Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Winged Obsession

Parts of this journalistic account of  a Fish and Game undercover agent's exploits in the the world of insect smuggling are interesting but many parts are just down right dull.

Yoshi Kojima is an eccentric man who makes his living (and a pretty substantial one at that) dealing in endangered butterflies and insects.  Agent Ed Newcomer is out to bring him down.  Understanding the butterfly and insect trading world and the life of an undercover agent in the most unappreciated division  of law enforcement held my attention.  I think anyone would enjoy the general set up to the problems and the day to day life of the agent and also the nefarious world of illegal bug trading.

Once the writer got to the daily and weekly machinations of the sting (which was easily half of the 300 page book) I lost complete interest.  I had very hard time focusing on which butterflies were which, who told which lies, when agent Newcomer was supposed to call and Skype his prey and all the petty comings and goings of the the agent and the butterfly dealer.

The author, Jessica Speart, wrote this book without mention of herself at all.  It was totally third person with no over arching voice of the narrator, how she got all her information and how she could tell the story so thoroughly from a third person perspective.  The last chapter ended that voice and introduced us to a first person view of the author and how she went to get an interview with Kojima after he was released from prison and sent home to Japan.  I found this an odd chapter and while in some ways it was the most interesting, it was also the most misleading.

The author is worried the Kojima will not talk to her, so she lies to him about being interested in his shop and she basically goes undercover and asks him all kinds of questions about the agent and about the illegal butterfly trade.  Huh?  Undercover journalist as well?

So while this was not my favorite Early Review book,  and I personally did not enjoy it, someone may like the stories of butterfly smuggling and undercover work.  Please let me know if you would like to borrow it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Finding Things

Did you ever find a note or a scrap of paper on the street or in a library book that made you go hmmm?  Over the years, whenever I would find something like this, I would pick it up and read it but almost always not know what to do with it.  Found objects like this were clearly portals into other people's stories, but it was hard to know where to put them or what meaning to make out of small snips of life.

I was overjoyed to find that someone else (many other people really) have the same fascination I do with found objects.  They have started a zine and a website called Found Magazine.  Found Magazine is free of advertising and is easy to find in Independent bookstores or art shops.  There are many editions featuring found notebooks, lists, recipes, photos, love notes, school reports, children's drawings, teacher evaluations, report cards, audio tapes, diaries, posters for lost dogs, dire warnings left on windshields.  Some funny, some sad, some bittersweet, some WTF!!

So check out the website and make a mental note that if you find something interesting with handwriting or photos or drawings you are encouraged to mail it in to the good people at Found magazine who may feature it as the find of the day.  If you are a story lover like I am these will all pique your curiosity.  I wish I had thought of this first!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blogs become Books

These days many of my early review selections are books by bloggers.  Someone starts a blog about a particlar topic, in this case diet and nutrition, and attracts a lot of followers and uses that poplarity to launch a book of the same name.  I am impressed.  This method of getting yourself published seems to level the playing field a bit and give me hope that its not just literary writers who get to have a piece of the publishing pie. 
To be fair, there was a lot of useful advice in this book regarding how to approach dieting and weight loss with the many temptations that bombard us day after day.  I also came across many good recipes that I will try:  pumpkin muffins and tomato zuchini fritatta to name just two.  So if you are looking for good low fat, high health recipes to try this is a good source (as her blog probably is too).

The only drawback to this book is that Ms Haupert's writing is not very interesting or engaging, and I had a hard time geting through each chapter.  I am not sure it was possible to make it more lively.  She spent a lot of time explaining her schedule each day and her calorie counts.  Some people might find this fascinating, but I found it dry.  (I am also a tad over weight so maybe she does have something!)

I do want to give her credit for inventing a life for herself that is interesting and varied and sings to exactly what she wants to do.  This I envy and admire.  I guess that is another good reason to read this book:  she gives good advice on living a creative life and breaking the mold from the standard 8-5 drudgery. 

I can offer this book to anyone who would like it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who is Professor X?

Professor X wrote this article for the Atlantic Monthly in 2008.  It caused a lot of controversy when it appeared.  He excoriates our culture for demanding that College be a prerequisite for most jobs, even those that do not seem to need such preparation.  From this article he wrote:  In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic.

It was hidden in a bottom shelf of a bookstore in the parenting section which was kind of odd, but of course I was attracted to it as I am part of the Ivory Tower and have learned to both love and hate it over the years.

This book is an interesting interplay of his own memoir, why he chose to adjunct and what it does for his finances and his marriage; a social critique of the culture that has elevated a college education way beyond it's possible worth, and a writing primer.

I have to say, that the combination really worked for me.  I was fairly convinced about his argument that we are unnecessarily pushing college at the expense of huge amounts of debt and frustration, his own story was sweet and well written and who can't use advice on writing, even if from an anonymous author.

Professor X chose to remain anonymous because he loves his job and doesn't want to lose it.  He no longer needs the money, his marriage is fine, but he truly enjoys teaching even if his students are woefully unprepared.

I would really like to write this man as I have a few critiques about some of his assumptions about college education.  The easy avenue of email probably won't be open to me.  I'll have to write his publisher.  I have a copy of it if anyone would like to borrow it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

The most compelling memoirs are not about movie stars or teenagers who combat abuse, alcoholism or anorexia. They are really the ones where ordinary people do unusual things with their lives.  Things that we can picture doing ourselves.

Kristin Kimball lived life as a NYC writer. Lattes and Central Park and nice clothing.  On a story assignment, she met a farmer who took her breath away and in a short amount of time she gave up her lease on her Manhattan apartment and joined the man she would later marry in starting an organic farm in Northern New York near Lake Champlain.

The work is back breaking and she has little time for sleep or any of the activities that normally occupy her.  Her parents think she is a tad crazy, but by the last chapter she has agreed to have a wedding on the farm for 300 people and comes to a happy satisfaction with her crazy, dirty life.

Her partner is an optimist and always believes that people will come together to care for each other: that things will be given them and labor be donated.  Their new community proves to be an oasis of faith and love and neighborliness of which they participate in as well.  It is exciting to follow the story of how the farm and the CSA come together seed by seed, animal by animal. The climax of  the story is a big grand wedding and a small glimpse into the future of a new baby born at home under the watchful eye of their pigs and cows.

If you are interested in this simple life,  the farming life, a life transformed you will enjoy this book as much as I did.