Book Review – March 2013

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Even in a slow publishing month like March, there is always something new and worth reading—I hope you find something good to read here while awaiting the arrival of spring!

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs was a best-selling memoir turned into a popular movie. In it, Burroughs mentions his older brother who left home at 16 and ended up working as a guitar tech for KISS in their heyday. That brother, John Elder Robison, wrote a memoir a few years ago called Look Me in the Eye about his life with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome. This month, he continues the story with his new memoir: Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives. Cubby is John’s son, also on the Asperger’s spectrum, who is deemed dumb at school, but whose at-home chemical experiments with explosives bring him to the attention of the FBI. John’s account of his child-rearing methods is entertaining and hair-raising. Other parents sometimes yell at him for endangering Cubby, which irks him; his tactics might be unconventional, but they are always safe. Difference from the norm has a price, however, as both John and Cubby discover when Cubby’s lab is raided by the police and an ambitious prosecutor from the DA’s office decides to charge him with malicious destruction of property and endangering people with his explosive experiments. From beginning to end, this tale of paternal devotion to a son who does not fit into mainstream society is filled with love and strengthened by advocacy for those who are born different. If you enjoy Temple Grandin’s books, try reading John Elder Robison.

A Tale for the Time Being is Ruth Ozeki’s third and best novel. It is magical, mystical and spiritual, in addition to having characters you care about and a plot that keeps you reading. Ruth, an author living in the Pacific Northwest, finds a diary in a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach near her home. It is the diary of Nao, a 16-year old Tokyo girl who has decided to commit suicide after she writes the story of her 104-year old great-grandmother’s life. Jiko, the great-grandmother, is a Buddhist nun. Ruth, who is suffering from writer’s block, becomes caught up in Nao’s story, and tries to find out what happened to her—did she kill herself? Was she swept away in the tsunami? How did the diary cross the ocean? If you enjoyed Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog or Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, you will appreciate the philosophical and scientific aspects of A Tale for the Time Being. It also has the playful spirituality of Roland Merullo’s Breakfast with Buddha. There is a lot to discuss in this book, so if you are searching for a good book group pick, here it is!

The Borgias: The Hidden History by G. J. Meyer will appeal to both history and Showtime buffs. The real story of the rise of the Borgias does not include as much sex and violence as the Showtime version, but it is a fascinating story nonetheless. Meyer also gives a lot of background information on the history of the papacy, the various factions that divided 15th century Italy, and the struggles of various European kings to bend the Pope to their will. Well written and meticulously researched, The Borgias is an entertaining history of a remarkable family.   
 
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.

 

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