Blog Posts by Ultra Violet

Posted by Ultra Violet on 10/09/09
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In the twenty-first century the very idea of digging up the freshly dead corpse of someone you cared about and admired, to cut off the head and steal the skull seems a tad morbid. But apparently, during the height of the phrenology craze, it was a perfectly acceptable hobby of middle-class men of Europe. Cranioklepty traces the post-mortem adventures of the skulls of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven as well as a few other "great men". This book is quite entertaining, providing a well researched history of phrenology and craniometry and their influence on society's view of skulls and brains.    Cranioklepty is at times an exciting detective story, a fascinating history of cultural change and a poetically written dissection of the human fascination with self, soul, mortality and the symbolism of the skull.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 09/26/09
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The Magicians is Harry Potter mixed with The Chronicles of Narnia and rated "M" for Mature.  A surly teenager, Quentin Coldwater is invited to a school of magic.  With a fair amount of sex, drug use, and violence, this is no Hogwarts.  The Magicians is more mature in other ways, as well.  The characters question the relationship of man, magic, and God.  And Quentin has a complex relationship with his girlfriend.  Additionally, it has one of the most interesting and sinister villians I've read in quite some time.  The Magicians is a page-turner that will appeal to fantasy readers as well as readers of realistic fiction.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/10/09
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Anna Roitman had always been an outsider. Her family came to Queens from Russia when she was a little girl and Anna spent her life straddling the two cultures but never firmly grounded in either one. As a teen and young woman, she used her considerable sultry, exotic appeal to attract artistic, bohemian men. Much to her parents' dismay, Anna's love affairs were intense, but brief. But when she was still unmarried at 35, even Anna was finally won over by the idea of a stable marriage to a good Russian-Jewish man. Alex K. was wealthy and stylish, even if he wasn't into literature and foreign films. Anna soon came to love her lavish lifestyle, but after having a son, things started to change. Anna felt trapped and bored. She finds Alex increasingly repugnant. Then she meets the man of her dreams. If the story sounds familiar, it's because this book is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Reyn does a excellent job of maintaining the pathos of the original work while creating a tactile atmosphere of the Manhattan and Queens lifestyles of Russian-Jewish immigrants. It is a relevant story of an individual's feelings of displacement, and how that relates to the immigrant experience.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 07/20/09
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Daniel Tammet is considered by many to be the most intelligent living human being, but why? In this fascinating book, Tammet examines the very nature of intelligence and how our social values determine what we consider to be intelligence. Tammet has Asperger's Syndrome and is a mathematical savant, but he is quick to debunk the notion that he is so different from anyone else. He explains clearly how his thinking processes and perceptions differ from typical thinkers. Tammet has had to make conscious choices to adapt his thinking to be able to interact socially and he asserts that typical people have every potential to adapt to think more "savant-like" for things like memory, math, physics and improved awareness. Throughout the book there are interesting and fun mind puzzles and games to test and improve one's mental acuity. Tammet gives some hints on how to improve memory by thinking more like he does. He also discusses many different types of intelligence tests, showing how most of them completely neglect intuition, wisdom and adaptability and are culturally biased. Embracing the Wide Sky is a very pleasant read. Daniel Tammet is a poet, mathematical savant and a fairly witty guy for a super-genius.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/03/09
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Crowley the demon and Aziraphale, an angel, have gotten to be friends over the millenia that they've spent together on earth. They have both gotten to quite enjoy the human race and all of its fascinating creations. So it's a very unpleasant surprise for them when Crowley is called upon (by a Lower Power) to deliver the Antichrist to its unsuspecting host family. The baby looks like any other and has eleven years before he will begin Armageddon. That gives Crowley and Aziraphale time to try and save the world. The twisted mind of Neil Gaiman and the outlandish silliness of Pratchett blend nicely in Good Omens to create a fun, and oddly life-affirming book. "The Apocalypse has never been funnier..." -Clive Barker
Posted by Ultra Violet on 05/14/09
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Maria's cousin Tsugumi has been frail and weak ever since she was born. Everyone was so worried about Tsugumi, and she was so enchantingly beautiful that she was never corrected or punished for anything. Without limits, Tsugumi was a nasty, rude and even cruel young girl. The fact that she was often very ill and in pain only made her lash out more. Maria and her mother lived with Tsugumi's family in a small oceanside village. Her father lived in Tokyo with his vindictive wife who refused to give him a divorce.  He visited Maria and her mother every  weekend since Maria was born until she was a teenager. As cruel as Tsugumi i, Maria feels a strong bond between them. She is really the only person who understands Tsugumi, but even she gets frustrated with her humiliating pranks and embarrassing outbursts. Banana Yoshimoto writes with a poetic, nostalgic literary voice. She expresses Tsugumi's intensity caused by her close relationship with death in these terms, "She shone with a look of such utter happiness that you got the feeling she must have sped up the pace of her life somehow, that she was fighting to cram more life into each passing moment. Looking at her you felt a touch of unease-- a feeling that seemed to flicker through the depths of your chest, the way light glimmers through a hole in a cloud." Goodbye Tsugumi is an unusual, delicate and moving story of the relationship of two cousins and our relationship with mortality.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 04/14/09
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Vincent Van Gogh was greatly influenced by a number of artists but none more than Paul Gauguin. The Yellow House provides the foundation of Vincent's biography leading up to the nine weeks he spent in Provence with Gauguin. Vincent was so inspired by the light, colors and culture of Southern France that he begged Gauguin to join him there. The two artists lived and worked together in the yellow house until Vincent suffered a complete mental collapse. The Yellow House vividly illustrates the intensity of  Van Gogh's artistic vision, his insanity and his relationship with Gauguin in a way that I have not seen in other books about him. Gayford also poses some interesting questions about the connection between mental illness and creativity. Proposing that, had Vincent Van Gogh benefited from modern psychiatry, he may not have produced anything of value.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 03/20/09
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It is hard enough to believe in love at first sight under the best of conditions, but for Corinne Hofmann intense attraction led to marriage. She was a Swiss tourist traveling in Kenya with her boyfriend when she caught a glimpse of a "young god" in a crowd. Hofmann was determined to meet him and eventually did, only to realize that they didn't speak a common language. With her increasingly annoyed boyfriend as translator, she managed to get to know a little about this Masai warrior who would come to control her life. Hofmann endured some amazing challenges. This is a fascinating cultural study as well as an unusual love story.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 02/19/09
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This was the most generous biography I have ever read. Alan Alda writes so much more about the people in his life; his wife, children and colleagues, than he does about himself. When he does write about himself it is with merciless honesty. Although there are humorous moments, it is not overall a funny book. It is much more about finding out what your personal values are and how to connect with those around you. It is a touchingly human book that makes for a very pleasant and inspiring read.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 01/10/09
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Like Dr. Seuss for adults, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a lyrical, elegantly written fantasy about a place where stories well up as a rainbow of soothing water to wash away the world's sorrows. Haroun is a young boy whose father is a master storyteller who loses his talents when his wife leaves him for another man. Haroun and his father go on a strange adventure to fight the evil shadow king, Kattam-Shud, who is polluting the Sea of Stories.
Although appropriate for teens and older children, this book has more than enough symbolism and profundity to satisfy adult readers. Rushdie presents a world of good and evil that seems very influenced by Hinduism. The heroes needn't destroy the evil, so much as bring it into balance. Respect for the environment and respect for stories and  human imagination are central themes to this novel. It isn't just good and evil and light and darkness that need to be balanced, it is also reality and fantasy. Haroun wants truth, while his father offers fiction. Until they can come together and balance each other out, they will never achieve the harmony necessary to entice Haroun's mother to return.

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