Book Reviews 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

I’ve started using Shelfari to organize some of my reading. You may have noticed the widget in the sidebar with books I’m reading. For fun, I thought I’d just copy over my reviews from that site over here every once in a while. Two reasons:

1. I’m still kind of mildly uncomfortable putting thoughts into sites like Shelfari. Maybe it’s a fear that they’ll drop dead one day and I’ll loose my notes. So might as well duplicate them on my own server.

2. It’s as much of a snapshot as to what’s on my mind as anything, so I might as well toss those notes onto this jumbled scrapbook, as well.

A side effect of using Shelfari has been that it’s hooked into my OCD need to mark things “complete” which has given me a little extra juice to finish books I might otherwise drift away from. And having the widget on my blog gives me a little extra kick to pick up and read new books in lieu of other time-killing hobbies like whipping up on junior high schoolers in Modern Warfare 2 or spending hours mindlessly poking around Reddit.

(This isn’t everything I’ve read this year, to note.)

Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

“A very good read, and despite being 20 years old (or so) quite illuminating as to our current financial crisis.” ✭✭✭✭✭

Columbine by David Cullen

“I hadn’t thought too much about the Columbine massacre since first hearing about it and then around the time Bowling for Columbine came out. I enjoyed this book, though (as much as one can enjoy the story of something so horrible). Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are painted in very vivid colors and Dave Cullen does, for the first time that I’ve heard, really get to the core cause of the tragedy. And very interesting to hear about the effect on the community over time.” ✭✭✭✭✭

The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante

“One of the few Fante books I haven’t read. It’s good. Like the other Arturo Bandini books it’s tense and tightly wound, the fantasies of a young writer ramming up against the indignities of real life.” ✭✭✭✭✭

Chuck Klosterman IV by Chuck Klosterman

“Fun. Like sugary cereal or a donut.” ✭✭✭✭✭

The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe

“David Plouffe is a good writer and even though I followed this election pretty closely, I enjoyed hearing the events strung together into a narrative from his perspective. It’s an exciting read (despite knowing the outcome!) and, as always, Obama’s an inspiring guy.” ✭✭✭✭✭

When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish by Martin Gardner

“I grew up reading Martin Gardner’s math books. Loved ‘em. So I was excited to give his new collection a shot. And it has a few good essays. I enjoyed learning about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum and the poem Evolution (from where the title of the book comes). And I’m always game for a good thrashing of Ann Coulter. Sadly, though, the math chapters were way too elementary and have been covered by Gardner himself on many occasions. And the chapters dealing with faith and skepticism are so basic and so much like shooting fish in barrels that I started skipping them altogether. So. I think this book might be wonderful for a high school student, but there’s just not really enough there for an adult reader. I still have great respect for Martin Gardner, but either I’ve outgrown him or this isn’t his greatest effort. Possibly a combination.” ✭✭✭✩✩

Final Thoughts

Lots of 5-star reviews, right? I guess two factors are at play: Since I don’t read that much, I tend to be highly selective about which books I’ll even crack open. And I think I have pretty decent “book radar” as far as selecting good reads. Especially with authors like Michael Lewis and John Fante who I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Oh, and I tried for the second time in my life to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this summer. And you know what? It’s not for me, I’m pretty sure. I gave up about halfway through. Too much effort. Not enough payoff. Which is sad, because it has some truly amazing sections. But I just lost the energy/will to dig through DFW’s massive, dense disgorgement to pick out the diamonds. So it goes. Maybe I’ll resume next summer.