Book Review: Get Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland


Author:  Judy Molland
Title: Get Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
Publication Info:  Minneapolis, MN : Free Spirit Pub., 2009.
ISBN: 9781575423357
Summary/Review:  This book is a short reference book with a list of 150 suggestions of what children and families can do to experience nature and participate in environmental conservation.  I was a bit disappointed that the book is literally a list with just a few paragraphs per item and that it is less about “what kids can do outdoors” than “things you can do to save the Earth.”   Not that that is a bad thing, it’s just there are many other books on that topic.  Still, this could be a good reference to keep on hand for parenting ideas regarding nature and the environment.
Rating: **

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Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson


Author:  Brandon Sanderson
Title:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Publication Info:  Scholastic Paperbacks (2008)
ISBN: 9780545024938
Summary/Review: Another audiobook I downloaded based on title alone from the public library and one that shows that Young Adult literature is far ahead of grown up fiction for imagination and creativity.  Alcatraz Smedry is a teenage orphan with a talent for breaking things who learns that he is from a heroic lineage and must rescue his inheritance – a band of sand – from the hands of the evil librarians who secretly control the world.  The deadpan delivery of Alcatraz’s satirical narrative is greatly enhanced by reader Charlie McWade.  I found it a hilarious send-up of fantasy/sci-fi conventions yet at the same time sneakily getting a few messages in as well.  If you don’t like at first, at least stick around for the dinosaurs.

(Looking at Library Thing, I’m amused that many of the reviews are by librarians.  Most of us like it.  Don’t tell the evil librarian in charge.)

Recommended Books: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating:  ****

Book Review: Dangerously Funny by David Bianculli


Author:  David Bianculli
Title: Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”
Publication Info:  Tantor Media (2010)
ISBN:  9781400115709
Summary/Review:  When I was young I discovered records by The Smothers Brothers in my family records collections and became a fan of their witty interpretations of folk music classics.  I even went to see them perform live one time and was sorely disappointed by what felt like a phoned-in performance.  The show was days after The Gulf War began in 1991 and since I knew the Smothers Brothers’ tv show was notoriously anti-war during the Vietnam era and expected some commentary on the contemporary situation but there was none to be had.

Well, I can’t explain that bad show but after reading Bianculli’s book I’ve learned much about their great show that aired for three seasons on CBS in the the late 1960s.  The first thing I learned is that the Smothers Brothers are unlike their onstage personas.  Tommy Smothers, the dumb brat in the act is actually the brains behind it all.  Bianculli depicts Tom as a keen talent scout giving young musicians tv exposure before they had mainstream appeal and hiring great comedians and writers (many of the musicians, comedians, and writers would go on to greater fame).  It was also Tommy who would lead the fight against network censors to who tried to squelch political and anti-war speech in the show.  While the network censorship battles are detailed with all the gory details and seem unfair (and often absurd due to how tame the Smother Brothers show seems in retrospect), Bianculli also show that Tom Smother over-earnest desire to fight fanned the flames of the show’s demise.

Each episode is described in detail with Bianculli emphasizing the innovation, stand-out performances, and counter-cultural undertones of the shows.  The backstage story is also rollicking with humorous anecdotes of multiple generations of entertainers working on the show.  The show didn’t last long but its legacy remains. Bianculli credits the Smothers Brothers with laying the groundwork for innovative shows of the 1970s from Saturday Night Live to M*A*S*H to the comedies of Norman Lear.  I need to find the DVDs and catch up.

Recommended Books: Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by Tom Shales &James A. Miller, Life of Python by George Perry, and Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth by Jeff Greenwald.
Rating:  ****

Book Review: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion by Johan Harstad


Author:  Johan Harstad
Title: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion
Publication Info:  New York : Seven Stories Press, c2011.
ISBN:  9781609801359
Summary/Review: This book from Norway, recently translated into English by Deborah Dawkin, is the latest book I’ve received free from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and a book for my Around the World for a Good Book project.  The narrator/protagonist is a young man named Mattias who seems to be content with not standing out or being noticed for anything.  Hence his fascination with Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.

After a long-time girlfriend leaves him, Mattias goes to the Faroes Islands with his friend’s band and suffers a mental breakdown.  He’s picked up by a psychiatrist who runs a sort of halfway house for people with mental and emotional problems trying to ease back into society.   Mattias moves in and over the next couple of years details his new life on the Faroes.  Plot is secondary as the narrative is mainly an internal dialogue of a man coming to terms with his loneliness and depression.

Mattias is not always a sympathetic character but I relate to him a lot.  I like what Harstad is trying to do exploring the interior anguish of Mattias, but I have to admit that the book is overlong.  Still I recommend reading it, I find it reminiscent of the work of Haruki Murakami.

Favorite Passages:

“Friday.
One should beware of Fridays.
They promise so much.
Like movie trailers.
Only rarely do they live up to expectations.
Most Fridays are lousy sequels.
Back to the Future Part III.” – p. 43

“The brain is a strange contraption.  A library with a messy librarian.  And in the floors below, in the cellar, there are vaults, filled to the ceiling with books and journals, dissertations and papers that are scarcely ever asked for.”  – p. 181

Recommended Books: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, and The Museum Guard by Howard Norman.
Rating:

Book Review: Selected Shorts: Lots of Laughs! by Symphony Space


Author: Symphony Space
Title: Selected Shorts: Lots of Laughs!
Publication Info:  Symphony Space (2005), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN:  0971921822
Summary/Review:  This collection is something I downloaded randomly from Overdrive and it was suitably entertaining.  There are seven stories and they are all read – or performed – in front of a live audience reminiscent of the storytelling on the Moth Podcast.  Stories include:

 1. Subsoil by Nicholson Baker Read by Thomas Gibson

2. Farrell’s Caddie by John Updike Read by Charles Keating

3. Jamaica by David Schickler Read by Isaiah Sheffer

4. Chivalry by Neil Gaiman Read by Christina Pickles

5. Nachman from Los Angeles by Jhumpa Lahiri Read by David Rakoff

6. On the U.S.S. Fortitude by Ron Carlson Read by Laura Esterman

7. Fatso by Etgar Keret Read by John Guare

My favorites include “Jamaica” where a man gets his head stuck in the banister and has to sit in on his wife’s book club and “On the U.S.S. Fortitude” about a doting mother raising children on an aircraft carrier (Esterman’s reading of the story probably improves the story concept a hundredfold).

Recommended Books: Best of Modern Humor by Mordecai Richler and The John Cheever Audio Collection by John Cheever.
Rating:

Book Review: Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price


Author:  Reynolds Price
Title: Kate Vaiden
Publication Info:  Scribner (1986)
ISBN:  0689117876
Summary/Review:  This story set in rural North Carolina and later in Norfolk, Virginia is told from the perspective as a memoir titular character.  Kate’s parents die in a murder-suicide leaving Kate to be raised by relatives and to get involve in self-destructive sexual relationships at a young age.  The tone of the book is one of distance and indifference, perhaps appropriate to a narrator who has shut her self off from the world, but at the same time it is difficult to read a story that the narrator seems uninterested in telling.  What could be a good story of an interior struggle comes off as dull and unconvincing.

Recommended Books: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields and A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Rating:  *1/2