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Title: Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Author: Lynne Truss
Number of Pages: 209 pages
Book Number/Goal: 50/50 for 2010
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now "txt msgs", we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. If there are only pedants left who care, then so be it. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From George Orwell shunning the semicolon, to New Yorker editor Harold Ross's epic arguments with James Thurber over commas, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

Review: This was a pretty funny and entertaining read, and I liked that she was able to make fun of herself and admit that punctuation is always changing. The thing that actually really annoyed me was her assumption that people who care about grammar and people who use smileys are two separate groups with no overlap. XD (Also the general tone of "oh noes, the internets!" that some of it had.) I don't think it lived up to the massive hype around it, though.
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Title: Shizuko's Daughter
Author: Kyoko Mori
Number of Pages: 214 pages
Book Number/Goal: 49/50 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: "Your mother would be very proud..." Yuki Okuda heard these words when she was achieving in school, excelling in sports, even when she became president of the student council. And she could always imagine the unexpressed thought that followed: "...if your mother hadn't killed herself." But Shizuko Okuda did commit suicide, and Yuki had to learn how to live with a father who didn't seem to love her and a stepmother who treated her badly. Most important, she had to learn how to live with herself: a twelve-year-old girl growing up alone, trying to make sense of a tragedy that made no sense at all...

Review: I liked this a lot. I kept feeling surprised at it for some reason and finally I realised why. It felt very normal in a way I am not sure I've ever seen in a book about Japan written in English (as in, not translated from Japanese). Even when the author isn't white, if they're writing for an English-speaking audience, there's often a tinge of exoticism (sometimes more than a tinge), but there wasn't any of that here at all. Sadly, the cover illustration tries to make up for that by showing a girl in kimono, despite the fact that the book is set in the '70s and the only people ever mentioned wearing kimono are Yuki's grandparents, and her father and stepmother at their wedding ceremony.

One thing that bugged me was that there was this chapter where she seems to totally have a crush on this girl and I thought that's where the story was going, especially since later she still has no interest in guys and this is pointed out several times. But then later it turns out that she was just ~damaged~ from her father's betrayal and didn't want to fall in love, and then she does and is happily heterosexual. If I had read this before Yuletide, I would have totally nominated it. (Maybe I should tag this so I remember to nominate it next year.)
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Title: The Story of My Life
Author: Helen Keller
Number of Pages: 152 pages
Book Number/Goal: 48/50 for 2010
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: For the first nineteen months of her life, Helen Keller is a normal child who laughs and plays and explores her surroundings. But a high fever robs Helen of her sight and hearing, leaving her alone in a dark, silent world. Until the day Anne Sullivan comes into her life, Helen's only means of communication are crude signs and gestures. With the help of her new teacher and friend, Helen learns to read and write. Slowly, she begins to triumph over her handicaps...

Review: Blech. What a summary! D: Anyway, I realised a couple years ago when I read Lies My Teacher Told Me that I really knew nothing about Helen Keller other than, well, basically what the summary above says. I didn't know that she was a disability rights advocat, or "a suffragist, a pacifist, an opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter", to quote Wikipedia. So I thought I'd read up on her, and seeing she had written an autobiography, that seemed like the way to go. It's...really not. What I didn't realise, was that this was written when she was in college, so it doesn't talk about any of the awesome things she went on to do and is indeed just the same story I'd heard before. It's not a bad book, just not at all what I was looking for.
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Title: Skeleton Man
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Number of Pages: 114 pages
Book Number/Goal: 47/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Summary: When Molly's parents don't return after a trip, she is placed in the care of a mysterious "great uncle" who's appeared out of nowhere. Everyone else believes his story, but Molly knows something isn't right. Soon she becomes convinced that he is the Skeleton Man, a monster from one of the old Mohawk stories her dad used to tell her. With the help of a rabbit who guides her in her dreams, she begins to make plans to escape and rescue her parents.

Review: This is a super short book, but I really enjoyed it. The story is pretty creepy (both the retold tale of the Skeleton Man that Molly relates as well as what happens to her in the present) and I really liked Molly. I also liked how matter-of-factly Mohawk culture was treated.
torachan: a cartoon owl with the text "everyone is fond of owls" (everyone is fond of owls)
Title: Blueback
Author: Tim Winton
Number of Pages: 151 pages
Book Number/Goal: 46/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: Abel Jackson loves to dive. He's a natural in the water. He can't remember a time when he couldn't use a mask and snorkel to glide down into the clear deep. Life is tough out at Longboat Bay. Every day the boy helps his mother earn their living from the sea and the land. It's hard work but Abel has the bush and the sky and the bay to himself. Until the day he meets Blueback, the fish that changes his life.

Review: I read a couple books of his short stories a few years ago and really liked them (especially The Turning, which has some of my favorite short stories ever) and so I put a bunch of his other stuff on my wishlist just at random. Not sure I would have chosen this book by the summary, but it turned out to be interesting and I enjoyed it. The summary makes it sound like it's a story of a boy and his BFF (Best Fish Friend), but it's really more just about the story of Abel's life and his love for the ocean in general.
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Title: Ties That Bind, Ties That Break
Author: Lensey Namioka
Number of Pages: 154 pages
Book Number/Goal: 45/40 for 2010
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Third Sister in the Tao family, Ailin has watched her two older sisters having their feet bound. In China in 1911, all girls of good families follow this ancient practice, which is also an extremely painful one. Ailin loves to run away from her governess and play games with her male cousins. Knowing she will never run again once her feet are bound, she refuses to follow this torturous tradition. As a result, the family of her intended husband breaks their marriage agreement. As she enters adolescence, Ailin finds that her family, shamed by her decision, will no longer support her. Chinese society leaves few options for a single woman of good family, but with bold conviction and an indomitable spirit, Ailin is determined to forge her own destiny.

Review: I enjoyed this. It reminded me a lot of many turn-of-the-century girls' stories I read as a kid, like Anne of Green Gables and stuff.
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Title: The Dollhouse Murders
Author: Betty Ren Wright
Number of Pages: 149 pages
Book Number/Goal: 44/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: It was just an old dollhouse. Hidden away in the attic--collecting dust. Amy didn't know that the dollhouse held a secret. A deadly secret that hadn't been talked about in years. And now, the dolls have decided that Amy should be the one to know the truth. The truth about the night of the murder...

Review: First off, the writing in the actual book is way better than the crappy summary on the back cover. XD I grabbed this off of BookMooch because when I asked on a bookfinder community about another book about creepy dolls that I remembered liking as a kid (Behind the Attic Wall), someone mentioned this one as well. The Dollhouse Murders was written in the early '80s, same as Behind the Attic Wall, but I never came across it as a kid. I wish I had, as I would have enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed it as an adult, too.

There is a subplot about Amy's sister Louann, who has some sort of mental disability (only specified as "brain damage"), and at first I was extremely hesitant about it, but I think overall it was handled pretty well. Over the course of the book, Amy realises that her sister can do more than Amy and her mom have assumed and starts to realise that it's a good thing for Louann to have her own interests and friends and to eventually have her own life. While it is Amy's POV and obviously framed as an abled person learning a lesson about disability, Louann herself was as well-rounded as any of the other supporting characters and felt like a person, not just an object to teach Amy a lesson. Definitely better than I might have expected for a thirty-year-old children's book.

I was less happy about the murder plot. In general the mystery was badly done. This is better as just a ghost story than a mystery, because the real killer turns out to be the groundskeeper, who they had "always been generous to" until he randomly decided to kill them because that's just what the help does, I guess. Yay, classism!
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Title: How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
Author: Julia Alvarez
Number of Pages: 147 pages
Book Number/Goal: 43/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: When Miguel's Tia Lola comes from the Dominican Republic to Vermont to help out his Mami, Miguel is worried that his unusual aunt will make it even more difficult to make new friends. It's been hard enough moving from New York City and Leaving Papi behind. Sometimes he wishes Tia Lola would go back to the island. But then he wouldn't have the treats she's putting in his lunch box, which he's sure helped him make the baseball team. And she really needs his help to learn English so she doesn't use all the words she knows at once: "One-way -caution-you're-welcome-thanks-for-asking." So Miguel changes his wish to a new one, and he finally even figures out a clever way to make it come true.

Review: This is a kids' book and while it's cute and I liked it well enough, it's not really one of those kids' books that's terribly enjoyable for an adult. At least not to me.
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Title: Bible Camp Bloodbath
Author: Joey Comeau
Number of Pages: 78 pages
Book Number/Goal: 42/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: Bible Camp Bloodbath is a story about a boy named Martin. Martin is going to Bible Camp, and he's going to make a lot of new friends. He's excited, too, but that's probably because nobody told him what the book is called.

Review: I love A Softer World and think Joey Comeau is pretty awesome in general, so I really wanted to like this more than I did. I really love the prose, but the story was It was a decent story and kept my attention, but I just kept waiting for it to be something more, I guess. I don't quite see the point of it.
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Title: Mokuyou Kumikyoku (Thursday Suite)
Author: Onda Riku
Number of Pages: 247 pages
Book Number/Goal: 41/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: It's been four years since author Shigematsu Tokiko committed suicide. As they do every year, five women who were close to Tokiko gather at Nightingale House to remember her. Eriko writes non-fiction, Naomi writes popular fiction, Tsukasa writes literary fiction, Eiko is an editor, and Shizuko works for a publishing house. But a mysterious message turns their peaceful conversation into a storm of accusations and confessions. Did Tokiko really commit suicide, or was it murder...?

Review: Aaaages ago I was browsing tapes at the video store and this movie sounded interesting. I saw it was based on a book and thought I'd rather read the book than watch the movie, so I bought the book and then years and years passed and I never read it. Well, the other day I wanted a small book I could stick in my pocket while I was out running errands, and Japanese books are great for that, so I grabbed it off the shelf. I can't believe I took so long to get around to reading it, because it was really good! It was a bit of a slow starter, but I got really sucked in after a while and found it very hard to put down.

It's really not a traditional mystery at all, but there's a lot of intrigue and reveals, which I always like. Also, wow, this book passes the Bechdel Test like nobody's business. A lot of books about women still focus on them talking about guys all the time, but out of almost 250 pages I think there were maybe five pages tops that were about men. There was one convo about a male relative and one about a guy one of the women had been set up with (which was a hilarious convo, because she was talking about how she hates guys who think they're so feminist and awesome and say they split the housework with their wives when all they do is empty the trash occasionally and cook once in a while).

Anyway, I really enjoyed this and will definitely be looking for more books by her. She's written a ton and I'm sad to see that not a single one has been translated into English.
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Title: The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?
Author: Deborah Cameron
Number of Pages: 196 pages
Book Number/Goal: 40/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: A thriving industry of self-help manuals and popular science books has grown up in the last fifteen years, all based on the assertion that there are fundamental differences in the way that men and women use language to communicate. Whether the reason given is nature, nurture, or planet of origin, the Mars and Venus story is widely accepted. But, asks Deborah Cameron, why do so many people find it convincing? Drawing on the findings of more than thirty years of academic research, Cameron dispels the myths to tell a much more complicated--and satisfying--story, and shows how selective and inaccurate is the picture presented by many popular writers. She also demonstrates that popular asumptions about male-female miscommunication can have far-reaching consequences in many areas of life: for example, attitutes to sexual violence or discrimination in the work-place.

Review: I originally read a series of excerpts from this book online (all three are linked in this old post of mine) and really liked what Cameron had to say. I still do, but unfortunately the book doesn't feel like it really expands on those essays at all, despite being almost two-hundred pages long. Also the section on trans people, while not outright offensive, made me :-/. She consistently talks about men who want to be women and women who want to be men, etc. Anyway, I recommend the essays, but don't feel like the book really had much to add.
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Title: The English is Coming!: How One Language is Sweeping the World
Author: Leslie Dunton-Downer
Number of Pages: 352 pages
Book Number/Goal: 39/40 for 2010
My Rating: 2.5/5

Amazon Summary: English has fast become the number one language for everything from business and science, diplomacy and education, entertainment and environmentalism to socializing and beyond--virtually any human activity unfolding on a global scale. Worldwide, nonnative speakers of English now outnumber natives three to one; and in China alone, more people use English than in the United States--a remarkable feat for a language that got its start as a mongrel tongue on an island fifteen hundred years ago. Through the fascinating stories of thirty English words used and understood in nearly all corners of the globe, The English Is Coming! takes readers on an eye-opening journey across culture and commerce, war and peace, and time and space.

Review: This book was pretty disappointing. While some of the etymology/linguistics/history stuff was interesting, every time she started talking about global English (which was often, since it is what the book is about!), I started getting annoyed.

While she does say that English's dominance as a global language is not due to anything inherent in the language itself and that it could have been any language had history been different, she then goes on to talk a lot about the things that make English so easy for people to pick up and make it easy to spread rapidly and the tone is all just yay English! and yay America! and there's no critical thought or acknolwedgement of the (cultural) imperialism that made/makes English a global language. From reading this you'd think people around the world just started using English because they thought it was cool.

Also when she talks about these English words that are now used in so many other languages, she often doesn't distinguish between those that are used occasionally and those that are the primary terms people use. For example, when she talks about bank, she says it's used in Japanese, and while it may be recognised and some banks may use it in their name, the word people actually use is still 銀行(ginkou). So stuff like that made me not be able to trust what she was saying about other languages as well, since she could have made similar mistakes.
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Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Number of Pages: 341 pages
Book Number/Goal: 38/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: Like many others, Jonathan Safran Foer spent his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood--facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child's behalf--his casual questioning took on an urgency. So Foer set out to find answers for himself. This quest ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, amd probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. This book is what he found. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective wokrd, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits--folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions--and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.

Review: This is a really good read. I picked it up because it sounded interesting and I liked his writing in Everything Is Illuminated. I did not expect it to change my mind about what I eat, but it did. Even more than the treatment of animals (which is horrible, but on its own, probably not enough to make me want to give up tasty animals), the stuff that's in them and the environmental effects of the "farms" are what did it. I don't want all that stuff in my body.

I'm not going to go totally vegan or even totally vegetarian, but I am going to limit my meat-eating to an occasional thing. I don't think it will be hard, and I was already planning to limit meat just for financial reasons (plus already limiting dairy and eggs and red meat).
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Title: Tell-All
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Number of Pages: 179 pages
Book Number/Goal: 37/40 for 2010
My Rating: 1/5

Jacket Summary: Soaked, nay marinated in the world of vintage Hollywood, Tell-All is a Sunset Boylevard-inflected homage to Old Hollywood when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford ruled the roost. Our Thelma Ritter-ish narrator is Hazie Coogan, who for decades has tended to the outsized needs of Katherine "Miss Kathie" Kenton--veteran of multiple marriages, career comebacks, and cosmetic surgeries. But dangers arrives with gentleman caller Webster Carlton Westward III, who worms his way into Miss Kathie's heart (and boudoir). Hazie discovers that this bounder has already written a celebrity tell-all memoir foretelling Miss Kathie's death. As the body count mounts, Hazie must execute a plan to save Katherine Kenton for her fans--and for posterity.

Review: I never did read Pygmy and I don't know that I ever will, and while I enjoyed Snuff okay, I found it really disappointing after the awesomeness of Rant, so while I grabbed this because it's a new Palahniuk book and I still consider myself a fan, I wasn't really excited about it. I...guess that's good? Because if I'd been excited, I would have been really disappointed. As it is, I'm just meh, whatever.

As for the supposed plot (you know the real plot is always not what it seems), my first thought was wasn't that a Simpson's episode? The book was not that interesting, and the twist was predictable, but what really annoyed me was the last few chapters where it's all about Hazie the ugly girl who befriends Kathie the pretty girl and blah blah blah, women! Crazy, amirite? This is definitely one to skip. Hopefully he'll get back on track and do something cool again at some point.
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Title: Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence
Author: Jon Pahl
Number of Pages: 257 pages
Book Number/Goal: 36/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: It is widely acknowledged that American culture is both exceptionally religious and exceptionally violent. Americans participate in religious communities in high numbers, yet American citizens also own guns at rates far beyond those of citizens in other industrialized nations. Since 9/11, United States scholars have understandably discussed religious violence in terms of terrorist acts, a focus that follows United States policy. Yet, according to Jon Pahl, to identify religious violence only with terrorism fails to address the long history of American violence rooted in religion throughout the country's history. In essence, Americans have found ways to consider blessed some very brutal attitudes and behaviours, both domestically and globally.

Review: This was really interesting. There are four main sections, Sacrificing Youth, Sacrificing Race, Sacrificing Gender, and Sacrificing Humans. The middle two are pretty self-explanatory (slavery/racism and sexism/homophobia, respectively). Sacrificing Humans explores the way human sacrifice is always positioned as something primitive (non-white) people do/did while ignoring the ways "modern" societies sacrifice people all the time (I especially liked the bit about Puritans and Quakers; I was totally unaware of how violent the Puritans were), and Sacrificing Youth talks about horror films. The whole thing was fascinating and definitely a good read.
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Title: God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says
Author: Michael Coogan
Number of Pages: 238 pages
Book Number/Goal: 35/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Amazon Summary: Readers looking for an unbiased appraisal of what the Bible says about premarital sex, homosexuality, and polygamy can trust Coogan, a biblical scholar of the highest order. Concise, clear, and accessible to general readers, this book covers all the usual topics plus a few that may surprise. A professor of religious studies at Stonehill College and editor of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, Coogan has also taught at Harvard and Wellesley. He covers predictable ground in unpredictable ways, frankly noting, for example, the pervasive biblical assumption that women are subordinate while explaining how that reflects the Bible's foreign and ancient context. The author does not overreach the evidence to promote his own agenda, but notes the Bible's contradictions on certain issues and admits the limits of modern scholarship. Readers may be surprised to find a convincing discussion of evidence for God's own (sometimes unflattering) sexuality, in metaphor if not in fact. Coogan's reminder at the book's end that modern application of biblical texts requires interpretation and nuance is a welcome corrective to selective, literalist use.

Review: This was another one I got from the library the other day. The new non-fiction shelf had so much interesting-looking stuff! I could have gone home with a whole bag full of books just from that section, but new books are only two-week loans, so I limited it to just three. Anyway, this one stood out because of the title, and also because it has a faux-leather Bible-esque cover, so it caught my eye right away.

I have been interested in reading books about the Bible and about Christianity lately. I have a lot of issues around the Bible due to my mom, and for a long time even just thinking about reading about the Bible or Christianity was enough to stress me out and make me feel really anxious, but I think I'm starting to get to a place where I can deal?

Anyway, I enjoyed this book. It was a pretty quick, easy read, and looked at various topics related to sex and gender, including homosexuality, marriage, abortion, divorce, etc. As the Amazon summary notes, he doesn't handpick verses to hold up one view or another, but lays out all the verses related to each topic, acknowledging contradictions and such. (I also found it interesting because a lot of liberal Christians are all about how Jesus wouldn't be down with this or that judginess, but Jesus was pretty damn judgey himself, sometimes even more so than the Old Testament.)
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Title: Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
Author: José Esteban Muñoz
Number of Pages: 222 pages
Book Number/Goal: 34/40 for 2010
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: The LGBT agenda has for too long been dominated by pragmatic issues like same-sex marriage and gays in the military. It has been stifled by this myopic focus on the present, which is short-sighted and assimilationist. In a startling repudiation of what the LGBT movement has held dear, Muñoz contends that queerness is instead a futurity-bound phenomenon, a "not yet here" that critically engages pragmatic presentism.

Review: I picked this up off the new-books shelf at the library because the title caught my eye, but was really disappointed in it. Since he is explicitly critiquing the current LGBT movement, I had hopes that his "queer" wasn't a synonym for gay men as it (and LGBT, really) so often is. Alas, while there are a handful of lesbians here and there and an aside about a trans friend, this book is totally about gay men, mainly pre-AIDS gay male culture and art.

I could have rolled with that if the book had otherwise been interesting, but the academic language made it difficult for me to read, plus the whole thing lacked cohesion and just felt more like a collection of essays about this art/period he liked rather than something that was building towards a whole. Also, mainly he talked about what he liked about queer movements in the past, and what I had picked up the book hoping for was a critique of the current LGBT movement. But other than saying he doesn't like it, he doesn't really go into it at all.
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Title: Bent
Author: Martin Sherman
Number of Pages: 80 pages
Book Number/Goal: 33/40 for 2010
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: On December 2, 1979, Martin Sherman's controversial and deeply moving play abuot the persecution of homosexuals in Germany opened to extraordinary acclaim on Broadway. Moving from a Berlin flat in 1934 to Hitler's camps, the play stirred audiences as shock piled upon shock, revealing a little discussed horror of European history.

Review: I watched the movie years ago, and from what I can recall, it's pretty faithful to the original play. I liked the movie and I liked this script as well, though I definitely have mixed feelings about it. It's very much a "tragic dead queers" story.
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Title: 4teen
Author: Ishida Ira
Number of Pages: 329 pages
Book Number/Goal: 32/40 for 2010
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Tsukishima, an island in the middle of Tokyo Bay. Here we race through the streets on our bikes, faster than the wind. Naoto, Dai, Jun, and me, Tetsuro, four 9th graders. We each have our problems, but together we can go anywhere, maybe we can even fly...

Review: Like Ikebukuro West Gate Park, 4teen is a collection of short stories about young people set in Tokyo (though younger kids this time and a different area of Tokyo). No mysteries here, though, but basically if you like Ikebukuro West Gate Park, if you like Ishida Ira's writing style, this is more of the same.
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Title: Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science
Author: Carol Kaesuk Yoon
Number of Pages: 344 pages
Book Number/Goal: 31/40 for 2010
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: In Naming Nature, Yoon takes us on a guided tour of science's brilliant, if sometimes misguided, attempts to order and name the overwhelming diversity of earth's living things. We follow a trail of scattered clues that reveals taxonomy's real origins in humanity's distant past. Yoon's journey brings us from New Guinea tribesmen who call a giant bird a mammal to the trials and tribulations of patients with a curious form of brain damage that causes them to be unable to distinguish among living things. Finally, Yoon shows us how the reclaiming of taxonomy will rekindle humanity's dwindling connection with wild nature.

Review: I did not previously have any interest in taxonomy before picking this up, or really much interest in nature at all. But I happened to see it on the shelf at the library and it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did, because it really is interesting and written in a very engaging way. One thing that bugged me, though, was that she went on and on and on about how wonderful Carl Linneaus was and I would have liked for her to at least touch on the fact that not only did he order plants and animals, but also humans (with whites at the top, natch).


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