NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Monday, November 30, 2009


by L. Frank Baum

"As Dorothy journeys down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, hoping the Great and Terrible Wizard who lives there will help her return home, she shares adventures with the famous trio of characters, defeats a wicked witch, and learns about the power of friendship, loyalty, and self-confidence." (From the back of the Barnes and Noble Classics edition.)

I grew up on the 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum's classic work, and it took me until now to get around to reading the original story. And The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is definitely worth reading. I was surprised at some of the differences between the book and its arguably more famous adaptation, but I was equally surprised at how much it was the same. It was simply a joy to read!

I chose the Barnes and Noble Classics edition, and the Introduction written by J.T. Barbarese was worth the purchase price all on its own. Some of the fun trivia I learned included "George Lucas has openly admitted the influence of the characters in The Wizard of Oz on his own [Star Wars] foursome of Luke, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca." (Introduction Endnote 14, p. xxxii.) As obvious as it is in hindsight, I'm probably the last geek on earth to realize that connection, but there it is. :-) Peter and I had a lively discussion about who corresponded to the Tin Woodman and who to the Scarecrow, with Leia understood by us to be Dorothy and Chewbacca the Cowardly Lion. We decided Luke Skywalker was Scarecrow and Han Solo the Tin Man, because, in short, Luke was a lot smarter than even he gave himself credit for, and Han always tried to be the tough guy out only for himself (heartless, in other words) but he always ended up coming to the aid of his friends. And falling in love with Leia, of course! For a "heartless" guy, he may have been the most sentimental of the bunch.

Another question arose as Peter and I discussed The Wizard of Oz: If Dorothy had found out that her shoes could take her home after she met Scarecrow and company but before killing the witch so her friends' wishes could be granted, would she have stuck around to help them? I vote yes.


by George Orwell

Read this essay here.

I read George Orwell's 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" because it was quoted in Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death, and I wanted to know what else it had to say. In the essay, Orwell makes the argument that much of what passes for learned writing and speaking looks or sounds impressive at first, but when closely examined it is found to be little more than fancy words and worn phrases that ultimately express little or no meaning. Simplicity in conveying thoughts or ideas helps us to uncover poorly constructed logic, deception and outright lies.

I'll be using tips and tricks I learned in this essay next time I'm reading one of those "scholarly" writings I'm having difficulty understanding. Maybe they will help me to figure out if I really don't get it or if the flowery writing is masking a lack of coherent argument. And knowing I've used plenty of the very words and phrases Orwell ridicules, I'll be on the lookout for them in my own future compositions.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


by Neil Postman

"Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." (Foreword, p.xx)

"Television has habituated us to visual entertainment measured out in spoonfuls at a time. But what happens when we come to expect the same things from our politics and public discourse? What happens to journalism, education, and religion when they too become forms of show business? Twenty years ago Neil Postman's lively polemic was the first book to consider the way that electronic media were reshaping our culture. Now, with TV joined by the Internet, cell phones, cable and DVDs, Amusing Ourselves To Death carries even greater significance. Elegant, incisive, and terrifically readable, it's a compelling take on our addiction to entertainment." (From the back cover of the Penguin Books 20th Anniversary Edition.)

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is over twenty years old and is just as relevant today as it was when it was written. While television may no longer be our focus, Neil Postman's ideas and theories regarding the Age of Entertainment hold strong regardless of the technology. Anyone who feels bombarded by inane "information" and tired of sensationalism will love this book.

I'm always amazed when I read things like this to find so much of myself in them, how much I suddenly recognize my own ignorance or complacency. I like to think I'm a fairly smart cookie, and admitting how easily I can be manipulated is jarring. On the upside, I can now put my finger on some of the things that have been bothering me lately and make changes in my own life to help me live more in line with my personal beliefs.

Postman is not a Luddite and acknowledges that there are really great things about modern technology, but one of his final points was to remember that much of what we are seeing and reading has become entertainment. Remember to always ask questions about what you see, read and hear. "To ask is to break the spell." (p. 161)

Additional quotes from Amusing Ourselves To Death:

"A technology . . . is merely a machine. A medium is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates." (p. 84)

"The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether." (p. 87)

"[I]n saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?" (p. 108)

A wonderful and current companion to this book would be the article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr (The Atlantic, July/August 2008), which includes discussion regarding the effects of technology on our ability to concentrate. This article is also included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009, which I talked about earlier this month.

Friday, November 27, 2009


by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
(Wheel of Time, Book Twelve)

"Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, struggles to unite a fractured network of kingdoms and alliances in preparation for the Last Battle. As he attempts to halt the Seanchan encroachment northward, his allies watch in terror the shadow that seems to be growing within the heart of the Dragon Reborn himself.

Egwene al'Vere is a captive of the White Tower and subject to the whims of their tyrannical leader. As days tick toward the Seanchan attack, Egwene works to hold together the factions of Aes Sedai and decide the future of the White Tower -- and possibly the world itself
." (From the CD container.)

Twelve down, two more to go! The Wheel of Time series can be hot and cold for me. The first three are to this day some of my favorite books I've ever read. After that, the series got dull for me -- too many details without enough action. I re-read all the books before Book Eleven came out a couple of years ago, and once I was finished I wondered if I really cared enough to keep going, especially in light of the passing of the original author, Robert Jordan. But once I had invested that much time and effort it seemed a shame not to continue to the end.

I'm glad I've chosen to do so. With the end in sight, things are coming back together and getting exciting again. I think Brandon Sanderson has done a great job of continuing the series in a recognizable style. My only complaint is that I was hoping he'd stop all the ridiculous spanking that goes on for "punishments". I mean seriously, spanking one of The Forsaken?? And she actually begins to break? Please. That really is taking it beyond too far.

Aside from that, if you're a fan of The Wheel of Time or had been at one time, The Gathering Storm, while still as wordy as the rest, feels like it is bringing back the excitement I felt when I first began with The Eye of the World. Nice job, Mr. Sanderson! I'll be awaiting to final two books more anxiously than I thought I would!

Monday, November 23, 2009


by Pierre Boulle

"In the not-too-distant future, three astronauts land on what appears to be a planet just like Earth, with lush forests, a temperate climate, and breathable air. But while it appears to be a paradise, nothing is what it seems." (From the back cover of the Del Rey edition.)

Back in May when I read Pierre Boulle's Bridge Over The River Kwai, I learned he had also written Planet of the Apes. That struck me as so odd that I decided right then and there I needed to read Planet of the Apes. Here we are nearing Thanksgiving, and I've finally gotten around to it.

Don't let any cheesy old movies prejudice you. The book is surprisingly good! The writing itself does not come off as serious literature, but the themes sure do. Boulle considered Planet of the Apes to be a "social fantasy". It also could be a commentary on everything from animal rights, war, and racism to science and education. Seeing the apes engaging in so many everyday human activities and hearing their reasons for what they do brings to light irony and absurdity in our own behavior and prejudices in our logic. Believe it or not, this would be an excellent book club selection.

And for those who are wondering, the end is different from the movie. :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2009


by James W. Loewen

"James W. Loewen, a sociology professor and distinguished critic of history education, puts 12 popular textbooks under the microscope -- and what he discovers will surprise you. In his opinion, every one of these texts fails to make its subject interesting or memorable. Worse still is the proliferation of blind patriotism, mindless optimism and misinformation filling the pages.

From the truth about Christopher Columbus to the harsh reality of the Vietnam War, Loewen picks apart the lies we've been told. This is a book that will forever change your view of the past." (From the CD container.)

I loved reading Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. I don't think a person has to believe that the U.S. is a perfect place in order to appreciate and love it. We do have much to be proud of, but I think it's even more admirable to still love one's country even when one acknowledges the less palatable parts of its history. It shows a capability to learn and improve as a country and as a people, which is far more important than cultivating belief in one's own superiority. We've made mistakes and we're still making them, but seeing how far we've come gives me great hope for the future.

Friday, November 20, 2009


edited by Toni Morrison

"Published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, Burn This Book is a powerful collection of essays that explore the meaning of censorship and the power of literature to inform the way we see the world, and ourselves." (From the book jacket.)

Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word makes a person very happy to be living in a country where we can write and read pretty much as we please, where we can question ourselves and our institutions. We forget that there are too many places in the world where this is not true.

This is an extremely thin volume, clocking in at just over 100 pages, but there is a lot to fire some deep introspection. One of my favorite essays included a portion that said, and I paraphrase here, writers often do not write to deliver a message to readers but to attempt to find answers to their own questions. Readers come along for the ride. That interesting spin made me think of books that didn't feel "complete" to me. Perhaps the questions raised in those stories were the point, and I had been looking for answers where there were none. I potentially missed out on some great personal meditation. More important than revisiting some of those titles is keeping this lesson in mind as I go forward with more difficult or intimidating reading in the coming year.

It is small discoveries like this that enrich my relationship with my book choices and make "books about books" such a joy for me to read!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


edited by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 is one of those books I would have never read if not for a reading challenge. In this instance, that would be the Dewey Decimal System Challenge. This is why I love reading challenges even when I'm tired of them.

Each of the twenty-six articles included in this volume is fascinating and relatively easy for the non-science-type person to follow. Not surprisingly, I had problems understanding the couple articles involving things like cosmology and quantum mechanics, but they were still interesting the read. The rest were a whirlwind of topics that taught me all kinds of trivia about animal intelligence, where human waste ultimately ends up (both biologically and technologically related), how Internet search engines could be undermining our ability to concentrate, how human consciousness may be able to live forever, and lots of information on evolution and global climate change. I've only scratched the surface with this list. There is much, much more to be taken from these writings.

I highly recommend this book to any reader who enjoys expanding their general knowledge on a variety of topics. None of these articles will make an expert of anyone on anything, but they open doors to remarkable subjects that one could later choose to explore further. This is a series I will continue to read in the coming years.

Friday, November 13, 2009


by Dean Koontz

"What if Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein lived on as an evil genius? Best selling author Dean Koontz tackles this question in his Frankenstein series. In the third installment, as Hurricane Katrina ravages New Orleans, Victor Helios (Frankenstein) releases an army of his creations to wreak havoc on the city's streets. However, when his dense monsters spin out of control, Victor must call on his original creation, the tormented Deucalion, to combat the epic nightmare." (From the CD container.)

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series, of which Dead and Alive is the third, is wildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable. Fast moving with the balance of horror and humor tipping often in favor of humor, all three books are fun to read and great for a light literary getaway, but they're probably not going to make your list of top reads for the year. And sometimes isn't that exactly what we're looking for? :-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


by Philip Roth

Now in his 60's, stage sensation Simon Axler's life falls apart when he suddenly and inexplicably loses his ability to act. An unexpected, unconventional relationship with a woman 25 years his junior appears at first to be a chance at a happy new life, until he is painfully reminded that the stage is not the only place where people act.

If you're feeling a little bad about yourself and need a great pick-me-up to return you to starry-eyed optimism, The Humbling is not your book. It can only be considered a light read due to it's novella page count of 140 and Philip Roth's easy-reading style. It's not a depressing book, but it doesn't leave the reader feeling good.

I liked The Humbling because I enjoy Roth's writing in general. He always gives me something to think about when I turn the final pages. I plan to read many more of his books in the coming months. However, if you're looking to explore Roth's work for the first time, I don't recommend starting here. It's worth the short time it takes to read, but for first-timers I would suggest The Plot Against America or American Pastoral.

Friday, November 6, 2009


by Peter Ackroyd

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is a fabulous retelling of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, but the title is also cleverly misleading. As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to reread it with the knowledge I obtained at the end to see if it felt like the same book. I didn't because there are a million other books I want to read, but I'm a little sorry about that. I think I will come back to this one at some point in the future because I really do want to know if the perception changes. And I'd like to reread the original Frankenstein in the same manner, with the outcome of Casebook in mind. I'll bet that feels a little different, too.

Sorry if that all sounds confusing, but I don't want to give the end away. I think Peter Ackroyd made his unique mark on the Frankenstein story with a simple twist. I can't say the twist is outrageously original, but something about the way he handled it made my mind race. I have read nothing else by Ackroyd, but I will be making plans to remedy that soon!

12/2/09 -- Due to repeated spam, comments have been turned off for this post. Thanks for understanding!

Fans Of Ancient Egyptian Historical Fiction, Listen Up!

Daphne and Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff alerted her reader's to a couple of upcoming books, but one is a book that I must encourage my reader's to check out:

I read Pauline Gedge's Child of the Morning years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The story of Egypt's only woman Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut, is majestic, heartbreaking and one of my favorite books of All Time. I'm talking Top 10 of Ever.

If that isn't enough, Michelle Moran of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen fame, has written a Foreword for the new edition. How perfect is that? It doesn't come out until April 2010, but my copy is already preordered. I can't wait!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009


by Margaret Atwood

"After a plague decimates almost all of humanity, Ren, a trapeze dancer trapped in a swanky sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a religious zealot holed in an extravagant spa, each believe they're the only survivors and debate leaving their strongholds. Meanwhile, Adam One, leader of God's Gardeners, navigates his band of followers through the forever changed world." (From the CD container.)

There are aspects of this book that remind me a lot of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Something, in this case it looks like a plague of some kind, wipes out most of the human population. When the belief is that most of the rest of the world is gone, the behaviour of people toward one another depends on which philosophy a person ultimately buys into: "We can all last a lot longer if we help each other" or "there's no one here to tell me I can't do whatever I want." Both amount to "only the strong survive", but have very different manners of expression. But whereas McCarthy vividly captures the overall bleak horror of a tragedy-altered earth, Atwood accentuates it with absurdity and individual personality. Both books offer disturbing pictures of the future if we continue on our self-absorbed, greed-fueled paths, but Atwood's leaves the reader with more hope. Until you think about it just a little bit longer.

I didn't realize until too late that this book is a sequel, so I will most likely revisit my thoughts regarding The Year of the Flood after I've read Oryx and Crake.

Related Post:

Oryx and Crake

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


by Jules Verne

"The year is 1866 and the Pacific Ocean is being terrorized by a deadly sea monster. The U.S. government dispatches marine-life specialist Pierre Aronnax to investigate aboard the warship Abraham Lincoln. When the ship is sunk by the mysterious creature, he and two other survivors discover that the monster is in fact a marvelous submarine -- the Nautilus -- commanded by the brilliant but bitter Captain Nemo. Nemo refuses to let his guests return to land, but instead taking them on a series of fantastic adventures in which they encounter underwater forests, giant clams, monster storms, huge squid, treacherous polar ice and -- most spectacular of all -- the magnificent lost city of Atlantis!" (From the back of the Barnes & Noble Classics edition.)

So, Captain Nemo and I finally meet! In addition to discovering that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is indeed the thrilling adventure that it is always made out to be, I learned that "twenty thousand leagues" is the distance that is traveled in the Nautilus during the story, not a depth it explores. I also found out this is the second book in a trilogy by Jules Verne which begins with In Search of the Castaways and ends with The Mysterious Island. I was going to reflect on the myriad questions I had once I finished this book, such as, "Who is Captain Nemo anyway and where did he come from?" and "What's up with all his antisocial behavior?", because the answers are not at all clear by the end, but apparently some of this is addressed in the other books. I'll have to get to them at some point and see if I can fill in some blanks.

I will have to say, though, that the mysterious escape from the maelstrom bugged me. One minute the Nautilus and all on board are being sucked into the void, the next, Professor Arronax wakes up in a fishing shack along with his two cohorts, how he got there and the fate of Capt. Nemo and company, both unknown. I bought into all the craziness up to that point. If this novel had been written recently, I'd call that a cheap way out. But it's Jules Verne and there's another book after this, so I'll let it go. :-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stocking Up On Research Volumes

The Cambridge Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures in English, The Cambridge Introduction to J. M. Coetzee, and Why Read the Classics? are the newest additions to my personal library as I gear up for deeper studies in the coming year. I'm addicted to these! If I could snap my fingers and stock my home with all the Harold Bloom/Chelsea House books and the Cambridge Introductions/Companions to Literature, oh, how happy I would be! But as a friend of mine pointed out, half the fun is in the hunting and acquisition, so if I got them all at one time, I would just search out something else to continue the excitement of collecting. As usual, she is correct.

Let the hunt resume!