Current Events

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers; Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar; Abundance, The Future Is Better Than You Think; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Drown; The Good American; The Expats; and Shock Wave

Lilian Jackson Braun.  The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers.   Cat lovers will enjoy this book.  Jim Quillerman is a writer, who lives in a renovated apple barn in the far north and writes a column called “The Quill”in the local newspaper.  In his column he often discusses what his Siamese named Coco thinks about local goings on, and he pays close attention to Coco because he knows things like when the phone is going to ring and when someone gets murdered.  Mostly the book is about the everyday lives of very nice people living the good life in a small, isolated town.  Quillerman is someone you would like to have for a friend.  There is a murder and it does get solved, sort of by accident.  February 2013

Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein.  Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar.  This has to be the most unlikely book title of all time.  The author uses jokes, some of them 2500 years old, to explain basic ideas in philosophy.  Even though you have heard the jokes or variations of them before, some really are funny.  Anyone who has wasted two years minoring in philosophy will enjoy this book; it’s sort of a review but painless.  Even if you haven’t dabbled in philosophy, you may find this fun – and rewarding.  February 2013 

Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler.  Abundance, The Future Is Better Than You Think.  The authors start with a discussion of population growth and fears that it will exceed the earth’s ability to support it --- 9 billion people by 2050.   Their answer is that population growth will slow down everywhere, just as it has in developed countries, when the third world starts to catch up to our living standards, and it is innovative technology that will allow this to happen.  They discuss developments in water resource and agricultural management and in energy and education that have mostly been confined to scientific journals and maybe the boring back pages that we never read in less lofty media.  Two examples: Hydroponic farming is 70% more efficient than traditional farming and aeroponic farming is 70% more efficient than hydroponic farming.  Application of nano technology has enabled development of a cartridge that will filter water from any source, no matter how polluted, into pure drinking water.  This book is a must read for everyone.  February 2013

Junot Diaz.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  I had no advance information when I picked this off the shelf.  It turned out to be interesting for two principal reasons, the struggles of Dominican immigrants to create a life for themselves in the US and the horrors of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, vestiges of which live on.  There are two principal narrators, Lola, who is the granddaughter of a Dr. Cabral, who was murdered by Trujillo, and Junior who was Oscar’s friend and sometime boyfriend of his sister, Lola.  An underlying theme is the oversexed character of Dominican men and the stunning beauty of Dominican women.  Oscar would like to be a successful Dominican male but by the time he reaches his teens he weighs over 300 pounds and no girl or woman will have anything to do with him.  Oscar is a Sci-Fi buff and a talented writer.  We do follow his story, but I found the back story and what was going on around Oscar more interesting than Oscar himself.  My two years of college Spanish 60 years ago were not enough to cope with all of the Spanish words and phrases that pop up throughout the narrative, but I was able to get some from context and look up others.  In toto, Junot Diaz has given his readers a fascinating look into a vibrant and often sordid subculture.  February 2013

Junot Diaz.  Drown.  This was packaged with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and seems to be random material that fills in around the story told about Oscar.    It is directed toward helping one toward a better understanding of the world in which Oscar’s story unfolds.  A young guy, Junior, explains his life as a high school student in New York who sells drugs and shoplifts on weekends, and we also hear the story of his father, who leaves his wife and children behind and tries to earn enough to bring them to the US.  To get his green card he plans to get married to a citizen and later divorce her.  This book also picks up and explains some of the local color in the first book.  For example, there is mention of a little boy whose face was bitten off by a pig.  In this book we learn that he eventually has a chance to go to Canada for plastic surgery.  Despite there being no plot line, I couldn’t tear myself away.  February 2013

Alex George.  The Good American.   In 1904 Frederick Meisenhemer and Jette Furste decide to emigrate from Hanover to America because her parents oppose their plans to marry.  They more or less flee after Jette has cleaned out the family safe and take the first ship available, the Copernicus, headed for New Orleans.  After talking to some fellow emigrants on the ship, Frederick decides they will head for a river town in Missouri, where he will try to get a clerks job in a German owned shipping company.  In New Orleans there are no trains north because of flooding, but a kindly black man named Lomax helps them find passage on a steamer bound for St. Louis.  On the steamer Jette is cabin bound by advanced pregnancy, but Frederick finds time to contract with the bar man to teach him some basic English.  Unfortunately the bar man has a sense of humor and teaches Frederick Polish, which proves unhelpful when they land and try to book a carriage for their onward journey.  A kindly Polish American doctor who speaks perfect German helps them out and sends them on their way.  Halfway to their destination, Jette goes into labor in Beatrice, a small town with a substantial German American community.  After their son Joseph is born, they decide to stay.  Frederick takes a job managing the local pub, the Knick Knack, and eventually is able to buy it with money he wins betting on his friend, who always wins his bare knuckle bouts.  Joseph has an incredible singing voice and launches nightly musical events in the bar.  He manages to pass on his musical ability to at least the next three generations.  Although he is old enough to be exempt from the draft, he volunteers for the army, sings one evening to the piano playing of fellow Missourian Harry Truman and gets killed by a sniper the next day, Oct. 13, 1918.  Jette takes over running the bar and as prohibition closes in on her, Lomax shows up looking for a gig at one of the musical evenings.  He stays on, persuades Jette to turn the bar into a restaurant, takes on the job of cooking and introduces some of the culinary sophistication of New Orleans to small town Missouri.  Joseph’s second son, James, narrates this story and carries it on through his generation and beyond.  It’s one immigrant family’s story, based to some extent on actual events.  There’s a bit of everything; it is a story of how we all became Americans.  February 2013

Chris Pavone.  The Expats.   Kate Moore is a former CIA field hand who has never told her husband what she did for a living for 15 years, five of them after they were married.  Her husband Lester is a computer geek who specializes in bank security, particularly money transfers.  When Lester asks Kate to accompany him to Luxembourg for a new job, she quits the CIA and looks forward to just being a mom for a while.  Lester is very secretive about his job, and after Kate figures out that another American expat couple are actually FBI agents, she sets out to discover whether they are investigating her or Lester.  She is a pretty capable investigator herself and gets access to Lester’s office while he is on a trip and learns that he has 25 million Euros in a numbered account.  And then its wheels within wheels within wheels as she unravels what’s going on and devises a plan to get her and Lester out of danger and free from prosecution.  Lots of surprises along the way, but I always get a little annoyed when we know the heroine or whatever has learned something critical, but the reader isn’t told what it is and is given no clue to figure it out.   February 2013

John Sandford.  Shock Wave.  Virgil Flowers heads up the investigation to apprehend a serial bomber  who seems to be determined to prevent the construction of another big box store, a PyeMart, in a small Minnesota town.  This is the fifth in the Flowers series and you won’t be able to put it down.  The plot is convoluted and somewhat improbable, but Sandford keeps it interesting.  Thrice married Flowers doesn’t succeed in bedding anyone, not even the scuba diving girl with the snake tattoo on her neck.  February 2013

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