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Books I Done Been Reading

Filed Under: Book Reviews

I’ve been writing a lot about television. You could chalk it up to laziness, or summer, or the fact that I seriously watch way too much television. But it’s time to even things up a little. Here are some bookz I’ve been enjoying in the last few weeks. You should enjoy them too. Unless you prefer TV, in which case someone didn’t get enough Reading Rainbow as a kid.


bookshandmaid-100x100The Handmaid’s Tale I don’t know how I missed this book for so long. All I know about Margaret Atwood, or knew, was my wildly unimpressed response to the first 50 pages of The Blind Assassin. So when I discovered Handmaid’s Tale, by which I mean found it in the backseat of a friend’s car during a nine-hour drive back to the city from Cape Cod, I figured I might as well give her another shot; that shit paid off. Handmaid’s Tale is most often, and most accurately, compared to the George Orwell’s 1984, except with a bit of a feminist twist. In the story, women have been subjugated (vocab word of the day) and serve as either wives, “aunts” (middle-aged teachers and enforcers of the town’s doctrine of female subservience), housekeepers or handmaids (condoned mistresses). Society has been reduced to two goals: eliminate dissent and make babies. The book is told from the perspective of one handmaid, and it’s simultaneously witty, insightful and fucking terrifying. A must-read for fans of hypothetical conspiracy theories that may or may not come true in the next 10 to 15 years.


bookstower-100x100Dark Tower V: The Wolves of Calla Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to go ahead and get started on Stephen King’s infamous seven-book series by jumping in at No. 5. I just don’t feel like backtracking through the 3 million+ pages of this series I’ve already read. Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying them; the Dark Tower books are, for lack of a better phrase, mad good. Anyone who’s read any King knows his predilection for science fiction meets mysticism meets plain old freaky shit. Add to that a touch of a western, plus a billion nerdy references and an astoundingly developed alternate reality, and you’ve got these books. The only downside? They start off small but gear up (by the fourth installation) to 700-page monstrosities that are unwieldy for subway rides and other long journeys. But Kindle be damned, I will power through.


booksdrinks-100x100I Drink for a Reason I’ve never seen or heard anything from David Cross that I didn’t enjoy, so it stands to reason that I’d like his books as well. Well, book. This is the comedian’s literary debut, something he references multiple times in the series of hilarious two-page essays put together to create something of book length. Topics range from “Ideas for T-shirts to be Sold at Urban Outfitters” (example: Punch Me, I’m Pregnant) to “A Free List of Quirks for Aspiring Independent Filmmakers” and I am apparently on page 200 even though I’m pretty sure I only started this book yesterday.


booksclemency-100x100The Northern Clemency Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean often, I am duped into buying some inordinately long and dense novel because of its a) interesting cover b) heaps of praise or c) metallic-looking sticker suggesting a win or near-win of some fanypants book award. TNC got me on all three. It’s one of those novels that’s kind of about stuff, but not enough stuff to warrant 700 pages (seriously, what’s going on with me and the 700-pagers?) so I’m struggling. TNC followers two families in England who live across the street from each other and have all sorts of mundane tragedy and scandal befall them over multiple decades. You can see how this could become tedious. It is beautifully written, and its high points are page-turners, but I am easily distracted from this novel.  …I’ve been reading it for four months.


booksmars-100x100Packing for Mars Mary Roach is probably the best science writer I’ve ever read. Now, she may also be the only science writer I’ve read, (because owning two unread Bill Bryson books doesn’t count, I don’t think) but the claim is still valid. Her previous three books – about death, ghosts and sex, respectively – are more accessible than Mars, which documents historical and present-day preparations for space travel, but this one is still pretty damn good. Did you know, for instance, that men have been on the moon?! No, seriously, the book is chock full of crazy tidbits on everything from astronauts’ hygiene habits to the respective temperaments of space’s first chimps. Most importantly though, Roach is fucking hilarious, which is something I’d find it difficult to be when suspended in zero gravity near a grad student throwing up their lunch.


And that’s all! So now we’ve sufficiently established that I do more than watch reality television (but not much more) and I can go back to recapping the latest shenanigans on Jersey Shore.

 
kira

10:22 AM on September 9th, 2010 | 

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Surrender Dorothy

Filed Under: Book Reviews

wicked-402x450As an avid reader and even more avid frequenter of bookstores, I’ve stumbled across Gregory Maguire’s Wicked more than a few times in the past several years. Particularly after the book was translated into a Broadway musical–which I am seeing for the first time this weekend–it became fairly impossible to avoid seeing Maguire’s various fairy-tale remakes on shelves everywhere. Only recently, prompted in fact by my imminent trek to Broadway, did I bother picking it up.

Here’s the thing: I really didn’t want to like Wicked, and for no particular reason. I suppose some part of me thought the very idea of revisiting stories already told was corny, to say nothing of a bit of a cop-out on the part of an author. I thought the book would be a cliche, the same way I have no intention of reading Stephenie Meyer’s fifth Twilight book, which re-tells Book 1 through the eyes of another character. In my world, where at any given time some 200 books wait, unread, in my apartment, there’s no time for repetition.

So extra kudos go to Maguire for manging to tell an excellent story that not only impressed me, but changed my mind entirely. What The Wizard of Oz dispels by way of hokey morals and annoying canines, Wicked re-offers through a much more somber lens: the story centers around Elphaba, a resident of Oz with green skin, who later becomes what we know as the Wicked Witch of the West. But more importantly, the story focuses on the political and religious inclinations of all the various people of Oz; it touches on questions of royalty and hierarchy, on political unrest, revolution and ruling with an eye to the divine. It brings up issues of good and evil, right and wrong, and guilt and forgiveness. In short, it’s a very serious book that just so happens to star a central character of its less-serious predecessor. Also, there’s sex. And dirty jokes. And violence.

So if anyone out there still reads books, this one comes highly recommended. I suspect it’s more worth your time than, say, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

 
kira

2:08 PM on November 6th, 2009 | 

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Reading Rainbow

Filed Under: Books

Matches made in Hell.

Matches made in Hell.

History has a long record of ill-advised combinations: highlighter pens (seriously, the highlighter always dries out first), Nickelodeon’s Cat Dog; Jon and Kate and any sort of televised event. But never has a collaboration offended me like the “vook,” a Simon & Schuster creation designed to destroy intelligence and literacy worldwide.

Vooks” are video-books, or e-books with videos interspersed throughout, which can be read (and viewed) online. Or an iPhone, since I’m pretty sure iPhones do everything short of microwaving food these days. Though S&S is the first publisher to tout its vooks publicly, the idea is spreading—several imprints have announced plans to incorporate video into readers’ experience, either through electronic devices or on the Internet.

What. the. fuck. Listen, I’ve accepted the Kindle. I’m not a fan per se; the purist ink-loving tree destroyer in me wants to read paper books until the day I keel over with one in my hands. But I’m willing to accept that the Kindle might have an iPod-like effect on the nation’s potential readers: ubiquity. As in, maybe if we distract them with gadgetry, thousands of Americans, otherwise glued to syndicated reruns of Jerry Springer, might pick up an actual (or virtual) book.

But my acceptance was contingent on that - the book part. The reading part. Not mixing in video, thereby eliminating the one place we still take in and process words without the help of any sort of imagery.  Not perpetuating the notion that there’s no harm in losing the ability to focus on one thing for a sustained period of time. Not sacrificing essential cognitive tools for the purposes of flash.

Seriously, I hope we do invent robots that surpass us in intelligence, destroy us, and rule the world.

[NY Times]

 
kira

3:17 PM on October 1st, 2009 | 

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The Da Vinci Ode

Filed Under: Book Reviews

danbrown

Dan Brown dresses as Robert Langdon for Halloween.

Though an avid reader several times over, I have never considered myself much of a literary elitist—I’m as likely to be reading one of the Gossip Girl books as War and Peace. So when the release date of Dan Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol, was officially announced, it swiftly earned a notation in my Outlook calendar, right between “dentist appointment” and “pick up cat food.” Seriously, my itinerary is the stuff of legends.

But in my excitement—which has less to do with Dan Brown fandom, and more with the nerd-like joy I get from knowing there are a handful of authors who can convince anyone and everyone to read—I had forgotten one thing: Dan Brown really can’t write.

Indeed, much criticism has been made in recent weeks of Brown’s ascent to stardom – a great deal of it, I suspect, from jealous authors who haven’t yet accepted that America’s predilection for lowbrow entertainment transcends all media; why would a country that’s tolerated a half-dozen seasons of Survivor display anything different when it comes to books? In spite of the success of authors like Dean Koontz, Clive Cussler and James Patterson, the last of whom doesn’t even write all of his own books, people seem baffled that America is head over heels for someone like Dan Brown, someone whose writing classes appear to have revolved around the motto “More adjectives, please!” Read More ›

 
kira

3:19 PM on September 28th, 2009 | 

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Buddy Yes, Savior Not So Much

Filed Under: Book Reviews

buddychristSometimes, when I’m not watching TV, or reprogramming my faulty DVR for the ninth time, or idly wondering whether mood rings come in “irritable,” I read books. And since this is my blog and I’ll wax intellectual if I want to, I feel it’s high time I start reviewing them. Because trust me, there are a lot (175 unread books in my 330-square-foot apartment, to be exact).

The most important thing you need to know about God Is Not Great—it’s a rather awkward book to read in public. Which isn’t to say that New Yorkers have any specific problem with atheism, or one 20-something semi-hipster predictably reading about it on the subway, but one finds it hard to ignore the looks, which vary from skepticism to accusation (by the way, in a rant for another time, I find the Kindle really hampers my predilection for observing what others are reading on the train). Then again, maybe it’s just some watered-down version of Catholic guilt that has me wanting to reach out to fellow riders; “I’m not an atheist; I mean, maybe, I don’t know. I’m just—the book was on sale.” Read More ›

 
kira

10:06 AM on September 9th, 2009 | 

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Parents Just Don’t Understand

Filed Under: Books

lostchildIt seems that whenever I think, to say nothing of hope, that progress is being made on the marijuana front, that the misconceptions are being remedied and the assumptions being undone, some half-high and way-drunk woman crashes her minivan into an SUV and kills eight people. So much for that.

But if it isn’t the tragic car crashes that get us — after all, plenty of people die from alcohol-related accidents every year, with no repercussions for the substance’s legality — it’s this: the heartfelt and depressing memoirs written by parents of addicts, moms and dads who have watched their sons and daughters fight a battle against any kind of substance, whether it’s pot or heroin or online pornography. So Julie Myerson’s The Lost Child, a story about her son’s battle with marijuana addiction, is sure to set us back at least another decade.

The book comes out next week, and needless to say, I won’t be reading it, so my understanding of its plot points comes almost exclusively from the New York Timesreview, which I found oddly confusing. Myerson’s son smokes “skunk,” a cannabis strain with a THC content of up to 22% in some cases, which makes the immediate point that at least some of the risk with marijuana is the endless potential for more potent varieties, much as beer ostensibly poses a lesser threat to well-being than Bacardi 151. According to the review, which I have to assume is taking information from the book, or WebMD, stronger varieties of weed, like skunk, have been linked to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, biopolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder — which to me sounds simply like the physical manifestation of addiction. There’s no room for cognitive or rational thought when the mind is consumed with the drug. Read More ›

 
kira

3:25 PM on August 28th, 2009 | 

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Authors Laugh All The Way to the Blood Bank

Filed Under: Books

vampire

Before my morning coffee.

Sometimes, when I’m not letting the television’s warm rays actively melt my brain, I read books. No seriously, I do.

In fact, my love of the written word at the very least equals my love of the idiot box, and may even in fact surpass it. So it stands to reason that I’ve devoted no small amount of time to the consideration of what type of book I would write, given the opportunity, motivation and lots of Adderall.

The answer? The money-making kind. And what kind is that? Well since I don’t have the patience to research my way through a Paris-based mystery involving washed-up professors discovering ancient mythological secrets that create worldwide controversy – I’d settle for the next best thing: vampires.

Indeed, a recent analysis conducted by me in my own apartment yields these findings: I have read no less than eighteen books about vampires in the last year. Eighteen. At the current rate, I’m well on my way to achieving a “one vampire book per month” frequency, which I’m pretty sure is the point at which it would be socially acceptable to label me a loser. Read More ›

 
kira

5:04 PM on June 25th, 2009 | 

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Filed Under: Books

bookworm-450x337The end of the year means a lot of things - Christmas, New Year’s, 15 pounds in unexpected weight gain, but what most excites me year in and year out is the sudden and significant proliferation of the all-important “Best Books” lists, wherein publishers and media outlets from The Atlantic to Amazon.com reminds people that there’s more to life than Monday Night Football and “Rock Band.” 

It would take me ages to outline the pros of cons of the various lists available to the eager reader, and since I already wasted a significant amount of work time yesterday looking at said lists myself, it’s in my career’s best interest that I get at least mildly less distracted by all this today. (After all, who even has job security anymore?) But for the few of you out there who, like myself, occasionally pause the VH1 to take in some old-fashioned written word, here’s a sum-up of where to look for your fix: Read More ›

 
kira

1:30 PM on December 9th, 2008 | 

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My Name Is Jonas

Filed Under: Books

jonasThey sing, they dance, they have impeccable hair, and now the Jonas Brothers are writing books too.

In response to what the press release called “tremendous anticipation from retailers,” Disney Books actually ran 1 million copies of this week’s Burning Up: On Tour With The Jonas Brothers. And what’s really and honestly sad is that it’ll probably sell out.

Disney calls the book an “exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the chart-topping band which feature never-before-seen photos along with commentary from the Jonas Brothers.” I find it odd that the book’s description is rife with promises of “commentary from the guys!” Doesn’t it stand to reason they would find the time to comment in their own book?

In any case, the reason I’m giving this to all my friends for Christmas is that it also gives a glimpse of the “downtime the brothers have between gigs,” including photos of the guys bowling, racing Go-Karts, and “playing video games with the Bonus Jonas, younger brother Frankie.”

Not only do I find it incredible that people take pictures of the Jonas Brothers just hanging around playing video games, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to be the “Bonus Jonas.” Where’s his place in the band? Seriously, if you’ve ever worried that the Jonas Brothers might become more than a fad, don’t sweat it: That brother’s going to snap one day soon and massacre them all.

 
kira

12:49 PM on November 19th, 2008 | 

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Michael Crichton Joins Dinosaurs

Filed Under: Books, Movies

michaelcrichton1We’re getting to the age, or at least I am, where people we know are going to start up and dying on us. Not the obvious people: grandmothers, great aunts and friends with heroin problems, but celebrities – movie stars, musicians and authors.

Author and filmmaker Michael Crichton passed away in Los Angeles Tuesday, after what his family called a prolonged but private battle against cancer. He was 66.

For those living under a rock, Crichton penned best-sellers that included Jurassic Park, The Lost World and Congo. He’s also the creator of medical drama ER, which consequently is also in its final season. His most recent novel, Next, about genetics and law (a Crichton favorite) was published in December 2006.

I suspect that most people these days associate Jurassic Park more with Steven Spielberg, animatronics and a quirky Jeff Goldbloom performance than the novel, but trust me when I say the book was, to be frank, pretty fucking awesome. As was The Lost World – and you can tell, since Jurassic Park III was by far the worst Jurassic Park of them all (and a front-runner for worst movie ever, though it will likely be trumped by 2010’s Jurassic Park IV), likely because it wasn’t based on a Crichton book. In fact, the film industry is likely as devastated by this death as the publishing one, Crichton was also behind sci-fi thriller Sphere and Twister.

If you didn’t spend significant portions of your childhood plugged into the wide world of adult mass market paperbacks, Crichton’s passing is just another drop in the bucket of old and/or sick people eventually dying. But for those like me, who at age 12 boasted a massive collection of books by Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Mary Higgins Clark — at the expense of real live friends? Psh, no, of course not — Michael Crichton will most definitely be missed.

 
kira

3:00 PM on November 5th, 2008 | 

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Do they publish Blindness in braille?

Filed Under: Book Reviews

I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when I picked up Jose Saramago’s Blindness. Well, that’s a lie – I knew exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking that I really should have shelled out the 15 bucks sooner since my book club meeting was fast-approaching and reading all 326 pages in less than a week was going to cut into my reality television time. But besides that, having seen a few trailers for the book’s imminent film adaptation, and read the back cover, I don’t know why I was still hoping for sunshine and rainbows. Read More ›

 
kira

1:59 PM on October 2nd, 2008 | 

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