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Elaine has commented on (53) products.

All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir by Shulem Deen
All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir

Elaine, April 30, 2015

This is a very thought-provoking book. It is the memoir of a man raised in a very restrictive Chasidic world who becomes increasingly disaffected and ultimately loses faith and is excommunicated and forced to leave the community. This leads to his wife divorcing him, his children refusing to see him, and his insular community shunning him. At the same time, we see him moving farther and farther from the basic tenets of the community as he longs for education and a more modern world. We all live in worlds of family strictures, community norms, religious requirements, national rules which in some ways shape who we are and determine the ways we live and our overall world views. But the world described here is one that is so extreme, it is almost a cartoon. Any divergence from the norm brings scorn and shame. It is a world in which one doesn't get to make personal choices unless it is the acceptable choice and therefore not a choice at all. I found it particularly ironic that while his parents did not grow up in the highly restrictive Chasidic world that Shulem Deen grew up in, but rather chose to move into it, there was nonetheless no room for Mr Deen to explore the world outside and choose to live this way. In addition, while it is true that arranged marriages of teenagers who don't know each other are the norm in many cultures, when we read about it happening in New York City and its suburbs today, it somehow feels aberrant. And when all contact with the larger world and education are forbidden, it just feels incredibly sad.

The book is very well written and compelling. This is quite remarkable as the author had almost no non-religious education, and lived in a world in suburban New York in which English was rarely spoken. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. I found I could not put it down, even though it was heartbreakingly sad in many ways.
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Viking Knits and Ancient Ornaments: Interlace Patterns from Around the World in Modern Knitwear by Elsebeth Lavold
Viking Knits and Ancient Ornaments: Interlace Patterns from Around the World in Modern Knitwear

Elaine, January 9, 2015

I am always on the lookout for new knitting books. There are hundreds of them with new ones practically every week. It is rare that one comes along that is as fresh and inspiring as this one. Superficially it is a book on knitting garments incorporating cables, but it is so much more. It is a fascinating mixture of historical description and photos of knotted ornamentation in a number of different cultures, charted patterns for many of those ornaments and patterns incorporating the cables. Often when I get a new knitting book, there are one or two patterns in them with enough interest that I might want to knit. This one has many patterns I love. In fact, In don't think there is a single "clinker" in the bunch.

It is a visually beautiful book containing photos and drawings of Viking runes in Sweden and elsewhere in Scandinavia, Roman and Italian mosaics, Irish chalices, English carvings from the 10th century, French and Croatian carvings and even a number of Viking age broaches all carved with similar knotted designs. It is very interesting, for example, to look at a Swedish carving and an Italian mosaic and notice the similarities. Lavold then couples these photos with charts of similar knitted designs which are then incorporated into her beautifully tailored garments.

I have rarely encountered a knitting book I have enjoyed more, and perhaps it is unfair to call it a knitting book since it is so much more.

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The Red Queen (Cousins' War) by Philippa Gregory
The Red Queen (Cousins' War)

Elaine, April 17, 2014

Let me begin by confessing that I am a huge Philippa Gregory fan so I come with a predisposition to liking this book. On the other hand, with the exception of Gregory's books, I generally do not like historical fiction. All that said, this book just blew me away. It is the portrait of Margaret Beaufort who is depicted here as both a vicim of her time, class and gender, as well as, treacherous, manipulative, and even delusional. The portrait is very stark and very compelling. I found it difficult to put down.

She is a cousin to then King Henry 6 of the house of Lancaster. As a child she is determined to be a saint and wants only to spend her life in prayer at a nunnery, but her mother marries her at age 12 to another royal, Edward Tudor of Wales, who is killed before seeing their son Henry. From the start, Margaret is determined to see Henry on the throne of England and will stop at nothing to see it happen. On the one hand she has no control of her own destiny, being married a second time as a child without her consent to another significantly older man as soon as her year of mourning is complete. She is then forced to leave her son behind in Wales with her brother-in-law Jasper. She firmly believes that it is God's will that Henry be king and that she be the king's mother (delusional). she is willing to marry a third time solely to further Henry's chances (manipulative), and believes that even murder of young boys is acceptable if it will move her son closer to the throne (treacherous). Yikes what a woman!

Botton line - it reads like a thriller and a very good one at that, and if you don't know details of the history of the mid to late 15th century British royalty, it is sometimes difficult to guess what will happen next.
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The Racketeer by John Grisham
The Racketeer

Elaine, December 15, 2013

OK, so it is not great literature, but I found it a really good, fun read. Typical of Grisham books, it's set in the South and there are lawyers and courtrooms. There is a far-fetched plot involving millions of dollars that were ill-gotten gain by a judge who dies. The money gets moved around and hidden and stolen from the thieves. Yeah - superficially it sounds a like Grisham's The Summons, but this time it involves gold bars, and the judge was murdered for the money, and I'm not saying "who done it" and who winds up with it since I don't want to ruin it for you, but trust me, it will keep you guessing. There are some genuine surprises - just when you think you know what is really going on, you find out you were wrong so it keeps you turning pages. I definitely recommend it if you want some light fun reading.
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The Mind's Eye. by Oliver Sacks
The Mind's Eye. by Oliver Sacks

Elaine, January 1, 2013

This is another one of neurologist Oliver Sacks' fascinating books, this time focusing on strange or interesting conditions relating to vision, or more properly, what people perceive when they look at things. One of the conditions he particularly focuses on is prosopagnosia which is the inability to recognize faces, a condition that Dr Sacks suffers from. This was of particular interest to me as a brilliant colleague, and close collaborator of mine, suffered from it. He would walk down the street never noticing that he was walking right past a close friend or colleague. It was not a vision problem as he had no trouble reading or seeing things; he just could not process faces. People would often be offended that he was apparently snubbing them. Often when we were together I would warn him that we were about to encounter someone named X who he should know. The interesting thing is that although my colleague was a very well-respected scientist, he was totally unaware that this was a known neurological condition - he just thought he was bad at recognizing people.

A second condition that was also fascinating was alexia sin agraphia: the ability to write but not read. This was typically caused by a brain injury or stroke, and while the person could write perfectly well, they were completely unable to recognize what they had just written. In some cases, they could not even recognize that they were letters in an alphabet they knew.

Every single case study Dr Sacks presents is fascinating. I found this an excellent read that provides a glimpse into the complexity of the human brain.
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