Friday, December 31, 2010

My top 10 books of 2010.

In the order I read them

The End Of Alice - (2/28) - A.M. Homes 272p

The Things They Carried - (4/10) - Tim O'Brien 256p

A Gate at the Stairs - (5/7) - Lorrie Moore 336p

The Help - Kathryn Stockett 5/5 stars (audio)

Super Sad True Love Story - (6/6) - Gary Shteyngart - 352p

Gone with the Wind - (9/26) - Margaret Mitchell 860p

Little Bee - (9/30) - Chris Cleave 304p

Room - (10/9) - Emma Donoghue 336p

Lolita - (12/10) - Vladimir Nabokov 336p

Columbine - (12/19) - Dave Cullen 464p

I read a total of 50 books, listened to 21 on audio. My complete list can be found here

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Swamplandia! - Karen Russell

At first you won't suspect that this book is going dark places. It has an edge to it for sure, but I was caught off guard toward the latter part of the book. Fortunately for me, I like dark books.

It's an original tale with quirky settings and characters. There is some outstanding writing, and many laugh out loud moments. At times, it reminded me of Geek Love. Russell successfully sucks you into her world. But like the gators which are wrestled with in the book, sometimes she lets you go.

I struggled a bit with the pacing of the novel; found it very uneven. It would be slow going for a while, and then it would pick up and I would think, 'yay! here we go', and then she'd would sort of veer off on an historical footnote or some other detail which didn't add much to the story. Some of that felt like filler. 40 or 50 less pages, and this would been a 5-star read for me.

It was fun, unique, funny and dark. This also seems like it might be really good on audio.

Incidentally, for some reason this book keeps being affiliated with David Foster Wallace, and suggestions like "buy together with Infinite Jest", or tag with Tennis? I'm guessing it has something to do with both authors short story collections, and I'm not curious enough to do a lot of research about it. Those associations should in no way affect your buying decision of this book positively or negatively. The writing and story telling is nothing like DFW or IJ.

4 out of 5 gators in the swamp

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Columbine - Dave Cullen

Among Eric's final words (on video) to his parents, he quoted Shakespeare "Good wombs have borne bad sons."

The first question we need to ask: Is it important to know understand what happened at Columbine? I think that answer is yes.

This isn't sensationalized rubbernecking, there's a LOT of valuable information here.

Mistakes were made and instead of coming clean, the media and the police kept perpetuating the false truths until they became reality. What I remember about Columbine, I've learned, is vastly different than what really happened. Why is it important to know that? Because it gives us some context for what we see and hear in the future. The media doesn't care if they get it right, they only care that they get it. Period. We have the right (and an obligation) to question what they tell us.

Psychology in this book is fascinating. Not just Dylan and Eric, but everybody. Witness reaction, survivor reaction, parental reaction, police reaction, public reaction.

Religion made a mad dash for the spotlight in the wake of Columbine. It certainly features prominently in this book. A clinging to faith, a begging for comfort and understanding; some even begging to live. Ultimately, at least according to this book, no lasting changes occurred.

It's hard to "love" this book, but it's definitely a solid 4.5 star read. I liked what he did with the time lines. It saved the reader from being constantly slammed in the face with the massacre and grief. There is some nice dispassionate analysis. I liked that.

The author has clearly arrived at some conclusons as the years have passed, which show through in the book. His impressions may be completely accurate; he's lived with the evidence. Since I haven't read the evidence myself, I can't hang my hat on it being an ultimate truth, but it seems to make sense. There were occasional strange choices in the narrative. Trying to use a "teen" voice. It didn't work and was kind of undermining to his expertise. A minor quibble.

This is an important book, one every parent should read. We can all spin this however we like, but Dylan and Eric had seemingly normal upbringings. The bottom line is this - They weren't your kids, but they could have been.

There's a Hemingway quote toward the end "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

May we never have to break this way again.


(I modified this review slightly after originally posting.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas - Lewis Black

Spoiler Alert - Lewis Black is Jewish

Wait? What? A Christmas book? Told by a Jewish guy? Oh the irony. The hilarity!

Or not so much. It was like the concept was the entertainment, and content be darned.


Let me just say this: I enjoy the comedy of Lewis Black. And, very often, I AGREE with him. I agreed with the a lot of what he had to say in this book, but I felt like the whole time he was preparing me to disagree ("you might want to stop reading now", "did I offend you? Too Bad"). Arguing with me, when I hadn't voiced the merest of objections. If I didn't know what I was getting into, I wouldn't have listened; so quit yelling at me.

Speaking of yelling, I know that's his shtick, but I'm surprised this dude has not had a heart attack and keeled over during one of his routines.

There were some briefly funny moments, but mostly it was his typical views on the state of the world, with some awkward Christmas tie-ins. I felt like it was a bunch of filler, peppered with numerous unnecessary mentions of the fact that he is, in fact, Jewish.

The only real stroke of brilliance in this was his "Carol of the Bells" redux. Since I listened on audio, I actually heard him "sing" it and I do recommend checking it out. But you can find that YouTube and save yourself some time and money. This book just wasn't very good.

2 mentions of being Jewish would have been enough, out of 5