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review 2018-01-17 05:08
L'appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home - David Lebovitz

If you are secretly (or not so secretly) fascinated by the sight of car wrecks (where no one is injured, of course), you might really like this book.

 

That's not why I bought it, or course; I thought I'd be reading a breezy memoir about moving to Paris and buying a fabulous, though a tad run down, old apartment and the joys of renovating it.  I imagined living vicariously through the author as he haunted the flea markets and found fabulous old doors, lamps, hardware, crockery, etc.  Sure, the title says "disasters", too, but they're probably the run of the mill disasters everyone faces when building/renovating, right?  Someone painted the kitchen the color meant for the baths, or switched the hot and cold taps. 

 

Not even close.  In fact, looking at the title, I'm not at all sure where the "delights" come into play.  Maybe book 2?  Because I gotta tell you, after reading this, I have a lot more sympathy for people who burn the house down for the insurance money.  I also have a new appreciation for just how much worse Australian real estate could be.  I've always tried to be positive or, at least tactful, about my current home country, but I've never held back on how bent I believe their real estate industry is, particularly Melbourne's (I'm not wrong either: Victoria has been cited numerous times for fraudulent real estate practices; not that it slows anybody down).  But boy howdy, Paris makes it clear Aussies are in the minor leagues.

 

But the buying dramas (did you know you need a medical examination to get a home loan?) were just the amuse bouche; the real nightmare, the one you can't stop reading because it's like a train that just keeps on wrecking itself, a metal snowball gaining mass and spreading destruction, is the renovations.  There. are. no. words.

 

This is where I stop to give a heartfelt thanks to my Daddy, an electrical engineer, and for the grace of god that I was born curious.  Foreign country or not (and you can't discount how big a difference that makes - even if the foreign country speaks your language), I'm fortunate that I know enough about electricity, plumbing, and (very) basic building construction to suspect when something isn't right, or safe.  Lebovitz was not so blessed and neither was his partner, although he was at least Parisian, and so was able to bridge the language - and sometimes the cultural - gaps, as well as throw well timed fits of temper.  But even so, what happens, what they end up with... nope.  Still no words.  I cannot imagine what I'd have done in his shoes, but it probably would have been neither legal or sane.  

 

It ends well enough, but, though he doesn't give any real figures, one has to assume he had a shit ton of money somewhere because by my rough reckoning, that renovation cost him more than 3 times the original budget.

 

Throughout this nightmare, he does paint a vivid and gorgeous picture of Paris markets and food, both of which, from what I read here, are better experienced as a tourist.  And most of the chapters end with a recipe; some easy, and some for the experienced baker.  At some point in the future I'll be giving his Swedish meatball recipe a shot.

 

And Swedish meatballs leads me to this final thought:  there is nothing on this earth that would ever compel me to stand in line for 4 1/2 freaking hours in Ikea.  Nothing.  Not if the kitchen cabinets were made of solid mahogany and gilded in sold gold.  Omg...4.5 hours in Ikea...

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review 2018-01-14 22:36
The Little Book of Lykke
The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World's Happiest People - Meik Wiking

I'd read Wiking's Little Book of Hygge last year, and absolutely loved it; it was one of those right time/right books moments, and I took away a lot of good suggestions.  So when this book's publication was announced, I kept an eye out for it. 

 

In some ways, The Little Book of Lykke is a more interesting one; it's focused heavily on the research behind happiness both on an individual and cultural level.  There are more studies cited, more graphs, more statistics, and case studies from around the globe about how people and communities have come together to create a better atmosphere for themselves and others.  Wiking includes practical tips for the reader, but I don't think that's the book's strength; I think it serves as food for thought about the larger idea of what makes individuals and communities really happy, and the downstream benefits of being happy.

 

My only niggle against the book is that the last chapter ends a bit preachy.  This is not entirely the author's fault, as the last chapter, entitled kindness was the chapter with the least amount of available stats and studies, so it was almost entirely anecdotal.  It's really difficult to talk about being kind to others without sounding preachy, I get that.  But it did leave the book ending weaker than it started by just a smidgen.  Overall, a good book for inspiring introspection and an inspiring one in terms of new ideas.

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review 2018-01-13 09:14
A Short History of Drunkenness
A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

I love Mark Forsyth's writing.  I think I've read (and own) everything he's written and I've yet to be let down.  He's got the dry, British humor in spades and his writing is always excellent.  His original bibliography focused on etymology, but he's lately broken out into short, but focused, histories.  

 

Forsyth makes it clear from the start that this is not a comprehensive history of drunkenness; that would be a comprehensive history of humanity.  But he does break it down into a very easy to follow, somewhat linear timeline, with each chapter focused on a specific culture, or age.  I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it turns out ancient Greeks got a bad rap; when it comes to partying they had nothing on ancient Egyptians.  Or late 19th/early 20th century Russians.  Holy crap.

 

The book ends in more or less modern times, but Forsyth does revisit America in the last chapter; specifically Prohibition and Did it work?.  Half my family was in Chicago during Prohibition and the other half was in Florida, with a constant stream of 'revenuers' and bootleggers coming through the tiny fishing village called home, so I'm not sure I entirely buy his premise that Prohibition was a success.  On the other hand, my family's history would give me exactly the skewed perspective that would make me dubious.  No matter what my opinion is, his take on Prohibition was fascinating and (to me) an entirely new way of viewing the 18th amendment experiment.  

 

But the best part, the very best part of the book, for me, is something only a few here will immediately appreciate, and it's this, from a quote in the chapter on the American Wild West:

 

"The saturnalia commenced on Christmas evening, at the Humboldt [saloon]..."

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review 2018-01-12 07:22
and Then You're Dead
What Really Happens If You're Swallowed by a Whale, Get Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara...and Then You're Dead - Cody Cassidy,Paul Doherty

(Why really happens if you get swallowed by a whale, are shot from a cannon or go barreling over Niagara...)

 

Silly science at its most entertaining.  If you've read What if?, this is very much like an expanded version.  All the insane questions a 12 year old might come up with? - a good portion of them are probably here.  While very entertaining for adults, this would, in fact, make an excellent book for kids, turning them on to how science isn't all boring.

 

I'd have rated it even higher, except there's a high proportion of questions regarding space and those who know me, know that space bores me and these entries slowed me down and had me contemplating folding laundry.  Luckily none of the entries are longer than 2-3 pages and there's a nice mix of terrestrial questions that were both informative and interesting (to me).  Though, for the record, I probably didn't need to know the details of how dangerous a paper cut can be, and I really, REALLY didn't need to know about Botulism H.

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review 2018-01-12 01:32
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook - Joshua Piven,David Borgenicht

I'm a sucker for practical knowledge and I've been wanting to read this book; its trendiness put me off buying it originally, but about a fortnight ago, my neighbour was getting rid of several boxes of books and offered to let me riffle through them first.  This was one of the books I took.   It's good, it's practical, but I'm glad I didn't buy it when it came out.

 

Unless you live a very different, very active lifestyle, a good number of these are not going to be scenarios you're likely to confront, short of end-of-life-as-we-know it.  I'm having a hard time coming up with at-all-likely situations where I'd need to know how to meneuver atop a train, or jump from a motorcycle to a moving car.  Ditto hot-wiring (although that's fun to know) and how to win a sword fight.  But most of the entries are for things that for most people are at least possible scenarios, if not probably ones and the information is easy to understand and not so difficult you'd forget how to do it in a crunch (except possibly starting a fire - there's a lot of bits involved in that one). 

 

It's a very quick read, and a useful book to keep around on the off chance I need to know how to prepare myself for a trip to the desert, or I need to pick a lock.  But I'm glad I waited until fate dropped a free copy in my lap.

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