Book Review: Empire by Orson Scott Card

I have read many of Card’s books, and I have always found them enjoyable. This was the first complete fail of his that I’ve read. Well, maybe complete miss was a bit strong. I was into the book for the first half and was excited to keep reading. Then he lost me. If you plan on reading this book, stop reading this review now. He lost me by doing the one thing a writer is always cautioned against doing, the one thing that will make people put down the book and refuse to finish it. He killed the main character. While I want to admire him for doing something that goes against the grain and spits in the eye of convention, I can’t. The reason is, Card killed the main character midway through the book. Death is the end. Game over. I was no longer invested in the story. I didn’t care how it turned out. The book had the feel of a post-party hangover after that point.

I was apprehensive about reading this book, knowing it is a political book and knowing Card’s politics, but he makes a case in this book that polarizing your beliefs is about as damnable as anything you can do. I agree with the sentiment. I am a liberal and an atheist, but I am also someone that sees all sides of arguments and am always willing to exchange thoughts with people that can be civil.

Book Review: Isaac Newton by James Gleick

James Gleick offers here a fun look at one of the world’s most important and respected thinkers. Having never read anything about Newton since I was a child, I was stunned by how much of a pompous, arrogant bastard I found Sir Newt to be. To rail against the church for conducting itself in Latin only to publish his own works in Latin to keep it out of the hands of the commoner in the height of ass-holishness. The Hooke feud is a great story, but I felt it was under-developed in this biography, if Neil deGrass Tyson’s Cosmos is to believed. All in all, this was a fun read and gave me a better understanding of a man that I’m happy to admire from a distance.

Book review: The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

Wow. This book should be mandatory reading for everyone. Regardless of your beliefs, this book will force you to examine your own belief system through new eyes. You will not just read what was said but also when it was said, how it was said, to whom it was said, and who was really saying it. As an atheist, my beliefs did not go untouched by Robert Wright’s brilliant work. He broke apart atheism in a way that I have never seen before, and while I’m still an atheist, it left me things to contemplate, and I love that.

The real power of this book is its kid gloves. Wright treats every sacred doctrine as…well…sacred. But that doesn’t stop him from researching the origins of particular beliefs in the religions that claim that the books are the word of God/gods and then question strong held beliefs of cultures that contradict the sacred scriptures. The religions that you think you know, you really only know the cultures, cultures that have been shaped by histories of power struggles, manipulations, and outright lies. To read this book and come away unchanged is unthinkable to me.

Book Review: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a great writer, and the ideas he presents should not be ignored. In this book Gladwell tackles the idea of underdogs in a broad and detailed examination. The basic thesis for the book is that underdogs can win when they do the unexpected and the things that others do not think they will do. He presents many examples, from the book’s names sakes to a group of rich, white girls that win basketball games of far superior players by using a true full court press. I was reminded, as a boxing fan, of the countless upsets that I’ve seen over the years. Ali breaking all convention by urging the huge Foreman to keep hitting him (the legendary Rope-a-dope). Holyfield telling everyone that he was going to fight Tyson on the inside, and then doing just that and eliminating Tyson’s devastating lunging punches. I could go on for hours naming different strategies boxers have used to deceive or confuse their opponents and pull off upsets. But for every story like that there are thousands more of the people that get in there and do what is expected and get obliterated as expected.

I read this book with a different perspective in mind though. I was looking at it in regards to Donald Trump. Trump is the political outsider entering a race that he refuses to follow the unspoken rules. He won the primary by being that guy. By being the least presidential candidate in history, Trump put himself in a position to make a real run at the White House. How did he do it? By talking about his penis size, by insulting women, interrupting his counterparts, using a first grade vocabulary except when making it PG13, and by representing himself as the worst of us rather than the best. It was a strategy nobody was prepared for and as the polls come in and he has narrowed it to a coin toss, this strategy has worked. People are surprised, yet most people agree with H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Book Review: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

This is a poor autobiography. It was a half-hearted attempt by a man that has lived one of the more fascinating lives ever. The first half of the book is a letter written to his son as an explanation of his beginnings  and some of the bigger lessons that he learned on the way. This changes about a third of the way through the book to become a set of personal antidotes that have impacted Franklin, many of them being boastful “I told them, but they didn’t listen” style of antidotes. I enjoyed the book and do not regret reading it, but he could have done better.

Book Review: #NOFX the Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories

I don’t know why I decided to buy and read a book about NOFX. They are a band that I’ve viewed as my favorite punk band since the early 90’s, but that puts them on the same level as my favorite progressive doom metal band (Tiamat) or my favorite insect (any of them but the seed tick…fuckers). Buying a book by them really isn’t something I would normally do. I never even watched their tv show when it was on, so why would I buy their book? No idea, but I did. And I read it. And I loved it. I haven’t even bought or read Neil Peart’s books yet, and he is my favorite musician of any genre.

The book is written by the members of the band, and they take turns telling their stories, sometimes the same stories from different perspectives. It was a brilliant way to tell the true events of the band. Early on you start to see the minds behind the musicians as they relay the events of their lives. I found I liked Melvin and his ability to see through the bull shit while still being willing to dive into the fray. I found Hefe to be almost an innocent bystander to the chaos even though he was undoubtedly a punk even if an accidental one. I found Mike to be an annoying as hell ass hole that is too caught up in himself to see what he himself is doing, yet he is truly the driving force of the band, the dreamer and the dream-maker, so maybe he just sucks as a writer of this kind of work, or maybe he wanted to come off as the annoying punk guy. It was Smelly that really made the book though. Smelly’s story is the story of rock-n-roll, the story of strength and weakness, and the story of endurance. Three times this book brought tears to my eyes, and they were during Smelly’s chapters. I actually had to walk away from the book for a few days due to the strength of the chapter about Joey, a girl he adopted. It wasn’t Mike telling the story about killing his mother or Hefe losing his brother, it was the story about the girl and what she did for Smelly and his father that had me bawling. Now, just to put that in perspective, I read around 50 books a year ranging from classics to pulp (and a lot of horror) and I have only cried during four other books that I can recall: John Adams, A biography on Mark Twain, The Corrections, and Of Mice and Men.

On the other side of things, this book made me laugh out loud over a dozen times also, a much easier task, but one still worth mentioning. The antics of the band is comedy gold, just as many of their lyrics are, and it is always fun to see celebrities (are they celebrities?) as real people. These guys are as real as they come. They are the type of people I would love to sit around with and play chess, drink coffee, or perv on the passing girls, or get totally fucking smashed if Smelly isn’t around. Thanks for sharing guys. You have turned a moderate fan into a passionate one.

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I knew the basic premise of this one going in, but I have never seen the movies and knew only the basics. I have to say, for a global phenomenon that this book created, I am rather disappointed. The story held my interest, but the plot was predictable. The book read like a children’s book, but the subject matter was a bit extreme for a children’s book. I felt like it wanted to be Ender’s Game, but Ender’s Game was not a children’s book, it was just a book that children were drawn to. I am in no hurry to read the other two books in the series, but I may pick them up if the mood strikes me.