Birds of a Lesser Paradise, by Megan Mayhew Bergman (2012)
A collection of short stories, most of which feature someone at a turning point in their lives, and animals tend to be present (so I was not surprised to read on the book jacket that Mrs. Bergman is married to a veterinarian). The stores are wonderfully crafted – we are quickly introduced to a new character and in a few sentences we begin to see their world clearly – a woman who is driving to visit her dead mother’s parrot in the hopes of hearing her mother’s voice, a woman who returns to the swamps to help her father run a bird-watching tour business, etc. While well written, like so many other short stories, they feel unfinished – each glimpse is like peering into a window before the curtains are pulled shut, leaving the reader wondering what happened next?
Kook: What surfing taught me about love, life and catching the perfect wave. By Peter Heller (2010)
Peter Heller tried surfing as part of a vacation with a friend and immediately fell in love. Although he started as a “kook” – a novice who flails about unnecessarily, he set a goal for himself of going from novice to surfing a tube in 6 months, with the result being this book. He and his girlfriend Kim get an old VW van and set off for the coasts of California and Mexico in pursuit of the perfect waves.
To be honest, I found Mr. Heller came off seeming rather arrogant. He continues to claim “novice” status as an excuse for obnoxious behavior on the waves, but begins dropping surfer jargon as he describes waves which left the reader lost. The book at times felt like a half-hearted apology to his girlfriend – he often commented on his own mis-steps in the relationship, but failed to fix them. He constantly talks about surfing as a way of life, but takes it as something he attempts to cram into 6 months. And finally, which I found most upsetting, despite the excessive guidance he receives from more experienced surfers we don’t see him turning to help others who are learning. While it was exciting to read about someone learning to surf, Mr. Heller seems to have missed the ocean for the waves (to modify a saying) in really understanding surfing.
Push, by Sapphire (1996)
Set in the Bronx of the 1980s, we meet the narrator Precious, who had her first child at 12, and now at 16 is pregnant again. The children are the result of incest from her father, and her mother’s only reaction is to hate her for “stealing her man”. Precious is befriended by a teacher, Ms Blue Rain, at an alternative school who teaches her to read and right as she attempts to make sense of her life. Push was turned into an award winning movie, “Precious: in 2009.
A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle (1989)
Peter Mayle‘s first book in his series of stories about life in the south of France.
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt (2011)
Set in 1851 in Oregon Territory, this is a book about the old west – gold rushing, frontiers and alchemy. Charlie Sister and his brother Eli Sister (it took me awhile to figure out the names) are hired thugs for The Commodore, sent to California to kill Hermann Kermit Warm. The style of the book reminds me a bit of Kurt Vonnegut, short chapters and clean writing with strange characters (the weeping man), and focus on small details, but somehow it all works together. You can’t help but like the main character, even if you disagree with his actions, and while there is certainly the grit of the wild west, it provides an contrast to the minute concerns of the brothers with often an amusing result.
The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
Gang Leader For a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh
As a grad student in Chicago he was polling some tenants in the Robert Taylor housing project when he accidentally crossed a gang. He was as interested with them as they were about him, and he soon went back to learn more. From there, Sudhir befriend the gang’s local leader, J.T., and spent the next few years learning about life in the projects, as well as gangs, which eventually became the subject of his thesis.
The book is great – interesting subject matter presented at just the right level of detail – background information is helpful, but doesn’t drag on. Even better, while some exciting stories are included, Sudhir just tells what happened, rather then attempting to sensationalize them – the stories are interesting enough to speak for themselves! (Any yes, one of the stories is the day he got to be a gang leader). Its a fascinating look into a world I know nothing about, and where its far from clear who are the good guys.
If you read Freakonomics, you may remember this story, there was a chapter (I think it was entitled “Why do drug dealers live with their mothers?”) on him. Definitely worth checking out if you are interested in the subject matter.