Reggie Love was President Obama's bodyman during the 2008 campaign and after Obama entered office, which means he was responsible for handling the canReggie Love was President Obama's bodyman during the 2008 campaign and after Obama entered office, which means he was responsible for handling the candidate-then-president's meals, wardrobe, wake-ups, workouts, phone calls, and all kinds of other minute details. So Love has probably seen and heard some really fascinating and crazy things in his time at the president's right arm. Unfortunately, it seems like Love is holding most of those stories close to his vest for now, and what we get are a collection of the times that the author learned a particularly poignant life lesson from either Obama, another staffer, or his parents. Love also tries to blend in his experiences as a top NCAA basketball player and NFL-tryout to how those roles helped him navigate working on the campaign trail--comparisons that don't always seem to fit. In all, we hear very little about life in the White House. Most of the book is devoted to the campaign, which is far more gruelling (and a better underdog story) then what became a comparatively cushy West Wing job. That's not to say this book wasn't interesting--and maybe it's too much to expect a deep, revealing analysis or probing insight from one of Obama's most trusted employees and friends. Even what little we hear from Obama is interesting, if only to see examples of his sense of humor, the times he was annoyed or angry (most often, over a poor food choice) or exhausted, or the times that he managed to finesse a conflict that might sink another politician. ...more
The only other Thomas Pynchon novel I've read is Inherent Vice, which I liked. So I don't know if all his novels are dense and intricate modern noir,The only other Thomas Pynchon novel I've read is Inherent Vice, which I liked. So I don't know if all his novels are dense and intricate modern noir, or just these two. But I couldn't help but read them as two sides of the same coin: east coast/west coast, NY/LA, etc.
It often feels like we remember the time before September as both innocent and prosperous, and the years after the attacks as both unifying and frightening. But through the novel's heroine Maxine and her investigation of New York's not-quite-underworld--she's a Certified Fraud Examiner chasing dotcom finances--Pynchon reminds us that most of the post-Sept. 11 evils we live with were largely in place before the World Trade Center fell. At the same time, it would be impossible for a novel like this to exist before 2001. We're probably much more credulous today about the connections Maxine finds between billionare tech moguls, secret Defense Department projects, pervasive surveillance, ominous server farms, and CIA hitmen. Even when mobsters make an apperance, it's as semi-retired crooks who invest their racketeering earnings on the NASDAQ.
Maxine hardly seems to solve the mysteries she uncovers, instead a couple characters towards the end advance most-likely-case theories about what was behind all this, and we're left trying to decide who we really believe. (Although a second read through of the novel might help make the whole chain of events more clear.) But what makes this novel enjoyable, and what I enjoy about Pynchon's writing in general, is how almost every sentence seems to simultaneously weave together criticism, satire, dark humor, and a little thrill for good measure....more
I wanted to check out this book almost as soon as I found out my wife and I were having a daughter. There's something about easily kids today seem toI wanted to check out this book almost as soon as I found out my wife and I were having a daughter. There's something about easily kids today seem to get plugged into these marketing and branding engines that makes me uneasy--although when I expressed this to my parents they asked me how it was any different from my childhood (and, admittedly, adult) fixation on Star Wars and Legos. WERE they different? Hopefully Peggy Orenstein would have some answers.
Combining her own anedotes about her childhood and teenage years, her experiences with a young daughter, interviews with parents and children, and a good amount of scientific research and surveys. There's a lot of hand-wringing here that doesn't always seem entirely justified, worry of what kind of message this toy is sending or whether the titular Cinderella makes an appropriate role model, etc. Some of it seems to reflect a certain kind of parental yearning--even though Orenstein says she wants her daughter to experience life as a process of unfettered self-discovery, it's clear that she has a very specific set of attitudes and opinions she would like her grown daughter to possess. At the same time, Orenstein is generally good about admitting when science says her fears are probably nothing to worry about--for example, she discovers that the more violent original versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales might actually be BETTER for young children in terms of giving voice to inborn human fears than their neutered Disney versions. And there's a lot in the book that's simply good to know: That Disney and every other toy maker really is cynically focused on fostering a lifetime of brand loyalty at a shockingly young age, that the iron curtain between boys toys and the pink aisle is a fairly recent invention, but also that kids do their own gender sorting, that social networks are a minefield for teens and learning how to navigate them younger may not be helpful. If anything, the book is best at sifting through all the dry and controversial opinions on the matters of raising girls and presenting them in a readable, simple way....more
I expected the memoir "Everything is Wrong with Me" to read just like my own childhood because the author, Jason Mulgrew, is a year younger than me. BI expected the memoir "Everything is Wrong with Me" to read just like my own childhood because the author, Jason Mulgrew, is a year younger than me. But instead of the suburbs in the 1980's, Mulgrew grew up in a rowhome in working class South Philadelphia, in a neighborhood where your "Mummer's Club"--like an American Legion hall for non-veterans--is your drinking club for life, your grandfather runs numbers for the mob, seemingly everyone is involved in petty crime or casual brushes with violence, and your friends have nicknames like Uncle Petey and Chuckie and Screech. In fact, "Everything is Wrong" feels more like the first 20 minutes of Goodfellas (Mulgrew even channels Ray Liotta at one point), but with the occasional mention of Sega Genesis, Upper Deck baseball cards, and "Saved by the Bell" (see above, re: "Screech"). Mulgrew is definitely a witty writer with a deft, if sometimes awkward, touch. He retraces his life from stories of his parents before they were married up through his middle school years and awkward group hang-outs with girls. You might feel vaguely dissatisfied at the end, because there's not much thread connecting the stories and anecdotes about his life, other than hints to an alcohol-soaked young adulthood, and he doesn't even come to any big conclusions about his life or how it all fits together. But isn't that what life is like anyway?...more
There's no shortage of apocalyptic works of fiction out now in books, TV, and movies. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller dives at the heart of one reason wThere's no shortage of apocalyptic works of fiction out now in books, TV, and movies. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller dives at the heart of one reason why the genre might be so popular, which is a secret or subconscious yearning many people seem to possess to live a simpler, less crowded, less technology-dependent life. After surviving a flu that kills damn near everyone in the United States, Hig (our narrator) sets up at a small airport where he still maintains his small Cessna airplane. He lives only with his dog and another man who is the kind of hard-core survivalist that seemed to be waiting for this kind of societal collapse his whole adult life.
Big sections of the novel are given over to Hig's descriptions of long hikes in the woods, the pleasure of solo piloting a small aircraft, the peace he finds in fishing and hunting, and the wisdom of sleeping under the stars. Just about every other human being in the early parts of the novel is presented as an immediate threat, toting weapons with sinister motives. Hig and his survivalist pal generally kill anyone who comes near them on sight. Despite this philosophy that the only person you can trust is yourself, Hig eventually goes in search of people who maybe AREN'T completely evil, and that's where the main action of the novel begins (around halfway through).
Ultimately, it's hard to say where author Heller comes down on whether people need other people, or that humans are the most dangerous predators. (Probably a mix of both, of course.) But at the very least, the happiness the characters find in their isolated, naturalistic settings will make you wish you were outside camping with only a sleeping bag and a loyal dog at your side. ...more
I loved Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, about a time travel machine repairman searching for his lost father. Most ofI loved Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, about a time travel machine repairman searching for his lost father. Most of Yu's short stories in this collection lean heavily on the same concept of a science fiction trope explored as an allegory for some deep crisis of introspection in adult life. When you come across that idea on its own, as I did reading How To Live Safely, it's brilliant. But when you read a bunch of those similar stories back-to-pack, it starts to seem less clever with repetition. Especially since Yu often makes himself the narrator/main character in his stories (or at least names the main character after himself). If I had to pick my favorite story, it would be "Hero Absorbs Major Damage," a first person account of a video game character in an MMORPG. There's a lot to like in here, and Yu's confident, straightforward writing style always shines through....more
I was a little disappointed by World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It's less a novel than a collection of short stories about people who wI was a little disappointed by World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It's less a novel than a collection of short stories about people who were involved in a zombie apocalypse, told in the first person with the "narrator" interjecting questions from time to time. The only thing really linking the stories is the oral history rubric that the narrator has put together. Max Brooks's idea of trying to show how the entire world could be potentially affected by a zombie outbreak is a fantastic one, and it's clear he did a lot of research and tried to really get into the details of how people of different cultures would react and respond to such a threat. He does manage to get past some of the usual zombie story tropes of a small band of people surviving together, and that's to be commended. Many of the "Oh yeah, I didn't think of that" ideas are clever, such as the zombies who end up littering the ocean floor, incapable of drowning.
Unfortunately, World War Z mainly reads like a survey on stereotypes Americans have of other nationalities. Read as a window into how the United States views itself in relationship to the world, maybe it succeeds, but I don't think this was the author's intent. I would have liked for the characters to have talked like real people, instead of what are obviously writer's constructs. And for what is supposed to be an international cast, they sure all do seem to talk alike, and there's really not a lot of depth or variation to these people. Most of what happens starts to feel repetitive after a while, and I found myself rushing through the last few chapters--no good novel should be read that way. As far as recent zombie literature goes, I was much more impressed by Zone One....more
The movie "Predator," I've heard, is really about the Vietnam War: an invisible enemy strikes from nowhere, picking off a unit of Army special ops inThe movie "Predator," I've heard, is really about the Vietnam War: an invisible enemy strikes from nowhere, picking off a unit of Army special ops in the jungle, one at a time, seemingly just for fun. In the same way, Robopocalypse is surely informed by the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the creation of actual AI, the machine intellect of course decides to wipe out human existence (presumably after watching Terminator, Tron, The Matrix, War Games, or any of the other apocalyptic literature about computers that are too smart for their own good). But the bulk of the novel is about how the robot mind (called Archos, or Big Rob in the book) continually adapts to humankind's attempts to defeat its robot soldiers, and how the humans adapt to those changes in turn. One main character even spends the book in Afghanistan, fighting alongside his former Taliban enemies against the robots, to make the analogy even more clear. Of course, while the robot army is controlled by a central big brain (see above, re: Tron, The Matrix, et al) actual terrorists are much more decentralized, but I don't think Daniel Wilson is trying for a perfect metaphor here. Instead, what he achieves is a very lively and readable story, told as an oral history compiled by someone who discovers Big Rob's own archives of the human v. robot war. That narrative device works well, although the prose and dialogue, too often reflects the author's voice more than it should the characters'. Not surprising that the movie version already has Spielberg lined up to direct, but I would have much rather seen this played out as an HBO or AMC miniseries. At any rate, Robopocalypse should be added to the canon of war fiction thinly disguised as sci fi shared by Starship Troopers and The Forever War. ...more
With all the classic monsters lately being defanged as sparkly abstinence parables, it's nice to read a horror story that's actually meant for thinkinWith all the classic monsters lately being defanged as sparkly abstinence parables, it's nice to read a horror story that's actually meant for thinking adults. The novel kicks off with Jacob, our narrator, being informed that he is the titular last living werewolf, and therefore the lone remaining target of a worldwide hunt. What follows has enough shadowy international organizations, spycraft, luxury travel, and gunplay to fill a James Bond movie (I kept imagining Daniel Craig, our most recent Bond, as the protagonist). But deep down I see The Last Werewolf about a man's growth from adolescent sex obsession to mature romantic love--even though Jacob doesn't physically age. All the initial talk of werewolf erections and libido is a little jarring, but is a fair enough estimation of the mind of any male teenager. Plus it serves mainly to highlight the dramatic change in priorities after Jacob starts to develop a genuine romantic (although still sexual) relationship. And after all, aren't all the great monster stories (except, I suppose, Frankenstein) about the conflict between sexuality and romance? At least this one treats the subject with the maturity and intelligence it deserves. ...more
For as long as 1Q84 is, I never felt like it was dragging or getting bogged down. It's the first Murakami book I read, so I can't compare it to his eaFor as long as 1Q84 is, I never felt like it was dragging or getting bogged down. It's the first Murakami book I read, so I can't compare it to his earlier work. But I actually enjoyed the way he repeats themes, imagery, even bits of dialogue between characters to show parallel action and ideas. I'm not sure I understand what exactly Murakami was trying to say here--many of the more fantastical bits are left unexplained an unresolved, but I think that tying up every loose end isn't really the main point of the book. But he gets you right inside the characters' heads, even if their motivations and actions seem a little odd sometimes, you're with them all the way. And it's beautifully written, or maybe I should say translated, but what I must assume are the grace and elegance of Murakami's Japanese prose carries through in the English edition. ...more