The Passionate Fact: Storytelling in Natural History and Cultural Interpretation by Susan Strauss

View from this book:

At work (the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park), we have a wonderful library full of books to help inspire us to become better interpreters.  Several such books deal with storytelling, and since I’m trying to add a bigger element of storytelling in my ranger programs, I’ve started perusing these books.

The book:

The Passionate Fact has a rather unfortunate title (it hinges around the idea of basing a story off one fact that you care passionately about) but is a wonderful little book full of inspiration and insight.  7 out of 10.


The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

View from this book:

Name of the Rose was another book that I started hace años, but I accidentally left it at a friend’s house for a couple of years.  Whoops!  As soon as I got it back, I re-read the first part and devoured the rest.

The book:

This book was published in 1980 in Italian and is seemingly experiencing a resurgence in English—I saw tablesfull of it at Costco and OMG I just found out that this was made into a Sean Connery movie in the 80s. Squeee!—Anyways, back to the Connery-less book: The Name of the Rose is set in a 14th Century in an Italian monastery and there is a series of murders.  What ho!  Medieval Times! Italy! Murders! This must be good.

We follow the narrator, a bumbling novice monk, around the monastery, searching for clues and forming hypotheses about l’assassino misterioso.  (Cue music.)  TNotR, however, isn’t your typical murder-mystery, although the murdery bits are quite mystery-y.  The book was written by a professor of semiotics, and it shows: the author spends pages making the narrator believable, as well as giving us readers the minute details of scholarly debates that were happening within the Catholic Church in Ye Olden Days.  All of this happens to be quite interesting, but, as I said in my review of this book that I stopped reading like a minute before I picked up Name of the Rose, I was more interested in the beach-read and/or sword-fight genre (or both? recommendations, anyone?) at that particular moment.  Luckily, this book provides excitement and death (the exciting kind, plus a little bit of the sad kind) in generous dollops.  Over the course of the story, seven monks die  (I’m not giving anything away here, I swear; this is all on the back cover) and our novice narrator discovers some dark things which are all very historico-swashbuckly.  Grab hold of your habits, O Reader, and pick this book up at Costco along with your giganto packs of frozen coconut shrimp and your Sean Connery Box Set.  7 out of 10.

Name of the Rose

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

YOU GUYS.  I just found out that flux capacitors are real things.  Or at least, you can use “flux” and “capacitor” together in a real sentence and not be talking about DeLoreans.  Fo’ real: my roommate bought a crappy, ugly electric guitar from Goodwill, took off the pick-guard, sanded it down to bare pine, re-soldered all of the electronic bits, and now it’s a slightly less-crappy beautiful electric guitar.  Electric guitars have “capacitors,” and to solder things you use “flux,” … et, voilà!

Anyways, all that reminded me of the fact that I am going to hop in a little time-machine in this blog (DeLorean-style, if at all possible) and move from my awesome weekend in Bend (which happened in real time: February ’13) back to the review backlog I have of books I read back in April ’12.  Great Scott!  So, after all that blather about guitars (which, along with having capacitors and needing flux, have things called “humbuckers.” Who knew?) let’s get to blathering about books, shall we?

View from this book:

Actually, I may have read this book in March ’12: I was flying back on a redeye from Singapore and crossing the International Date Line on March 31st/April 1st when reading this book.  Take that, time travel.

The Book:

You know how you read the best book by an author, and how after that every book from the same author pales in comparison?  On my top-10-best-books-of-all-time-so-far list, Atonement is #9.  Atonement was such a complex, multi-leveled book, with a riveting plot, that although Enduring Love was undoubtedly well written, I couldn’t shake the feeling of slight disappointment.  Come on, McEwan—is two masterpieces too much to ask?

With that little quibble all quibbled out, I admit that McEwan does craft a compelling narrative in Enduring Love, and his writing is as lyrical as ever.  Love, respect, obsession, and identity are all major themes of this book, which chronicles the changes a freak ballooning accident wreak on one man’s life and once-stable love.  I’ve heard the movie version of Enduring Love is absolutely amazing, and although this book didn’t live up to my expectations, it was definitely good enough that I want to read much more by McEwan and pop some popcorn for a movie comparison.  7 out of 10.

On a side note, there are about a dozen covers for this book, and all of them are gorgeous.  Oogle over this cover art, and then go pick up a McEwan for a good read:

Enduring Love 1

Enduring Love 2Enduring love 3Enduring Love 4Enduring Love 5Enduring Love 6Enduring Love 7Enduring Love 7.2

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

View from this book:

I promise I did a whole lot more in Singapore than just sit back and read young adult fiction, but really, I could only push myself so far each day before I melted in the heat.  After spending all day traipsing around the Singapore Botanic Gardens (a fantastic spot),

I dragged myself, dripping, back to my cousin’s apartment, and finished the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy.

The book:

Sorry—I guess I haven’t said anything about the books themselves.  (See these rather fluffy posts for reviews of the first two books.) They are addictive, action-packed, full of (sometimes sappy) romance in full YA-angsty-style, and have powerful political sub-themes.  They are set in a post-apocalyptic North America, where The Capitol holds absolute power over the people of the 12 Districts, who live in isolated labor camps.  The 13th District was obliterated because it tried to lead the other Districts in an insurrection against The Capitol.  Each year as a reminder that insurrection does not go unpunished, The Capitol holds The Hunger Games, where one boy and one girl are taken from each District and are forced to fight to the death for the “entertainment” of the nation.

A friend of mine, who has close ties to Libya, commented that the first book gave her nightmares because she could have pictured Qaddafi setting up this sort of thing with his dissenters.  It’s not that far-fetched—think of what’s happening in Syria.  When I was reading this book (March of 2012), the regime had just celebrated its indiscriminate bombing of Homs.  It hasn’t gotten much better now in January of 2013.  Or, let’s look at Israel and Palestine.  Israel is fencing in the Palestinianscutting off access between villages, and has engaged in acts such as telling over 100 civilians to take shelter in a house and then shelling it and shooting 26 children who crossed the border from Gaza into Israel to collect gravel.  The world sits by and watches on TV—essentially, it’s all bread and circuses.  Who’s to say that a Hunger Games-like scenario is too crazy to happen in the real world?  Book: 7 out of 10.  World peace: so far, 0 out of 10.


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I’m not even sure this book needs a blurb:

After finishing the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy, I went out for dinner with my cousin, and since she had the Singapore Flu (a deathly cold brought on by repeatedly going from Siberian air-conditioned buildings to the street that has a heat index of 108oF with 90% humidity), she went to bed early.  I devoured the second Hunger Games book as a bedtime snack.  7 out of 10.

Catching Fire

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

Snapshot of me reading:

I finished this in the wee hours of the morning after my first full day of FREEDOM

pre-freedom Mel

after Fall Quarter of graduate school.

The book:

Next in the Earthsea novels, The Farthest Shore doesn’t disappoint.  It features the repeat characters of a wise, riddle-loving old wizard and a young, impetuous prince.  This pairing of characters is in half of all fantasy novels when the protagonist is male; when it’s a girl, then the young girl is spunky, and the old woman is crotchety.  It’s a pretty time-worn formula.  This particular pair meets all sorts of fun, including dragons, evil undead wizards promising eternal life, and the like.  Great fun.  7 out of 10.

The Farthest Shore