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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Finder, Joseph: Power Play | Main | Geng, Steve: Thick as Thieves »

Alda, Alan, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself

  

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Random House © 2007, 224 pages [amazon]
4.5 stars

Nearly dying from an intestinal blockage in 2003 had a profound effect on Alan Alda. It brought him a second life and, with it, a first book, his bestselling memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (see my review), published in 2005. Happily, Alda's appetite for introspection, intensified by his near-death experience, was not satisfied by the one foray into autobiography. He was moved to write Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself as a means of answering a question that had begun pricking at him. After leaving death behind in a Chilean hospital, along with three feet of intestine, Alda began to wonder whether he had lived a meaningful life and to ask himself, more generally, what constitutes a meaningful life.

[INSET TEXT: He seamlessly weaves a handful of stories around the quotes--the author being slapped as a four-year-old for off-color humor and upstaged by a quarterback a decade later; picket lines and cigarette ads and Bert Convy's heroics.] The title of Alda's book alludes to the approach he adopted in trying to come up with an answer to that question. Alda dug up speeches he had delivered on various occasions over the years, talks which he'd attempted to infuse with some wisdom pertinent to the occasion. Many of these speeches were delivered at commencement ceremonies, but Alda also talked to historians at Monticello and to psychiatrists at Cornell. He spoke at a ceremony honoring Simon Wiesenthal. He delivered eulogies for Ozzie Davis and Peter Jennings and Anne Bancroft. He spoke over the grave of his grandchildren's dead rabbit.

Alda structures the book around excerpted passages from these speeches, but Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself is by no means wholly or even primarily a collection of excerpts. Rather, Alda uses the excerpts as writing prompts, wrapping stories from his life around them. In one chapter, for example, Alda excerpts passages from a talk he delivered at Emerson College in 1977 on the subject of living up to one's values. He seamlessly weaves a handful of stories around the quotes--the author being slapped as a four-year-old for off-color humor and upstaged by a quarterback a decade later; picket lines and cigarette ads and Bert Convy's heroics. As we saw in his first book, Alda has a smooth storytelling style that transports the reader. Once he begins on a reminiscence--traveling on the Orient Express, meeting his agent, biting his mother's watch--the pages turn themselves.

Insofar as they interrupt the flow of the narrative, Alda's excerpted speeches--if arguably the raison d'être of the book--are actually its weakest part. One feels less of a connection with the author when reading them, perhaps because we are not in fact their intended audience: he didn't write the speeches for us, after all, but for a specific audience on a specific occasion.

What, then, makes for a meaningful life? Alda has found his answer, and it's unlikely to surprise readers unless they're living the life of Lindsay Lohan. But arriving at the answer will surely not be the point for most of us. As in life, so with a good book: it's the going, not the getting there that's good.*

*Phrase borrowed from Harry Chapin's Greyhound.

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Comments

1.

Nice new look! I like the three-column format on this blog; looks more natural.

2.

Thanks, Heather! Yeah, I'm very glad I made the change. The three columns allows for a lot more flexibility. Plus the old design was just too dark. Of course, given my obsession with template tweaking, this will surely not be the last change....

Thanks for stopping by again! I don't know that I've seen any overlap yet in our book reviews.

3.

Great review Debra - makes me want to read it immediately - I've always had a high regard for Mr Alda.

4.

Thank you, Clare. That means a lot coming from you. (Did you run it by Dr. Grump? She, I imagine, is a formidable critic.)




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.