What I'm reading now: 13 April 11

I've read some AJ Jacobs before, and rather enjoyed his style of immersive (sometimes called "stunt") journalism: learning about a topic by trying it out, and then writing about one's experience. So when I came across a copy of his book The Year of Living Biblically, I grabbed it. It's a topic that's had some press recently, due to the success of another book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood  by Rachel Held Evans. (I haven't had a chance to read Evans' book yet.) Both authors undertake to follow the letter of the law for a year - Biblical law.

I found Jacobs' approach interesting. He is of Jewish background, and is agnostic (possibly atheist; I don't have the book handy to check my facts, sorry), and took on the challenge to follow the Bible literally for a year to prove that it is impossible to do so. He takes it on as best he can, even though he thinks it's doomed and he feels foolish with an untrimmed beard and blowing a shofar at the beginning of each month. Along the way, though, he finds that his experiment affects him in ways he hadn't expected. Jacobs' writing will amuse and might also make you think, whether you believe in Biblical literalism or not.

I've also been reading some books on gutenberg.org, specifically Arthur Morrison's Martin Hewitt stories, and I'm currently reading Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados stories. I enjoy the detection, the clean classic lines of the story, and it's a pleasant change when not every story involves a murder. On the down side, there can be some racial stereotyping going on which I find considerably less pleasant, but it's also educational about the period.

What I'm reading now: 13 March 07

Well, the knitting project is finished as of last night (with the help of an NCIS:LA marathon), and will be brought to work tomorrow to be shown off. After that, it will be carefully packaged and sent by InLaw Express to its proper destination... but everything in good time.

I did, in the meantime, find time to read something: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecc Skloot. A lot of scientific research, particularly in human biology and pathology, relies on studying the reactions of cells grown in petri dishes to various substances and conditions. An overwhelming number of those cells are from what's known as the HeLa line. He La is derived from Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died of an incredibly aggressive cancer in the 1950's, but whose cells continue to live and multiply. Author Rebecca Skloot has researched not just the start of this line of research - one of the first lines of cells to stay alive in laboratory conditions - but also Henrietta's life, and the lives of the family she left behind - none of whom knew anything about HeLa for twenty years. It's a fascinating story, thoroughly researched, and written with clarity and sympathy toward a woman and a family who continue to feel left out of their own family's history. 

What I'm reading now: 13 February 14

I had really and truly believed that I was going to be finished the book by now, but no. Book in question is The God-fearer, by Dan Jacobson, and for all that it's a small book (160 pp), it's taking me a rather a long time. (This may have something to do with the fact that it travels with me in my backpack, underneath the current knitting project.) Now that I look at it, I realize I only have another seven pages to go.

Pardon me one moment.

*pages turn*

Right. So.

Picture a man, eighty years old, not entirely clear about the present, but very clear indeed about the past, now suddenly haunted by two child-like apparations. Kobus is baffled, and casting his mind back over the years, finds an incident from his youth that might explain these ghosts. He relives that time and considers again his actions then, weighing the past against the possible alternatives. The writing is deceptively simple and beautiful, and I can understand why it was shortlisted for a Whitbread Prize.

 

What I'm reading now: 13 February 07

A ticket to the boneyard: I've read all the Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block ages ago. (The most recent one was published in 2011, but the series more or less ended in 2005 with All the Flowers are Dying; 2011's A drop of the hard stuff is a flashback novel.) However, I've been spending too much time staring at a screen, and a copy of A ticket to the boneyard was sitting right there on my coffee table, so I reread it. I'm glad I did. Matt Scudder is an alcoholic in recovery, an ex-cop, and an unlicensed investigator. A call from "Cousin Frances" alerts him that an old enemy is back, and both Matt and "his women" are in danger. There are no women in his life, though, not really, so because of his enemy's twisted reasoning, no woman who crosses Matt's path is safe. As he tries to keep himself and everyone else out of harm's way, and remove his enemy from circulation, Matt struggles with the possibility that his best will not be good enough.

I found the story a little slow to get into, and certainly rather dark, but there's action, struggle, and suspense, and both the story's development and denoument are believable. If you like gritty noir and you haven't read any of the Scudder books, you're in for a treat. On the other hand, if you want a lighter touch, avoid Block's Scudder series and go straight to the comedic Burglar series instead.

(In unrelated news, the house concert was quite a bit of fun, and the general noise level was such that we could be heard, but our missed notes overlooked. Also, our hostess and third member of the trio built and played a Carronet: she took a power drill to a carrot to create a center bore and finger holes, attached a clarinet mouthpiece to it, and used it to play a basic blues number. Highly entertaining, and mostly in tune as well.)