Recently Read Books

Generation Kill by Evan Wright

The Third (a guy at work) gave me this to read after I mentioned how much ass I thought the HBO miniseries kicked. That’s right: I read the book after I watched the show. My brother would be proud. The book offers more information than is conveyed in the miniseries, but not much. That said, it’s not a waste of time to read it if you’ve already seen it on TV.

The book is somewhat controversial. Some members of the Marine Corps say Wright is lying out of his ass in a sensational manner, yet he contends all that is written is true. As the son of 2 parents with over 20 years military experience each, I have heard a shitload of stories about officers higher up in the chain of command being worthless, and having been promoted out of the way.

The real truth lies somewhere in between. Wright’s book is an attempt to make the alien world of Recon Marines at war as accessible and understandable as possible to his civilian readers. At that task, I say he succeeds. Sure, it’s trite, but this one is a real page-turner.

4.5

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I love this guy’s TV show. He goes everywhere on earth, eats a ton of weird shit, and usually finds the best food around. He has a passion for food that I will never understand, and he doesn’t give a shit if you care or not. He’s brash. He drinks a lot. He cusses a lot. He smokes a lot. He eats a lot. And he’s a badass chef.

What’s not to like about this guy? Also: He’s a pretty good writer.

He claims he wrote the book for other chefs & cooks, never expecting “civilians” to read it. I call bullshit on that. In parts, it’s heavy on insider wink-nod and industry jargon, yet at the same time presented such that someone who isn’t a kitchen veteran understands through inference or context. Other times, it’s so blatantly pandering to us “reg’lar folk” that we miss the cleverly hidden send-up or inside joke.

It takes a certain kind of passionate weirdo to do what he does (or did). I like weirdos.

4

Recently Read Book

The Whole Truth by David Baldacci

Thrilling international intrigue? Yeah, for the most part.

This book shares two things with Nelson DeMille’s “Wild Fire” (reviewed here). 1) Both books hinge on a concept seemingly contrived by the tinfoil hat brigade. 2) The real-world existence of this concept is adamantly argued in each author’s respective after-word. Like I said before: Pandering to the paranoid brings in the cash, apparently.

That said, Baldacci’s premise is actually somewhat conceivable, even if his characters are not. As far as “perception management” and the creation of truth are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that News Corp. isn’t the entity after which the book’s collective antagonist is modeled.

But the Indestructible Double Agent? The Tragic Hero Journalist? The Surly-yet-Ultimately-Supportive Handler? It is fiction, and I don’t think Baldacci made any attempt to conjure these characters as anything but… given their luck and traits.

As long as you go into this book knowing it’s a fantastic yet melancholy super-hero story, you’ll probably enjoy it.

But the ending is kind of stupid.

3.5

Recently Read Books

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Amazon says it’s 400 pages long, but I cannot substantiate this claim. I could not make it past page 48.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s entirely my wife’s fault that we’ve taken to growing tomatoes and basil on the deck and patronizing local farmers’ markets, but I must admit that the produce simply tastes better than the shit you get at the supermarket. I’m on board with this whole “localvore” and “support your local growers” dirt-worshiping-hippie culture; I really am.

But this book. Ugh. Preachy and overblown. I have a theory that the key to successful advocacy is making information about your “cause” accessible to laymen. Using 43 fancy-schmancy words to convey an idea which requires 12 simple ones is not the way to go. Plus, it just makes you sound like an insufferably sanctimonious fuckhead.

0.5

John Dies at the End by David Wong

I bought this book not knowing that you can read the whole thing online, if you so choose. The basic premise is: Two guys, aided by a psychotropic drug, fight the forces of evil somewhere in the Midwest, as well as in parallel universes. Also: Lots of dick jokes.

There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on in this book. It’s like “Slither”-style excessive gore meets “Shaun of the Dead”-style comedy in the face of terror.

I loved it.

4

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Take some of the better-known Greek gods and goddesses living together in London, then throw in a couple of Scrabble-obsessed “mortals” to complicate the Olympians’ lives. This book is a quick read, and is somewhat entertaining. Look elsewhere for intellectual stimulation. This tale? She’s a vapid one. If this were to be made into a movie, it would star Lisa Kudrow. Maybe Ben Stiller will make it funny for TV?

2.5

Recently Read Book

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Previously, I gave “The Kite Runner” 4.5 zombie heads. That was a good story. Heartbreak, regret, redemption. This one? Meh.

It’s a brief history of modern-day Afghanistan featuring people beating the shit out of each other, either physically or emotionally. The first 80% builds the characters and relationships pretty well, even if it’s difficult (for me) to relate to them. Then, it’s as if Hosseini discovered he didn’t know what to do with them, so he rushes through the remaining 20% tying up the loose ends he’s created. There’s no “emotional reward” for the reader; it’s *bing* this happens, *bam* here’s an effortless concept, *boom* you’re done… buy my next one, too.

Skip it.

3

Recently Read Book

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

976 pages of 12th century England. Sound like a snorer? It’s not. Looking for historical accuracy and/or a more reliable dissertation on the political discord between the church and ruling class? Look elsewhere… this book is fictional, and makes no claim to the contrary (fucking snobby-ass Amazon nerds). I’ve never read Follett before, so I can’t make any comparisons to his other works. This one is a good read, though, and it surely doesn’t feel like it’s almost a thousand pages. I can’t say the same about Cryptonomicon, despite it being one of my absolute favorites.

3.5

Recently Read Book

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

That’s right… the zombie war… an epidemiological nightmare pandemic that spawns millions of un-dead, cannibalistic motherfuckers. How awesome is that? As it was a global catastrophe, the only way Brooks could have conjured the magnitude of it all… was exactly the way he wrote it. The unnamed, first-person narrator works for the U.N. Postwar Commission Report, and travels around the globe interviewing survivors, chronicling their memories as record.

Gregg suggested this one. I will continue to accept his recommendations as nearly bullet-proof.

4.5

Recently Read Book

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This book was an entertaining read, and provided a well-researched, historical glimpse into circus life in the Depression era. Above all, it’s a love story… but with carnies, freaks, a masturbating midget (!) and animals.

The final pages reveal an unexpected twist, but–ultimately–a hokey denouement.

3.5

Recently Read Book

Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

This book is a follow-up to his novel Night Fall, which previously earned 4 zombie heads. I ripped through it in 2 days over the holiday break at the in-laws’.

As with Night Fall, this book features many of the same characters (including the protagonist, naturally), and the plot device is essentially the same: One particular NYPD cop (retired) works for some anti-terrorism task force, and he becomes privy to hints of some deep-dark government secrets, which he absolutely must investigate. Sure, it’s fodder for all those conspiracy-theorist nutbags, but it’s fiction. It doesn’t help that the author does very little to dissuade said whackjobs, and even hints at the possibility of real-world parallels to his plot.

I guess that shit sells books.

If the premise was anywhere near believable, would the author have to drop a bit of wink-wink-nudge-nudge in the prologue? Absolutely not; his novel would establish that on its own. It’s exactly this pretense of plausibility that makes me knock off a couple of points.

If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief (hard to do given the above), it’s still a pretty good read.

3

Recently Re-read Book

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

As I’d previously exhausted the available reading material in the house–that wasn’t some namby-pamby chick lit–I went back to an old favorite.

The link goes to the paperback, but I have the hardcover. Nevertheless, this 900+ page tome was my first exposure to Stephenson, urged upon me by the throng of comment-geeks at Slashdot back in the day. Since then, I’ve read 5 other Stephenson books: In the Beginning… was the Command Line, The Big U, The Diamond Age, Zodiac, and Snow Crash–this latest can convincingly be argued as the inspiration for Stephen King’s Cell, if not a blatant rip-off.

Either way, I must admit that Stephenson has become one of my favorite authors. It should come as no surprise, then, that Cryptonomicon gets:

5

Recently Listened-to Book

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

This was the (unabridged) audiobook that Erin and I agreed to purchase offa’ ITMS for our 13 hour round-trip to her aunt’s place in North Carolina for Thanksgiving.

Despite the information proffered by The Foof w/r/t Showtime’s serial (ha!) titled “Dexter”–based on this book and its sequels–yet never having watched an episode… I can only imagine that the show must be a heaping lump of shit…

… when compared to this book.

The show must be awesome.

4.5