March 26, 2007
" Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories" by Agatha Christie
“ Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories” sounds like a total old lady book. This is because:
a) it’s about an old lady
b) it’s by Agatha Christie, the #1 old lady author
That being said, it’s really an enjoyable book. The mysteries are tame, but one has to appreciate Christie’s attention to criminal detail and her love of imagining settings for the greedy impulses of humankind.
This is not a book I recommend sitting and reading story after story, because each story in the book follows a pretty noticeable pattern. Someone in the group tells a story of a mysterious death (accompanied by varying numbers of questionable wills, adopted nieces and wealthy old people) and then everyone hazards a guess about the true perpetrator of the crime. Miss Marple, of course, always totally nails the right answer, but does so through various charming observations of human nature from her own sleepy little village.
Still, these are great little mysteries, even if Agatha Christie tends to lean a little heavily on poison as a plot device. Each story is no more than 4-5 pages and provides a pleasant interruption to say, an evening of studying, without being too wholly distracting. Miss Marple is a classic character in mystery circles, and this collection is a good way to appreciate her in small doses.
Sara, reference assistant
March 19, 2007
"Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks" By Philip Lowry
Philip Lowry is a professor in Minnesota and member of the Society of American Baseball Researchers, so he knows what Rogers Hornsby meant when asked about what a ballplayer does during the winter: stare out the window and wait for spring. That is, sadly, also a fan's fate. Yet during those winter months, Lowry has put together a second edition of his classic baseball stadium reference, Green Cathedrals. The first edition, from 1986, collected information on every major league ballpark: when they were built, the architects, their playing field dimensions, occupancy, ownership, current uses, and more.
In the second edition, Lowry expands his subject to include every field to host a major league regular-season or post-season game as well as all stadiums used by teams in the Federal League, Players League, and Negro Leagues—over 400, in all. Entries are arranged alphabetically by city, then chronologically by use within each city. Thus Detroit, for instance, is represented first by Recreation Park, where the 1887 World Champion Detroit Wolverines played, followed by the Bennett Park, Briggs Stadium, and Tiger Stadium incarnations as Michigan and Trumbell. This structure is followed by entries for Mack Park, De Quindre Park, and Sportsman's Park, which hosted Negro League games between 1920 and 1961. Finally, we find today's home of the Tigers, Comerica Park.
While it is difficult to generate excitement for a reference book, this is an extremely interesting way to spend an hour or so—and an invaluable resource for research-minded baseball fans. Understanding the field of play shows why some parks produce teams with unique styles; a small park, for instance, favors power hitters, while a big outfield gives an advantage to fast runners. Lowry makes the book even more interesting by providing tidbits of history for many of these stadia. In fact, the only obvious improvement to this book would be inclusion of a running header, to facilitate navigation to individual items in it.
"Death and Judgment" by Donna Leon
Death and Judgment is the fourth book in Donna Leon’s mystery series which started with Death at La Fenice. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a police detective in modern day Venice. This case is actually a combination of several individual murders and accidental deaths that in the end are all linked together by the common tie of illegal trafficking in women and snuff films. It is a good mystery series, your standard “police procedural” made different by the setting – Guido gets to crime scenes by boat or train, and the corruption and ineptitude of police officials, politicians, judges, etc., is subtly omnipresent. Guido’s family life usually plays a role in the stories. His wife, the daughter of a rich and powerful count, is a college literature professor and his best sounding board. They have two teenagers. Raffi, their son is not involved in this story, but fourteen year old Chiara knows the daughter of one of the victims and involves herself in her father’s investigation to a frightening degree. If you are looking for a well written mystery series that is set outside of the typical London or US city location, give the Guido Brunetti series a try.
March 12, 2007
"Murder on a Hot Tin Roof" by Amanda Matestsky
Take a trip back to the 1950s when men were men and women were second class citizens (or maybe I should make that men were insufferable and women were insignificant). Actually, Amanda Matestsky has penned a fun mystery series set in the mid-1950s “starring” Paige Turner, a Korean War widow who works at Daring Detective magazine. She is the best writer on staff, but as the only woman is mostly relegated to secretarial and servant duties (filing, coffee making, etc.). But she also always ends up in the middle of a major homicide, writes up the inside story for her magazine, then gets those stories picked up as dime store true crime novels. Paige lives in NYC, has a quirky artist best friend (who has a bad beat poet boyfriend – his poetry is bad, the guy’s ok), and the obligatory homicide detective boyfriend (if she lived in a small town, he would have been police chief/sheriff). The stories are fun and filled with 1950s pop culture. In the fourth and most recent entry in the series, Paige is investigating the death of Ben Gazzara’s understudy in the new hit Broadway play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” We visit the Actor’s Studio, where our murder victim was studying under Lee Strasberg, interrogate people who knew the actor at gay hangouts in the Village, and swelter in the July heat at a time when air conditioning was not ubiquitous. If this series is new to you, start with the first book, Murders Prefer Blondes.
March 07, 2007
"Lennon Revealed" by Larry Kane
Larry Kane first published this reminiscence of John Lennon in 2005, twenty-five years
after Lennon's death. Kane is a journalist who first got to know Lennon when he
accompanied the Beatles on their 1964 and 1965 American tours. His treatment of his
material is thematic rather than chronological, and is based on his own recollections
of Lennon and on interviews with some of the people who were important in Lennon's life.
Kane's own memories span the time from the first meeting in 1964 to Lennon's death in
1980. In the preface, Kane says "I fundamentally and honestly really liked the man."
This point of view was clear throughout the book, and sometimes I felt that it got in
the way of letting Kane's and others' memories of the man speak for themselves.
However, as I went along, I started experiencing his bias as one of the features of the
story he tells. Anyone looking for a biography or for in-depth analysis of Lennon's
life would probably want to start with a different book: a more traditional,
chronologically arranged biography. However, there's no substitute for the memories and
experience of people who were there at the time, and this is one of many fascinating
pictures of a twentieth century icon and his effect on some of those who knew him.
ISBN: 978-0762429660 (paperback)
March 05, 2007
"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is the beautiful and moving story of a two young girls, Lily, a farmer’s daughter, and the more privileged Snow Flower. Born in the 1820s the story follows their lives until Lily is in her 80s. The girls become laotong or “old same” when they are seven and forge a friendship and bond that lasts a life time. They are raised in China at a time when a woman’s value is determined by how small her bound feet are (and if they form a perfect lily shape) and the number of sons she produces. The girls are from different towns and communicate using a secret women’s writing from that region of Hunan called nu shu. As the story unfolds, and the girls grow into womanhood, marry, have children, suffer the loss of family, the terror of war and have a misunderstanding that alters their lives and friendship.