The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

book jacket elephant and crown graphic for Indian detective mystery fiction story
The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan (2016)

What a wonderful mystery with fun and interesting characters full of personality — including the baby elephant, Ganesha.

Good read, though I did get a little impatient with one too many subplots. This is not the first book in the series. Maybe the author tidied previous plot twists.

Check the Goodreads link to see which is the first if you want to start at the beginning of the series.

I am pleased that there are more books in the series because this is a world I want to visit again. However, I only want to be an armchair visitor, because the small depictions of the actual reality are too distressing for me. Here in the USA we are more fortunate than many, even though fewer and fewer of us can say that. But in too many places in the world, there are too many people starving. Cruel treatment of animals exists everywhere too, to my sorrow.

In this book, the intelligence of this most unusual detective sidekick, the baby elephant, Ganesha, proves a delight. Alas, it also makes me sad for the cruelty being done to  elephants wherever they are left for however long they manage to survive.

Continue reading The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

Walkability Social Policy discussed in “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck

Walkable City book jacket with no mention in index of disabled or handicapped peopleWalkability and vibrancy are not the only features that make for livable cities. Social policy that embraces universal design serves all residents.

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America,  One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck, 2012, (coauthor of Suburban Nation)

There are several words I am getting really sick of hearing when listening to city planners discuss how to develop our city for “walkability.” The first word is “walkability.” I have multiple sclerosis and have trouble walking at all. The planners and politicians are obsessed with “getting rid of cars downtown” even though our city has an aging population majority. We also have a higher than average number of people with disabilities, some “invisible,” like MS, as well as visible mobility issues (wheelchair users).

Continue reading Walkability Social Policy discussed in “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck

Satire and Great Read: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

satire going postal by Terry Pratchett one of the best books everGoing Postal by Terry Pratchett [RIP, you are very missed]

Alas, I do not remember which of his books I read first. But Going Postal is my favorite among all the books I have ever read. Last year I had learned that the Brits made a video of it and was able to get from the library and it was respectable job, but to my recollection, did not capture what Pratchett’s writing manages like no other I have read: half the content of the book is not WHAT HE WRITES but what he DOESN’T WRITE. I have tried to put my finger on this for years without success. Until now. Now that I LISTENED to the book on CD read by a masterful narrator. He captures more than the words; he captures the meaning behind the words that is often different from what the words as written are actually on the page.

HE IS MY FAVORITE AUTHOR AND NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY! He makes me snort and laugh and giggle and have wry smiles and nod appreciatively and gasp in amazement when something so minor, so thrown away chapters ago becomes significant and masterfully portrays the cleverness of a particular character, or their steely determination, or their ability to read between the lines themselves.

In art it would be called negative and positive space. A good painting or photograph illustrates some subject, flowers or whatever, but the background — negative space — is incidental, or meant to disappear, hopefully in harmony and balance and not disjointed from the main subject. A great image integrates the negative and positive space so that the parts NOT THE SUBJECT are EQUALLY IMPORTANT TO THE COMPOSITION. For example, the space between the curve of a woman’s arm and her waist that forms a diamond that is repeated by the position of a space between her dress and the wall. The negative space defines the positive space as much if not more than the other way around.

Ordinary, even very good authors are excellent at positive space. Putting the words on the page, putting the best word on the page is even better, and using techniques like ending chapters on cliff hangers and switching scenes in the next so you have to go on to learn what happens. Even better authors gently and subtly put little hints of things to come, or more often state their intentions baldly, “If only I had known then. . . ”

Terry Pratchett’s writing is more like a weaving than a flat page in a book or a photograph.

As an example of ordinary writing, consider mystery stories. They start out with x, toss in a murder, throw in some red herrings and obstacles, and proceed to resolution, usually with the protagonist’s life being threatened, or loved ones, because the drama is presumed to be in the threat level. You can flip to the end and see if you guessed the antagonist correctly and decide if the journey is worth making or not. Too often lately, I have decided not, and turned to non-fiction. Even when I know how those books end (e.g. history), the pleasure is in the details of how we got there, with very frequent completely unexpected twists, and most shockingly to me, things happened in plain sight during my lifetime when I thought I was paying attention but it turns out I was clueless.

Terry Pratchett makes you enjoy every sentence, every word as if each were a treat to savor and listen to or read over again and again and still laugh anew (or feel sorrow, or rage, or satisfaction) every time in Going Postal in particular. Not a false note, nor too many, and every word serves a purpose.

Continue reading Satire and Great Read: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The Dystopia of “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

book jacket red cover white circle logo of storyThe Circle by Dave Eggers (c 2013)

Dystopia in the near future described as the hell it would be if the “share everything” becomes a coerced “share everything” panopticon world of my worst nightmares described in this book.

The is the book that received a perfect 100 score referenced by a previous post and discussed on Book TV, The Bestseller Code. This book was a bestseller and received a perfect score of 100 based on the computer algorithms by Archer and Jockers.

Reading the book jacket text frames the expectations of a book so you can guess if things that seem good will turn out to be rotten or have a happy ending. A few are unpredictable journeys and this book is one of those.

WARNING: SPOILERS Continue reading The Dystopia of “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

The American Way of Poverty by Sasha Abramsky

book jacket text on cardboard photoThe American Way of Poverty: How the other half still lives by Sasha Abramsky (2013)

The book is full of tales of woe, so much so that you would think that politicians could not ignore such a reality. I considered suggesting sending this book to legislators, but their collective entrenched delusions would not comprehend these stories as FACT. Neither would they see this situation as SYSTEMIC. The few unfortunate cited are exceptions, not the standard way of this great America life, contrasted with their own economically secure collective multimillion dollar personal life experience.

The tyranny of the majority now in government at state and federal levels is deliberately eliminating every possible aspect of the common good. Proudly dismantling the safety net. The stupid people that voted for the monsters remain deluded that they will be better off.

The American Way of Poverty is divided into two parts. Broadly speaking, the first part of the book tells the stories of the impoverished people I met around the country, whereas the second part of the book maps out a broad set of policy discussions and connections between issues that any meaningful national level attempt to tackle poverty will have to include. These include tax reform, the welfare system, wages, access to healthcare, changes that could be made in the criminal justice system, changes in how America deals with addiction and mental illness, reforms in the foster care system, and many other area that overlap with poverty. (p. 330)

Note the link in the paragraph above goes to the web site for the book and contains some of the interviews and oral histories.

Continue reading The American Way of Poverty by Sasha Abramsky