Friday, October 26, 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a fantastic and fascinating look at the life and times of Jesse James, his gang and those who sought to stop him. Rather than tell Jesse’s whole story this book focuses on the last few years of his life. It is extremely rich with details to really give the reader the sense of actually being there.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Most of the information presented by the author was new to me. Of course, I’ve heard of Jesse James, but I was unfamiliar with his story or his death. It’s no wonder he and his brother are legends. The author presented the facts and characters in a straightforward and unbiased matter reminding me at times of newspaper accounts.

I really enjoyed the writing throughout the whole book, but I especially liked the opening section describing Jesse James. I also loved that the author chose to leave Bob’s fate for the last sentence in the last paragraph on the last page of the book. My one complaint is that it is SO detailed that at times it felt longer than 300 pages. I did get the gang members mixed up a few times, by the second part of the book, I had most of the major characters straightened out.

While reading the book, I had so much contempt for Ford (especially after reading all of the details of the assassination) that I considered writing this review without using his name. I was tempted to just call him “the coward” and leave it like that. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of being remembered. His was afraid that he wouldn’t be remembered. At one point in the book (page 205 in this edition) Jesse asks Bob, “Do you know what it is you’re most afraid of?” Bob responds: “I’m afraid of being forgotten…I’m afraid I’ll end up living a life like everyone else’s and me being Bob Ford won’t matter one way or the other.” However, by the end of the book, I almost felt sorry for him. He was quite young and pretty stupid when he sealed his fate by killing James. He was pardoned for the crime, but didn’t gain the hero moniker he sought. For the rest of his life he was labelled a coward. Wherever he went he was known as the man who killed Jesse James; his crime was not forgotten.

While I don’t generally like photos of characters on book covers (I like to use my imagination), this one is pretty good. I like the B&W slightly-out-of-focus figures surrounded by the black background. It sets the period and the mood.

I also really enjoyed reading the P.S section at the back of the book, especially the sections “A Conversation with Ron Hansen” and “Jesse James: Facts Falsehoods, Fiction and Film”. Both were enlightening.

I’d definitely recommend this book for those interested in this period in America’s history. Also, those interested in outlaws or the James brothers or heroes/anti-heroes would also enjoy it.

Now, I can’t wait to see the movie. I’ve heard it’s deliberately long and slow, but very good.

For more information about Jesse James click here. For more information about Robert Ford click here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell by Charlotte Gray

I read this sometime ago, but since Charlotte Gray recently won the Ottawa Book Award for this book, I figured I'd post my review here for others to read.

In Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell, Charlotte Gray presents an extremely fascinating and comprehensive look at the amazing life of Alexander Graham Bell. In Gray’s very capable hands, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, becomes Alec, teacher and champion of the deaf, husband, father, friend, sheep breeder, inventor and so much more. She showed us his strengths and his weaknesses as well as his passions and his indifferences. We also get to know his wife, Mabel, first his student, then his life long companion.

Loved it, loved it, loved it. It was a delight to read and I enjoyed every minute of it. Gray’s writing is clear, concise and accessible. It’s a joy to read.

There’s so much about Alec that I don’t know. Most people know he invented the telephone. But what else did he do? In one word: everything. He’s interests were eclectic and his research spanned many disciplines. His imagination, like his spirit, knew no bounds.

A must read for biography lovers and, well, everyone who’s ever used a telephone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Healthy Living from the Inside Out by Mariel Hemingway

Mariel Hemingway’s Healthy Living from the Inside Out is a pretty good self-help guide that’s out of the ordinary, interesting, refreshing and very informative. She goes beyond the food and exercise that most books of this kind focus on and includes “silence” (clearing the mind and taking time for quiet reflection) and “home” (clearing clutter and chaos in living spaces). It’s these two sections that make this book unique.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all program, either. It’s down-to-earth and very accessible for everyone. Rather than giving the reader a set of rigid steps to follow, she allows for plenty of latitude and provides lots of choices. While the 30-day program offered at the end does have steps to follow, it’s flexible and customizable. The advice is based on her personal experience; she leaves it up to the reader to picks the things that are right for her/him. She advises, “Follow your instinct” and “Do what’s right for you”. As far as I’m concerned, that’s really good advice.

The food section includes lots of yummy looking recipes I can’t wait to try. She uses a few ingredients that I’m unfamiliar with, though. I’ll have to investigate them further before I take the plunge and purchase them to make the recipes.

In the exercise section, she introduces “exercise with intent”. I found that section extremely fascinating. Usually, I zone out during my workouts on the treadmill. I thought that this was a good thing. However, after Hemingway’s explanation regarding this, I’m going to make a point of paying more attention.

In the silence and home sections, Hemingway presents some interesting and valid points. I think I’ll be paying the most attention to these areas [since I’ve already made changes in my food intake and exercise plan earlier this year].

I love the sections were she talks about her family, their vices and their legacy. I’m tempted to pick up her autobiography to read more about her and her famous family.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to those looking to make some simple changes in their lives to be happier and healthier.

[This ARC is a little hard to read and follow because the final formatting hasn’t been done. Also, it would also be nice if there were some photos of the yoga poses, however, I don’t know if they are planned for the final cut. ]

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hotel de Dream by Edmund White

Hotel de Dream, is an unusual novel within a even more unusual novel. The main story focuses on the last days of Stephen Crane, the real life author of “The Red Badge of Courage”. He feels the intense desire to write one more story before he dies. His wife takes dictation as he relates the story of Elliot, a newsboy/prostitute and Theodore, a married-middle-aged banker.

White offers a blend of fact and fiction in his latest work. While some of the characters are real (Crane, his wife, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and others), others are works of fiction as is the storyline. It’s a little confusing in the beginning because the story goes from the present where Crane is dying to the past where Crane meets Elliot, the character about whom he later writes his book. Once Crane starts his dictation to Cora, I found it much easier to follow.

I really started to enjoy the book once Elliot’s story began. I really wanted to find out what happened to him. While neither story is a pleasant one to read, both were very well written. White’s ability to write the two stories using different voices demonstrates his talent. I like the parallels between White/Crane and Crane/Elliot in that White writes a novel about a real person adding fictional parts along the way while Crane writes about Elliot a “real” person he met adding fictional parts to his story. I thought this was very well done.

The author undoubtedly did a lot of research to be able to write a piece like this. I appreciate that. If you read the book, be sure to read the acknowledgements at the end.

For more information about Mr. Crane:

This is an unusual book and will not please every reader. Those interested in gay/lesbian literature might like this book, as will those who are interested in Stephen Crane. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll read anything more by this author. He has a lot of works out there and I’m bound to come across another one at some point. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, I suppose.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it.