream, pop-culture references gives a...more

  • Hotel of the Saints

    Ursula Hegi

    It’s been a long while since I even tried to read a short story collection—I read a lot of short stories in 2003 and I daresay it burnt me out. So I was glad that Melanie sent me this Ursula Hegi collection for my birthday. A nice reminder of my appreciation of the short fiction.

    Hegi is grounded in the exploration of moments, where a story can exist primarily to describe a single moment. I love when the development leads up to a final scene that delivers a simple truism. There’s a story by Ellen Gilchrist that perfectly illustrates this—of course, I read that book before I started keeping a booklog, so I’d have to dig around boxes for...more

  • Kafka on the Shore

    Haruki Murakami

    Having now read all of Murakami’s books thus far, I wanted to like this more than I did. Something about the structure of the story seems rickety and unbalanced—the various layers of narrative a little misaligned. It could be that the main protagonist is a bit of an unbelievable 15-year-old runaway (seeking the mother who abandoned him when he was young) or that a supporting character introduced halfway through the book seems to have more resonating revelations.

    It also could be that the mystical metaphors are never really grounded. There’s an old man who was the sole victim of a mysterious wartime incident and can’t read or use pronouns consistently but can speak to cats. Somehow he can make fish...more

  • The Mother Tongue

    Bill Bryson

    Just after I finished Eats, Shoots & Leaves a friend recommended this book, as another take on the funny grammar book. It’s more about linguistics than grammar and namely how English came to be such a world dominant language. The history of how English evolved is certainly the best part, especially learning why there are so many inconsistent spellings and pronunciations. It gets a little less hilarious and interesting in the late chapters of the book, but it must have been better than The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, as it was due a few days ago at the library and I’ve been racking up a fine while I finished it up....more

  • The Botany of Desire

    Michael Pollan

    Starting off with the question of whether gardeners could be “human bumblebees,” essentially goaded into spreading plants around much like bees assist in pollination, Pollan continues on to examine the histories of four key cultivated plants under the shadow of this question. He organizes them into categories of desire: sweetness (the apple), beauty (the tulip), intoxication (marijuana), and control (the potato). In the face of the sheer enormity of plants in the world, his choices can seem arbitrary to the degree where he could have picked the plants that most readily prove his point, but at the same time they seem fairly representative of the extensive different motivations for growing plants.

    His arguments and questions are persuasive, and he has plenty...more

  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

    Carson McCullers

    Somehow I have spent all of July trying to read this book. Over the past few days I’ve started to feel a bit of pull into it, but it’s reached an unrenewably due status with the library, so I am giving up for now. Some summers I seem to lose the reading bug, contrary to all those summer reading lists out there.more