Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2011 Evelyn C. Leeper.


SO MANY BOOKS by Gabriel Zaid:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/28/2011]

SO MANY BOOKS: READING AND PUBLISHING IN AN AGE OF ABUNDANCE by Gabriel Zaid (ISBN 978-1-58988-003-X) was written in 2003 in Mexico City. The latter leads to some ambiguity: when Zaid says that one can finance any book if 3000 readers are willing to pay six hours' minimum-wage salary, one wonders if that is United States minimum wage or Mexico minimum wage.

"Today it is easier to acquire treasures than it is to give them the time they deserve."

In his chapter "The End of the Book", Zaid gives his reasons why books will not be replaced by films, television, audiobooks, or even e-books:

Given the state of things in 2003, it is not surprising that most of these reasons are in contrast to films, television, audiobooks. Regarding the e-books, Zaid writes, "There is no advantage to reading novels on a screen that is barely portable and displays text of minimal contrast and primitive typography." He also says, "In practice, for rapid consultations it may be more work to get the disc, bring it to the machine (if it is not being used by someone else), and turn the machine on or switch from one program to another than to pick up the printed volume and consult it directly."

Well, clearly the mode of operation of e-books has changed in eight years. The screen of an e-reader is portable, contrast is reasonable, typography is much improved, and one does not carry discs around. However, one thing he did not mention that just occurred to me is that an e-reader does not allow you to have multiple books open in front of you at once: to compare translations, for example, or to look up further information on some statement made in one book in others.

He does, however, mention some drawbacks that are basically still true: "On the most basic level, there is no need to have a machine running in front of you, with the text up on a screen. This practical advantage, and many others (portability, the lesser likelihood of theft, the impossibility of lending a book to a friend without the proper reading device, author's rights), tend to be ignored in futuristic fantasies, but they influence the decisions readers make."

To order So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance from amazon.com, click here.


THE MARRIAGE BUREAU FOR RICH PEOPLE by Farahad Zama:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/04/2009]

THE MARRIAGE BUREAU FOR RICH PEOPLE by Farahad Zama (ISBN-13 978-0-399-15558-1) was recommended by the speaker at a pot-luck dinner for local book discussion groups. It sounded promising, but it had several major flaws. To start with, it was full of info- dumps--even more than all those science fiction books that everyone complains about. There are is a long description of a Muslim wedding, a long description of a Hindu wedding, a long description of cooking dinner, and long descriptions of just about everything else. With good editing it might work, but the editing is, well, peculiar. For example, "It was a crisp winter morning and some of the motorists and pedestrians were wrapped up in watch caps and woolen clothes. He opened the gate and stepped outside. Mr. Ali loved the garden he had created in the modest yard, about twenty feet wide and ten feet long. He rubbed his hands to warm them up-- sure that the temperature was less than seventy degrees."

What's wrong? Well, first of all, when I'm reading from the point of view of an Indian, I expect to read metric units--and especially if the book's author is English. I can only conclude that the American publisher decided that American readers are slow. But in addition, if it's cold enough that people are wearing watch caps and woolen clothes on a "crisp" morning, then Mr. Ali should be thinking that it is under fifty degrees (or even forty), not seventy.

The book is very episodic. There is an arc, but most of the book is individual stories that last a paragraph or two, and seem designed to convey some particular homily that Zama is promoting: be good to your daughter-in-law, look for a good wife rather than a beautiful one, compromise is important, etc.

The one point in its favor is that it is a fast read, but this is hardly enough to recommend it.

To order The Marriage Bureau for Rich People from amazon.com, click here.


REMARKABLE READS edited by J. Peter Zane:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/29/2004]

REMARKABLE READS (edited by J. Peter Zane, ISBN 0-393-32540-7) is a collection of essays by various authors on "the most something- est book I read". For example, Denise Gess writes about "The Most Important Book I Read" (Albert Camus's THE STRANGER), and Nasdijj writes about "The Saddest Book I Read" (Louis L'Amour's TO TAME A LAND). Some essays are more interesting than others, of course, so you will probably want to pick and choose. As such, it is probably better to get this from the library than to buy it.

To order Remarkable Reads from amazon.com, click here.

A HISTORY OF DOMESTICATED ANIMALS by Frederick E. Zeuner:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/23/2011]

One of the books listed in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's bibliography for THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS was Frederick E. Zeuner's A HISTORY OF DOMESTICATED ANIMALS (no ISBN). This must be the classic work, because it was thirty years old when Thomas cited it, and one would think she would have chosen a newer work were it available. However, much of what Zeuner says has been superseded by recent discoveries and DNA analysis. (For example, while no one has ever disputed that dogs were the first domesticated species, I find the claim that reindeer were the second a bit hard to believe.) And Zeuner's book is primarily a dry academic work dealing with archaeological findings, rather than a discussion of how domestication happened, though he does cover that topic in regard to dogs.

(Interestingly, although Zeuner writes with a lot of detail and precision, he does have at least one sloppy sentence: "Since at that time (6700 B.C.E.) only the goat was certainly domesticated, this single [cat] tooth may have belonged to a wild visitor." Actually, everyone agrees that the dog was certainly domesticated by then as well.

He makes the same point that Jared Diamond makes in GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL--namely, that it is much easier to domesticate "herd" animals, or animals that have a defined social structure in the wild. Zeuner says that this characteristic is true of all domesticated animals with one exception: the cat.

By "domesticated", Zeuner means (among other things) getting the animals to breed in captivity, with evidence of selection, and permanently (rather than for just a few generations). So he lists only four species of fish (the Roman eel, the goldfish, the carp, and the paradise fish), and explicitly excludes modern aquarium fish.

To order A History of Domesticated Animals from amazon.com, click here.


EAT THIS, NOT THIS: THOUSANDS OF SIMPLE FOOD SWAPS THAT CAN SAVE YOU 10, 20, 30 POUNDS--OR MORE! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/21/2008]

I looked at EAT THIS, NOT THIS: THOUSANDS OF SIMPLE FOOD SWAPS THAT CAN SAVE YOU 10, 20, 30 POUNDS--OR MORE! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding (ISBN-13 978-1-594-86854-2, ISBN-10 1-594-86854-9) in the store. It will supposedly help you pick less fattening foods in restaurants, the supermarket, and so on. But the problem is that all too many of their examples are obvious, and not helpful. For example, at Outback Steakhouse the "good" meal they show is prime rib, and the "bad" meal is a strip steak. But the "good" meal had green beans and a sweet potato as the sides, while the "bad" meal has sauteed mushrooms and a baked potato loaded (with butter, sour cream, and bacon). Well, duh! What would be useful is a comparison of just the prime rib to just the steak. (The answer is that the prime rib is 480 calories, with 38 grams of fat, while the strip steak is 900 calories, with 60 grams of fat. This is almost entirely due to the fact that the prime rib is 8 ounces, while the steak is 14 ounces. In fact, the steak has less fat per ounce; the problem is that it is almost twice as large.) It also suggests not ordering spicy tuna roll in a Japanese restaurant, because the filling has mayonnaise. Seriously, now, how much actual mayonnaise is there in a spicy tuna roll? With large, flashy pictures, the pages have space for only a few items per restaurant. You'd be better off getting the restaurants' nutritional information charts and reading those. This strikes me as a possibly interesting book to flip through, but not to buy.

(I am reminded of Morgan Spurlock, the maker of SUPER SIZE ME, who gained so much weight by eating only at McDonalds. The fact that he had non-diet sodas at every meal may have contributed to this more than he acknowledged, as well as his policy of always accepting the super-sizing option. Yes, if you eat as stupidly as possible, you will gain weight.)

To order Eat This, Not This from amazon.com, click here.



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