Home : Ex Libris : 1 December 1997

ex libris reviews

1 December 1997

He (God) seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles.
J.B.S. Haldane


In This Issue

Alas, November was a slow month for books; Riven, the sequel to Myst, was published this month, so I spent my time solving puzzles on the computer rather than reading. What little I did read was mostly by Patrick O'Brian.

-- Will Duquette

Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

Thus Was Adonis Murdered
By Sarah Caudwell

We're still working on this one, held over from last month.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

By Patrick O'Brian

This is one of O'Brian's early novels, which I had not read before. It concerns an Oxford professor who leaves the university to live in a small cottage in Wales. After a near-fatal illness, he is nursed to health in the farmhouse down the hill, where he falls in love with the farmer's wife, and she with him. (I give nothing away; this much is printed on the back cover.) This is not a romance; indeed, neither party so much as speak of their love. Rather, it is a novel about Wales, and about small towns, and about the deadly effect of gossip in a small community. It rather reminded me of Ethan Frome.

Desolation Island
The Fortune of War
The Surgeon's Mate
By Patrick O'Brian

These books carry Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, physician and naturalist Stephen Maturin, to the South Seas, the North America station (and the beginning of the War of 1812), and the Baltic Sea. If you've not read any of O'Brian's work, buy Master and Commander immediately, and read it. I won't say anything more; those who have started the series have either read these books already, or will soon get to them, and I don't want to spoil anything.

Joseph Banks, A Life
By Patrick O'Brian

Joseph Banks was one of the best known naturalists of the late eighteenth century. A botanist, he traveled to Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia with Captain James Cook, who named Botany Bay after Banks' activities; he was a friend of King George III, and was instrumental in the creation of the botanical gardens at Kew; it is largely due to his encouragement that convicts were transported to Australia. Banks was president of the Royal Society, a group of noted scientists, for over forty years. Also, he was inordinately fond of beetles. This is an enjoyable, though dry, book, and makes an interesting companion to Captain James Cook by Richard Hough, which I read some months ago.

Strip Tease
By Carl Hiaasen

This is a tacky, tawdry, low book; it is also extremely funny. I find myself at loss: I don't know whether I want to read more by Hiaasen or not. I bought it because I'd heard that Hiaasen is funny, and because I heard an interview with him on AirTalk, a National Public Radio call-in show here in Los Angeles. The book was the inspiration for a rather poorly received movie starring Demi Moore, which I have not seen; I gather it was as faithful to the book as movies usually are.

Anyway, Strip Tease concerns a young divorced mother, fired from her secretarial job with the FBI because her ex-husband is a convicted felon; she takes up strip-tease dancing to pay her lawyer bills. A Florida congressman causes a ruckus at the strip club where she works; the sugar growers, who need the congressman to vote for sugar price supports, try to hush-up the scandal. Things get violent, twisted, and positively Byzantine, but all is well in the end. As I say, it's a low, tawdry, sleazy story, wittily told. Worth trying another? I dunno.

Children's Books

Barnyard Dance
By Sandra Boynton

Jane found some delightful board books this month; this is my favorite at the moment, by the same Sandra Boynton who does the greeting cards for Recycled Paper Products. It's a simple book: a square dance in a barnyard, called by a cow with a fiddle and dark glasses. The rhymes are strong and enjoyable, making it a pleasure to read: "Stand with the donkey, Slide with the Sheep! Scramble with the little chicks, Cheep Cheep Cheep! With an Oink and a Moo and Cock-a-doodle-doo, another little promenade two-by-two!" The pictures are fun, just what one would expect from Sandra Boynton. It's not deep, and it's not edifying, but we like it. And Dave likes it, too.


Long-time reader Joan Schultz writes:

Just wanted to let you know that I recently had the opportunity to read the classic tale Moby Dick to my son's third grade class. I read an illustrated version, one which I read in just two and a half hours. they (we) thoroughly enjoyed it. The class is made up of 14 boys and only 4 girls, so you can understand why I chose Moby Dick. A fun one to read aloud.

I am reading Swiss Family Robinson to them now and so far we're enjoying it. There are no illustrations and it's no abridged, so I'm a bit cautious and I watch their faces as I read. Just when I'm afraid maybe it's a bit dry for them something wonderfully exciting happens and they're cheering and listening with obvious fervor. So far so good. (we're only four chapters into it.)

Enjoyed your recent picture of Jane and David. Enjoyed reading your page also.


Long-time reader Celeste Lipp writes:

Right now I'm reading some very engrossing non-fiction-- Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, by Shirley Corriher. She is a food chemist and cook; I've seen her work in Cooks' Illustrated, a very educational, ad-free magazine. My personality type does a lot better when I know why I have to do something, and this book has the answers. I'm looking to improve my daily offerings and maybe get into some baking.

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

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