Saturday, March 08, 2008

14 going on 50

So I've now read 14 books this year, after a serious diversion last month for work-related reasons.

January (7):
Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz
Nothing's Sacred by Lewis Black
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Liars' Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage On Wall Street by Michael Lewis

February (2)
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz
The Body Artist by Don DeLillo

March (5)
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Supreme Conflict by Jan Crawford-Greenburg
A Practical Guide to Racism by C.H. Dalton
Mere Anarchy by Woody Allen
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Fiction: 4
Non-fiction: 10

I'll be brief with my discussions of the new books to the list, since a lot of time has passed.

In summary,
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm - Average, but underwhelming, Katz is pretty judgmental and pretentious, he loves dogs, but he criticizes others for loving them too much and treating them like children, because whatever love they show that exceeds what he shows his dogs is wrong. All while he abandoned his family and moved to a farm to herd sheep because of his dogs. Yeah, that's not contradictory. It's occasionally endearing, but he's too distant to be writing about emotional bonds with animals. Not recommended, particularly if you love dogs.

The Body Artist - Well, one of these years I had to finish a DeLillo book, given that I have almost all of them. I chose the wrong one, because this is self-consciously abstract and obscure, albeit mercifully brief -- which is why I chose to read it when the deployment to NYC was impending, I thought I could actually finish it, and I did, just barely. Not recommended.

A Confederacy of Dunces - This won a Pulitzer? It's a farcical collection of off-the-wall characters that is relatively innocuous and doesn't add up to something until its conclusion, which goes on for sixty pages, but still seems brisk. I'm still puzzled by the critical acclaim, but it's a generally innocuous book, albeit one that's relatively dense (my work schedule may have had something to do with the month it took to read this, but it wasn't the sole factor). Recommended

Supreme Conflict - Did you know that Clarence Thomas was confirmed and is currently on the Supreme Court? That's about all you'll learn from Jan Crawford-Greenburg, who puts a lot more focus on the other justices who have been nominated in recent years. It'd be puzzling if it didn't fit in so closely with her moderate right-wing approach to the Supreme Court appointment process. She's fairly even-handed, but it's not hard to tell where her sympathies lie, which can get tiresome. You will learn more about Bush's approach to appointing Supreme Court appointments here than you would from The Nine, and there's less fawning over Justice O'Connor, who ranks among my top 10 worst justices in the history of the Court (let's be honest, this blog got its title from her mastery of callousness), but she also dodges issues of interest, like the Thomas confirmation hearings, which are basically skipped so that she can deride the appointment of David Souter as executive ineptitude first because it didn't accomplish the goal H.W. Bush had, later because it's clear she has affirmative contempt for Souter. Recommended, but not if you have access to other Supreme Court writings, because frankly, aside from Rehnquist's history of the Supreme Court, I've yet to find anything that's not worth reading on a largely under-covered topic.

A Practical Guide to Racism - It's funny. Mission accomplished. It has plenty of highlights, I knew I had to buy the book after reading the discussion of Mormons. It's a premise that's executed very well for 160 pages, but the glossary at the end is tiresome. That said, if you're not on some ill-advised quest to read 50 books wouldn't sit and read every relentless word of it. So, because you're not psychotic, this is highly recommended.

Mere Anarchy - Well, most of these were published in the New Yorker, so it's no surprise that the only link the stories have is that they are all pretentious. The verbiage is annoying at times and his character names are an exercise in reader's tolerance for complete absurdity, but most of the stories are whimsical or amusing enough to justify the twenty minutes it will take to read the entire book. Harmless fluff, recommended if you think you could possibly like it, definitely not recommended to anyone who has any doubts.

Into Thin Air - It's certainly not the page turned that Into the Wild is, because that book was gripping from start to finish and took no effort at all to get into. Into Thin Air is a far more gradual book, which teaches you about the tedium that is involved in preparing for a mountain climb, but once they start to ascend the mountain, it is hard to put down. It's certainly hard to gauge how objective the account is, but it's a readable one in any event, and almost certainly the best book I've read this year. Highly recommended.

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