the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Non Fiction’ Category

The Secrets of Mariko, by Elisabeth Bumiller

written in 1995

where I got it: purchased used

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And now for something completely different, non-fiction!

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The Secrets of Mariko isn’t scifi or fantasy. It isn’t even fiction (although that would be a hella cool name for an SF book, wouldn’t it?).  this book is exactly as its subtitle explains – it is one year in the life of an ordinary Japanese woman and her family.

I’ve always been interested in other cultures, particularly how women in other cultures live their lives. In high school my foreign language was Japanese, and I spent two weeks in Japan after 10th grade. I still have a soft spot for all things Japanese – the language, the culture, the music, the religion, the food. So Yes, when a family member suggested a slower paced book about normal life in Japan, I jumped at the chance.

the author, Elisabeth Bumiller, is a professional journalist, and as such she isn’t afraid to ask tough and sometimes awkward questions. While in Japan for three years in the early 1990s, Bumiller decided to profile a completely ordinary Japanese housewife, to give Americans a view of how women in Japan live. Yes, I know this book is over 15 years old, and so may no longer be a completely contemporary view on Japanese society, but it was still a very satisfying read for me.

Through a translator friend, Elisabeth Bumiller is introduced to 40-something Mariko Tanaka, who lives in a suburb of Tokyo with her husband, three children, and aging parents. The Secrets of Mariko is equally about Mariko’s life as it is Bumiller’s reaction to many aspects of Japanese culture that us Americans find, for lack of a better term, foreign.

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I Was Told There’d be Cake, by Sloane Crosley

published in 2008

where I got it: the library

why I read it: Carl V recommended it

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I had no idea what to expect out of this book. I’ve never really read a book of essays before, at least not voluntarily. It starts out very darkly funny, and I kept hearing Allie Brosh’s voice reading this.  As Allie’s voice faded and Sloane’s took over, I found I was reading about someone about my age, and due to that, we had a lot of similar experiences growing up.  Not only is her prose witty and smart and so easy to get into, but it was a nice little change up of scenery for me.  Sometimes it’s tough to relate to all those time travelers, swashbucklers and space smugglers who live in a galaxy a long time ago and far away, you know?

Sloane recounts numerous moments in her life that are actually pretty serious sounding – the disaster that was her first “big girl” job, getting stuck in a wedding with a bridezilla, her youthful misunderstandings about sex and religion at summer camp, and makes turns them into something poignant and funny.  and you know what? My first “big-girl” job sucked too, and it was nice to find I wasn’t the only 8th grader with less than no clue about kissing boys.

She lives in Manhattan, and although I’ve never lived in New York City, I’ve been there enough times that I recognized many of the places and neighborhoods she mentions.  And her suburban upbringing, selfishness, social ineptness and occasional moments of utter brain-not-workingness? Yup, I recognize those too, from every time I look in the mirror.

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 Getting Stoned with Savages: A trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu, by J. Maarten Troost

Published in 2006

Where I got it: borrowed from a friend

Why I read it:  I really enjoy travelogues.

50 pages or so into this book, I was ready to trade my winter boots for flip flops and hop the next flight to Fiji. Great weather, volcanoes, no traffic jams (no traffic lights), chilled out culture, sign me up! Then I got to the chapters (plural) about cannibals. I was still ready to go. Then I got to the chapters (still plural) about the giant poisonous centipedes. You know what? I think I’ll stay here in the American mid-west, thank you very much, where snow comes and kills the insects every year. 

Marten seems to spend most of his days in Vanuatu jokingly thinking to himself how can he make his and his wife’s stay more interesting. Perhaps by nearly losing their house due to a mudslide. Perhaps by visiting with the descendants of cannibals, to see what that’s all about. Perhaps they should start a family. Perhaps he should let a poisonous centipede bite him on the food. Yes, Yes, yes, and why not? And while they’re at it, they should visit an active volcano as well. Maarten Troost doesn’t do anything halfway, and along the way he takes what could be a few years on the islands of Vanuatu and turns it into compelling reading. 

I always enjoy the occasional travelogue, and even more so when they are written in Troost’s amusing style that combines self deprecation, dry humor, anecdotes regarding expats getting lost in translation, and an unending love for the local intoxicants. Honestly, it was a little like reading an Anthony Bourdain book or watching one of his shows, only more locals, less fixers, more intoxicants and less obligatory-seeming feel good bits. 

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It’s been so long since we went to the University Library that my guest card had expired.  That taken care of,  the other half hit the top floor for ancient history, and I headed to the basement where the New Books are showcased (along with vending machines, and apparently soon they are getting a SmoothieKing.  In the library??  A SmoothieKing In the library?!?!?!?!).

If you live anywhere near a university, community college, or tech school, I highly suggest calling their library and inquiring about getting a guest card.

Both are collections of Essays, and both connect to speculative fiction. Or at least I can connect them to speculative fiction. 

We’ve got:

Harem Histories: Envisioning Places and Living Spaces, edited by Marilyn Booth

and

Fundamentalism, Politics, and the Law, edited by Mark J. Rozell and Marci A. Hamilton

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This is going to be a fairly unemotional article. I just typed an entire page of emotional, repressed memory stuff, and I’m sorry, but we just don’t know each other well enough for me to share that kind of stuff with you. Besides, this is supposed to be an article about a book, not about me, right? 

Maus is Art Spiegelman’s biography of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, a Holocaust survivor. It has a casual feel because interspersed with his father’s memories of Poland in the 1940’s is current conversations between Art and his father, and between Art and his stepmother, Mala, also a Holocaust survivor. As his father relates what happened in Poland, Art finds it difficult to reconcile the younger, risk-taking, scheming and braver Vladek with the father he knows, a stingy, cranky, racist old man who snaps at anyone who tries to help him.

 As Vladek tells his son about growing up in Poland and meeting his wife Anja, Art learns things about his parents he never knew, and I learned things about the Holocaust that the bubbies and zaydies of my youth neglected to tell me.

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If you’re a follower of this blog, you know I mostly review fantasy, scifi, and other weird stuff.    

Let’s do something completely different today.

Barbara Kingsolver’s books have been described as chick lit, contemporary lit, environmental, feminist, and historical fiction. I like to call them just damn good.  Of her more than a dozen novels and nonfiction, I’ve only read three, but I’ve liked everything I’ve picked up by her – Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, and Animal Vegetable Miracle

and thanks to Fyrefly over at Fyrefly’s Book Blog (go visit her!), now I have a copy of The Lacuna as well.

As much as I enjoy a rip roaring crazy fantastical adventure, sometimes it’s really nice to sit back and enjoy a novel that feels like a never ending mug of hot chocolate.

If you’ve never read Kingsolver, she has two drastically different books that I can’t recommend enough:

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This review was originally posted here back in January, but as you can see from this CNN article, it’s worth a re-read and a repost.

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When choosing non fiction to read, I have a weakness for books about class action lawsuits, or cringe worthy lawsuits where someone sued someone else for hurting their pride or their feelings. Not only is it fascinating, but the ruling often effects the country at large, even if they don’t know or care what’s going on.

Enter Alison Bass’s Side Effects, about the antidepressant lawsuits of the 90’s. She’s not (and I’m certainly not) saying antidepressents are bad. They help a lot of people, and if they help you or someone you love, do not stop taking them without consulting your doctor.

The problem is with how the pharmaceutical companies go about testing and marketing their drugs. During investigations, it was found that some pharmaceutical companies buried studies showing their drugs could cause suicidal thoughts in young people, or that the drugs didn’t work as well as older, cheaper drugs. Also, many universities and hospitals were doing the actual testing of the drugs, and were desperate for funding from where ever they could get it. The funding often came from the maker of the the drug. If the university’s studies came back with negative results, they put their funding in jeopardy, so there was intense pressure to give the drug companies what they wanted. it brought “conflict of interest” to a whole new level.

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.