Friday, March 13, 2015

11/22/63 (The CB Version) by Stephen King

I was never what would be considered a voracious reader, but by the time I got into high school I found that I enjoyed reading certain genres and authors. I found characters such as Holden Caulfield relateable and entertaining… minus the mental breakdown and psychotherapy, of course. And I found  that I was particularly drawn to sci-fi thrillers. Enter: Stephen King. 

A good, scary book was always an easy read and for years I read anything I could get my hands on my Stephen King. That being said, I read The Shining for the first time at 18 years old and didn’t touch another King book for  at least 6 months. That book made the movie look like a Disney cartoon.  

Over the years I made my way through a number of his classics, all better than the movie remakes, but I started to find his newer material a little more “out there”. Now, I understand that the man is out there to begin with, but he went from writing scary thrillers to drafting stories and plot lines that were just plain weird. I’ll give credit where credit is due: I became more of a reader because of King, but over time I branched out and found my nightstand littered with other authors. I felt that maybe Mr. King had spent a little bit too much time off the grid, up in Maine. Then, this past Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me 11/22/63. While I probably hadn’t read anything by him in almost ten years, I was excited to see if it would rekindle my appreciation for his ability or if he had ceased to be the same author. I was not disappointed.


He demonstrated what drew me to his work originally. He had recaptured the art of storytelling… the depth of characters both noble and repulsive, settings so vividly described they were tangible, and, most importantly, knowing how to tie up a seemingly impossible ending. In addition to all of these wonderful traits, the utterly make-believe story was woven together with plenty of historical accuracy. I not only enjoyed the break from reality that the story provided, but was fascinated by the history lesson I received in reading it. I understand that much of what was written was done so with creative license (much like the CB character that exists on a certain blog), but he did his homework and, in some regards, I learned more details about the life and times of Dallas in 1963 than I had from any history class or discussion I’ve had regarding President Kennedy’s assassination. The combination of factual events intertwined with a well crafted story about time travel made for one the most enjoyable books I’ve come across in a long time. 

Thank you, Mr. King. It’s good to have you back. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Yes, it's another Murakami book on the blog. Since Becky and I both like him we keep at it but if you've read the other Murakami posts and read one of the books and it wasn't for you, go no further.  It's hard to describe this genre since it blends realistic relationships and situations with otherworldly dimensions.  Labels almost always artificially repell or attract so leaving him unlabeled is a good thing.  Find out for yourselves.

This 2004 short novel follows a handful of characters through one night from just before midnight until just around dawn in modern Tokyo.  We know this time span because each chapter has a clock showing us the time progression through the book and their lives.  There is a narrator who describes some scenes as if through a camera but we also learn about them in their dialogue and actions.  I found the narrator a bit jarring compared to most descriptive styles but it was an interesting change.

You get a sense in the book that we live in a relatively concrete existence as individuals during the day but we tend to blend into each other and into other dimensions late at night, especially as we sleep.  It's tough to tell if the nighttime blending effects the daytime individual but there may be a relationship.  In the hands of a less skilled author this could get dry and ham handed and more like a psychologist's lecture and less like a good story with hidden meanings, but Murakami is one of the best authors of our age and the style and story work for him. As is a must with me to recommend a book, I liked most of the characters and the glimpse into their varied lives. I hope you do too.

Friday, February 20, 2015

How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson

Becky knows how much I like historical philosophy, which basically is looking at events and making conclusions on why they happened or how they created future outcomes and their significance. If that sounds kind of dry, it is anything but. Normally those insights at a minimum make you reevaluate your concept of events. Sometimes they can even make you accept events and outcomes from a different perspective that in turn brings that perspective to bear on subjects outside of the scope of the book's subject. Becky gave me this book for Christmas and it's a well done addition to the genre.

Johnson proposes that six needs or inventions have made a significant contribution to how our world is today. The six are Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time and Light. I found glass the most interesting, starting with it being a blend of solid and liquid simultaneously. The cascade of events and inventions for me was the best done of the six but he made a good enough case for all six.

The book would be enough with those six but his final chapter looks at inventions and concepts in two broad categories, incremental changes and intuitive leaps. It blended nicely with the thought presented in an earlier blog post "the Innovators" and pulled the whole discussion together.

If you liked "The Innovators" you'll like this. It's a much shorter read but a good one.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

An Officer And A Spy by Robert Harris

If you've ever heard of the Dreyfus Affair then you probably know it involved a Jewish French officer wrongly accused of treason. Beyond that, the details get kind of murky, meaning I had no idea about the details.  You can read a history book to get the details or have a more enjoyable read by sitting with an historical novel and looking up the details later if you feel the need.

Robert Harris is an excellent craftsman for this kind of literature and he doesn't disappoint in the retelling of one of the most infamous incidents of French pre-WWI history. In brief, a French captain is convicted of treason, publicly humiliated and sent to rot in horrendous conditions on Devil's Island.  A young staff officer takes over the army intelligence section sometime thereafter and soon starts to doubt Dreyfus's guilt.

The following events would make for a great TV mini-series, although critics might complain that you couldn't find this many venal characters at such high government levels in real life. They'd be wrong.  Harris has based all the major character's actions and outcomes on existing historical research with only some dialogue and personal dramatic flourishes to make for a more enjoyable read. If you want to take a deeper dive into the story, he provides plenty of recommended books to get the facts without story telling touches. This is a good read and excellent context for the disaster that was French participation in WWI.  With generals like this, no wonder they lost so many men who eventually mutinied.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This has gotten favorable press lately and it's deserved, but...
The story involves a German orphan and his sister prior to WWII and a blind French girl and her father in a parallel time.  Parallel is the key word because each chapter is a couple of pages long and bounces back and forth between the two as they age, the war begins and ends and their paths converge.  A subplot, which may be the point of the story, is a jewel that may or may not be cursed.  As all the parts come together, the tension should mount, but it is lessened by moving back and forth in time.  That time shifting gives a clue as to who lives and dies, at least to a point, and for me took away from the story.  It was not difficult to understand where in time the characters were, it was just mostly unnecessary and a contrivance instead of asset to the story.

That said, the author did an excellent job in portraying each character, no matter how slight their role and the writing is beautiful.  I liked all the characters I was supposed to like and the story was good.  As is the case with many of the books in this blog, Jackie read it before I did.  When I asked how she liked it prior to me reading it, she said "I want to see what you think about it."  We came away with the same conclusion.  Given the accolades, we expected a bit more.  Very good book, just left us a bit flat.  If you want to read a more riveting look at occupied France, look at "Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky which was blogged about years back. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

History with context and flow can be great reading. If it is done by an excellent craftsman with a reporting background, it can be a joy and an education.  This book is all of that.  Maybe that should be at the end of this post but know that Isaacson has nailed it in this latest addition to his many well-received tales of famous people.

In "The Innovators" it is not one person, but the fairly complete history of computers, from the initial concept of a computer by a brilliant 19th Century woman, through the steps toward invention and finally to where we are today. He weaves in the contrast of outcomes between brilliant loners and teams of brilliant people. To not give too much away, no matter how bright the single individual, the great idea seldom got far enough to reach a broader audience. The computers and supporting systems we have today came from teams.

At the beginning of the book, I'd read for a while and put it down, even though that section was interesting.  The further into the book I got, the longer the segments.  By the last 100 pages or so the book flew by.  It's that kind of book.  Everyone in the family will love this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Yes Please" by Amy Poehler

"When you are pregnant you can get away with a lot of sh*t. Women really are at their most dangerous during this time. Your hormones are telling you that you are strong and sexy, everyone is scared of you, and you have a built-in sidekick who may come out at any minute." - Amy Poehler, "Yes Please"

So, unlike most of my friends, I’ve never seen Amy Poehler’s “Parks and Recreation.” I also stopped watching Saturday Night Live right around the time that Poehler and Tina Fey left – mainly because it coincided with me liking to go to bed before 11:30pm, but if they ask, it’s because my world wasn’t complete without them.

Ok, so we all know how I felt about "Bossypants" And this is what I’ll say about “Yes Please”. If you like Amy Poehler, you’ll love this book.

Also, it' worth noting here that Mary and I have always referred to ourselves as the Amy Poehler and Tina Fey of the Everyman. Which I'm guessing is how you guys refer to us, too.

Moving on.

I liked this book a lot - there were parts that were laugh-out-loud  funny and parts that were touching. It’s a quick read and has some fun name-dropping and behind-the-scenes stories. Plus, I get the sense that I’d just like Amy Poehler if she’d ever return my calls. But I’m pretty sure nobody in the family will read it for reasons like….you guys really don’t care about Amy Poehler? And so I respect that. But some of my blog readers will dig this and this is how you’ll know, guys: if you liked/read the following: “Bossypants” or “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” – you’ll like this for sure. So check it out and let me know what you think!