Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books
Read Log for 2016
By Tal Cohen Friday, 13 January 2017

January 2016

The Russia House by John le Carre. Read with colleagues as part as our office reading club. Also, spying is waiting.

The Diamond Chariot by Boris Akunin; volume 10 in the Erast Fandorin series. Hebrew by Yigal Librant. One of the best volumes in the series so far, although the fact that, in the end, Fandorin doesn't know is heart-wrenching.

Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle. Some of the models there are downright amazing; personally, I prefer the smaller designs over the large-scale builds, since building in large scale offers more affordances and flexibility. Still, sometimes the small details in the large designs are as beautiful as small models in their own right. For example, the design of the curtains in the author’s own Victorian house models.

February 2016

Redshirts by John Scalzi. When the fourth wall is neither ignored, nor broken for the sake of humor, but rather becomes part of the very plot. Plus, some very good humor that got me chuckling on the train.

WTF, Evolution?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design by Mara Grunbaum. Oh, wow, some creatures out there are just... wow. And if you’re not familiar with the website, go subscribe now.

The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, annotated by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Hollis Robbins. When people argue about whether it makes sense to use “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory term, it’s good to go back to the basics. The annotations are mostly helpful, although the use of first person singular, sometimes by Gates and sometimes by Robbins, but never explicitly stated by which, can be a bit confusing or annoying. This is doubly true in the two unsigned introduction, although it’s pretty clear who wrote what.

Pelle the Conqueror by Martin Andersen Nexo, Volume 1, translated by S. Herberg. A very old translation (over 60 years old), but the Hebrew text is surprisingly fluent. And the book itself is touching; so far, it seems to be at least as good as the author’s Ditte trilogy.

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin. A read-read of the first volume in the series, for the office reading club.

March 2016

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. A re-read.

The Illegitimates by Taran Killam and Marc Andreyko. Amusing premise, disappointing result.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (translated by Didi Chanoch). My daughter insisted that I read it, after she has. Never thought I'd read a children’s book inspired by The Usual Suspects.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Macho do without nut-thing.

April 2016

Speechless: How Contemporary Israeli Culture is Reflected in Language by Amalia Rosenblum and Zvi Trigger. An interesting, if sometimes rather forced, review of modern (2007) Israeli culture through the lens of phrases that became common and/or changed their meaning in the decade that preceded the year of publication. The authors present an enlightened point of view (especially when it comes to women and LGBT rights), but at times fail to hide their own biases and prejudice some segments of the Israeli society, such as Israeli Jews of Arab-country origin; and they repeatedly insist on presenting Israel and the Israeli society as provincial, even where it feels rather strained.

The Stranger by Albert Camus. Translated by Ilana Hammerman.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. A re-read, this time of the Hebrew translation (by Avraham Yavin and Daniel Doron).

May 2016

The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics by John Pollack.

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir by Meir Shalev.

The Trial by Franz Kafka (Hebrew translation by Avraham Carmel).

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet (Hebrew translation by Ilana Hammerman).

Hero and Anti-Hero in the Modern Novel, course textbook by Murray Roston and others.

Hero and Anti-Hero: 35 Years Later by Orna Krauss.

June 2016

Grimm Tales for Young and Old in a New English Version by Philip Pullman.

This is how we fought in Gaza 2014: testimonials and photos by soldiers from the Gaza war of 2014, by Breaking the Silence (Israeli NGO). Terrifying.

Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones (translated by Yael Achmon). My daughter recommended this to me. More than anything else, reminded me of a Neil Gaiman world.

Once Upon a Time: Legends by H. N. Bialik. The stories are nice, but it was the language that I really savoured. Very close to, but not quite, Biblical Hebrew; and absolutely fantastic.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There (the comics version) by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter, Illustrated by Shane Clester. When somebody asks you to read a career/self-improvement book, always look for the comic version. This way, you can at least enjoy the artwork.

July and August 2016

When I first visited London, in 2002, one of my greatest joys was touring the bookshops. (It still is, whenever I visit London, or any other place for that matter.) And as it happened, a new edition of C.S. Lewis’s biography, by two of his student-friends, was just published. So of course I’ve purchased a copy.

That thing was sitting on my shelf for almost a decade and a half, and now I’ve finally decided to dive into it. It’s not a great book, but it’s still a very good one, and I felt it was well worth my time.

About halfway through the book, a copy of E. Nesbit’s Psammead trilogy arrived by mail, so I’ve put down Lewis and read The Phoenix and the Carpet, reliving childhood memories of the BBC series from the 70s.

And then back to Lewis’s biography, and a few short pages later I find out that Lewis didn't really love children’s literature, with a few exceptions, such as, well, Nesbit’s Psammead trilogy.

July and August reading list:

Kalman Kimmerling: Private Eye, God Willing by Asher Kravitz. Excellent premise -- a PI in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Lousy and childish execution, with inappropriate use of semi-Rabbinical language, thin plotlines, and no real suspense. The idea does deserve a proper treatment; we need a hasidic Spade or Marlowe. Actually, a hasidic Marple could be even more fascinating.

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit. With the increasing popularity of singular “they” to discuss people in a gender-neutral manner, people sometimes forget it’s actually nothing new. So I was surprised to see Nesbit using it instead: ''... and one at least of the party--I will not say which, because it was sorry afterwards--declared that Jane had done it on purpose.” That felt rather awkward.

Irit Stays in Katamon by Galila Ron-Feder. Recommended it to my daughter, based on childhood memories; she didn't like it; re-reading it, I realized she’s perhaps still too young. (Apparently some of Ron-Feder’s early work was not that bad.)

C. S. Lewis: A Biography, revised and expanded edition, by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper. Notes to self: (a) re-read The Screwtape Letters; (b) find and read Studies in Words. Also, Lewis was wrong about the recommended reading order of The Chronicles of Narnia. If you read them by chronological order of events, rather than by order of publication, you miss the whole surprise of who Digory turns out to be. (h/t Tom Recht, now a classicist at UC Berkeley, who convinced me with this argument some twenty-five years ago.)

Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series (six volumes) by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The Happy Return by C.S. Forester. First volume in the Horatio Hornblower series. Clearly, Hornblower is no Aubrey, and Forester is no O'Brian.

The Pillar of Salt by Albert Memmi. Translated by Yossef Luz (a pen name of Yonatan Ratosh, which was a pen name of Uriel Shelach, which was not the birthname of Uriel Halperin).

September and October 2016

Spent most of my time reading two textbooks, both of which I’m still reading... Many of the books I did complete are chidren’s books my daughter threw at me:

Cramel by Meira Barnea-Goldberg. A modernized Puss in Boots.

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgo. A nice coming-of-age comic.

And in the “not children’s books” department:

Made in America Latina, a mini-anthology edited by Uriel Kun. Includes Tragedia del hombre que amaba en los aeropuertos (The Tragedy of the Man Who Loved in Airports) by Santiago Gamboa, and Como nadar en el hielo (Like Swimming in Ice) by Tryno Maldonado. The former I found to be a simplistic sexual fantasy, with way too much literary name-dropping, and the latter a simple twist-story.

Poetics of Narrative Fiction: A Reader, edited by Ayala Amir. 14 short stories by William Falkner, Amalia Kahana-Karmon, Tony Morrison, Yaakov Steinberg, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham, Heinrich von Kleist, Ring Lardner, Nathan Shaham, Shlomo Zemach, Ambrose Bierce, and the frame story of Arabian Nights. Shaham’s Seven of Them was the basis for his play They'll Arrive Tomorrow, and for me, the best of the bunch.

November 2016

Atkinson & Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology, 14th Edition, by Edward E. Smith, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Barbara L. Fredrickson, and Geoffrey R. Loftus. Yay, I’m now reading college textbooks just for the fun of it (seriously). This one was enjoyable for the most part. The “Critical Thinking Questions” at the end of each section are, at times, excellent. Also, I should learn more about Carl Rogers and humanistic psychology.

When Heroes Fly by Amir Gutfreund.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Print-wise, the Folio Society edition is mediocre by itself, but striking when all his volumes are collected.

December 2016

December was a wonderful month -- a few long days at home increase my reading throughput significantly...

Four books by Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely (“Time passed again. I don't know how long. I had no watch. They don't make that kind of time in watches anyway”), The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, and The Little Sister. By now I should have realized that the killer in Chandler’s books isn't always the beautiful woman; sometimes it’s the plain-looking one. But of course, with so many dead people around, there doesn't have to be just one killer to a book.

Visiting Tristan by Avivit Mishmari. No parent is perfect.

The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi. (The Hebrew text that I’ve read is actually the original and predates the OUP English version.) The Zahavis show some beautiful examples to the handicap principle, which I have previously assumed to be something far more simplistic. They also explain how the signal and its interpretation could evolve in both prey and predator, respectively. However, at times they take the principle a bit too far, I believe -- as in the case of inter-cell communications.

Beautiful Lego 2: Dark, by Mike Doyle. Not nearly as fascinating as the first one.

India: Journal of a Visit by Azriel Carlebach. Fantastic writing, but the moral relativism really annoyed me. Presenting the claim that women were burned with their dead husbands only out of their own choice, with no counter-argument, is the extreme example; but there were others.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. So very obviously written more for cinema than as a play, that it just hurts.
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