Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a
by Mark Kurlansky
Famous actor Richard Dreyfuss lends his distinctive voice to this thought-provoking audiobook. In it, the author explains the differences between pacifism and active nonviolent resistance, while giving a history of the interaction between the forces of violence and nonviolence. All too often violence has won by forcing the nonviolent to take up arms in self-defense, thus losing the advantage of their superior moral argument. Once violence is thought of as a legitimate means to defeat violence, nonviolence has surely lost. But all hope is not gone, as Kurlansky explains, there have been several nonviolent victories, and by looking to these examples we can learn how to change our world through active resistance, thus creating the nonviolent world we desire.
December 2006 Archives
Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a
by Mark Kurlansky
If you are looking for an audiobook that adults and children (ages 10 and up) can enjoy together try The Cay by Theodore Taylor. This adventure/survival story is set during World War II. A young white boy and an old black man are stranded on a small uninhabited island after a boat they were on was torpedoed by the Germans. The young boy goes blind as a result of an injury and he comes to realize that friendship is color blind. I listened to the recent Random House/Listening Library compact disc version. The reader, Michael Boatman of Spin City fame, does an excellent job with the West Indian dialect of Timothy, the old black man. A previous version on Audio Cassette has Levar Burton as the reader. A bonus track on the compact disc is an interview with the author, recently deceased, who talks about the inspiration for this novel and how the book changed his life.
Friday The 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan
Follow in the bloody wake of Jason Voorhees, the "man behind the mask", on his endless quest for revenge against irresponsible teenagers like the ones who let him drown as a boy in Crystal Lake. Heralded as the original slasher film, Friday the 13th spawned many sequels (and many imitators), but what this viewer found most interesting was not so much the suspense and the wanton carnage, but rather Jason's transformation through the series; he begins as a somewhat human, back-woods child of horror and misfortune bent on revenge, and as the series progresses, Jason seems to become more proficient and more coordinated in his killing--this really becomes apparent from the moment he first dons the hockey mask in Part III. In fact, his transformation takes him fully into the supernatural (assuming he wasn't to begin with), so that his natural human physical vulnerabilities slowly fall by the wayside as he evolves into an unstoppable killing machine, able to be anywhere and everywhere and to survive just about anything despite his outward physical deterioration. In short, he becomes the ultimate "bogeyman". There's sure to be some subtext in these films as well about the questionable social legacy our Puritanical forefathers left us in this country, and how "deserving" of violence each of Jason's victims is in their own way for their supposed "sins", but in the end, these movies are meant to be enjoyed for their scare value, interspersed with the occasional bit of gallows humor, that makes us all glad we aren't singing kumbaya around a campfire at Camp Crystal Lake while something unseen and sinister circles close by us in the dark.
Star/director Cornel Wilde, a year after the deserved success of his previous film, "The Naked Prey" (and, hey, Paramount Pictures: when is this terrific film coming out on DVD?), returned to the screen with 1967's "Beach Red", a harrowing World War II tale about the American invasion of a Japanese-held island in the pacific. Kicking off with an amazingly bloody and horrific battle on the beach (which looks awfully similar to the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan", released 31 years later), the film quickly shifts focus to the inner thoughts, fears and memories of the soldiers on both sides. The American commander, played by Wilde, like many of his fellow soldiers, including Rip Torn, and their Japanese counterparts on the island, just wants to go back home to his family, but "duty" -and the seemingly never ending brutal battles- prevails over all else. Good action sequences and involving performances (Torn is especially good) make this anti-war film stand out.
Broken Lizard is back! The hilarious comedy troupe who brought us such side-splitters as "Super Troopers" and "Club Dread" have done it again with "Beerfest". This over-the-top laugh riot is chock full of the kind of low brow hilariousness we've come to expect from Director Jay Chandrasekhar and his fellow Lizards. The film centers around two brothers who get themselves out-drunk by a team of Germans at Beerfest (a kind of underground Super Bowl of Drinking Games) and then decide to return with their own team of American drinkers to settle the score. With National pride on the line, will our intrepid heroes be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? You'll have to borrow the DVD to find out.
Horror of Dracula
Probably the best horror movie to come out of England's Hammer Films in the 50s and 60s, "Horror of Dracula" (1958) introduced movie audiences to Christopher Lee's powerful, dynamic and scary interpretation of Bram Stoker's immortal Count Dracula. The film's screenplay, due to budget concerns, omits some characters and situations, even eliminating the book's London locale, but director Terence Fisher's sense of pacing, plus some genuine scares and a slam-bang climatic confrontation between Dracula and heroic vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (the equally dynamic Peter Cushing, whose character is so fanatical about destroying the Count that he even physically throws himself at the vampire ) keep the movie percolating from start to finish. (The film would spawn several sequels, of uneven quality, through the 1970's.)
This 1978 movie was a huge departure for director Woody Allen. Made in between Annie Hall and Manhattan this film has very little in common with those films. Made at the height of his creative prowess, Allen sets comedy aside for a moment in order to explore the relationship of a sadly dysfunctional family. "Interiors" is, essentially, the story of an upper-class family shattered by the divorce of the parents and the ensuing collapse of the mother, played by Geraldine Page. One daughter (Diane Keaton) keeps giving her false hope that her husband will return. Another daughter (Mary Beth Hurt) tries to get her mother to face reality. Both attempts are in vain and their mother becomes a burden to all in many ways. The mother's descent into madness leaves the family reeling and exposes many rifts that for years appeared to have been buried.
Many critics mention that this film has much in common with the bleak films of Ingmar Bergman; having very little familiarity with Bergman I can't say if they are right. What I do know is that Allen made a film with nary a laugh to be found. Also...the film is nearly bereft of any music at all, which was another departure for Allen. Music does pop up near the end of the film, in a scene that Maureen Stapleton (who plays the father's new found love interest) plays with devastating effectiveness.
Somber, bleak, quiet and stark are the terms that come to mind when I think about this film, but also thought-provoking. The beautifully ambiguous ending left me thinking about this movie for several days.
Anthology: The Essential Crossexion,
by Ronnie Wood
Anthology: The Essential Crossexion is a nice double CD set of the Rolling Stone guitar player Ronnie Wood's work over the past four decades, from his work with 60s groups the Birds, the Creation (these two bands, with their raw R'n'B, Who-like electric sound, both deserved better success than they ultimately got) and the Jeff Beck Group to later stuff with Rod Stewart, the Faces and of course the Rolling Stones, the latter represented by only two cuts. There's also a lot of Wood's solo stuff, including the promising new single "You Strum And I'll Sing", reuniting the guitarist with Stewart (who sounds better here than he has in years, including the recent blah release "Still The Same"). Thirty-seven great, if slightly rough around the edges, selections in all. Check it out.
Boys and Girls in America,
by The Hold Steady
There's nothing complicated about this record: catchy songs, power chords and insightful lyrics. At times reminiscent of Springsteen Born to Run era (especially when the keyboards take over) at other moments I hear the Replacements. It's an honest, down to earth rock and roll record and I didn't think they made those anymore.
Singer and guitarist Craig Finn lyrics touches upon the dreariness and the small moments of excitement of growing up in a suburban wasteland; the parties in the woods, the burnouts from your school, the mall rats. He gets it just right.
The band has managed to tread a fine line; they are a bar band that even the hipsters like. They are just so uncool enough to be cool.
by The Who
Twenty-four years after their last studio album, the surviving members of the Who release their newest work, "Endless Wire". Although the manic quality of the band's rhythm section (represented here mainly by bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Zak Starkey, plus various guest musicians and Pete Townshend himself) is much missed, and Townshend's lyrics pontificate a bit too much, the music, anchored by vocalist Roger Daltrey, still delivers the oomph that bands half their age still can't muster. Daltrey finally gets, after failing to in previous albums, the nuance and tone of Townshend's music, giving excellent vocal performances (alternating with Townshend on some cuts) throughout the CD. (And is Pete doing a Tom Waits vocal riff on "In The Ether"?) Plus, just like 60s albums "A Quick One" and "The Who Sell Out", the band performs a ten song mini-opera, "Wire and Glass", whose plot about an aging rocker serves both as a metaphor for the group and a showcase for some of their most impassioned work. (There's also a DVD enclosed featuring the band performing live in Lyon, France last summer. Not one of their good nights.) Choice cuts: "It's Not Enough"; "Endless Wire"; "Mike Post Theme".
by The Bad Plus
I've never really been all that into Jazz, but something about this band really intrigues me. Maybe it's the way this Jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) compliments each other so well, or maybe it's the fact that they do a really killer cover of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" that peaked my interest. Either way, this is my favorite CD to listen to right now. The other two titles of theirs in our collection are very good as well.
by John Scofield Trio
Enroute: Live documents performances recorded in December 2003 at New York's Blue Note. The band comprises Scofield, on guitar; drummer Bill Stewart and the venerable electric bassist, Steve Swallow. I have been returning to this CD for the better part of two years and have been consistently rewarded as new insights emerge with each subsequent listening. "Astonishing" is the word that comes to mind regarding the collective level of musicianship. Any album featuring either Sco or Stewart is something I will automatically want to check out and longtime collaborator Steve Swallow's steady presence seems to be the perfect catalyst to elevate the proceedings to the sublime. I have noted Swallow's similar effect on other groups; notably that of his own trio featuring saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Adam Nussbaum. This feat is not accomplished via blazing technique, but rather, by unerring instinct for the right note, gorgeous timbre and a sense of swing that anchors the rhythm unambiguously. In short, this is the perfect platform for both Scofield's and Stewart's flights of fancy. The former deploys his usual pungent tone in the service of solos that are never predictable, frequently startling, and yet, paradoxically, seem almost preordained in their "rightness". Similarly, when Sco shreds (infrequently), the display of sheer chops does not seem gratuitous, which is unusual if not unprecedented in these days of dime a dozen guitar virtuosi. Stewart, for some time now has been my favorite drummer, bar none. His contributions to this album reinforce that assessment. Yikes!
In sum, three topflight musicians in absolutely transcendent form: Did I say "Yikes!" ?
by Juana Molina
After doing a bit of research I discovered that in her native Argentina Ms. Molina is a popular comedienne. That's ironic because her fourth record "son" is a thing of quiet, unsettling beauty; it sounds nothing like you would expect from someone whose main job is to make people laugh. Instead we get a strummed acoustic guitar backed by bubbling electronic noises, found sounds and percussion, all topped off by Ms. Molina's beautiful vocals. It's an ambient-folk experience like nothing you may have heard. You might want to pull out the headphones.
by Vikram Seth
Two Lives gives the reader a wonderful reading experience with Seth's dual biography of his uncle, Shanti Behari Seth (Shanti) and his aunt Helga Gerda Caro (Henny). And, what a seemingly oddly-match couple these two appear to be at first. He is Indian by birth and she is German born. Through letters written by each and Seth's interviewing Shanti, their life experiences come alive and are fascinating. Shanti migrated to Berlin in the 1930's, studied dentistry, and met Henny and her circle of friends in Berlin. Being Jewish, the growing anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany casts its ugly shadow over Henny's life. In a strange twist of fate, both end up in London prior to the outbreak of war. Shanti's career as a dentist takes a very unique and interesting turn due to his war experience. Shanti and Henny eventually marry and have a loving and dedicated partnership in marriage. Perhaps the most compelling section of the book deals with Henny's relationships with her German friends after the war as she tries to deal with those who subtly or otherwise embraced the Nazi cause. Seth's scored a major literary triumph with an earlier book, A Suitable Boy. This terrifically written book makes this reader want to read his other books.
Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything,
by Charles Pierce
Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything (by Charles Pierce) is not only a character study of one of the most successful athletes in history, but also provides a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes activities of professional football. The narrative mainly follows Tom from his early days of playing football in California, to his trying days at Michigan and his success with the New England Patriots. (He is the only quarterback to win 3 Superbowl championships before the age of 28). He is loved by his fellow teammates, and even agreed to a pay cut to allow room under the salary cap to attract quality players. The paparazzi calls him a "metrosexual" who is tough on the field, but soft and gentle off the field.
His biggest legacy has been his ability to win big games despite injuries and adversity.
Charles Pierce employs a very interesting writing style by mixing team history with player background against a backdrop of the 2005 season.
Pierce follows the progress of the team through owners Sullivan, Kiam and Kraft as well as coaches Parcells, Carroll and Belichick. (It wasn't until Kraft brought Belichick to New England that the team finally experienced its world championships).
Moving the Chains is not only a popular football term - the goal of making first downs with the ultimate goal of scoring a touchdown - but also serves as a metaphor of life. Despite all adversity and setbacks, the only thing that matters is moving forward. Tom Brady is a living example of this
philosophy. Football fans will enjoy the analysis of the game, while
others will enjoy the analysis of character and morals. An ideal book to read as this current football season approaches the playoffs.
Death by PowerPoint,
by Michael Flocker
Office politics got you down? Is your boss speaking in tongues? Not sure how you're going to make it through yet another meeting with your soul intact? Or maybe you just want to boink that cutie in the marketing department without the whole office finding out about it... Well then, have no fear: Michael Flocker has got you covered! In Death By PowerPoint, Flocker will teach you how to navigate the treacherous wastelands of office life while showing you where you can find those valuable and often hidden oases of humor and sanity to help keep you going. Broaden your knowledge of such topics as e-mail etiquette, pod culture, "fashionipulation", emotional intelligence, "mandatory fun", corporate lingo, office romance, and more. Written in a style that is humorous and accessible, Flocker does a capable job in what can be considered an excellent primer on how to survive--and even thrive--amidst the trials and tribulations of modern office life.
Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life,
With the recent revival of Chorus Line receiving terrific reviews, this book might be of great interest for a fan of that show or of the musical theater in general. McKechnie won a Tony in 1976 for her role in Chorus Line as Cassie, whose story in the show was largely based on her life. She achieved early success on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and then went on to dance pivotal roles in Promises, Promises and Company. Seen as some as the muse for the choreographer Michael Bennett, she was one of the original dancers who, as a group, told their life stories to Bennett. He, in turn, created A Chorus Line from their experiences. The process through which A Chorus Line emerged as a milestone of Broadway musicals is the most interesting part of this book. While McKechnie also details other aspects of her life, it is her life as a dancer on Broadway which remains the high point of her book.
Summerall: On and Off the Air,
by Pat Summerall
Sports fans and non-sports fans alike will enjoy Summerall: On and Off the Air (Nelson, 2006). Pat Summerall started out life with a "clubfoot", which his parents and doctor decided to break and reset when he was baby. It's a good thing, too, because Pat ended up excelling in high school sports, and eventually played professional football with the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants. (On the off-season he decided to start a hog farm, which didn't pan out!) He met a lot of interesting and famous people along the way, and even shared a locker with Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium! As his football career was coming to a close, he encountered a bit of good fortune. A friend convinced him to audition for a radio announcer's job to broadcast football games. Even though he had no training in this area, he tried out and landed the job. This resulted in a very successful 30-year broadcasting career in football, baseball and golf. Unfortunately, years of alcohol abuse caught up with him and cost him his marriage and his health. Only through the generous donation of a liver donor was he able to survive. During this ordeal, he became a born-again Christian, and his religion has become a prime force in his life. He was able to return to the broadcast booth and resume a normal life. This is a very interesting character study as well as a narrative on professional football.
Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing,
by Lee Server
Anyone who has an interest, passing or otherwise, in Ava Gardner or the Hollywood years between 1940 and 1970 will find this biography of her a pure delight. Server has done terrifically detailed research into her life and work. The result is, for this reviewer, a wonderful experience reading about one of the true "goddesses" of the screen. Recurring comments from various co-workers, friends and other observers of Gardner's life are the same: she was truly one of the most gorgeous women of all time. Her life in Hollywood was filled with true glitz and glamour and it is a fascinating look at that industry in its heyday. However, Server writes a balanced book as he details Gardner's wild exploits, many with unflattering actions of her part, through explosive romances. Very interesting parts of the book show how movies were made in those years under the firm control of the major studios. The great figures of those Hollywood years are a part of the story - Clark Gable, Howard Hughes, Bette Davis are just a few Server includes in the story. Even though Gardner had a dark, tormented side to her personality, so many spoke of her so fondly and with great admiration. This is highly recommended.
I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg,
by Bill Morgan
Writer Bill Morgan has put together a terrific, well-researched biography of Beat poet and social activist Allan Ginsberg. I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg is a dense yet breezy look at the life and work of the artist, who comes off as likable and very accommodating to friends and strangers alike while battling social injustices around the world. It's all here: The failed love affairs, working with Jack Kerouac to encourage William S. Burroughs to complete Naked Lunch, hanging out with Dylan & Satre, the protest marches and more. Likewise included is the story of how Ginsberg's seminal work Howl went through one censorship battle after another in the late 50s. (Mr. Morgan has edited a separate account of that period in the recently published Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression which is also recommended.) If you're interested in checking out Mr. Ginsberg's work, the mammoth Collected Poems: 1947-1997 , also just released, is a good place to start.
The Looming Tower - Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,
by Lawrence Wright
Named one of the best non-fiction books of 2006 by the New York Times, The Looming Tower is an excellent book about the growth of the al-Qaeda movement led by Osama bin Laden and his #2 man Ayman al-Zawahiri. Wright, a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law, traces events in the recent histories of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern and African countries that led bin Laden and al-Zawahiri to build their deadly terrorist organization. Though complex, Wright presents this information in a very readable and comprehensible manner. The American response to the rise of al-Qaeda is covered as well. In particular, that effort was spearheaded by the FBI's counterterrorism chief, John O'Neil. His efforts are detailed as well as those of the CIA. Unfortunately, that information was never pooled together and as the serious threat of al-Qaeda rose, the American government was unaware of the immediate gravity of that threat. Included in the book is a list of principal characters that is a great reference for the reader, especially since many of the names are Middle Eastern. The Looming Tower is highly recommended for all who wish to gain a clearer understanding of al-Qaeda and the current Middle Eastern situation.
by Tom Callahan
A loving account of a football legend, his teammates, and his era. Brief biographical information is the prelude to the real story - the great Baltimore Colts team and the man who was the key, Johnny Unitas. The major players are also introduced individually - who they were, how they fit into the team, amusing/interesting anecdotes about them. This was before the NFL became big-time. The players held regular jobs during the week, lived in regular houses, were regular members of the community, not rich celebrities as now. This was also the time when quarterbacks called the plays and really led the team. THE GAME - the 1958 championship against the Giants - is described in detail. It was the one that put the NFL on the map. Much of the success of the Colts was due to Unitas and his ability to work with other key team members, his toughness, his unbelievable football sense (one man said - many can throw the ball deep, but Unitas could PASS the ball deep.) A wonderful tribute to probably the greatest quarterback of all time.
I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors,
by Bernice Eisenstein
This is a different type of book, but one that is interesting and very insightful into the life of a child of parents who survived the Holocaust. Eisenstein is not only an author but an artist. Her book's narrative captures the torments her parents suffered during the Holocaust and how she, as a child, tried to understand this dark history in her parents lives. Her drawings in the book illustrate many of the torments and enduring effects of the Holocaust in her family's life. Yet, her story has a strong emotional pull as she writes very lovingly about not only her parents, but her extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. For those readers interested in this topic, this book is strongly recommended.
A Prayer for America,
by Dennis J. Kucinich
In the 2004 Presidential race, the man who I believe was the best person for the job went largely unreported on by the Corporate Media. This is not surprising, considering that Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's stance on war, the environment, and worker's rights represented a challenge to the increasingly rightward-leaning Big Business "Centrism" promoted by the Democratic Leadership Council. I am happy to hear that Kucinich will be running again in 2008, and in the hopes of counteracting the dearth of coverage Dennis will likely receive again, I urge anyone who seriously cares about the direction in which our country is headed to read "A Prayer for America" by Dennis J. Kucinich. This book is a collection of essays and speeches that Dennis gave leading up to his decision to run in 2004.
by Thomas Harris
Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal "The Cannibal". One of the most memorable characters of modern fiction, and perhaps one of the most disturbing, he is also one of the most intriguing. What kind of a man can go from pouring tea and reciting classic Japanese poetry one moment to committing gruesome murder the next, all without his heart rate rising above eighty-five beats per minute? Thomas Harris's new novel, Hannibal Rising, delves into his character's past and how it influenced the creation of a psyche both beautiful and dark. We get to learn of Hannibal's lineage and his life as a relatively normal if somewhat exceptional boy in Lithuania until his world is suddenly immersed in the worst kind of horror from which he emerges as a sole survivor, irrevocably changed. Hannibal is adopted by a kindly uncle and his beautiful wife and taken to France, there to continue his education and hopefully heal his damaged mind. But tragedy strikes again, and Hannibal embarks upon a bloody course of revenge most befitting to those on the receiving end.
With an average of about six years between each of his novels, one would expect Harris to deliver us a story that is honed and polished, and as usual he does not disappoint. His prose is clear and as gripping as ever, though any fan of the character may find themselves wishing for more; this novel is really a "prequel" to the series featuring Harris's infamous character, and one can only speculate with great relish (ha ha--cannibalism pun) where a true sequel to 1999's Hannibal might take us. In the meantime, Hannibal Rising is a worthy (and arguably, necessary) addition to the Hannibal Lecter mythos.
by Nelson DeMille
Nelson DeMille's latest thriller is the fourth book featuring John Corey, an ex-NYPD detective and his FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield. If you are familiar with DeMille's books you know that the dialogue will be witty and the plot thrilling and nerve-wracking. The book takes place in 2002, during the tense days following 9/11 and presents a what-if scenario that is uncomfortably believable. Harry Muller, an anti-terrorist agent, has disappeared in the woods of upstate New York during a routine surveillance of an exclusive hunting enclave, the Custer Hill Club whose members include government and political leaders. Corey and Kate follow their instincts about the disappearance and visit the Club to find what happened to their friend. What they uncover is a diabolical plan called "Wild Fire" that will insure a nuclear response and are engaging to level the Middle East if a nuclear device is detonated in any U.S. city. This is a great book for a long winter's night.
by Gerard Donovan
A deeply unsettling novel about a man who lives alone in the deep woods of Maine. A series of personal losses as well as his dreadful loneliness slowly lead to his psychological demise.Grim stuff but written with great beauty by Mr. Donovan. He also approaches his subject with care and subtlety. Instead of a raging monster, Julius is an avid reader, (in his cabin is a very large collection of first edition books, left to him by his father), a gardener and, one senses, a man who just needs a little company to pull himself out of his deep and dangerous funk.
Donovan's command of language is astonishingly precise, eerily reflecting Julius's disarmingly mild-mannered pathology as it ascribes no more importance to the cold-blooded shooting of a hunter than to going into town for groceries. This is a haunting book that stays with the reader long after the last tragic word is read.
by Nadine Gordimer
July's People by Nadine Gordimer (Nobel Prize winner), written in 1981, is a powerful commentary on the evils of apartheid in South Africa. July is a manservant in the service of an enlightened white family, who consider themselves socially responsible people. Because of an impending revolution, the family flees from their home under the care of July who takes them to his village. The conflicts that arise are subtle and provocative. Gordimer's writing combines "skill with social conscience". The result is an extraordinary piece of literature.
by Michael Crichton
What might happen if universities, bio-tech companies, and other shadowy 3rd parties could legally "own" the very building blocks of our genetic make-up? This question, as absurd as it may sound, is in fact our current reality, and Michael Crichton explores this highly controversial issue to its logical--and bizarre--extremes in his new novel, Next. Crichton tells us up front that "This is a work of fiction, except for the parts that aren't", which at first seems so obvious a point that one wonders why he felt the need to even state it in a book full of talking orangutans and glowing rabbits, but as his story unfolds, some extremely strange and far-fetched situations and creations are revealed, many of which, as it turns out, Crichton cribbed from actual events.
The tale itself is a fast-paced and intriguing romp through some of the legal and scientific quandaries being faced today, and those that are appearing on the horizon as the race for dominance in the genetic marketplace surges onward. Crichton's characters are interesting enough, even as some only blatantly serve their purposes to the narrative, but for some reason, this reader found "Dave" the transgenic ape to be among the most "human" and sympathetic of the cast; kudos to Crichton for expressing viewpoints from both sides of the great genetic divide. One hopes that society will take heed of the author's cautionary message and reconsider the restrictions and laws of genetic research and patent ownership before things really spiral out of control. This book is a must-read for everyone who doesn't want their genome owned and controlled by someone else.
Balzac and the Little
by Dai Sijie
Delightful and moving story of two young men sent to a remote village for "re-education" during the Cultural Revolution. Their re-education means carrying buckets of excrement up the mountain as well as mining coal. Life improves a bit after the head man discovers their talents for storytelling and sends them each month to town to watch the current movie, then re-create it in telling it to the villagers. In town they meet the little seamstress and start to re-educate her by reading to her Balzac and other forbidden western literature that they manage to obtain. A freeing of the spirit occurs for the boys, and an unexpected result for the little seamstress.
The Lambs of London,
by Peter Ackroyd
The Lambs of London is a little gem of an historical novel by Peter Ackroyd. In it Charles and Mary Lamb are the central characters in this fictional novel about a "lost" Shakespearean play. Fans of the regency period frequently meet the Lambs, either as tragic figures or literary lights. Here, in Ackroyd's magnificent prose, they come to life as eccentric but endearing characters in a story told with humor and sensitivity.
The Prisoner of Guantanamo,
by Dan Fesperman
A political thriller ripped from current headlines, The Prisoner of Guantanamo gives the reader a great inside view of the American base of Guantanamo and its much-debated prison system. Fesperman is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and has both a keen reporters eye and an obviously well-polished writing style. Perhaps the plot wears thin towards the end of the book, but the reader gets a wonderful "insider's" view of Guantanamo prisons. All aspects of prisoner treatment is covered. The main character, Revere Falk, a FBI veteran and Arabic speaker, is an interrogator of suspected terrorists. His main charge is a Yemeni man, who is an al-Qaeda suspect. After an American soldier is found on a Cuban beach, adjacent to Guantanamo, the story takes off with many representatives of the American intelligence community becoming involved in this death. The highlights of the book are the physical descriptions of the Guantanamo base and the conditions in which the prisoners are kept. By the way, Fesperman has written several other books with political themes - two being The Small Boat of Great Sorrows and Lie in the Dark. Both take place in Sarajevo and are also recommended along with this book.
by Ian Fleming
The very first James Bond 007 novel ever written by Ian Fleming, 1953's Casino Royale was recently remade, with Daniel Craig as Bond, as a reasonably faithful, updated, action-packed AND emotionally powerful motion picture. (Two previous versions, both available together on DVD from the library, were a live black & white television broadcast and a 1967 overstuffed comedy spoof in color, boasting an all-star cast, five directors and twice as many screenwriters. The newest version knocks these two straight out of the ball park.) Going back to the book, however, you can't help but note how innovative Fleming's original plot, which wasn't supposed to lead to an ongoing series and its various media spin offs, had been. As writer Kim Newman & others have noted, Fleming's "Casino Royale" seems to repudiate the classic British thrillers of such writers as John Buchan, Sapper and Leslie Charteris: Bond gets caught by one enemy and is rescued by another, who then escapes after vowing to kill him, is brutally tortured with a carpet beater and discovers, too late, something unsavory about the heroine. He's never on top of the situation and seems to be at everybody else's mercy, unlike his literary forebears Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond and Simon Templar (AKA "The Saint"). Bond is more a reactor than an actor in this story, never in control and always propelled along, like the readers, from one situation to another. That situation would change in subsequent books and the resultant films. A relentlessly downbeat tone overshadows the book, in spite of some genuinely tense & exciting moments (the cane gun; the aforementioned torture scene; a wild car chase). New readers shouldn't be put off by the book's then-recent topical Cold War references (villain Le Chiffe works for the Russians in this one) to enjoy this first-rate thriller.