From the Archives Friday: The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus

I’ve been reading up a storm this summer, but it hasn’t really translated over to reviews, unfortunately. I’m about seven or eight reviews behind at this point and I’m not sure I’ll get them all written unless I have a sudden stroke of inspiration (not out of the question).



Title: The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus
Author: John Emsley
Genre: Nonfiction / science


Original rating: 4 / 5

Another book I checked out of the Santa Cruz library because I thought it looked interesting. I remember it as a fairly quick read with some good information.

What I remember about the book: Nothing stands out in terms of facts I learned at this distant remove (I read it about 10 years ago). I do remember taking notes from it at the time, which means I thought it was pretty interesting and had information worth remembering.

How I felt about it at the time: I liked it but it didn’t make that big of an impression, apparently.

How I feel about it now: I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about phosphorus. Beyond that, the writing and information don’t stand out to me enough for me to recommend it in a general sense.

Verdict: I’m going to lower my rating a bit. These days, a 4 star book is one that I really liked; often a 4 star book will be the best one I have read for a while. At the time, I said that this was an interesting book but I did have some criticisms for it, making me think it’s more likely a 3 star rather than a 4 star book.

Original rating: 4 / 5
Updated rating: 3 / 5

My original review under the cut.

Read More »

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Title: Yes Please
Author: Amy Poehler
Genre: Memoir / humor

Rating: 1 / 5


I knew this was going to be more of a “no thank you” before I even picked it up, but it was for book club. And, actually, it’s probably more accurately a “did not finish” book, because although I did get to the end of it, I just started skipping the chapters I knew I wasn’t going to like. I like Amy Poehler in some of the things I’ve seen her in, most notably Parks and Recreation, of which I watched…two seasons? Maybe? I’m not really a “fan.” And I don’t care about improv. I’m sure it’s great and more power to the people who love it and find themselves there–that’s awesome. But it’s also not something that particularly interests me, at least as told in the empty-memoir format, the kind where it’s like “here’s a story about George Clooney, here’s one about Seth Meyers, here’s one about Lorne Michaels.” And I’m like, first of all, I don’t care, and secondly, Lorne who? Yeah, yeah, I know, SNL producer, etc., but I don’t watch late night humor. I don’t really think it’s funny.

I did like the parts of the book where Poehler talks about her kids–that was super sweet. I also thought it was interesting that she’s really self-conscious about her looks, just because it shows how deep those insecurities go for women in our society. The part of the book where she details the saga of the whole making-fun-of-a-disabled-person-and-then-taking-years-to-apologize-while-still-defending-herself thing was the part that got the most discussion from our book club group. The general consensus was, “she still seems really defensive about that.” But mostly, with a book like this, about other people’s celebrity anecdotes, there is just not much to discuss. Her “advice” or “wisdom” or whatever was completely cliche (which is fine, a lot of the best stuff is), but also kind of throwaway and unmemorable. Hence, the book felt empty, and I didn’t really enjoy it. I think if you consider yourself a fan of hers, there is a much higher likelihood that you would enjoy it.

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder

Title: The Throwback Special
Author: Chris Bachelder
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 3.75ish / 5


I saw this one at my university library during a lull in my reading. “I like the font,” I thought to myself. “It looks short,” I considered. I checked it out.

And it was a good choice! Despite not ever having heard of the incident the title of this book refers to (Joe Theismann’s leg injury), or Joe Theismann himself–and actually I also have a complete lack of football knowledge–I still found a lot to enjoy here. I think this book was probably geared to a different audience, and people who are familiar with the things I listed in the previous sentence may get “extra” out of the book than I did, but knowledge of those things is definitely not a prerequisite to understanding the book or finding it meaningful.

Basically the premise is this: twenty-two men, mostly strangers to each other, meet every year at a hotel to re-enact what they call “The Throwback Special,” or that time Joe Theismann’s leg was horrifically injured. They travel from around the country, have a raffle to decide who plays who, suit up, take their positions, and the whole thing is over in about a minute. The men are middle aged, and I would say that that is what this book is about far more than anything else–masculinity, especially the growing-older sort, but it also highlights how it can be fragile, hostile, anxious, hilarious, weird, or just run-of-the-mill.

The book is short–224 pages, and they aren’t all that big to begin with–and with 22 characters, you can probably guess that not a lot is said about each. It can be hard to tell them apart, but my advice is not even to try–it’s really more about the insight into the individual than it is important to the plot. It’s like a series of tiny character studies, and it’s very well done. It’s a fun book, but it’s kind of melancholy as well. I definitely found it thought-provoking and am even considering it as a gift for my dad, someone with a similar level of interest in football as me (that is, none), because I know he would appreciate the writing style and the humor and the pathos. It’s a solid novel for such a short read, and I am glad I picked it up.

From the Archives Friday: The Pursuit of Oblivion

My plan is to eventually look at every book I’ve rated on Goodreads over the last several years, starting with last rated first and going up to the most recent book I reviewed. I’m hoping it will give a more accurate picture of the way I feel about the books I’ve read and help me identify which ones might be worth a reread.



Title: The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics
Author: Richard Davenport-Hines
Genre: Nonfiction / history


Original rating: 5 / 5

I read this book when I was 19; I got it out of the Santa Cruz library because I thought it looked interesting. As my original rating indicates, I thought it was very interesting! I remember being quite impressed with its extensive references at the back.

What I remember about the book: One of the things that really stands out for me almost 10 years after reading it is how the author argues that intoxication is a natural state for humans, who have used mind-altering substances for as far back in history as we can reach. It also talks about the history of the drug war(s), which is good information that I still think people should know.

How I felt about it at the time: I loved it! I remember it making a big impression at the time.

How I feel about it now: I still remember it fondly, as being informative as well as well-written and easy enough to engage with.

Verdict: I think I’m going to let my original rating stand for this one, especially because I think it is important information. I would be interested in rereading it at some point, although it’s definitely not a priority. I could do wish a refresher on some of the finer points of the history, I’m sure, but at this point I don’t think it would be eye-opening enough to justify its hundreds of pages.

Original rating: 5 / 5
Updated rating: 5 / 5

My original (four-sentence review) under the cut.

Read More »