Archive for Wordy Wednesday

Wordy Wednesday: Fordlandia by Greg Grandin

Henry Ford was like many other billionaires in that he had a bunch of wacky– and sometimes offensive — eccentricities that kept him in the headlines.  For instance, he was passionately against cow milk: not because he loved cows and cared about animal welfare, but because he hated cows and wanted to keep them away from everyone (who hates cows?).  He was also a pacifist, which is great.  But then he amped up the crazy-rich-guy meter and set sail on a giant cruise ship called “Peace Boat” headed for Europe, where he and a bunch of hippies and derelicts would do something for peace.  It was never really clarified what exactly they would do, so as soon as they got there, he came right back to the U.S.

But Ford’s special brand of kookiness was especially evident in the model towns he created, namely Fordlandia in Brazil.  He thought that he could create a perfectly peaceful and industrious village surrounding a rubber tree plantation in the jungle.  What he didn’t know was that the Amazon is totally effing crazy and doesn’t care what you think.

What I liked best about Fordlandia was the character portrait of Henry Ford and the historical analysis of his failed philosophies.  He believed so fervently in many things that he helped destroy with the expansion of his factory empire.  The sections describing the insanity of the Brazilian jungle were also very interesting.

What I did not like about this book was all the technical description of “leaf blight,” soil problems, and other issues with planting of rubber trees.  Those sections were generally not interesting at all, so I just skimmed over them.

Overall, this is a great story about the American values that have made the country great and also really stupid in some ways.  It also proves that it’s very hard to have one billion dollars and not be crazy.


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Wordy Wednesday: Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

My mom gave me Letter to My Daughter, by Maya Angelou, for my birthday.  It was very sweet and very short.  I read it in about 2 hours.

In honor of Maya Angelou’s distinguished poetry career, here are some crappy haikus that express my feelings about this little book:


Reading short vignettes

Chillin in a bubble bath

Both are relaxing


Dr. Angelou tells

Demonstrative anecdotes

She knows more than me


Awful things happen

Hilarious things happen

That’s life: don’t give up.


That should give you an idea.  If you like Maya Angelou, you will like this.   If you don’t like Maya Angelou, (a) what’s wrong with you, and (b) you will probably like this too.  It’s very likeable.




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Wordy Wednesday: ABANDONED: There is Power in a Union by Philip Dray

It is very rare that I will abandon a book.  In fact, I can’t remember giving up on any books in the past 5 years, irregardless of how much I disliked them.  I am loyal to my reading material for two reasons: (1) sometimes I will hate something at the beginning, but grow to like it as I read more; and (2) I read a lot.  It’s not like I only read five books a year and have to make them count, or something like that.

However, I abandoned There is a Power in a Union by Philip Dray–not because I hated it.  I gave up because there’s just too much damn information.  I felt like I was reading it for a dissertation.

In October, I saw Dray on the Daily Show promoting the book, and it sounded really interesting.  Plus, I think I realized recently that I don’t know very much about unions.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention that week in 11th grade AP U.S. History or what, but I’m lacking a good deal of basic knowledge of the history and politics of unionization.

I was sort of looking for a general overview, and what I got was an epic.  I suppose I should have gathered as such from the subtitle: The Epic Story of Labor in America. The book is a whopping 772 pages, which didn’t initially throw me off.  I mean, Harry Potter 7 was over 700 pages too.  I’m not saying that I was expecting this to be Harry Potter, it’s just– jeez, where am I going with this….

There was just so much detail.  I only read the first 200 pages, and it covered pretty much every single rally, strike, speech, meeting, person, and factory in labor history.  I will say that it was not boring or dry– I actually really loved reading excerpts of the speeches, and I got all excited reading about how the women at the Lowell mills in the early 19th century really kick-started the labor movement in the U.S.

But after a while, I just got tired of reading it.  It was a little repetitive.  Again, it felt like I was reading something for a class– and I loved school, but even I am not down for reading 500 more pages of minutiae on the grievances of New England cobblers– ie. Should they get 12  cents or 15 cents a day?  I think I was looking for something a little more thematic or analytical in nature, not simply an exhaustive historical record.

Again, this was not a bad book, just not really what I signed up for.  I guess I’ll just have to wait for the Cliffs Notes.

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Wordy Wednesday: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I love sci-fi.  I’m a fan of aliens, evil robots, time travel, dystopia, good robots, and pretty much anything else that you would find in a galaxy far, far away.

Never Let Me Go is a story that, by description, seems to fall under the category of sci-fi.  However, Kazuo Ishiguro’s subtle storytelling makes this novel a quiet study of human nature, not a horrifying tale of technology gone wrong.

I don’t want to reveal too much– a great deal of the book’s impact lies in the nuanced way that the story unfolds.  I will tell you that it takes place in an isolated school full of parentless British children.  Sound scary?  It’s not.  They spend their days playing football, painting, writing poetry, drawing, gossiping– doing all the things that preteens do.  All the while, they have an incomplete understanding of some cryptic future that their teachers (or “guardians”) have explained in veiled terms.

For sci-fi, it’s very normal and very human.  It’s the story of emotionally confused children, one that would not be out of place in any other setting.  This is an integral part of the story, so I really won’t go on.  But I just want to emphasize that the author’s restraint ultimately shows a great deal about the characters and the themes at the end of the book.

I really loved this one.  Even though there were no evil robots.

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Wordy Wednesday: Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

I recently joined a book club, and I love love love it.  I’m used to just telling Goodreads my thoughts on literature, so it’s nice to have a real conversation with a human being about the book I just finished.  Plus, the club is run through a book store, not a group of friends, and everyone who shows up has actually read the book.  It’s not just an excuse to get together and have mimosas, which I think is the fate of 85% of book clubs, unfortunately.

This month, we read Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel.  I kind of hated it for the first 50 pages– mostly because it was following a do-nothing twenty-something living in Williamsburg, who was having a crisis over the fact that he couldn’t finish his thesis on dead languages and felt no fulfillment working part-time in a pretentious art gallery.  Then, he meets this girl, and she’s so “different from everyone else”–she’s a dishwasher, but she knows 4.5 languages, reads voraciously, and loves photography.

“He began to feed her pomegranate beads, two or three at a time, and she stopped weeping long before her lips were stained red”: when I read that line on page 36, I almost projectile vomited.  I am not a fan of books about relationships, so I was feeling unenthused about finishing the story.

However, it got so much better.  The book is not about romance–it’s more of a mystery based around child abduction and family drama.  The story unfolds effortlessly, and I couldn’t put it down (I literally read the whole thing in one sitting, which is impressive, considering that I was very sleepy when I read it).  There are moments when the language is a little overworked (like in the example above), but in general, the writing style is quite pretty.  The characters are unbearable quirky at times, but at the same time, they engaged my interest.  The ending was a little rushed, but overall, I liked the book.  I think Emily St. John Mandel has creative ideas, and I am interested to see what she does in the future.

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Wordy Wednesday: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I’ve found that the older I get, the more I like science– not in a “I understand chemistry” kind of way, but more of a “Aren’t dinosaurs the greatest?” kind of way.  Or a “The end of Twister was cool but unrealistic” kind of way.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the perfect scientific nonfiction book for people who are English majors at heart.  It is the true story of the woman behind HeLa cells: the first “immortal” cells, which continue to rapidly multiply almost 60 years after they were removed from a tumor on her cervix.

I definitely was never that into cells as a student.  I mean, I liked making the cell diagrams for science projects, but that was mostly because it meant that I got to go to Michael’s and pick out dozens of styrafoam balls and pipe cleaners.  However, this book  does an outstanding job of explaining some of the major breakthroughs in cell culture research from the last century.  Instead of reading like a textbook, it shows the people behind each discovery and outlines very difficult concepts in a simple way.

But the real story here is about Henrietta Lacks and her family: her cells were taken and used for research without her consent, which was often the case for patients in the African-American section of Johns Hopkins University hospital.  For decades, her family had no idea that Henrietta’s cells were being used in labs all over the world.  And while scientists were using HeLa cells to treat polio, cancer, hepatitis and dozens of other diseases, most of her family couldn’t even afford health insurance.

It’s tragically ironic, but one of the most important stories in the field of bioethics.  I highly recommend it.

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