Saturday, October 24, 2009


I was just thinking about two quantities: the number of posts I've made on this blog in the past few months, and the number of books I've read in the same time period. I've read at a steadier clip than I have in a while (though I suspect I might have missed recording a few in the August-September area). This might have something to do with the number of nonfiction books in the mix. Not only do they whiz along a little faster than Pale Fire or the entire Lowell-Bishop correspondence, but they tend to have large sections of endnotes. I'm talking about Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and Dave Eggers' Zeitoun (not strictly nonfiction, but based on a real story).

The thing that struck me about both of these stories was the profound effect misunderstanding can have. In Fadiman's book, there's a total misunderstanding between doctors and patients, which leads to an outcome that neither group finds ideal. (Interesting to read in light of the current health care situation; this was written in the '90s about events in the '80s). In Eggers' book, it's the paranoia and blinders in an emergency situation - the kind of pileup of small misunderstandings that leads to total disaster that I tend to hear on This American Life.

In any case, I recommend both of them. The Fadiman book is a journalistic piece (though the author clearly cared deeply about her subjects) and the Eggers book is a novel that veers close to sentimentality and preachiness, but never gets there.

Well, there are your mini-reviews. Speaking of mini, okay, I'm on Twitter. There, I said it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Foxy Brainiacs

Well, it has been a long time. That's how it goes at academic libraries in September. I've been busy showing students how to navigate American FactFinder and telling them where the printer is.

But I have been doing other things too. Last night I saw Nick Hornby read from his latest novel Juliet, Naked (about to check it out from the library!) and do a very funny Q&A. It's a week full of shows - the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Girlyman, and Brandi Carlile. I've read Pale Fire (more on that in a later post), and I just finished a really enjoyable book I bought a long time ago at the Friends of the Library bookstore - Only in London by Hanan al-Shaykh. I thought it might be a run-of-the-mill mediocre novel, but the characters were pretty wonderful, and the ending satisfying (something I can't say about most of the books I've read this year).

Anyway, I also wanted to share a very funny synopsis of Dan Brown's new book from Powell's Review-a-Day. The whole review (which was written by Jeff Baker and appeared in The Oregonian) can be found here.

"Does this sound familiar?

World-renowned symbologist and all-around cool guy Robert Langdon is summoned to an Imposing Architectural Landmark, where something Really Yucky has been left in a way only he can recognize. You know, as a clue. Langdon snaps into action, and it isn't long before he's uncovered more clues that lead to a Secret Society full of Famous Dead Guys. There's a Super-Duper Secret, and the fate of the universe is at stake, but thank goodness Langdon has help from a Foxy Brainiac, which he needs because he's up against a Major Freak. Langdon and the Foxy Brainiac race through more Imposing Architectural Landmarks, pausing only to lecture each other about symbols and whatnot, and try to win a Race Against Time against the Major Freak.

That's the plot of Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol. It's also the plot of his last novel, a little number called The Da Vinci Code. It's also, more or less, the plot of the novel before that, Angels & Demons."