Saturday, December 31, 2011

little seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a... fairy tale? Maybe fable is a better term. But somehow that doesn't seem right either, because when I think about what happens in this pretty little story by Dia Sijie, it seems magical--almost dreamlike--but that must be due to the telling and the subject matter. The story takes place in the rural mountains of China, where the author was sent as a young man to live for 3 or 4 years in a Maoist re-education camp. Dia Sijie was inspired by his time in the re-education camp to spin this yarn about two young men who lived in a mountain village for three years. The surrealism of life in a re-education camp in the 70s is just so foreign to western readers, that it adds to the fancifulness of the story.

According to the bio, Dia emigrated to France not long after his stint in the camp. This story is actually translated by Ina Rilke from the French.

Without knowing how the story was originally told in French, I found no problems with the translation. The story is narrated in the first person from the POV of one of the young men sent to the camp for being the son of reactionaries, with the exception of a few chapters, told in the first person by a couple of the other characters. Dia also speaks directly to the reader occasionally a la Alexandre Dumas.

What I do find odd is both the title and the cover image chosen for the soft cover English translation I read. I can imagine some mid-level conference room discussion full of overwrought, consumer targeting, clarification minded, trying-to-hard conversation that results in this title. Why the word 'Chinese?' Aren't all Chinese seamstresses Chinese? Its like ordering Chinese food in China. But after looking, I found that this imagined conversation took place one country removed. The original title is Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise. The cover photo just looks like an attempt to capitalize on the success and recognition of some other Asian based books that have done well recently. Who is the child these shoes are supposed to belong to? The little seamstress perhaps? spoiler! nope.

Regardless, Dia has penned a story that is touching, sensual, real and full of subtle imagery that may be rooted in his first love: directing movies.

Read this book.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

drink before the war

I read another Dennis Lenhane novel a year or so ago with the same characters as this book. Lehane has used the Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro private investigative team in a number of his books I understand, and after reading these two, I can see why. The characters have a lot of depth, history and both their banter and their relationship has the tang of reality to it. So good on you Dennis Lehane.

I picked this novel up, and another one like it at the local library's used book sale. My wife read both of them and enjoyed, so I'm giving them a go, but after reading this one, I'm switching to something else first--maybe a few things--before I read another one. Lehane's novels are fast paced and intense. I stayed up ay past my bedtime reading last night and had to give up and go to sleep with 4 or 5 chapters left. I need something a little more relaxing before picking up another Lehane novel.

As I mentioned in my review of Gone Baby, Gone, I'm sure that I'm reading these Kenzie/Gennaro novels out of order because of the history that keeps popping up. It could be that Lehane is just creating backstory, but I don't think that's always the case. A Drink Before the War was written in 1994, but I don't know where in the sequence of other books it sits.

The mystery that Kenzie and Gennaro need to unravel has both high connections and low connections, running from the political leaders in Boston to the gang leaders in Roxbury. The plot and sub-plots work well together and Lehane has the local dialect down, but he's either better connected to the bad business in Boston, or he's more pessimistic that I am, or... I could simple be one of the sleepy suburbanites that Lehane speaks about through his characters, and I've just been missing it.

In any case, Lehane doesn't pull any punches when it comes to violence, depravity or the dark side of the human psyche but I didn't get the feeling that any of it was gratuitous. So, yeah, I'll read the other one I picked up. And I'll be on the look out for more at the used book sale.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I just finished Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt, based on a recommendation from my son. I bought the book for him a year or so ago, and he actually read it! And then told me it was good. So its been sitting in the read pile for a while.

Tom Holt reminds me a little of Christopher Moore, which I'm sure both he and Moore love, but what are you going to do? They probably show up on read-alike lists but the stories I've read by Moore have been re-tellings, while this story was a new thing. I think Holt is from Australia, or New Zealand or something so his English has a British tinge to it, or I guess I should say, an Australian or New Zealand tinge, right? I could look it up but...naaahhh. Regardless, Holt is a funny man.

So what is this story? Its says right there on the back cover that its about about smart bomb set to blow up the earth. So I guess you'd call it Sci Fi, or SF, which in this case could also stand for silly fun. The story is well plotted and paced, with some interesting sub-plots weaving through, and just when you think it can't get any crazier, its does. And then after a few pages I found myself thinking, Yeah, makes sense.

I'll keep my eye out for more Tom Holt.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ghost writer

I've only just read my first Philip Roth story, and then along comes this one at the local library book sale. The Ghost Writer is from 1979--coincidentally, the same year as the last book I read; The Black Tower--and is the first in a short series of books about Nathan Zuckerman, an up and coming writer from Newark, New Jersey.

This short novel (novella?) or even long short-story, is written first person from Zuckerman's POV and is therefore rings as at least somewhat autobiographical. Whether or not this is true, any more than any work of fiction is partially autobiographical, I really don't know, but Roth's observations of people, their mannerisms, and his carefully crafted sentences shined in this little story.

I read this book TODAY! And I don't read books in a day. Ever.

"Her luminous, shameless presence in the very front row (and her white jersey dress; and her golden hair, out of some rustic paradise) led me to recall October afternoons half a lifetime ago when I sat like a seething prisoner, practicing my penmanship at my sloping school desk while the World Series was being broadcast live to dinky radios in every gas station in America."

Sentences like this are what prevented this book being put down. I'll be prowling the library book sales and stacks for more Philip Roth now.

Read this book.

Friday, December 16, 2011

black tower

I've never read P.D. James before; the old broad's got some fire in 'er belly! is it wrong to say that?

The Black Tower is carefully woven--maybe intricately woven is better--right up until the end. Unless I missed something, our man Dalgliesh forms an hypothesis based on nothing, for one small element in this mystery. I encourage you to read this, if only so that you can 'splain to me how he pulls this little rabbit out of his hat.

Now I'm not complaining (so much.) I understand that writing a complex mystery is, you know, complex. And frankly, based on how well the story is written, I'm guessing that it was in fact me that missed the clues about this niggling little bit that caught in my teeth.

James writes in a very tight language, that assumes her audience is quick and well read. Bully on that, dear lady. What, what? The text is however peppered with words that are either Englishisms or just a cut above your average vocab (and my Dictionary is in need of repair, therefore not as ready to hand.)

image: Cavell Tower, 1830. the inspiration for The Black Tower

Huge (relative term) cast of characters here, at this wind swept coastal Grange*, and a little confusing. There's four or five ladies that are 40s to 60s, described as starting to gray, graying or gray, all vaguely unhappy and with a axe to grind, and thereby not above suspicion. Two of them are patients at the Grange, two work there, and three of their names start with the letter M. This was true of some of the male characters too. And they all vaguely played the same roll, so I couldn't keep them straight, and maybe it didn't really matter. It was like the Quenta Silmarillion there for a bit. Finrod is the son of Finarfin, and Fingon is the son of Fingolfin, right?

I picked this book up used at the library, and I would certainly grab another if it shows, or borrow one of the other Commander Dalgliesh novels in the series. James has written a bunch of detective novels.

* Another Englishism: Chiefly British A farm, especially the residence and outbuildings of a gentleman farmer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

bookmark this

This one is a hoot!

This bookmark is from Highsmith, copyright 1992. So, in computer years, those beige bombers are from like... 228 years ago! If you'll step into the WABAC Machine Sherman, we'll just zip back to 1992 and see what was happening in Computerland in 1992.

According to Computer Hope, a bunch of crap happened that was cool and zippy, and then encoded in meaningless acronyms so you or I will never understand it. Some of things I could understand included: Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1, and it sold more than 1 million copies within the first two months of its release, and IBM introduced the ThinkPad with a 25 MHz 486 processor and a 120 MB hard drive! Yeah, I can feel the power.

Does ANYONE have a computer like this sitting around anymore? With a fat 386 processor, and a black and white CRT? Awesome.

Libraries Compute, indeed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

age of wonder iii

In what is maybe a corollary for the scientific time period in question, The Age of Wonder started out riveting, and ended a little sluggishly. The Age of Wonder began in youthful exuberance, mellowed to dogged determination with an eye to the future, and ends with the deaths of some of the lions of science and the squabbles of the young bucks, who without their strong leaders, bicker about the future of science, and their scientific organization: the Royal Society.

Image: Engraving by John Cochran (1821-1865) of a portrait of Michael Faraday in his late thirties, painted by Henry Pickersgill (1782-1875)

So I chose Michael Faraday as the image for this third and final entry about The Age of Wonder, but not because he is the focus of the end of the book--he showed up a number of times during the second half, but only around the periphery--I chose Faraday instead because he represents the future of science as The Age of Wonder draws to a close. Faraday is still young(ish) at the end of Richard Holmes's tour through Romantic Science in England, and represents the hope Holmes wants us to see in science. he's also not one of the squabblers

As an aside, Holmes treats Faraday with such a delicate touch, dropping just enough about him to peak the reader's interest, and then leaving us unfulfilled, that it makes a reader wonder when the Michael Faraday book will be published. Hmm...

The overall arc of this book reminds me a little of the month of March (In like a lion...) Holmes points out that this age has a beginning and an end, and this is simply the end. It doesn't just fizzle of course. Science marches on to where we are today, but the end of this era is marked with a kind of watering down of the exuberance and newness of discovery with which it opened. Is that real, or is it a function of the way Holmes has framed his story? I have no idea.

In the end, I've come away knowing a lot more about the era, and surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. and how quickly I read it... you know, for me.

Read this book. And take notes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

age of wonder ii

I could almost wait until I'm done for this one, but this book is so jam-packed with great stuff. I may have mentioned before how much the style of this book reminds me of John Adams: its a great mixture of history, biography, and in this case science, to tell a really compelling story.

Image: Joseph Banks, lately back from his South Seas travels.

I've included this image of Joseph Banks not only because he is the subject of the first chapter, but because he is leading figure in the storyline; a kind of common thread that runs through the chapters, linking together the cast of characters. What makes Banks so compelling is his undying enthusiasm for science and discovery. He is always pushing forward, striving to make science more expansive, more relevant, and better understood.

An interesting fashion of the time I really had no idea about was how interested in science some of the famous writers of the day were. Poetry and writing were obviously very big during this era, and many of the scientists Richard Holmes writes about, were amateur poets as well, and would often include poetry in their scientific writings, often to help illustrate a point or explain complex scientific ideas in more layman-like terms. But the famous poets and writers who fraternized with the scientific community and used what they learned by reading, attending lectures, and their discussions over dinners, was really surprising to me.

We've gone from botany, anthropology, astronomy, and ballooning, to chemistry and electricity, to Shelley's writing of Frankenstein, and there is still a big chunk left to go!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I've just added RSS Feed capabilities via Feedburner. If you already pull a feed from this blog, and if it all works right, then nothing should change. If it has changed, or if you want some of this tasty content via your favorite feed reader, you can just clickety-click right here to get the new address.

You can also use the feed button in the right-hand column. It says "get yer feed on."

You may also notice that I'm trying a new template. I'm going for readability.

Let me know what you think! -Philo

Saturday, November 26, 2011

age of wonder i

So I'm going to have to break this one up into chunks; its a big boy. The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, that is. I put this one on my list at some point a few months ago. I think I heard Holmes on a radio talk show, but I can't be sure.

Holmes has broken the story of this scientific era down into a series of stories focused on some of the larger movers in shakers in this age of wonder, as he calls it. That era of giddy exploration, and scientific discovery that took hold of the public imagination, and often drew the public in, creating countless amateur scientists, many of which ended up making significant discoveries or contributions to this explosion of knowledge.

The age of wonder Holmes is talking about runs from the mid- to late-1700s until the early-to mid-1800s. Holmes calls his story structure a 'relay race of scientific stories' that carries the reader through the heady, 'Romantic' science of the day with compelling stories (thus far, anyway) of the people who pushed the boundaries of science outward and upward, beginning at a time when the infant United States was just standing up, Franklin was spending time in Paris before Napoleon took France, and the monarchs of England, France, and Germany vied for scientific bragging rights.

Holmes really seems to love research, and it shows in his writing. The book is thick with both end notes (boring), and footnotes (riveting*). In fact the backmatter contains (in addition to the end notes) a bibliography, list of abbrevaitions, a cast of charaters (along with short biographies), and index and an epilogue.

There are also three little groups of illustrations tucked in at the quarter points, showing the players, big and small, diagrams, notes on discoveries, and images of scientific instruments.

* A few of the footnotes are mini stories, all their own. I can imagine Holmes spinning off on a tangent to find out more about some minor character, or cross checking some calculation and spending days doing the research for his footnote.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

guerilla library

Today's Boston Globe includes an article on the library that's been set up in the Occupy Boston camp at Dewey Square. Sorry about the link, but The Globe no longer supports the poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. You have to pay.

Its called the Audre Lorde to Howard Zinn Library, or the A-Z Library, for short. The Occupy Boston Wiki has a page for this, their tent city library, which has some helpful info, like what to do if there is no librarian on duty, where else you can find information, and how to ask a question.

According to the Globe article (print version) there was a library in New York's Occupy Wall Street encampment, which was discarded when the protestors were evicted by the city. The ALA apparently didn't like what they called the "dissolution of a library", and came out in a statement against the police action, calling it "unacceptable".

The A-Z Library at Occupy Boston is housed in an 11-foot-square military surplus tent, strung with a few reading lamps and a twinkling of Christmas lights. There are over 1000 volumes available to read and borrow, and help is available from volunteer librarians and library science students; folks like Radical Reference and the Simmons Progressive Librarians Guild.

According to the Globe, most Occupy movements have a library (there are some 900 ongoing or intermittent protests worldwide) and they start up organically. yeah! get some! The A-Z Library in Boston was started by John Ford, who owns an alternative bookstore called The Metacomet (pronounced metə 'kämit *) in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He brought the military tent, some old shelving and a few hundred volumes. The rest of the books come from donations.

Clearly, people have a visceral and unquenchable need for a library. The Audre Lorde to Howard Zinn Library is providing what the people need; not just books, but a place to go, to talk, to learn, to escape, to play. In their statement against the destruction of the Peoples Library at Occupy Wall Street library, the ALA stated that "Libraries serves as the cornerstone of our democracy and must be safeguarded."

The library is idea-cum-reality. People living in tent cities, trying to make the world a better place, create these places from the ether and raw will, because they need to.

That's guerrilla library.

* The Metacomet is named after a the war chief, or sachem of the Wampanoag. Metacomet was also known as Metacom or King Philip. He was the second son of Massasoit. After some manhandling by the Plymouth Colony folks, war broke out: King Philip's War.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I just read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; first published in 1962. I didn't know a lot about this story, other than it seems to have some legs, and I know there have been some movies made from it (probably for television, but I'm not sure.) And this is the first in a series of books about the same characters, and probably some related problems.

The version I read is a commemorative re-print from 1997, which is 35 years after the original publish date. I assume that what they're commemorating, or the Newbery Medal, rather than the cash. In the introduction, L'Engle is pretty psyched about the new artwork developed for the Time Quintet. Yeah, the picture is pretty cool, but I'm not sure how useful those wings are buddy. I wipe bigger wings than that off my windshield.

In any case, I'm not a big fan of this little story. Its obviously written for a slightly younger reader than me, but it was a little mushy, even for that. There were so many things that were just so gushingly, indescribably beautiful that they were usually just that: indescribably indescribable. I guess that's good for the budding imagination; what do I know. In contrast, the Christian preaching was a little heavy handed. Its almost as if L'Engle took a spin through Narnia i just used the books page to find this link. sweet! and said, 'Nope. Not in-your-face Christian preachy enough for today's kids. Forget lions, lets just get Jesus in there, fighting for the team.'

Sooo... the indescribable parts are left indescribed, because kids can imagine these things for themselves, but Jesus himself needs to be trotted right out there (along with a gaggle of old white guys*) rather than eluded to, because kids can't imagine these things for themselves.

Yeah, I think I got it.

If you like to bring it on strong when you're reading to the kids, and you like a quirky, good vs. evil story, you may enjoy this. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother.

* Gandhi and Buddha made an appearance as well. Whatever. The white guy thing was funny.**
** Everyone else on the list was an old white guy. 13 of them yo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

75 books - new page

The book you see reviewed directly below this post is my 75th book since starting this blog!

I was amazed when I counted them up. It usually takes me so long to read something, that I figured it would be less. When I told my wife, however, she said, 'That's it?' she can read a book in a day, yo!

So to celebrate, I've created a new page. You can see the link to it just above; in the white band between the blog entries in the incunabular illumination title bar. There are three of them now. The new page is called 'the books' and the link sits just between the links for the 'main page' (your there right now) and 'backmatter', which is more general info, and some links to other interesting things.

So what's this new page all about? Clickity-click and you'll see! Its a list of all 75 books, which link to my reviews.

So check it out and let me know what you think. It's link-rich, so let me know if you find any of them either broken or in error.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

sigurd and gudrún

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien) is Tolkien's take on some very old Norse epic poetry. If you've read any of Tolkien's other stuff, or certainly any of Christopher Tolkien's massive amount of published material about his father and his works, you may know that J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford who studied and lectured about literature and linguistics, in older forms of English and related languages. Tolkien brings his scholarly views to what is essentially the reconstruction of this group of poems that may date back over 1500 years.

Parts of the poems are missing--lost to time--but large portions of them were preserved in a volume called The Prose Edda by a dude named Snorri Sturluson, in the year 1200-something. In that volume Sturlson apparently has prose versions of some of the poetry along with the poetry fragments, which helps to infill the missing bits. According to the considerable discussion about Tolkien's versions of these poems (Lays), which Christopher Tolkien takes from his father's notes, lectures, letters, and marginalia, Tolkien did not believe that some of the story elements were original to the poems, but later additions or edits, added by later poets or bards, to fill in missing information or to make them more appealing.

Tolkien has essentially pulled the stories apart and tried to reassemble them in their original form, and when that's not possible, he tries to re-create the missing bits in a form more faithful to the original poet's style and intent. He then translates them into modern English, using that same Old Norse meter and alliterative verse scheme.

But why? Why would Tolkien bother?

What becomes clear from the time and effort he put into the study of these lays, Tolkien believed that the literature of what he called the 'North' was just as compelling, dramatic, and important as the Greco-Roman Classics, among others, that we've all grown up with. His discussions on the value of Beowulf, for example, changed the way that both scholars and readers approached this poem: as a work of art by a talented poet, not just an interesting historical document.

His study of this story, and stories like it, also inspired his writing in the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. And not just Tolkien, the story of lost Rhine gold is the inspiration for Wagner's Ring Cycle, and other stories as well. The story is of heroism, love and love lost, war, Valkyries, Norse gods, rivalry and tragedy.

And Sigurd and Gudrún... they may love each other, but one gets the distinct feeling that they aren't fated to be together.
Yeah...kinda like that.

This book isn't just a compelling translation of some old Norse epic poetry, its a retelling of one of the most famous stories from the north. Its also a peek into the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien, and what inspired him. A little dry in places, but I feel like I'm learning something worthwhile. I may even look up old Snorri.

Read this book. Yeah, I said it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

three musketeers ii

Why am I writing about the The Three Musketeers again, when I finished reading it like... a year ago? Its because The Three Musketeers has always been one of the bigger hits on my blog. Month after month, that entry gets hits and I never really thought about it until today. But like ONE-HUNDRED FORTY hits in the last couple of days!? Weird, right?

Maybe not.

Here's what I'm thinking; I've got two teenagers in the high school, and so I happen to know that this is the last week of the semester. Now if you were a teenager who has a report or a test coming up on the book you were supposed to read, and you know, didn't, then where would you go to cram (by which I mean: cheat)? You'd go to the the internets baby, and do a google/yahoo/bing search for The Three Musketeers. And you might get a hit on this very blog entry that you are reading right now, if only because of the number of times that The Three Musketeers is actually written in here. But my guess is, if this entry does show up, it will be a lot further down the list, and my original The Three Musketeers entry will be higher, simply because its had so many hits.


This new movie is out right? It came out 2 weeks ago. Its got Orlando Bloom, Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Logan Lerman, and Milla Jovovich as Milady de Winter. The last time they filmed this was only in 1993, with Charlie Sheen! Keifer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Chris O'Donnell, and Rebecca De Mornay. IMDB lists no less than 48 film versions of The Three Musketeers, and rumors of another in 2013.

So maybe its that, and maybe its not. Maybe folks are just banging away on the search engines to find out about this story for some crazy reason I can't even guess at, but I'm not sure why so many of them (you?) are coming here.

If you've come to this blog in recent days, looking for The Three Musketeers, leave a comment and let me know why!

UPDATE! sort of
So my blog entry on The Three Musketeers is a big hit generator from Google (mainly) so I went to Google and did my own search, and this blog didn't show up in the the first, like, 8 pages.


If you do an image search, the image I used for my book review is right up there, near the top. Very popular. Why? Its big and clean, and has good color. Its actually the image of the paperback I read, which I bought used, and it shows the 1993 movie cast, so its clearly a mass market job printed up to take advantage of the interest generated by the movie.

So, nothing nefarious (unfortunately) and nothing new-movie related. I'm guessing its other folks who have read the book and are writing/blogging/book reporting about it, and need a clean jpg.

Anyho, I'm glad I can provide a service to the reading community.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Lev Grossman is writing young adult literature for adults as much as the YA crowd. I'm sure the same could be said for JK Rowling--especially given the aging of the subject matter along with Harry--but Grossman also keeps his finger firmly on the irony button, whilst taking on this heady, and well-worn genre. The Magicians, from its very title onward, is a book about magic, and the magicians who use it, but Grossman has a completely different take on who these magicians are, and how they relate to our world.

In the Grossman-Magicians universe, pop culture still has its fantasy stories, and his characters know and love these stories as much as we do, but they know them more intimately for what the are... and what they aren't. They also know about, and live with, the rest of pop culture, and as much as magic can help them with their everyday lives, its also a burden they must bear as they move through a world that doesn't know, and doesn't understand, what its is to tap into the magical power that is available to all those who choose to put their mind to it.

That may be the biggest leap in The Magicians: that magic just is. And at its very core, isn't anything mystical or fantastic, its just a science. Granted, a slippery, hard-to-get-hold-of kind of science that is essentially invisible to the rest of us, in much the way scientists now speculate that some dimensions in our own universe may be: there, just tucked away, curled in upon themselves, such that they are inaccessible to us, if only for the way we might look for them.

Lev Grossman, spins this idea into a charming, engaging fable about a young man named Quentin Coldwater, who just wishes his life wasn't so 'normal'. I've been wanting to read this since reading a great review about a year ago. Grossman has a follow-up called The Magician King, which I'm looking forward to now.

Read this book.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

notes and scribbles

I've added a new category on the right-hand column. Its down near the bottom, and its called 'notes and scribbles.' This little doodad (like all of the others) is basically a way for me to keep track of things. So the 'notes and scribbles' text box is just what it sounds like: a place for me to jot down little bits that don't really add up to a blog entry alone, may be related to something I've written about in the past, thinking about writing about, or just general interest.

There is also a list of books down there, along with how I feel about them. Not all of these titles appear on this blog however, as I've only written about those books I've read since I started this thing, and the list includes a smattering of other books I can recall. Maybe I'll add a search bar... not sure if anyone would use it.

So check it out, and let me know if think I should add something. Put it in a comment, and stick it anywhere around here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

american pastoral

pas·tor·al - n. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) (of a literary work) dealing with an idealized form of rural existence in a conventional way.

Seymour "The Swede" Levov is a tall, blonde, blue-eyed Jew from a hard-working family in Newark, New Jersey. A family of immigrants who, after years of effort, have finally made it. Swede has taken over the family glove business from his now retired father--who has gone to live in Florida--and the Swede has grown the family business, married well, and moved to his dream house in the country; the setting for this American Pastoral, by Philip Roth.

This is my first Philip Roth novel, and its been on my list for a while. Reading it reminds me that I have not yet achieved the level of 'serious reader'. Oh I read it, every word, but it was slow. This novel is a thought-provoking and intensely contempletive examination of the American Dream, what it can mean, and how it can go wrong.

At its core, American Pastoral is The Monkey's Paw. You know, that creepy, fire-side tale (or bedtime story, if you grew up in my American Dream) about getting what you wish for, but not exactly in the way you imagined. It doesn't have that adrenalin-pumping, return-of-the-living-dead, something-cold-and-wet-touching-your-face-in-the-dark feeling you'd expect if this was actually just a retelling of the Monkey's Paw story. Stephen King: I'm looking at you.

The Swede succeeds in removing his family from the post-apocalyptic setting of Newark after the riots, to a lush, country manor in Old Rimrock, New Jersey. His idyllic country life can't save him and his family from the realities of modern America, however. Roth examines how people who have achieved the ultimate goal of the American Dream, can fall victim to their own isolationism by failing to understand that they aren't safe from the realities of modern America, even surrounded by a hundred acres of rolling farmland and neighbors who can trace their heritage to the origins of America.

Finally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge Roth's pastoral joke.

Slow but good. Well written, but you need to be serious about examining the inner lives of normal folks, and how they live, interact, and strive in America today, and in the recent past. There is a lot to chew on in this story. I read the Lizard of Oz in the middle of this, to get a break, but it was worth the effort.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

lizard of oz

Here is a story by a local author, written in 1974. I remember reading this book not long after it came out, after being turned on to it by my older sister. She had read it based, I think, on the recommendations of her friends. She had borrowed it from the library, and when she returned it, I went to the library and searched for it. Years later I still remembered the characters, and even some of the illustrations. I wanted to read it again, but couldn't remember the title. When I asked my sister, she didn't recall what the book was. The fragments I remembered, with the help of the internets, finally gave me what I was looking for.

The Lizard of Oz, by Richard Seltzer you should click here and see what Seltzer is up to is a modern day fairytale (or was in 1974). Seltzer tells in the afterword how he started the book in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971, and finished it over the next few years, finally hiring a recent UMass graduate, Christin Couture, to illustrate the story. The illustrations are what I remembered most about the story.

The story itself is a morality tale; a collection of re-tellings of other myths and fables--laced together with puns and Couture's illustrations--in that outlandish genre popular in the early 70s that gave us Yellow Submarine, Charlie & Chocolate Factory, and its movie adaptation, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and the animated version of The Hobbit. You know what I'm talking about: that late, hippiesque, psychedelic, zany genre that was pretty popular with the toke and giggle crowd.

Seltzer has a serious message hidden in the story about making sure we don't lose our grip on what it means to live an 'enchanted' life, and he illustrates it by recalling to mind all of those other myths and fables we all know, and reminding us, that these stories are all telling us the same thing, regardless of their individual morals. The quest, taken up by a small elementary school class from Winthrop, along with their teachers, a green Volkswagen Beatle, and their talking fish, is to rediscover the magic that's ebbing away from our modern lives, and bring it back to us, before its too late.

And talking bacon. Angry, talking bacon... who also happens to be the public librarian.

Friday, September 30, 2011

accessibility article

I wrote an article for Library Journal's Library By Design supplement: its packaged with the magazine 4 times a year, so this was the fall issue.

The process was fun: I sent in an article about providing access for all, in the public library, and how complicated it can be to that do in an historic library. I worked with an editor who asked me to do a re-write to include an example of one of our building projects, so I chose the Haston Free Public Library in North Brookfield, MA.

I won't get into the nitty-gritty here, go read the article, yo!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The fatted flesh of summer,
Wrought of Lugh's love for Earth,
Hangs gravid in festooned packages
-- and shines.

Waning summer winds
Tumble clouds across the sky,
Laden with the lifeblood of the wood,
-- they cry.

The sacrifice of flesh now made,
The trees don fiery hoods,
Draw their lifeblood deep within,
And harden their bones of wood.

Rich is the feast of hill and field,
Lain upon Lughnasadh Earth.
Within the fullness of life she's borne,
The seeds of her own rebirth.

Worn from the test, with nodding smile,
She lies among trees.
The rains toil in their courses deep,
And deliver her to the sea.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

art of war

Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War over 2000 years ago; and its still kicking ass today. Master Sun is considered one of the ancient Tao masters, and a lot of what he says is still used today by practitioners of war, and any other person or group in conflict. I read the soft cover version of The Art of War, translated by Thomas Cleary, and published by Shambhala Publications out of Boston.

I thought Cleary did a job job of laying the groundwork for me about Sun Tzu, The Art of War and the Tao, so that I could understand the significance of what I was reading, in the introduction. Now I won't fool with you and say that the introduction was an easy read--it was a little long at 40 pages or so--but it was interesting. One of the things Cleary mentions is that their are different ways to translate ancient Chinese, and that he tried to translate it from the perspective of the Tao.

He has also included translations of the multitude of commentary added to the work over the centuries, by other Tao-types dudes, generals, and thinkers. These comments are sometimes handy to help understand what Master Sun was trying to get at. But other times, it seems pretty clear that my guess was a good as theirs, or worse; they didn't have much to say at all. And occasionally, the commentary sounded like a bunch of yes men clucking around their boss, trying to sound smart. Here's what I mean. Master Sun would give some sage advice to young wannbe generals, trying to make their way in the world and so, say he says something like:

Master Sun
Don't take any wooden nickles.

Fine, right? Okay I get it, its a dumb example, not quite sure what it has to do with kicking some ass, but sounds reasonable. Then the yes men chime in and say stuff like:

Du Mu
Wooden means emptiness, and nickle means fullness.

Meng She
Emptiness is bad. Fullness is good.

Jia Lin
It is better to have fullness, than emptiness.

Wang Xi
If you are bad, and your enemy is good, do not fight.

Cao Cao
You will loose.

Zero Wing
All your base are belong to us.

You see what I'm saying? Apologies to the commentators, whose fine names I slandered, but for real: some of the comments were just about that helpful. Now, maybe its because I don't understand the Way, and this is the first book I've read about the Tao, but some of the comments just didn't seem to add much to the discussion. I would be interested in re-reading this translation without the comments. Maybe Shambhala should do a version that has both. The full text, without the comments, can't take up more that 40 or 50 pages, and could be followed by the full version with the yes-men commentary.

Check it out, full text in English and Chinese. Translation by Lionel Giles (1910). no commentary

Okay, so that was a hoot. But seriously, I liked it. I was amazed at the thought that went into this 2000 years ago. Thanks for the book loan Tom!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I am a geek. I'm not ashamed. I geek out about a lot of things: technology, science, etymology, philately, bookmarks, books, and libraries, to name a few.

But I'm not alone, especially in this last one. Now there is From their web site:

Geek\Verb. 1: To love, to enjoy, to celebrate, to have an intense passion for. 2: To express interest in. 3: To possess a large amount of knowledge in. 4: To promote.

‘Geek the Library’ is a community-based public awareness campaign designed to highlight the vital role of public libraries in today’s challenging environment and raise awareness about the critical funding issues public libraries face.

What's not to love about that. The campaign has a bunch of materials you can purchase, or download to get your library involved. And you can even input what you geek on their site, like I did (that's the image right there, man! woo hoo, I'm somebody now!)

Backers of this thing are OCLC, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What do you geek?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

the next librarian

Where do we see our libraries fitting into our future? Will they be totally virtual, existing somewhere out there in the cloud, searchable and accessible to all, as some folks envision? Or will they still be mostly brick-and-mortar places that people will visit, to review physical, digital and metadata, and interact with others in the community as well as library professionals?

Image: Diffusion spectrum image shows brain wiring in a healthy human adult. The thread-like structures are nerve bundles, each containing hundreds of thousands of nerve fibers. - Van J. Wedeen, M.D., MGH/Harvard U.

As I speculated in another post not too long ago, where they really end up is up to us. But that's true only as much as we, as patrons of the public library, use our influence to direct our libraries toward the future we want. I believe that our future library--at least for the foreseeable future--will be a combination of the two models mentioned above. Our demand for increasingly advanced technology, in access and search-ability, can provide the guidance to get us there, but someone needs to drive the bus.

That's where librarians come in.

So what kind of person will the Next Librarian be? Librarian's themselves are answering that question as they strive to keep pace with the changing landscape of information technology. And this is happening around us right now!

When the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts needed a new librarian a few months ago, they made their selection process open and democratic; the public got to chime in on who their librarian would be. The two final candidates were interviewed in public, and both were asked to make a public presentation at the library. The topic: Do We Still Need Libraries Today? Aren't Community Centers, With Computers, Enough? In her presentation, successful librarian Sharon Sharry gives many examples of the kinds of things modern libraries can provide: from internet search assistance, to a "technology petting zoo" that helps patrons learn about and interact with new technologies. In her comparison of the library to the traditional community center, Sharry says: "the library of today is better positioned to guide our patrons through an ever more complicated system of information." Damn straight.

In their talk, titled "In the Spirit of Benjamin Franklin" given at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2011 Conference in Philadelphia, Andy Burkhardt, Catherine R. Johnson and Carissa Tomlinson lay out 13 virtues of the next-gen librarian. The first one: "Courage—Act not from fear, but in spite of it..." The second is Flexibility: "Libraries, education, and the nature of information are constantly changing. Next-gen librarians are able to scan the horizon and identify trends and impending change." The Next librarian won't always have all 13 virtues, but the list is a good start for what to be aware of as we move forward.

Dan Messer, the Cyberpunk Librarian, said this in a recent post: "...I found a video about grocery shopping in South Korea and by the time it was over, I had an idea for library and circulation outreach." Awesome! These are the kind of people I'm talking about. Is Dan Messer Next? Yes. What he was talking about by the way, are QR Codes, and using them to put books and other materials on your library hold list with your smart phone. Scan 'em at the bookstore, yo. Off a poster in the subway, video, or online. Or, right out of the New Yorker Sunday Book Review! hint

In her new book, "Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library and Information Science" Laura Townsend Kane covers topics like "Librarians as Technology Gurus and Social Networkers" and "Librarians as Teachers and Community Liaisons." Kane talks about disintermediation and what it means to librarians and researcher alike. Disintermediation in this context means cutting out the middleman (in other words, doing the research yourself, via Google, or some other thing.) The Next Librarian is a tech savvy guru and may be a subject specialist, or can connect you to one. While disintermediation gives you 1.2 million hits in 1.4 seconds, a subject specialist can tell you what 4 websites, publications or databases you should use for your research paper, and explain to you why you can trust them. That's intermediation, baby!

You don't want to go it alone bunkie, its scary out there. You don't want to waste your time, or worse, get left behind. What you need, friend, is a librarian.

You need the Next Librarian.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

the inventer

I ran across this little book in an antique shop in Yarmouth last week. Its got a beautiful feel in the hand, and a little red ribbon bound bookmark. Then I find that its got a raised seal on the title page indicating that it comes from the Mark Skinner Library in Manchester, Vermont; a building I have recently complete a study on, and am now engaged to design a replacement building for, as they've outgrown their building and their property. So that cinched the deal.

When I got this book home, I found that it was signed and numbered by the author. This brought me back to the title page and I find that this book was written, illustrated, printed and bound by the author at the Diamond Hill Press in Brandon, Vermont. The Inventer is the second book in the Beanville series, which I understand are collectable.

The Inventer, by Philip Sutherland, is a chapter book, so I read it in an afternoon. The writing is folksy and warm, and some of the feelings the author attributes to his child characters walk the line between 'thoughtful for this age group' and 'do ten-year-olds really think like that?' The illustrations appear to be linoleum block prints, and fill full pages within the body of the book. The illustrations are printed in a deeps sepia brown, but they aren't plates so I wonder if the the text is also the same deep brown, but just isn't as obvious.

Sutherland also does a great job of setting the tone and the mood, of a quiet New England town, in the first weeks of of summer vacation. Its so sleepy, that when the excitement begins, its almost seems like too much for this quiet town to handle.

The story was fun, and I can see that Beanville could be rich with stories to fill a series of these beautiful little volumes. I'll keep my eye out for another, but not so much for the story, but for the whole package. Its clear that Sutherland loves books, loves stories, and enjoys the craft that goes into creating them from beginning to end.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

i, robot

Me, Robot? I don't know, maybe its a Roman numeral one. I didn't find any compelling evidence for a first person reference to robots, unless Isaac Asimov is saying that he's a robot, or that we're ALL robots, and that robots are essentially like us. OR maybe he's saying that robots are man's offspring. Our Singularity-esque next generation. Yeah, maybe that's its. Asimov is probably smarter than Kurzweil anyway, 'mIright?

Okay, so I guess we covered the title. Onward!

I read I, Robot years ago--its safe to say decades ago--and I didn't remember all of the details, and some of the stories I didn't remember at all. I, Robot, like Foundation, is a series of short stories, when read together, make a up a whole. The short stories are set as a series of anecdotes told by the leading robopsychologist working for US Robot & Mechanical Men Corporation, to a young reporter who has come to see her late in her career. She's all: robots are awesome, but they're tricky, tricky.

I'm not really sure how you get the Will Smith movie* from a few years back after reading this, other than to say that they did rip off some of that tricky behavior that robots exhibit in these stories, and put it to use in different ways to move the story of the movie. Maybe 'inspired by the book' would have been a better way to put it.

And okay, here's the last thing: this copy was full of typos. So I'm not sure what the deal is, but I don't remember seeing any in the first part of this volume when I was reading Foundation, but there were some screw ups in I, Robot. Maybe its was originally released with the mistakes and this copy is being true the original? Sounds lame. I mean, one typographical error in a printed book is odd; I, Robot had like three! The word 'no' was used instead of 'not' and a whole paragraph was tacked on to the end of a scene that should have been the first paragraph in the next scene, after the double carriage return. I don't remember the others. Not a big deal, but as a reader, I end up tripping out of the zone. [pop!]

All in all, I liked it and I'm glad I read it again. Thanks for the book loan Tom!

* IMDB says there is a sequel in the works for 2015.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Asimov knows how to do it! I really enjoyed Foundation. Its old-school, soft science fiction with a thoughtful construction and a really readable (if dated) writing style. First off, by setting Foundation SOOOOooo FAR into the future, Asimov avoids the pitfall of having a well loved story catch up to its future time setting. I, Robot, which I'm re-reading now for example, takes place in the 1980s through 2058. Oops! No walking and talking robots by 1996, unfortunately.

Anyway, back to Foundation. I laid out some of the basics in a recent post, based on a short story I read by Orson Scott Card, which takes place in the Foundation Universe. I don't know what the other Foundation stories are like, but I can tell you that Asimov leaves plenty of room in this universe for story telling. This first book is really a series of related short stories, that by themselves are interesting, but when strung together chronologically as they are, tell the story of what Foundation is, and the mechanics of how it works.

How it works is based on something called psychohistory, which isn't explained in a while lot of detail, but who needs it, right?

The main characters are robust, thoughtful and full of life, while supporting characters are just that. If the stories lasted a bit longer, their personalities might have developed a bit more too, but because they aren't any longer, Asimov seems to have focused on the main character in each book, and let the others recede.

I'm looking forward to the next installment, and the good news is, I don't need to hurry. No cliffhangers here. Read this book.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin has been on my list for a while. It's the first book in the Earthsea Cycle. I was hoping that it wasn't going to be a sappy, Magikal flight over the rainbow, and I'm happy to report that it isn't.

I could see some similarities to some other fantasy stories from the same era, but no blatant rip-offs. Le Guin tells her story with a dignity and respect for the reader that more modern fantasy writers seem to lack: there's no sappy build up of tension, no endless cliff-hanging chapter breaks, and very little fancy jargon and spell lore. Le Guin's story simply takes place in a world where there is magic, or at least a world where they've figured it out. She doesn't get caught up in where it comes from and how its done, and what all the endless rules are, she just tells the story of what happens to this particular wizard. The fact that he can do some magic is just another facet of his character. Refreshing (which sounds funny, given that this book was first published in 1968.)

Le Guin is also a poet, who has a bunch of books published in both poetry and prose, and has scored a whole boatload of prizes for her work. I haven't read much of her stuff, but I do remember reading The Left Hand of Darkness back in the day. I don't remember the details of the book, but I do recall that the sexuality of the characters was flexible, e.g., sometimes male, sometimes female, but mostly androgynous. That was pretty racy when I was a teen, and I'm pretty sure Star Trek: The Next Generation did an episode based on a similar premise, years later.

I'm looking forward to reading the next installment, but I've also started on Asimov's Foundation, so I may have two classic SciFi series going on here soon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

the prince

This one has been on my list for a while, but it didn't take long.* Niccolò Machiavelli doesn't take up a whole lotta' room when it came to passing out advice to Princes. It seems that you can boil down the dos and don'ts into a pretty concentrated brew: a few small sips and you're ready to rule, baby!

Here's a li'l sum'n sum'n from the rules for new princes [Chapter VII]. In summary: Be like Francesco Sforsa, Duke of Milan. The Duke, taking advantage of help where he could get it, in this case from the King of France and the kindness of the Pope, moves in on Romagna and the Dukedom of Urbino. The trick thereafter, according to Machiavelli, is to hold your new princedom. The Duke did this in four ways:

"First, by exterminating all who were kin to those Lords whom he had despoiled of there possessions, that they might not become instruments in the hands of the new Pope."

Machiavelli then goes on to explain why killing not just your enemies, but their entire families, including the women and children, is a good first step. The four steps of the "Do it Like the Duke" method takes a few pages, but are summarized thus, near the end of the chapter:

"Whoever, therefor, on entering a new Princedom, judges it necessary to rid himself of enemies, to conciliate friends, to prevail by force or fraud, to make himself feared but not hated by his subjects, respected and obeyed by his soldiers, to crush those who can or ought to injure him, to introduce changes in the old order of things, to be at once severe and affable, magnanimous and liberal, to do away with a mutinous army and create new one, to maintain relations with Kings and Princes on such a footing that they must see it for their interest to aid him, and dangerous to offend, can find no brighter example than in the actions of this Prince."

See? Boiled down to its essential goodness. Like grandma's beef stock.

I was turned on to The Prince from a variety of sources. I know Machiavelli in the pop culture sense, and his name shows up most often in the term Machiavellian [adj - cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, esp. in politics or in advancing one's career.] Though, I can't imagine why? Then he showed up in a story I was reading to my son, The Magician, as a character from history who indeed had a cunning, scheming personality, and was not, on the whole, very friendly to the hero of the story, Nicholas Flamel.

I most recently ran into him, as I guess one would expect, listening to an Open Yale course offered at iTunes U called PLSC 114: Introduction to Political Philosophy, with Professor Steven B. Smith. I really enjoyed Smith's lectures on the basics of political philosophy. There are 24 lectures in the class, which begins with Socrates, and covers Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobes, Locke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville. The Prince is discussed over the course of two lectures, so I really got a sense for who Machiavelli was, and where he falls in the development of what we consider modern political systems.

The book itself is only 90 pages. I read a translation by N. H. Thompson, published by Prometheus Books, but you can read it for free on line, which you ought to do. We don't have that many princes running around anymore, but after you read this, and then think of someone like Musolini, its a wonder one doesn't see pictures of il Duce with a copy rolled up in his hip pocket.

* I started this blog post on August 19th. Its now the 29th, and I've finished another book,** and I'm working on a third.***
** A Wizard of Earthsea
*** Foundation/I, Robot

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

melrose arts marker

I picked up this home made style book mark at the Melrose Public Library. This colorful marker was placed there by the folks at Melrose Arts, which is, as they say on their web site "dedicated to encouraging the visual arts in Melrose, Massachusetts."

To that end, they have an Arts Festival in the Spring at Memorial Hall, and in the Fall, the Window Art Walk, which showcases local artwork in the storefronts and windows of businesses downtown.

This bookmark is made by layering (gluing up? collage? decoupage?) what looks like a black & white advertisement for a movie called "Gnomeo and Juliet", overlaid with colored crepe papers. These materials are glued down on a piece of yellow cardstock, with is stampped with the Melrose Arts logo and website address on the reverse.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The sixth, and final book in the Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert...whew! This book--Chapterhouse: Dune--was a little slow on the start, but the last hundred pages got it going a little bit, and then it was over. Pow! Just like that. For me, I think a little more exposé in the first part of the book would have been better, instead of trying to cram all of the climax into the last fifty pages, and then not leave yourself some room to wrap up some of the loose ends.

Its all: She's got a plan! Its tricky though. I wonder what it is? I hope it works out! I hope they don't figure it out too soon. I think this one knows, or maybe she doesn't, or maybe she does and she's smart enough not to tell. I hope they know what they're doing. I hope this won't turn out wrong. I have a plan. for like, 300 pages, yo.

And then it just peters out at the end. It leaves the storyline wide open for Frank's son Brian, or whoever, to keep on running with it. I haven't read any of the post Dune stuff, but based on how this one ended[ish] I'm not sure sure it wouldn't be: Just keep on running with it! Past the end zone and up into the stands. Herbert went through a lot of trouble to develop some new characters, even civilizations for this second trilogy, and then just doesn't got far enough in the end to resolve them for me. Too bad, really, because as I said the last hundred pages or so was pretty good.

So was this the whizbang ending I hoped for? No, but it ended. It was like

Monday, July 25, 2011

library for now

A little while ago I asked: "what is a library[an]" In that entry, I gave you some idea of what I, and other folks, think a public library is, and what it should be. I also talked about what a librarian is, and what that critical roll should be as the library moves forward into the future.

Well, we're bumping into that future right now.

The folks over at Street Lab--the ones who brought us the Storefront Library in Boston's Chinatown, which I wrote about in one of my first blog entries--are now working on that next step. The Uni Project grows right out of what Street Lab learned with their Storefront Library. Uni fills gaps in library service by providing the physical needs of a public library in an even more portable, flexible, and accessible format than the Storefront model.

The Storefront Library brought a temporary library service into the Chinatown community by turning a vacant commercial space into public space.

The Uni brings temporary library service right out into the existing public space we inhabit and use now.

Places like Times Square in New York City,* Chicago's Millennium Park, and others like them, are redefining what public spaces can be, and Uni fits right into that model: extending and reshaping public space to be more useful, interactive and rich.

Bringing the public library to the people is not a new idea. Wikipedia cites an example of a "perambulating library" back to 1857, in England; early bookmobile, yo. The US Lighthouse Establishment (read: US Coastguard) began its Traveling Library program in 1876, with wooden boxes of books, delivered to lighthouses for the use of the keepers and their families, who had trouble getting from their remote locations to the library. Need a more personal sized portable library? Its not exactly public, but I guess it could be. Maybe you could borrow the whole thing with your library card.

WiFi hotspots are not enough. We need libraries--in all shapes, sizes and locations--to keep us connected intelligently. The Uni Project is underway right now. Check out their video to find out more and see how you can help.

* Times Square is one of the places the Uni is scheduled to premiere this fall.**
** UPDATE: Times Square is not on the Immediate list, but elsewhere in New York. Take a look at the comment below from Sam from the Uni Project. Thanks Sam!


Book five y'all: Heretics of Dune.

Frank Herbert certainly takes the long view when it comes to the epic saga, boy. So, some time has past in the narrative since book four, but the story of the Dune universe pushes forward. This book, in a lot of ways, seems to be laying the groundwork for the finale, which I presume occurs in the last book in the series. Bridge books are fine, as long as they are entertaining and continue to move the story forward, and that's the case here. [I just looked back at what I wrote about the second book in the first trilogy: Dune Messiah. I called that one a bridge book too.]

So check out the cover; sandworms are obviously still a part of the story, that much is clear. Paul Atreides, or Muad'Dib, through his progeny are also, is still very much a part of the narrative, but Herbert has deconstructed the original story and re-built a new storyline from its parts. What's that mean for us readerfolk? A sequel-ilogy that reads pretty well on its own, has some of the familiar elements, but isn't the same old story warmed over to cash in on the readership. In other words: so far, I think the second trilogy is pretty good.

This volume also revisits some of the more peripheral elements from the earlier stories, and brings them more center stage. The Bene Gesserit and the Tleilaxians for example, get a little more in depth review in this book, the Tleilaxians maybe more so than the BG, only because the BG were pretty well delved into in earlier stories. I'm dancing around here because I don't like spoilers so thats probably as far as I'm going to go.

I burned through the last part of this book, and I'm looking forward to the last book. Not sure what's next yet. The Cicero books aren't all out yet here in the US so that's on hold for a while. I've got The Prince by Machiavelli on deck, or I might just jump into Asimov's Foundation series after reading Orson Scott Card's short story a little while ago.