Mary Roach at Books & Books

Author Mary Roach was at Books and Books, Coral Gables, last night to promote her new book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

I just started on Stiff so I decided to go there to get my book autographed.

Roach was a really entertaining speaker, as can be imagined from her humorous writing.

Mary Roach at Books and Books, April 23, 2008

Mary Roach signing book

I got her to sign on my copy of Stiff, which naturally is a BookCrossing copy.

Autographed copy of Stiff

Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 8:23 pm  Comments (3)  

The Music of Dolphins

by Karen Hesse

A girl, raised by dolphins since she was four, was found on an unpopulated island off the coast of Florida. With long hair reaching her feet, her naked body covered with salt, seaweed and barnacles, the girl was rescued off to a research center where she can be rehabitated to a human life.

The book started out in very large font, which gets smaller as Mila’s language and cognition skills develop. (The progression and regression of the language reminds me of Flowers for Algernon) While the speech and vocabulary remains simple and unrefined, the thought is so eloquant, so insightful and so exquisite. Mila’s reaction and thoughts reflect her dolphin nature: she yearns for freedom, she yearns for companions, she is sensitive to emotions and vibes around her. Her mistaking the noises of cars as sounds of ocean reminds me of Heidi. Her longing for her dolphin family and her confusion of human behavior makes my heart aches, even as it is expressed in such simple and sparse language. This is one beautiful tale that will stay in your heart long after the book is closed.

Published in: on April 23, 2008 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Hungry Planet

by Peter Menael and Faith D’Aluisio

This is a beautiful oversized photo book. The authors visited 30 families in 24 countries and photo them in their daily lives, and the family with a week’s worth of food. It’s mind boggling to see the difference between a family from an industrialized nation and one from an impoverished country or even a refugee camp. It’s also interesting to see how many Kellogg’s cornflakes and Coca Colas show up around the world, how familiar food appears with a different package that is at once familiar and foreign.

Even the caption of the book is thought provoking: subjects are asked to name their favorite food. There is the expected pizza and potato chips, and even the no-longer-exotic sashimi, but for polar bear to be named a favorite food in Greenland – that certainly is interesting. More intriguing is that in places where you basically eat whatever you can find or grow, there is no concept of favorite food. I suppose you are just grateful for food and can’t afford to dislike something.

The book also has lots of eye opening facts, such as Mexico ranking number one in worldwide per capita consumption for Coca-Cola, and trailing the U.S. closely on obesity rate; while China enforces an one-child policy for over a decade now, its birth rate is higher than many European countries; how many cigarettes some countries consume (how can Japanese smokes almost 10 cigarette per day and still lives so long??)

Which reminds me of the joke: Japaneses smoke more than Americans, they live longer. French drinks more wine than American, they live longer. Obviously, what kills you is being American…

My favorite photo is the one of the Ecuadorian family. The smile of the whole family is so radiating. You almost feel them welcoming you to share at their table, meager though their fare may be…

Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Empress Orchid

by Anchee Min

I like reading historical fictions on royalties, and especially found this one interesting as I visited Beijing last year. It was fun to visualize the places mentioned in the book.  I didn’t go to Prince Kung’s Residence though, and would definitely make the trip should I have a chance to visit again, as the novel protrayed him to be such a likeable character.  Moreover, it was intriguing to try re-translate the poems and songs back to Chinese, to realize they are familiar verses I had studied and loved in high school.

At times though, it seems like the author had a hard time parting with all research data on hand, and the story ended up blogged down with trivial detail. Also, the narration seems to suggest that the “memoir” is written at a much later date than when the book ends, so the ending feels a bit abrupt and rushed, not to mention almost teetering on what makes a bad historical romance.  There are a few good scenes in the book and overall I did enjoy it.

The empress protrayed in the book is quite different from the historical figure though.  Through her son and nephew (her sister Rong’s son, as the former died before leaving an heir) she had practically ruled China for half a century, and had used the desperataly needed navy’s fund to build extravagant a summer garden (after the original one was damaged).  At her death, she had stashed away some eight and a half million pounds sterling in London banks under her name. She survived the two emperors and only died after installing Puyi as the (destined to be the last) emperor of China.


This is about the only one photo I can find of the young Cixi, though there are plenty of her as a sour-faced old lady who looks like mother-in-law from hell. 

(Edit to add: thanks for all the kind readers who pointed out that this is not a picture of Cixi, but rather of Zhen Fei, whom I believed was tortured to death by Cixi. ~Please correct me again should I make another error. ~ And let me know too should you indeed know of a picture of Cixi as a young sweet girl!)

Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 8:29 pm  Comments (5)