March 2004: Book Reviews

This is an archive of my shorter book reviews and notes, which historically have been posted over at the 50 Book Challenge on LiveJournal, but which I’m starting to move over here. I’m posting them with altered date-stamps, but they might show up in my LiveJournal cross-post anyway. Bear with me, please.

Note: Many of these books also have full reviews available in the book review podcast (RSS).

#18: The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Great history book– a biography of the Oxford English Dictionary and two men who really shaped it.

#19: The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snickett

OK, I finally got around to starting the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett. I enjoyed The Bag Beginning very much; it was a nice, quick read which helped establish the setting (including the time period: one of my only complaints about Harry Potter is that I can’t tell what decade the books are supposed to take place in) and characters quite firmly for me.

Anyway, cute, short book. I enjoyed the physical experience of reading such a nicely-bound work, as well as the intellectual pleasure of the writing itself.

#20: Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman.

A friend of mine loaned this to me at work. It’s a cute story about a boy who out-wits a group of greedy tigers. My grandparents had the original when I was growing up (probably for academic study; Grandpa was very interested in images and presentation in text, and would have found the original illustrations both racist and intellectually fascinating). The new edition is illustrated by Christopher H. Bing. Bing’s drawings are gorgeous, and get completely away from the racist drawings in Bannerman’s original.

#21: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin.

I bought this a few years ago at a science fiction convention because it was nice and short, and I was curious at the way genre novels have been experiencing what I call the Tolkein/Jordan/Rawn bloat, where they puff up to a size that’s utterly ridiculous for the amount of story they actually have to tell. Anyway, this is a decent enough sci fi novel. It’s a little predictable, and a little transparent. The parallels to VietNam and other American colonial actions is pretty obvious, as is the Badness of the Bad Guy, who actively expresses every possible racist comment you can think of, relating not only to the aliens, but to other humans as well. However, it’s well-written (with the exception of said Bad Guy), and a charming idea (a species which lives entirely inside “forest” and perceives it as life, rather than the earth/dirt).