Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland
(Atlas & Co., 2010, 216 pages)
This is a brilliant little biography. Douglas Coupland is a Canadian novelist and visual artist, but this biography of Marshall McLuhan, the father of media studies, was my introduction to Coupland. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. He draws out the essential intellectual features of McLuhan’s work, offers a quirky and interesting portrait of the man, and tells a fascinating story about the development of technology. He writes knowledgeably and insightfully about the way McLuhan’s Catholicism, Canadian heritage, and family background shaped his thought.
Most distinctly, Coupland picks up on the ways that McLuhan anticipated digital culture. In this respect, Coupland demonstrates the meaning of McLuhan’s famous dictum, “The medium is the message.” The book borrows its formatting from immediately recognizable elements of internet culture. Discussions of particular books by McLuhan are accompanied by pages from online booksellers, listing current prices and descriptions of the books. Google Maps or Mapquest-style driving directions accompany major shifts in McLuhan’s life, like his move from St. Louis, MO to Windsor, Ontario.
This is certainly not the definitive biography on McLuhan, but it may be the most interesting. Whether or not you’re familiar with the work of McLuhan, this biography could be enjoyed as an entertaining introduction to this important intellectual and cultural figure of the twentieth century.
Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
(Picador, 2006, 212 pages)
Alain de Botton writes practically and eloquently about big issues. I’ve really enjoyed his books The Architecture of Happiness and Religion for Atheists, as well as some of his lectures. I was aware that he had written a “novel” – the quotation marks are important – years ago (originally published in 1993), but I hadn’t taken the time to read it. Having recently seen that de Botton has written another novel that is about to be released, I thought I’d check out the first one.
The book tells the story of two people who meet on an airplane and fall in love. Each chapter looks at a different aspect of the relationship as it develops. From initial attraction (“Romantic Fatalism”) to the uncertainty of pursuit (“The Subtext of Seduction”) to the ambivalence of romantic feelings (“Intermittences of the Heart”) and finally to the unraveling of a relationship (“Romantic Terrorism”) and the suffering that follows (“Psycho-Fatalism”), the story of a relationship is told from the hopeful beginning to the bitter end. It is told from the perspective of the male narrator as he reflects on, analyzes, and investigates the emotional, philosophical, and psychological pitfalls of love.
Though the book has a narrative framework, it is not really a novel. In fact, the title can be taken at face value. These are really topical essays on romance that are strung together by a (not always convincing) love story. This unconventional format, while interesting, doesn’t work at every point. However, the book contains exactly what I’ve come to expect from de Botton – eminently quotable lines:
“Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge.” (14)
“We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as ideal as we are corrupt.” (41)
“It may be a sign that two people have stopped loving one another … when they are no longer able to spin differences into jokes.” (71)
“We start trying to be wise when we realize that we are not born knowing how to live, but that life is a skill that has to be acquired, like riding a bicycle or playing the piano.” (201)
The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders by Marc E. Agronin
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, 289 pages)
Agronin’s book is recommended for anyone who is looking for a reference guide in helping them to understand what a person with dementia or other neurocognitive disorders is going through. It is filled with resources that will help the caregiver to be better prepared for present and future care of not only the person suffering from brain disorders but also the caregiver themselves. I picked up this book in hopes that it would equip me with tools that would help me to find productive ways to care for my loved one while keeping their best interests in mind, and it did just that. It is filled with reassurance, understanding and compassion that can make anyone see that they are not alone on this difficult journey.
“Becoming a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another neurocognitive disorder can be an unexpected, undesirable, underappreciated–and yet noble role. It is heartbreaking to watch someone lose the very cognitive capacities that once helped to define them as a person. But because of the nature of these disorders, the only way to become an effective caregiver and cope with the role’s many daily challenges is to become well-informed about the disease. With the right information, resources and tips on caregiving and working with professionals, you can become your own expert at both caring for your charge and taking care of yourself.”-Amazon.com
Napoleon’s Pyramids: An Ethan Gage Adventure by William Dietrich
(Harper, 2007, 376 pages)
Napoleon’s Pyramids: An Ethan Gage Adventure by William Dietrich is a novel set during Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt. Ethan Gage is an American adventurer and former apprentice to Benjamin Franklin who is living in Paris. Gage wins an Egyptian medallion in a card game and the fun begins. Count Silano tries to buy the medallion from Gage, but Gage refuses to sell. Instead, Gage joins Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt to try to solve the mystery of the medallion.
Ethan Gage encounters many hazards in this novel. He is accused of murder. Someone tries to murder him. He acquires slaves. He’s involved in battles. He almost dies of thirst in the desert. And he was trapped under a pyramid while being pursued by his enemies.
As of this review, there are 8 Ethan Gage Adventures. Napoleon’s Pyramids is the first of the series. The ending does leave you speculating on what will happen next. The second novel, The Rosetta Key, picks up where Napoleon’s Pyramids leaves off. If you’re looking for an Indiana Jones type series, this series may be the one to read.
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
(Crown, 2009, 414 pages)
I felt like this book was a lost opportunity to shed light on the problematic marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. The actual story is very interesting but this fictionalized version was very uneven.
“At the end of her life, Catherine, the cast-off wife of Charles Dickens, gave the letters she had received from her husband to their daughter Kate, asking her to donate them to the British Museum, “so the world may know that he loved me once.” The incredible vulnerability and heartache evident beneath the surface of this remark inspired Gaynor Arnold to write Girl in a Blue Dress, a dazzling debut novel inspired by the life of this tragic yet devoted woman. Arnold brings the spirit of Catherine Dickens to life in the form of Dorothea “Dodo” Gibson–a woman who is doomed to live in the shadow of her husband, Alfred, the most celebrated author in the Victorian world. A sweeping tale of love and loss that was long-listed for both the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, Girl in a Blue Dress is both an intimate peek at the woman who was behind one of literature’s most esteemed men and a fascinating rumination on marriage that will resonate across centuries.” –Amazon.com
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
(Vintage, 2015, 352 pages)
This is the debut novel by Ruth Ware and in my opinion you can tell it’s a first. It started pretty strong but then the story had major problems, mostly because the whole second half of the book is anticlimactic. The main character Nora was not very clever or appealing so it was hard to stay interested in her attempts to figure out what happened. I wouldn’t recommend it but they are making it into a movie and it might work there.
“What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller. In the tradition of Paula Hawkins’s instant New York Times bestseller The Girl On the Train and S. J. Watson’s riveting national sensation Before I Go To Sleep, this gripping literary debut from UK novelist Ruth Ware will leave you on the edge of your seat through the very last page.” –Amazon.com
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
(Mulholland Books, 2015, 489 pages)
Career of Evil is the third book for Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and it was just as good as the first two. Part of the Coromon Strike series, it follows the detective’s investigation into a severed leg that is delivered to his assistant Robin. It also explores the complicated relationship between Robin and Strike and ends on a cliffhanger. Part of the appeal of this series to me is the reader of the audio version, Robert Glenister, who was perfect as usual!
“When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible–and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.” – Amazon.com