Book Reviews Update


I started to read two books simultaneously: JR by William Gaddis and “A Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel Defoe. I must confess reading JR will require time and special tecnique, because it’s nearly unreadable (I didn’t say bad, please don’t misunderstand me). I completely ignored the 25 pages intro of JR and all the advices for using a reader’s guide to read it. Hell, I was told to use a reader’s guide to read Pynchon and after I’ve read 3/4 of all Pynchon wrote I thought that “author’s guide” thing to be a real over the top exaggeration. Finding Pynchon readable, I thought “oh well, let Gaddis come.” – I was wrong. I’m still fiddling with this one.
I started with Defoe’s book which is a great account of the plague years in the middle ages. A bliss of shocking reality into the stream of zombie novels I have been reading. So far from zombieness the middle ages were not.



Book Review: The Death Clock by J. Rock


After the recent painful and disappointing waste of time on the worst and most boring zombie novel ever written, I needed something light, to humor me. “The Death Clock”is a 33pg short story much like episodes of a many short lived spooky TV series from “Chiller TV” and “Space” channels: “Fear Itself”, “The Outer Limits”, “Night Visions”, “Alfed Hitchcock Presents”, “The Twilight Zone”.

I seriously advise the author to try and sell this to a media other then the book. I’d love to see it on TV.

Congrats, J. Rock, you did an awesome job.



The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson


… or “Män som hatar kvinnor” (original Swedish title) or “Os Homens que Não Amavam as Mulheres” (in Portuguese).

Finally, after watching the three original Swedish films, I’m getting better acquainted with Lisbeth Salander again by reading the Millenium trilogy. I’m currently in the middle of the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire. I rated The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. It could be a few pages shorter and give us less detail about the Vanger family, since many facts were not relevant – neither to characterize the people nor to the crime mistery. Also, I’m no puritan, but at some point during the book it’s already clear enough to the reader that Blomkvist is a ladies man, so there’s no need to waste pages describing his love affairs. But overall the most negative aspect of this book (and the trilogy, so far) is the endless ammount of product placement. At one point it got so annoying that I almost dropped the book. “She took her PowerBook/ his brand new IKEA couch brand x, chairs brand y, cars brand z, etc” – that is REALLY annoying, and I’m no writer, but as an advice to any aspiring writer I’d say don’t do product placement in your book. It may even be a bestseller, but it will piss the hell out of your readers. Despite all that it’s an awesome book, highly recommended.



“Roadside Picnic” by Arkady Strugatsky – Book Review


I read this book because I watched a film based in it, “Stalker” (1979). As usual, the book is much better than the film, and in this particular case, the book has almost nothing to do with the film. Roadside Picnic is not regular easy fiction, with beginning, middle, end, and all the sci-fi tidbits already chewed up and spit there on the paper for the reader’s digestion pleasure. When you start reading it, it feels like you’re in the middle of a book and the first pages are missing, because you can’t quite understand: all these things that the characters are talking about, where do these come from? What are this things? What happened? These questions are slowly elucidated through the characters dialogues. There are only a few occasions in Roadside Picnic where things are actually openly explained to the reader.

Half way into the book I was starting to ask myself “why on earth is this called Roadside Picnic”? Am I missing some big obvious metaphor? Then the answer to my question came in the book’s greatest philosophical passage. And after that the reading only gets more interesting… until we get to the end, that leaves you with the same feeling you had when you started the book: there must be some pages missing. Which is not a bad at all. 🙂



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – HeLa Cells


I’m finishing Rebecca Skloot’s account of the story behind the HeLa cells.  I can’t tell how much of my fascination with this book comes from the uncanniness of the story itself and how much comes from Skloot’s incredible mastery of the art of reporting a real story. It’s a non-fiction work but it looks like a work of  fiction when it gives each of its characters/facts a beginning, middle and end. It was so well written! Every phrase passed in front of my eyes like a scene from a film, a very sad film, where black people were relegated to medical apartheid and scientists and science played the great villain. When you work with people (and I know about that because I’m a doctor) sometimes it can be hard to balance professionalism and emotional detachment from the person who’s your work subject. It’s a thin line. I guess anyone who read the book can tell Rebecca Skloot got deeply involved with her research got emotionally involved with the Lacks family, and she pretty much wrote herself as a “character” into the book, in a very clever – and very professional – way. Congratulations to the author, it’s probably the best non-fiction book I have ever read.

 

Edited: and I should not forget to mention the book’s awesome approach to the ethics of tissue research at the end of the book.

 

HeLa Cells from Radiolab on Vimeo.

Podcast on HeLa cells from Radiolab



I’m in the middle of reading two books…


One is “The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” by Sam Kean. It speaks about the development of the periodic table by telling stories the involve the use of the each element. I’m only in the beginning of the book, thus I wasn’t very surprised perhaps because the explanations were aimed (mostly) at lay people (since I studied chemistry for one and a half year…). But I was perplexed by the tale of  the exploration of Niobium and Tantalum in Congo and its repercussion. Niobium and tantalum are fundamental parts of cell phone batteries (or mostly other electronics batteries) , and are part of the root of conflict in this country – yes, the same country of the “blood diamonds”. It seems it’s not only the diamonds that are bloody after all. At this height  is there anything that comes out of Congo that is not blood tainted?

 

The other book I’m reading is another non-fiction called “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebbeca Skloot. 

I’m in the middle, I’m loving it and there’s so much to say about it that my comment alone would make another book! I’ll write a longer review about it after I’m finished, now all I can say is: highly recommended!



Book Review – Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins


(WARNING: contains major spoilers!)

Also, I published this same review on Goodreads. I Rated it 2 stars (It was OK)


He does a good job in connecting the different storylines. Alobar and Kudra are very catchy, charismatic characters, and along with Pan they form a lovely trio and keep the book going.

Apart from that there is little I liked. The characters that lead the other storylines are either uninteresting or detestable to the point of making me want to stop reading. Again, except for Kudra, Alobar and Pan, the rest of the characters have such poor chemistry that I don’t think they should ever stand together in the same room.

Wiggs Dannyboy’s endless pseudo-philosophical monologue about mystical-religious topics, embelished with random scientific data in order to make it look like a serious discussion is really painful to go through and unnecessary. His practical role was to connect Alobar’s with the other three stories in the book. That could have been done without all the gibberish. He’s my less favorite character.
I had a big problem with the character V’lu Jackson and the whole “write like you talk” thing – alternately with Pan’s archaic English: it renders the text unreadable at times and adds nothing to the story or characters. That, in addition to all the godawful metaphors, left the impression that the writer only did it to show off, you know, how smart he supposedly is.

Also, he spends the book sort of loathing christianism, giving room to multiple kinds of spiritualism, but in the end we learn that Kudra visited an astral plan which is pretty much the christian cliche of heaven and hell. How lame. And just when Alobar and Kudra meet again and suddenly there’s the chance for more interesting discussions, the book ends.



Book Review: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer


This is not a random gullible green author raising the flag of veganism. It is a rather detailed research on how does the American meat industry works. Every claim and factual citation is properly referenced. Even when the reference is “just” a website (people will believe anything that is on the internet), there are ways to check further for the veracity of it.


You can also go farther than the author, and research the web for resources that try to debunk the things written on the book (not he he does not do that himself). The author gets to his own conclusion, and does not impose veganism on the reader. It’s up to the reader to make his own decisions, which, if you are smart enough and pay attention to the news, should not be a hard task.


In less than two months we have had two massive food recalls, all related to the factory farm meat industry: first there was the poultry and meat recall due to E.Coli contamination, and then there was the scandalous egg recall due to Salmonella. These only happen because the animals’ immune system is genetically designed so deficient that their bodies serve as playground to microorganisms. The factory farmed animals would never survive in case they were not fed tons of broad spectrum antibiotics everyday mixed with their food. As if that was not enough, you still have account improper management of the animal/meat througout the whole slaughtering process. Headlines like “Egg recall highlits the dangers of mass food production” only happen thanks to factory farms.  By reading Foer’s book, you would not have to read the article behind that headline. Because you would know instantly what would be written therein.


We (that is, human beings) are frequently lectured over self-medication and misuse of antibiotics; doctors and entire hospital staffs are blamed for bacterial resistance and the eminent “superbugs”. While there is truth in that, nothing can bear more guilt for imminent diseases (say H1N1) and “superbugs” than factory farms. It is a safe bet that you will never hear of the “Cat Flu” or “Dog Flu”. Because we do not eat cats and dogs. And even when we do (Koreans do), they are not produced in a genetically engineered immune deficient massive industrial scale fed broad spectrum antibiotics. Now chickens, pigs, fish and cow? The situation is so bad that I would not be surprised in case there was something that sounds as absurd as a “fish flu”. So please watch out for what (who) you eat and food safety. It’s not just about animal welfare, but our health depends on it too.



Skip to toolbar