Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Woman of Substance (Harte Family Saga Book 1)

Posted by nliakos on May 21, 2016

by Barbara Taylor Bradford (RosettaBooks LLC, 1979, 1984)

The first in a series of books about the family of Emma Harte, A Woman of Substance tells the story of how Emma, born into poverty in a Yorkshire village on the estate of the Fairley family, rises to wealth and power due to her intelligence and stubbornness. Emma’s rise is driven partly by her desire to seek vengeance on the Fairleys, because she was abandoned, pregnant, by Edwin Fairley, son of the current lord. So she devotes her life to the Fairleys’ ruin, and she eventually achieves it, only to find that her cherished granddaughter Paula has fallen in love with a Fairley, who happens to be in her (Emma’s) employ. Along the way, there are several marriages and romances and lots of machinations.

I am not a romance reader, and although I found the story engaging, I also thought it was very over-written and unbelievable (all of the main characters are gorgeous; several [astonishingly handsome, muscular/masculine] men become so hopelessly enamored of Emma that they can no longer function; Emma reminds me of Ayla in The Clan of the Cave Bear–she is Proto-(Business)Woman, singlehandedly inventing the modern department store and more…). I read it with interest but am not tempted to read further books in the series.

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Posted by nliakos on January 10, 2016

by Karen Joy Fowler (G. P. Putnam 2013; ISBN 978-0-399-16209-1)

It’s interesting to look at the suggested classifications for a novel on the copyright page. This one is classified as Families, Self-realization in women, Human-animal relationships, Life change events (all the preceding followed by –Fiction), Domestic fiction, and Psychological fiction. It kind of gives you a preview of what the book is about–but not really.

Rosemary Cooke is the woman who realizes who she is (and narrates the story). SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading here if you want the same reading experience I had–

That is, shock to discover in Chapter 5 that Rose’s missing sister is a chimpanzee. Fern came to live with Rose’s family when Rose was one month old and Fern about the same age. They were raised together for five years, after which Fern was taken away,and Rose was left to wonder what had happened. This event is central to Rose’s life and to her story. Her entire family was profoundly affected by Fern’s removal, and Rose’s whole life experience reflects an alienation from human society that she attributes to her closeness to Fern. She feels in some ways more like a chimpanzee than a “normal” human.

The book is full of memorable characters: Rose, her brother Lowell, whose life was even more affected by the loss of Fern than hers was, if that is possible; Rose and Lowell’s parents; Fern herself; and even the minor characters of her peculiar friend Harlow, her roommate Todd and his lawyer mother, and her apartment manager Ezra made a deep impression.

This is not just a novel; it is a crusade against psychological and medical research using animals, chimpanzees especially. It reminded me in many ways of Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, in which the story is a thinly veiled diatribe against the meat industry. (Imagine my surprise to read in the Acknowledgments that the author gives thanks “most especially to the amazingly awesome Ruth Ozeki for her friendship and support”!

Highly recommended.

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A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope

Posted by nliakos on October 18, 2015

by Tom Brokaw (Random House 2015; ISBN 978-1-4000-6969-9)

NBC news anchorman Tom Brokaw has chronicled the year that he was diagnosed with and treated for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. He describes the back pain that turned out to be compression fractures of the spine due to the cancer. While hiding his condition from the public and most of his friends and colleagues, Brokaw continued to accept projects for NBC even as he embarked on a year of  fatigue, pain, chemotherapy, and learning how to live his life with cancer (Myeloma is treatable, but it is not curable.).  He kept a journal which eventually became this book, which is divided into sections by season (summer 2013, fall 2013, winter 2013-2014, spring 2014, summer 2014, fall 2014). Interspersed among the descriptions of hospitalizations, doctors’ appointments, time spent with family, and professional projects accomplished during the treatment year are recollections of career high points, memorable interviews and encounters, and unforgettable news stories (such as September 11, 2001), with some name-dropping thrown in. (Brokaw, who grew up in the West, spends a lot of time fishing and hunting; sometimes it seemed incongruous to me that while fighting for his life against cancer, he suffered no qualms about depriving animals of their lives.) Eventually, of course, Brokaw can no longer hide his disease from the world; during the winter, he is “outed” by a digital news organization and finally admits publicly that he has cancer.

For me, this book held a special significance; a friend of mine is being treated for multiple myeloma, and Brokaw’s simple but clear descriptions and explanations helped me to understand what she is going through.

As the title indicates, Tom Brokaw has in some ways led a charmed life, and he frequently expresses his gratitude for his wonderful luck. But for all of us mortals, luck eventually runs out. Cancer, as he reminds us, becomes more and more likely the longer we live, and no one lives forever. Brokaw is also acutely aware of how lucky he is to have access to the best doctors and hospitals, to work for an organization that is supportive and has excellent benefits, to have enough financial resources to pay for whatever he needs, even to have a daughter who is a doctor and can participate in his treatment plan and interpret medicalese for him. So few people have all of these advantages in the fight against cancer or whatever disease is ravaging their body and/or mind.

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On the Move: A Life

Posted by nliakos on August 29, 2015

by Oliver Sacks (Knopf 2015, ISBN 978-0-385-35255. I read the electronic version)

Starting in the 1970s, I think I have read pretty much everything Oliver Sacks ever wrote, from Awakenings to Hallucinations (exception: I didn’t finish Migraine, which seemed to be written more for medical professionals than for lay readers, and I got bogged down in technical jargon; also, I may have missed the Mind’s Eye–must get it!). There was no way I would not read this, ostensibly Sacks’ final book.

All those years spent reading all those books, and I never knew very much about the man himself–in spite of reading the personal narratives A Leg to Stand On and Uncle Tungsten, so this book filled in a lot of gaps for me. I was totally surprised to learn that Sacks was a body-builder and a motorcyclist and that he took a lot of illegal drugs in the sixties. I didn’t know that he is gay, either; in fact, I never thought about his sexuality at all. In On the Move, he is totally open about all these aspects of his life and more.

He also describes the writing of all those books that I loved, and I found those accounts fascinating, although someone who has not read them would undoubtedly find them less so.

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The Charming Quirks of Others

Posted by nliakos on December 17, 2013

by Alexander McCall Smith (Recorded Books 2010; read by Davina Porter)

You may remember that I bypassed this seventh novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series to read The Forgotten Affairs of Youth and The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds. I never did find it on the shelf in my library, but a friend lent me the audiobook, and I finished it on the bus yesterday.  A pleasant read. Davina Porter is easy to listen to.

Isabel is asked to look into three applicants for the headmastership of a private boys’ school; she and Jamie decide to get married; she suspects Jamie of cheating on her and discovers how quickly love can turn to hatred, but of course all is well in the end. Throughout it all, Isabel muses about various moral questions from small to large.

I noticed how similar McCall Smith’s two lady protagonists are in their love of their country and city–Isabel of Scotland and Edinburgh, and Mma Ramotswe of Botswana and her village.

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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t

Posted by nliakos on October 20, 2013

(wondering if I should capitalize so in the title. . . It isn’t a conjunction here. On the cover, everything is lowercase. Aha, inside they capitalize it. So will I.)

by Nate Silver (Penguin 2012)

This is the University of Maryland’s First Year Book for 2012 – 2013. It’s about predictions and probability and statistics. It’s kind of interesting, but there is much about math, statistics, and probability that went right over my head. Charts and tables leave me cold. The main takeaway for me is: Don’t trust other people’s predictions because they don’t know as much as you think they do (or as much as they think they do, either). This goes for predictions about baseball, politics, earthquakes, computer chess, climate change, economics, online poker, influenza, the stock market, gambling and enemy or terrorist attacks. There is a chapter about each of these, and more. 

Silver would like everyone to base predictions on something called Bayes’ Theorem. Thomas Bayes lived in the 18th century; his theorem is about approaching the truth gradually by gathering more and more evidence and revising our predictions based on this evidence. You start out with a “prior”–an initial guess about something. And you guess the probability of something being true or false. But essentially you are changing your prediction as you accumulate more facts that do (or do not) support your hypothesis. He spends the second half of the book saying that if we used this method, our predictions about almost everything would improve. I am probably over-simplifying this, but it seems to be an important part of his message.

I think there’s a lot of good information here, but it went into a lot of detail that I could have done without. All in all, it was not one of my favorite First Year Books.

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Goodbye to the Nook

Posted by nliakos on June 1, 2013

In November 2011, I purchased a Nook eReader at Barnes and Noble. I wanted to be able to read TED books, which are available only as eBooks, and frankly, I was curious. What was all the fuss about? I read some books (about 11 that I purchased, plus a couple of library books), and there were certainly things I liked about reading on the Nook. I liked being able to adjust the font size. I liked being able to look up unusual words in the dictionary (when I reread Jane Eyre, for example, I looked up a lot of words I had just overlooked during previous readings). I liked the lightness of the Nook compared to a hardcover book–much more convenient to take on a trip or even on the bus.

There were other aspects I did not like so much, however. I sometimes suspected that maybe my Nook was not functioning properly. Sometimes it would “turn” too many pages at a time, and I would have to go back; the screen seemed was overly sensitive. Often when I looked up a definition or read a (foot)note, the “Go Back” button would vanish, leaving me to try to remember what page I had been on and necessitating numerous clicks to return to it. I never did figure out how to highlight and annotate text (Okay, I admit that was my fault for not reading the guide that came with it.). It was inconvenient and inefficient to try and move around within the book–to identify a character or remind myself of something I had read earlier. You are supposed to be able to do that using the Search feature, but somehow it was not intuitive, and I was always afraid I would be unable to return to where I was, because of the Go Back problem. Finally, borrowing eBooks from the library was complicated, and once one was “returned” before I finished it (no option to renew, and no warning! It just vanished.).

When I bought Playing with Media by Wes Fryer, a book which includes a lot of hot links, I was forced to read the book on the computer rather than the Nook, because my Simple Touch Nook has no Internet connection. But on the computer, it’s impossible to enlarge the font, which is by default quite small; I found it uncomfortable to read on the computer and never finished the book.

Several books I read had graphics which I was unable to enlarge on the Nook; it is not capable of enlarging graphics. This rendered some of the charts and tables unreadable. Was I supposed to use a magnifying glass?

Last week, the Nook “crashed.” I could neither turn it off nor unlock it. I took it to Barnes and Noble, where a nice young man named Jason reset it to factory specifications and reloaded my books. It appeared to work. But this was only temporary. Soon after I got home, the same problem happened again. Jason had explained that since I had declined to buy the extended warranty when I bought the Nook, my only remaining option was to purchase a replacement (he thought the company would discount it due to the circumstances). But I have decided not to replace it. First of all, I don’t think it was a quality product. Consider all the things I already didn’t like about it. And now it has died after only a year and a half of light use. If I replaced it, I wouldn’t dare turn down the extended warranty again, which would drive up the price (The Simple Touch still sells for $79; fancier models go for $119 – $269.). Sorry, but that’s too expensive. It’s true that it’s cheaper to buy eBooks than real books ($12-13 for most, $2.99 for TED books), but before I had the Nook, I rarely bought books anyway; I borrowed them from my local library.

Then there’s the thought that if B&N ever goes out of business in the future (a possibility: look what happened to Borders), all the books I have already purchased, plus those I would have purchased in the future, might be lost to me. Sure, I can access them on my computer (I just finished The Irrational Bundle on the computer), but the truth is, I don’t like reading on a computer screen. When I read for pleasure, I want to sit in an armchair or on a couch; I want to be able to read in bed. I hate reading sitting at a desk or table.

So thanks, B&N, bt no thanks. The Nook was not such a good deal after all. You can have it!

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Why Does This Have to Be So Difficult?

Posted by nliakos on September 2, 2012

I decided I should not be intimidated by the technology involved in borrowing eBooks and digital audio books from my library (Montgomery County Public Libraries in Maryland).  I’ve done each thing once. Let’s try again! I looked up The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and found an eBook that was available immediately (so they said), so I tried to borrow it, and ended up on some waiting list (?). Next I searched for The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith–the prequel to the one I just read and blogged about, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.  I discovered that I had to download yet another application in order to do this: OneClickdigital Media Manager. I did not note the time I started this process, so I can’t tell you how long it took, but I can tell you it took a very very long time!!!!!  Maybe one hour? Maybe two hours? And of course, it’s a holiday weekend, so there was no one available in Support (8:30 – 5 pm Monday through Friday–not any time I would be likely to be in the same place as my laptop on a normal day). I watched tutorials, I clicked on this and that, I tried different things.  In fact, I think the main problem I had was that everything just took a really long time and there was no indication (no pop-up message or anything like that) when things were finished, so I kept trying to borrow the book only to discover (on a different tab) that I had already succeeded in borrowing it. Then I kept trying to transfer it to my iPod and I kept getting the message that I should check the connection and the space available on my device. After I gave up in disgust, I discovered that the book had, in fact, already been transferred to the iPod (under Music, naturally, not Books–I remember that happening with Banker to the Poor as well. Why have a Books category if books don’t end up in it?)

It’s almost dinner time, and I have spent a goodly part of my afternoon on this stuff. GRRRRRRR. But at least I’m ready to listen to my book now. 🙂

And I still feel pretty intimidated by this whole process.

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Reading on the Bus

Posted by nliakos on April 20, 2012

by me

I work about 25 miles from where I live, and for almost 30 years, I commuted by car. Now, there is a free university shuttle bus which takes me from a point about 15 minutes from home and lets me off less than 5 minutes’ walk from my office. This means that I have more time to read now than I have had for many years, and I often immerse myself in a library book, a Nook book, or a newspaper as the bus driver navigates the traffic I no longer have to contend with. It’s great!

The other day, as I was enjoying Eat, Pray, Love on the bus, my seatmate was reading a textbook (something on the courts and the media). This was not surprising, as most of my fellow passengers are students. But what tickled me was that two other people (also students, from the look of them) on the bus were also engaged in pleasure reading: one was poring over Trainspotting,  while the other was deep into The Hunger Games.  For some reason this pleased me. When I was in college, I don’t remember reading anything I didn’t have to (as a literature major, I had to read a lot, so maybe that explains it), and the sight of these (to me) kids reading for fun despite the approach of final exams was heartening. All is not lost.

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I’m Back!

Posted by nliakos on May 18, 2011

I haven’t posted in a while…. It wasn’t that I wasn’t reading, exactly. I read a lot of French books this year because I made a trip to France in December and I wanted to dust off my rusty French. I read lots of Simenon novels, and also some essays. While I was in France, I bought the latest book by my friend Vincent Courtillot, Nouveau Voyage au Centre de la Terre, and I read that. Somehow, I never found the time to post about what I was reading. But my summer vacation is beginning now, and I went to the public library yesterday and came home with four books from my non-fiction reading list. I’ve already begun the first one: Daniel Tammet’s Embracing the Wide Sky.  I hope to be posting about that soon.

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