Published December 27, 2012
Tags: Books, CBR4, cbr4-2012
I have to thank Cannonball Read for a great 2012. Every year I have a goal to read more and I never really accomplish that in any tangible way. I didn’t hit my Cannonball goal of 52 books and book reviews in one year, but this year I can say I surpassed my expectations. I’ve read more books this year than I’ve read in a long time, probably since college, and I think I wrote some solid reviews. I’ve also found with the help of wonderful friends some new authors and titles I wouldn’t have tried on my own. So, despite not meeting my goal, thanks Cannonball Read and here’s to 52 in 2013.
I’ve been skeptical of challenges, but I have to say that they are pretty useful and not just for racking up the numbers. Reading a large number of books meant that I had to get out of my comfort zone when it came to genres and authors. I was really bored with my usual historical fiction by March and had to branch out a bit. Writing the reviews was also an excellent way to fix those books in my mind. Obviously, the books I didn’t review (around 20) don’t stick out as much as the ones I took the time to write about. I’m sad that I didn’t review some especially Gods of Gotham and NW because they were definite highlights of the year.
As for 2013 I am going to do CBR5 and try for 52 books and 52 reviews. Fifty-two books isn’t that difficult to manage, especially if I cut out the 1,000 page books, but 52 reviews is a bit different. My biggest mistake this year was not writing the review immediately after each book. This coming year I will try to keep up with each review rather than putting them off to later. We will see how that goes.
I’ve also joined two other challenges: the Mount TBR 2013 and Historical Tapestry’s Historical Fiction Challenge. Mount TBR challenges you to read from your To Be Read pile through the year and the levels are based on mountain names. I will be doing Mount Blanc which is 24 books (aiming low). The historical fiction challenge also has levels and I will be getting Medieval with 15 books. Goodness knows there will be overlap between the two! Looking forward to 2013!
Published December 20, 2012
Tags: CBR4, cbr4-2012, history, nonfiction
Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski is not a book to approach lightly. It demands commitment and a willingness to wade through the numerous individuals involved in the Congress of Vienna. Ultimately though it is a great book and at times brings to life an exciting period in European history.
The book opens with the beginning of Napoleon’s downfall and his race back to France after the failed invasion of Russia. The Treaty of Paris helped to end the Napoleonic Empire and the wars, but Europe was left with many unsettled issues such as the status of Poland, who gets what territory and more. The Great Powers of Europe convened several committee meetings in Vienna that lasted for almost a year and discussed a variety of issues facing the continent. My favorite was the Statistical Committee. As Zamoyski explains, “In all the negotiations at the congress the political value of land was calculated not in acres or hectares, but in numbers of inhabitants, commonly referred to ‘souls’” (pg 386). The committee’s job was to verify the figures that the Great Powers were calculating thereby determining the value and the fair distribution of land.
The value of the book is in its retelling of the congress, especially its attention to detail. While this can become monotonous at times with dozens of unfamiliar names, Zamoyski brings out the flavor of the period by not only discussing the official proceedings but also describing the unofficial and at times debauched activities of the participants. Between balls, dalliances, hunts, and eating, it is a wonder they had any time to negotiate the future of Europe. It makes the politicians dealing with the fiscal cliff seem like a bunch of stodgy old monks.
The book also has a different take on the effects of the Congress of Vienna. In political science we tend to teach the Congress as resulting in the establishment of legitimacy of states in Europe and the beginning of stability on the continent. This is in part due to the writings of Henry Kissinger and Paul W. Schroeder. Zamoyski argues that the congress actually had negative effects because it left so many question unanswered, dreams unfulfilled, and completely ignored the rising tide of liberal thought in most of Europe. Although he doesn’t say this directly, in many ways the congress set the stage for the disasters of the next century.
While it is long and only for the determined, if you are interested in the Congress of Vienna and the late Napoleonic era, this is a fantastic work. Very well-written and researched.
Published December 14, 2012
Tags: CBR4, cbr4-2012, nonfiction, textbooks
I doubt this book will be the most popular entry for Cannonball Read, but I’m counting it as one of my 52. Get over it.
Of course everyone wants to know all there is to know about the United Nations. Or rather, I wish more people knew more about the UN. The United Nations by Sven Bernhard Gareis is called an introductory textbook, but it is pretty hefty and goes into incredible detail about the major UN functions. However, the chapters on peacekeeping and reform are good introductions to those topics. The chapters on collective security are a bit of slog and could use with some editing and reorganization.
The author reiterates throughout that the failings and successes of the UN fall squarely on the shoulders of the states that make it up. Without the member states, especially the P5, there is no UN. There is a tendency for students to judge the UN as an entity without considering that its failings cannot be easily separated from the actions of states. The actions we take in the US have a direct effect on the efficacy of the UN as an institution.
The book would be great for someone teaching an entire class on the United Nations or International Organizations as the chapters can easily be separated out for class readings. I definitely recommend for higher level courses though and not as an introductory text. For the individual reader, be sure you have a strong interest in the functioning of the UN. You will need it.
But! If when you think of the UN all you think about are black helicopters or Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust, then this probably a book you should put on your list. At least read the introduction. Please.
Published December 13, 2012
Tags: CBR4, cbr4-2012, fol, nonfiction
I would have never picked up The Match by Beth Whitehouse on my own. I read it as part of our Friends of the Libraries book discussion group. They read three books each semester and I try to read most of them. The Match is eye-opening, but definitely not a book to approach lightly.
The story follows the Trebing family after their daughter is diagnosed with Diamond Blackfan anemia, a debilitating disease that requires monthly blood transfusions. Because the transfusions lead to a build up of iron in the heart and liver, her parents begin to search for alternative methods. They find out that the bone marrow of a sibling with the same genetic match as their daughter could cure her, but would require a potentially life-threatening transplant. They use several cutting edge procedures to give birth to a “savior sibling,” including preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and in vitro fertilization.
The book does a fine job bringing up the ethical issues of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and the idea of “savior sibling”. One question she discusses with doctors and ethicists is whether parents may use PGD to choose traits like eye color or intelligence. Another is the protection of the savior siblings and whether desperate parents wanting to save another child will consider fully the medical interests of the savior sibling. I can’t imagine any parent not loving their child, treating them equally, and keeping them from as much harm as possible, but people are crazy (Toddlers in Tiaras are evidence of this).
Well-researched book about an extremely difficult subject. It is short and accessible though. I definitely recommend if you are interested in issues of medical ethics.
Published December 12, 2012
Tags: CBR4, cbr4-2012, crime fiction
I’m going to finish this freaking Cannonball if it kills me. Or if I have to read YA. Not such a bad thing, but I have a lot of reviews to write. So here is review #26.
A friend described The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde as a detective novel with a crime solver who can jump into great books. Intriguing idea, definitely. Execution? Well …
This will be the hardest teaser summary to write because the plot was all over the place. Basically, we are in England of 1985 where the country is in a perennial war with Russia over the Crimea, Wales has seceded to become a (sort of?) communist state, and the English populace is freaking mad about great authors, especially Shakespeare. Our main character, Thursday Next, is a Special Operations detective for the LiteraTech department that seems to focus mainly on great book forgeries. She gets involved in the investigation of a really bad dude named Hades. Why does she get involved? Well, because she’s special, of course. And chaos ensues, which includes worm holes (I think), time bending, dodo birds, and Thursday jumping into the plot of Jane Eyre … WTF?
As you can see from the Goodreads reviews, people seem to either adore these books (it is a series) or hate them with a passion. I enjoyed the world the author created, but felt like there were too many holes in the story, too many plot points that didn’t make a bit of sense. Plus, Thursday as she became more and more gooey about her long lost love really lost my attention. I just wanted her to get married and stop the whining. Nevertheless, if I don’t think too hard about it, the book was admittedly fun to read and honestly I might read another. I really liked the dodo birds.
Looking for an alternate reality detective story that involves great books, but goes by quickly? Thursday Next just might be the gal for you.
I am down with a good historical fiction about a strong woman, and The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny seemed to fit that bill. Set in the late 16th century, our “strong-willed Venetian woman” (according to the publisher) is shunned by the medical community in which she so longs to participate after her doctor father goes wandering off on some journey to … do something … write his book of illness I think (or is it her book?). Who knows. Anyway, 10 years later she gets a mysterious letter from her father in which he tells her, “Don’t follow me!” She of course follows his path and chaos ensues. Well, chaos for a 16th century woman.
I tried to like this book and there are some things I found attractive. First, as she is traveling she decides to continue her father’s work (or is it hers?) by creating entries on various maladies (mostly affecting women). Many of these passages are quite lovely and inventive. Second, the language is beautiful. You can tell that the writer is a poet. Writing like this points to O’Melveny’s love of the language:
“Sea people, then. Well, come in. Lake people aren’t so different. We both share the flux of the water, though we lake dwellers keep more to ourselves, I think. It’s the knowing of a place bound by mountains. While your water seems without end.”
That is a beautiful passage. It is gorgeous and seems “important”. But it is so not how people talk at any time period in history. Because of the strangeness of the dialogue and the bizarre malady descriptions, I kept thinking that these must be extended metaphors for something. When reading works with heavy symbolism sometimes you can overlook the things you don’t understand and just listen to the language or story, but I could never get over that hump with this novel. I found it hard to trust the story or connect with the characters. First, the journey seems completely artificial. A very intelligent woman goes on a journey and doesn’t start with where her father was last seen, which is actually close to Italy, but instead follows her father’s exact footsteps that he took over 10 years. On the journey people keep telling her that they haven’t seen her father in years. Well, of course they haven’t! Second, I started feeling disconnect in the references to the lost father. I kept wondering if he was a werewolf and I had inadvertently picked up historical fantasy again. Or was he just mad? Or was being a werewolf a metaphor for madness? What is it?
It is never a good sign when I am reading and the primary question I ask myself is “What the hell is going on?” Beautifully written, but not one I will ever pick up again.