Book Review: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Author: Kenneth Grahame
TitleThe Wind in the Willows
Publication Info: London: Methuen Publishing, 1908

I read portions of this book as a child (because I loved Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World) and read the whole thing a decade or so ago, and now I read it again aloud to my son.  I was awestruck by the beautiful language, the way that Grahame strung together words to make sentences that flow like the river.  And those words, big and amazing words.  There are things I forgot, like Rat and Mole encountering the Greek god Pan (a strange crossover) and there were things that made me feel warm and cozy like Rat and Mole rowing down the river or returning to Mole’s house and receiving carolers.  And much like the last time I read it, I feel the earlier parts of the book where Rat and Mole have pleasant adventures are much better than the latter parts of the book where Toad takes over the story. I especially do not like the violent conclusion where they arm themselves to reclaim Toad Hall from the stoats and weasels.  But all’s well that ends well.
Favorite Passages:

Try and grasp the fact that on this occasion we’re not arguing with you; we’re just telling you.

Recommended books: The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Rating: ****

Book Review: Through the Children’s Gate by Adam Gopnik

Author: Adam Gopnik
TitleThrough the Children’s Gate
Narrator: Adam Gopnik
Publication Info: Audible Studios (2014)

This collection of essays documents Gopnik’s life upon returning to New York City with his wife and young children after living in Paris.  The September 11th attacks occur shortly after they move in and they color a lot of the stories in this book.  There are humorous bits about Gopnik’s therapist, who he believes to be the last Freudian, and his daughter’s imaginary friend who is so very New York that he’s always too busy to play with her.  The most touching story is about Gopnik’s friend who is an art historian and football coach and how he spends his final months before dying of cancer presenting lecture’s at Washington’s National Gallery and coaching Gopnik’s son’s flag football team. Gopnik has a talent of spinning out a lot of ideas from a small observation, but he also has a proclivity towards white, upper middle class navel gazing.  It’s a fine edge and he doesn’t always land on the right side.

Recommended Books: Manhood for amateurs  by Michael Chabon

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy

Author: William Rathje and Cullen Murphy
TitleRubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage
Publication Info: University of Arizona Press, 2001

This book documents the fascinating efforts of the Garbage Project in Tuscon, AZ to use archaeological practices to study garbage – officially known as municipal solid waste – collected from outside peoples’ homes as well as excavating landfills.  These studies show patterns of consumption and disposal that are different from what people volunteer in surveys.  Rathje and Murphy also describes many fascinating I-never-thought-of-that aspects of garbage and it’s disposal in landfill and incinerators, including a historical survey.  He also debunks many popular beliefs about trash.  For instance, things people think are common in landfills (styrofoam and diapers) are not, while we don’t usually think of the things that do take up a lot of landfill space (construction debris and paper).  And while the concept of biodegradable waste is popular, excavations show that very little actually biodegrades in landfills, although this may be a good thing as it prevents the creating of waste slurry that contaminate water and surrounding areas. Even recycling is more complicated than believe, as many things collected to recycle (with the exception of aluminum) far exceed the demand of manufactures to recycle them.  This book is surprising in both what it reveals about humanity through our waste as well as the sense of optimism it gives in that the waste problems while huge are not as bad as we may think they are.  Much of what is described in the book happened 20 or more years ago.  I’d love to see an update on the Garbage Project and how the challenges of municipal solid waste are being addressed today.

Recommended books:  In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz
Rating: ****