It's dumb, dumb, way past dumb to say that Crime and Punishment is "weirder" than I thought it would be, but guess what, it is! The first time through...moreIt's dumb, dumb, way past dumb to say that Crime and Punishment is "weirder" than I thought it would be, but guess what, it is! The first time through it to see what happens, the second time through'll be like visiting a shitty friend. In the meantime this book is going to lie on my shelf in case I need a drunk friend from the 1800s who won't shut up about philosophy and never finishes his sentences with just one period...(less)
I'm swamped with work and I don't have time for a real deal review but I finished this book and it's awful and if I didn't pop in to say that right no...moreI'm swamped with work and I don't have time for a real deal review but I finished this book and it's awful and if I didn't pop in to say that right now I could go to the grave with unfinished business and come back as a terrible ghost. I'm tossing an extra star on this review because this book did do what I wanted it to--it was a quick and accessible book about running that is IN SOME WAYS HELPFUL if you're looking to start jogging but you're in terrible shape. Otherwise, though, it's terrible--overwritten (food is never "eaten", but instead "chomped", "wolfed", or "gulped", over and over again), dishonest (McDougall glazes over facts like they were donuts, and he uses similes like that which are just the worst), and even though it's non-fiction none of the characters scan like real people. Gross gross gross. It's almost a shame I was able to get anything about of this book. It's like if there were only one bread recipe in the world but it was at the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin and if you didn't read the whole thing first it didn't make sense.
I guess what I'm saying here is if anyone has any better books about running I am ALL EARS because I want to FORGET THIS ONE(less)
'Some people think this is a Jewish conspiracy, some think it's a Catholic conspiracy, some people think it's a Masonic conspiracy But I know what it...more'Some people think this is a Jewish conspiracy, some think it's a Catholic conspiracy, some people think it's a Masonic conspiracy But I know what it really is.' 'What is it?' I asked. 'It is a satanic globalist conspiracy,' said Jack.
When I got to use the upper-school library when I was ten years old I started a cycle that I kept up until I left for high school. Every week I would check out one of two books: Ghosts: Fact or Fiction and UFOs: Fact or Fiction. The gimmick to these books was great, each one was divided into two sections, one based on fact and the other on fiction. Each side of the book was the front cover for one of the two halves, so if you picked up the book and started reading from one side it would be "fact", and if you flipped it over and started reading from the other it would be "fiction." The two sides met up in the middle, and if you tried to look at one side after you had started from the other the text would be upside down. I checked out one of these two books every week (sometimes both), reading the same bits over and over, always in the fact sections. Men In Black, poltergeists, the four categories of UFO encounters (at level four they take you away forever), every week. I rarely looked at the fiction sections. When I tried to read the ghost fiction it started off cool with the story of a haunting in Amityville, New York, but at the end of the chapter they revealed the family had made it all up for money so I stopped reading. In the UFO book the first chapter told me to imagine aliens from Planet X, but they didn't tell me where Planet X was or what these aliens looked like or if they'd ever even been seen before so I quit out of frustration. I didn't read these books to get jerked around. I came in for facts. The high school library didn't have many books on paranormal theories, which was probably for the best. My interest waned, I got really into puberty, the most I got into now was watching "True Life: Alien Abduction" documentaries on A&E. I miss those books about ghosts and aliens, but now I'm a little glad, to be honest, because every time I look those things up now I find more and more stories like the ones Jon Ronson reports on in his book. Them is a weary but not dismissive look into the world of conspiracy theorists and extremists. Ronson embedded himself for years with islamic extremists in London, American militiamen, Ku Klux Klan members, and anti-reptillian prophets, among others. Ghosts and aliens aren't the focus here, but I felt drawn to this book in the same way I felt drawn to the fact or fiction series: I wanted to learn secrets. More specifically, I wanted to learn about these guys who wanted to learn secrets. I wanted to know what I would be like if I had never given up. A lot of reviews on here focus on Ronson's relationship to his own jewishness (for extreme lack of a better word), but in writing this book he had to be careful. Almost everyone he interviews in the book is a believer in the jewish new world order to one degree or another. At the end of the first chapter his islamic radical contact, Omar Bakri, gives Ronson a dressing-down and exposes him as a Jew in front of a group of islamic militants. "I am not offended that you are a Jew... but what offends me is that you hide it. You assimilate... That is the worst thing of all. Be a Jew!" I really wish I could think of something besides anti-semitism in this book but it comes up so often. My favorite chapter focused on David Icke, the British sports broadcaster who left his old career behind to give lectures on the thirteen kinds of reptoid aliens from outer space that secretly rule the world. Ronson doesn't give his theories a second thought, and focuses instead on the backlash to Icke's speaking tour in London by a group of local anti-racism activists. Their problem is that they can't tell if Icke's speaking in code, substituting "reptoid" for "Jew". There's a lot of arguing, TV interviews. No one can tell if he's anti-semitic, crazy, or both. By the end they're almost all convinced that this man is not an anti-semite--he only hates literal reptile people. If Ronson is dismissive of the reptile people, he's accepting of the ideas of the Bilderberg group and the Bohemian Grove, two separate (but intermingled) groups of super-powerful men who meet once a year and determine the world's events. Conspiracy theorists blame everything on these groups, and as Ronson reports on the theorists, he starts to believe the theory as well. Something always swerves him at the last second, though. While investigating the Bilderberg group, he learns that the man he's investigating with, Jim Tucker, is also the publisher of The Spotlight, one of America's largest anti-semitic newspapers. While investigating the Bohemian Grove, Ronson is unimpressed with his findings, while his co-investigator, Alex Jones, finds evidence of satanism and human sacrifice in the same set of facts. Meanwhile, Ronson is consistently unimpressed by Alex Jones. Them is more than a Sedaris-style piece of character assassination, though (with all due love to David Sedaris). To his credit, Ronson doesn't set out to discredit all of his interview subjects simply because they decided to show up. Aside from the interviews, Them is also useful as an introductory guide to the general conspiracies of the day. It's hard to research David Icke or the New World Order, because anything interesting is always buried down under a million pounds of crazy. David Icke in particular likes to give speeches that go on for something like ten hours, and in that time he's good at spreading his information very thin. I'm grateful to Jon Ronson for writing this. Through much of the book he comes off as weary, just tired of the whole thing, and I can't blame him. Dude wrote a book while standing six feet deep in a pile of shit, you know?(less)
I'd never read anything by Dave Eggers before (besides his introduction to Infinite Jest) so I didn't really know what to expect from this. If I'm bei...moreI'd never read anything by Dave Eggers before (besides his introduction to Infinite Jest) so I didn't really know what to expect from this. If I'm being honest what I really expected was something twee and annoying, a little too cute. I'm not proud of that but it's out there now! Blah! I'd put this dude off for a long time. I'd seen this book around for a while and I'd always assumed it was Dave Eggers on the cover, somehow flown in from SoCal to canoe around and tut-tut at all the terrible things happening in post-Katrina New Orleans. I was wrong, I was wrong! If anyone is reading this review and agreed with me up to this sentence, turn back, read this book! I was wrong! To put this in my best pitch terms (because I'm sleepy), I'd call this a cross between In Cold Blood (super in-depth nonfiction reporting with no mention of the author's hand) and the last quarter of Catch-22, when the jokes fall away and people start dying. It's the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife, Kathy, and the terrible things that happened to them in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I'm not going to give a word of the plot away because that's stupid. Eggers moves through the chain of events day by day, incorporating flashbacks and exposition in a logical way. You learn about Zeitoun's childhood in Syria because that's what was on his mind during the flood. You don't learn about Kathy's family and their problems with her conversion to Islam until she goes up and meets them--it's nothing she dwelt on until she had to be confronted with it. The book starts off with a bit of showy prose, compared to everything that comes next, but after that point it's beat-for-beat reporting, no funny stuff. It's all straightforward except for one formal trick that's both devastating and totally earned. Anyway the moral of the story is sometimes you have terrible dumb biases against authors you've never read and they form for no reason (or maybe a mouthy review of A Heartbreaking Work that lodged in the back of your mind in your formative years) and you should get over them, read everything. I'm avoiding the content of this book because there's nothing I can add to it right now. Just go read it, we'll grab a drink later and talk about how awful the world is.
And whatever you do, don't google "Zeitoun aftermath" unless you want to ruin your whole damn day.(less)
There's a part about two-thirds of the way through this book, when Robert Caro is describing the history of a dam that Lyndon Johnson would eventually...moreThere's a part about two-thirds of the way through this book, when Robert Caro is describing the history of a dam that Lyndon Johnson would eventually help to its completion, where he muses, "Detailing Wirtz's maneuvers to persuade the Legislature to... complete its construction would require a book in itself (no such work exists)." That's Robert Caro as best as I can describe him. He expects the rest of the world to produce books like the ones he writes, books that reflect his love of minutiae. This book is an obsessive, massive work that's only part one of an even larger work that only hints at a larger obsession with power. Robert Caro is a uniquely focused author, spending half of his life on one multi-part biography of an unpopular American president, but you get the feeling reading The Path to Power that books like this come out every day. It's long enough to drag us in and spoil us.
There's a lot to be said about the character of Lyndon Johnson in these books, but you can cover most of that with the most popular review for the book on this site, where someone says it's like watching Breaking Bad. Johnson has a way of never giving up that's not as much heroic as it is a selfish obsession with growing larger and more powerful than everyone else,* but enough about that, I want to talk about the prose! The Path to Power has a thousand pages to fill with thirty two years of Johnson's life, and as you might expect, Caro has a tendency to go off on tangents. The first chapter takes place fifty years before Johnson is born and goes into great detail about the soil conditions of west Texas. It's a bit of a slog at first, as is the opening section of any biography, where you have to learn about people who came before the star attraction, but with Caro it pays off. By spending so much time on the soil, Caro threads in themes of promise, potential, disappointment, and poverty that all pay off over the course of the rest of the book. The soil and its effect on Johnson's family has a profound psychological on Lyndon that lasts through his entire life. There are similar diversions, long tangents about Sam Rayburn, Lady Bird Johnson, debate clubs, farmhouses before and after electricity, and many more that I can't remember, but Caro is never self-indulgent in showing off his research. His prose works like a crucible. Anything that at first looks not directly related to Johnson is burned away and bubbles back at his feet.
*This is complicated by the fact that while being selfish he did a lot of good, but you can read the book for that, ya joik!
I feel like I've been slacking off with reading fiction, lately--just some short stories and chapters of old favorites, though I took a break for Lonesome Dove--but I've been reading this on and off since the end of January and it feels more like a great novel than it does a biography. Caro is a dramatic storyteller with definite tics, but once he gets going it scarcely matters if you believe what he's telling you or not. He's good enough to tell you the result at the beginning of a chapter about an election and still have you nervous at the end. The distinction between fiction and non-fiction in the reading experience is entirely unimportant here.** It's a good story, well-told, and everyone on planet Earth could learn from Caro's ability to have a distinct voice while staying out of our way.
**The back quarter of the book is an extensive annotated bibliography, though, so don't go thinking this is some postmodern "but what IS fiction" kick, because it isn't.(less)
I need to stop learning all my Pakistani/Indian history from Salman Rushdie--it's way entertaining but I doubt real life had this much sly magical rea...moreI need to stop learning all my Pakistani/Indian history from Salman Rushdie--it's way entertaining but I doubt real life had this much sly magical realism???(less)
rating: 4.5, but I'm gonna go ahead and mark this a five because people are being jerks to this book. Come on, you guys!
When I was searching for this...morerating: 4.5, but I'm gonna go ahead and mark this a five because people are being jerks to this book. Come on, you guys!
When I was searching for this book online I found an ebook for a dollar that was called something like "Serial Killers: Jeffrey MacDonald." I didn't realize while I was reading Errol Morris' new book about the case how much popular prejudice there was against Jeffrey MacDonald--a famous convicted murderer whose case has been highly-contested for over forty years--I just read this because Errol Morris was writing another book, and he's one of those guys I flock to sight unseen.
A Wilderness of Error is a book written against other books, specifically Joe McGinnis' Fatal Vision and to a lesser extent Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer. What all of these books have in common is that they are to some extent examinations of the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case, which took place in early 1970. Jeffrey MacDonald, a surgeon with the Green Berets, was found wounded in his home early in the morning near the bloody bodies of his pregnant wife and two young children. He claimed that his home had been invaded by a gang of murderous hippies, and despite early evidence that seemed to be in his favor, eventually he was convicted for murder and is currently serving three consecutive life sentences in jail. This is the version of the story popularized by Fatal Vision, the bestselling true crime novel published in 1983, which went on to become a wildly popular miniseries on NBC. A Wilderness of Error, published almost thirty years later, is a reexamination of the case springing from the assumption that MacDonald did not receive a fair trial.
Errol Morris is a documentary filmmaker first and foremost, and A Wilderness of Error often reads like one of his movies put to paper.* He focuses intensely on minutiae (a scrap of unattributed black wool found at the crime scene that was never shown to the defense, an unattributed hair under the fingernail of the murdered woman, 1/5 an inch in length), conducts interviews where his subjects monologue in long uninterrupted shots, and he even manages to "bookify" his love of inserting stock footage to clarify a story by giving full pages over to abstract black and white illustrations of objects from the case with no caption. It's a dense book, and it's long, too, but it's a clear read, rarely confusing. Morris' skill at using facts to create a gripping story while resisting obvious embellishment is on full display here.
* He had originally intended to make it as a film in the 1980s, but no one would produce it, because everyone he tried to sell the movie to cut him off mid-sentence, telling him MacDonald was a killer. The original idea he had for the movie was to take the cast of the miniseries, which led the audience to the conclusion that MacDonald was guilty, and direct a Rashoman-style alternate take using the same actors in the same roles to tell the story of MacDonald's innocence.
My first expectation was to read A Wilderness of Error as a postmodernist attack on narrative journalism, and to an extent that's what I got. Morris writes early on about the danger of becoming "imprisoned in a narrative" and he spends a lot of time picking apart McGinnis' examination of the MacDonald case, putting it on display as a case of sloppy (and often immoral) journalism. I came to an easy conclusion early on: narrative journalism is not capable of remaining objective in reporting a story. Morris was attacking McGinnis' book by creating a work just as convincing as Fatal Vision, but biased in the opposite way. His true point wasn't to prove MacDonald wrong, but to prove narrative journalism wrong as a concept by putting its weaknesses on full display. I patted myself on the back like a true liberal arts student, and then I spent some time thinking that I was just sooooo smart.
The only problem with that, though, is someone already had that idea and turned it into another bestselling book in 1990, Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer. Malcolm's book is a through-and-through attack on narrative journalism using Fatal Vision as a case study, beginning with the famous sentence, "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible." An attack on journalism in the form of journalism, daaaaaaaaaaaang! So postmodern! But when Morris comes to Malcolm's book late in A Wilderness of Error, he presents her as someone too concerned with theory to bother with the actual facts of the case. Like McGinnis and Morris, Malcolm also kept a correspondence with Jeffrey MacDonald, but she admits to after a while no longer reading the evidence he sent her in his favor, out of a conviction that looking for evidence of innocence from the mouth of a convicted man "is like looking for proof of God in a flower."
It's late in the game, but this is where Morris' book starts to shine. He's a heady postmodern guy, more academic than not, but his chief interest in much of his work has always been in how people jump to easy conclusions without taking the time to other viewpoints. His most famous documentary, The Thin Blue Line, not only got a convicted cop-killer off death row, it also got a confession from the guy who actually did it. He can't stand this sentiment from Malcolm. The evidence MacDonald is giving for his innocence is still evidence, still worthy of being considered. The big twist for me in Morris' book is that it isn't postmodern bullshit and that I never should have expected it to be. He cares deeply about the MacDonald case, and he's not trying to prove anything about his own intelligence or theory along the way. He just wants this guy out of jail.
After reading Morris' book I feel I can say there is reasonable doubt that MacDonald is a killer. I'm convinced. I've never read Fatal Vision and I don't plan to--I doubt it would change my mind. I've already got a solid narrative built up, now I have my own presumptions and prejudices. Since its publication, A Wilderness of Error has attracted a lot of angry reviews. I doubt anyone who's read Fatal Vision will be convinced by Morris' counter-narrative. He laid it out at the beginning and I'm fully aware of it, but I feel like I'm trapped in a prison of narrative that I can't think my way out of.(less)
I wanted to read something to improve my German and I wanted to read something about murders, LUCKY FOR ME I found this at a flea market! In hardcover...moreI wanted to read something to improve my German and I wanted to read something about murders, LUCKY FOR ME I found this at a flea market! In hardcover, even! Also I'm like three chapters in and a priest already had a monologue about how baby poop smells bad, I'm going to like this
I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the scentless "dark genius" at the center of Perfume. I typically try to avoid thinking about books this way--it's none of my business how the author wants me to feel about any of the characters, the only thing I should be discussing is the experience of reading the book and how it made me think as I read it--but Perfume is such a weird book, for the lack of a better word, and Jean-Baptiste is at the center of all of its weirdness. Süskind goes off on a lot of strange tangents and switches the narrative perspective whenever he gets the chance, but every road leads back to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Every narrative flourish is tightly controlled and leads to more darkness.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a "dark genius" with a super strong sense of smell. He rarely speaks, and whenever the narrative loops back to his perspective we only experience the world through his sense of smell. We follow him for pages and pages while he wanders 18th century Paris smelling the markets, the tanners, perfume shops, and oceans. He smells and smells until one night he smells something more beautiful than he's ever smelled before, which turns out to be a young woman who he promptly kills.
It's clear from the title that Grenouille's going to become a murderer, but what I didn't expect was how little agency he seems to have in the novel. The story starts at the moment of his birth and already we're not allowed for a minute to have sympathy with the child; the narrator mentions his "arrogance, misanthropy, and immorality" in the first paragraph. When Jean-Baptiste is born his mother is working at the fish market near the graveyard--she cuts the umbilical cord while she's standing and rolls the baby under a pile of fish that "stank so vilely the scent already masked the odor of corpses." The baby is rescued and given to the church while his biological mother is arrested and decapitated. So it goes for the rest of the book. Even as a child Grenouille doesn't stay in one place for long. He lives with a foster mother until breastfeeding him sucks the poor woman dry, he lives in an orphanage until being sold to a tanner where the orphanage's matron expects him to die, and so on and so on. He is an unsettling and wicked child forced into unsettling and wicked circumstances. People seem to die tragically as soon as he steps out of their lives. We're never led to believe that Grenouille is a product of his circumstances, however. It's a long time before we even get into his head. We see him through the eyes of the people who care for him for so long that by the time he commits his first murder there isn't enough emotional reasoning for it. Even Grenouille doesn't know at first why he's driven to kill; he's just following a smell like it was supposed to be there. Because so much of the book is delivered in long lists of smells, the strongest sense we get of narrative momentum is the pull of destiny. Grenouille follows his nose quite literally as the novel goes on, and only near the end does he have any idea what he's looking for. I didn't know how to feel for him at the beginning or the end.
Part of my weird reaction to this book is that I read it in German. I've been living here for two and a half months now and my reading's absolutely gone down the toilet. I'm trying to only read books that were originally written in the German language (the libraries and bookstores being full of translations of English-speaking authors I'm already familiar with), and I read much slower in German. Given this book's length and dark sense of playfulness I bet I could have finished it on a rainy weekend if I read it in English, but instead it took me... just over a month? Just over a month and it felt like I was reading through a cloud. I'd say I understood about 80% of this book through vocabulary I already knew and context clues. Still, though, in the long lists of smells that Süskind loves rattling off there would be so many words I didn't know that my sense of pleasure wouldn't come from imagining the smells but rather from mumbling the words to myself as I read and feeling their music and rhythm. I still enjoyed the book, but I'm at the point where every time I finish a paragraph I go back and skim it to make sure I understood what's going on. I would love to go back and read this book in English (I did a little bit just now on amazon, when I was writing this review, because my copy's in another room and it was great) but for the sake of my language skills I need to hold back a little.
One last thing: Everyone I mentioned this book to, Germans and English-speakers alike, refused to discuss it with me until I'd read the ending. Now I know why. Yeep.(less)