Book Review: Let Me Off at the Top!

Let Me Off at the Top!
My Classy Life & Other Musings
by Ron Burgundy

let-me-off-ron-burgundy-coverI finished it! After 11 months of dipping in and out and putting it on my top 5 list of books to slog through this year (this makes 3 of those 5 but 15 total, my highest number since 2012), I’ve read every last precious word. Now I really MUST see the film sequel Anchorman 2, which I have been meaning to do for over a year.

I would like to give this book the top star, 1 out of 5, but I fear being misunderstood. So, “When in Rome!” The out-loud laughter factor, perfect egotistical nonsense, mish-mashed name dropping, swinish pearls of wisdom, nestled gems of hilarity, and echoes of Will Farrell’s rich, melodious Burgundy-velvet voice require my donning this comfortably weighted pile of pressed wood-pulp leaves with no fewer than 4 out of 5 stars. (I also gave Middlemarch 4 but for completely different reasons.)

As farcical faux-autobiography, this classy tome ejaculates thick layers of ingenious offensiveness with delicious impunity. It’s dumb and it’s supposed to be, because that’s Ron Burgundy, but there is also brilliance in this dullard of an all-American, pop-culture sandwich. Brilliance like the “Seven-cheese samurai,” one of Ron’s seven recipes for “effective, sensual breath.”

Vinegar-y vignettes season this extended persona whittling into blood-soaked splinters, and by using surprisingly few French words. The jackalopes tale is killer. Non-sequitur running heads in each chapter, tales of brutality and family loyalty in Haggleworth, Iowa, and at Our Lady Queen of Chewbacca High School, and all the variations on the theme of drunken sexual escapades with the famous and infamous of all genders bespeak a compression of coarse coal into even coarser foggy diamond.

Some dull moments lovingly caress pre-emptive punch lines and weave holey sweaters’ worth of delightful absurdities, punctuating a reading with outbursts of appreciative hysteria. “It’s science.” Guffaws galore indeed, Mr. B, guffaws, chuckles, snorting chortles, suffocated hisses, hyena cackles, and non-stop grinning the rest of the time.

The opening disclaimer and author’s note set a mighty tone of baseless hauteur. However, adding a misdirecting table of contents would have been a great way to further christen the chaos, and a journalistic absurdity of a bibliography in the end matter could have made for a well-popped cherry on top.

Ridiculous histories of Mexico, two sets of monotony-mitigating photo spreads, and anecdotes of age-old journalistic and celebrity rivalries, along with many more slivers of heavenly manna, dribble glintingly off the sexy, whiskered lips of our fearless (because unconscious) San Diegoan news anchor-legend. I can’t wait to listen to the condensed audio book!

Overall, you’re right, it’s “one hell of a book.” Kudos to you and your intrepid news team, your noble friend and dog Baxter, and your “lover, sexual partner, woman I do it with, wife, and female fellow anchorman” Veronica. Bravo, book maker, for your soft, shiny hair and towering height, brute strength and persistent belligerence. You have proven yourself a choice, tender morsel of late 20th-century American journalism and classless white manhood.

Of this equal target and slingshot shooter of satire on the reeking, Scotch-backwash aftermath of personal and American triumphs and failures, I say, Pour me another glass, maestro!

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain

I decided to skip my five phrases for this Friday the 13th, not out of superstition but just because I have a lot on my plate at the moment. Late last night, I finished reading a travel guide I’ve reviewed for this post, and I’m still working on my Outlander STARZ Season 2 reviews. Beyond that, the flower pots and beds, spring cleaning, my novel, the book club book, and my home office clean-up project all continue to beckon. We who work from home must remember to travel outside the house and outside those beloved books, so in that spirit, after this, I’m off to the garden center.


Book Review

Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain: With the Best of England, Scotland & Wales (2015)

BookCover_FodorsEssentialGreatBritainReview in Brief

Inspired largely by my Outlander obsession and by my English teaching and literature background, I’ve determined to take my first trip to the UK with my husband soon.

Snagged by me two months ago at the book store, this comprehensive Great Britain travel guide for England, Scotland, and Wales contains a helpful mixture of features and a layout of short text segments throughout for quick reference and easy reading. Numerous listings for sights, lodging, dining, shopping, and night life include starred “Fodor’s Choice” recommendations for their opinions of the most worthwhile experiences, as well as labels such as “Family” to point out good options for children.

A key at the front indicates the clear symbols used to label different types of establishments, map elements, and important associated notes. With its few and minor shortcomings in content, structure, and format, I can recommend this guide to most travellers.

Countries’ Coverage

One thing that threw me at first was the lack of an opening section page for Scotland; the Wales section precedes the “Edinburgh” chapter and the rest of the Scottish focus areas. However, the England section also lacks an “England” label page, starting right at London–why waste precious manuscript real estate?

The order of presentation is England, Wales, Scotland, and they make up about 58, seven-tenths, and 35 percent of the book, respectively. In the Great Britain introductory section, there is a proportional list of top attractions, including 6 for England, 1 for Wales, and 3 for Scotland. My family’s decision to skip Wales for this upcoming trip reflects this distribution. (Castles are the main Welsh draw, and you can see lots of those in England and especially in Scotland.)

The Writing

A group of 10 British writers all have written clearly and in entertaining ways without distracting from the content. The text also demonstrates good editing. Special terminology, i.e., Briticisms, are usually pointed out in helpful ways, though sometimes acronyms and other words appear without identification on first instances, such as for “V.A.T” (Value Added Tax). That term is explained several pages later, but it appears in neither the index nor a glossary, an absent element that could be helpful. I detected only a few typographical errors in this large book and none that impeded understanding.

Arrangement of Parts

The opening chapter is an extensive orientation to Great Britain overall. Chapters are then divided by region or major metropolitan area. An overview spread beginning each chapter presents a highlight picture or two, “Top Reasons to Go” blurbs that highlight a mixture of sights and types of experiences, a zoomed-out map of the area with main segments labeled and described, and a smaller map of the entire nation with the featured section highlighted in orange. A navigational “Getting Oriented” column of text lines the far right-hand side.

Inspiring Highlights

Introductions to each chapter follow the overview spread and precede specific listings with varied descriptive text that does a laudable job of making the reader want to see absolutely everything at first. There are also regional and city-center maps interspersed among listings; sidebars and feature pages on topics such as “In Search of Jane Austen,” “Close Up: Clans and Tartans,” and “The Beatles and Liverpool”; as well as photographs and shorter sidebar blurbs about open-air markets, local legends, and more. Special sections about travel tips, specific cultural elements, and highlights of sights not to miss populate the front and back matter.

Other Features

A thick, somewhat heavy paperback book, it might be more practical during travel as a spiral-bound guide. I found the font size and sans-serif type easy to read, but I would have liked a bonus map or two with more detail. In addition, regional maps do not show overlap where regions connect, and some maps fail to show distinctive topography highlighted in the text, such as Loch Awe (in western Scottish Argyll) on the region’s main introductory map. However, there is a tear-out map of London included inside the back flap, and there are oodles of website references, along with a sights-focused index and table of contents.

The Literary Approach

After a brief flip through the book, I started to comb the chapters with the express purpose of identifying literary sights in England and Scotland. I was able to make a preliminary list of places to target in our travels, which means, in England:

  1. Bronte sisters country in Yorkshire
  2. Romantic poet Wordsworth’s homes in the Lake District
  3. Jane Austen country in Hampshire (Bath, Chawton, Winchester, Lyme Regis)
  4. numerous places in London such as Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury
  5. Oxford University (Lewis Carroll, W.H. Auden, Percy Shelley, Oscar Wilde, etc.)
  6. Stratford-upon-Avon and Southwark (London) for Shakespeare
  7. Canterbury for Chaucer and Dickens
  8. Cornwall for Woolf, Tennyson, du Maurier, Doyle, Christie, and Arthurian legend

Prominent Scottish writers and stories with sights to match include Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, historical though unofficial tourism ambassador for Scotland), poet Robert Burns (in Dumfries), and as many Outlander filming locations and book references as possible.

While still in the England portion of the guide, my approach quickly morphed into aiming for arts, nature, and literature sights, as reflected in my blog focus. I’ll be more interested in parks, landscapes, seascapes, other bodies of water, country estates, and the countryside than in most urban attractions.

Obviously, that doesn’t leave much time for, well, anything else, to say nothing of my husband’s interests that lean more toward soccer, pubs, castles, technology, and industry. Although I have a decent handle on art and theater attractions, I barely scratched the surface concerning music-related sights.

If only I could somehow take my own trip for travel writing or scholarly research. Hmm…. It became apparent quite early in this process that visiting Ireland would have to be a separate trip as well. For that matter, the same could be said of London.

Conclusions

Although I began reading Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain: With the Best of England, Scotland & Wales in the hopes of identifying key places I’d like to visit, reaching the end of the book has only made choosing more difficult, which is both good and bad for the guide, and definitely excellent for the UK. There is just so very much to see and do!

While brimming with sound advice, tips, and orienting elements, it seems this text alone will not be the deciding factor in our ultimate itinerary. I am inclined, for example, to compare other guides and consult a travel agency for help.

I will also have to see how useful the guide is in practice and on location before finalizing my rating for it.

Good Luck and Happy Travels!


If you like nonfiction reference and dogs, and you enjoyed this review,

you may also like: Book Review: The Dog Bible

 

Book Review: Rose in a Storm

Rose in a Storm by Jon Katz

I’m ambivalent about this one.

The novel Rose in a Storm uses an omniscient third-person narrator to switch back and forth between the farmer Sam’s and his border collie Rose’s viewpoint, but most of the story is Rose’s. The novel is better than the few non-fiction books I’ve read that attempt to convey the canine perspective, and the descriptions of farm life and tasks ring true.

Taking a scientific outlook, though, I found it difficult to settle on what I thought of Katz’s portrayal of the dog’s thought processes and feelings. The depiction straddles anthropomorphism and restrained observational reporting of animal behavior, though still through her eyes. Although most of the book succeeds in avoiding implausible sentimentality in the dog, focusing instead on her straightforward efforts to adapt to and navigate her changing world, there are some sappy tropes involved. The notion of the dog’s spiritual vision is the most blatant of these.

BookCover_RoseInAStorm_Katz

As a story, this is a fine read–simple, fluid, plot driven. It’s suspenseful, interesting, descriptive, and engaging. The book also refrains from tying things up in a neat little bow, preserving some of the realism of imagined canine perceptions, if one can call such a thing realism.

I have read no other Katz books to compare it to, but I think I detect his non-fiction roots coming across in this try at a novel. His style lends both a dryness that bored me and a grounded feel that I appreciated. Katz seems to overextend his anthropomorphism with his portrayal of other farm animals’ viewpoints, and some explanations of Rose’s behavior become repetitious in the book’s latter half.

Where the author succeeds is in communicating the complex relationship between Sam and his working farm dog. Rose is not in any way a pet, as she shares no affection with him, though she did with Sam’s late wife Katie. Nor is she strictly a regular working dog. The reader comes to know Rose as extraordinary among herding dogs–obedient and focused on her specific management role when Sam’s in charge and able to take the initiative to care for the farm’s animals in a devastating blizzard when Sam is unable to guide her.

Yet, Rose does not ascend to superdog status and escapes being made ridiculous in the process. Katz portrays her limitations as fairly as he demonstrates the stretching of her giftedness into innovation when faced with new challenges. This is a difficult balance, and he struck it well.

Full of description, the novel uses little dialogue, which both limits its interest for the reader and seats it fittingly within the speechless realm of the dog. The simplicity of the book, however, leaves little room for other layers to admire. There’s no underlying symbolism, no literary boosts of irony or genre bending or a greater lesson, and I saw no transcendent merit in it. It’s just a largely plausible story of a great dog’s experiences, which dog lovers will likely enjoy.

Overall, I liked Rose in a Storm, loved some parts but not many, and was not sorry to have read it. It helped that the book was not very long at a little over 200 pages. It was a pleasant if underwhelming experience, good but not great. 3 stars.


If you enjoyed this dog book review, you may also like:

Book Review: The Dog Bible

For more of my thoughts on other books, go to the Book Reviews page of my blog.

Book Review: The Dog Bible

The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog
Wants You to Know

by Tracie HotchnerTheDogBible_TracieHotchner_bookcover

Updated from original 2012 review (opinion still current):

I received it as a Christmas gift from someone who knew I love dogs, but the book sat on my bookshelf for years. Then, I remembered to consult it when my husband and I started looking for a dog of our own. That was a wise decision. Now that I actually have a dog again, this comprehensive resource has far exceeded my expectations.

The text’s navigability, range of topics, reading ease, and quality of information and advice place it as my number one print reference on the subject. From selecting a pet to understanding your dog to training to health, safety, hygiene and nutrition to addressing emergencies, this 7-by-9-inch, 688-page tome routinely delivers something helpful for every stage of canine life.

As a 2005 publication, some of its information is out of date, such as the section about the latest developments in nutrition products. However, much of the material is current, some of it timeless. Everyone with a dog, or planning to get one, should read the parts about specific breed characteristics and genetic ailments, behavior management, communication, and dog psychology.

As someone who has read and followed Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan’s philosophy, I find the core of author Tracie Hotchner’s perspective to be quite similar and in agreement on key aspects of the human-dog relationship. Yet, the scope is wider as she offers alternative opinions worth considering for your unique situation.

Brimming with predominantly sound content, this reference is a worthy investment for dog lovers, pet owners, dog industry workers, people living or working around dogs, knowledge hounds, dog seekers, and even generalist veterinarians.

Just like my dog . . . 10 years old and already a classic. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

DSCN8848

Elyse, September 2014


If you enjoyed this dog book review, you may also like:

Book Review: Rose in a Storm

If you like reference guides and travel, you may like:

Book Review: Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain

For more of my thoughts on other books, go to the Book Reviews page of my blog.


To see more adorable pictures of Elyse–you know you want to!–go here, here, here and especially here and here. The last two are the funniest.

3 Quick Book Reviews: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager

While doing some housekeeping the other day, I unearthed my brief, off-the-cuff reviews of the first three books in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, originally posted on LinkedIn. Clearly, my enthusiasm persists.

Outlander_coverICYMI: Last week, I shared a longer, more formal Outlander book review posted on Goodreads.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I’m a little at a loss for words on this one. Despite its 850-ish pages, I found myself wanting to re-read most of it right away. Stunning! Historical fiction, romance, rich detail of the Scottish Highlands culture and landscapes of the mid-18th century, excellent writing, complicated but thoroughly absorbing characters, first in a series. I’m finding it very hard to move on to anything new. Love it, love it, love it!


BookCover_DragonflyInAmber

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

The fastest read for me so far of any book ever–950 pages in less than a week! The saga continues mainly in France with political intrigue, grave misfortunes, triumphant rescues, secrets revealed, ultimate heartbreak, and enduring questions leading to the next books. War-torn love, time travel, and the mysteries of existence. Details so vivid, characters so real, a complex story worth re-reading. It’s hard to believe it took me 20 years to hear about this series! Thanks so much, recommending friends! The best advice I’ve had in ages.


Voyager by Diana GabaldonBookCover_Voyager

Well, I just HAD to know what happens next to Jamie and Claire, especially with Dragonfly in Amber ending on a note of despair, if also of questioning. In this third installment–adding another hundred pages beyond the second book’s length–Gabaldon enriches the traditional swashbuckling Caribbean adventure tale with her own fate-twists and interesting new and well-established characters, and the ending is a more hopeful one. But mixed emotions are a standard part of the ride with this series, and the emotional roller coaster keeps the pages turning through the end and on to the next. . . . Yet, at this point, there’s still something about that first book, Outlander, that keeps calling me back to it. . . .


What about the Outlander TV series on STARZ network? Here are some thoughts:

Season 3

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

First posted on Goodreads.com, 6/25/15, this review contains possible but minimal spoilers.

Rating: Outlander_coverFive stars. My original reading of this multi-genre novel in 2011 resulted from recommendations by two close friends. It has been one of my life’s great joys. Between childhood and the present, I have re-read a handful of books for professional purposes in teaching and writing, but Outlander is the only novel I ever read more than twice because I had the personal desire to do so.

Diana Gabaldon also seems to be the only author capable of transforming my fickle attention into steady page turning through what voracious pop fiction readers may consider an extremely long book’s slower parts. Likewise, the Outlander series is the only set of books since pre-teen serials that I have read and wanted to read beyond the second number.

I love descriptive prose as much as a gripping story line, if not more. As a keen observer and detail-oriented worker, I relish work that brings precision and skillful use of literary devices to scene setting and world building. These evident skills, along with Gabaldon’s comprehensive research of historical, mythical, cultural, and practical minutiae, as an outgrowth of her rigorous academic background, deliver a smorgasbord of narrative and literary delicacies. Among the most enjoyable include choice instances of verbal, dramatic, and situational irony.

But it is the thorough investment in the main characters Gabaldon creates in book one that allows reader and writer alike to sustain commitment to the saga across a series of sizeable tomes. The peculiar individualities and extraordinary love of Claire and Jamie drive the entire story. Not just complexity but thorough likeability, despite eyebrow-raising faults (especially on eighteenth-century Jamie’s part), seals that devotion.

The sex is good, abundant, fiery, and sometimes questionably aggressive, but it is also true. By turns, it is true to both characters’ personalities, true to cultural and historical context, true to the high stakes of a dramatic story, and true to an unparalleled intimacy of souls. The most passionate love can be as dangerous and desperate as it is pleasurable and all encompassing. And good fiction is as realistically amoral as it is stimulating.

Readers who object to the bigamy, adultery, and the plot points that enable these should look within for the source of that objection. Told in first person by Claire, the narrative proceeds without apology, another authentic representation of her character, but also without a hint of censorship and certainly without hiding morally compromising facts. Claire is a brave, strong-willed woman; her storytelling would have to be so as well. Deal with it.

Claire and Jamie begin their acquaintance in a moment of extreme physical pain for Jamie, and they become friends under the strain of Claire’s relentless time-traveler puzzlement and Jamie’s sustained restraint before the woman he knows, almost from the first meeting, is the undoubted love of his life. The gentleman protector and the alien healer cannot remain static in their development, and Jamie’s imperfections begin to emerge as circumstances reveal Claire’s impossible choices mixed with a healthy sense of guilt, both earned and unearned.

Her confusion is profound, as it would have to be, but her responses to that confusion ring true in their expression of a determined forward movement, a will to survive coupled with an adventurous spirit even she underestimates. Full of contradictions and imperfections–intelligent, sensual, with a keen sense of fairness and justice, impulsive, emotional, imaginative, humorous, caring, dutiful, independent–Claire is a fully human tour de force. It is only through the mind-bending displacement into a dangerous and distant past that her identity can blossom completely, in all its colors.

Claire’s narrative voice consistently reflects her perspective, and her fertile mind entertains with a dynamic flow of quirk, insight, and vulnerability. The effect is a journey through thought as intriguing as the story of her experience.

Only an equally complex man could possibly be her soul mate. That these two should meet at all is simply one of the miracles of fiction, or mysteries of life (or both), but the impediments to their survival as people and lovers, equal parts fitting and fantastical, succeed in preventing their love from seeming perfect or over-indulgent.

For readers viewing turns in the story as too convenient, consider this: As often as rescue becomes necessary and occurs just in time, the marks of pain, misery, and regret cut deeply into our protagonists, raising further questions without convenient answers and inflicting irreparable damage they can move not past but only through. Wondering how these internal conflicts may be resolved compels the reader forward, as does the anticipation of new, inevitable dangers, tragedies, and bewildering revelations.

Of course, Diana Gabaldon’s mastery of characterization applies to a rich, lengthy dramatis personae. Dougal Mackenzie, Geillis Duncan, and especially Captain Jonathan Randall rank among the most compelling in the first book.

By now, it should be clear that Outlander provokes enough thought and delight to be considered a contemporary classic of popular fiction with distinct literary tendencies. The book, while certainly not flawless (what book is?), both challenges the mind and delivers to the heart, establishing as formidable a foundation to a series as there can be.

Even if you think you can’t stomach the gore and grit or endure the emotional torture and long-held suspense, results may surprise you, another mark of great literature. You won’t know until you read it. Please do.


For my quick reviews of the first three books in the series, go here.