There are many reasons I could give for why you should read a book about the death penalty: cold, hard, fact-based reasons, like the chilling statistiThere are many reasons I could give for why you should read a book about the death penalty: cold, hard, fact-based reasons, like the chilling statistic that to date 17 people who have been executed in this country have since been exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project (and that even one is too many). But really, my own opinions on the issue are irrelevant, and Dow's searing memoir can be approached equally well as a death penalty proponent, opponent, or as someone who has no real feelings on the issue at all. Dow, who defends death row inmates in Texas, occupied the first position before coming firmly around to the second, and his reasoning is much more ethically than morally based. Dow doesn't like most of his clients; he thinks even fewer of them are innocent. But the system he sees is a broken one, corrupted and corrosive -- death by a drunk executioner swinging a rusty blade. The stories that make up Autobiography of an Execution are exercises in frustration, Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, and heartbreak. And yet: Dow tempers all this with prose that is more Hemingwayesque in its simple, stark power. And yet: the overall effect is as pulse-poundingly intense as the best John Grisham thriller -- and a thousand times more emotionally resonant, as it's all true, each life and death that of a real person. Forget politics: this is a book about people, and it should be read....more
Terrific collection of investigative essays on topics ranging from murdered Sherlockian scholars to giant squid. I loved Grann’s full-length nonfictioTerrific collection of investigative essays on topics ranging from murdered Sherlockian scholars to giant squid. I loved Grann’s full-length nonfiction book, The Lost City of Z, and as he did in that work, Grann once again proves his skills at plumbing the depths of obsession with these fascinating short pieces. If you’re obsessed with obsession (as I am), you will easily become enthralled by this book....more
It's like Vonnegut, but without the occasionally creepy treatment of women and minorities! This was seriously fun. There are alien con men and a presiIt's like Vonnegut, but without the occasionally creepy treatment of women and minorities! This was seriously fun. There are alien con men and a president obsessed with his underpants and a cheerful bludgeoning of the fourth wall. It’s clever and funny and sort of slyly about stuff. Now I only wish it were an easier sell. I managed to briefly get it onto the bestseller list at our store, though at the very bottom, and this only through very nearly physically forcing it into customers’ hands. I generally have a hard time selling anything if, in describing the plot, I have to use the word “aliens.” (The Sparrow was a non-starter for me, too, although I did try.) “Time travel” also doesn’t get me very far, and I doubt “amnesia” or “apocalyptic shenanigans” would do terribly well either. All the things I love, and my customers turn up their noses! Oh, watch me shake my head and sigh.
This is honestly very good, though. You should read it even if they won’t....more
I really like John Scalzi as a blogger—his recent post on the big Amazon Fail had me in stitches—but I don’t think his blog posts work as a book, or aI really like John Scalzi as a blogger—his recent post on the big Amazon Fail had me in stitches—but I don’t think his blog posts work as a book, or at least they don’t as they’re arranged here. The decision to put the posts in a random order means that there’s never any sense of progression to his thoughts; too many posts on the same topics are included; and his frequent, mildly condescending posts on How to Be a Successful Writer and Lead a Successful Life made me feel shitty. Obviously, it’s not Scalzi’s job to make me feel good or even to not make me feel shitty, but “writing” advice like “marry someone more successful than you” is really not helpful to me right now, and not something I want to read in a book of humorous essays. Also, I get that writing is a job and should be treated as such, but man does Scalzi make it sound like such a drag.
I think Scalzi’s scathing sense of humor—which I enjoy—may be better taken in small doses than absorbed all at once like this....more
Gosh. I remember really enjoying this, and yet, until I read GR's description, I had absolutely no memory of what happened in it. Apparently this is tGosh. I remember really enjoying this, and yet, until I read GR's description, I had absolutely no memory of what happened in it. Apparently this is the same-sex marriage one? You'd think I'd remember that, jeeze.
This "review" says way more about the poor state of my brain than it does about this book....more
Can my review just be “What Siria said”? We read this book at the same time—right before the inauguration—and her review sums up my feelings pretty peCan my review just be “What Siria said”? We read this book at the same time—right before the inauguration—and her review sums up my feelings pretty perfectly. Much more political and much less personal than Dreams From My Father, The Audacity of Hope does at times feel like a sales pitch, which I understand the necessity of, but don’t personally need. It also at times serves as a reminder of how not-quite-in-sync my own views are with the more mainstream side of the Democratic Party, and with this country in general—it seems I’m a radical lefty without feeling radical, and I’m way in the minority when it comes to (an utter lack of interest in) religious beliefs. But, you know, here’s the good thing—one of many good things—about this book and about Barack Obama as a politician and as a person: a large part of his message is that it isn’t about me. It’s about us. It’s about the country as a whole—about the world as a whole. I’m not personally good at compromise, but I am so glad that the United States now has a president who is willing to reach out his hand, to be a unifying force rather than a divisive one. A president who’s thoughtful and willing to listen. It does give me hope: not just that the country can become better, but that we all can.
The sequel to Sammy’s Hill, and kind of a downer. Sammy’s boss RG has become Vice President, but thanks to the president’s vices, scandal and politicThe sequel to Sammy’s Hill, and kind of a downer. Sammy’s boss RG has become Vice President, but thanks to the president’s vices, scandal and political strife are waiting just around the corner. Sound familiar? Gore’s clearly working out her (justifiable) anger toward a certain BC here, and a lot of the passages have a bit of a “oooh, burn!” quality to them. The book is still humorous, and Sammy is still an unusual and delightful protagonist, but it’s just way less fun to read about a Democratic administration in peril than it is to read about a bunch of Democratic upstarts taking the White House. There are some weird pacing problems, too: movie stars! Lesbians! Twists that come out of nowhere, only to disappear in a flash! But at the most basic level…remember what the last few seasons of The West Wing were like? I only got through that because I knew Josh and Donna would be making out by the end. There is, sadly, not a similar carrot to be dangled here....more
For once the blurbs on the back of the book are pretty much right: this is basically Bridget Jones meets Meet the Press. And it’s not a bad combinatiFor once the blurbs on the back of the book are pretty much right: this is basically Bridget Jones meets Meet the Press. And it’s not a bad combination. At times Gore does rely too heavily on chicklit clichés, getting her heroine into wacky scrapes involving things like rollerblades and accidentally clicking “send-all.” It’s also insanely obvious who her true love is going to be from the moment he appears. But I very much enjoyed the political fluff aspects of the book, with Sammy, the health care policy advisor to Ohio Senator Robert Gary, standing in for all the hard-working, idealistic government workers we would all so badly like to believe exist. And in her own right, Sammy’s a great character—a smart, neurotic, nerdy, still-getting-laid-a-lot woman the likes of which one rarely sees in fiction. She gets my vote....more
Probably if enough time passes, I will eventually be able to speak objectively about Barack Obama, but at this point he’s only been President-Elect foProbably if enough time passes, I will eventually be able to speak objectively about Barack Obama, but at this point he’s only been President-Elect for two weeks, so nope, we’re not there yet. So instead I’ll say, first of all, how wonderful and incredible it is to have a president who can write. This is not the best book I’ve ever read, nor the best memoir, but it’s still head and shoulders above the pack—just like the man who wrote it. It’s fascinating just as a story, but especially in terms of the person we all know Obama to be today. During the campaign, everyone (rightly) remarked upon his sense of calm—“No drama Obama”—and this made me especially glad to have read this book, because in talking about his youth here, Obama makes it clear that he spent a lot of time (rightly) being angry. His ability to stay calm, to stay reasonable, to be a leader—these are all things he clearly had to work for, and that only impresses me more.
It also delights and amuses me to think of this book in the context of all the superhero stuff I’ve been reading lately—does Obama have an origin story here or what? In some ways it really is comic book perfect: the son of two different worlds and how he gained the strength and experience to…well, save us all. You know. In a non-spandex-y way.
Okay, now I feel a little goofy. But Obama’s a comic book fan! I’m sure he’d appreciate the analogy....more
Another blend of baseball, musical theater, and extreme sappiness from Steve Kluger. This one had some nice moments, but they were buried under a slopAnother blend of baseball, musical theater, and extreme sappiness from Steve Kluger. This one had some nice moments, but they were buried under a sloppy pile of unrealistic plotting, teenage characters who all sound alike and not at all like teenagers, and sheer tedium. It’s clear from the beginning which characters are going to hook up; it just takes an excessively long time for them to get there, and the ride wasn’t particularly fun. Kluger’s The Last Days of Summer contained a tolerable level of saccharine sentimentality, but Year pushes the sweetness too far, without a balancing dosage of tart. It knocked me into a diabetic coma....more
I was really hoping to take the political edge off with this humorous story of an average American teen who saves the president’s life and then has aI was really hoping to take the political edge off with this humorous story of an average American teen who saves the president’s life and then has a fluffy romance with his son. It didn’t quite work. First, I couldn’t stop wishing that the book were more political—that Sam, the teenage heroine, would have stronger beliefs—there’s a short bit where she disagrees with the administration about the judging of an art contest, but that’s about it. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read about a teenager who saves the president’s life but really disagrees with his policies and has to figure out if it’s appropriate to use her new time in the spotlight to take a stand? I also kept wishing that this wasn’t another book about a rich girl—a rich, white girl who goes to private school and has an eccentric live-in housekeeper. It could have been so much more interesting if this book weren’t another story about a privileged kid getting to experience more privilege.
But I’m aware that if these are the things I want, I probably shouldn’t be reading Meg Cabot. (Why I continue to read Meg Cabot books at all is an entirely different question.) I still think I would have gotten more “it is what it is” enjoyment out of this book, however, if so much of the main conflict hadn’t come from Sam being an idiot. She starts the book with a crush on her sister’s boyfriend, Jack; then she meets the president’s son, David, and develops a crush on him as well. David likes her, too, but instead of rejoicing that a cute boy is into her, Sam spends the entire damn book doing angsty variations on, “But I can’t like David! I like Jack!” Um, Sam, sweetie: you can like more than one person at once. Not to be Miss “I Have a Crush on EVERY Boy!”, but you can actually like many different people at once. And I totally knew that when I was fifteen. Which makes listening to someone whine about it for 300 pages not a particularly enjoyable reading experience.
This collection bills itself as Politically Inspired Erotica. However, having read it, I am really forced to question whether it was actually politicaThis collection bills itself as Politically Inspired Erotica. However, having read it, I am really forced to question whether it was actually political, erotic, or even remotely inspired. My vote would be “none of the above.” It definitely wasn’t erotic—there was absolutely nothing I would consider sexy in any of these stories. There is, however, an awful lot of rape. Almost every single story contains rape—often brutal, bloody, anal rape. Um. That is not hot. Even Paris Hilton doesn’t think that’s hot. I don’t see what’s especially political about lots of brutal rape, either; even as a metaphor for “the current administration’s relationship with the American people and the Constitution,” it’s stretched mighty thin after being used in every other story. And in some cases, the symbolism strikes me as utterly bizarre: there’s one story about a guy who has to deal with being gay in the military…which he does by knocking his fellow soldiers unconscious with ether and raping them. So gay men in the military are rapists. Thanks for clearing that up for me, book!
Probably the funniest and most astute story in the collection is about Dick Cheney’s sordid gay love dungeon, which posits that the Vice President shooting that old man in the face was the result of a love affair gone wrong. And even that tale is not exactly subtle.
Fandom could come up with a better assortment of “Politically Inspired Erotica” in about five minutes. Fail, published fiction, fail!...more
In a conquered U.S., a classroom of young kids is given a new teacher who, in less than an hour, brainwashes them and makes them evil little communistIn a conquered U.S., a classroom of young kids is given a new teacher who, in less than an hour, brainwashes them and makes them evil little communists! Or something. I know I’m supposed to find this book “chilling,” but I didn’t really buy it. Though Communism is never explicitly stated to be the Big Bad, this book has the Cold War era in which it was written stamped all over it. Clavell’s New Teacher gets the students to quickly dismiss such symbols as the Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag—which, frankly, are just symbols. She also gets them to question the power of prayer, which as a godless heathen myself, I’m sure you can guess worries me deeply. Sigh. I don’t know. While the idea of “reeducation” is very scary indeed, I think the examples Clavell chose are lame, and the idea that anyone—especially a little kid—would make the leap from “the Pledge of Allegiance is kind of stupid” to “yes, I will betray my parents to our new evil overlords” is ridiculous. And in light of the fact that if anyone’s an evil overlord these days, invading other countries and reeducating their citizens to practice a shared set of beliefs, it’s us, Americans…well. This book doesn’t have a chilling effect on me. I’m already shivering....more
I thought I should finally try some Kim Stanley Robinson, as he’s kind of a classic at this point. This was…huh. I’m not really sure what this was. ItI thought I should finally try some Kim Stanley Robinson, as he’s kind of a classic at this point. This was…huh. I’m not really sure what this was. It was the first book in a trilogy, certainly—I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a long book that was almost entirely setup. Seriously, almost nothing happened until the very end—though that end is very dramatic. I wasn’t particularly wowed by the writing—DUDE PUNCTUATE YOUR DIALOGUE DO YOU SEE HOW ANNOYING THIS IS KTHX—or the characters, either; Frank was pretty much the only one who grabbed me, and I found him to be an asshole most of the time. Still…I kind of want to read the next volume and see what happens next. I mean, Robinson’s got to be building to something, right? Also, I just like the idea of there being a series about science and political intrigue and global warming. Therefore, I am kind of determined to like these books despite my reservations. Bring on volume two!...more
Inspired by Super Size Me, liberal Seattleite John Moe endeavors to discover if a month of nothing but conservative books, movies, music, TV, and radInspired by Super Size Me, liberal Seattleite John Moe endeavors to discover if a month of nothing but conservative books, movies, music, TV, and radio—along with trips to places like a college Young Republicans conference—can make him “become a Righty.” Fairly obviously, this doesn’t work—at best (okay, in my mind, worst), Moe contemplates Libertarianism (and ends up with a strange little man-crush on Richard Nixon—in light of the last seven years, I do have to say, the man is looking better and better). Moe’s a very, very funny writer—a frequent McSweeney’s contributor, his sense of humor meshes really well with mine, so I had a blast reading this. I wish Moe had spent some more time on the conclusion—the final thesis seems a little shallow. He’s much nicer to the Right than I would be, though. I’ve broken up with a guy after one date because he revealed he voted for Bush. (He also was in favor of arriving late to the movie theater so we “wouldn’t have to sit through the trailers”—WTF is that?) I suppose it fits with the tenets of the Left to be compassionate and try to understand the Right, but I find it virtually impossible to do, especially in the current political climate. So kudos to John Moe for doing it for us. He’s a better man than me....more
Another Vaughan series I am trying to track down. (Damn you, library, for only having the first arc of Runaways!) This has a very interesting beginniAnother Vaughan series I am trying to track down. (Damn you, library, for only having the first arc of Runaways!) This has a very interesting beginning: it’s a mix of superhero dynamics and post-9/11 politics. I’d really like to read more....more
Fabulous YA book about Meg, whose mother runs for president…and wins. Great characters, interesting tension—it felt very real. I’m glad I managed to gFabulous YA book about Meg, whose mother runs for president…and wins. Great characters, interesting tension—it felt very real. I’m glad I managed to get ahold of a copy of the book in its original release, as all the ’80s details were very fun (the new “updated” version [and how much do I hate the concept of “updating” books?] does have an intensely awesome cover, however). My one criticism would be that the book doesn’t resolve so much as just end, but I guess that makes me even more eager for the sequel....more
This was fabulous. One of those books that utterly and completely wraps you up in its world, engulfing you like a thick, dark cloak. This particular wThis was fabulous. One of those books that utterly and completely wraps you up in its world, engulfing you like a thick, dark cloak. This particular world involves witness protection, the mob, and the 1980 presidential election, and it’s populated by fantastic characters and told with a vibrant narrative voice. It’s got themes of redemption, too, which I can never resist. In short, it’s one of those rare books that honestly feels unique. I’m looking forward to checking out Walter’s other work....more
A powerful and truly important book. (Not to mention inspirational: what I read here knocked around in my brain and came out an original short story.)A powerful and truly important book. (Not to mention inspirational: what I read here knocked around in my brain and came out an original short story.) Ehrenreich brings to light a lot of important truths about poverty in America, tackling them with honesty and even humor. The book depicts events that took place between 1998 and 2000, and was first published in 2001, but I think it remains incredibly relevant. It will also leave you spitting-angry, but I think that’s even more reason to read it....more