The Book Thread -- October, 2005

Whoever usually starts these threads hasn’t yet, so I thought I’d jump in. Whatcha been reading? Here’s my list from the last month:

The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band

Does this book count as a biography? It’s the tale of glam rock pioneer Motly Cru, tracing the childhood and adolescence of each band member all the way through the formation of the group, their stellar success, their plummet into irrelevancy, and their eventual dissolution. It’s told in disjointed chapters penned most often by the four band members, but occasionally others like their manager. It gives the whole thing a pretty authentic feel, even if you’re constantly aware that it’s all been passed through a sieve of PR and probably altered to make things more dramatic. But in a way, that’s how life really is when viewed through the lens of memory --it’s foggy, distorted, and hardly ever lines up perfectly with anyone else’s recollection.

There are a few genuinely dramatic and touching chapters in the book, though, like the one where Tommy Lee laments his months in prison after assaulting his wife or when Vince Neil writes about watching his 4-year old daughter slowly die from cancer. I couldn’t even finish reading the latter because I got to it the night after my wife and daughter left for a visit to St. Louis. Most of the chapters, though, had me rolling my eyes at these decadent men living and acting like children and wondering “WHY OH WHY is everything falling apart? How could this be happening?” You know, when they’re taking drugs, drinking, cheating on their wives, leaving their families to go on tour, and resorting to business practices that a three-year old would find childish. Their angst is ridiculous and they are, by and large, obviously dumbasses and misfits.

The Dead Zone by Stephen King
I’m on a bit of a Stephen King bender again, and after Doloris Claiborn I’m surprised again at how much better King was earlier in his career. The Dead Zone is ostensibly about a guy who comes out of a coma in possession of the ability to tell someone’s future (among other things) just by touching them. But at another level it’s about how an ordinary man deals with the extraordinary (a staple of King’s storytelling) and the tricky moral dilemmas that this kind of ability brings with it. Ultimately, The Dead Zone’s main character, Johnny Smith, has to find out that with great power comes great responsibility (apologies to Stan Lee).

One thing I like about this story is that until the end you’re never completely sure that Smith isn’t at least a little crazy. King sets up a parallel story about a serial killer that doesn’t quite work out the way he originally telegraphs it, and unlike in the movie adaptation of the Dead Zone where everything is clear-cut, we’re not really sure that Johnny is doing the right thing when he makes the decision that forms the lynch pin of the book’s plot. It’s just plain entertaining stuff.

Firestarter by Stephen King

Okay, this is the last of my Stephen King books for a bit. Again, this is one from early in his career, and I once again have to comment on how much more I like it than his later stuff. It’s just a ripping good adventure that starts off at a fast pace and hardly slows down at all. I got sucked into the perils of Andy and Charlie McGee, and I wanted to know how things would turn out. Still, King’s (perhaps understandable) inability to really write from the point of view of a young girl is evident here, though it’s nowhere near as egregious as in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which came much later. And since most of the story is told from Charlie’s father’s view, it’s not a big deal.

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

This is a book about how social, informational, and traditional epidemics gestate and move through groups. Among other things, Gladwell answers questions about why fashion trends happen, why certain children’s television shows succeed, and why teenagers smoke. To explain all this, he sets up a framework involving four groups of people: Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople. He then explains how other elements come into play, like the power of context and the stickiness of a message.

Gladwell makes this all this interesting and fun to read through a light but dignified style, and by liberal use of colorful examples and stories. What I think the author’s greatest strength is, though, is how he takes things that we all already know or think --like the importance of the social environment or how we always tend to go to the same people for advice on certain things-- and legitimizes them by citing real, scientific studies. The treat for me is that many of these citations come from psychology, which is as you may know an area of no small interest to me.

While it’s far from impossible to poke holes in many of Gladwell’s claims (e.g., he overemphasizes how teen suicide “Mavens” and “Connectors” provide implicit permission for other kids to kill themselves while ignoring other, more powerful factors), it’s a genuinely thought-provoking work. I’m definitely going to pick up his other book, Blink.

Just some fantasy/SF here. Finished Dave Duncan’s The Gilded Chain – decent fluff fantasy. Pretty good but not so good that I’d buy the rest of his writing.

Finally started reading Lester del Rey’s stories in the The SFWA Grand Masters vol. 3. Great stuff… a race of genetically engineered talking dogs searches for its surviving human masters after a biological/nuclear war, and Pan finds a job as a jazz musician after his last follower dies. :) Unfortunately few of del Rey’s stories are still in print. I found a “best of” collection, that’s all.

The Franklin Coverup by former Nebraska senetor John DeCamp. This book is astonishing and disturbing. I tried to digg a related link once, and they immediately deleted it. I guess I can understand why.
The Runelords Book 2: Brotherhood of the Wolf by David Farland. Anybody else read this series? It doesn’t devolve into a Jordan-esque neverending ramble, does it?
King of Torts John Grisham. Typical JG. I found myself thinking “Damn I shoulda been a tort lawyer!” then “Oh, maybe not.” :)
Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. About being a modern Christian man w/out being a pussy. Basically.
Oh, and I’m reading Artemis Fowl to my son. About a 12-year-old international thief, who messes with the underworld. As in elves and stuff.

Scott Westerfeld is still rocking my socks off. I read “Evolution’s Darling” and handed it off to my girlfriend. Best robot sex ever.
I’m in the middle of “So Yesterday” right now which is a “Young Adult Book”, so no robot sex, but lots of teen longing. It’s good so far.

I plowed through Baxter’s “Manifold: Time” and just picked up “Manifold: Space” along with TimeShips, so that’s some big fun I’ve got coming up.

Finally I read Stross’ “Singularity Sky”. Underwhelming in comparison to most of what I’ve been reading, but I got to the end.

DeCamp wrote a book? I’ve met him and I’d take anything he says with a grain of salt.

I’m just finishing off Bourne Ultimatum, after finally picking up and finishing off Bourne Supremacy. Good books, but the setting takes a bit to get used to after the movies portraying it as current day.

Also read A Scanner Darkly recently, by Phillip K. Dick. Fantastic book, and I hope the movie can do it justice.

Christopher Moore’s Lamb, the story about Jesus’ childhood pal, Biff.

Maybe I’m just not one for that genre, but I tried to read The Bourne Identity and gave up after about halfway. Just plodding, boring, and overly complicated. May just be my tastes, though.

I preferred his Accelerando collection of short stories. They have a much higher density of ideas-per-page.

Maybe I’m just not one for that genre, but I tried to read The Bourne Identity and gave up after about halfway. Just plodding, boring, and overly complicated. May just be my tastes, though.[/quote]

I found it a little slow at first too. And the fact that it takes place before technology existed is a bit frustrating. But overall I was content with the book, and the other ones are equally good so far. But I don’t think they are particularly different from the first, so if you didn’t like that… well, you are probably just not going to enjoy the others. Although, the sequel does lack some of that “Goddamnit! Quit fucking whining you pussy!” factor.

I will say though, that I don’t particularly like Ludlum’s writing style. It seems a little contrived sometimes, and then sometimes it seems like something a fifth grader would write. But the suspense is good and the twists are fun.

It devolves in quality rather badly in the 3rd and 4th books, shockingly so in fact.

DeCamp wrote a book? I’ve met him and I’d take anything he says with a grain of salt.[/quote]

Hehe. Were his eyes pointing in different directions? or what?

It devolves in quality rather badly in the 3rd and 4th books, shockingly so in fact.[/quote]
Damn, if only I hadn’t ordered the 3rd book on Amazon already. sigh Oh well, guess I have to read it now. But I can demote it to my “read at stoplights” book.

Just finished Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. A much more light-hearted take on the formula he popularized with Stardust, American Gods, and Coraline. On the whole it was a fun read but it doesn’t have the substance to that his previous works did, and ends up feeling like a Good Omens knock off sometimes. Catch it if you thought his earlier work was too dark, or if you liked Good Omens.

On an Evelyn Waugh kick lately…just finished Vile Bodies and a collection of his short stories, and started Decline And Fall.

Ah damn I usually start the thread rather excitedly at the start of the month. This time around I totally forgot about it.

Been reading bits of Escape Routes, a collection of magazine articles by David Roberts. Roberts is one of the great mountaineering and adventure writers, not to mention mountaineers, and has a wonderfully flowing writing style that never threatens to leave you behind. Though the stories are from various adventures in his younger years (70s, 80s and 90s), they nonetheless are never uninteresting. Roberts is frequented by his protege, the now famous Jon Krakauer, as well as other semi-famous or relatively unknown personages and characters like the great Ed Viesturs, Jeff Lowe, Roman Dial… great, great stuff.

— Alan

Current/Just Finished books:

Jennifer Government by Max Barry.

I read this book when it first came out (year ago maybe?) and thought it funny, read it again and found if funny and insightful.

The premise is a libertarianism gone mad world where corporations rule everything, and people take last names based upon their current jobs. It follows several very different people who do very different things and all wind up effecting one another. It’s all satirical and done tongue in cheek, with a few tense moments, a few cuddly moments and a lot of ironic moments. Not a heavy book either, so you could read it in a few hours.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman.

I went and picked up the trilogy boxset from Amazon. If anyone is going to pick up these books, I recommend spending a little more and getting these ones. The binding makes them much easier to read, and the cover art is much better. As it is more expensive, the binding and paper has a much better feel too it, which is important to me.

I decided, a little ways into the second book to put them down, not getting back to them for several months. Problem was, I hit a dead spot. The only real deadspot in the book, actually. Once I got through 20 more pages, the pace picked back up and it became engaging once again. Pullman is great at writing intriguing characters that don’t lose their appeal no matter what age the read is. Though these were meant for a younger audience, they deal with a lot of mature themes. Religion, love, authority. Though there is a definite wrap-up in the plot, a lot of things are left for the reader to assume, which I thought was brilliant. Things happen, but there is a bit of ambiguity to it all. What REALLY just went on? No explanation, only that it did. The ending chapter was also one of the top 5 most touching moments I have ever seen in any kind of media. Not sappy or melodramatic or anything like that, just genuine.

Swan Song by Robert McCammon.

I picked this up because it looked big, and I liked the reviews. See, I’m tiding myself over until Feast for Crows.

This book is apparently always compared to the Stand. It has a similar type of scope and feel. It’s post-apocalyptic (nuclear strike), and deals with a lot of mystical goings-on. In the first few hundred pages that I have thus far read, he’s taken several very different people, turned their worlds upside down, and written their reactions in a way that to me makes perfect sense. The focus is so far a bag lady from Manhattan, a sociopathic kid, a huge wrestler, and a little girl who can hear plants. Yeah.

The writing has far fewer genre conventions and cliches than I would have expected. I mean, yeah there is good and evil, but good isn’t so much pure and lovely for the sake of itself, but good because that’s the best way to go about things for the moment. Weird read so far, but I am enjoying it.

This and The Stand were two of my favorite books when I was in High School. Swan Song is something of a bite on McCammon’s part but is still an excellent book I think. I can’t remember the details but there were definitely moments that I recall thinking, “Well, that’s swiped directly from The Stand but I like what he’s done with it.”

I was a big fan of horror growing up and McCammon has several books that I loved. I have no idea how well they stand up but check out:

The Wolf’s Hour – A WWII Werewolf Spy novel

Usher’s Passing – A sequel to Poe’s Fall of The House of Usher

Stinger – Something to do with an Alien in Arizona from what I can remember. It had a Tremors type feel to it.

I’m currently on a Bill Bryson kick. It was only a matter of time as everyone in the world has been recommending him to me for years and he lives 1/2 hour from me.

Like many on the boards, I loved A Short History of Nearly Everything, so I moved on to A Walk In The Woods which I just finished and also loved and now I’m reading “The Lost Continent” and, surprise, I love it. His view of small town America is much darker than I initially expected it to be. He is the Yankee liberal elite personified ;)

Now, I’m just an Englishman, but is the Midwest really Yankeedom?

Right now, I’m ploughing my way through Josephus’ Jewish Wars, which is both the ideal cure for insomnia, as well as any beliefs that the Romans and, well, the Nazis, had nothing in common. It’s basically ‘What I did in the Jewish Revolt And How Right I Was To Change Sides’.