Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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conversation with a customer

March 17, 2009

i worked my second to last shift today at bn.  sometimes customers can be the worst part of the day.  anyone who has worked in retail knows exactly what i’m talking about.  i don’t need a lecture about how the customers are the reason i’m there in the first place, or anything similar.  i am well aware that without customers retailers have no job.  i’m not talking about all customers, but every retailers knows what it’s like to have that one person who comes in, has had a bad day (or life), and decides that it’s his purpose in life to ruin the day of those he comes into contact with.

normally for every jerk like that there is the customer who catches you off guard and instead of being the customer mentioned above, they become the highlight of your day.  i had one of these today.  our conversation follows.

brad:  thank you for calling barnes and noble.  this is brad.  how can i help you?

older woman:  i’m looking for two books.  the first is “self improvement title a” and the second is “self improvement title b.”

brad:  it looks like i would have to order the second title, but the first title may be on hand.  let me put you on hold real quick and i’ll walk over to verify.

brad:  thanks for holding, i do have tha…

older woman:  no, thank YOU for picking up.  that music was horrible!

brad:  i’m sorry.  you didn’t like the music that was playing while you were on hold?

older woman:  no.  [with a hint of a smile in her voice] i didn’t like it, but i don’t like anything.  that’s why i need these books!

good times.

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alexander hamilton

August 7, 2008

i finally finished alexander hamilton by ron chernow the other night.  i’ve only been working on it for a couple of months now.  it takes a long time to read 735 pages about a man that you know only a little about.  it’s not like reading fiction you know.  plus, i haven’t had much time to devote to reading so i’ve been reading a couple of pages per night.  not exactly the quickest way to finish a book of this size.

now that i’ve avoided my complex and don’t have to worry about the internet community making fun of me because of how long it took me to read this book, i must say that i really enjoyed it.  i learned so much about hamilton and about the formation of the u.s.  i knew that he played a major role in the formation of the united states, but i had to idea to what extent.  holy crap!  so much of what we take for granted today, so much of what is just standard operating procedures, are his brainchildren.  not only that, but boy could he write.  i don’t know that i could write a 500 word blog post let alone the tomes that he was putting out.  oh well.  that’s why he was a founding father and i’m an assistant store manager.  i truely believe that every person living in this country should read a book on alexander hamilton.  maybe not this one – it’s a little long for the casual reader – but a book on hamilton.  he was such an important figure in shaping our nation and most don’t know anything about him.

my only critique is that chernow put in so much research (nearly 100 pages of footnotes) i wish he would have written more details and broken the bio into two 500 page volumes rather than one 750 pager.  it just felt like he tried to edit the content of this book to keep it in one volume.  there were some places where he cut a story off and ended it roughly with a quick sumation and a rushed conclusion rather that spending the time necessary to help the reader come to the same conclusions he did.  i don’t doubt much that i would have come to the same conclusions that he did, but if he did this much research and made the book this long, then just finish the job, give me the meat, and let me come to my own conclusions.

like i said, i really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who reads us history, revolution, founding fathers, or anyone interested in the history of capitalism in america.

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thomas jefferson: a life by willard sterne randall

April 15, 2008

instead of the usual, “i just finished” line that i start my reviews with, i must first confess that i finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but my busyness (or is that word just a lame excuse for laziness? you be the judge) has kept me from writing my review until now.

with that said, i finished thomas jefferson: a life by willard sterne randall.
i have many good things to say about this book. i am in the middle of a revolution and early american formation kick. anything covering this time period is something that i want to read. hopefully this doesn’t surprise you, but this book fits the bill. i thoroughly enjoyed this book, i recommend it, and at some point i will probably read it again.

randall writes in a style is very matter-of-fact. it is much more “old school history” in the sense that he obviously didn’t write it as if trying to write a story so enthralling that anyone would read and enjoy it. it’s written almost more in a text book style than a book targeted to mass audiences. in my opinion, too many authors write their historical accounts of times, people, and/or events in a style that they use to try to “transcend” genres so that readers who hate history because it is dry, boring, and nothing but dates and facts will want to read it. “readable” history is the trend right now (see mccullough, winik, brokaw, etc). that’s not a slam against those authors, that’s just their style. it’s also a style that has a broader appeal to readers, therefore selling more and increasing the royalties for the author and the sales for the publisher. the point i’m trying to make is that he seems to say “screw the masses. this book is for those who want to read history because it is facinating, not for those who want to read an interesting story only to find out it’s true.” anyways…

jefferson lived quite a life and randall gets it all in there. jefferson is such a fascinating character to me. he was so incredibly bright and talented. sorry that’s a bit of an understatement, he was absolutely brilliant. his mind moved faster and in more places that i can ever hope to steer mine. he was accomplished on so many levels, it astounds me. by the time he was my age, he had graduated with honors from william and mary, passed the bar exam, and had developed a large and wealthy client list, was considered a peer by lawyers who were twice his age and were well established within the legal community and within the virginia gentry. at the same time his flaws were almost as pronounced. the fact that he regularly denounced slavery, but never freed his own slaves (and would have been completely broke without them). one other thing i noticed is that he was so smart and so intelligent that whenever someone disagreed with him, he would get so frustrated. it would blow his mind that people could be so ignorant. he didn’t’ always stop to see where the other person was coming from and what shaped their opinions. of course, this isn’t a fault that is uniquely his. i find that the smarter we are as humans, the more upset we get when others disagree with us.

one thing i didn’t like about randall’s biography of jefferson is that reading through the pages, i got the feeling that he was a bit of a jefferson apologist. when randall approached difficult subjects with jefferson (slavery, sally hemmings) he seemed to almost discount them. when dealing with the slavery issue he tread very lightly and was very apologetic of jefferson’s behaviors and (sometimes) double standards. in terms of sally hemmings, he completely denounced the affair as impossible and totally unrealistic. while no one knows for sure if they did have an affair, no one knows for sure that they didn’t.

again, i enjoyed this book immensely and absolutely recommend it. for those who don’t know much about thomas jefferson, you have to read at least on biography about him. his life, his skills, his contradictions are so impressive and interesting that you will learn something new about him and about yourself. it’s definitely worth the time investment.

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the great upheaval by jay winik

February 27, 2008

i just finished the great upheaval by jay winik.

what a book! i picked up this book in part because i don’t know much about this era. i’ve read quite a bit on the founders, and know a little bit up until the constitution was ratified, but admittedly don’t know much about the 1790’s. i’ve known that is was an incredibly important time that did much to determine the sustainability of the republic, but haven’t taken the time to actually read about it.

this might be one of the most exciting books i’ve ever read. mr. winik goes to great lengths to show that the world, and it’s leaders, were as connected then as they are today. the only difference between then and now is the length of time it takes for messages to be sent back and forth now takes milliseconds instead of months. nevertheless, so many of the decisions that were made, were made in direct regard to what other world leaders were saying and doing. this title is classified as u.s. history and rightly so. it could, also, easily be placed in european history because the author puts so much effort into developing what happened in france, russia, and poland to give the reader the full perspective of what shaped the thoughts and decisions of washington, adams, and others.

if you are a history buff and you think you know quite a bit about the american experiment, but don’t know much about king louis xvi, robespierre, danton, marat, the jacobins, napoleon, catherine the great, potemkin, kosciuszko, this book simply is a must read.

i have not read mr. winik’s other book, april 1865, but have listened to his lecture on in in barnes & noble’s portable professor series. if you have any interest in the civil war, this is a must buy. it’s like auditing a college class. there’s no test at the end, but you get to sit in on the lecture. it is well worth the time and $30 invested. i just checked online and apparently it is now out of print. who knew? still, i’ll go ahead and recommend the whole series. if you see one that piques your interest, pick it up. you’ll be glad you did. if you’re really desperate for april 1865, send me a line and if the price is right, maybe you can wriggle mine free.

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quick hits

January 12, 2008
  • if you have a chance to play it, rock band for the xbox 360 is awesome. i thought i would hate it, but i don’t. it is so fun. or as strong bad would say on teen girl squad, [in crazy teen girl voices] “sooooooo fun.” check out our pictures in flickr for visual confirmation. my brother, scott, and his wife, megan, are totally rockin’ out! i
  • i am really liking mike huckabee. i haven’t officially endorsed him yet (as if that would actually persuade anyone to vote for him), but i am leaning in his direction. reasons:
    • he supports the fair tax plan. anyone who wants to do away with the irs is alright in my book. note: i actually do like the fair tax plan. to be fair, i haven’t studied it very closely, but what i have heard/read about it has left me with a VERY favorable impression.
    • he gives the state of arkansas a chance to balance out clinton.
    • he has absolutely embraced chuck norris. if chuck norris and god are for you, who can possibly be against you. note: if you haven’t seen the chuck norris book, the truth about chuck norris, you have to check it out. it is AMAZING!  go to barnes and noble, not the other b bookstore, not amazon. go to barnes and noble, have someone find the book for you, sit down with a coffee and read a few pages. if you think it’s funny, buy it. if not, leave it on the table and a bookseller will put it away for you. this book is worth the trip.
  • eric gordon is going to make lebron james look more like jonathan bender, not because he will have health problems, but Gordon will make james look like a pile of unrealized potential. gordon is so smooth, so under control, so…good. he has to work on his defense, especially transition defense, but at times he looks completely bored on offense. like shooting threes past the nba line is no harder than hitting free throws. look out nba. the next jordan will be arriving shortly.
  • i wish i had a ping pong table. i love ping pong, but i never get to play it. my birthday is coming up in feb. if you would like, you are more than welcome to buy me one. although, if i did have ping pong table, iwould have anyone to play with. ash doesn’t typically get in to that type of thing.
  • i’m reading the great upheaval by jay winik. i will admit it is taking me forever, but not because it’s not good, because i am learning so much about a time period that i know next to nothing about. also, because i don’t have a lot of time to read during the holidays. this book is great though. it’s incredible. simply put, i’m loving it! i’ll tell you all about when i’m done.
  • i think i might rename this entry, linktopia.
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an ordinary spy by joseph weisberg

December 18, 2007

i just finished an ordinary spy by joseph weisberg.

ordinary spy

i just finish this book last night. i really liked it. at first i had a hard time getting into it. it is written by a former cia operative. the manuscript had to be submitted to the cia for review and they cut out quite a lot. instead of editing the text to make it more pc, weisberg left the text as is with the redacted text blacked out. once i got used to it, i couldn’t put the book down.

the main character is a first tour case officer headed out to his first overseas assignment. where this is, i have no idea. it was redacted. while learning the ropes of his new station and working on making contacts, he gets involved with a woman who he was trying to recruit, tries to keep it secret, gets caught, then is finally sent home. while trying to figure out what he is going to do with his life, he gets a card with an address on it, nothing else. curiosity gets the best of him and he goes to find out what and who is at that address.

i almost didn’t finish this book. the redacted text drove me nuts. it’s hard to [blank] when you [blank blank blank] and [blank blank]. but once i got used to it, the book was much easier to read. i’m glad it kept going. it was worth it.

this is NOT your typical spy novel. most (vince flynn, ken follett, daniel silva, etc) spy novels are fast-paced and full of action. an ordinary spy is much more realistic. there is more intrigue than action, more trade craft than torture. it has the feel of an intelligent read more than an exciting read.

my only read beef with the book comes at the end. i thought that the ending displayed a bit of the author’s lack of imagination. i felt it was so predictable that i was surprised when i read it. maybe that was what he intended, but i could definitely go for a rewrite of the ending.

although i was disappointed in the ending, i will never not recommend a book’s first 260 pages just because i didn’t like the last ten. i would certainly recommend this title. i’ll make sure it gets on to a good display in the store and i’m sure we’ll sell a couple. if you enjoy espionage/intrigue novels, this is worth your time.

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deception by john altman

December 4, 2007

so, last night i finished deception by john altman.

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i have read his first two books and enjoyed them immensely.  this one however left me bored, disappointed, and, at a couple of points, confused.  i finished the book because that’s what i do.  once i start a book, i have to finish it.  it helped that this book was only 260 pages, so it’s not like it took me too long to finish.

this main character in this title is a 30ish woman, hannah gray, from chicago who just broke up with her boyfriend after realizing that she had been helping him embezzle money from the company they work for.  to clear her head (and hopefully avoid the feds) she forges a passport and goes on a history cruise in the Mediterranean.  while on the cruise she meets an elderly couple who she begrougenly becomes friendly with to avoid questions of why she is on the cruise alone.  the elderly woman gives hannah a book to read to better understand the places that they will visit.  the woman, however, has given hannah a book that has an ultra secret formula that her scientist husband is trying to hide from his employers, who are trying to kill him to gain access to said formula.  events unfold from there.  hannah is whipped up in action that she could never have imagined that she would be wrapped up in.

altman never took enough time to fully develop his characters, especially the secondary characters.  after the first couple of chapters, you get to know hannah pretty well, along with another character, keyes.  beyond those two, i never felt that i knew the characters that i was supposed that pushed along the action.

he also didn’t develop the plot very well.  it felt as though altman tried to be vague, especially at the beginning, in order to build suspense.  however, i felt he was too vague and instead wasn’t never really able to hook me into the story.

this was by no means the worst book i’ve ever read.  it wasn’t terrible, but i felt incredibly disappointed considering how much i liked his first two books.  on bn.com, one customer/reviewer gave it four stars and in his “other recommendations” he listed the davinci code.  recommending something and using the line “it’s similar to the davinci code” is code for “i think you’re an idiot and if i say the book was like the code, then you will undoubtedly pick it up because you are stupid.”