Archive for June, 2011

Book Review: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Author: Jasper Fforde
Title: One of Our Thursdays is Missing
Publication Info: New York : Viking, 2011.
ISBN: 9780670022526

Previously Read by Same Author:

  • The Eyre Affair
  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
  • The Big Over Easy
  • First Among Sequels
  • The Fourth Bear

Summary/Review: This is the sixth book in the Thursday Next series, one of the most imaginative and entertaining book series I’ve read.  This book took me some time to warm up to though.  It’s set in the BookWorld with the written version of Thursday Next as the protagonist and narrator with the conceit that they are something like actors performing the book each time someone reads.  One of my favorite aspects of the Thursday Next series is Fforde’s alternate universe Swindon, England so the narrative set almost entirely in the BookWorld is a bit of a disappointment (my least favorite book in the series The Well of Lost Plots is also set entirely in the BookWorld).  Yet Fforde is masterful in developing the fictional version of the fictional Thursday as a similar yet different character.  I was totally won over by written Thursday’s automaton sidekick Sprocket.  In the end, this book is a masterful job by Fforde to keep the series alive with the requisite creativity and fun.

Favorite Passages:

“Not many people traveled to the RealWorld, and those who did generally noted two things: one, that it was hysterically funny and hideously tragic in almost equal measure, and two, that there were far more domestic cats than baobabs, when it should probably be the other way round.”

“All three were experts, and all three had conflicting views.  I was reminded of Clarke’s Second Law of Egodynamics: ‘For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.’” – p. 159

“Literature is claimed to be a mirror of the world but the Outlanders are fooling themselves.  The BookWorld is as orderly as people in the RealWorld hope their own world to be — it isn’t a mirror, it’s an aspiration.” – p. 359

Rating: ****

Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition

The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

Previous posts:

Book Review: Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Syzmanksi

Author: Simon Kuper and Stefan Syzmanksi
Title: Soccernomics : why England loses, why Germany and Brazil win, and why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and even India are destined to become the kings of the world’s most popular sport
Publication Info: New York : Nation Books, c2009.
ISBN: 9781568584256

Also by the same author: Football Against the Enemy

Summary/Review: A soccer writer and an economist bring a sabermetrics/Freakonomics approach to global soccer.  Issues covered include:

  • That England based on their experience, population, and other demographics they are actually not underachievers but win more often than they should.  The authors also give some tips on how England can improve (like not playing in the physically taxing Premier League).
  • Why soccer clubs are bad businesses and should not be run as a business.
  • Secrets of the transfer market, such as the wisdom of crowds, buy players in their early 20s, sell whenever another club offers more than he’s worth, and help players to relocate and adjust to their new culture.  Olympique Lyonnais is the Moneyball club of Europe winning French titles using unconventional techniques.
  • Fans are analyzed with the devoted Nick Hornby-type fan proving a rarity (not so surprising) and the world’s most soccer-mad fans are in an unexpected nation.
  • Rankings of the most overperforming and underperforming soccer nations in the world and a glimpse at the future world soccer order.

It’s a fun book with a lot of analysis that seems to be based on  hard data – although I sometimes wonder if it’s relevant data – but I can’t quibble too much with the results.

Recommended books: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman

Author: Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
Title: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
Publication Info: HighBridge Company (2011)
ISBN: 1611744881
Summary/Review: This Library Thing Early Reviewers audiobook ask what the following things have in common: listening to someone else’s cell phone conversation, Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup Final, Huntington’s chorea, Joba Chamberlain & midges, chili peppers and skunks.  They all involve annoyances, and what annoys is apparently something scientists are only beginning to study.  There’s a basic 3-step process to annoyance: 1. something is unpleasant or distracting, 2. it’s hard to predict when it will end, and 3. it’s impossible to ignore. The stories illustrating annoying things and the scientific studies are entertaining.  The authors make pleasant if not professional readers and I like that they alternate voices.  The book reads like a long episode of Radiolab and is a good bit of popular science.

Recommended books: Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness, by Alva Noë.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Once in a lifetime by Gavin Newsham

Author: Gavin Newsham
Title: Once in a lifetime : the incredible story of the New York Cosmos
Publication Info: New York : [Berkeley] : Grove Press ; Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2006.
ISBN: 9780802142887
Summary/Review: Having watched the documentary film Once in a Lifetime and read Soccer in a Football World, I continue to be obsessed with the unlikely story of the Cosmos.  An American team playing in a podunk stadium suddenly signs Pele to the biggest contract in sports’ history and goes on to become a BIG THING attraction 70,000 fans to their games.  And then the team and the league collapse.  It all seems so unlikely.  The Cosmos of course were my introduction to soccer as a young sports fan when I was too little to realize that American’s don’t like soccer.  I probably wouldn’t have liked them so much if I knew about all the back-biting and nastiness behind the scenes that Newsham goes into in this book.  It’s not all tell-all though, it’s actually fairly respectful, and even figures like the guy who dressed up as Bugs Bunny get a write-up.  Newsham also depicts the corporate power of Steve Ross and how he got Warner Communications to bankroll the team.  Ross’ investment in the video game Atari offers an interesting parallel as that company goes bust around the same time as NASL.  It’s an unbelievable story and a great story that touches my nostalgia centers, but on the other hand it’s best that this is all in the past.

Recommended books: Soccer in a football world : the story of America’s forgotten game by David Wangerin, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler,  The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman and Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by James A. Miller
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Author:  Rebecca Skloot
Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2010)
ISBN:  9780307712509
Summary/Review: In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks died in Baltimore due to cervical cancer.  The remarkably tenacious continued to survive and divide and become the subject of numerous medical studies known as HeLa cells.  This book is partly a science book recounting the medical advances HeLa cells have made possible. But the heart of this book is a biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, particularly her daughter Deborah.  While medical supplies companies have made millions selling HeLa cells, Lacks’ own family have suffered many indignities and poverty, lacking even basic health care.  Skloot goes beyond typical journalistic barriers to become Deborah’s ally, helping her find out the history of her mother’s immortal cells. Skloot also examines the medical ethics surrounding the use of individual’s tissues and cells.  There are not clear answers but the book is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of medicine and American family.
Recommended books: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy and Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

Author: Tess Gerritsen
Title: The Bone Garden
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, c2007.
ISBN: 9780345497604
Summary/Review: It’s 1830 in Boston, a young medical student of modest means is force to become a resurrection man to make ends meet.  A young Irish woman is fiercely determined to care for her baby niece after her sister dies in labor. And a Jack the Ripper-type killer is gruesomely murdering people in the West End.  This historical mystery/thriller is enjoyable despite its many flaws: characters who are just “too good,” coincidences, questionable historical accuracy and a modern-day counter-story that serves nothing more than exposition.  I liked the medical school scenes and the body snatching for medical cadavers parts as well as the general historical feel of Boston in 1830.

Recommended books: The Alienist by Caleb Carr and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Whites of Their Eyes by Jill Lepore

Author: Jill Lepore
Title: The Whites of Their Eyes: the Tea Party’s revolution and the battle over American history
Publication Info: Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2010.
ISBN: 9780691150277
Summary/Review: Harvard historian Jill Lepore investigates the rhetoric of the Tea Party particularly the claim by many right-wing politicians to speak to the original intent of the Revolutionary generation and the framers of the Constitution.  Lepore meets with Tea Party activists in the Boston area and respectfully reports their views while not leaving them unchallenged.  Lepore also writes about the historical figures of the Revolution and how their memory is claimed and interpreted throughout American political history (particularly by left-wing activists during the Bicentennial celebration).  The book skips around a bit  – especially distracting in the later pages – but it is a good, brief journalistic take on the politics of cultural memory.
Favorite Passages:

The founders were not prophets.  Nor did they hope to be worshiped.  They believed that to defer without examination to what your forefathers believed is to become a slave to the tyranny of the past. – p. 113

Citizens and their elected officials have all sorts of reasons to support or oppose all sorts of legislation and government action, including constitutionality, precedence and the weight of history.  But it’s possible to cherish the stability of the law and the durability of the Constitution, as amended over two and a half centuries of change and one civil war, and tested in the courts, without dragging the Founding Fathers from their graves.  To point this out neither dishonors the past nor relieves anyone of the obligation to study it.  The the contrary.

“What would the founders do?” is, from the point of view  of historical analysis, an ill-considered and unanswerable question, and pointless, too.  Jurists and legislators need to investigate what the framers meant, and some Christians make moral decisions by wondering what Jesus would do, but no NASA scientist decides what to do about the Hubble by asking what Isaac Newton would make of it.  People who ask what the founders would do quite commonly declare that they know, they know, they just know what the founders would do and, mostly it comes to this: if only the could see us now, they would be rolling over in their graves.  …

That’s not  history.  It’s not civil religion, the faith in democracy that binds Americans together.  It’s not original ism or even constitutionalism.  That’s fundamentalism.  – p. 124-25

This, I guess, was the belly of the beast, the alarming left-wing lunacy, the godless irreverence, the socialist political indocrination taught in the public schools of the People’s Republic of Cambridge: an assignment that requires research, that raises questions about perspective, that demands distinctions between fact and opinion, that bears an audience in mind — an assignment that teaches the art of historical writing. – p. 161

Recommended books: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman, The Purpose of the Past by Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove, and The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
ISBN: 0545091020
Summary/Review: I heard a lot of hype about this book and when I saw it available for download as an audiobook from my library, I decided to give it a listen with no knowledge of the plot.  The book is set in a future dystopia where the United States has been divided into 12 strictly controlled districts.  Each year the authoritarian government holds a lottery for 1 boy and 1 girl from each district who are brought to a wilderness arena to battle until all but one is dead.  The games are required tv viewing and serve as a cross between ancient gladiatorial combat and reality television. The premise is very familiar and reminiscent of works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among others.

With the plot very familiar, Collins works on character development.  The narrator and protagonist is Katniss, the tribute from the poorest of the districts who has to rely on her hunting and survival skills to compete against wealthier and better prepared opponents.  One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that since the competitors know they’re being watched on tv, they can manipulate the audience in hopes of having them contribute gifts that can be parachuted into the arena. An added twist to the story is that the boy from Katniss’ district, Peeta, may or may not be in love with her and they use the star-crossed lovers’ story to appeal to the audience.  Katniss is an interesting ambiguous character in that while knowing of the farce behind the tyrannical government she is also fully willing to participate in the competition.  On the downside of the novel, there is far too much internal monologue that reads as expository filler.

The book is good enough although I’m not sure it’s worthy of the hype and I’m not certain I’d want to read the rest of the series.   The completionist in me wants to know how the story ends but what I’ve read about the following book doesn’t sound like it would be all the interesting.

Recommended books: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson

Author: Jonathan Wilson
Title: Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics
Publication Info: Orion (2008)
ISBN:  0752889958
Summary/Review: This book traces this history of tactics, formations and styles over 100 years of soccer.  The title refers to the general trend toward defensive play moving players from the top of the formation to the bottom of the formation.  I’m still a novice viewer so I have trouble recognizing formations since they don’t seem to look the same with human beings as they do in diagrams.  The book required a great familiarity with tactics than I already have but was still very interesting and informative.  Wilson writes about the changes made by various coaches from around the world who made innovations that changed the game.  Often the typical coach would adhere to old tactics out of sense of conservatism and safety until someone took the risk.  Tactics usually only succeed until they’re universally adopted and then someone has to come up with something else.  Wilson raises the question of whether or not there are any innovations left in the game.

Recommended books: Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football by Richard Sanders, The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
Rating: ***

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 985 other followers

%d bloggers like this: