A book-long pointless intellectual exercise, but a really fun and interesting one. This is my favorite Klosterman in a while: it's both more serious aA book-long pointless intellectual exercise, but a really fun and interesting one. This is my favorite Klosterman in a while: it's both more serious and thoughtful, and funnier, than his last few efforts. If you'd like the experience of a truly excellent semi-sober dinner conversation with a smart, surprising companion but in book form, well -- here it is!...more
Harper Lee has just died; fifty-six years ago she published To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of heroic lawyer Atticus Finch and his attempt to defendHarper Lee has just died; fifty-six years ago she published To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of heroic lawyer Atticus Finch and his attempt to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, from a false charge of rape made by a white woman. What a lot of people neglect to focus on, as Bryan Stevenson points out in this painful, moving, necessary memoir, is that Atticus' defense fails. Tom Robinson is convicted, then killed. The irony is not lost on Stevenson as he goes to Monroe County, Alabama, the setting of Lee's novel and a community that has made an industry out of celebrating her work, to defend another falsely convicted black man -- the conviction the result of an obvious set-up by local law enforcement that has nevertheless landed his innocent client on death row. This case serves as the centerpiece of Just Mercy, but Stevenson details many more from his thirty-year career, all of them heartbreaking and infuriating in different ways. The book is a compelling page-turner, not in spite of but because of the outrageous civil rights abuses Stevenson exposes: racism, jury tampering, cruel and unusual treatment of the mentally ill, children, the poor. You keep reading hoping for a happy ending, the miraculous appearance of justice, but Lee couldn't conceive of a happy ending to her novel fifty-six years ago, and unfortunately, in Stevenson's depiction of reality more than half a century later, not much -- and certainly nowhere near enough -- has changed.
Just Mercy is an essential book, because it's a reminder that this type of injustice is not a thing of the past, a problem we've "solved." It's current, it's ongoing, and people like Stevenson are still actively fighting it every day. Toward the end of the book, Stevenson describes a meeting with legends of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks and Johnnie Carr. "Ooooh, honey," said Parks, after hearing about his work, "that's going to make you tired, tired, tired." Then Carr leaned forward and said, "That's why you've got to be brave, brave, brave."
If only we could all be even a fraction as courageous. Let's start by not forgetting. Read this book and stay aware, stay aware, stay aware....more
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