Townhouse Books

Monday, March 24, 2008

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison

Did you know that Augusten Burroughs has a brother with Asperger's Syndrome? After people responded to Burroughs' descriptions of his brother in Running with Scissors, John Elder Robison decided to write his own memoir. If you've read any of Temple Grandin's books, Robison's writing style will seem familiar. His matter-of-fact tone in describing his life stays the same whether he's relating a memory of his father putting out a cigarette on his brother's forehead, or Ace Frehley of KISS offering him a job designing guitars. He left home at age 16, lived in the woods, fixed amps for Pink Floyd, designed toys for Milton Bradley, married twice, and had one son.

Robison was never diagnosed with Asperger's until much later in life, when he had capitalized on his savant-like skills and become a business owner. His experiences have been remarkable, but it is emotional and financial security that he values. In that respect, his diagnosis has given him the vocabulary he needs to describe how he sees the world, and to ask others to treat him as he wishes to be treated.

I was really moved by this book. There are so many people out there who fall on the spectrum between autism and high-functioning Asperger's syndrome -- Robison's patience and courage in sharing his gifts and limitations could make life better for many others who can't express themselves at this level.


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Monday, February 18, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale: Diane Setterfield

Rainy day reading! Setterfield is a former academic specializing in French literature. Her first novel is a complicated tangle of stories, featuring two sets of twins, two spooky old houses, and two tragic nights.

The narrator is an amateur biographer who is summoned to the home of England's most famous contemporary author to hear the never-before-told story of the author's childhood. The author draws the narrator with two pieces of information: first, that she is dying and wants the truth to be known, and second, that her story involves twins. As the surviving half of a pair of conjoined twins, the narrator feels compelled to stay and listen.

Setterfield does a wonderful job of mingling the old story with the new, making both equally vivid through the voice of the narrator and the voice of the dying author. Their conversations are fascinating, especially as they get to know each other better. At one point the old lady asks the young woman this question: if all of the copies of your favorite novels were headed down a conveyor belt towards an incinerator with a living person operating the switch, and you could only stop the process by shooting him, would you do it? She describes the process: first a Jane Austen novel is lost to the world, then the copies of Jane Eyre start slipping away. The narrator refuses to answer, but in her heart (and her narrative) she admits the truth -- she loves books better than she loves people.


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Monday, December 03, 2007


So I've decided that all the Christmas presents I give this year will be handmade. As a result, I've bought and checked out a few books on quilting and sewing. From there, I discovered an amazing variety of crafty blogs, and have been amazed at the level to which the authors of the books I've read put their lives on the internet. (The only other personal blog I read is

Bend-The-Rules Sewing is an awesome project book with great, simple instructions. Amy Karol blogs at Angry Chicken and adds lots of healthy cooking tips and parenting observations to her craft updates and tutorials.

Simple Sewing by Lotta Jansdotter is absolutely gorgeous -- Scandanavian design applied to simple sewing projects for the home. I made an apron, a purse, and an oven mitt from this book and she was absolutely honest about the skill level and time involved. Jansdotter has a textile line, and you can see a video tour of her design studio at Apartment Therapy.

I have a few things on my "to get" list based on the quality of their internet-based tutorials. I read Soule Mama almost daily, and she has a book coming out this spring called The Creative Family: How to Encourage Creativity and Nurture Family Connections. The Purl Bee is the blog associated with the Purl knitting & quilting supply shop in New York. The owner, Joelle Hoverson, just put out a book called Last Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts. She has offered a few projects from the book for Martha Stewart readers and viewers and the framed fabric project has been showing up all over.

These authors share a set of sewing skills that used to be highly valued but have fallen out of fashion. When I was growing up, we always had handmade quilts on our beds. The thing that I find interesting about these quilters is that their design aesthetic is nothing like the country-kitschy quilt shops that I remember my mom dragging me to throughout my childhood. If you're interested in starting to do handmade projects, any one of these books would be a great starting point.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

To build a cathedral

Anyone ever read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett?

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Path of Minor Planets: Andrew Sean Greer

The lives and loves and tragedies of a handful of astronomers, their spouses, friends, and children. A window to their lives is open to the reader every 7 years or so whenever the comet, discovered in 1965 by two of the professors, reaches perihelion or aphelion, and you see how the decisions the characters made or actions they did or did not take have played out. The book opens at a gathering of them all on a small South Pacific island to view the comet's passing, and a death changes things for them all.

It's a somewhat sad, almost suspenseful, yet solid novel; I didn't stay up late dying to see how it ended, but found myself quietly drawn to the book each night. I'd read Greer's "The Confessions of Max Tivoli" and, though delighted by that story, I was even more thrilled with the prose. I look forward to his next book.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

World War Z by Max Brooks

Go read this right now! You'll never look at your house, government, or military the same way.

World War Z was presented to me as a "quick sci-fi read about when zombies take over". The book is much, much more. It's structured as an oral history, with short (1-4 pages) interviews of people from all over the world, describing the near take-over of the planet by zombies (infected with a virus that reanimates the dead). The story arcs from the first outbreak in China through the insidious spread of infection, botched government responses, and humanity's eventual breakdown into the Great Panic and subsequent retreat.

What struck me, repeatedly, was the truly spectacular world-building Brooks performs. When I say interviewees are from all over the world, I mean from Brazil to China to Cuba to Australia to Russia to India to Iran to... everywhere. Not only does Brooks trace the spread of this virus, but also the social and economic fallout particular to each area of the world. In other worlds, he illustrates, via his tapestry of interviewees, the vastly different experiences in each part of the world.

I'd be curious what someone with more of a military background than I thinks of the book. As the story goes on, you learn more and more about the successful (and unsuccessful!) planning and tactics employed by various countries around the world. You learn about the different strategies necessary for different environments. You learn about the effects of psychological stress on exhausted soldiers. And so on.

Also impressive is Brooks' development of different voices for each interviewee. His prose isn't flashy, but it's effective, and makes an effort to vary the vacabulary and pacing with each character. The structure is also impressive. While the book is a tad choppy at times (as a globe-spanning narrative might be), there is a general, unifying chronological thread. Events brought up in one interview are touched and sometimes even expanded upon in subsequent interviews.

So... whew! I really loved this book. Not sure why it's so compelling for me right now, but partially because I can just see events unfolding the way they do in the book. Because we, as a people, suck.


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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Books we've reviewed

This post is a placeholder while everyone decides if this idea is valid.

Click on the name of a contributor below to get a listing of all the posts they have created.

* bshort
* hilary
* jch1530
* evt1618
* Jason
* Anna
* lemurcrazed
* a.rust
* William
* peaboto

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