I'm conflicted. Wheaton is funny, nakedly confessional, and as someone of almost my same exact age, shares a wealth of common cultural reference point...moreI'm conflicted. Wheaton is funny, nakedly confessional, and as someone of almost my same exact age, shares a wealth of common cultural reference points with me.
However, the actual structure of the Just a Geek kind of bothered me. Large swaths of the book consisted of him reproducing entries from his blog, and meta-blogging about them from his current point of view. I think I would have found it more interesting if I had been a follower of his blog, but getting both the old Wil and the new Wil back-to-back reduced the impact.
Still a quick read, and a fascinating look into Wil's life as a "has-been."(less)
Fun, funny, gross, and fascinating. I enjoyed this one enormously; probably even more than I enjoyed Stiff, the other Mary Roach book I've read to dat...moreFun, funny, gross, and fascinating. I enjoyed this one enormously; probably even more than I enjoyed Stiff, the other Mary Roach book I've read to date.
What I enjoy about Mary Roach among other gee-whiz writers of popular science, language, or history (Bill Bryson, Sarah Vowell, &c.) is that Mary always seems to be the perfect stand-in for her readers as she travels and researches. By that I mean that she always seems to ask the questions I would have wanted to ask, raise the same concerns that occur to me, even make the same jokes I would have (if a bit more cleverly than I would have managed). It makes her a tremendously readable writer, and it leaves me wanting to become a Roach completist.(less)
Interesting read. It was fascinating to read this after having read 2000's On Writing. King's voice is different here, as in 1983 he was a rocket-hot...moreInteresting read. It was fascinating to read this after having read 2000's On Writing. King's voice is different here, as in 1983 he was a rocket-hot best-selling author still in his thirties, rather than an established best-selling author in his fifties. Here he writes like a man with something to prove, to himself as well as you. Also, this book was clearly written before King openly recognized he was an alcoholic, as he rather gleefully mentions multiple instances of getting shitfaced.
The book itself is meandering and discursive, and it reads more like a set of informal lectures than a "proper" work of literary criticism. King touches on thirty years of horror in the form of films, television shows, and books, taking a few examples of each medium and discussing them at length. In keeping with King's utter inability to write about anything other than himself (that sounds snide, but it's a wonderful quality and I mean it as a compliment), he discusses many of these pieces in terms of how they shaped him as a person and a writer.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay this book is that it made me wish I were more familiar with the material discussed. It made me want to become a Roger Corman completist, a Twilight Zone completist, reread Frankenstein with a kinder eye, and then come back and read this book again.
King also takes aim at the notion that violent or horrific media cause violent and horrific acts. In an reasoned yet impassioned essay, he argues that if anything, horror fiction serves as a release valve rather than a focus for violent feelings. It's one of the best parts of the book.
I enjoyed this book, not quite as much as On Writing, but well worth the read, as a glimpse both into the horror genre, and King's own development as an author.(less)
Fun little book. I'm always a sucker for popular science and history books, so this one was right up my alley. A little lighter than I generally like,...moreFun little book. I'm always a sucker for popular science and history books, so this one was right up my alley. A little lighter than I generally like, but don't let the three stars put you off; this was a fast, fun, informative read.(less)
The book is broken into five parts: one, a history of Stone, as retold by people who were there; two, a detailed description of the elements of beer,...moreThe book is broken into five parts: one, a history of Stone, as retold by people who were there; two, a detailed description of the elements of beer, including malt, hops, and yeast; three, a set of recipes from their brewpub/bistro; four, a description of every beer they've ever released, including one-off brews; and five, a set of detailed recipes and instructions for brewing several of their beers at home.
The first part was entertaining and fascinating, the food recipes look great, and the beer recipes are a ballsy move and would probably be pure gold for me if I was a home brewer. The beer descriptions section got pretty repetitive after a while - after the eighth or tenth "and for THIS year, we made it even hoppier and stronger!" they started to run together for me.
All in all, a fun book, though. Would read again - at least the recipes!(less)
Not the kind of book you just sit down and read cover to cover - it is a cookbook, after all - and lacking the adorable, elementary school science tea...moreNot the kind of book you just sit down and read cover to cover - it is a cookbook, after all - and lacking the adorable, elementary school science teacher vibe she brings to her spots on Alton Brown's Good Eats, but still a pretty amazing book. As someone who would rather learn underlying principles and then be shooed out the door than master recipes by rote, this dense volume is right up my alley. You can see why Alton hero-worships her so fervently.(less)
If I'd stopped halfway through this book, I probably would have given it two stars. It's a look into world history, seen through the lens of the salt...moreIf I'd stopped halfway through this book, I probably would have given it two stars. It's a look into world history, seen through the lens of the salt industry over the years. It wasn't especially gripping in the early going, coming across quite a bit like a freshman-level college history text. The lack of footnotes or endnotes annoyed me as well, as I am one of those weird people who actually uses them, either to confirm accurately portrayed primary source material, or as signposts to further reading. (There is an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, it turns out, but that isn't the same thing.)
Luckily, I soldiered on, because the second half of the book was quite a bit more lively. My favorite chapter was probably the one on Gandhi which, typical of the rest of the book, used salt, specifically the Salt March, as a springboard to a short-form biography of the man in general. It was beautifully written and actually rather inspiring. Other high points include the recipes - there are probably at least two dozen old recipes here highlighting the use of salt in different cultures over the centuries, and they range from cute and endearing, to gross, to strangely delicious-sounding.(less)
As an experiment, if you ever decide you might like to read this book, first pick it up and simply read the opening sentence of each chapter. If I had...moreAs an experiment, if you ever decide you might like to read this book, first pick it up and simply read the opening sentence of each chapter. If I had done so, I probably wouldn't have bothered with the rest, and I would have been just as well off.
The Lost Continent and I got off on the wrong foot. I knew something was amiss when the first chapter consisted of nothing more than Bill Bryson taking an enormous steaming dump on his home state of Iowa. Not a cutesy, ironic dump; nor even a sardonic-yet-affectionate dump; but a real, live, mean-spirited, rhetorical bowel movement. Here, I'll sum up the entire first chapter for you, in my own words: Iowa is boring and all the people there are fat and slow-witted.Plopbbt. (And that's Iowa, the state where his parents lived. Wait until you see what he does to Mississippi and New Mexico. Or, better yet, don't.)
With that expectation in mind, The Lost Continent was a shock, as it is the work of a thirty-something Bryson, snarky and evidently angry. And I generally like snark and anger: Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite writers. But where Bourdain leavens his writing with humor and occasional tenderness, The Lost Continent is just relentlessly negative, never passing up the opportunity to take a cheap shot.
Ironically for a book titled "travels in small-town America," Bryson appears to hate 90% of the small towns he visits on his road trip, speaking disapprovingly of their poverty, their inhabitants' provincial ways and funny-sounding accents, yet he waxes ecstatic over such non-small places as Savannah, Charleston, and Times Square (!). I actually agreed with quite a few of his sentiments; e.g., how tacky, inauthentic, and Disneyland-like some of our national historic sites have become, but his voice makes even those shared sentiments hard to swallow.
The last quarter of the book is the best part, as it slowly becomes apparent that this book is an elegy to his recently-deceased father, and perhaps a regret for having spent his adulthood in England rather than America, but it was honestly too little, too late for me. Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more if I'd read it when it was new, or at least before I read so much of his later, better work, but as it is, I couldn't really recommend this book to anyone, either as a first Bryson or a tenth.(less)
Bill Bryson is like that guy at the party who corners you and starts talking about moon rocks and salt shakers and Kodiak brown bears, and next thing...moreBill Bryson is like that guy at the party who corners you and starts talking about moon rocks and salt shakers and Kodiak brown bears, and next thing you know it's two hours later and you've been riveted the whole time. He's fantastic at doing tons of (probably very boring) research, and distilling that research into something funny, discursive, and deceptively casual-sounding. His books are pretty much nonstop cavalcades of gee-whiz facts and trivia, leavened with humor and with a more-or-less constant undercurrent of liberal outrage, all of which plays perfectly with me.
In this book, he tackles the history of how people have lived in their homes over the centuries, drawing an enormous range of archaeological, anthropological, and anecdotal information into something approximating a coherent narrative. Even though the nominal subject is home life – plumbing, lighting, bedrooms, hygiene, etc. – Bryson rambles considerably beyond those bounds, but the tangents are sensible and fascinating.
All in all, this was another winner for Bryson, a fast and interesting read for such a thick book. There were just a couple of nagging things that cost it that fourth star from me: One, that the sections where he delved deeply into biographical information on architects were pretty dry, a rarity for Bryson; and two, that the overall theme of moving from room to room in the house always seemed a bit forced. Still a very enjoyable book, and one I’d recommend to anyone as a first Bryson or a tenth.(less)
Wow, I can't remember being this disappointed with a book...well, I was going to say "in a long time," but I might more accurately say "ever." In term...moreWow, I can't remember being this disappointed with a book...well, I was going to say "in a long time," but I might more accurately say "ever." In terms of disparity between my expectations and the reality, this is the most disappointing book I've ever read. I give it one star, and a glance over my reviews will demonstrate that I almost never do that.
I read, and loved, Truss's previous work, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. It was funny, erudite, and most importantly, it was self-righteous and self-important in exactly the right places and right amounts. That it dealt with a topic dear to my heart (the gradual erosion of literacy through shoddy grammar and punctuation) only made it more enjoyable for me.
So when I sat down to read Talk to the Hand, I expected something similar: a humorous yet fiery diatribe, rich with research and examples, only in this case railing against the decline of personal manners rather than grammar. What I got was a crotchety, unfunny whine-fest that continually tried to extrapolate bad manners into low overall moral character. She takes the flamethrower to entire armies of strawmen in this book, as I've simply never met anyone as rude as some of her examples. Her stories about eight-year old kids cussing out their parents in public sound exactly like the "what is our country coming to" chain e-mails I used to get forwarded to me by my fifty-something aunts and cousins years ago, and they ring horribly false. In addition, she lets some rather ugly biases slip with blithe references to "shaven-headed bling bling gangstas" and such.
Worst of all, this wasn't even a fun read. Unlike her last book, which was so stuffed with content that the pages flew by, this one dragged and was amazingly repetitive. Honestly, I was a little worried when I found myself fighting the temptation to skim the end of the introduction, thinking "OK, I get it, I get it, I get it..." This book felt like a 20-page magazine article stretched into a 200-page book. And Truss's decision to sanitize the word fuck into Eff (e.g. Eff this, Eff you, you Effing such-and-such) was jarring, off-putting, and made large stretches of the book just plain annoying to slog through. All in all, this was a grumpy, miserable, spittle-flecked little book, and I can't discourage you strongly enough from picking it up. Stick to the book with the pandas on the cover.(less)
This ended up being much more of a straightforward history book than I expected. It rambled pleasantly and expansively through American history, pausi...moreThis ended up being much more of a straightforward history book than I expected. It rambled pleasantly and expansively through American history, pausing frequently to examine origins of common words and expressions.
I was surprised at how clearly Bryson's political views shone through the text, but since those views - liberal, populist - generally agreed with mine, that was a plus in my eyes. Few things are quite so gratifying as reading a book (or even a bumper sticker) that states your own opinion better than you yourself could have.
I'm a sucker for mass-appeal nonfiction books in general, and this one was right in my wheelhouse. Whether the topic is science, history, language, or...moreI'm a sucker for mass-appeal nonfiction books in general, and this one was right in my wheelhouse. Whether the topic is science, history, language, or whatever it may be, the things I look for in a book like this are the three Es: entertainment, education, and/or enlightenment. Actually, there's an honorary fourth E, as it better be a pretty easy read; if I want to give myself a nosebleed, I'll pick Ulysses back up. I want a book I can read on the train to and from work, y'know?
Stiff delivered all four Es nicely. Maybe not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as A Walk in the Woods, as gee-whiz informative as Assassination Vacation, or as gorgeously written as A Natural History of the Senses, but as rewarding an overall read as any of the three. The author's personality really shines through as well, and I found myself experiencing some of these (sometimes gross, sometimes simply uncomfortable or awkward) situations as if I were there. The mark of a good writer.
One of the best books I've read in the past year. I'm a sucker for memoirs in general, and one this well-written would have drawn me in whether it was...moreOne of the best books I've read in the past year. I'm a sucker for memoirs in general, and one this well-written would have drawn me in whether it was about a chef, a baseball player, a plumber or a quilter. The fact that it's by and about a chef, and one I was already a fan of to boot, makes it a slam dunk. Bourdain is a fantastic writer: erudite yet foul-mouthed, vivid, occasionally poetic.
Bourdain's narrative voice is equally gripping, as he is hilarious, humble, self-effacing, and forthright about his flaws and failures in a way almost every writer fails to be when writing about him- or herself. In this, Kitchen Confidential reminded me of Stephen King's On Writing - another nakedly confessional memoir in which the author doesn't flinch from portraying himself as a jackass when appropriate.
This book is also reminiscent of the King memoir in that he jumps back and forth from memories of childhood, to adulthood, to a sort of how-to guide on becoming a solid craftsman in his field. Just as King would be the first to tell you he isn't a great writer, just a good and successful one, Bourdain acknowledges that there are far better chefs than himself out there making far less money, and his advice to would-be cooks takes a similar "this is what has worked for me" tone.
I read this in five or six hours on a Saturday, and I'm sure I'll read it again, or at least refer back to favorite passages.(less)
A collection of short anecdotes, essays, and words of wisdom from bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin. Whether you want stories about Buddy Rich, a reci...moreA collection of short anecdotes, essays, and words of wisdom from bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin. Whether you want stories about Buddy Rich, a recipe for carrot cake, or a story about the time Tony "almost shot John F. Kennedy," this book has something for you. Highly recommended.(less)
This is the first of Sarah Vowell's books I've read. Big ups to Sarah for being humorous, erudite, and for focusing on an aspect of U.S. history that...moreThis is the first of Sarah Vowell's books I've read. Big ups to Sarah for being humorous, erudite, and for focusing on an aspect of U.S. history that even I, as a minor history buff, knew very little about. I mean, before reading this book, I could certainly have rattled off that McKinley was killed by an "anarchist named Leon Czolgosz," and that Garfield was killed by "Charles Guiteau, who had been seeking appointment to diplomatic office," but that would have been verbatim from my high school textbooks, and I would have been unable to supply any additional detail. Vowell provides that detail in spades, in the form of an interesting, reflective travelogue. The writing meanders pleasantly, going into historical and personal asides without bogging down.
What keeps the book from getting four stars from me is Vowell herself. Her narrative voice bugs me, as she is frequently at pains to remind the reader that she is quirky, morbid, and liberal. Never mind that she is the author here, and could just as easily have shown me those things through her narration rather than simply come out and said them about herself. Nonetheless, she stays out of the way of her own story enough to make this a very worthwhile read.(less)
The first Bill Bryson book I read was A Short History of Nearly Everything, and I came away from it not really understanding the comparisons between B...moreThe first Bill Bryson book I read was A Short History of Nearly Everything, and I came away from it not really understanding the comparisons between Bryson and Dave Barry. A Short History had moments of humor, but was mostly a collection of gee-whiz facts and observations about Earth and the universe, put into perspective adroitly by the author. I loved the book, but high humor it wasn't.
About 20 pages into A Walk in the Woods, I said to myself, "This is more like it." I said that between loud laughs that were frankly embarrassing as I read on a crowded bus. To compare Bryson to Barry sells him short, I think: at worst, he's an erudite Barry, full of narrative and descriptive surprises, and sporting an impressive mastery of the language. This book was fast, hilarious without being unbelievable, and hit serious notes at all the right moments. I can't wait to read more of Bill Bryson's work.(less)
Another salvo of sarcasm aimed at past fads. Not quite as hilarious as The Gallery of Regrettable Food, but a fast, funny read in its own right, and t...moreAnother salvo of sarcasm aimed at past fads. Not quite as hilarious as The Gallery of Regrettable Food, but a fast, funny read in its own right, and the subject material itself - interior design of the 70s - is actually harder to believe than the regrettable food.(less)