I became curious to hear more from gay activist and sex advice columnist Dan Savage after he was on This American Life, where he told a moving tale ab...moreI became curious to hear more from gay activist and sex advice columnist Dan Savage after he was on This American Life, where he told a moving tale about how, long after his Catholic Republican parents had come to actively support his desire to marry his long time partner Terry, they found their own 4-year old adopted son adamantly against the idea.
American Savage is a collection of Dan's essays on a wide variety of topics, including whether or not it's ever okay to cheat in a relationship, what inspired him to start the "It Gets Better" project, and the time he hosted a dinner/debate at his home for the head of the most prominent organization fighting gay marriage in the US.
Since Savage has been giving sex advice to both gays and straights for 20 years now, he is comfortably graphic in his discussions of pretty much everything. That openness allows him to offer some unique insights, such as a compelling argument as to why one will find so many Catholics in BDSM communities.
While there is plenty of talk about sex in this book, however, the majority of the essays here are about basic civil rights and the LBGT communities' fight to get them. Savage's status as a frontline activist has left him intimately familiar with the astonishing levels of hypocrisy displayed by the other side, and he uses several of these essays to highlight the most egregious examples of bigotry disguised as family values. While I don't agree with Savage on everything, the case he makes that LBGT activists have done more to promote truly traditional family values than anyone is a very easy one to support.
While his topics are sometimes deadly serious, Savage himself is very funny. A lot of that humor can be dark, but that is often needed to balance out such horrifying moments as one anti-gay activist's call to start an "underground railroad" to "rescue" adopted children from gay parents.
I experienced a full range of emotions reading this book - bouncing from surprise to fury to laughter to discomfort to hope all within a few pages. Its graphic content is not going to be for everyone, but if you are interested in having your thoughts intelligently provoked, this book will take very good care of you.(less)
As someone with a fondness for books about books, I expected to really like this tale of a Welsh bookshop owner who finds herself suddenly drawn back...moreAs someone with a fondness for books about books, I expected to really like this tale of a Welsh bookshop owner who finds herself suddenly drawn back into the mysteries of her own past. And I did enjoy the first few chapters, despite generally disliking stories that keep readers in the dark by leaping back and forth between various time periods. But I found the main character, Tooly, engaging enough to overlook that quirk, and by the time the book posed its major questions about her, I wanted to know the answers enough to keep reading.
As Tooly's past and present unspool throughout the pages, however, I found myself becoming less and less satisfied. Yes, there are multiple colorful characters to keep the reader entertained, and the author poses some interesting questions about the intersection of personal and global history, and the creation of both. (view spoiler)[ Ultimately, however, I felt like the author weakened his book substantially by building a mystery around questions that shouldn't have been mysterious at all. The readers are kept in the dark about who Tooly's parents actually are, why Paul kept moving her around the world, and who Sarah was. But Tooly knew, or at least should have known, the answers to most of these questions herself. Not sharing that information with the reader earlier on serves more as a distraction than a focusing device for how we build and grow identity, under both normal and shifting circumstances. (hide spoiler)]
I closed this book with the sense that the its structure was far more complicated than the ideas it was attempting to communicate required. It's a mildly entertaining book, but not one I found particularly significant. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Ben Horowitz joined Netscape in the very early days and proceeded to ride the internet wave all the way up, all the way down, and everywhere in betwee...moreBen Horowitz joined Netscape in the very early days and proceeded to ride the internet wave all the way up, all the way down, and everywhere in between over the course of his career. In this memoir/business advice book, he recounts choice moments from his extensive career and shares information he found important along the way.
In a world filled with Rah-Rah You Can Do It! business books, I found the tone of this book incredibly refreshing. The opening paragraph gets right to the point that it doesn't matter how much you believe in your company when your market has crashed, your funding is disappearing and your employees are revolting. The key to really being a successful entrepreneur has less to do with your vision and more to do with your ability to make good decisions when there are nothing but bad and worse options to choose from.
Horowitz' personal stories were the most interesting part of the book; particularly gripping was his tale about desperately trying to raise money right after the NASDAQ crash when his company was on the verge of bankruptcy and his wife was undergoing a major health crisis. He is incredibly honest as he talks about the sheer terror, the sleepless nights, the nausea and the incredible emotional toll trying to right a failing ship takes on the entrepreneurial soul.
In the middle section of the book, he offers more specific advice drawn from things he has learned over the years, including an interesting discussion on the difference between hiring for strength instead of for lack of weakness. Much of this section won't be useful for people outside the tech industry, however, as I don't think issues like how to handle job applications from people who work for your other CEO friends are likely to apply outside the small world of Silicon Valley. A lot of his advice also applies to people who are running companies with hundreds if not thousands of employees.
Despite not being in that world, however, I still found this book a useful read. Given how grueling starting and running a company is, it's helpful to get signposts from someone who has been through as much as Horowitz has. (less)
I discovered Tom Robbins via Jitterbug Perfume in high school, and spent the next several years as an avid fan. Aside from tracking down the exoticall...moreI discovered Tom Robbins via Jitterbug Perfume in high school, and spent the next several years as an avid fan. Aside from tracking down the exotically named Alexa D'Avalon, rumored to be the author's girlfriend, to have my tarot cards read, I never gave a great deal of thought to the man himself. I assumed he had sprung, fully formed like Venus, into the pantheon of psychedelic authors and never dared imagine the path that could have created such a mind.
In Tibetan Peach Pie, Robbins gives some well-framed glimpses into the life that led him to his unlikely career. There was a great deal I was surprised to learn about him, including that he was born in the South during the depression, served in the Korean War, and began his writing career as an art critic for the Seattle Times.
Robbins is a languid and amiable storyteller as he recounts choice moments from his past, including everything from shenanigans in his military academy to his discover of Bohemia upon his return from the war.
Robbins is open about the fact that the book is not intended to be an exhaustive chronicle of his life. While he goes into a bit of detail about his first LSD and mushroom trips, he spends less time on such matters as readers might expect. He also dispenses with more emotional matters like his first wife's infidelity in a couple of sentences.
Those stories he chooses to tell, however, are more than worth hearing, and I found the book quite enjoyable to read. Of particular interest to me was his discussion of finding his authorial way into the pages of Another Roadside Attraction. It was thus equally disappointing that he he spent only a paragraph on Jitterbug and Skinny Legs, and was a little more circumspect than I would have liked regarding the film adaptation of Cowgirls.
Instead, Robbins focused the end of the book on some of the more exotic travels his writing wealth allowed him and his current wife, the aforementioned Ms. D'Avalon. While I closed this book not knowing everything I wanted to about Tom Robbins, I at least know now for certain that he was the "sweetie" Alexa referred to back in that tarot reading in 1988.(less)
Bob Mankoff has the enviable job of being the cartoon editor for the New Yorker. This book is part memoir, discussing his own path to becoming first a...moreBob Mankoff has the enviable job of being the cartoon editor for the New Yorker. This book is part memoir, discussing his own path to becoming first a cartoonist and then an editor, as well as founder of the online Cartoon Bank. It also includes a decent history of the art of cartooning in publishing, tracing its development as influenced by society as a whole and also the quirks of the editors who selected the cartoons.
As one might expect of a book about cartoons, it's pretty enjoyable to read. There are liberal examples of some very funny cartoons scattered throughout the book, which also makes it a pretty quick read. Mankoff spends a fair amount of time talking about his own learning curve in becoming a cartoonist, and also tells the stories of half a dozen contemporaries and the paths they took to getting their first prized published cartoon.
While the book touches only lightly on the subject of social commentary, it was interesting to realize just how widespread the influence of some cartoons has been. In addition to the book's now infamous title, the phrase "Well, I guess it's back to the drawing board" first entered the lexicon in the caption of a cartoon. The book helped me remember just how valuable an art form that entertains as it enlightens can be.(less)