Friday, July 27, 2007

Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson by David Grossman

This story is from the same “Myths Series from Canongate” as Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. I knew of Mr. Grossman from Bill Moyer’s Faith and Reason series on PBS last year. Lion’s Honey is a detailed (should I say tediously detailed) explication of the Samson myth from the Old Testament Book of Judges.
When I first saw this book, I expected an interesting retelling from Delilah’s point of view. But, as I said, it became tedious.
Grossman recounts the story from Judges on pages from xi to xxix. The explication is 145 pages. The author summarizes his explication, and I could have stopped there – about page ten. Two stars.
--Chiron, 7/27/07

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

When I first heard of this title from a fellow book club member, I thought we were talking about Boethius’ medieval work on philosophy. When the book was described, I made that low, throttling sound in my throat, because it sounded boring. But, I had more than my share of books picked for the club, so, I swallowed and said okay.
The first chapter was about Socrates, and that was enough – I was bound, hooked, and bundled up for the complete ride. The chapters were uneven (I didn’t care for the chapter on Nietzsche, and mildly dissatisfied with Schopenhauer), but on the whole the book was lively and well-written.
The illustrations – most unusual for a philosophy book – were entertaining. I especially liked the picture of a large, clunky sports watch the author has a character in an anecdote wearing. I will let you get a copy and discover the significance of that!
My favorite chapter, however, was the one on Montaigne. I had read some of his essays in grad school, but I had no idea what an interesting character he was. I am going to dig out my copy of Montaigne’s complete essays. Four & 1/2 stars
--Chiron, 7/25/07

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Wild Trees by Richard Preston

The Wild Trees is an incredibly interesting book. I had heard a couple of interviews on NPR and TV. It amazes me that this book is not more widely known – so far, no appearance on any best seller lists I follow.
I had absolutely no idea that giant trees (redwoods, douglas firs, and mountain ash [found in Australia]) were anything more than, well, giant trees. The men and women of this book who explore the largest living organisms on earth are brave individuals. The danger of climbing a 350 foot tree with only a thin line between them and death by “cratering” is described in exciting detail.
If the book has any flaws, it contains some facts that are explained as if the reader were completely unfamiliar with some basic scientific terms. For example, on page 24, Preston writes, “Lichens (sounds like ‘liken’) is a fungus growing in association with a species of alga…” Maybe this will not annoy the average reader, but I think anyone who would be interested in Wild Trees would have at least some rudimentary background knowledge. I don’t mean this happens on every page, but it did happen often enough for me to notice. 4-1/2 stars
--Chiron, 7/22/07

Monday, July 16, 2007

Osprey Island by Thisbe Nissen

I don’t know about this book. Several times I tried to invoke the “rule of 50,” but something made me read a couple more pages. Then about half way through, a diary was found hidden in a refrigerator which survived a fire. The characters treated it as if it contained some horrible secret, so I kept going. I found the secret at the end (YAWN)! Except for a fight scene, which was pretty exciting, I found this book only three shades above boring.
First off, unless I am reading George Eliot, chapter titles annoy me. These had lots to do with ospreys, as did each chapter’s epigram. Normally, these things interest me, and I will try and find the source, but, in this case, I couldn’t be bothered. I am also suspicious of novels that list all the characters, their relationships, and ages up front – unless, however, I am reading War and Peace. I guarantee this is in no way anywhere near Tolstoy. Normally, I find Random House a reliable publisher of fiction – I guess every house is entitled to an occasional slip up.
The characters were flat, dull, and uninteresting. Some characters were not described in enough detail to make them even remotely memorable and interesting. The ones that were described in detail, seemed so to the point of being clichés. Two stars.
--Chiron, 7/15/07

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz

Katz’s story is interesting, but not as good as some of the “dog stories” I have read. For example: “At some point I’d begun to enter the murky area where the boundary between the human’s issues and dog’s trouble blurs” (120). Maybe it’s just me, but I hate the kind of repetition in this sentence. If an area is already “murky,” how could you see something “blurry”?
The story is amusing (they are making a movie of his life), but it simply did not affect me as much as the recent Marley & Me by John Grogan. Katz focuses on the one-way relationship between him and his dogs, and does not look too deeply into the actions of the dogs and the motivation of their relationships with owners and other animals. Worth a read.
--Chiron, 7/8/07, Three stars