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Father Knows Less Or: "Can I Cook My Sister?": One Dad's Quest to Answer His Son's Most Baffling Questions by Wendell Jamieson
"Why is the sky blue?" "Were Tyrannasaurus Rexes mean?" Kids ask a lot of questions. This book sets out to answer them. Divided into chapters by roughly by subject matter, this book covers questions about linguistics, sex, biology, physics, and more. While most questions are drawn from the author's own children and friends' children, some are posed by children whose parents found their way to his website.
A book like this runs the risk of preciousness (awwww, look at those cute things kids ask) and I can't say that the author avoided it. I do appreciate, however, that he didn't talk down to the kids, and went straight to the Experts. The author didn't shirk on experts, either, but lined up an impressive array of academics and policymakers who, in turn, didn't talk down either.
The main weakness of the book was the personal essays used to link each chapter to one another. While I appreciated the author trying to create a narrative link, I found them rather dull and self indulgent. The exception was the epilogue, which provided some necessary thoughtfulness and gravity.
All in all, this was a somewhat weightier "bathroom book". Easy, accessible snippets to be picked up and put down and not thought about in between reads.
Although I ended up thinking very highly of the author and his research, I spent the first third of this book thinking it would be better titled " Forgotten Household Doohickeys". Richly illustrated with detailed, pen-and-ink drawings of seven* different types of chamber pots, 5 spinning wheels, 9 candle-making tools, etc., this book is a visual treat, as well as an educational one. The chapters covering food and cookery seem weaker than the later chapters on cleaning, washing, and other household tasks, which lead to my initial disappointment. The author has done his research--drawing from the Foxfire oral-history tradition, he bases much of the information in the book on discussions with people in his neighborhood (a British village) who used to use these tools or perform these tasks. Although I was expecting to learn more practical knowledge (how to do these crafts in a modern context) from reading this, this book would be very useful for students, novelists, or other researchers.
* All numbers in this review are entirely made up.
by Ibrahim Amin
Let's say you're out fighting monsters and you see a mummy lurching toward you. How are you going to stop him? Silver bullet? No, that's werewolves. Cut off his head? Well, that's a pretty big risk to take if it doesn't work. With The Monster Hunter's Handbook, you need guess no more. Divided into two sections, Cryptozoology (monsters, critters, and such) and Cryptohoplology (mythical weapons and armor), each entry gives a brief history, how to recognize such, what to do with it (for monsters, how to kill it; for weapons, how to wield it), and ends with literary citations. We're not talking citations to Monster Manual, 5th edition, but rather references to Ovid, Homer, and other rather old and weighty folk.
Here's the rub. I didn't read it. I skimmed it. I didn't care enough about fighting monsters to read each entry carefully, and although I think it was marketed as a lark, it was rather humorless. This is a great book for game enthusiasts, 10-year-old boys (or girls), or those who fight monsters for a living. It's simply not meaty nor amusing enough to hold the attention of the lay reader.
What if your birthright were a hereditary knowledge of cheese and a rather remarkable nose? You would likely, as Edward Trencom and all the Trencom's before him, become a cheesemonger. This little mystery centers Trencom, his nose, his family history, and a whole lot of cheese. I can't really go into detail, because after 77 pages, not much had happened, and I gave up. I picked this up as a lark, but found that I don't have the patience to suffer through an awful lot of pretentious cheese references just to find the plot. The author, who I had not heard of, but seems to be known for his nonfiction, certainly does have a serious knowlege of cheesy comestibles, but has failed to make this book (or the first 77 pages) more than just a funny little joke for those in the know. I doubt there are enough cheese experts in the world to build a strong readership
Lady's Maid does exactly what I want historical fiction to do--it takes us to a time and place not our own, tells us a story we think we already know from a different perspective, and personalizes names and dates that would otherwise be just...well...names and dates. LM is a first-person narrative, told by Wilson, the personal maid of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Following her story from her initial hiring through EBB's death, the reader gets insight into the day-to-day realities of life as a upper-floors servant and how that affects one's finances, hopes, goals, and security. Wilson's life is not without joy and romance of her own (rather than just that of her employer), it is often hard to read because of the choices she makes and the resulting consequences. It was especially interesting to read a non-romanticized view of EBB and see her as a person with very real flaws, whose sheltered life is propped up by the support and sacrifice of paid employees such as Wilson.
If you love leafing through old Betty Crocker cookbooks from the 60s and 70s, this might just be up your alley. Clearly written with tongue in cheek (and martini in hand), this book apes the graceful pen-and-ink sketches, household tips, menus that capture a time gone by, and entertainment suggestions of cookbooks past. In the introduction, Sedaris states that she hates joke cookbooks, and the recipes are clearly not jokes, although the art (glorious photographs of a 3-tiered lunchmeat "cake") and surrounding materials are likely not to be taken seriously. Most of the text was skimmable, with only a few passages funny enough to be read aloud.
You enter this book believing that you'll be reading steamy, bloody, political historical fiction, only to be given the old AP-English bait-and-switch, and you soon discover that the main plotline is a fictionalized account of the circumstances behind Alexander Pope's poem "The Rape of the Lock". If you're still reading this review, you might actually enjoy the book.
I very much enjoyed the unusual historical premise, as it was a nice change from re-envisioning this incredibly famous queen or that important moment, yet was not such a small event that I found myself wondering why I was reading it. Sophie Gee brings together a range of events--social, political, religious, and literary--to create context, a fulfilling story, and a satisyfing backdrop. Her research into the "stuff" of the period was well done and added to the umwelt without seeming too clever, smug, or overwhelming.
The book is not without its flaws, however. The characters can be a little precious, especially Alexander Pope, who is written to be the book's dwarfish-but-loveable hero. It's also a little simplistic, which makes for an easy, enjoyable read, but doesn't really transport the reader in any meaningful or lasting way.
This was my first dip into the world of Austen-ana. Certain Austen enthusiasts have created a branch of fan fiction (books and movies) that imagines retellings of her tales from other established characters' viewpoints. For some strange reason, I thought I should see what it was all about.
From my experience with Mr. Knightley's Diary, I am in no hurry to try again. It is a sad retelling indeed that not only bores the reader, but causes the reader to wonder why she ever liked certain characters in the original. MKD turns our beloved Mr. Knightly into a carping, chauvenist grump. The plot follows pretty faithfully to the original story, so we learn very little new about characters and their motivations, nor do we really see scenes that didn't exist in the original.
For those who are desperate to revel in Austen's plot, I would recommend watching every movie version out there, rather than turning to such a faithful and spiritless retelling of her works. There is no romance to be found her, and much less her feisty wit. There is only a story you already know and characters you no longer like.
This book, I think, will have trouble finding its way into the hands that need it most. Those who pick up this book are likely already inclined to raise calm and compassionate children and won't find many surprises within its pages. Those that could use a dose of its wisdom are unlikely to pick it up in the first place.
One of the best features of this book are the activity lists at the end of each chapter that give the reader specific ways to implement the author's guidelines. Like many books of its ilk, however, the narrative voice often suffers from a bit of smugness. Yes, the author seems to have discovered a method of parenting/teaching that is mindful and loving, but when its described, sounds self-satisfied and a bit precious.
Who doesn't like a book of strange and somewhat subversive lists?
* It's easy to read.
* It doesn't contain a lot of extraneous text.
* It highlights the most important information about a topic.
* It can be read in quick bursts, like in the bathroom or during commercials.
* It makes you more interesting at parties.
* It contains information that other people might not know.
* It draws its material from subject experts that the reader might not otherwise encounter.
* It relies heavily on material that is somewhat prurient (sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, etc.)
This isn't going to change your life, but it would make an excellent gift.