The Tyranny of Email: The Four Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox by John Freeman : 3/5 stars
This book was a quick look “at the nature of correspondence throughout the ages. From love poems delivered on clay tablets to the art of the letter to the first era of information overload (via the telegraph) to the vast network brought on by the Internet. Freeman answers the difficult question, where is it taking us.”
I enjoyed (and learned from) the early part of the book that focused on the history of communications technology. Freeman makes a compelling case for how the medium of communication can affect the content/depth of the communication. There’s also some interesting information about the spread of literacy. One interesting tidbit is that “in Sweden in the eighteenth century, the Lutheran Church issued an injunction that everyone must be able to read the word of God, and a massive literacy campaign was launched. Within a hundred years the nation boasted a 100 percent literacy rate.”
The book breaks down in the final chapter, “Manifesto For A Slow Communications Movement,” when it starts to get somewhat preachy and sanctimonious about the dangers of technology. I don’t disagree with him that checking your email less and getting out into the “real world” is important, I just dislike manifestos.
Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger: 3/5 stars
Soulless is the first in a series of mysteries (I think there’s now three of them) that feature Alexia Tarabotti, a pre-natural-half Italian-fierce-spinster in a Victorian London. In the world of the novel, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are common. Pre-naturals are the rare societal counterpart to vampires and werewolves. Pre-naturals have no soul, and upon contact with a vampire or werewolf, the vampire or werewolf is returned to a human state.
I found this book to be a delightful light read that combines elements of the modern mystery novel with elements of an older comedy of manners (think Jane Austen). “Mrs. Loontwill did what any well-prepared mother would do upon finding her unmarried daughter in the arms of a gentleman werewolf: she had very decorous, and extremely loud, hysterics.” Gems like this are sprinkled liberally throughout the novel. While this book certainly is not great literature, I found it well written genre fiction and a good way to spend a few hours. I’ll definitely be getting the sequels out from the library to read at some point in the upcoming months.
The Pyramid and Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell (Audio book): 4/5 stars
I’ve wanted to try some of Mankell’s work (specifically his Kurt Wallander series) for awhile, but I’ve been intimidated by the idea of getting into yet another mystery series that’s already 8 books or so in. A few weeks ago I traveled from my home near D.C. to visit friends in Western Mass. I needed to get an audio book or two (or three) to accompany me on my trip. Of the three I got out this was the only one I got to (I also had podcasts and satellite radio to listen to), and it was delightful. The book is a collection of short stories that are set at the beginning of Wallander’s career and thus provide an excellent introduction to him as a character. This book is an example of how I frequently find short stories and/or books on CD to be an excellent introduction to the work of a particular author. Has anyone else found this? Another example of this is when I listened to/read T.C. Boyle’s The Inner Circle (About Kinsey) a few years back. As an aside, I read Eva’s post on audio books a few weeks ago, and it made me want to listen to/read more audio books. I used to work a boring data entry job, and audio books were the perfect accompaniment to that. I seldom find myself in the appropriate circumstances to listen to audio books anymore (currently unemployed so no long commute etc.)….Anyway…back to Mankell. He’s good at characterization, society description (I found that I as American reader got a good sense of Swedish life if the late 70s to early 90s by reading this book), and setting up a mystery I can’t solve no matter how hard my mind tries. These are all elements I find essential when reading mysteries. I definitely will read more Mankell in the future. I’m waiting on his latest (non-Kurt Wallander) book from the library, and will put more Wallander books on hold once I have by TBR pile under better control.
Words Without Borders: The World Through The Eyes of Writers: 4 out of 5 stars
One of my reading goals for the year is to read more work in translation, and this book is a book of short stories, all published for the first time in English and recommended by (relatively) more famous U.S. and world writers. The only selections I heavily disliked in the book were the poetry (I’m really picky about poetry), and a few stories that I felt were overly preachy when it came to their politics. This book covered such a breadth of material that I’m finding it hard to review (plus I need to get going to the library soon). I’m just going to list a couple highlights of the book along with a brief description of them and/or a quote from them. One thing that most of them had in common was (1) Their use of humor and (2) I felt like the translation rang true (note: I don’t speak any other languages so this was more a gut feeling thing).
What Are You Running To? By Ma Jian (China): “A sign painted on the wall of the hospital cafeteria reads: PRACTICE REVOLUTIONARY HUMANISM. But the hospital won’t care for those who can’t pay for care; it leaves them begging at the gate. The crowds gawk, but they don’t intervene. Parents of those in need are helpless.” This story felt very human and very universal to me. It was informed by the society it was set in, but it themes, parents needing help for their children and the search for an understanding of oneself go deeper.
The Scripture Read Backwards by Parashum (India): This delightfully humorous work (written in the early half of the 20th century) imagines a world in which India has conquered Europe and satirizes various typical forms of British literature (newspapers, school readers, advertisements, etc.) and historical situations. This short excerpt satirizes and advertisement for beauty products. “AMBERGRIS POWDER. Memsahibs need not feel frustrated anymore. This miraculous powder will remove the unfortunate natural pallor of their skin and give them the complexion of Bengali women. If you want to enhance the dark effect, mix a little verdigris. As used by Ramachandra Ji. Price, five shillings a phial. Marketed by Sheikh Azhar, Leadenhall Street, India House, London.”
I came out of this book with a long list of authors in translation to try. Since I’m a glutton for punishment and want to add even more to my TBR list, what are some of othes people’s favorite works in translation?
Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers: 2/5 stars
I tried really hard to like this book (originally a NTTVBG selection), but even though I finished it eventually, it felt like a drag. I think I had the same problem a lot of people had with it. I’m too familiar with Woolf and her work to enjoy it. I was excited about getting a different perspective on Virginia and Vanessa’s relationship, but Seller’s portrayal of them ultimately rang false for me. It was interesting to hear more about Vanessa’s paintings, and I’m going to try to find a different (non-fiction) book that focuses more on her and her work.