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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

"Every Last One" is the first Anna Quindlen novel I've read, and I can see why her novels have such wide appeal. I found Quindlen's writing so evocative and rich that it was as if I was experiencing Mary Beth's emotions as my own. This is a very deeply felt, genuine novel, the kind that you find yourself thinking about even after you've put it down.

This is something of a two-part novel. Quindlen devotes the first half to describing the everyday life of Mary Beth Latham, a wife and mother of three. Mary Beth is the kind of character with whom I think a lot of mothers can identify. Though she owns her own business and has an active social life, Mary Beth seems to struggle with defining herself outside of her role as a wife and mother. Her seemingly perfect life has left Mary Beth feeling restless, as if she is looking for something--but even she doesn't know exactly for what she is looking. As a result, she doesn't always acknowledge what she has before her, not until it is too late.

She's an imperfect character. There are times when I found myself questioning her actions, when I was pretty disgusted with the parenting decisions she made. I felt that this was deliberate on the part of the author. As Mary Beth herself reflects in the novel, it's easy to sit back and judge the parenting skills of others. Yet, how many parents really have a grasp of the reality of their children's situations--and how many would prefer to not really know? Mary Beth is a character who is blinded by her desire to create a perfect life for her children, a desire that leads her to gloss over things and to be content with what seems to lay on the surface. She is aware that there are deeper problems, but she is also convinced that they will all work out all right in the end, that the world she has created is the world that actually exists.

It is only when a horrifying tragedy strikes her family that it becomes clear just how much of what's been going on Mary Beth has overlooked. Preoccupied with worries about her son Max and his depression, she fails to recognize the disaster looming on the horizon. There were aspects of this disaster that were surprising to me, but it wasn't entirely unexpected. Is Mary Beth really so blind, or is it that the clues that Quindlen drops are a little too heavy? Mary Beth does acknowledge later in the novel that she didn't really want to see what was before her. Though I really liked the novel and felt that it was well-written, this was the one part that didn't sit entirely well with me. Perhaps it is easier as a reader to see some of the clear signals that Mary Beth missed, but I found it a little difficult to understand her failure to act.

However, I did find the depiction of Mary Beth's grief to be very realistic. In fact, her grief is a little characteristic of how her life has been up to that point. She has put on a facade, and it leads to her becoming rather alienated from others. The question I found most interesting at this point was one that Mary Ellen explores at length: How can things return to normal? There is no such thing as normal for her anymore. People speak of moving on after a tragedy, but is it really ever possible to do so? Mary Beth's experiences alter her fundamentally, as they would anyone. Just as the book is almost like two separate installments, Mary Beth herself is like two different people: the woman who existed before the tragedy and the women who is left afterward.

Friday, March 26, 2010

NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

NurtureShock is a book that had me constantly saying, "Wow!" out loud as I read. It probably drove my poor husband crazy to have me constantly interrupting him so that I could read portions of this amazing book to him. But that's the sort of book it is, the kind that you will read and immediately feel the need to share with everyone you know. This book is an invaluable wealth of information for anyone who has regular contact with kids (teachers, caregivers, etc.), but especially for parents. It is the kind of book that has led me to make a conscious effort to change some of my interactions with my own children.
Though the book covers a variety of topics concerning child development, it has a central theme: children are not like adults. This seems self-evident, until you read the book and realize just how many of our adult world views we tend to impose on children. As a mother of two, I know that there have been times when my children's behavior has baffled me utterly. Thanks to reading this book, I now have a better understanding of why my children act the way they do.

However, this is no parenting manual. Bronson and Merryman are not offering a step-by-step guide for how to best raise children. What they are providing is a wealth of information about how a child's brain functions and cognitive processes are profoundly different from that of an adult, based on extensive research into various child development studies. The authors lucidly deliver a great deal of very scientific information in the book, but do so in a way that is chatty, palatable, and utterly fascinating. This is no textbook, and any layperson can easily read it, enjoy it, and use it to enhance their own interactions with children.

This is a very provocative book that offers some information that will make most readers raise their eyebrows in disbelief. Bronson and Merryman show how many of the beliefs most of us adhere to quite strongly--that violent TV shows make children more aggressive, that couples should never fight in front of their kids, that racism must be explicitly taught--are patently false. They do so by distilling reams of study results that prove just how mistaken we adults can sometimes be in our approach to child rearing.

This book should be on every parent and educator's reading list. It is rare that I read something that I feel is truly life-altering, but this book fits the bill.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch's well-researched, thought-provoking, and impassioned plea for an examination of current education reforms is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about the present state and future of education in the United States. What makes it all the more remarkable is that Ravitch was part of George W. Bush's administration and had an active role in his educational agenda and the development of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Ravitch's book explains her 180-degree reversal in attitude and how reforms that she once saw as the salvation of education in the U.S.--school choice, testing, and "accountability"--she now acknowledges as further weakening the overall quality of education.
Ravitch's books contains a great deal of statistics that may prove a little dry to the casual reader, but are extremely important nevertheless. She uses a wealth of research to debunk such myths as the idea that charter schools are superior at educating children. By citing studies that show that charter schools on the whole enroll fewer special education students, fewer English language learners, and "counsel out" lower-performing students, Ravitch provides a possible explanation of how they are able to post impressive gains in test scores. As Ravitch argues, the initial role of charter schools was to bolster the public schools by serving the neediest of the needy students. Instead, these institutions are using their autonomy to add to the burdens already suffered by public schools by skimming off top performers and leaving the lowest performers to the public schools, which must educate every student. Ravitch illustrates how, by attempting to run education like a marketplace, competition is actually hurting our public schools and our underserved students by placing a heavier burden on schools that already have trouble providing the necessary resources to these underserved students.

Illuminating chapters about the New York City schools and the San Diego schools show how the astonishing improvements reported in test scores are often no more than a product of data manipulation. The New York chapter in particular discusses how stripping elected school boards of their rights and responsibilities in favor of placing control of schools directly in the hands of the mayor is not necessarily in the best interests of the community and its parents and students. She illustrates how the top-down management style of such districts often leads to teacher dissatisfaction and increases in the rate of attrition of both teachers and administrators. Just as importantly, Ravitch uses these chapters to show how parents are stripped of their voices when they have no part in choosing who will be in charge of the decision-making in their neighborhood school districts.

The heavy emphasis on testing as inspired by NCLB is also taken to task. By placing so much emphasis on reading and mathematics, students are left with gaping holes in their education when it comes to subjects such as science and social studies. Ravitch provides plenty of alarming statistics showing just how little American students know about these subjects. She also takes the stance that this emphasis isn't even very effective at ensuring that students develop good reading and math skills, and she has the data to prove it. Gains in test scores are often due to the dumbing down of state tests and manipulation of data. Ravitch also argues that "teaching to the test" doesn't adequately prepare students, as they gain skills necessary to take a specific test rather than gaining meaningful knowledge. By contrasting state test results with those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Ravitch proves that the successes reported by states are often inflated--and why wouldn't they be? States that fail to show progress are severely penalized thanks to NCLB, and Ravitch makes a very convincing argument that such punitive measures do little to increase the overall quality of education.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is the portion of the book in which Ravitch takes on those she dubs "The Billionaire Boys' Club". She argues that organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation sometimes do more harm than good for the schools they are attempting to save. Ravitch provides an alarming look at how these rich and powerful foundations sometimes use their clout to promote their own agendas and philosophies of education. Why is this allowed to happen? Because, as Ravitch's research shows, so many are beholden to these organizations that they lack the will or the courage to question them. What's worse, they are usually treated with kid gloves by media that are content to take the claims of these organizations at face value without pulling up the rug to see what lies underneath. I found it admirable that Ravitch risked black-listing herself with these organizations (after all, they often generously fund the kind of research that Ravitch conducts) in order to bring to our attention why we should be wary of their involvement in shaping educational policy.

Make no mistake, this book isn't meant to be an attack on the right or on Republicans. Ravitch is equally critical about educational initiatives that were pushed during the Clinton administration, as well as those that were considered during the Obama campaign and are being shaped during the Obama presidency. As Ravitch states, NCLB was bipartisan legislation, and the idea of frequent testing, tying teacher salary to student test results, and the push for more charter schools is being advanced by Republicans and Democrats alike.

I learned a great deal from this book. In an era when so much is at stake economically, the importance of education should never be undermined. As Ravitch says on page 223, "The nature of our education system--whether mediocre or excellent--will influence society far into the future." Considering the initiatives currently being pushed by President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan, Ravitch's words couldn't be truer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Education in jeopardy

I'm currently reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch, and there couldn't be a more timely or important book.  Once I have finished it, I will definitely post a review of it.  I'm only up to chapter three and this book is already blowing me away.  It's a must-read for educators and parents alike.  If we're serious about reforming education in a way that will lead to meaningful learning for students, we need to be aware of the issues Ravitch raises.  What really gives the book creedence is the fact that Ravitch was once a true believer in things like school choice, measuring students progress through standardized testing, and linking teacher merit pay to test scores.  She worked for the Bush administration and helped create NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  This book is her platform for reexamining those beliefs and for evaluating how the reforms now in place are actually undermining public education.

NPR has done an excellent review of the book.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry

The Sheen on the Silk is a very ambitious novel. It tells the dramatic tale of Constantinople in the 1200's, which is on the brink of being invaded once again by Crusaders. When done well, historical fiction is perhaps my favorite genre to read, because it gives me the sense that I've got a window into the events of the past. However, historical fiction is also a genre that can be something of a minefield because there is a delicate balance that must be struck. Unfortunately, I don't think that Anne Perry was able to strike that balance.

The first thing I notice about a book of this genre is whether the author is able to capture what life was like during the particular time period in which events take place. I felt that Perry did a nice job in this respect. I could imagine what the city must have looked like, what the Hagia Sophia was like, the scents and sounds of the markets, etc. This was one strong point of the novel for me, my sense that Perry enabled me to really step into the shoes of a 13th century Byzantine citizen.

The events of the novel are fairly epic, spanning everything from a woman's quest for revenge to crises of faith on both the parts of the Byzantine Orthodox and Roman Catholic characters. It seemed to me that Perry was trying to capture a pivotal period in time, when the once flourishing culture of Byzantium was beginning to die out, the unfortunate victim of a jealous and avaricious Europe. However, I found the broad scope working to the detriment of the novel. Perry leaps over significant chunks of time with transitions that are quite awkward. Because of this, I occasionally found the novel hard to follow.

However, the biggest disappointment of the book was, for me, the use of the characters. The novel is told from multiple points of view--too many points of view, in my opinion. I felt that too much time was devoted to characters who were less interesting or about whom the reader could have learned just as much through the observations of other characters. This meant that less time was given to the more interesting characters. There were long passages told from Constantine's point of view that seemed as though they could have been cut without sacrificing anything of the narrative thread. Anna makes many observations about him that would have given the reader just as good a sense of his character.

The most underdeveloped character of all was that of Anna. By the end of the book, I felt as if I knew barely anything about her. The book seems to define her mostly within the confines of her determination to bring about justice for her brother, but it never really tells us anything about Anna, herself. The author alludes to Anna's past without giving the reader any real detail about it at all. When Anna's big secret finally is revealed, it is almost anticlimactic, and I felt that the author could have done more with Anna by revealing her secret earlier in the novel and using this to really flesh out the character. Out of all the characters, Anna just didn't ring true for me. The reader is never really given enough information about what makes Anna who she is, and this makes her seem a little too perfect in her reactions to other characters.

On the other hand, I felt Perry did an excellent job of fleshing out the character of Giuliano. He is given a lot of internal dialog and I found his to be the best-drawn character arc. He grows a lot during the course of the novel, and I found him to be very sympathetic. Out of all the characters he was, by far, my favorite.

This is a very uneven novel that I feel would have benefited from some additional editing. The beginning was particularly repetitive at times, with the metaphor of silk being stated so explicitly over and over, it was nearly being pounded into the reader's head. There were passages that simply didn't need to be in the novel, because they didn't advance the plot and provided the reader with no real insight into the characters. I simply couldn't understand why passages like these were included at the expense of some further insight into a character as central to the novel as Anna was.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

It's difficult to write a review of The Girl Who Played with Fire without sounding like some dramatic, amped-up voiceover for an action flick. Many cliches come to mind when thinking about the book but none of them do it any sort of justice. This is a very visceral work that grabs the reader from page one and doesn't even let go at the book's conclusion. In fact, that conclusion is guaranteed to provoke a response of, "That's the end?", leaving the reader to wish that the third installment was instantly available.

Larsson's first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, dealt with the world of corporate greed and introduced us to the character of Lisbeth Salander. That book was cagey with the details of her life but The Girl Who Played with Fire fills in all those holes. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the book for someone who hasn't yet read it so suffice it to say that the details are shocking and provide a very in-depth understanding of what has driven Salander over the years. She is one of the most unique characters in contemporary literature. Larsson handles her with great deftness and the reasons behind her special brand of morality become very understandable as the novel progresses. The reader can't help but sympathize and empathize with Lisbeth--which she probably would hate.

Though this book deals with an outwardly more misogynist topic--sex trafficking--the theme of misogyny is carried over from the first book and this is where Larsson is at his best. Modern society would like to think that times have changed and though Larsson's novel is a work of fiction, it serves to reflect how pervasive misogyny is in today's world. His novel is something of an expose of the prevalence of violence against women and a statement of how deeply sexism is ingrained into the world's cultures, even those in which the rights of the sexes are ostensibly equal. Fighting against this is Salander's particular crusade, one that threatens to consume her very being.

And yet sexism is only one part of the equation. The book also carries a strong theme of prejudice against homosexuals. While the events of both novels revolve around murder mysteries they are, at heart, novels about racism and prejudice in its various forms. Larsson vividly illustrates how prejudice affects not only the treatment of those subject to it, but how that prejudice affects the justice they receive. No one is safe from this criticism as Larsson's novels take on the justice system, the press, and everyday people. There is an important statement here about how racism and prejudice lead to the pollution of society from within.

The pacing of the novel is beautiful and the new characters are fascinating. Though the first novel in the series was very well-written and engrossing, this novel is even better. The subject matter is arguably more explosive and the events in the lives of the characters take on an even greater urgency than they did in the first. Larsson's novels aren't so much mystery novels as they are platforms for exploring the darker side of human nature and human nature doesn't get much darker than in The Girl Who Played with Fire. Rarely does a novel live up to all the hype surrounding it but this one deserves every one of the raves it receives and then some.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very intricately layered novel. While the book mainly centers on two separate mysteries that are loosely connected due to the players involved, it also deals--almost casually--with everyday violence and especially violence against women. It is the frequency of this violence in the novel that makes it so disturbing.

The novel's most interesting character is Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is a social misfit with a core of anger simmering just below her surface. The author is coy about what it is that motivates Lisbeth but the reader is given some hints as to past events in Lisbeth's life that have led her to become the very antisocial person she has become. Her methods of dealing with events in her life are unorthodox, to say the least, but she is a very sympathetic character and I found myself both rooting for her and feeling her pain.

Aside from Lisbeth, the novel has a pretty vast cast of characters who are all very well-drawn and unique. Larsson's characters are very three dimensional and lifelike. His Vanger clan is filled with truly diverse characters.

The two mysteries at the core of the novel are both fascinating in their own right. One of the mysteries has to do with the disappearance of Harriet Vanger nearly fifty years previous while the other has to do with the activities of a prominent and much-lauded Swedish businessman. Larsson does a deft job of weaving these two stories together, even though the two have no real connection to one another and each would have been enough in and of itself to constitute a novel.

At its heart, this is a dark story of indifference to--if not acceptance of--violence. Whether Larsson is describing crimes against women or the rise of the Nazi movement in Sweden, Larsson is making a statement. The crimes he describes aren't exactly rare and I had a sense of anger that more or less permeates every page. It seems as though Larsson wants to draw attention to the ills of his country and I was left with the impression that perhaps Sweden--like many other nations--sometimes has the tendency to overlook its problems rather than acknowledge the horror of them.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Anyone who has never read Zafon really should. It's rare for an author to have a way with words as he does and what makes his ability all the more amazing is the knowledge that these are works in translation. I can only imagine what a wonder his books must be in their original Spanish and his writing is so beautiful that it makes me want to learn the language simply so I can read his works in the original.

I read and loved "The Shadow of the Wind" and when my husband asked me if this book was better, I thought for a moment and told him I thought it was as good. It's hard to really judge which is better as this work is quite different from "The Shadow of the Wind".

Part of what really drew me into this work were its uncanny similarities to the works of Poe. Zafon imbues the very city of Barcelona with such menace that it seems like a beast, hulking over its inhabitants. So many of the pages are suffused with a sense of dread and there are scenes in the book that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. There are definitely more elements of the supernatural in this work than I remember there being in "The Shadow of the Wind", but that's not to say that this is a ghost story.

At its heart, this book is about obsession. Zafon delves into some pretty heavy questions about the nature of human obsessions with everything from faith and religion to literature to love. In reading about David's obsessions, it is easy for the reader to reflect on his or her own forms of obsession. Zafon has created a deeply psychological work that leaves the reader wondering just how reliable David Martin's narrative really is. How many of the horrors that he experiences are the product of his own imagination?

His characters are complex and well-drawn and they exist in varying shades of gray. Even though David is the hero, it's difficult at times to really reconcile with his behavior. He is certainly a dark hero and this is a dark novel. Zafon excels at plumbing the depths of the human psyche, at examining the question of what it is that motivates us to act as we do. Some characters are more admirable than others but very few are pure of heart. They are like actual living, breathing people--usually propelled by their own desires and their own sense of self-interest.

This is truly a very dense work, one that will leave the reader thinking long after the last page has been read. Zafon's gift is singular and he rewards his reader with a story that will stick with him or her for a long time.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier

I made the unfortunate mistake of reading Chevalier's "The Virgin Blue" after reading--and loving--"The Lady and the Unicorn". I found "The Virgin Blue" such a letdown that it made me wonder if "Lady" was a fluke. I wanted to read more Chevalier just to make sure, but I was also a bit hesitant to do so because I have such an enormous backlog of books to read. When I saw this novel, though, I decided to give Chevalier a chance and, I'm happy to say, I now think it's "Blue" that was the fluke.

"Remarkable Creatures" is a tale of the remarkable fossils uncovered by a remarkable woman, Mary Anning, who, with the help of a long and remarkable friendship with Elizabeth Philpot, earned the credit she richly deserved. The tale is a fictionalized account of Anning's life and of her friendship with Philpot, and the author does acknowledge that she took some artistic license. Still, I think Chevalier has done a wonderful job of drawing attention to a woman who was, for me, an unknown historical figure. Yet, without Anning, a lot of what we now know about the creation of the world and the extinction of its ancient creatures may never have come to light.

Chevalier does a fine job of giving voice to Mary. Though Mary never received a formal education, Chevalier shows how Mary educated herself. The contrast between Mary's enlightenment and the reluctance of other, more learned people to accept the truths she uncovers is interesting. I found it interesting to speculate on whether some of the most esteemed minds of the time would have arrived at the scientific truths that we now take for granted, had it not been for the integral part Mary played in their uncovering.

Equally interesting to me was the character of Elizabeth Philpot. Though born into a more genteel family, Elizabeth in many ways is even more limited than Mary. Elizabeth's passion for fossils is considered unseemly and the fact that she is a spinster living with two spinster sisters makes her a subject of some scorn among those equal to her in class. I find it inspiring to read tales of women like Elizabeth, who are willing to buck convention for the sake of claiming their own independence.

The friendship between the two women is also nicely written. It is not a friendship that is all butterflies and roses. Just like any real life relationship, the friendship is strained at times by jealousy and strife. Both women learn from the other and, as a result, both women grow as characters. The tale of their friendship gives the novel an extra dimension. It becomes not just a book about the amazing scientific discoveries of an unschooled girl from Lyme, but also a novel about how empowering friendship between women can be, especially in an age as unfriendly to women as that in which Mary and Elizabeth lived. Though, at that time, society encouraged women to surrender everything to men, the lives of Mary and Elizabeth show that it was often only other women upon whom women could depend.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is my first Neil Gaiman book, and I'm definitely planning on reading more. I'd heard a lot of praise of this book, but it still didn't prepare me for the elegance of his style.

Though I liked the drawings, the real charm of this book is the writing. Gaiman has woven a really beautiful coming-of-age tale in which Nobody Owens, the main character, learns some harsh lessons about the nature of life and love. As most people are probably aware by now, there is some violence in the book and it may not be for the younger audience. However, I am not one of those parents who thinks that children need to be protected from everything scary in life. In fact, I'm willing to wager that the average Wii game has more graphic violence than what is portrayed in this book. Some of it is quite scary, that is true, but children need to learn how to control fear and how to recognize when fear is real and important and when it's something they just need to overlook.

One of the things I liked best about the book is that Gaiman never really comes out and tells the reader exactly what the other characters are, leaving you to piece together the clues he drops and figure this out for yourself. This is particularly true of Silas, and I was probably around a third of the way into the book before I realized what his character was. I really admire this as it demands that the reader pay attention to what he or she is reading. It's also a perfect example of an author showing rather than telling. Lastly, it lends to the idea of the book that what people are on the outside isn't really as important on the inside. Is it really that vital that the reader know what Silas is, or is it more significant that the reader sees just how Silas helps Bod learn and grow, and how seriously Silas takes his role as guardian and protector of Bod.

As for Bod, I found him to be an excellent character. He is a very typical boy, with a boy's characteristic curiosity. He occasionally acts out of sheer pettiness and must suffer the consequences. Through Bod, Gaiman also teaches children some important lessons. Sometimes, even though we do what is right, it does not earn us the admiration of those about whose opinions we care the most. This is a painful lesson, but a very valuable lesson--especially in a society such as ours, that emphasizes instant gratification. Bod is a very moral character, but the things he does don't always end well for him and sometimes cause him more trouble than anticipated. Isn't this true of life in general? Sometimes our actions do set many unintended consequences into motion.

Another strong aspect of the book is the unconventional relationships within it. While they are certainly fantastical, this book has a lot to say about the true meaning of the word "family", and how families can form amongst the unlikeliest groups of people. As The Graveyard Book shows, families take responsibility for one another, and care for one another without asking for something in return. Just as his guardian does, Bod learns that he ultimately must make sacrifices for his family, that he must place their needs above those of his own at times. It is a responsibility that he does not shirk, and I think that's an excellent message for anyone.

I highly recommend this book. It is a subtle, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad read. It is a book that will make children think, just as all great literature makes a reader think.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

This book is a sterling reminder of just how much I love books. Bartlett's writing was so evocative that I could picture in my mind's eye the bookshops and libraries she described, and it made me want to wander around them for hours. Her descriptions of rare books and their charms are so vivid that I can't see how any book lover could possibly fail to respond to them. As I read, I repeatedly found myself telling my husband just how amazing I thought this book was. He agreed with me. He read it first and told me how much he thought I'd like it.

What is easy to understand about this story is how a book lover could respond to the lure of a beautiful, old book. When I was in college, I had the good fortunate to take a Renaissance literature class taught by a professor who took us to see the rare books at the university library during one of our first classes. I'll never forget wearing white gloves and paging carefully through those gorgeously painted illuminated pages. It was truly an awe-inspiring experience for a bibliophile like me, and I could easily understand the charm of owning such a volume myself. Bartlett coveys how books are more than just paper and ink, they're a viable, physical link to the past. They are objects of memory, symbols of the things that we love and of the people with whom we've enjoyed them. Given this, it's easy to see how a thief could be tempted.

Equally interesting was the story of Gilkey. I agreed with Bartlett in that it was difficult to decide if the man was amoral or suffering from some sort of mental disorder. His obvious disconnection from reality is startling. Were I in Bartlett's shoes while interviewing him for this book, I think I would have been too shocked by him for any sort of coherent speech. It was unfathomable that he could view his crimes as being victimless, that he could fail to understand how his books thefts impacted those who, like him, have a high regard for books but, unlike him, obtain them in legal and ethical ways. Gilkey is an interesting criminal and also an alarming one. While his crimes may not be violent, I found it disturbing to think that a criminal with so little conscience could exist. He's the antihero who fancies himself the hero.

It was also disturbing to me to realize just how little publicity book thefts get. Why is it that when art goes missing, it's a top story, but when invaluable books like this are lost, there's hardly a peep? That books have power is obvious, as made plain by Bartlett's comments about past and current attempts at banning and burning "subversive" literature. I was baffled by how law enforcement can treat the theft of a $5,000 book so casually, when the theft of a TV of the same value would clearly not be something treated with so little concern. What an odd contradiction.

This is a book that I will be sure to recommend to my fellow book lovers. I was utterly fascinated by it from the first page until the very last.

Now I've gone and done it!

So I have decided to finally join the world of the bloggers. Because I devote so much time to reading and writing reviews of various books, I decided to create my own little corner of the Internet where I can offer up all of my reviews for your pleasure or pain, depending on how you feel about them. These reviews are the very same that I submit to Amazon, and you can also find them by accessing my Amazon profile. This main page will serve as a space for any announcements or updates I make, and the actual reviews can be found on one of the categorized pages. I look forward to hearing everyone's comments!