Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mount TBR Wrap-up Post

I read these books for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

Wrap-up Post

Click the date to go to the review.

1. The Case of the Sun Bather’s Diary – Erle Stanley Gardner

2. The Stammering Century – Gilbert Seldes

3. Too Many Cooks – Rex Stout

4. The Case of the Green-eyed Sister – Erle Stanley Gardner

5 Murder at the Pageant – Douglas Browne

6 The Case of the Grinning Gorilla  - Erle Stanley Gardner

7 The Zebra Striped Hearse – Ross Macdonald

8 Maigret’s Revolver – Georges Simenon

9 The Perfect Spy – John LeCarre

10 Night Ferry to Death – Patricia Moyes

11 The Case of the Angry Mourner – Erle Stanley Gardner

12 The Missing Man – Hillary Waugh

13 The Case of the Negligent NymphErle Stanley Gardner

14 The Far Side of the Dollar – Ross Macdonald

15 Death on the Agenda – Patricia Moyes

16 The DA Calls It Murder – Erle Stanley Gardner

17 Florentine Finish – Cornelius Hirschberg

19 The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom – Erle Stanley Gardner

20 The Squabble – Nikolai Gogol

20 The Case of the Stuttering Bishop – Erle Stanley Gardner

21 Hide and Seek – Wilkie Collins

22 Martin Chuzzlewit – Charles Dickens

23 The Grandmother – Georges Simenon

24 Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round – Emma Lathen

25 The Case of the Nervous AccompliceErle Stanley Gardner

26 The Dreadful Hollow – Nicholas Blake

27 The Russia House – John LeCarre

28 The Brass Rainbow – Michael Collins

29 The Case of the Moth-eaten MinkErle Stanley Gardner

30 The Funeral Party – Lyudmila Ulitskaya

31 The Glass Cage – Georges Simenon

32 After Many a Summer – Aldous Huxley

33 The Secret Pilgrim – John LeCarre

34 The Case of Fan-dancer's Horse - Erle Stanley Gardner

35 Come to Dust – Emma Lathen

36 The Book of Happiness – Nina Berberova

37 Murder in High Place – R.B. Dominic

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nonfiction RC Wrap-Up Post

I read these books for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014.

Wrap-up post.

Click the date to go to the review.

1 Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence – Garry Wills

2 Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War – Tony Horwitz

3 Travels with Herodotus - Ryszard Kapuscinski

4 And the War Came: The North and Secession Crisis 1860-61 – Kenneth Stampp

5 The Blue Eyed Salaryman: From World Traveller to Lifer at Mitsubishi – Niall Murtagh

6 Annie Oakley and the World of Her Time – Clifford Lindsey Aldermann

7 The Look of Architecture - Witold Rybczynski

8 Darwin & The Science of Evolution - Patrick Tott

9 The Globe Encompassed – Glenn J. Ames

10 In the Wake of Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made – Norman F. Cantor

11 Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s – Frederick Lewis  Allen

12 The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War – Drew Gilpin Faust

13 In the Land of the Blue Poppies: The Collected Plant-hunting Writings - Frank Kingdon-Ward

14 Dream Lucky : When FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat... – Roseanne Ogill

15 The Naturalist in the Amazons – H.W. Bates

16 Since Yesterday: The 1930s in America – Frederick Lewis Allen

17 A Handbook of Pickwick Papers – Logan Clendening

18 Marlon Brando – Patrician Bosworth

19 Unbeaten Tracks in Japan – Isabella Bird

20 Adventures in Japan – Evelyn Kaye

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mount TBR #37

I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

Murder in High Place - R. B. Dominic, 1970

When combative Karen Jenks is recalled from a small South American country where she was conducting research for her master’s thesis, she demands that her congressman help clear her name,. Her rep in D.C. is series hero Benton “Ben” Safford (D., OH). He starred in seven mysteries between 1968 and 1983. This is the second in the series.

Ben’s default setting is to do his best by his southern Ohio constituents. So, only reluctantly does he get involved in a matter that touches on foreign affairs. Just before a meeting at which he was going to discuss Jenks’ case, a foreign aid bureaucrat is bashed on the head and tossed out a window. Ben and his staff are also put in the poor position by Karen Jenks, who is beautiful, bright, and noisily suspicious of everything and everyone. Her obnoxious character is strong and attractive in a novel of vividly drawn insufferable characters. Also, many sensitivities and interests complicate matters for Ben’s office, the country's embassy, the State Department, and the Washington police.

The reader gets the feeling of being privy to a closed world of insiders. However, given the novel was published in 1970, it feels in other ways like an artifact of a bygone age. Political disagreement is not a barrier to personal respect and friendship, an idea that seems quaint in our era of the institutionalized partisan divide. The conservatism-lite feels old-fashioned too. As we’d expect, people left of center are condescendingly dismissed as strident na├»ve utopianists. But John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt-like asides indicate the powerful elite in the public and private sectors are unscrupulous, undemocratic, and power-hungry so they need close minding and strict regulating.

The light tone is urbane and droll, the dialog suave and amusing. This is only what we would anticipate from R. B. Dominic, which was the pen name of two American businesswomen, economist Mary Jane Latsis (1927 –1997) and lawyer Martha Henissart (1929 - ). They also wrote under the name of Emma Lathen, with the series hero John Putnam Thatcher, a Wall Street investment banker before that job title became synonymous with “villain.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mount TBR #36

I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

The Book of Happiness – Nina Berberova

Yeah, I know. A book about happiness by a Russian. Sure, pull the other one. Really, the book is not about irony. It’s not about life cuffing around worldlings, to leave them with no clue at the end while we knowing readers pat ourselves on the back for having a better bead on things.

Berberova was a writer in the exile of the White Russians in Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. Her tales, as we would expect, are usually dark, dealing with loss, separation, and pervasive failure to achieve happiness outside Mother Russia. Her main idea, I think, is that life has an ebb and flow make feelings, however deep and intense they may be, fleeting.

The main character is Vera, who in Russia had everything required for happiness. She’s young enough to tell herself to be happy through all the trials of the revolution and ends up in Paris in the early Twenties. She dutifully nurses her husband until his death of TB. But the death by suicide of a dear childhood friend provokes grief and nostalgia and disappointment. ''But we have to keep on, we have to keep on,'' Vera tells herself when she wakes up, stressed to marrow of her bones, in the middle of the night. ''We have to keep on with this criminal, this iron love of life, for we have nothing else.''

She goes to live with a female friend in Nice. She meeting a married man, a guy she knows isn’t worth it. Vera’s her own character, not listening to us readers as we shout, “Dump the chump.”

So, the plot is simple and believably moves people through time and space. The characterization is subtle, probably more accessible to women readers, but I won’t go out on that limb. The theme of transiency is presented unobtrusively. A quiet, complicated novel, the reason why certain readers like serious fiction.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Nonfiction RC #21

I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014.

The Pursuit of Personal Happiness - Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis (1913 - 2007), a psychologist, developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).  Central to this approach is Hamlet’s idea, “There is nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” That is, our beliefs and judgments about events bother us, not the events themselves. By disputing our irrational beliefs and judgments, we reduce the intensity of negative emotions and thus think more clearly and skeptically, increase the frequency of positive emotions, and feel more satisfied with life. 

The basic message is that we can pursue happiness rationally. When we are fearful, anxious, frustrated, or angry, we had better convince ourselves that it's not "logical" to be angry over this issue. When something goes wrong, we had better feel disappointment or regret, otherwise stoking our own anger or demanding the impossible will just keep us overgeneralizing, seeing things as worse than they are (the cruel world fallacy) and unable to tolerate ambiguity or frustration.

I don’t read much in the self-help genre. For one, the same ideas are repeated time and again throughout the book, though as a teacher I realize the importance of repetition in the business of changing behavior. What I like about Ellis is his challenge to use logical evidence to strike down irrational beliefs. I like his faith that we can challenge our thinking through self-questioning and positive thoughts.

Of downsides, we live in an imperfect world indeed. Lots of self-help advice just seems like common sense. Defeating the natural human tendency to be irrational also seems as far-fetched as loving one’s neighbor as deeply as one’s self. Assuming the problem always lies within ourselves also lets a screwy world – especially the world of work – off the hook. I once attended a safety and security workshop in which the presenter mantraed that I had a personal responsibility to know what to do in case a shooter starting blasting away in my workplace. I thought, how weird that I, the master of my own fate, become the irresponsible one if I’m unlucky enough to be caught in the lobby, where there’s no door to lock and barricade, and get my negligent ass riddled with bullets.

As Johnny Cash sang, “I don't like it but I guess things happen that way.”