January 3rd, 2006
Ken Kesey - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestThere's something strange about a place where the men won't let themselves loose and laugh...

December 28th, 2005
Books to the Ceiling.  Arnold Lobel.

Books to the ceiling, books to the sky.
My piles of books are a mile high.
How I love them!
How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.

by Arnold Lobel

December 24th, 2005
Malcolm Gladwell - Blink

We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We're a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for.

...people are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. We need to accept our ignorance and say 'I don't know' more often.

Book of the Month - January, 2006

December 20th, 2005

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest By Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyIn this classic novel of the 1960's, Ken Kesey's hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Big Nurse, backed by the full power of authority...McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Big Nurse uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story's shocking climax.

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December 10th, 2005
Stephen King - Wizard and Glass...he had discovered, as many others had before him, that only the first cussword is really hard; after that, there's nothing quite like them for relieving one's feelings.

Book of the Month - December, 2005

November 21st, 2005

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink by Malcolm GladwellIn his landmark bestseller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell redefined how we understand the world around us. Now, in Blink, he revolutionizes the way we understand the world within. Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant -- in the blink of an eye -- that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while other are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts to win, while other end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work -- in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of "blink": the election of Warren Harding; New Coke; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of "thin-slicing" -- filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology and displaying all of the brilliance that made The Tipping Point a classic, Blink changes the way you understand every decision you make. Never again will you think about thinking the same way.

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The Moviegoer - Walker Percy

November 11th, 2005

The Moviegoer by Walker PercyWhen The Moviegoer was first published in 1961, it won the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the supplest and most deftly modulated new voices in Southern literature. In his portrait of a boyish New Orleans stockbroker wavering between ennui and the longing for redemption, Percy managed to combine Bourbon Street elegance with the spiritual urgency of a Russian novel.

On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. He occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a quest -- a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin, Kate, and send him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

It is always nice when you happen upon a good book for reasons different from usual. I was playing around on the internet, as I have been known to do, and followed a trail of "if you like this, try this....if you like that one, try this one" and that lead me to Mr. Walker Percy. The man has written a plethora of books, why did I choose this one? Why did I choose a book called The Moviegoer? I am not even going to dignify that with a response.

I liked it, but not as much as I feel I could have. I need to apologize to Mr. Percy for not giving his book the attention I feel it deserved. Weighing in at fewer than 250 pages, the book is not a long one. I think this book is best served up to someone who has the time to read this in no more than just a few days. I have been quite busy of late and have not had the time to allocate to reading. My schedule did not do the book justice. Some readers will be able to finish it in just a few short hours, I am slower; a few days is more realistic.

I found myself picking up the book and having no idea what had just happened before the last time I put it down. That is to no fault of the author. In reality the book flowed very well. I have had too much on my mind. Save this one until you have the appropriate time to read, but it was very good and I think you should read it.

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The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

October 31st, 2005

The Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath is a landmark of American literature. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man's fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman's stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women in the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an American divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plain-spoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

First published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath summed up its era in the way that Uncle Tom's Cabin summed up the years of slavery before the Civil War. Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book -- which takes its title from the first verse: "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck's fictional chronicle of the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

Steinbeck chronicles the trials and tribulations of one particular family that is affected by the unimaginable economic loss of The Great Depression. Tom Joad gets out of jail only to find that his family has lost its farm and nearly forced west in search of work.

The book is written beautifully, and I am amazed at the level of detail the author brings to the era. The only information I really have on this time period is old anecdotes my grandmother used to share. Her stories were nothing compared to what the Joad family, like so many others, had to endure. I had never downplayed the tragedy of The Great Depression, however I feel now that I have a strong(er) appreciation for the survival instincts exhibited by so many people. The will to live is an incredible force.

Unfortunately, however, it was not long into the book that my opinion of it soured. It seemed as my understanding of the conditions and quality (or lack there of) of life grew, my pleasure found in the book dropped. The story follows from the perspective of one family, as I had mentioned before. From this point of view we see so many different stages of the Depression; living in tents along the highway between days of driving, eating nothing but fried dough, the treatment received by others, the Hoovervilles and the government camps. I was basically halfway through the book when I realized that the point could have been made in a lengthy magazine article. I could have learned as much about what people had to live through (or in some instances die from) and not found myself wrestling with the second half of 450 pages to finish the book.

At 100 pages remaining I realized that there would be no resolution to the book. The Joad family could not immediately come into economic prosperity, nor could the author kill them all off. In either case, no one would read the book and it certainly would not have reached the level of "classic" literature.

The book had to just end. Which it did. I will ignore my own complaints with the actual ending, as I will freely admit that I could not write one better.

From a factual standpoint, to obtain a certain level of knowledge of the era and do so with John Steinbeck's panache, The Grapes of Wrath was a good book. From an entertainment standpoint, to read a book that masterfully grips your attention unwilling to release until you've read each and every word, The Grapes of Wrath cannot even be considered in my opinion.

I feel somewhat bad suggesting that you do not read a novel that is considered "classic" American Literature, but I stand by my feeling. It turns out I had the right idea in opting against reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school when so many other people read it.

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Book of the Month - November, 2005

October 24th, 2005

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The Moviegoer by Walker PercyWhen The Moviegoer was first published in 1961, it won the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the supplest and most deftly modulated new voices in Southern literature. In his portrait of a boyish New Orleans stockbroker wavering between ennui and the longing for redemption, Percy managed to combine Bourbon Street elegance with the spiritual urgency of a Russian novel.

On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. He occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a quest -- a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin, Kate, and send him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

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A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

October 7th, 2005

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. MartinIn a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win the deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I am typically a Mystery/Suspense novel snob. Rarely have I varied my path from those books, but more and more recently I have been making the switch. At a time when mystery novels have nearly ceased to excite me, I have needed to look elsewhere. I would have never expected to find comfort in the arms of Sci-fi/Fantasy, yet here I am before you.

I have read The Lord of the Rings, but my experience beyond has been disappointing. A few years ago, at the urging of a friend I picked up a copy of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, Book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. My first non-Tolkien Sci-fi/Fantasy experience was a bust. It probably took me a week if not more to read the first 13 pages. Try though I might, I could not find myself lost in Jordan's world. At 832 pages, it was not a book I wanted to take my time and give a truly fair chance.

Needless to say that I was hesitant when the recommendation came to try the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Same friend as before to make the recommendation, but this time he let the book speak for itself. A Game of Thrones spoke loudly to me. I actually read the first however many pages right from Amazon.com and before I knew it I had bought a copy.

Martin's writing style, in respect to different chapters, was very interesting. He titled a chapter as the name of a key character and then the subsequent pages would be some unfolding of the story from that character's perspective. This kept the story fresh at all times; ever-changing.

I will warn you that if you are a reader who likes to see each character to whom you become attached remain unharmed, this may not be the series for you. Martin dares to allow the big name(s) to die. Not all authors will take this step, I like it. It makes you realize that at any time, any one of the characters in the story could be killed. Not that this book needed help creating excitement, but this element certainly added to it.

In true Sci-fi/Fantasy style, A Game of Thrones was a long book (Book 2, A Clash of Kings is even longer). When I would normally expect relief at the end of such a long book (807 pages), here I found actual goosebumps and the burning desire to continue the series.

I applaud the author for his writing; his mix of sci-fi/fantasy with mystery and romance and everything in between, I thank Thomas for his recommendation which I pass on to you, and I order my copy of Book 2.

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