Bill Bryson is a genius. And it's not just because he knows everything that he explains, but because he can explain it to me. Science is awesome, sure...moreBill Bryson is a genius. And it's not just because he knows everything that he explains, but because he can explain it to me. Science is awesome, sure, but it's rarely ever explained to me with the excitement and ease that I need. I either get the droning narration of textbooks or the pompous and purposefully complex speeches of windbags.
Sometimes, I'm lucky enough to have my friends Chase and Rex explain science to me, where it has the quality of, "How cool is that?!" And, in those instances, science is really goddamn cool. I also understand science in those instances, which is just as impressive.
Well, Bryson doesn't have that kind of radical discussion technique, but he does follow through with the absolutely perfect balance of ease and enthusiasm. He explains everything from dinosaurs to volcanoes to chemistry to the universe to mass extinction (as well as the funny, weird and peculiar stories behind the many, many scientists mentioned). And Bryson seriously does it in a way that had me excitedly yelling things I learned at my brother (who owns a copy of the book).
- "Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton stuck a needle in his eye socket just to see what would happen?!" - "Did you know that the number of dinosaurs found in the United States jumped from 9 to about 150 because these two dudes were pissed at each other?!" - "Did you know that the nucleus inside of an atom is like a fly inside of a cathedral?!"
I yelled all of this and more. Honestly, it was one of the most fun times I've had learning. Science is awesome, but the last person to explain science to me so thoroughly and effectively was Mr. Wizard. Also, because I'm not well-versed in science, there weren't very many moments of, "Ah, I knew that." It really was mostly just me repeating, "OH, WHAT THE FUCK!?"
Kudos, Bill Bryson, for getting this dude all super amped up on science again.(less)
The book isn't nearly as grand or exciting as its adaptations or what it represents. The classic boys' tale of pirate adventure and buried treasure ha...moreThe book isn't nearly as grand or exciting as its adaptations or what it represents. The classic boys' tale of pirate adventure and buried treasure has a slow narrative. Its pirate slang is top notch, but there's a bit too much old gentle boy talk in the quiet lulls. Long John Silver's one of the best villains, as he's likable and dependable while not really being all that reliable or intense. His best weapon is charm. It's pretty impressive. But for what the book's given the world, I thank it.(less)
This book instilled in me a feeling similar to when I read Bill Bryson's "A Short History Of Nearly Everything." I didn't understand science, and it e...moreThis book instilled in me a feeling similar to when I read Bill Bryson's "A Short History Of Nearly Everything." I didn't understand science, and it explained fun science. I don't understand economics, and this explained fun economics. In fact, it's more about societal causes and effects than anything else really: how abortion in the '70s caused a decrease in crime in the '90s, how real estate agents go about selling their houses versus selling other people's homes, et cetera.
It's interesting stuff, and it's presented super accessibly. However, it does get a little convoluted at times, and there's an air of "this is the real truth" when, in some cases, it seems like that's the entire argument against previous theories. It just doesn't carry the brute arrogance. It's wildly enjoyable, and it makes me appreciate data for being the truth-sayer it's always been and will always continue to be.(less)
This was such a heavy story. Jesus, the weight of the world slowly and carefully swallowing up two semi-urban cowboys in the 1960s. Time rolls over th...moreThis was such a heavy story. Jesus, the weight of the world slowly and carefully swallowing up two semi-urban cowboys in the 1960s. Time rolls over them, society waits in the shadows for them, and all you can do is try to hope everything will be ok when you know that it probably won't. There's no humor, no optimism. It's just brutal reality creeping into the souls of two good dudes trying make lives together and separately. The only problem I have was that how it started off was too quick and without dialogue. It's recapping and narration, which I think makes it difficult to convey what these two men see in each other that glows so profoundly that they would try something as radical and foreign to them as gay sex. Later on, it absolutely makes sense because the connection is there, real and vibrant, but it just jumped from them talking around a campfire (or us being told that they are, as they discuss dogs and past lives) to intimacy. If they had both previously engaged in sex with men previously, that'd be one thing, but for it being the '60s, them being surrounded by furiously hetero culture, and them never having looked to have done that before, it seemed like a radical, and somewhat inefficient, start to a very moving story of two people finding their place in the world and each other's hearts. Other than that, it was extraordinarily well-written and made me ache with the heaviness of everything forever going to hell with little wisps of heaven floating by in the breeze.(less)
This was a solid book. Jack London gives depth and personality to dogs, and it's not only not lame, it's downright strong. However, I could take or le...moreThis was a solid book. Jack London gives depth and personality to dogs, and it's not only not lame, it's downright strong. However, I could take or leave the story. I liked it, but I was't dying to know what Buck was going to do next or who he'd roam around with. Good book, but I could take it or leave. Glad I read it.(less)
If E.M. Forester's characters in are exaggerated drama queens, then Jane Austen's lot are shy introverts being constantly overwhelmed. They aren't mad...moreIf E.M. Forester's characters in are exaggerated drama queens, then Jane Austen's lot are shy introverts being constantly overwhelmed. They aren't mad about anything ever. They're just surprised and taken aback by the world's workings. Did these people live in a bomb shelter before the start of this book's events?
"Oh no, I can't believe he or she would do that," some idiot says.
"Yes, oh my, it's just dreadful," another idiot says.
What happened? Someone shows up five minutes late to a dinner party or something. I understand the context of a different age, but it's tedious to endure these characters' manic interpretations of life. The narrative isn't unrelentingly boorish, as some authors in this era may be, but rather boring and stagnant. If it were a play, the narrator would have 80% of the lines. Characters don't move the story, since Jane Austen is all about telling and not showing (where were you for 10th grade English, lady?).
"He felt so confused while she was staring out the window and sensing a sincere nervousness coming on. But he didn't mind, nor did she. They both hoped it would pass. But what if it didn't? Oh, she would feel crazy and he would maybe tied his shoes. They both felt nutty. Oh, how they felt nutty, but they felt nutty together. They looked at each other again and both felt in love. Oh, they were so in love. He wanted to kiss her and she wanted him to kiss her. Should they talk? They both wanted to talk, but they were so crazy and nutty. So they just let me do it for them. Hi, I'm Jane Austen and these bitches are all sorts of crazy and nutty," wrote the author maybe.
Also, since this was written pre-20th Century, there's always the worrying case of somebody possibly suggesting, "Yes, but you have to consider the time and the place it was written." Do I? Says who? Oh, but doesn't she get credit for penning such a tale in a man's world? No way, people. Mary Shelley lived during the same time and she wrote "Frankenstein" (who I was hoping would enter "Persuasion" and kill a few of the characters (except for Anne Elliot, who I liked a lot actually). Do you think people 100 years from now should praise the hell out of Nicholas Sparks for writing thinly constructed romance?
Actually, the more I think about it, I'm ok with Jane Austen. This book wasn't bad. It was just boring. It was just superbly slow. However, she writes like someone writing for the people, not herself. Her style seems very unselfish. I appreciate and admire that. I don't know how or why I feel that way, but she doesn't seem self-indulgent, which is difficult, considering romance is the easiest genre to indulge in. But after enough moments of sighing (wondering why I should care about anyone feeling anything), you kind of have to admit something that feels a whole lot like defeat.(less)
When Atticus Finch beat out Luke Skywalker and Superman as the greatest hero in film, I knew there was truth to it. From what I had heard and the litt...moreWhen Atticus Finch beat out Luke Skywalker and Superman as the greatest hero in film, I knew there was truth to it. From what I had heard and the little bit I remember from the movie adaptation, I recall Atticus being a man of wisdom and honor. But now that I've read the book, I can honestly say that there has never been a more precise moral compass in literature. I've never wanted to cheer on a character for the sake of morality before. It didn't even have to do with him being a lawyer or a father. I just adored and respected the hell out of him as a person. He absolutely holds up as the greatest hero in literature as well as film. No other character has sought the betterment of humanity with such humility, grace, wisdom, honor and general understanding. It was beautiful to see him interact in the world. He was so calm and collected. Everything he said made sense. And it wasn't showboating a character or making him more than he was supposed to be. It was just observing a man so right, perfect and oddly old world in a time that was so fucking miserable for so many people. Atticus Finch would be the best president this country could ever have, though I doubt he'd ever want to be anything else but a lawyer and a father.
When asked why she never finished writing another book, Harper Lee said something along the lines of, "I've already said all that I wanted to." And I get it. This book has so many themes, so many incredibly nostalgic and wonderful moments...what else could she say about racism, class warfare, gender roles and the loss of innocence? It's such an astounding book. I know everyone read it in high school, but I just didn't feel like reading it then. But, now, in my mid-late twenties, I've finally taken it in and I've loved the hell out of it. Such a beautiful, astonishing, honest book.(less)
Oh, how I grew unimaginably bored with this book. The language, darling, is so very...Edwardian English. Now, you mustn't think that I didn't come int...moreOh, how I grew unimaginably bored with this book. The language, darling, is so very...Edwardian English. Now, you mustn't think that I didn't come into the narrative without an open mind. I did! But you know how these stories play out, don't you, my dear? It's just so very droll and confusing; most confusing indeed. Oh, it's nonsense and poppycock and everything is such a big deal. What was that? A button was missing off of his shirt? Oh, my word, I surely hope the entire town isn't gossiping now. What a comedy of manners this is! Such a lark all of this is turning out to be. Oh, yes, yes, surely, you'll tell me all about how this was such a fitting feat of ambitious literature or it was such a lovely and exquisite depiction of early 1900s England. But it was petty, tedious and so very boring; most boring indeed. All of the characters are quite obnoxious and it goes on. Oh, how it goes on and on and on about nothing. Just nothing at all! The characters find hardly any motivation to do anything but force culture on each other when there's nothing of depth in any of them, you see! It's dreadful, just...dreadful.
Once I was done with the goddamn Honeychurchs and the Vyses and the Emersons and every tight-knit societal type of Windy Corner, I considered watching the movie, just to give the story one last chance. I mean, there were some sensationally good moments here and there, for sure. But, instead, I just said, "Fuck it. I'm just gonna turn on Apocalypse Now." So I did. And guess what? That shit was awesome.
Pollan gave me a lot of food for thought (wakka, wakka, wakka). He takes a long look at "industrial, pastoral and personal meals." The whole narrative...morePollan gave me a lot of food for thought (wakka, wakka, wakka). He takes a long look at "industrial, pastoral and personal meals." The whole narrative of the book seems stupendously detailed while also managing to appear somewhat misdirected, as if he tried several chances at pace and tone, never figured out which worked best and then left them all in. Sometimes, it's industry commentary. Other times, it's personal philosophy. And there are times where's it's just one bald-headed dude arguing, "Hey, what if I ate food like this? Have you eaten food like this? Well, here's some academic rambling to fuck up your shit, reader."
In the first part, I learned that just about everything consumed in America is corn. It blew my mind. For the most part, I was aware of how many things come from corn. However, when put together, it made our country seem like some highly advanced country living like future people wearing white robes in shiny, metal houses. I guess I've always assumed that, in the future, food would become boring and ultimately be made up of the same thing. But we're living that now while we wear flannel and live in houses that still have stucco on them. Everything is fucking corn That's lesson one. From your entire meal at McDonald's to industrial fuel, it's corn everygoddamnwhere.
In the second part, we learn how similar and different organic meat can be from industrial. It's a rather frantically drawn venn diagram. You learn quite a bit about the pride and principles of local farming, even finding out that some New Englanders show up to their nearby farm for meat and produce. Still, there are industrial organic farms that supply to chain health stores across the country. It's a tricky business and, at times, it's hard to fault the farmers, because it becomes a problem, as "Well, one way will make me go under and the other is too intense." So, somewhere in the middle, industrious organic farms make sense, even if they aren't the utopia all healthy eaters want to believe they are.
In the third part, Pollan kind of lost himself to tangents. He slips into weird rants about vegetarians, as if they would never bother to read his book, like all us vegetarians are too busy reading David Sedaris while getting high and Tivoing documentaries about socialism and dolphins. Listen, Pollan, know your demographic: everybody. Everybody eats, everybody reads, everybody may just read your book about eating. He does dial it back a bit and admits that he finds overlap in his concern for animals while taking on the heavy task of hunting for his own meal. As a personal attitude, hunting bums me out, but it's for an actual meal, which, for whatever crazy reason, makes it slightly better to me (though I'll never see that shit as a collective noble "sport" - you're shooting a peaceful and probably adorable animal with a shotgun as a hobby when you could just as easily take up croquet, you goddamn maniac). Also, I understand that his mushroom gathering trips were a big deal, but he goes on forever about mushrooms. Meat is a huge industry, corn is a huge product, mushrooms are neither, so just cool it. Don't give me the history of mushrooms. If I wanted that, I could show up to any community college drum circle and ask those guys ditching out on political science if all mushrooms are all alike (see, I can generalize too, guy). Finally, Pollan has a grand meal of everything he hunted or gathered himself and the idea really is fascinating. To do that, in this day and age, seems impossible. I say, good job, despite the pig hunting violence and mushroom gathering rants. To really set forth and do that, even if it's for a book about your adventures, is something pretty outstanding. Think about making a full meal in which you avoid all grocery stores and any other civilized commercial entity and go for broke out in the wild. Yes, you've picked an orange tree, but now consider everything else.
In the end, it was an interesting book that made me more curious about the topic and less curious about Michael Pollan. The food industry is incredibly interesting, though it's quite easy to forget it's an industry.(less)
This wasn't my type of book at all. Inspirational bestsellers rarely ever are. It's usually because the motivation for the reader overshadows the moti...moreThis wasn't my type of book at all. Inspirational bestsellers rarely ever are. It's usually because the motivation for the reader overshadows the motivation of the characters, and I find it irksome. However, Mitch Albom writes with an integrity that does pander to the easy read. For that, I am grateful. He succeeded here where Philip Roth fell short with Everyman, as an author tries to deepen the well of human grief by reflecting on a man's life in the bleak retrospect of death. I was presented with a good scope of one man's life, and it wasn't the dull lurk of a biography and it wasn't just quick flashes. It was a solid combination of the two. Personally, I didn't think the payoff was as strong as it could've been, which made the rest of the narrative less structured. I always love "here's what could happen after we die" and interpretations of Heaven, but this wasn't quite the follow-through I was hoping for or expecting. But it was well done in its development and logic.(less)
Sherlock Holmes is such classic mystery storytelling, you can almost hear the creaking doors and the creeping footsteps as you move from tale to tale....moreSherlock Holmes is such classic mystery storytelling, you can almost hear the creaking doors and the creeping footsteps as you move from tale to tale. I read Sherlock Holmes as a kid and, now as a twenty-something, the stories strike something deeper in me. Before, I appreciate the stories for the suspense. Now, I feel as though I appreciate the stories for what they gave the world. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave the world the classic setups, the classic twists, the classic surprises. You read the Sherlock Holmes stories and, even though mystery stories have been around forever in fables and tall tales, you feel as though the adventures of Holmes and Watson are pioneers in the best of the modern kind.
It's hard to keep up and guess the endings, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never gives you enough. So, neither readers nor characters can outwit the great Sherlock Holmes. I suppose, in some instances, it may be less fun to be unable to guess the turns, but the stories run so quick that by the time sometimes amiss, you don't even have time to think, "He's a forger!"
The tales are so old world in tone, but so contemporary in devices. The foggy atmosphere of a thieving London gives way to the shadows and the rumors that make up the world of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (who, by the way, is a wonderful narrator and sidekick). Reading Sherlock Holmes reminds me a lot of watching The Twilight Zone: you may have heard the spooky story a thousand times before, but it's always best to hear it from the original source. Solve on, Holmes!(less)
The story that started Sedaris's career, "SantaLand Diaries," may have actually been my least favorite. I found it sort of cynical, condescending and...moreThe story that started Sedaris's career, "SantaLand Diaries," may have actually been my least favorite. I found it sort of cynical, condescending and arrogant. He applies for a job, knowing that it's a holiday retail gig, and then he just acts shitty to everone. It kind of made me like David Sedaris a little less. It had funny moments, but, all in all, it just left me with a feeling of discomfort.
The other piece of non-fiction, "Dinah The Christmas Whore," was pretty good. His family's excitement over a prostitute was honest and hokey while also being honest.
But it was the four short stories of insanity that made me laugh. Brutal and outrageous, the fiction pieces were my favorite, mostly because I hadn't heard his work of fictional humor. Everything's dark and out of control. I loved it.(less)
Barrel Fever, by David Sedaris This is my 6th book in Rex & Jake's 50-Book Reading Challenge, which Rex leads 10-6.
I had a soft spot for this short...moreBarrel Fever, by David Sedaris This is my 6th book in Rex & Jake's 50-Book Reading Challenge, which Rex leads 10-6.
I had a soft spot for this short story and essay collection from the get-go, as it was one of those rare instances where I thought to myself, "I tried this!"
When I was a teenager realizing that I wanted to write for a living, I wasn't sure what the hell I was trying to do when I finally sat down to do it. I hadn't written much outside of school, and it certainly wasn't enough to make it obvious that writing was a serious interest to myself. I wrote essays, stories, and poems then, but I didn't have a range of good or bad, proper or improper, sensible or senseless.
So, along the way, I'd write these absurd stories of things going wrong for people, and it made me laugh. They were quirky and random. I think the power of being able to play god over your own characters went to my head almost immediately. I recall one story about a delusional high school girl that was obsessed with the popular jock, and one day she really dolled herself up to catch his attention. When he finally turns around, she thinks it's going to be a confession of love, but all he says is, "Stop kicking my chair, you stupid bitch."
To me, I thought it was hilarious. I really did (and I kind of still do). It wasn't based off of anything or anyone. I just liked that the story had an abrupt twist at the end.
Short stories have that power. With a novel, it's hard to keep up the strangeness and a reader will really feel heavily for a character or a plot, so it's a weird tight rope to walk. But a short story offers a reader just enough information and time to understand (and potentially empathize with) characters, so you can really exploit that. Sure, short stories can be a powerful, moving, extraordinary medium...but they can also be for nonsense.
Most of Barrel Fever is made up of funny and absurd yet cynical and realistic first-person accounts of life as one insane thing after another. They're endearing with ridiculous premises (one actor's several-page-long Oscar speech, a mother/wife falling apart in a holiday newsletter, etc). But they're articulate and well-crafted, so the silliness shines through as a glorious fiction. There were parts where I laughed out loud because he delivered a punchline amidst compassionate and peculiar observation.
I've been familiar with Sedaris's essay work for years. He's superb, and I love his non-fiction, as many of them read like short stories anyway. I'm glad that he didn't stray too far, while still steering away, when it came to his fiction. The essays in this collection were outstanding as well, but I figured that'd be the case. Seeing as how this was his first collection, it's pretty interesting to see how goofy he was at the start of his career while also being just as talented and steady as he is now.