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The Children's Book

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I would like to give this novel more than three stars since it truly was an enormously ambitious project and I so admire the work that went into it. The detail of an entire generation of social and intellectual progressives in the end of the nineteenth century was fascinating. Byatt interweaves her own large cast with the historical figures of the times. I found much to like but much that seemed superflous. I just ultimately felt that these characters were being forced into representational models some of the time rather than breathing humans. That said, this is a big book with real intellectual heft, and I found it well worth my time to read.
Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood

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Loved this biography of a childhood spent in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Booth's writing is excellent, his memories are sharp and he avoids easy nostalgia. I loved his vivid portrayal of Hong Kong. So much is still here to be experienced, but sadly, not the beloved Russian cake shop.
Tender at the Bone

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Loved this book, loved all of her books. Love her! One person I would love to have at my fantasy dinner party. She is funny and brash.
The Art of Fielding: A Novel

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This novel is one of the most satisfying reads I have had in a long time. I almost missed it. I had heard nothing about it, and when I picked it up at my tiny Hong Kong bookshop, I sighed as I read the back jacket. Another book about college students? (I had just finished the the new Jeffrey Eugenides and was bored to death with college students.) A book about baseball? (I am not a sports fan.) Thank goodness I read the first few pages and was sold right away by the writing style. This novel is pitch perfect terrific. I won't even say that it is good for a first novel, because like the Tiger's Wife, the fact that it is a first novel is totally irrelevant. These characters are fresh, alive and breathing. The plot is compelling, and I was totally absorbed by the world of the novel. The ending was perfect too. It is a modest, mid-western kind of book that probably won't toot its own horn. I wish I was still a bookseller because this is one I would hand sell to everyone that came in looking for a good read this season.
Steve Jobs

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This biography does everything a steller bio should do: provides a full portrait of a complex man who definitely brings to mind Whitman's phrase "I am large, I contain multitudes;" places him squarely in his time and generation without going overboard with the cliches of less skilled biographers (eg: "The 1960s were a time of free love and acid trips, a magical mystery tour of experience and experiment..."); explains clearly to the interested, but non-specialist reader the details of the growth of Apple (and to a lesser extent, Pixar) and the specific ways in which Jobs was a brilliant innovator, a true visionary, and an incredible jerk to most of the people that he knew. I think that Isaacson lingers a bit too long on the "adopted child needing to prove himself" theory, especially as Jobs dismisses it, but in general, I think that this book for the most part avoids the (also all-too-common) biographical trap of simplistic psychological evaluation and presents Jobs as the full, fascinating individual that he was.
Super Sad True Love Story

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This book gets such mixed ratings from readers, but I thought it was just terrific. It was indeed super sad, but it was also super funny, super weird and super smart. Since I finished it, I just cannot help myself from looking at the world through Shteyngart's harsh, distopic eyeglasses (somewhat like the whacked out yellow eyeglasses of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, but these make every mod tech con stand out as a potentially terrifying and soulless step towards an empty, glittering future).
Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

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I loved this book. Dalrymple manages to give us the background information that we need on the nine people that he follows in modern-day India, but then stands back to allow them to tell their own story. A moving and fascinating read!
Snowdrops

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Not so long ago I asked a friend from Moscow if he preferred living in Hong Kong (our home at the time) or if he missed Moscow. He laughed and said that if I had ever visited Moscow, I would not even have to ask that question.

This novel, Snowdrops, gives me a good idea of what he meant. The city itself is a character in this dark narrative about a British expat attorney whose desire for a beautiful Russian woman propels him into particularly shady territory. It is hard to believe that the protagonist would be quite that stupid, but I guess this particular story of willful blindness is one of the oldest in the world. Overall, I would say that the real reason to read this book is because the author knows Moscow so well that his writing comes fully alive when describing the place, the quirks of language, and the people who live there. My guess is that this visceral sense of place must have been the reason that the novel was on the Booker prize shortlist in 2011.

Just Kids

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Patti Smith must be the coolest mom on the block. I loved her when I was a weird teenager and I love that she is one of the few idols of my youth that still holds my interest and affection. This book is an incredible jump into Patti's New York City world of the 1970s. Patti, like Zelig, happened to be right in the middle of the action even before she became a celebrity herself. This book is about life and art and love and passion. I loved it. My only question while reading it was that I cannot imagine that the life as it was lived at the time was not darker and more desolate than the glowing campfire images that she paints, but, hey, she is the artist here and she gets to remember her early days any damn well way that she wants to.
Half of a Yellow Sun

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I heard an interview with this incredible Nigerian author on the BBC Bookclub Podcast and could not find any of her books at shops in the US. Now, in Hong Kong, I have found a copy of "Half of a Yellow Sun" and am finding it absolutely captivating. Beautifully written and telling the far-too-little-known-outside-of-Nigeria history of the Civil War there in the 1960s. The Guardian review places it alongside Pat Barker's Regeneration series and I think that is an excellent comparison in its clear, articulate understanding of a complex conflict and its psychological & intellectual aspects told through the viewpoints of several characters. Fantastic! I can't put it down!
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