Monday, November 17, 2008

We Interrupt This Broadcast by Joe Garner

What a marvelous book! We Interrupt This Broadcast, by Joe Garner, takes the reader back through recent history to revisit the events that made news. The book's forward is written by Walter Cronkike, who was everyman's uncle and the ultimate news authority in the 60's and 70's. Each event is given a two to four page explaination of how the story unfolded. The book's afterword is written by Brian Williams. I found this particularly effective, as an example of how the news industry goes on, from anchorman to anchorman, each contributing to our lives with their coverage of the events that shape our histories.

The events covered start in the 1930's with the Hindenburg explosion, and end with the Iraqi war, Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech massacre. Scores of noteworthy events are covered, from Pearl Harbor to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. to the space program, the Kent State massacres, the Berlin Wall destruction and the political disgraces of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. The short histories of each event were fascinating. Reading them, I was shocked at how many facts I had forgotten about these events, or had never known.

Adding to the interest, there are CD's included that give the reader the actual words of the broadcast interruptions for various events. Being able to hear the news stories while reading about them made the events seem even more lifelike.

This book is highly recommended. It would be a great holiday gift for anyone who has lived through the events described, or for those who want to learn more about them. I can't remember a book that I've enjoyed more lately and I'm very glad I read this one.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boosting Your Baby's Brain Power

Boosting Your Baby's Brainpower by Holly Engel-Smothers and Susan M. Heim is written for new parents. It outlines the connection between stimulation a newborn baby receives and how its brain develops. Written from a scientifc standpoint, it provides specific exercises for parents of babies to do with their child so that the brain power is maximized. The concept of windows of opportunities is explored. Physical development is explained along with the timeline most children follow.

The book is divided into eight chapters. The first chapter talks about brain development and what a healthy brain needs to develop after birth. Attachment to the parents and its' importance is covered in chapter two. Chapter three talks about language development, while chapter four covers vision development and chapter five covers audio development. Motor skills are covered in chapter six and temperment in chapter seven. The final chapter talks about how to prepare for a doctor's appoinment and what the appointment should cover.

Each chapter has a glossary of terms. I found this book a quick read and extremely interesting. Feelings about development I had with my children were scientifically proven or disproven. I especially liked the specifc exercises that a parent could do to stimulate and develop each area of the brain and the baby's development. My main feeling after reading the book was regret I hadn't had this book when my own children were babies. I would definately recommend this book to new parents and grandparents.

Monday, November 10, 2008

China Road by Rob Gifford

China has been called 'the sleeping giant'. If so, the giant is awakening, and it is unclear what effect its' stirring will have on the rest of the world. Rob Gifford, an NPR correspondent, spent six years living in China. When he decided to leave, he spent two months traveling across China on Road 312. China Road is the story of that journey, and his predictions about how the future will unfold there.

The biggest change visually is the major push for industrialization. China has 49 cities with more than a million people. Thousands of people every year are moving from the farms to the cities to work in factories. These factory jobs have long hours and wretched working conditions, but workers can make more in a month than a year's work on their farm would bring. The massive number of factories and the low worker wages means that more and more Western jobs are moving to China. Pollution is extremely high, and recent events have brought into question the safety of such products.

More interesting to Gifford is a less visible change. The Communist takeover and the subsequent Cultural Revolution wrenched the Chinese people from their moral backgrounds. Confuscism and Buddism were targeted, moral codes were scoffed at and their followers were persecuted. History was seen not as a treasure, but as a burden. Gifford sees that this has resulted in a China adrift without a moral code, and it is unclear how society will exist and emerge without a common societial background of agreed upon values. He also sees possible problems arising from the various provinces where minorities are the dominant population. Those minorities are often resentful of the Chinese rule, and that resentment could easily turn into revolution and attempts to break away. That is the major contradiction in China. In order to retain the tight control on its' people, China must employ recessive tactics. Such tactics don't fit well with the need for the technology required for growth. How this dicotomy will play out over the coming years is China's main challenge.

I enjoyed this book. It was interesting to read about the different areas of China, and the people who lived in each. From the macro level, it was fascinating to see how governmental action has changed the average life and common beliefs so completely. One example of this would be the 'one child' policy and the lengths to which the government will go to insure this policy. There were also lots of interesting facts; I would never have guessed that a large portion of the world's ketchup comes from Chinese tomatoes. I'm glad I read this one, as China will be a major player on the world scene in the coming decades.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Intruder In The Dust by William Faulkner

I'm a huge fan of William Faulkner. Whenever I open a Faulkner book, it feels like coming home, like one of the hometown ladies has invited me to sit a spell and have some cool sweet tea. He gets the characters and language of the locality spot on, and I recognize characters as types I meet every day here in the South.

Intruder In The Dust was a Faulkner I had not read before. It covers a weekend following the reported murder of a white man by a black man back in the 1930's. There is concern that the local inhabitants may rush the jail and lynch the man before he gets to go to trial. Lucas Beauchamp is the black man in question. He tells his version of the events to the sixteen year old son of the local doctor, a boy nicknamed Chick. The book follows what happens when Chick attempts to check out Lucas's story, and how the locals react and whether they believe rumors or attempt to base their decisions on facts.

On top of the Southern setting and the true-to-life characterizations, the other thing I particularly like about Faulkner is his writing style. His sentences are stream of consciousness, and one sentence can meander on for a page or more. It is reminiscent of the way Southern people talk, and how anything can serve as a stimulus for a story.

Intruder In The Dust is a true classic. I'm extremely glad I read it, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Waterland by Graham Swift

Waterland, by Graham Swift, has been patiently sitting on my bookshelves waiting for me to get to it. My only regret after reading it, is that it took me so long to read this one. I've had an incredible reading run lately, with books that have really impressed me for various reasons, and Waterland is definately on that list.
The book follows Tom Crick, a history professor in the Fen country of England. His family have always been watermen; his father a lock-keeper on the "River Leem, which flows out of Norfolk into the Great Ouse". Tom is at the end of his career, a forced retirement, and is looking back into what formed his life.
The book opens with the discovery of a boy's body in the water by Tom's father. In the process of discovering how the boy died, we meet Tom's brother, Dick, who is mentally challenged, and his first love, Mary Metcalf. We learn about the history of the marshes and rivers in the area, and Tom's family history. He is a descendant of the Crick family and on his mother's side, the Atkinson family, the area's most prosperous family. Finally, as the book unfolds, we learn about the dark secrets that have formed the area's history and that of Tom and Mary.
Graham Swift's language is poetic and the history is mingled in very naturally. We learn how the great events of history, such as World War I, the rise of shipping and it's replacement, train travel or ale brewing, affects an average family. The family secret around which the book turns is hinted at early, and the susequent references build suspense bit by bit until the final revelation. Waterland was a 1983 Booker prize nominee. This book is a masterpiece, and I'm thrilled I read it.