September 5, 2008

Two Lives: A Memoir, by Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth never writes the same book twice. I don't know what's next, but it would not surprise me too terribly much if it were a brilliant 200-page coloring book about a family of flamingos. (It would, of course, have a sonnet in the dedication. It's nice to have at least one constant.)

This one is a memoir of his great-uncle Shanti and great-aunt Henny, and it's an excellent memorial to two people he loved. It's generally interesting, often gripping. With that said, the last section in particular might have profited by a ruthless attack with a large set of pruning shears.

(Four stars out of five.)

Posted by Shmuel at 9:37 PM

April 29, 2003

Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender, by Riki Anne Wilchins

[I never got around to writing this entry. In a nutshell, I liked the book.]

Posted by Shmuel at 7:47 PM

April 24, 2003

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, by Kate Bornstein

As Anne of Green Gables might have put it, I think I've found a kindred spirit.

[I never got around to finishing this entry. In a nutshell, I liked the book a lot.]

Posted by Shmuel at 11:41 PM

March 15, 2003

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less, by Terry Ryan

Oh, this was good.

The subtitle concisely summarizes the entire book. It's the true story of how the author's mother, during the contest craze of the 1950s and 1960s, entered every contest in sight, winning often enough to keep the family afloat.

I liked this for several reasons. For one thing, I confess I give bonus points to any book chronicling a family whose size is in the ballpark of mine. (Ten is close enough to be in the ballpark, I figure.) This is one reason why I've long been a fan of Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes. (Of course, small families can be nice, too: that's one reason why I've liked watching The Brady Bunch over the years.)

Anyway. Aside from that, the story is engaging, and it's pretty well written. I particularly liked the fact that the author didn't fall into the trap of foreshadowing contest entries that were going to win. As the narrative progresses, some contests disappear into the mists after the entries are sent out, never to be heard of again, while others pay off. You have to read on to discover which is which, though.

Finally, the book includes many of the actual contest entries, and while some of them are almost incomprehensible (but right up the alley of the contest judges), others are a delight to read. In one case, I'd actually read it before, in a collection of Burma-Shave signs, just without attribution to the author. (It's a real beaut, having relevance both to the actual product, and to the fact that it's being read from a car speeding along a highway: "Hairpin turn, / Hotrod ditched. / Lost control, / His whiskers / Itched. / Burma-Shave.")

Posted by Shmuel at 10:53 PM

March 7, 2003

Climbing Jacob's Ladder: One Man's Rediscovery of a Jewish Spiritual Tradition, by Alan Morinis

I found this to be fascinating, but not for reasons that would apply to most people. This book, you see, concerns the discovery of Mussar -- which is more or less a Jewish approach to ethical matters -- by an unobservant Jew, who eventually has a series of meetings with a rabbi in New York in which he learns more about it.

The rabbi in question is the head of the high school and seminary where I studied for eight years. Seeing my school through the eyes of an outsider? Utterly fascinating.

Otherwise... not a bad introduction to Mussar. Kinda simplified, and definitely eclectic, but not a bad read, and I suppose it might be a useful starting point, which is all it really tries to be.

Posted by Shmuel at 2:03 AM