Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This book is about the re-emergence of magic in England. Mr. Norrell is the magician who brings practical magic back to England. He allows no one else to practice magic until, that is, he gains a pupil, Jonathan Strange. Jonathan is very different from Mr. Norrell and before long it seems they must come to a parting of the ways.

General rating: 2 out of 4, but still a good read if you like this kind of book.

1. Is it plausible? This concept of "practical magic" actually makes this book about magic feel more plausible than many. It is certainly plausible within the fantasy genre. What makes it feel more real is its placement in a well-researched historical background. Unusual and cool.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not particularly.

3. Is it engaging? It's the kind of book that is slow to reveal the plot. And it's SUPER long (782 pages). It took me awhile to get in to, but once I did, I was hooked.

4. Is it uplifting? Not really. It's fairly neutral. I like a good ending and the ending to this book was unsatisfying. It cries out for a sequel, but no sequel currently exists (to my knowledge).

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: I read a review of this book that described it as combining "the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austin". Hearing it described as such made me like it better, actually. I did not dislike this book. It was very interesting in parts and after I read it, it stayed in my thoughts for days--I really like it when a book has that effect. But the ending was so... unfinal... and the beginning was so slow. There were parts of it that were definitely gripping. But I kind of had to talk myself into really liking it. So if you're in the mood for a long, mostly interesting read, go for it (but don't buy it--borrow it from me!). If you want something gripping with a "POW" ending, put this book off for the next long, cold, rainy day.

Women Food and God by Geneen Roth

Here's what one of the back cover reviews says: "This is a hugely important work, a life-changer, one that will free untold women from the tyranny of fear and hopelessness around their bodies. Beautifully written, a joy to read, rich in both revelation and great humor." Right. This was a book of new age philosophy, earthy and vague, with a few great concepts.

General rating: 1 out of 4 (really it scored a 2 out of 4, but I subtracted one because of all the terrible language and just because it was SO disappointing)

1. Is it plausible? Yes.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes.

3. Is it engaging? If you can get through the extremely foul language in the first dozen pages of the book, and if you can wade through the new age mumbo jumbo that clutters up ALL of Roth's ideas, and if you can stomach her moral relativity, then you might be able to get through the book.

4. Is it uplifting? No, absolutely not. It might have been, had it delivered what it promised.

Language: Tons of offensive language
Sex: none (that I can remember)

My recommendation: There are so many other truly uplifting and meaningful books to read about "freeing untold women from the tyranny of fear and hopelessness around their bodies". I might have felt more positively about this book had the author not promised a food-life-God connection and then delivered obscenities, vague new-age spirituality and just what the subtitle promises: "An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything". This book leads basically to "almost nowhere". To be fair, there was at least one substantive concept that I found valuable. But this/these concept(s) can be found in "Eating Awareness Training" with less rambling and fewer distracting anecdotes. After I read this book I felt very conflicted: there were a few good ideas that I wanted to read again BUT I was unwilling to wade through all the garbage that they were embedded in. Grrr! My advice: skip it. There are far better books on this topic out there. I'll certainly try to find more of them.

Eating Awareness Training by Molly Groger

This book promises to teach the reader how to eat whatever he/she wants and to still lose weight. It is subtitled "The Natural Way To Permanent Weight Loss" and promises "No diets, no exercises, no pills".

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Yes.

2. Is it thought provoking? Absolutely! What an idea--lose weight without a diet! Not only is the idea intriguing, but Groger's program, if followed, will lead the reader to introspection and increased self-awareness.

3. Is it engaging? Short and sweet and useful--yes! It is very engaging.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes--it gives hope and instruction.

Language: no
Sex: no

My recommendation: I have been on many diets over the course of my life and I think they are destructive--with no exceptions. This book introduces the vision of a healthy (and slim) life with no diets. I believe the idea is sound. WELL worth reading and trying to apply. Can it change lives? Possibly. Well, maybe even probably. Will it solve every overeater's problems? Probably not. It's really hard to change, even if one knows how. But! I love this book's philosophy and it changed my perspective utterly. Now if only I could do as she suggests as "stay in the present" and practice "mindful eating". I'm still working on those....

Little Lady, Big Apple by Hester Browne

This book is the sequel to "The Little Lady Agency", which (as I recall) was cute and entertaining. This book follows Melissa and her boyfriend (whom she met in the first book) to New York. Conflict and difficulties ensue.

General rating: 2 out of 4 (NOT thought provoking, not uplifting)

1. Is it plausible? I suppose

2. Is it thought provoking? Only if you don't indulge in a lot of thinking.

3. Is it engaging? Fairly

4. Is it uplifting? Not really. I actually found it kind of depressing, but I think that's because of my perspective as very morally conservative. This book was very much of a piece with much modern "chick lit". Girl lives with boyfriend, girl pursues career, girl must find balance between the two, etc. How pitifully destitute of vision and direction that all is.

Language: a bit of bad language, yes. This book will not join my collection.
Sex: Plenty, but no descriptions. This book could be considered as "clean" as regards the images painted for the reader. But it is in no way "clean" if the reader has standards that include celibacy before marriage, which I do.

My recommendation: This book contains what I most dislike--a smooth and acceptable portrayal of a totally unacceptable lifestyle. I will betray my rabid conservatism when I complain that this book makes pre-marital sex and feminism seem normal and desirable. It's the pervasive agenda to make what is unacceptable acceptable, to make what is ultimately empty and unfulfilling into something that looks fun and seductive--all packaged into a charming, empty-headed book. This isn't a "bad" book, it's just comparatively worthless. Entertainment at its emptiest. You can safely skip this book and spend your time reading something that is truly uplifting and thought provoking.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

This book is subtitled: "The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise" and is a biographical summary of the author's experiences as the food critic at "The New York Times". It includes several of her recipes.

General rating: 3 out of 4 (implausible in places and "neutral" in the uplifting category--I'm getting pickier about the qualifications for "uplifting" as I go along)

1. Is it plausible? Well, it's a mixture of fantasy and reality. She dons a variety of disguises in order to secretly review top New York restaurants. That part's believable. But as she takes on these disguises, she also seems to take on different personalities. If we look at it all metaphorically, she's just exploring different aspects of her own character; she's on a journey of self-discovery, I suppose. But if we skip the metaphorical perspective, it feels a little bit histrionic and well, down right implausible. But! I'm willing to look at it metaphorically and as a metaphor it was clever. And let's not forget that this is an autobiography, so I think it must get almost full marks for plausibility.

2. Is it thought provoking? A bit. As Ruth Reichl explores aspects of her own personality, the analytic reader will be drawn into asking her/himself the questions that Ruth Reichl is asking of herself. And if food and recipes provoke your thoughts, then this book will be thought provoking for you also. It's all about the food.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, it is.

4. Is it uplifting? I have to keep reminding myself that my definition of "uplifting" needs to be pretty broad. There are books that truly uplift the spirits of the reader, and then there are books that are acceptable in this category simply because they don't depress. I am feeling my way as I review the books that I read: can I count it as "uplifting" if it's neutral? If it's not unpleasant? If it's not depressing? I'm not sure. The books that truly uplift deserve the label of "uplifting". This book was not that kind of book. But it certainly wasn't depressing--and books that are depressing or discouraging are NOT good books by my criteria. This book was perfectly entertaining and not depressing. It was a nice, neutral book.

Language: No, I don't think there was any bad language at all (I'm sorry to say that unless there is repeated strong bad language, sometimes I can't remember by the end of a book if there were one or two obscenties. Am I getting desensitized to this? I'm not sure).
Sex: nope

My recommendation: If you like food, you will find this book very interesting. I am not a "foodie", but I still enjoyed it a lot. Reichl's descriptions are lyrical, her story is entertaining, her personality is attractive. I liked the book a lot.

These High, Green Hills by Jan Karon

This is the third book in the Mitford series. Father Tim and Cynthia are finally married! And life goes on in Mitford...

General Rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Basically (see reviews of the other Mitford books)

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes. As usual, Father Tim's struggles and insights are interesting and thoughtful.

3. Is it engaging? Very much.

4. Is it uplifting? This is the best, the very best part about this series. It is VERY uplifting.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: Well worth reading, as expected.

A Light in the Window by Jan Karon

This is the second book in the Mitford series. Father Tim is: feeling in love and afraid, being pursued by an unpleasant widow, being imposed upon by a cousin, struggling to "parent" Dooley, and experiencing all the other joys and difficulties that go with being a rector in the small town of Mitford.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? I suppose so. On days when I'm feeling cynical I think things like: does God really answer all our prayers JUST the way we want? Father Tim sure seems to have his prayers answered spot on. But I'm a sucker for the ideal, and this book provides it, so I guess I'll quiet my cynical queries and just enjoy this series and the optimism and other good feelings it generates.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes it is. I think the most real character in this whole series is Father Tim. His thoughts and struggles seem genuine and his difficulties and successes do make me think.

3. Is it engaging? Yes.

4. It is uplifing? Yes, without a doubt.

Language: none
Sex: none--this is a squeaky clean book!

My recommendation: A lovely read. I think I'll feel this way about the whole series. One thing... I don't find myself liking Cynthia very much. I don't dislike her, exactly, I just don't feel attracted to her. I feel similarly disconnected from virtually every other character in these books (so far). As I said above, I find Father Tim to be the most (the only?) filled out character in the books. The other players are entertaining, but feel a little one-dimensional to me--as if they are each just a representation of a "type". But! These books are so sweet and engaging, that I won't find serious fault with them. They are inspiring and uplifting; definitely they are good reads.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our Farm by Michael J. Rosen

This book is subtitled: "Four Seasons with Five Kids on One Family's Farm." It's full of pictures and told through the voices of the 5 Bennett children and their parents.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Of course. It's based on a real family's real life.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes. I thought a lot about small farms in America, about my own lifestyle, about the farming lifestyle and a host of other things.

3. Is it engaging? Very. The pictures help a lot, as do the voices of the children. I actually wished for more details. A funny thing--this book is aimed, I believe, at an audience of children, but the text is too mature for young children and it doesn't really seem to be a good fit with older children either. I, as an adult wished for more information, so the book didn't exactly fit my age group either (unless you are, like I am, one of those relatively omnivorous adults, literarily speaking). So I couldn't really see who would be reading this book. Notwithstanding that, though, it was engaging. I guess folks of all ages who are interested in small farms would read this.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes. I find accounts of life lived closer to its natural cycles to be very uplifting. It represents an ideal to me. And this book showed a normal family that is happy, working together on the farm and still able to pursue their individual interests.

Language: none
Sex: Well, there was talk about AI (artificial insemination) for the cows... if that counts

My recommendation: If you've an interest in small farm life, it's a good read. Lots of pictures, the engaging voices of the kids... I really liked this book.

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

The first in a very popular series, this book follows a period in the life of bachelor rector, Father Tim.

General rating: 4 out of 4 (although the cynical reader might question plausibility)

1. Is it plausible? Well, aside from feeling too good to be true, and making the unsuspecting reader forever dissatisfied with his or her town of residence... I guess it's plausible. It seems like it should be set 50 years ago, though I would like to believe that there are towns like Mitford that exist right now. Perhaps there are!

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, it is. I thought a lot about Father Tim's efford to be GOOD and compared it to my own efforts. I thought about spending one's life in the service of others.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, but it's one of those books where a plot is slow to surface. It took me awhile to be engaged, but once I was, I definitely was.

4. Is it uplifting? Resoundingly YES. That's the most outstanding characteristic of this book. I closed the book feeling rosy about everything--all the people I know, the world in general, all religions, all animals.... It was a very feel good book. I guess that's what makes this series so very popular.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: It took me a long time to get around to reading any Mitford books. I had heard them highly recommended by so many people, but I felt unmotivated to read them. Finally my book club chose this one for one month's reading and I dutifully complied. Now I feel compelled to read the rest of the series. We'll see if it continues so delightful. I highly recommend this--a very sweet read.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Doctor Illuminatus by Martin Booth

This review is by Allegra, age 15.

General rating: 3 out of 4 (it's not really thought provoking)

When the main characters, Pip and Tim, move to an estate in the country, they meet a 600 year old boy named Sebastian, who is an alchemist's son.

Is it plausible? Well, it all seemed real within the story. The prologue of the book said that all the rituals written about in the book were really used at one time. So that made it feel more plausible to me.

Is it thought provoking? Not really. The historical aspect of it, though, did make me think about how alchemy was really used and how important people used to think it was.

It it engaging? Yes, very much. In fact, I've read it probably about 5 or 6 times. It's one of my favorite books.

It is uplifting? Well, it had a happy ending, so I felt triumphant along with the main characters at the end of the book.

Language: There was no bad language. There was a lot of British slang, though.
Sex: None at all

My recommendation: I highly recommend it if you're looking for a fascinating book that has both history and modern times. Best for ages 10 and up--there was a little gore. It was very interesting. There is a second book which is just as good (Soulstealer), but unfortunately the author passed away before he could write any more.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

This review is by Isaiah, age 12

General rating: 2.5 out of 4 (it was NOT uplifting and it wasn't really thought provoking)

This book is about: There is a disease that is killing everyone over the age of 16. But not all of them stay dead! All the kids under age 16 have to survive. When kids from Holloway Road in London receive a messenger from Buckingham Palace where, they are informed, there are more kids, gardens and food, most of them will try to make it there. Can they make the perilous journey? [Note: the narration was 3rd person omnicient.]

1. Is it plausible? Yes, it is. The only thing I wondered that wasn't explained was where the disease came from. It seemed like it just popped up from nowhere and people began to get sick. And it didn't seem likely that a disease would only affect people of a certain age.

2. Was it thought provoking? Well.... it made me think: is there going to be a second book? I did wonder, where would I stay if something like that happened in our world.

3. Was it engaging? Yes. I read it in a few days. I didn't want to put it down because I had to know what happened in the end.

4. Was it uplifting? No. A lot of people die in this book. But when I closed the book, I wanted to know more. I hope there's a sequel.

Language: There was some bad language--some people were called bad names [the words that mean "female dog" and "fatherless child"]
Sex: None

My recommendation: Kids who are 14 or older could read this book. A parent might want to read it first before they let their child read it. This book might give you nightmares. But I found it reasonably entertaining. I don't think it's a bad book at all. [Note from Mom: his 21 year old sister checked this out of the YA section at the library and decided once she got it home that she wasn't interested in it, so he picked it up. He did NOT find it in the children's section which is where he usually looks. Hm....]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler

General rating: 4 out of 4

This book is subtitled "Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite". The bulk of the book contains Dr. Kessler's reports on the research that he did. He recounts studies and experiments and their results, he tells of interviews he had with various players in the food industry, he includes some of his own personal experiences as well as the experiences of others.

Is it plausible? Very. It is, in great part, very intutive. Nothing he reported was actually shocking to me. And there are pages and pages of endnotes, citing references, sources, and offering further explanation in many cases too.

Is it thought provoking? Very. There are many books that enter my imagination or my mind and stay there forever. This is one of them. It altered the way I look at food and gave me power over my own personal reactions to some of the food he talked about. I loved his "Food Rehab" section because it underscored principles that I had already found to be important (that's the best kind of book, you know--one that validates what you think you know already! :D). This is a very useable book with memorable ideas.

Is it engaging? Yes, mostly. I put it down and picked it up for a few weeks during the research reporting section. It was interesting but not exactly gripping. Once I got into the "Food Rehab" section and beyond, I read straight through. I find this to be pretty standard with an info book. I don't expect it to "grab" me the way some fiction does, I just expect it to be engaging enough so that I am interested all the way to the end.

It is uplifting? Definitely. It clearly states the problem, gives the reader a little taste of blaming someone else for their problems and then goes on to explain how the reader can "take back control" and be master of their own choices and, ultimately, their own bodies. I smile when I think of how nicely he said a version of, "it's hard, but it's not all your fault, and don't worry--you can defeat their tactics and overcome!"

Language: None
Sex: None

My recommendation: Read it! It is instruction on how to negotiate the American food industry. Knowledge is power, and all that. I really liked this book.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

This is a mystery. The protagonist, Flavia de Luce, is a 11-year-old girl, but this book is written for adults. It's the first book written by author Alan Bradley and it's the first in a projected series of mysteries featuring Flavia.

General Rating: 3 out of 4 (it had plausibility issues AND Flavia's family relationships were not uplifting). I liked it a lot.

1. Plausible? This is the biggest problem with this book. Flavia, our detective, is only 11, but is preternaturally well-read, intelligent, even-tempered, insightful and just generally gifted. The ladies in my book club found her age very unbelievable and had to put it out of their minds before they could enjoy the book. I found Flavia believable, but perhaps that's because I liked the idealized picture of an 11-year-old. I have a 12-year-old and perhaps I like to imagine him as having the potential to be as mature, intelligent and insightful as Flavia is. It's my unreasonable idealism showing through.

2. Thought provoking? Well, it was an intelligent book. Plenty of literary allusions, a bit of clever science... yes, it was the kind of book that appeals to people who consider themselves smart.

3. Engaging? Absolutely yes. Very entertaining book.

4. Uplifting? Well, it ended well and I really liked it, so I think that counts as uplifting. One thing that my book club ladies found depressing about the book, though, was Flavia's pitiful relationships with her sisters and even her father. Her home life was not happy. I found those relationships easy to overlook.

Language: no bad language *my 15 year old daughter noticed that there were a few mild swear words
Sex: none

My recommendation: Well worth reading. I liked it a lot. My 15-year-old daughter liked it a lot too.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Deadly Kingdom by Gordon Grice

This is subtitled "The Book of Dangerous Animals" and it's just that. It's got chapters with titles like, "The Carnivorids" and "Aquatic Dangers" and the one that I had to skip most of--"The Arthropods and Worms". Ugh.

General rating: 3.5 out of 4 (there were some less engaging parts and can the section on bugs really be considered uplifting?)

Plausible? Oh yes. Lots of very interesting information too.

Thought provoking? Well, it's an info book, so it's more informative than thought provoking. I learned stuff I didn't know though, like: black widows are just ONE member of the widow family; Lions and other big cats have killed a LOT of people and still do, every year; Elephants are not as gentle as I have always imagined. Very interesting.

Engaging: Yes! It was one that I read through fairly quickly and without stopping because I didn't get bored. The front half of the book was more interesting than the back half--probably because the most dramatically dangerous animals are written about in that first half. I liked the whole book, though, and I think my 12-year-old son might like it even better than I did.

Uplifting: Hm.... Well it wasn't depressing, although I had to skip quite a lot of the insect section--I don't have any contact with lions or elephants or box jellyfish, but I DO have contact with bugs (like everyone) and I decided I didn't want to know exactly what I was surrounded with. Plus I just plain don't like bugs. Especially spiders. Ugh. Sometimes NOT knowing is just more comfortable. Cowardly, I admit. But much more comfortable.

Language: no bad language
Sex: none

My recommendation: If you've any interest in this kind of thing at all, it's a fun and interesting read. I painlessly learned a lot that I didn't know before. Some of the information was actually useful--like learning about the social order of dogs and why some postures and some people (especially children) are more vulnerable to attacks. And I'm happy to report that, although there was a lot about the harm that dogs can do, there was NOTHING about any killer kitties--of the domestic type, that is.

Warning: There are lots of stories about animal attacks. Some details are given. It's not gory, but some of the things that happened are pretty horrifying.

Humor Me edited by Ian Frazier

This is an anthology of "Funny Contemporary Writing". It includes pieces from the past 30 years or so. I actually couldn't finish this because of the abundant bad language. It's hard for me to read something when I feel slapped right in the face by obscenities. I quit about 120 pages into the book (there are 300 pages).

General Rating: 1 out of 4. Please don't bother with this book.

I think that our 4 criteria may not apply to this book. Let's see.

1. Plausible? Doesn't apply.

2. Thought provoking? Not for me.

3. Engaging? A few of the sketches I read made me laugh. A few made me smile. I skipped one about the military and one about football because I found them boring. Perhaps the best way to read this book is to just skip was doesn't appeal and read what does. I just gave up because I found the bad language far too unpleasant.

4. Uplifting? Good humor can be. Unfortunately, since I quit reading when I was in the middle of something that I found unpleasant, I didn't feel uplifted. If I had read using the "pick and choose" method referred to above, I probably could have come away from this book feeling that good post-laughter feeling. As it was, nope. Not uplifting.

Language: lots of the offensive stuff.
Sex: none that I saw

My recommendation: As I said above, if you like humor, then read what appeals and skip what offends. If you prefer to spend your time on a book that you don't have to juggle, then skip this one. That would be my preference.

Everything But a Christmas Eve by Holly Jacobs

This book is a light romance. Do I need to summarize further? Well, I'll add that it's actually part of a larger series by this author, so someone who has read all the others will recognize many of the characters in this book.

General rating: 2.75 out of 4 (plausibility issues and absolutely NOT thought provoking).

1. Is it plausible? I guess so. The relationship is plausible. The matchmaking neighbor? Not so much.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not really.

3. It is engaging? Yup. And short too--a quick read.

4. Is it uplifting? Sure! True love is always uplifting. As are happy endings. And refreshingly CLEAN. That's definitely uplifting!

Language: No bad language
Sex: No sex at all

My recommendation: If you like squeaky clean romances, this one fits the bill. It wasn't deep or moving or anything like that, but it was short and sweet. I really appreciate authors of clean romances. There seem to be so few! So I will always support this kind of author.

Her Highness' First Murder by Peg Herring

This is, as the title suggests, a mystery. Our sleuths are 13-year-old Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII, and Simon, the young son of Elizabeth's household's physician. This is the first in a series--all the rest of them being yet to come.

General rating: 3 out of 4 (not thought provoking), a fun read

1. It it plausible? Well, kind of. Most mysteries require a degree of suspension of belief. Really, can regular people be successful detectives? Hm. Anyway, it's about as plausible as they come, I guess. And I'm not an expert on historical literature, but the details seemed okay to me. I also question the dramatic nature of these murders (and most fictional murders, actually). Really. I can't imagine this kind of thing ever happening. But! Suspension of belief and all that.

2. Was it thought provoking? Well... not really. Unless you count thinking things like: could murders like this really take place? How many people in one person's acquaintance are really insane? One? More than one? None? Hm. And: would a king really choose a 13 year old boy to investigate a murder? I had all those thoughts. But this book wasn't actually thought provoking in a valuable way.

3. Was this book engaging? Absolutely yes.

4. Was this book uplifting? Well, yes. They did catch the murderer, after all, and the detectives escaped unscathed. Justice prevailed!! And all that.

Language: No bad language at all
Sex: No sexual descriptions. References to prostitutes, though, and loose women in general.

My recommendation: If you like mysteries, you'll probably like this. It was a fun read.

Ere His Floods Of Anger Flow by John Harmer

This book is written especially for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's a fictional portrayal of what might happen in the years before the second coming of Jesus Christ. We follow the experiences of a dozen or so people as they survive or die during storms, plagues, famines, and other disasters.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Was it plausible? Absolutely. I think this is what I liked best about this book. It's probably the most plausible apocalyptic book I've read. Everything that the author portrayed could easily take place. Apocalyptic or not, any one of the things he wrote about could happen any day anywhere in the world.

2. Was it thought provoking? Yes. I thought a lot about my own degree of preparation for any large-scale disaster. Do I have emergency supplies? Am I prepared to follow the direction of my local leaders? Could I survive in the various scenarios he suggested? I actually was prompted to make a few changes in my own life as a result of reading his ideas of what could happen.

3. Was it engaging? Yes. Very, especially after the first few chapters.

4. Was it uplifting? Strangely, yes it was. I hate reading books like this and turning the last page with the primary idea that the world will "burn" and everyone (save a lucky few) will die. Nobody has any control over anything. Ugh. This book was not like this. People died and people lived. Survival--or not--depended on being in the right place at the right time, or on being inspired to take action in advance of the trouble, and some of it depended on following the counsel already given by prophets: store food for emergencies, get out of debt, be loyal to your local leaders. In other words, individuals making good decisions often were protected from disaster. Some weren't, but some were and I liked that idea of an individual having a measure of control over what happened to him or her. The idea that a person who consistently makes righteous decisions will have a chance to survive a disaster really appealed to me. So yes, this book was uplifting. It didn't extinguish all hope of surviving disasters.

Language: no bad language at all
Sex: other than reports of widespread pornography and other sexual deviances, there were no portrayals of sex.

My recommendation: It was worth reading. Much to my surprise, I really liked it.

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book's about Eustace Conway, a man who has lived "off the land" since 1977--since he was 17. He kills and prepares his own food, makes his own clothing from the skins of the animals he's eaten, lives in a teepee on his own nature reserve and pretty much knows everything about survival.

General rating: 2 out of 4. The bad language really bothered me. Not worth reading.

1. Was it plausible? Of course. This is a biography of sorts. Eustace Conway isn't dead, though, he's still alive and "roughing it" in

2. Was it thought provoking? Yes, at first. It made me think about my own life and how caught up I am in modern living. I don't think I'd survive very comfortably (if at all) if I were plunked down on a piece of property and told to make my own way. However, this book was really TMI for me. At the beginning of the book I admired Eustace and his way of life, but by the end I felt frustrated by his lack of sympathy for any view but his own. His biographer, Elizabeth Gilbert, obviously admired him, but by the end of the book she had undercut most of Conway's admirablility (is that a word?) by her stark portrayal of his difficulty getting along with the people who are closest to him. I'd have enjoyed the book more had it told more about what makes him special--his abilities in the outdoors--rather than so much about his personality.

3. Was it engaging? At first. I read the first half pretty much non-stop, but then I put the book down for a few weeks and I ended up forcing myself to come back to it in order to finish. I actually was not interested in reading any more of the book, but I'm a "finisher" generally... so I finished it. I skimmed through quite a bit on the last half.

4. Was it uplifting? No. As I mentioned before, I went from feeling kind of idealistic about nature and oneness with earth and all that to feeling kind of irritated by Eustace Conway... from "Wow! This guy is a visionary!" to "Wow. This guy's messed up." Not particularly inspiring or uplifting.

Language: Plenty of profanity and obscenities scattered throughout, another reason I had trouble making it through the book. I just didn't expect a serious biographer to include so much bad language. To me, bad language screams "unevolved adult"! People of words use the intelligent ones, not the 4-letter ones.

Sex: Plenty of references to Eustace's love life. What does this have to do with outdoor survival? I'm not sure, unless it's having to do with survival of the species and Eustace's encounters didn't lead to any of that.

My recommendation: Skip it. There's nothing memorable or useful about this chronicle of the life of Eustace Conway. Good luck to the guy himself, though! I like his ideals.

What Makes a Good Book

Here are my 4 criteria for a good book:

1. Plausibility (within the genre, of course). The book must make sense and be believable.

2. Thought provoking. A book should give the reader something worthwhile to think about. Of course, not all entertaining books can provide this...but the best ones will.

3. Engaging. A book must be interesting enough for the reader to want to finish it! It could be full of great information, but if it doesn't grab the reader, that great information will never be shared.

4. Uplifting. The best books leave the reader with a good feeling.

The great thing about reading is that each reader will have his/her own opinion on how these criteria can be applied. I've got my own pretty specific ideas, but I LOVE to hear other ideas. Comment away.

Here we go!