Monday, June 30, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

I listened to this play from audible.

If you have never read/heard/seen The Importance of Being Earnest, you should... now. It is hysterical. It is a sarcastic commentary on Victorian society, full of one-liners and contradictions. A funny satire that doesn't get tiring, likely because it's so short.

You would like it. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Killer of Little Shepherds

by Douglas Starr

A true crime story set in 1890's France, The Killer of Little Shepherds weaves together the story of a serial killer and the developing forensic sciences that eventually help catch him. When Joseph Vacher is rejected by his true love, he snaps and decides that if he can't have her no one will. That is the first in a long line of killings. Vacher is released from an asylum only a year after this first murder and begins wandering the countrysides of France, killing young teens along the way. On his trail is the head of legal medicine, Alexandre Lacassagne, whose breakthroughs in profiling bring about the capture of Vacher.
The last section of the book is Vacher's trial, which goes into great debate over the plea of criminal insanity, when a person should be held responsible for their actions and nature versus nurture.

I've read several books with similar themes and find it fascinating how doctors and psychologists (alienists) seemed to recognize that each person is unique and to understand there must be a way to identify and single out a person. This revelation appears to have occurred nearly simultaneously in the USA, England, France and other developed nations, and their discovery process was very similar. I am intrigued by the emerging information in medicine and forensics that have led us to where we are today. Makes me wonder where we'll be in another hundred years!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni

by Helene Wecker

While it's a bit hard to categorize this novel, I liked it and think many of my reading friends would enjoy it as well. The Golem and the Jinni is fantasy, historical fiction, fairy tale and fiction combined. It is a story made by the characters and from events in their current and past lives. This is not an action packed page turning book, but a journey through the melting pot of turn of the century New York City taken with a Golem (clay person from Jewish folklore) and a Jinni (mystical spirit of flame or air from Arabic mythology).

Both Chava (golem) and Ahmed (jinni) are bound to masters who are MIA. However, their being missing does not free either jinni or golem from their obligations, which leaves both with extreme limitations. Chava goes to great lengths to fit into her neighborhood, taking on a job with a baker and befriending coworkers. Ahmed on the other hand, while he does work, becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his situation and defies norms whenever possible. As you read about their respective struggles in NYC, you also discover their back stories and how they came to be where they are. And eventually golem and jinni meet, become friends and then devise a plan for freedom.

I have recommended this book to several of my friends already, but in case I missed recommending it to you, consider it done.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson

In order to escape celebrating his 100th birthday at the retirement home, Allan Karlsson climbs out of his bedroom window with only a few dollars in his pocket and the slippers on his feet. Once he reaches the bus depot, he buys a one-way ticket to as far as his money will take him. While waiting for his bus, he is asked to guard a suitcase for a stranger, but while the man is using the restroom, Allan decides to confiscate the luggage, hops on the bus and thus begins another adventure in the inconceivable life of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

The story follows Allan Karlsson on his antics with the suitcase, the unlikely people who help him as he eludes the owner, including a lady with a pet elephant, and the mishaps of his pursuers. It also includes flashbacks of Allan's life, from birth until he lands up in the retirement home. In the way Forrest Gump met up with many a famous character, Allan also encounters some very famous people throughout his lifetime, however unlike Gump, Karlsson becomes involved in ways that shape history. Here are just a few of the people Allan meets: Franco, Stalin, Churchill, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, de Gaulle, Mao, and US Presidents Truman, Johnson and Nixon.
Here are a few of the situations in which he makes a contribution: a trek through the Himalayas in which he saves the wife of Chairman Mao, undercover CIA agent, involvement in the Manhattan Project, USA/USSR disarmament and Star Wars.

Pretty funny read. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Pale Blue Eye

by Louis Bayard

An 1830's murder mystery set at West Point Academy, a cadet is found hanging in the woods with his heart removed. A retired detective, Gus Landor is sent to investigate the crime. To assist his sleuthing, he recruits a young Edgar Allan Poe, who spies on his fellows and secretly reports back to Landor. Before the crime is solved there are more murders and trouble with Academy officers.

Bayard presents a pretty convincing Poe, as well as other characters. The writing is reflective of Poe's works (if not quite up to the quality). The mystery is perplexing and includes a few twists. And while I didn't care for the momentary corny turn of events upon discovering the murderer, the plot quickly righted itself with a final unexpected turn.

Having recently read through some selected works of Poe, this book may have been offered as a theoretical launching pad for some of Poe's more famous works; The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, Murders in the Rue Morgue. But even if you aren't familiar with these stories, you can enjoy The Pale Blue Eye for the history, mystery, characters and writing style.