The Disappearing Spoon, Those Scientists Are Such Tricksters

I recently finished The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean and all I can say is “eh.”

GoodReads description:
The Periodic Table is one of man's crowning scientific achievements. But it's also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues' wives when she'd invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

So the description makes the book sound downright amazing which is why I bought it in the first place. Unfortunately, I was fooled. I was expecting the author to describe the various elements of the periodic table and then show the quirky ways they popped up in history, and while Kean did do that every now and again, I felt as though he spent way too much time on the actual science of the elements. Now far be it for me to tell an author how to write their book, but Kean really should have focused the book on the personal stories because those were the parts that I was enthralled with. And I know what you’re thinking, “Brittany, the book is about the periodic table, of course it’s going to be about science.” To which I say, “It’s also supposed to be about tales of madness and love, its right there in the title!” And I’m not begrudging that the author wanted to teach the world about the periodic table, in fact I was actually looking forward to learning something. I am after all the person who read The Speckled Monster, , a historic tale about small pox,  by Jennifer Lee Carrell just because I was interested in learning more about one of the deadliest diseases known to man. On a side note, I highly recommend The Speckled Monster it was fascinating to learn about how inoculations were started. Seriously, it amazes me that it even started, today’s equivalent would be, “Here let me inject you with the HIV virus to prevent you from getting AIDS.” Craziness!

Anyways, like I was saying about The Disappearing Spoon, I just wish there would have been more interesting tales and fun facts along with all the science mumbo jumbo. Although to be fair, as a history major and lawyer science isn’t really my thing. I’m sure that the lawyer/chemist that I work with would fall in love with this book; mostly because she’ll probably understand everything that went way over my head. 

Bottom line: I was literally counting out the pages and chapters until I was done, which is never a good sign. So while I do recommend this book to all the science lovers out there, I suggest anyone who does not have firm grip on chemistry and physics to steer clear. 

And onto the next . . . I just finished, and fell in love with, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

February’s book club was at my friend Jess’s house and she picked Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Michael Beschloss, and Caroline Kennedy. 


Crazy, happy that us ladies do this every month!

This is such a unique book and I’m so glad Jess picked it. In 1964, in an attempt to preserve her husband’s legacy, Jacqueline Kennedy recorded eight and a half hours of conversations detailing her first-hand accounts of John F. Kennedy and insights on many of the people and events which helped to shape the presidency. 

                                                   didn't like it it was ok liked it (my current rating) really liked it it was amazing

            It took me weeks to decide which version of this book to buy. Seriously, with the book version at Barnes and Noble costing $60.00 and the Kindle version lacking the audio cd’s, it was a toughie. I ended up locating a brand new copy on Amazon for half the price and I’m so glad I did because the book is only a transcript of the conversations and the cd’s really brought the interviews to life. Not only could you hear ice tinkling in Jackie’s glass and cigarettes being lit, but you really were given a glimpse into the life of this notoriously private person. 

            The Good: You’ll learn a lot about JFK and his presidency. I have always been enamored by this seemingly cursed family and their brief reign of Camelot so it was very exciting, and somewhat intimate, to delve into their lives with Jackie as my tour guide. I also loved how wonderfully personal some parts of the interview were, for instance, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jackie begged the President not to send her away so that if their worst fears came to fruition they could stand on the White House lawn and die together as a family. Other parts were filled with juicy gossip tidbits, like President Eisenhower’s wife did not want “that woman”, meaning Jackie, in her house (or as us mere mortals know it, the White House).

             The Bad: The book’s greatest fault is its failure to include more about the personal lives of the Kennedy's. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the interviewer, was primarily concerned with asking Jackie about her husband’s feelings concerning various world leaders, somewhat interesting, and members of America’s government, not so interesting. There was so much talk about people that I’ve never heard of before that I truly believe that had I only been reading the transcripts, instead of listening to Jackie, I would have been bored silly. I was also frustrated with Schlesinger because he was given such a unique opportunity to find out more about Jackie herself and he squandered it by only focusing on JFK.  And lastly, I know this may be perverse, but I was really hoping to hear Jackie’s thoughts on the President’s assassination and unfortunately, they never came. We were warned in the foreword that because the interviews were done in the months following the President’s death and because Jackie had been interviewed by another man around the same time that Schlesinger was not going to put Jackie through the ordeal of answering more questions about the tragedy. However, I was hoping that those interviews with the other interviewer would be included and I was disappointed when they weren’t. 

               Bottom line: This book is a piece of history (and how often can you say that?), about a legendary family and it should be read. True, parts of the book were dry but the confidential and intimate parts more than made up for it. Oh, and don’t screw yourself over by trying to pinch pennies, spend a bit more and get the cd’s. 

               And onto the next . . . I finally finished the The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.

A Unique Theory on the Dead

Another book I recently finished was The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. 

                                                       didn't like it it was ok (my current rating) liked it really liked it it was amazing

GoodReads description:
The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two storylines to create a lyrical and haunting story about love, loss and the power of memory.

This was one of those books that was not particularly engaging while I read it, but ended up having a lasting impression on me. I’m always left flabbergasted because on the one hand, I hate that I didn’t enjoy parts of the book, like lots of parts, but I love that the idea of the story is still floating around in my head and making me think.

For me the true wonder of the book was its’ main premise; ie:  that after we die we head to a place similar to the existence we held on Earth, so long as we’re remembered by the living. It’s such a neat and unique theory. Weeks after reading the book, any random memory I had made me realize that the people of these memories would be populating the City. Even more interesting is that my contribution to the City’s population wouldn’t just be obvious people, like my family, best friends, co-workers, ect . . . but also those casual connections that are subconsciously. 

For instance, a friend (Hey, Jill!) and I vacationed in Lipari awhile back, and while exploring the island we discovered a very small hot springs that the locals used. The keeper of the springs was a little old, Italian man who gave us a tour (tour might not be the right word because that place was tiny!) of the above ground spring and the cavern underground and while we were there a very large man in a very small speedo was using the above ground spring. Now every time I think of a hot spring, I think of these two men, and if the premise of this book is true these two men will inhabit the City of the Dead when they pass. 

Mr. Speedo himself was bathing himself in this exact spring. Room for one.

I just want to be clear, we did not bathe in this stuff.
On a complete side note, Lipari was amazing. It’s a part of the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north coast of Sicily and even though it’s not very large, it was absolutely gorgeous. The islands were created by volcanic movement, all of the islands form a volcanic archipelago that straddles the gap between Vesuvius and Etna, the result is a hilly landscape that allows for breathtaking views and a serene vacation right of the coast of Sicily. Ahhhh….loved it!

The island is accessible by ferry only, here's the port.
Gah! Gorgeous views!!

Another memory that occurs more frequently, as in every day I put my contacts in, I remember that when I first started wearing them I couldn’t put them in by myself. My friend Jeannette used to have shove those buggers onto my eyeballs (Yeah, apparently I used to be incredibly incapable of even the smallest tasks, thank goodness I had good friends!). Of course I remember Jeanette for other things, but I just want to demonstrate how populous the City would be because people remember the minutest of things, sometimes daily. 

However, as amazing as this theory is, I really feel like Brockmeier missed the boat when it came to describing the City. Since he simultaneously told the story from both the City of the Dead and Laura’s perspective it was hard to become involved with any of the inhabitants of the City. Brockmeier just threw so many people at you. It felt incredibly disjointed, but hey, maybe that was the point. Another thing I thought was odd was Brockmeier’s deliberate mudslinging at Coca Cola (Didn’t see that coming did you?) Seriously, this guy hates America’s soft drink, the polar bear mascots, and everything else associated with the corporate giant. So weird. 

Bottome line: Skip the book and spend a second pondering who you would add to the City. 

And onto the next . . . February’s book club read was Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. And it was amazing.

Not All Young Adult Books Are Winners

    One of the last books I finished was The Kidnapping of Christina of Lattimore by Joan Lowery Nixon.

didn't like it it was ok (my current rating) liked it really liked it it was amazing

Good Reads description:

She spots the masked man in the dark, lonely parking lot--but too late. Grabbed and drugged, Christina is kidnapped and held for ransom. When her family pays, she thinks her ordeal is over. But then she realizes that her family thinks she planned the kidnapping! How will Christina prove her innocence?

    I am so behind on my posts! Books and books behind, but as my friend Meghan said, “The reading is more important.” Truth. But here I go trying to catch up.

     The only reason I bought this book was because I found it for super cheap, like $2.00, and it had an award on the cover. Nixon won an Edgar Award, which recognizes the best mystery novels of the year, in the young adult category in 1980. I unfortunately did not find this book to be of award winning caliber and I’m glad that I only spent a couple of bucks on it.  

      My primary issues with the novel were its’ predictability and unrealistic story line. For instance, you know from the description that our main character, Christina, escapes from her kidnappers, which would be fine, if her escape from the kidnappers didn’t take up nearly half of the book. Seriously, the whole time I was reading I didn’t give a crap about how her kidnappers treated her because I already knew she was going to get away. And onto problem number two, the way Christina acted in trying to prove her innocence was sooooo improbable! No one who has been held captive for days in a basement is going to head back to the scene of the crime for stake outs and confrontations with her kidnappers. I mean, cheese and rice, come on!

      Had this book attempted to deceive its’ readers into believing that maybe Christina herself was involved in the kidnapping it could have given the book some depth, but no dice. Bottom line: skip it.

      And onto the next . . . I recently finished The Brief History of the Dead by  Kevin Brockmeier. 

P.S. I have decided to try out a rating system so y'all aren't forced to decipher my gushes and gripes. 

Jane Eyre: Swooning

    My classic for the month of February, never you mind that I’m just getting to this post now, was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. 

This cover caught my eye in a bookstore more than a year ago, which is one of the reasons I picked this as my classic.

    Goodreads description: 

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and  . . . from there a story . . . transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed. With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

    Alright y’all after sludging through classic after classic (okay, okay, one or two books) that weren’t all that amazing, I have finally found a classic that I’m in love with. Do you hear me?! IN LOVE WITH! Literally, this book made me swoon, but it also made me so angry with the heroine that I just stopped reading the book all together for a couple of days. But more importantly and as one fellow Goodreader said, it made me want to bang Mr. Rochester like a screen door. I don’t know what it was about his character, but I fell for this fictitious man and fell hard. 

    So, what exactly else did I love about this novel? Well, here’s a fun fact about me, I love tragic love, the more heartbreaking the better. There is just something about lovers who desperately want each other and have obstacles to overcome that makes my heart skip a beat. I suppose that’s part of the allure of every vampire series, you always have two people who are so in lust love with one another but their very nature dictates that they should be apart. Same goes for love triangles. Give me two men in love with the same woman any day, ahhhh what’s more tragic than watching the woman you love with another man? And this is exactly why I love Vampire Diaries and True Blood, poor Erik and Damon! So, obviously Jane Eyre fits into this category and is heart wrenching. Parts of this book had me sobbing. On trains. Full of people. But I loved that about it, I mean here is this love story that was published in 1847 and it still has the power to break my heart today.

    What I didn’t love was some of the religious reasoning that Jane used when making certain choices. Look I get it, you have religious beliefs and morals and all that jazz, but we’re talking about true love here!!! When you read it you’ll see what I mean and man alive did those parts really chap my ass. The only other downside of the story was that the middle of the book had parts that kind of lagged but just so you know, the story more than made up for it. 

    Bottom line, if you want to expand your horizons by reading something more cultural than the Twilight series, and you should, read this book. Truly, for the first time I understand why this book is a classic and I’m so glad I ventured to read it. Oh, if you have a Kindle, or don’t have a Kindle but have an ipad, iphone, or itouch with the Kindle app you can download the novel for free. Eh? Talk about incentive!

    And onto the next, I recently finished the Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore by Joan Lowry Nixon and will be posting about it soon.