I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, quite a bit more than the first (which I liked only just enough to read the second). At 1,100 pages it is really long...moreI thoroughly enjoyed the novel, quite a bit more than the first (which I liked only just enough to read the second). At 1,100 pages it is really long but I liked all the detail. My only quibble is that Kvothe is supposedly showing all this incredible knowledge, skill, and maturity at age 16.(less)
Jay Sexton's The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth Century America (2011) is a good synthesis of the history of the most famous doctrine in U.S.-Latin American relations. It's not exactly new, though I can't think how you would manage to say something genuinely new about it (I wonder, have any hitherto unknown archives yielded any new insights in years?). It's more about what angle to take.
One thing he does that I found interesting was to discuss how policy makers in the U.S. changed their views of the doctrine over time. The nineteenth century version was different from the twentieth because of shifting circumstances. At the time of its formulation, there was fear not only of geopolitical threat but also of the country breaking apart. By Roosevelt's time imperialism was in full force and the United States was well past the civil war.
He emphasizes the contradictory nature of the doctrine, since it was both anti-colonial and fundamentally imperialist. This didn't bother anyone in the United States, because based on our exceptionalism our tutelage was a positive force while the Old World offered outdated and unwanted models.
Reading the book might help understand why it's hard to believe John Kerry when in November 2013 he said the Monroe Doctrine was over.
I'll be including it as a recommended reading for the historical chapter of my U.S.-Latin America textbook. (less)
Stephen Kinzer is no fan of Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles. We already knew that from his previous books, which examine overthrow of one kind or another. His new book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and the Their Secret Cold War looks at the men more specifically to show how they were architects of a style of foreign policy that, though in many ways unsuccessful, became a model for the Cold War and even the post Cold War.
It's a very good read, though I must say I enjoyed the first half much more than the second. The first explores the Duller brothers in depth, whereas the second goes into more detail in specific operations, such as Iran, Cuba, Guatemala, Indonesia, and the Congo. In those the brothers fade a bit from the narrative, though of course they are hovering around. Kinzer relies on secondary sources but the stories themselves are already very well known. The second half also touches quickly on psychological assessment, JFK assassination conspiracies, and other sorts of speculation that detract from the book.
The sad thing is that, though Kinzer explain clearly how so many of the Dulles brothers' interventions were in long run detrimental to the United States, there is little recognition of that now. I wish very much that there was public discussion of how overthrowing Mossadegh, for example, led us to where we are today, and how they thought only in the very short term. But there isn't. Instead, we talk about intervening in Iran again!
The point, then, is that consciously or not, U.S. policy makers have drunk deeply of the Dulles Kool Aid. The U.S. is exceptional (and Christian) and therefore needs to act as policeman; there is no need to understand the country you're attacking/undermining; short-term victory over your "enemy" (however defined) is all that matters. The Dulles brothers have never really gone away.(less)
Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927 is a good read only because it was written by Bill Bryson. By this I mean it really has no stated point but that's OK because it's funny and sarcastic. Strangely missing from the lengthy prologue is any explanation about why he wrote it.
Beyond his writing, what made me connect to the book was its unrelenting insistence that the grand, glorious and glamorous 1920s, the heyday of which was 1927, was in so many ways either no better than now or much, much worse. That appealed to me since one of my pet peeves is hearing the pining for the good old days of fake nostalgia. You will not come away feeling nostalgic after reading this book. I have no idea whether this was his intent.
It is roughly chronological, though there is inevitable jumping, chock full of vignettes. That made it perfect for tweeting, which I did in the several days it took for me to read it.
The upshot is that America in 1927 was a place where people followed sensationalistic murder stories with excited interest while ignoring real news about other countries; where athletes were revered despite the fact that many of them were terrible human beings; where racism, anti-Semitism, and gender discrimination were rampant and often celebrated; where mindless desire for profit soon led to disaster; and where corruption was widespread.
There were good things, of course. Charles Lindbergh showed how much aviation could achieve, though he himself was odd, anti-Semitic, and pro-eugenics. Movie and television technology led to all kinds of innovation. So it wasn't all bad.
So don't read it if you want a recreation of F. Scott Fitzgeraldish Jazz Age images (incidentally, in 1927 he was on the decline and practically begging for jobs) but if you want to think about how far we have or haven't come as a country, then it's well worth it.(less)
Richard Helms' Six Mile Creek is a murder mystery with a bit of social commentary attached to it. The setting is a small North Carolina town, not too far away from a larger city like Charlotte. A high school girl, who is Latina, is found murdered. Police Chief Judd Wheeler investigates.
It's not filled with Deep Thoughts, but the overall theme is about preconceptions and deep seated views. Everyone assumes there is a race war brewing, when there is not. Everyone assumes drugs have not reached the town, when they have. Everyone holds high school football players on a pedestal, when they don't deserve it. The stereotype that turns out to be justified (in the novel, anyway) is that rich white men who control small towns are largely jerks.
Chief Wheeler solves the crime, of course, as well as a few others that pop up along with the way. What he finds is high school replicating adulthood. The same obsession with money and status. Even ethnicity is subsumed under that, Anglo-Latino tensions are less about "difference" per se and more about encroachment on women or turf.
What is oddly missing is a single African American character. The town is Anglo or Latino.
It's a fun and witty book but ultimately falls a bit flat, ending rather abruptly and without much drama. Some of the themes, though, are interesting-...moreIt's a fun and witty book but ultimately falls a bit flat, ending rather abruptly and without much drama. Some of the themes, though, are interesting--esp. books vs. Google--even if not dealt with too deeply.(less)
Eric Pettis' Just A Minor Perspective was the perfect light, short book I needed around finals. It is his account for low-A short season baseball in Williamsport. In many ways it's about becoming a small cog in a very big machine, and becoming a set of numbers rather than a person. Even the numbers are hard to parse--he made the All Star team and his stats are good (the book ends on a high note) but he has not played since 2011. Baseball is just not a very forgiving profession.
He takes it all in, the college player suddenly thrust into professional sports, and is quite perceptive and funny. He was humbled by the draft (where he was first ignored and then picked very late) and remained level-headed, despite the grind and constant PBJs:
Even though we were assured by our trainer that "it's actually good pregame meal," my intestines didn't always agree. But humans are made to adapt, even it if is to peanut butter and jelly.
Why is it that pitchers, especially relievers, seem to have the most writing talent and eye for the funny and unusual? These are fun books but it would be great to see some more variety--don't tell me there isn't some smart catcher or power hitter. (less)
I read Jeanne Marie Laskas' Hidden America, which is a series of vignettes about people who make our lives go but are "hidden." A general theme is how much pride they take in their work, even though they recognize they're hidden. It's an interesting book--very quick read--but a mixed bag.
Coal miners: from this chapter you would think they are all relatively wealthy and happy. She mentions that coal is central to electricity but does not explain the process or how the workers view themselves in that process.
Undocumented blueberry pickers: good chapter but these days they are much less "hidden" than they used to be.
Cheerleaders: weird chapter. She veers between admiring and making fun of them, and could there be any profession less "hidden"?
Air traffic controllers: interesting chapter that basically becomes a critique of unions. I kept thinking of Pushing Tin.
Gun dealer: this is just about the opposite of "hidden." As with cheerleaders, she seems to alternate between mocking gun culture and enjoying it.
Beef ranchers: definitely more hidden, but a superficial chapter where you learn little, though I must admit I didn't know anything about bull semen.
Arctic oil rig: this was a great chapter--how we get oil for virtually everything we use from a desolate place and who the people are working there was fascinating.
Trucker driver: very sad chapter, in large part because it comes back to the death of the author's elderly parents. The "hidden" America of truck drivers gets a bit obscured.
Landfill: fascinating chapter. Where our trash goes and who deals with it is definitely hidden.
If you like books in this genre, I would suggest Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows, which is much more nuanced and he actually does the work to better understand it.(less)
Drew Magary's The Postmortal: what a cool, thought provoking, creepy novel. It sounds so great on the surface, yet is a dystopia--imagine that in the near future, someone finds a cure for aging. The novel follows the diary/blog of John Farrell, who got the cure at age 29. You cannot get younger or avoid disease, but you will never get older. Once that happens, the effects are entirely negative. A sampling:
--overcrowding --water scarcity --genocide --war --organ harvesting mafia --young girls given the cure to become eternal underaged prostitutes --violent "pro-death" insurgents --decrease in marriage (because 'til death do us part is too long)
One thing scarier than death is the notion of living forever. I may be in the minority, as ironically while reading the novel I opened my newspaper to read a story (which annoyingly I cannot find now) about how people really want science to keep fighting death, no matter the consequences, then had someone point out this op-ed about our obsession with aging. That's what makes the book feel so real. Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.
What Magary makes you ponder is how much satisfaction in your life is due to aging, to everything having an end. You are always building toward an end, and having no end unmoors you. There is a real problem of moral hazard as well, especially as doctors worked to improve the quality of your unaging life. There is much less holding you back. People began losing their humanity, something out of The Road Warrior.
I strongly recommend the book--it's not what you would call pleasant but you won't soon forget it.
I read Josef Joffe's The Myth of America's Decline, in large part because it intersected with my view of U.S. policy toward Latin America. What Joffe argues, pretty convincingly in my opinion, is that there are waves of declinism--the USSR was going to overtake us, then Japan, then Europe, and now China--but they all concentrate on very short-term, unsustainable signs. People gleefully argued the USSR and Japan would overtake the U.S. precisely as they were falling apart. Overall, it is true that the U.S. does not simply dominate the world, but it is still overwhelmingly the strongest power.
What I find fascinating, and Joffe does not get into it much, is that declinism transcends ideology. Those on the left (such as it is in the United States) applaud it as a sign of international equality while the right deplore it as a sign of weakness. But they agree it is happening--exactly why is never clear, though politicians routinely pick up on it and exploit fear.
With regard to U.S. policy, it relates to my post about the Monroe Doctrine not being dead. Not being dominant is not the same as being in decline. The election of leftists and the creation of a few Venezuelan-funded international organizations is not the same as a new international order. At the very least it is premature to declare it. Which is more likely in ten years: a strong and effective UNASUR or an economically and militarily influential United States?
The book reads very smoothly, chock full of literary and cultural references (even a footnote dedicated to "Parker Lewis Can't Lose"!) though it could've been a lot shorter as there is plenty of repetition. It is also very boosterish about international capitalism (and wary of Barack Obama) without asking any questions about the long-term effects of growing inequality. But he does a nice job of poking at conventional wisdom.
In one sense it is a standard, medieval-type fantasy story, but it's very well done and I got into the characters. Definitely will read the second whe...moreIn one sense it is a standard, medieval-type fantasy story, but it's very well done and I got into the characters. Definitely will read the second when it comes out.(less)
Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a breezy, enjoyable story about John Gilkey, who was caught stealing large numbers of rare books in stores around the Bay Area. What set him apart from your basic thief is that he had no profit motive. He just wanted to be seen as an educated, well-read man. He based many purchases on the Modern Library top 100 books, which he felt were a mark of sophistication.
He went in and out for prison both for theft, credit card fraud, and for writing bad checks, and was bizarrely amoral. He wasn't rich and could never own these books, so of course he had to steal them. Those dealers owed him! They were charging so much for these books, and he wanted them. How else would he get them? In all the interviews, he seems geniunely unable to see that he is doing anything wrong.
It's a glimpse into bibliomania. Since they were stolen, he could never really display them or show them to anyone else. Somehow just having them was enough. But eventually a dealer got on his trail and pursued him with the help of the police. One lesson from the book is not to mess with rare book dealers. They mean business.(less)
I read May Sarton's The Small Room, as I can never pass up novels on academia, especially ones I've never heard of before. It is the story of Lucy Winter, who gets her Ph.D. at Harvard and then gets a job at a small liberal arts college for women. One of the best students is caught plagiarizing and it causes a variety of problems (which actually get neatly tied up so quickly you barely have a chance to think about them).
It was published in 1961 so as a period piece it's interesting to read (lots of martinis and lots of smoking). I know that the time and place is far removed from mine, but I wondered whether Sarton depicted professors in an idealized form that never existed. They speak in an overly formal way, quoting John Donne. It's like they speak how people who are not professors imagine professors speak.
What I found most intriguing was the depiction of the struggle college teachers have getting through to students. The core of the book is about whether professors should be involved in helping their students personally, including a major fight over whether the college should hire a psychologist. Since the answer was so obviously yes, I found that quaint but ultimately not so compelling. Beyond that, though, was how frustrated professors are:
"It seems to me that you just teach and then go away and hope some of what you sad sank in, and then when you see the papers you know almost none of it did. As far as I can see, teaching is as much as anything the ability to handle failure most of the time, one's own failure, I mean..." (p. 237).
Without that recurring theme, the book wouldn't have spoken to me much at all. I read constantly that students these days are worse than ever--they have no attention spans, they can't think, they can only text, blah, blah, blah. But fifty years ago, indeed millennia ago, everyone thought the same damned thing.(less)
I happened to pick up John Dinges' Our Man in Panama, a 1990 book about Manuel Noriega's rise to power. The invasion itself is mentioned only briefly at the end, which was fine with me. What's more interesting is how the situation developed.
It is a reminder of how weird that invasion was. The U.S. government was split any number of ways about Noriega and only toward the very end did anyone consider him an "enemy." Even then, many still didn't. For the most part, he was the friendly leader who helped the DEA (including, ironically, the arrest and extradition of someone who later testified against him) and helped the Contras. He was a team player. That he was corrupt was no big deal--everyone was corrupt. Omar Torrijos had established the system that Noriega inherited. Noriega's own addition was drug trafficking, which the U.S. had first officially noticed in the early 1970s.
Dinges goes through all the evidence with care, showing how deeply involved Noriega was in the drug trade and how brutal he could be. As he notes, and it's still true now, no one feels sorry for him as he had almost no redeeming qualities. But going straight to invasion essentially for personal reasons is still amazingly disproportionate. Using similar criteria elsewhere, we'd be involved in even more wars than we are now.(less)
**spoiler alert** Doctor Sleep is pretty mushy, feel-good (without spoiling anything, even a ghost from the Overlook ends up helping the adult Dan Tor...more**spoiler alert** Doctor Sleep is pretty mushy, feel-good (without spoiling anything, even a ghost from the Overlook ends up helping the adult Dan Torrance; and the villains show how much they love each other), and not even slightly scary, which makes it an odd sequel to The Shining. Stephen King even wrote an Author's Note at the end basically talking about how much trepidation he felt at writing it in the first place. As a story it's OK, enough to turn pages but not leave much impression.
Unfortunately, the main premise of the novel, namely that these bad RV-driving people kill and steal screams from children who shine and store them in canisters, kept making me think of Monster Inc, where fuzzy monsters come into children's closets, scare them, and put the result in canisters. That makes it seem even less scary.(less)
If not for the annoyingly preachy parts about homelessness, which seemed to be uninformed libertarian but were thankfully brief, this was a good read....moreIf not for the annoyingly preachy parts about homelessness, which seemed to be uninformed libertarian but were thankfully brief, this was a good read. The mystery is actually solved fairly early on before Kinsey knows it, but for me that did not detract from the story. The plot kept the pages turning for me anyway. One downside is that more of Kinsey's family will almost certainly make appearances in the few books left, and they are all whiny.(less)
I read Nora Gaskin's Until Proven: A Mystery in Two Parts because it was a murder mystery set in the fictional town of Piedmont, North Carolina. It is Chapel Hill, really, though I must say I didn't think of Chapel Hill much as I read it, perhaps because my experience was all about graduate school and the novel only just barely touches on its fictional university (though academia does make an important cameo in an unflattering way!).
I liked this book, and would recommend it with one caveat. First the good stuff. As the title notes, it has two parts: one set in 1963 and one in 2003. Both involve the murder of a young woman, albeit in different circumstances, but both with racial implications (and, in fact, homosexuality in the first part). What I particularly like is how she deals with race. She evokes not only the civil rights movement and all the prejudices that went along with it, but also how what we might consider sympathetic whites used race to their advantage when it came to protecting themselves in a court case. There is a lot of nuance there. It is a really good story about the south in that sense.
My caveat is the murder mystery part. Read it as fiction rather than as mystery because that part isn't so satisfying. There are two murders. Without spoiling much, one is unsolved and one is solved but without so much mystery. I may well be a prisoner of the genre, but I kept waiting for the unsolved one to be solved (and a key character of that earlier part of the novel never reappears). (less)
Totally by chance, I read Dell Shannon's With a Vengeance, a police procedural published in 1966. It was intriguing because the protagonist is an incredibly smart and dapper Hispanic police lieutenant in Los Angeles. Further, Dell Shannon is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Linington, a prolific crime/mystery novelist.
So what we have is a great snapshot of 1960s Los Angeles, and in this case with a killer on the loose who leaves note cards by his bodies saying "The vengeance is just." Mendoza and his colleagues go around L.A. looking for clues, with what is sometimes a bewildering array of characters. What we also see are the steak lunches, always with scotch. And smoking--lots of smoking. It is a period piece and it is interesting to read almost entirely for that reason. The story is fine but not particularly engrossing.
And Mendoza himself, along with his Anglo wife and sometimes his colleagues, keeps using little Spanish phrases (ay Dios mio! or the like, all different kinds) in a way that keeps emphasizing his (I figure) Mexican heritage. Funny to see framed positively in a book that old, and also for an author who, apparently, was very right wing (I didn't see much political in the novel, though the rigid gender roles/portrayals were very clear).(less)
I get annoyed by snobbish Dan Brown critics who seem to dislike popular fiction on principle. I bought this book and enjoyed the plot twists and turns...moreI get annoyed by snobbish Dan Brown critics who seem to dislike popular fiction on principle. I bought this book and enjoyed the plot twists and turns (it is essentially one long chase scene) but it is weighed down by Fodors-like descriptions, people audibly gasping in horror, and not terribly original neo-Malthusian doctrine (not Brown's, but the villain's). I am not sure whether that puts me in the snob category, but I liked it much less than his previous novels.(less)
I hadn't read this since I was a kid and I am not quite sure what prompted me to read it again, though in fact it had been so long I didn't remember t...moreI hadn't read this since I was a kid and I am not quite sure what prompted me to read it again, though in fact it had been so long I didn't remember the ending. It was just as fun now as then, creepy and intricate, straining credulity but not too far. It's bad enough there's all these murders, but then they're all eating canned tongue all the time.(less)
Last month I read Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's The Silence of the Rain and wrote that it was nicely written but with a terrible ending. I decided to give the second book in the series, Blackout, a shot. And there was a similar problem (though the ending was just very mediocre rather than terrible). It is the story of a homeless man murdered in a wealthy and steep Rio cul-de-sac.
You've got this great writing and wonderfully clear images of Rio de Janeiro. Chief Inspector Espinosa is something like Columbo--not flashy, a bit rumpled, dogged, and always with one more question. Garcia-Roza's Espinosa mysteries are also like the Columbo show because he reveals things about the crime(s). The problem is that you end up pretty much knowing who is the murderer. Audiences accept that with Columbo because they like watching how cleverly he figures things out. But that doesn't really happen with Espinosa. There's good tension but then it falls flat with events that just aren't likely and unsatisfying logic.(less)
"Thank you for your service" is a common phrase, a well-intentioned but superficial greeting, which skates over the surface of complexity. Kevin Powers' novel The Yellow Birds shows how sometimes it is unwelcome precisely because of the superficiality. Private Bartle is the narrator, and he is fighting in Iraq with Private Murphy. It is the powerful story of their efforts to figure out what their proper place should be--what "service" even means--just to stay alive long enough to get home.
It is a tragedy because no one figures it out, not even the hard-nosed sergeant who helps keep everyone alive with his uncompromising focus on safety. Not Bartle, not Murphy, not their parents, and certainly not Iraqis, who hunker down in the middle of devastation. The soldiers fight for the same bit of territory over and over, and nothing much changes. The war itself served no purpose. As the sergeant said toward the end of the novel, more or less to himself, "Fuck 'em, man. Fuck everyone on earth."
Powers writes beautifully. From the reviews I've skimmed the main criticism seems to be his style, which is self-conscious with its poetic metaphors and descriptions. Some find it overdone and derivative (though I bet every war novel is criticized somewhere for being derivative of Ernest Hemingway) but I thought it effectively dug under the surface. He doesn't want to just lay out facts about how the war was fought--you can find that anywhere. He wants to get you into the head of the so-young soldiers while they're there.
I has not read a Maigret novel before, but reading Ampuero's The Neruda Case prompted me to check one out. I hope this one is not representative, beca...moreI has not read a Maigret novel before, but reading Ampuero's The Neruda Case prompted me to check one out. I hope this one is not representative, because it was short, founded on coincidence (Maigret's wife happened to know someone attached to the case), and had almost no character development. (less)
This is the sequel to The Wayward Apprentice, and is a really fun read. The detailed and unsanitized look at the 13th century provides a cool backdrop...moreThis is the sequel to The Wayward Apprentice, and is a really fun read. The detailed and unsanitized look at the 13th century provides a cool backdrop to a well-plotted story.(less)