books

Thumbs up for The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Literature.

A young man–worldly and introspective relative to the society in which he lives, but that’s not saying much–is engaged to be married to just the right girl. Then her cousin, who is actually worldly, shows up from Europe…. Sometimes I think reading classic literature is hardly different from reading fantasy or science fiction.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine’s Beautiful Idea, and Our Difficulty Swallowing It by Druin Burch. History.

If the history of medicine, in the specific sense of “things we take to feel better”–from opium to thalidomide, penicillin to aspirin–sounds at all interesting to you, read this book. That won’t apply to most of you, of course.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K. J. Charles. Fantasy.

I suppose it’s possible K.J. Charles might write something I didn’t love, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Charm of Magpies series is a bit better than this one, simply by dint of being more developed, so if you haven’t read her books yet, start there. Then, when you need more, read this.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman. Memoir.

A magnificent book. Ironically and wonderfully – since it’s about Hoffman’s struggle to express herself, and find her identity, in English – Lost in Translation is more gorgeously and elegantly written than most books by native speakers. There were so many passages I wanted to copy out.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for As the Crow Flies by Robin Lythgoe. Fantasy.

A typical fantasy quest story with atypically excellent writing. The main character, Crow, a thief, is a beautifully-drawn combination of neurotic, clever, avaricious, devout (in his own way…), snarky, and just plain funny. If you like fantasy with a memorable first-person narrator, don’t miss this. (One caveat: the female characters are all given extremely short shrift, but I don’t know if that’s typical in the author’s novels or if this book is an outlier.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones. Nonfiction/writing.

The problem of a collection of essays and speeches by one person on a single topic is immediately obvious: the content becomes repetitive. The story of Diane Wynne Jones’s early childhood is now ingrained in my mind, because I’ve read it five or six times. But it’s unfortunate that that is what I now first think of when I think of Reflections, because the non-repetitive bits are filled with such wisdom and cleverness and humor.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. History.

No, I am not one of those people who reads histories of Rome so I can point at current political events and say “See, this is just like that!” Comparing, say, ~240 years of American power to ~2,000 years of Roman power shows a problematic understanding of scale.… >> Read more