Book Review: The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian

Author: Patrick O’Brian
Title: The Ionian Mission
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks (2005) [Originally published, 1981]
ISBN: 0786179333


This book is a bit of a return to form after the domestic and on-shore dramas of the previous two books in the series.  Aubrey and Maturin head east to Turkey to fight (or not) the French and make alliances with local Turkish leaders.  Lucky Jack is reunited with HMS Suprise although he takes a big blow to his reputation, Stephen does some spying, and there are some rollicking adventures and sea battles.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Live from New York by Tom Shales

Author: Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
Title: Live from New York : an uncensored history of Saturday night live
Publication Info: Boston : Little, Brown, c2002.
ISBN: 0316781460


25 + plus seasons of the groundbreaking comedy-variety show are revisited through the words of the cast, hosts, writers, and production crew.  This oral history approach has its downside as the authors provide little context to go with the interview quotes.  I was also interested in learning more about the creative process of making the show and its most famous sketches and less interested in the tell-all tales of sex, drugs, and backstabbing.  At least, on the latter note there is just as much mutual admiration among the participants of the show.  Some of the greatest accolades go to performers whose voices are missing from the text due to their early deaths – John Belush, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman.  It would have been nice if the authors could have culled some passages from old interviews so that these great performers’ voices could be heard as well.  It was interesting how in their own words that some people came off unpleasantly (Chevy Chase, Nora Dunn, Harry Shearer) and some people were more interesting than I ever imagined (Jane Curtin, Tim Kazurinsky, Victoria Jackson).  Despite its bulk this book is a fun and interesting read, although I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t already a long time fan of the show finding it all too appealing.  I watched the show regularly from about 1982-1994 but found the whole story intriguing and makes me want to go back and watch the old shows.  Even those dreadful 10-minutes to 1 am sketches.

Recommended books: Street Gang : the Complete History of Sesame Street by  Michael Davis
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes
Title: The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table
Publication Info: Cosimo Classics (2005) [Originally published, 1858]
ISBN: 1596053070


I recently completed reading 107 daily installments of this classic work on DailyLit. This book lends itself well to this format as it is a series of essays and often less essay than snippets, vignettes, and quotes as if collected in a commonplace book.  Oliver Wendell Holmes waxes on poetry, manners, philosophy, aging and the art of conversation often with a touch of humor and satire.  It was a fun way to read a Yankee classic.

Favorite Passages:

When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as that of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and luster have been given by the attrition of ages. Bring me the finest simile from the whole range of imaginative writing, and I will show you a single word which conveys a more profound, a more accurate, and a more eloquent analogy.

Why, the truths a man carries about with him are his tools; and do you think a carpenter is bound to use the same plane but once to smooth a knotty board with, or to hang up his hammer after it has driven its first nail? I shall never repeat a conversation, but an idea often. I shall use the same types when I like, but not commonly the same stereotypes. A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of associations.

You know, that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way,–AND THE FOOLS KNOW IT.

Many people can ride on horseback who find it hard to get on and to get off without assistance. One has to dismount from an idea, and get into the saddle again, at every parenthesis.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: India

Author: Arundhati Roy
Title: The God of Small Things
Publication Info: Harper Perennial, 1998
ISBN: 0060977493


This challenging novel tells the story of a multi-generational family in southernmost India whose lives are changed in one day by a tragic incident. While the main story is set in 1969, Roy moves back and forth throughout the time focusing mainly on the young twins Estha and Rahel and the adults they become as a result of the novel.  Roy touches on post-colonialism, conflicts between Christianity and native beliefs, communism versus the status quo,  and the caste system.  While the story is heartbreaking and sometimes brutal, Roy has a way with words and composes some very beautiful sentences.

Recommended books: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Atonement by Ian McEwan
Rating: ****