I'm an outdoor writer (fly fishing magazines), so I have what you might call a professional appreciation for Rinella and his work. I've also interview...moreI'm an outdoor writer (fly fishing magazines), so I have what you might call a professional appreciation for Rinella and his work. I've also interviewed him and I like him personally. Clearly, I am squarely in his target demographic, a hunter and fisherman as well as someone who is forced by realistic circumstances to live in a big city (Atlanta).
All that said, this is my favorite of the "microhistories" which have weighed down booksellers' shelves in recent years, in large part because Rinella is so legitimately authentic. His closest analogue is probably Mark Kurlansky, author of "Cod" and a former professional cod fisherman. Rinella is truly an elite hunter. You don't roll into the Wrangell-Elias and expect to make it a week with nothing but your wits, a rifle and a backpack. Certainly you don't expect hunting success, even though bison are notoriously stupid. The country is too big, the herd too small. Rinella if anything soft-sells his own extreme skill, inviting you in to his world and letting you piggyback on what were actually years of unacknowledged practice.
And yet the frame story, that of Rinella's hunt for a bison, truly takes a back seat to what I viewed as the most interesting part of the novel: the history of Man's entry into North America (as best we understand it now). We take things that "Science" says for granted these days, but there is no true consensus about how men and women entered North America. To Rinella's credit, he took the time to actually examine the on-the-ground evidence. His efforts to contextualize what we do know--from Clovis points to the biology of Bison bison--are top notch, and the best in this field.
An excellent read, one of my favorite ever, and a great insight into the world of an elite big game hunter at the top of his game.(less)
Although Bacigalupi's decision to write the entire novel in the present tense was grating, annoying, and almost made me put the book down on several o...moreAlthough Bacigalupi's decision to write the entire novel in the present tense was grating, annoying, and almost made me put the book down on several occasions, and even though the central plot really is not all that interesting, The Windup Girl wound up being the book I've thought about the most in the past year. His future world is so carefully constructed--a flooded Bangkok, beset by international agents and spies ominously employed by "Des Moines," (yes, as in Iowa), the headquarters of the international "calorie cartels," in a world without functional petroleum--which was so fascinating, and which was such a convincing description of where we might be headed, I just couldn't get the themes of this novel out of my head. For anyone vaguely creeped out by Monsanto, changing weather, and the power of multinational corporations, but skeptical of Greenpeace, hippies, and "organic" everything, this is a book which will challenge your views and make your mind dance. (I am still not endorsing hippies, however).(less)
Overwritten, with prose purple in the extreme, by an author of questionable moral character as a hunter and someone who was at best a serial exaggerat...moreOverwritten, with prose purple in the extreme, by an author of questionable moral character as a hunter and someone who was at best a serial exaggerator and possibly an outright plagiarist. All that said, this is one hell of a book. I haven't picked it up in years and I can still remember the opening line: "In four hot, still hours dawn will hemorrhage like a fresh wound in the sky over the eastern Muchingas..."
Capstick was a New York bond trader who left it all behind to become a "professional white hunter" (an actual title) in East Africa. His stories of derring-do, hunting game big and mean enough to hunt you back (usually featuring a hero none other than himself) ought to be an anachronism, ought to be unreadable, in fact. Instead, they are ridiculously entertaining; you will find yourself interrupting friends' conversations to share what happened with the leopard, or to the young couple on their honeymoon. The very definition of a rip-roaring good read.(less)
Patrick O'Brian's "Aubrey/Maturin" series truly are my favorite books; a realization I had when I had finished reading all twenty-one of them for the...morePatrick O'Brian's "Aubrey/Maturin" series truly are my favorite books; a realization I had when I had finished reading all twenty-one of them for the third time.
O'Brian had an interesting background; a sometime-spy in WWII France for the British government, of Irish extraction, he had left a family behind in the U.K. to start over in a new country, and yet he remained quintessentially British. First tapped to write the series by C.F. Forester's publisher (when "Horatio Hornblower" reached its end), from the beginning he was treading in others' footprints, essentially writing a literary sequel with new characters.
And yet, he created a lasting masterpiece. Jack Aubrey: headstrong, young, brave, the picture of a proper 18th century buccaneer captain while being both lovable and at times irredeemably stupid. (Some of his shenanigans will remind you of Fred Flintstone). Stephen Maturin: pinched, dirty, oh-so-Irish, but also a brilliant humanist, a doctor, a spy and, as Jack memorably warned a dueling partner's second, "my man is deadly."
After a confrontational meeting over music in the opening pages of this chapter, the two would go on literary journeys around the world: Batavia (today's Jakarta), the Med, Desolation Island (google "Kerguelen"), the New World, the old, battling Napoleon's forces, the Spanish, even the nascent American Navy. No finer works of seafaring literature have ever been written (and I am a huge "Moby Dick" fan), and in many ways no novels will give you more insight into the human condition.
These have been likened to "a man's version of Jane Austen." The analogy is sound except that O'Brian lived a couple centuries too late. Imagine Austenian social intrigue but peppered with the derring-do of 20th century creations like Indiana Jones, impeccably supported by actual British naval journals (the fourth book is an almost entirely accurate description of the real conquest of the Mauritius Islands).
Read them once and you will finish delighted, better educated, but possibly a touch overwhelmed. Read them again and you will realize that no author has ever created a world more immersive.(less)
McMurtry won the Pulitzer for "Lonesome Dove," which might surprise folks who are primarily fans of this story via the 1980s TV mini-series (itself th...moreMcMurtry won the Pulitzer for "Lonesome Dove," which might surprise folks who are primarily fans of this story via the 1980s TV mini-series (itself the pinnacle of that particular form).
His primary skill is his knack for character development; at least initially the story of Augustus "Gus" McRae, and his lifelong-friend and sometime leader Capt. Woodrow Call, is rather straightforward and even boring (indeed it was based on the real-life founding of the West Texas cattle industry by a budding cow tycoon named Charles Goodnight).
The story gets its legs with the entry and depredations of the infamous Indian outlaw Blue Duck, but it is not until McMurtry finally winds up his sprawling, meandering epic in the snowy wilds of Montana that you realize just how much you have come to love the characters. Augustus McRae is truly a creation for the ages, and [spoilers ahead] if you can't admit you cried at the end, saddle-hardened you may be, but you are no man.
It is hard sometimes to declare a book the "Best" in an entire genre, but not this time: this is truly the best Western ever written.(less)
The best book I've read in a decade. Michael Lewis takes his financial know-how (he was a bond trader before the Savings & Loans Crisis of the lat...moreThe best book I've read in a decade. Michael Lewis takes his financial know-how (he was a bond trader before the Savings & Loans Crisis of the late 1980s, as chronicled in "Liar's Poker,") and breaks down the fundamental inefficiencies of baseball--the same inefficiencies which allowed the 2002 Oakland Athletics, a small-market team in a horrible, horrible baseball city, to put together the longest win streak in baseball history.
The best part of Moneyball may be the denouement; despite a clear intellectual advantage, the vagaries of the game still took out the A's before they could win the pennant and thus "justify" their strategy, in the eyes of the hidebound baseball traditionalists. Nevertheless, since that time, "Moneyball" has come to characterize the way the game is played, most notably in the strategies of Billy Beane's understudy Theo Epstein, the prodigy general manager who broke the "Curse of the Bambino," bringing two World Series Championships to the Boston Red Sox. Epstein has recently been hired as the general manager of the Chicago Cubs (baseball's other team on a century-long losing streak) and many expect him to apply the strategies first broken down by Lewis to turn his new team around as well.
Not many books become THE book. This is THE baseball book; arguably the most influential piece of writing on how a major sport is played and perceived in the history of any sport. Every baseball fan should read it, and frankly for anyone interested in human psychology, particularly male psychology, this is a must-read as well.(less)
"Ready Player One," like Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl," is one of those novels which has stayed with me, popping back into my mind even after I...more"Ready Player One," like Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl," is one of those novels which has stayed with me, popping back into my mind even after I've finished and put it down, oftentimes at odd moments. I am currently reading "The Hunger Games" trilogy, which in structure is very, very similar to "Ready Player One." Both "The Hunger Games" and "Ready Player One" are set in a dystopic future in which a plucky individual using wits and a rare set of skills (archery and video game playing, respectively) must team up with other young renegades to bring down a corrupt system. This kind of thing seems to be going around lately.
Where "Ready Player One" succeeds, I think, is in its denouement; Suzanne Collins (author of "The Hunger Games") didn't seem to know how to wrap her story up, and certainly she didn't want to put a happy ending on it. I know, I know, happy endings are trite, Disney-fied, contrived, but ultimately, when you invest in an emotionally draining struggle against a monolithic enemy with all the resources in the world, you want some payoff beyond just 'The End,' right? Cline accomplishes that, whereas to my mind Collins really does not.
If you want descriptions of the plot of "Ready Player One," other reviewers have done a bang-up job. To my thinking, this is the better of these two highly similar books. Despite its apparent YA structure, thanks to Cline's significant nostalgic investment in time and research, "Ready Player One" really offers to readers of my generation (Gen X) a richer experience than I believe "The Hunger Games" could to the teens it targets (who aren't old enough for nostalgia just yet).
Drawing from the same well as Collins, Clive has crafted the headier brew.(less)