What a delightful surprise this book was! No, seriously. Max Brooks' World War Z: The Oral History of the Zombie War is my first zombie book and it fo...moreWhat a delightful surprise this book was! No, seriously. Max Brooks' World War Z: The Oral History of the Zombie War is my first zombie book and it forced me to add a new "shelf" here in Goodreads Land. (That's got to be a good thing, no?) As I was given this--and two additional zombie titles--for Christmas by a relative and reader with what I consider to be discerning taste, I knew that I had to at least give it a chance. I'm so very glad that I did, because not only was it a brilliant and provocative read, but it's a work that I would seriously assign as a wrap-up text in any sort of oral history class I might ever teach. It's a great example of that genre, of the many challenges involved in preparing works as much as a half-century after the events they recount, and it exhibits many thoughtful discussions that one would cover with more traditional (i.e., non-fiction) oral history fare. Of course, the fact that one of my all-time favorite people--Studs Terkel--is mentioned in the Acknowledgments only bode well for its thoroughness and deft handling of that literary form.
The conceit upon which World War Z... rests is really quite clever. Some half-century after the fact, its author was commissioned by the United Nations to produce an oral history of the Zombie War and the Great Panic that preceded it. The final version that went to print with the UN imprimatur was heavily edited--the implication being that things as squishy as "feelings" and "perceptions" merited redaction if not heavy deletion. When its author, the pretend author of the book readers have in the eager little mitts, protests he is told that he is more than welcome to write his own more detailed book. The current book is that second, fuller, work.
As with Drew Magary's The Postmortal: A Novel, what I found most compelling about this book was how provocative it was. It got you to consider so very many "what if" scenarios, it got you to consider parallels between things it relays and details from the American Civil War, World Wars I & II, the assorted Gulf Wars, 9/11, and right on up through the current presidential campaign frivolity. Then, when you thought all conceivable bases had been covered and you were winding down in the book's final pages, it tossed in--almost as an aside--a little something that gave your heartstrings that extra twist (i.e., the whales). While brilliantly crafted, because really all you have are short excerpts of oral history interviews with a host of individuals with quite different vantage points and ensuing perspectives, what this book really is is a treatise on the human condition. That's what makes it surpass genre and be such a worthwhile read.
As a final thought, the book's cover proudly touts the fact that it's "Soon to be a major motion picture." Holy crap! Admittedly, I'm not its typical demographic, but there were parts of this book that I found tough to read. I cannot, for one moment, imagine watching it unfold--although in my mind's eye I can totally envision how it might be filmed. That is, it adopts a documentary format with voiceover for the interlocutor's questions (they appear in italics in the book) and the scenes are spliced-together clips of the interviews with cutaways to the flashback scenes. I don't want to watch it, but it will make great cinema for a whole host of folks who will.
Without doubt, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom has at its core a particularly clever premise. It's set in a future world where the Bitchun Society h...moreWithout doubt, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom has at its core a particularly clever premise. It's set in a future world where the Bitchun Society has overcome reality as we know it via promoting an alternative to death. In short, the living periodically upload their memories and, upon death, those who have authorized it can be reuploaded to a clone. (Sadly, the logistics of the clone part--clone of what, exactly?--were never explained.) Moreover, if folks want to just "tune out" for a while, they can have their data placed in futuristic storage (virtual canopic jars a la Lil's parents?) for future download. This process is aptly named "deadheading."
All the great themes were here: what happens when people who will never die run out of experiences?; what happens to proxemics and "personal space" in an ever-crowded world/galaxy?; how do you retain friendships that could conceivably span multiple reanimations across multiple worlds (folks are still living on what might be Earth as well as "off world")?; if given the opportunity to present oneself at any age which one would you chose and why? (the Disneyland doctor manifesting as an older gentleman so as to be comforting to the ill or injured was brilliant in light of such actual Disney-related scholarship such as The Architecture of Reassurance); what are an individual's--let alone society's--obligations to prevent suicide? (This is by no means an exhaustive list.) My point, of course, is that while clever in concept, I didn't find that the writing actually did justice to these issues--most of which were raised here, just not as deftly handled as I'd have hoped. That's not to say that this wasn't a fun romp, because it most certainly was. And the commentary on Disney--and on the fans gone amok--was positvely inspired. But the resolution of the actual big questions, as related to our trio of main characters (i.e., Jules, Lil, and Dan) wasn't satisfying--that is, I'm not opposed to how things worked out, just that the characters' own rationale for much of it remains unclear.
To my mind, a much more thoughtful exploration of the sorts of "What ifs..." raised here are to be found in such works as Drew Magary's The Postmortal.(less)
This book was super well written. The main character, Jennifer Government, is a wry kick-ass kinda gal with a bar-code tatoo under her left eye. She's...moreThis book was super well written. The main character, Jennifer Government, is a wry kick-ass kinda gal with a bar-code tatoo under her left eye. She's also an incredibly sympathetic character, who readers who might...er...perhaps...um...overidentify with their own jobs will find compellingly likeable. The book is a futuristic send-up of capitalism, where all the characters' surnames are the names of the companies--typically multi-nationals--by whom they are employed. It's a fast read, and a very fun one. While the jacket claimed "It's Catch 22 by way of the Matrix," I beg to differ. It was way better.(less)
This story really delivers! There's loads of action--including Harry being challenged to a duel he can neither win nor not accept on national TV, ever...moreThis story really delivers! There's loads of action--including Harry being challenged to a duel he can neither win nor not accept on national TV, ever-more characterization, Susan is present, and you get to meet what appears to be a sweet little girl known as the Archive. Don't let her beribboned and jumpered appearance throw you, however. She may look six or so, but she has some 600 years of accumulated knowledge crammed into that remorseless little brain of hers. And her minder, Kincaid, as Hawk-like (think Robert Parker's Spenser) as you're likely to see. In other words, he's an utterly ruthless bodyguard with astounding reflexes, military wetworks-style training, but may not actually be human. It just doesn't matter--he's scary when needs to be and delivers when needed. The duel is just one small part of the story, as Jim Butcher is adeptly juggling several interweaving plotlines and story arcs here. The vampire politics are really ratcheting up, and I'd say this one was the best in the series so far. (less)
Demille offers an entertaining answer for everyone who wonders just what exactly--or even possibly--goes on on that island out at the very end of the...moreDemille offers an entertaining answer for everyone who wonders just what exactly--or even possibly--goes on on that island out at the very end of the northern tip of Long Island. (We know who we are!) This is solid fun summer beach reading--preferably on a rocky beach somewhere along the North Fork.(less)
As with his previous, Jennifer Government, Barry is particularly adept at skewering corporate greed and those who make their living (if it can be call...moreAs with his previous, Jennifer Government, Barry is particularly adept at skewering corporate greed and those who make their living (if it can be called that) feeding the corporate dragon. Our hero, a new employee named Stephen Jones who is recently out of business school, joins the Sales Team at Zephyr. Interestingly, neither Jones nor his coworkers (including his supervisor) seems to know what the Seattle-based holding company actually does. The story starts with Roger, who has been cheated of his morning donut by a coworker who has apparently taken two. This slight--and the drama that unfolds around it--is a recurring theme throughout the book. The pace is fast, the writing is tight and sharp, and sections are short--which make it ideal (and dangerous) for late-night reading. That is, you find yourself thinking, "Oh, I'll just read one more little section...". Then, the next thing you know, it's 2:00 a.m.! The storyline is really fun, there's a killer plot twist halfway through that redefines the book. Sadly, readers will doubtless see disconcerting similarities between their own employers and Zephyr. Yikes!(less)
I bought and read this one precisely because I had enjoyed Truss' _Eats, Shoots, and Leaves_ so very much. While spot on regarding our increasing anno...moreI bought and read this one precisely because I had enjoyed Truss' _Eats, Shoots, and Leaves_ so very much. While spot on regarding our increasing annoyance at constantly being told that things are being done "for our convenience" that are anything but convenient, this book does not have the same joyousness that Truss' first book has. I do think, though, that the chapter on cell phones and the invisible bubble should be required reading of all college freshmen. (Just a thought--for their convenience, of course.)(less)
This is Vonnegut at his irreverent best! And once you've read (and enjoyed) the play, be sure to either go see it performed live or grab a copy of the...moreThis is Vonnegut at his irreverent best! And once you've read (and enjoyed) the play, be sure to either go see it performed live or grab a copy of the soundtrack. The songs are as dripping with acid (at times) as they are catchy, and you *will* catch yourself humming "Thank God for the volunteer fire brigade" and its like. This play is timeless--as is Vonnegut.(less)
The main character is a "rabbit" on the LPGA tour. Even if you're not a golfer, the insider's view on the difficulties of making it when you're very g...moreThe main character is a "rabbit" on the LPGA tour. Even if you're not a golfer, the insider's view on the difficulties of making it when you're very good but lack major sponsorship will hook you. Okay, and the punnish titles are fun too.(less)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith is a novel about the never-ending battle between past, present, and future possibilities; transnational migration; fitting...moreWhite Teeth by Zadie Smith is a novel about the never-ending battle between past, present, and future possibilities; transnational migration; fitting in vs. not fitting in; truly belonging vs. never truly belonging; about religious fundamentalism and intolerance of several sorts; about family, intergenerational strife, and marital discord and compromise; it is about cross-cultural (mis)understanding; and, in particular, about the unique challenges faced by second-generation Bangladesh people in London in the last quarter of the 20th century. The book is written by a woman, has a host of strong women characters--even the initially dismissed Niece of Shame (Neena) who serves as a catalyst of consciousness raising for several of the story's female characters--but the plot essentially stems outward form the central nexus of the unlikely friendship struck between Archie Jones (Sapper Jones) and Samad Iqbal after their tank breaks down somewhere in Romania in the waning days of World War II.
Smith is a talented writer who has honed her craft to a razor sharp edge. Like a really good stand-up comedian, every little thing introduced early on makes brief and meaningful subsequent appearances in slightly altered forms--much like viewing the stone from different angles/facets in a cabochon setting. Despite that fact, the book is overlong and parts are frustratingly detailed (TMI about Samad's struggle with Islam's precepts against masturbation. Enough already!) whereas others seem carelessly researched (e.g., the reference to our species as Homo erectus) and still other parts are either under-developed or glossed over altogether. The most significant instance of the last is the final scene at the press conference prior to the opening of the exhibit of FutureMouse. At this point, the reader has invested 445+ pages and a good part of her weekend in this work, and is told that the same focus group who selected the color scheme and fabric swatches for the Exhibit Hall would have it that . . . . This is totally unsatisfying and constitutes a betrayal of the reader who has learned way more about many of these characters than she ever wanted to know. How, for instance, Archie and Samad would ever resolve the former's betrayal of the latter is positively unfathomable. This is even more problematic in light of the recurring question put to different characters in the novel as to whether, given the option, they would opt to betray their country or betray their friend--with the response consistently being that they would betray a nation over a highly-regarded individual. In light of an exchange that occurs much earlier in the book: "'One strong man and one week is a colony, Sapper Jones,' said Samad" (p. 78), the relations between the two (i.e., Archie as native-born British colonizer and Samad as perpetually colonized) is brilliantly reversed by Archie's betrayal. While this is quite clever rhetorically, the fact that it remains unaddressed/unresolved seems insurmountable to this reader. Moreover, are the readers who shelled out $14.95 for the book and will gather in restaurants and coffeehouses to discuss it being classed with the mindless sheep demographic of said focus group?
I must say that Zadie Smith is a highly talented writer who has interwoven some extremely complicated themes and dealt with them in a sophisticated fashion (hence the second star awarded here). I did not, however, enjoy the book and only finished it because it was this month's selection by my Book Club. Had it been entirely optional reading, I can honestly state that I never would have finished it. (less)
As with all of the Ina Garten recipes I've encountered to date, which is quite a few, these are all very straightforward, emphasize fresh foods, and a...moreAs with all of the Ina Garten recipes I've encountered to date, which is quite a few, these are all very straightforward, emphasize fresh foods, and are extremely yummy. After signing this out from my public library, I promptly tabbed a bunch of pages and made six or seven of the recipes. Each was great, and I decided it was officially a "keeper." That is not to say that I wouldn't be returning the library copy; instead, I purchased my own copy just recently. (less)
We've all experienced different sorts of evil in our lives, and I read this book with the expectation of being able to put it into a more meaningful c...moreWe've all experienced different sorts of evil in our lives, and I read this book with the expectation of being able to put it into a more meaningful context. Ths book included some interesting examples from Peck's practice. It provided insights, but by no means anything resembling an epiphany regarding why some people are willing (if not eager) to do the sorts of things they appear all too ready/able to do. (less)
This edited volume was produced from snippets of lore, wisdom, folk practices and other customs recorded by Lyle Saxon and others are part of the Fede...moreThis edited volume was produced from snippets of lore, wisdom, folk practices and other customs recorded by Lyle Saxon and others are part of the Federal Writers project in Louisiana. It's a great starting point for research into local customs--including north Louisiana ghost stories--and is quite readable. While by no means a formal textbook, I couldn't readily determine whether to call it fiction (not really, because the stories and shared information is more local lore) or non-fiction (but, again, no one is saying the stuff is true/accurate--just that these things are "in circulation"). For that reason alone, I'm thankful for the Other box. Read and enjoy, this makes a great jumping off point.(less)
While I liked the book (i.e., the plot, the issues addressed), I had little empathy for the characters. This was a great window into an era, and I enj...moreWhile I liked the book (i.e., the plot, the issues addressed), I had little empathy for the characters. This was a great window into an era, and I enjoyed it most for that. Very well written, the lack of empathy thing may just be reader error.(less)
Construct (or reconstruct) your own understanding of beloved writer E.B. White on the basis of a wide sample of his correspondence. My personal favori...moreConstruct (or reconstruct) your own understanding of beloved writer E.B. White on the basis of a wide sample of his correspondence. My personal favorites were the letters between White and his then-pregnant wife regarding matters not typically discussed openly between husbands and wives--their solution was to leave one another notes ostensibly authored by their curious pet. Gotta love it as a strategy for negotiating troublesome social conventions.(less)