Right off the bat, I will state that "Columbine" is one of the most riveting, fascinating, heartbreaking and revolting works of non-fiction you will e...moreRight off the bat, I will state that "Columbine" is one of the most riveting, fascinating, heartbreaking and revolting works of non-fiction you will ever read.
What sets "Columbine" apart from all of the investigative reporting done during the aftermath of perhaps the most notorious school shooting in US history is Dave Cullen's skillful ability to cut through the mythology and hysteria surrounding the entire event. Many of the myths that were accepted as "fact" - that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were bullied loners who sought revenge against the jocks and the elites of Columbine - are irrevocably shattered. Utilizing countless pages and hours of testimony from survivors and others directly involved in the school shooting, including the infamous "Basement Tapes" recorded by Harris and Klebold just days before their rampage, Cullen paints in vivid detail the story of how an idyllic suburb suddenly became a buzzword for everything that was bad about everything; high school, parents, gun control, religion, etc.
Cullen smartly deflects the blame cast on Harris and Klebold's parents. If anything, the journals those two kept demonstrate teenagers have a tremendous capacity to mask their true feelings in the face of authority. In Eric Harris' case, he masked a case of classic textbook psychopathy; no amount of intervention or psychological evaluation could have revealed both his lack of empathy towards others and his massive superiority complex, both which led him to eventually conclude that he was indeed like a God, ready to enact his wrath on a world he deemed too stupid and lazy to live. Klebold, on the other hand, was, on the surface, just melancholy, but hid suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and saw his own death as the only way of truly achieving any peace and tranquility in his life. Apart, the deadly rampage at Columbine may never have taken place; together, with Harris' cold-blooded planning and Klebold's eagerness, Columbine became all but inevitable.
There is blame to be cast, and the villain0 of this story is the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. Their incompetence during the shooting and after inadvertently gave rise to much of the hostility and mythology that took place during the aftermath of the shooting.
Regardless of all the details, Dave Cullen, on every page, painted a masterful image of the human tragedy that was Columbine. We became riveted with what Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold unleashed upon Columbine on April 20, 1999; Cullen reminds us that it's the "who" and the "why" of this event that gave it the gravity it deserved.
"Columbine" is recommended ready for everyone. Everyone.(less)
Okay, you can stop now. Seriously. Just stop it, already. Stop being such a fucking great writer, so great that desperate wannabes lik...moreDear Junot Diaz,
Okay, you can stop now. Seriously. Just stop it, already. Stop being such a fucking great writer, so great that desperate wannabes like me read your work, have poured over every word, and think, "There's no way we can top The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," but, no: not only do you top it, you throw one serious shit-hammer of a curveball, thereby rendering me as both a reader and a writer completely helpless. How am I supposed to react to this? How am I supposed to live in a world where not only do you write exactly what I hope for in a writer, you're writing exactly what I'm thinking.
I mean, where you reading my mind when you wrote The Cheater's Guide to Love? Who's your source? Confess, puto.
Alright, I'll stop. I can't give This is How You Lose Her the justice and highest of praise it deserves. All I will say is that you'll be hard pressed to read a gut-wrenching, brutally honest, painfully confessional, and outright hilarious short story such as the one you'll read called The Cheater's Guide to Love. Not joking here.
Let's state the obvious: Junot Diaz is a fucking rock star. And I'll follow his ass to Valhalla.(less)
New York City, mid-1970's. The whole place is falling apart. Crime is rampant, the city teeters on complete financial bankruptcy. Things just aren't l...moreNew York City, mid-1970's. The whole place is falling apart. Crime is rampant, the city teeters on complete financial bankruptcy. Things just aren't looking good for the Big Apple. Yet from the state of emergency comes a phenomenally vibrant and highly influential wave of music whose influence still resonates today. The punk scene that emerged from CBGB's; the explosion of Latin music as performed by the Fania All-Stars; experimental forays into jazz and classical music; the emergence of disco from the underground clubs to the mainstream; the birth of hip-hop from the slums of the South Bronx. You name it, it happened here.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire (the title cribbed from a Talking Heads song, is a loving, exhaustively researched chronicle of a five-year period of the New York music culture, a time frame from which some of the most enduring, shocking, controversial, and astonishing music ever came. Will Hermes, who himself hails from Queens (School of Hard Knocks!), offers his own oral history on how the music influenced him and his future as a music journalist; one can clearly see how the variety of music heard on every street corner during that time deeply seared into his very soul, and that's no exaggeration.
The portrait of NYC in the 1970's does seem like it's passing by so fast, and with good reason: the entire scene simply exploded, hurtling itself into both the mainstream and the underground at the speed of light. There's no time to breath while reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, because everything happens so fast, you're forced to catch up. No matter, though, because it's all exhilarating nonetheless.
The cast of characters in Love Goes to Buildings on Fire reads like a musical Who's-Who: the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, Blondie, Lou Reed, Philip Glass, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, Television, Laurie Anderson, Eddie Palmieri, Anthony Braxton, and so many more. Their stories are told with great detail, their influence easy to define.
A highly recommended read for music historians, and anyone who has a jones for what may be the greatest music scene ever.(less)
(Hmm...this was sitting in my "Currently Reading" shelf, even though I'd finished this one almost a year ago...)
It's generally agreed upon - well, at...more(Hmm...this was sitting in my "Currently Reading" shelf, even though I'd finished this one almost a year ago...)
It's generally agreed upon - well, at least by lit snobs everywhere - that Moby Dick is one of the greatest novels ever written. I'll concede this opinion to be mostly true.
I'll spare you the details: you pretty much know it's about some crazy captain named Ahab who harbors a deliriously obsessive grudge against a white whale named - wait for it - Moby Dick that nom nom nom-ed his leg. Ahab's a little fuckin' nuts. Oh, and some dude named Ishmael narrates the story. Ishmael's a bit long winded; Twitter would have confounded him greatly.
Alright, so let's nitpick. Truth be told, Moby Dick has aged about as gracefully as a novel written in the 1850s would have, which is to say, not very well. At over 600 pages, about 350 of which is nothing more than scientific and technical jargon, and not to mention some well-intentioned but hilariously racist meditations on the "savages" aboard the Pequod that would make even the most hardened white supremacist blush, Moby Dick suffers from some pacing problems. And, yeah, Ishmael just never seems to want to get to the point. Mildly irritating, really. After a while, you're just like, "DUDE, WILL YOU FUCKING GET ON WITH IT ALREADY?"
But when Moby Dick does take off, and my word, it does, the novel soars, racing through the chop and bluster of the high South Pacific seas, knocking you to and fro. Mind you, I read this poolside at a Miami Beach hotel (as one does when they've chosen something as light and fluffy as Moby Dick as their Summer Read), sweat glistening off my chest, a sturdy and VERY BOOZY pina colada in my free hand...yet there I was, shivering, at the edge of the pool chair, enthralled by the thrill of the chase. Heady, masculine stuff.
Look, Moby Dick really isn't everyone's cup of tea. I struggled through it, but I'm glad I read it. But there's no way in hell I'll read this one again. (less)
This was my first James Ellroy novel, and he did not disappoint. On the contrary, I developed a major hard-on for his hard-assed prose,...moreWow.
This was my first James Ellroy novel, and he did not disappoint. On the contrary, I developed a major hard-on for his hard-assed prose, and his dark, morally ambiguous characters - gotta say Pete Bondurant is now one of my favorite fictional characters ever.
I won't bore you with the details or the plot behind "American Tabloid", the first in a trilogy of works sketching out the nefarious doings of those in power, but if you love fiction that's both hard-edged and replete with historical heavyweights - the Kennedys, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, Sam Giancana, just to name a few - this novel was written for you. It does drag on a bit, and your patience and attention is greatly needed, but Ellroy pays off, in spades.
I loved this book so much I immediately began reading Ellroy's second part to this trilogy, "The Cold Six Thousand," just so I can see what kind of hinky shit Pete Bondurant and Ward Littell have gotten themselves into.
I swear, right now, the words escape me, the words I wish I could say that would reveal just how brilliant and lovely this novel is. Damn it, man, thi...moreI swear, right now, the words escape me, the words I wish I could say that would reveal just how brilliant and lovely this novel is. Damn it, man, this book had no business being so damned good, so alive.
Okay, I found the words. Hit it.
The zombie canon gets hit with a much-needed curveball across the chin, courtesy of first-time novelist Isaac Marion: what if zombies actually had feelings, feelings of ambivalence and longing inside, while dead on the outside? Warm Bodies tackles that head on, with stunning results. We learn to love R., our zombie hero, with his fondness for Sinatra and his desire for some kind of emotional connection that he, at first, seems incapable of, but then learns otherwise. But R. is a zombie, after all, and a zombie must feed in order to sustain.
When R. and his zombie co-horts attack a group of the living, R. takes a bite out of a young man's brain...and suddenly the young man's memories become his. From the memories of Perry Kelvin, R. makes a stunning choice that runs contrary to his zombie instincts: he begins a tense and awkward relationship with Perry's girlfriend, Julie. And so begins a bizarre love story, tentative at first, then fully accepting, as both R. and Julie learn that their own survival, and the survival of what's left of the human race, is dependent upon each other's trust and understanding.
Marion's a skilled story teller, with a powerful narrative voice. Through R., Marion's use of first-person narrative places us inside R.'s mind; he's a zombie, but a monster deserving of our sympathy. The strength of this novel lies in Marion's ability to make a seemingly one-dimensional character come alive.
Fuck me, this is a beautiful novel. Sweet and sentimental, funny and tender, and harrowing and pretty damned scary at times. It's a novel that unashamedly wears its heart on its sleeve, and, cynics be damned, it reminds us that love does conquer all, even if it's love between the living and the undead.
Read this one, even if you don't care for the zombie canon. You won't be disappointed. If you are, well, then, fuck you. Go read some high-brow shit, you elitist literary snob, you.
Isaac Marion...well done for your first novel. You bastard.
The prologue to Life pretty much sums up the tone of Keith Richards' impeccably written memoir. We're placed smack-dab in the middle of a drug bust in...moreThe prologue to Life pretty much sums up the tone of Keith Richards' impeccably written memoir. We're placed smack-dab in the middle of a drug bust in Rednecksville, Arkansas, that turns from serious drama to flat-out farce in the span of a few paragraphs. While passing through a sleepy Southern town during the Rolling Stones' massive 1975 tour, Keith and partner-in-crime Ronnie Wood are busted by a redneck sheriff for possession of narcotics; of course they've got drugs, but not in their possession. What happens next is a matter of utmost hilarity: the Stones' high-priced lawyer calls in a favor to the State Department, no less, the drunken judge hearing the arraignment dismissed the charges in return for a photo-op, and adoring fans from all over Arkansas suddenly descend on the sleepy town of Fordyce, demanding Keef's release. Drama and farce. The driving factors in Keith Richards' life.It's a prologue that's brilliantly written, as is the entire memoir, easily the best memoir ever written by a rock musician, especially one whose influence is still reverberating nearly 50 years after he and his bandmates emerged on the scene.
I love the Rolling Stones. Frankly speaking, I love Keith Richards most of all. I simply adore the man for who he is, warts and all, and for what Keith has meant to me musically. No one talks shit about Keith or the Stones in my presence. So, naturally, I'm inclined to favor Keith's memoir. Of course I loved it. But not for the reasons you'd expect. Sure, you get the many tales of life on the road, of excesses, of loves won and lost, and, of course, of all the great songs he and Mick Jagger wrote together. Yet it's his modesty, his love of words, his casual tone that defines Life; even the title of the memoir says it all about Keith; he could have opted for a more flowing, flowery title, but Life is succinct and to the point, much like the author. What Life reveals is what's behind Keith Richards, the man, a man who's lived a thousand lives, tells you all about those thousand lives, yet remains rooted enough to remind the reader and himself that it's equal parts tenacity, generosity, and plain ol' luck that's made Keith Keith.
As you read Life, you can't help but be drawn in not by the story Keith tells - and for those who insist that for someone who's ingested more drugs than humanly possible and lived to tell about it and therefore must have his brain fried are in for a shock, as Richards' recollection of events is extremely sharp (“This is the Life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.”) - but how he tells his story. Richards loves his music, and he loves words; a voracious reader, he approaches his writing the way he approaches his guitar playing - sharp, concise, free of bluster and bullshit. I could see myself sitting across him, the hardened, battle-scared rock star turned country gentleman, regaling you in stories. Life is frequently hilarious - Keith's caustic wit and mock indignation is frequently prevalent throughout - yet he never sugar-coats or diminishes his years struggling with his addictions. His description of the "bunker mentality" he developed to manage and cope with his heroin addiction is blunt and chilling.
The early chapters give very lasting and deep impressions on the people and events that forged Keith's life. The only child of Bert and Doris Richards, Keith grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, in the London suburb of Dorset. Just like all the children of his generation, Keith grew up having to endure the rationing that took place in England after WWII; he recounts the pain of rationing, of realizing his family was living below their means. Yet he grew up among a loving and extended family; his fondness for his grandfather Gus, who might be the single biggest influence in Keith's life, is touching and clearly stated. A bright boy, yet extremely rebellious, Keith struggled at Dorset Tech, destined for a life of mediocrity and cruel compromises. Then there was that fateful reunion with childhood friend Mick Jagger. And this is where Life truly takes off. The Rolling Stones are formed by the trio of Richards, Jagger, and the charismatic, unstable Brian Jones, solidified by the rock-strong rhythm section of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. His recollections of the early days of the Stones, their first gigs, and the struggle to bring in enough money to afford the highly-demanded Watts are refreshing and often side-splitting funny: who would have known that the image- and class-conscious Jagger was once an unrepentant slob?
Keef doesn't spend much time going over a lot of the moments that are permanently etched in the rock n' roll canon; we all know the story of how Keith came up with Satisfaction, so he gives us a few sentences and moves on. Regarding the tragedy that was Altamont, Keith sums up his thoughts by dryly noting that the whole clusterfuck could have been avoided had the city of San Francisco not pulled the plug on the Stones playing a free gig at Golden Gate Park. What he does go over, in breathless and breathtaking details, is the songwriting and production process. How does he wrench that great sound from his guitar, that guitar that gave us riffs like Jumpin' Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man, Brown Sugar,, etc.? Simple: it's in the tuning, one that he discovered through a relentless dedication to his craft. He could write an entire book on the chord changes he built for every single Stones' song, and it would be just as thrilling and eye-opening. He does spend a great deal of words, an entire chapter really, about Exile on Main Street, and with good reason: Exile was his baby from Day One, and it's the one Stones album that truly defines Keith's genius as a musician, songwriter, and composer. From desperation and excess came the single greatest album of the entire Stones discography, an discography defined by many other great albums.
Throughout the memoir, Keith focuses on the many relationships he formed, many of which were stormy and fractious. He speaks glowingly of Jagger, yet reserves much of his grief and consternation for the lead singer he christened "Brenda." (His retelling of the now-legendary story of the night Charlie Watts punched Mick in the face is one of the many highlights). Keith gives many of the people, especially his bandmates, a ton of shit, and deservedly so, but he's also extremely forgiving; loyalty is extremely important to him, something he expects from friends and family, and something he is very quick and determined to reciprocate. His stormy relationship with Anita Pallenberg is the stuff of legend, and Keith is unflinching in describing the relationship as being mutually toxic. Yet he reveals a certain fondness for the woman who bore his first two children, Marlon and Angela, and is quite pleased to note that he and Anita still remain friends, despite their relationship coming to an end. It's his other friendships that also form the narrative of his life. His partner in debauchery Bobby Keys, the great Stones sax player who also shares the same birthday as Keith, is one such relationship. He speaks with great pride and sorrow towards his friendship with the late Gram Parsons. Even his father Bert and mother Doris are revered; one would think the rebellious Keith would have resented his parents, but he actually idolized his parents, both of whom taught him the lessons, both hard and soft, about life. And then there's Patti Hansen, his wife and the love of his life. Now married nearly 30 years, Keith is still smitten with her, as if they'd first met and fallen in love. Patti's been extremely influential in grounding Keith. For cryin' out loud, they live in suburban Connecticut! Can you imagine Keith taking out the trash? Yeah.
His generosity and modesty is perhaps the biggest surprise throughout Life. It's not just material things or his time that Keith's generous with; Keith gives the people in his life the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Anita, Bobby Keys, Patti, just to name a few, tell their tale, but it's son Marlon's narrative (of which there's quite a lot of - Marlon spent all of the 1975 and 1977 tour with dad Keith) that's the most compelling. For a boy that was raised by a pair of junkies, and lived a nomadic childhood, Marlon's no-nonsense recollections are a revelation to read, and you're impressed by how he was able to not just survive, but cope and thrive in this lifestyle. And he's equally unflinching and merciless in his recollecting. I would love to read more from Marlon; perhaps a memoir from you, Marlon, soon? I'm sure your father would approve.(less)
Chuck Klosterman's previous series of essays,...moreFor one take on Eating the Dinosaur, check out Anthony Shafer's review, which kicks ass in it's own way.
Chuck Klosterman's previous series of essays, Chuck Klosterman IV read more like a collection of rarities and half-formed ideas that left me wondering if Klosterman might be more enthralled with his celebrity as perhaps the pre-eminent pop culture essayist alive than being the pre-eminent pop culture essayist.
All those fears were put to rest after reading Eating the Dinosaur. Simply put, Eating the Dinosaur is the finest collection of essays Chuck Klosterman has ever penned. He even addresses those "sell out" fears in the first essay, attempting to reconcile his craft with his celebrity. It doesn't always work, Chuck writes, but there really is no other way.
The essays get better, stronger after that. His essay on the cult of personality surround Kurt Cobain takes a chilling and deadly accurate turn when he makes the link between Cobain and David Koresh, the apocalypse-spewing leader of the Branch Davidians. Not to say that Cobain was gunning for a Waco-style end of days, but both Cobain and Koresh attracted a cult of personality; one completely rejected it, when he should have embraced it, the other embraced it, when he should have rejected it. This essay alone is worth the price of the book.
Yet Klosterman saves his best essay for last; his rumination on the mad ramblings of Ted Kaczinski, aka the Unabomber, may be one of the best essays you'll read in a long time. Klosterman proves here he's not just the best pop-culture essayist alive, but one of the best essayists alive, period.
I felt as if Chuck wrote this book for me. Seriously. I've had conversations like the essays he's penned in this collection.
Normally, I'm skeptical of the word metaphysical and how that word is often misused. In the case of Haruki Murakami's brilliant Kafka on the Shore, th...moreNormally, I'm skeptical of the word metaphysical and how that word is often misused. In the case of Haruki Murakami's brilliant Kafka on the Shore, the word metaphysical correctly suits the overall mood and fancy of this novel. Murakami paints a surreal yet easily identifiable Japan in which a 15-year-old boy named Kafka is dead set on running away as fast as he can from a gruesome and hideous prophecy - he ends up on a seaside town far from his Tokyo home - all the while looking for the mother and sister he never knew. Meanwhile, an illiterate simpleton named Nakata, who has the uncanny ability to speak with cats, is suddenly drawn against his will towards Kafka.
Much like the works of Franz Kafka - and the use of the name "Kafka" in this novel is by no means coincidental - Murakami places his characters in situations that are far beyond their control, for reasons they can't fathom or understand. The metaphysical odyssey both Kafka and Nakata undertake is rife with strange occurrences: fish falling from the sky, a quest for a specific entrance rock, an apparition posing as a pimp disguised as Colonel Sanders, 2 soldiers who went AWOL during WWII and yet are still alive and hiding in a forest, just to name a few. Yet none of these occurrences will have you questioning the implausibility of it all; Murakami weaves a magical, tender, bittersweet, often gruesome, ultimately very funny tale of the hidden things outside of our understanding that sometimes take control of us.
This was my first venture into the works of Haruki Murakami, and it won't be the last. I now have a new favorite author, and I consider myself very privileged to have read the great master. Kafka on the Shore is easily one of the best novels I've read, and it's quickly assumed a high position as one of my favorites.(less)
Phew! I started reading this on March 18th, and finished it yesterday afternoon, all the while concentrating on no other books except this one. And I'...morePhew! I started reading this on March 18th, and finished it yesterday afternoon, all the while concentrating on no other books except this one. And I'm glad I did.
As a Pynchon fan, my expectations were quite high. Reading Pynchon is not for everyone, and it is very demanding. It's also very rewarding. Simply put, Thomas Pynchon will confuse, startle, impress and infuriate you, and sometime make you groan with his penchant for bad puns, but he'll never bore you.
I won't bother you with the details surrounding the plot to this story; I wouldn't be able to bring it any justice. Let's just say all the hallmarks of Pynchon's writing are evident here - a cast of characters that would make Cecil B. DeMille furious with envy, references to historical events both famous and obscure, songs, mathematics, plot twists, time travel, and bad jokes. More or less, Against the Day is something of a detective story, and the detectives are a myriad of characters chasing (or being chased by a) destiny. One can even make the inference that Against the Day is the prequel to Pynchon's most famous work, Gravity's Rainbow.
Again, Pynchon is not for everyone, and if you're a beginner reader of his work, you're better off starting with V. or The Crying of Lot 49, and working your way up. As far as Pynchon's work is concerned, I'd put this right next to Gravity's Rainbow as his most accomplished, rewarding, and *GASP!* accessible novel.(less)