February 2005
Book Reviews by Meg Wood

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  • (2/24) Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.

    Ever wonder how much you'd have to eat for your stomach to actually explode? Ever wonder if you could cut off someone else's head and transplant it onto your neck? Ever wonder how much the human soul weighs? Ever wonder if human butt cheeks make for good barbecue? If you answered "YES!" to any of these questions, then this is the book for you! In this crazy, witty, and utterly fascinating non-fiction book, author Mary Roach takes us through the various ways human cadavers have been experimented on, disposed of, and yes, even eaten, throughout history. I've never read anything quite like this -- and what's even more amazing is the way Roach can be both hilariously (and, at times, sort of sickly) irreverent and yet also somehow completely respectful of the dead, even while she talks about turning them into compost or poking them in various places to see if they are just faking. This is a wonderful book and I look forward to whatever bizarre topic Roach decides to investigate next time! Recommended!

  • (2/20) Home Buying for Dummies by Eric Tyson and Ray Brown.

    So, my husband and I are about to get started on the quest to buy our first home. After about 18 months of solid saving, we thought we'd come up with a pretty good-sized down-payment and we started calling up friends and asking for recommendations for local real estate agents. As a librarian, my next move was to start reading, of course. And after getting through this book, all I have to say is HOLY CRAP! I mean, yeah, I know -- buying a house costs a lot of money. But who knew so much of it came in the form of piddling little fees, charges, and other costs? Costs layered on TOP of the cost of the house itself. A LOT of costs layered on top of the cost of the house itself. I mean, I was hip to the whole paying-the-mortgage thing. But, apparently I also have to pay for the bank to express-mail all my paperwork around? They can't just throw that in for free, considering the fact I'll actually be paying them DOUBLE for my house once I finally pay off all the interest and principle? Wait, WHY are we doing this to ourselves and our bank account again??

    Oh yeah, because our triplex neighbors are driving us BANANAS. And because we want a yard to dig in. And because we want to be able to play the piano at 3 in the morning without anybody banging on the walls and wishing painful, slow deaths upon us. And because we want to paint rooms funny colors and have a big house warming party and BE BROKE FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES! Oh wait, maybe not that last part.

    In any case, this book was very informative. So informative, in fact, that after reading it, I feel even less prepared for this adventure than ever before. There's so much to know! And I don't really know any of it! But, as with all the Dummies books I've read, this book clearly lays all the information out, explaining it in easily-understandable ways and making sure you at least come away from it with the key parts firmly embedded in your brain (the most key of which seems to be: NEVER TRUST A LENDER). In that way, I'm glad I read it. In other ways, though, I probably would've been less stressed out if I hadn't. Do with this information what you will.

  • (2/13) Firestorm by Nevada Barr.

    In this installment of the Anna Pigeon series, park ranger Anna finds herself serving as the chief medical support for a group of firefighters battling one of the biggest blazes in Californian history. When the National Weather Service predicts a heavy snowstorm, the group is relieved -- the fire was raging out of control but a massive snowstorm will stop it in its tracks. They are in the process of demobilizing when word comes that an injured firefighter is stranded and needs help. Anna and a team set off to find him, but just as they do, the combination of weather factors and fire cause a huge explosion of flames -- a firestorm. The group doesn't have time to escape and at the last moment they are forced to take refuge in their "shake and bakes" (individual silver fire shelters). The blaze roars over them, each one fighting to keep their shelters in place as their fingers burn and their hair begins to singe.

    When it's all over, they've all survived except for one. Upon closer examination, however, Anna discovers a horrifying truth -- the dead man wasn't killed by the flames, he was stabbed! And the killer can only be someone among them! To make matters worse, the snowstorm hits, trapping the team in the woods for several days. Struggling to survive with very little gear, they must also play a game of wits to find the killer and stop him before he strikes again.

    Another extremely exciting installment in this always-satisfying series! Recommended!

  • (2/5) Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb.

    This strange, short novel is so alternately disturbing and hilarious that once you start reading it, you won't be able to stop until it's over. It's about a young Western woman who moves to Japan and lands a job at the Yumimoto Corporation. She starts at the very bottom of the corporate ladder and soon discovers her only real talent seems to be in pissing off her bosses. Only, it's less like a talent and more like innate behavior, because EVERYTHING she does infuriates them -- even things it makes no sense to get upset about, like the fact she actually speaks Japanese or the way she makes photocopies.

    It's just bizarrely hilarious at times -- the night she spends in the office all by herself sticks in mind as one of the craziest scenes of all literary time -- and it's a wonderful satire of petty bosses and the employees who eventually become almost infected with their superiors' irrationality. This book will make YOUR boss seem like Mother Teresa, I guarantee you. And though it's not flawlessly written, it IS strangely entertaining. Definitely recommended, and I'll be looking for Nothomb's other novels soon!

  • (2/4) Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns by Cheryl L. Reid.

    As I've mentioned before, I'm really fascinated by nuns -- by their choices and by their so clearly-defined and purpose-driven lifestyles. So, when I saw this book on the shelf at the library, I snatched it up. Reed, a woman likewise intrigued by nun-dom (and even toying with the idea of marrying the Big JC herself), spent several years living at various convents around the country. Some of them housed habit-wearing, full-cloistered nuns who believe that flagellating themselves helped save lost souls; and some were home to denim-wearing PhDs living in the inner city and arguing about the old-fashioned and out-dated rules of the church. I hate to keep using this word over and over, but it was just fascinating how amazingly different all the convents were. I really had no idea!

    Reed is an investigative reporter, so I will say this book lacked a little emotional depth -- reporters are trained to write about what they observe, not to analyze it or try to dig into their sources' psychology. But if you are interested in what differences are to be found from convent to convent or what a day in the life of a nun is like, I think you'll find this book very rewarding. Recommended!

  • (2/3) Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman.

    Excellent book that offers extremely practical advice on converting your web site from old, clunky HTML to a tighter, faster, and just all around better site using web standards (CSS and XHTML). This book not only explains why this is better and tells you clearly how best to implement it, but it is written in an extremely accessible way, making it an invaluable tool for both web designers and the people they work for, who often don't fully understand the technical aspects of web development but who will quickly grasp from a read-through of this book the reasons why shifting to web standards will save them money and lead to a much more flexible and useful web site in general. Zeldman is a great writer and I not only learned a lot from this book, but I enjoyed reading it as well. I'm hoping to get time in the next couple of months to implement CSS on this site (applying CSS retroactively to a web site can take an agonizingly long time) and though I checked this book out from the library, by about the 25th page, I knew I'd need to buy a copy for my own reference collection. Definitely recommended!

    All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
    Email -- meg@megwood.com
    Web -- http://www.megwood.com

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