deliabarry: (Oscar)
Wishful Drinking
by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher has had quite a life. Let her tell you about it.

Wow. Bitter much? I've enjoyed Carrie Fisher's other books, finding them clever and funny, so I expected the same from this one. Unlike her previous books, however, this one isn't fiction, so the anger that is usually lurking just below the surface is up and out for all to see in this volume. Given everything that has happened to her in her life, I don't blame her for being bitter - I would be too. But as reasonable as her anger is, her openness about it definitely has a negative effect on the book. It just isn't that funny.

The funniest chapter in the book is the one dealing with the making of Star Wars. It's good to have confirmation that George Lucas is indeed as big a jerk as I had always suspected. ;)

Clearly, the brightest light in Fisher's life is her daughter Billie. I suspect Billie is also the reason her mother gets out of bed in the morning and manages to make it through each day.

Having said all of this, I must admit that I enjoyed the book. My disappointment that it wasn't as funny as some of her previous books is the result of my expectations, not the book itself. As always, Fisher's writing is superb, and the pleasure of reading a wonderfully crafted book by an exceptionally talented writer is definitely a joy.

Gorgon

Dec. 23rd, 2008 02:27 pm
deliabarry: (creationist)
Gorgon: The Monsters That Ruled the Planet Before Dinosaurs and How They Died in the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History
by Peter D. Ward

For more than a decade Peter Ward, his colleagues, and his students tried to determine the cause of the mass extinction marking the end of the Permian by studying the fossils in the Karoo Desert of South Africa. This book is the record of that work.

This book was not at all what I expected when I bought it. From the title and the descriptive blurb on the back, I thought I was buying the popular science version of a paper on gorgonopsians, the lizard-like predator of the upper Permian. Instead, what I got was a memoir covering the ten years of Ward's life he spent working in the Karoo trying to unravel the mystery of the Permian Extinction.

It doesn't matter. This book was a real page turner – I couldn't put it down, and stayed up much later that I should have several nights in a row to read it. The ins and outs of doing field work under such difficult conditions, both natural and political – the Karoo is located largely in South Africa – was fascinating. During the decade of work, friendships began, matured and ended, babies were born and grew, governments rose and fell. Cape Town and Johannesburg became dangerous places to be a white man, and then went back to being no more dangerous than any other major city.

Ward is quite candid about the missteps and dead ends that litter any scientific investigation and which are particularly common in paleontology. The Permian extinction, in which 90-95% of the then-existing life forms perished, is particularly difficult to interpret, due in no small part to the fact that it happened nearly 250 million years ago. His excitement when he writes about finding a well-preserved complete gorgon skeleton is palpable … and contagious.

It isn't until the last chapter that Ward discusses his hypothesis about the end of the Permian, and by that time I was as anxious to hear his hypothesis as I would have been to find out who committed the murder in a novel. Ward's hypothesis is that the Permian extinction was not a single event resulting from a single cause, but from a combination of things: a world-wide drop in sea level, a precipitous drop in the oxygen content of the atmosphere as a result of the oxidation of organic sediments exposed when sea level dropped, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the inevitable temperature increase. In other words, the Gorgon and most other creatures of the late Permian asphyxiated in the heat. Not a pretty picture.

This book is written in a very accessible manner, with little or no jargon, and the human story is just as compelling as the scientific mystery. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in science, even if they are not professionals in the field.
deliabarry: (Default)
All You Need to be Impossibly French
Helena Frith Powell

Helena Frith Powell is an English expatriate living with her family in France. Intrigued by the allure possessed by French women, she decides to investigate and discover the source of it. This book is the result of her research.

Not surprisingly, this book was an entertaining piece of fluff. We're all aware of the stereotype of a French woman: trés thin, trés chic, and un peu aloof; apparently this is pretty accurate, and not just in Paris. However, I was a bit surprised to learn how insecure and jealous so many of these women are. And despite being a big Francophile, I don't think I could ever live in a place where friendships between women are so rare and insubstantial.

But the book was most educational in unexpected ways. For example, I learned a sentence that I never heard in Sister Jamesella's French I class: Ca c'est les sex toys. I must confess that my first reaction was surprise that L'Academie Français allowed "les sex toys" to get by them. ;)
deliabarry: (position)
Bright Lights, Big Ass
by Jen Lancaster

The book's subtitle says "A self-indulgent, surly ex-sorority girl's guide to why it often sucks in the city, or who are these idiots and why do they all live next door to me?", which is a better summary than I could come up with.

The cover blurbs on this collection of essays purports to tell the truth about living in the city, giving the lie to Carrie Bradshaw in particular. Based on them, I was expecting a funny take on modern city living for the single woman. You know, mindless summer giggles. What I got was a mean-spirited diatribe from a married woman who is still pissed that she lost her cushy overpaid job when the dot com bubble burst and who now has to figure out how to make a living just like the rest of us. This is a woman who states that the problem with mass transportation is that it transports the masses, thinks that Ann Coulter is funny, and includes an "open letter" to all the people upset about the results of the 2004 election recommending that they all grow up. Charming.

Ms. Lancaster also describes the (presumable single) professional women in her condo community as "the fat girls." Judging by the author picture on the back cover, she must not own a mirror.

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