Tag Archives: sociology

Book Reviews: Dancing in the Streets by Steven P. Unger (***)

As is usual I received this book free in exchange for a review. Despite the great kindness of the author I give my candid opinions below.

To start, I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to finish this book but I can imagine that for a certain sort of reader with more in common with the subject matter this would be a dizzying and unforgettable book.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it because of the almost endless detail. The author describes the times in which he lived with a clarity that few others can even begin to claim. His descriptions are almost Dickensian in their richness and if one has even a remote hook with which to relate to this content then they’ll be inexorably drawn into this cross section of history so wonderfully portrayed. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that hook so it left me with mind wandering and doing the math to find out how long it would be before I could move to something else.

So, is this book for you? I would posit that the optimal readers of this book are in their 60s, or devoted fans of life in the 60s and 70s. They have had some chance to travel, rather randomly and broadly and probably have some stories of their own to tell from the era. Readers of this sort will nod in recognition when they read this book while I was just nodding off.

In summary, this wasn’t the book for me and may not be the book for a lot of people but to some out there this will be THE book that crystallizes their own lifetimes and echoes their own adventures in a former world much different than our own. I appreciate it for its attention to detail and its rare literary craftsmanship but I just couldn’t force my eyes to finish it. Probably a pity but such are the random vicissitudes of literature.

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Movies: Squid Man (****)

I picked this movie solely on the idea that it was new and looked lonely on Amazon Instant Watch. Am I glad I did? Yes, on the whole but it’s not going to be for everyone.

This is a difficult one to wrap words around because it’s so many things at once. It starts out as the comedic movie you would expect. It’s not so much funny as it is sort of smirkingly amusing and in bits seems to remind one of Office Space.

About a third of the way in, the movie takes a decidedly romantic turn and all thoughts of comedy are left behind. It’s also about this time that the movie starts to have a point contrasting the man-child outlook of unmarried men with the more serious viewpoint of unmarried women. There’s a kernel of a lesson here but it’s brief and not much to look at, though colorfully enough portrayed.

The last third of the movie is primarily a super-hero action flick with scads of really bad make-up and intentionally cheesy special effects. It’s not an unpleasant sort of bad really just not a believable sort of good, if you catch my drift. I can tease an interesting lesson out of this section too as it looks at causality and the random events that rule our lives. I *THINK* this may be the main point of the movie but saying anything for sure is really a dodgy proposition in this case.

So in summary, I liked this movie and I’m on the bloody edge of recommending it but you have to be in a really open-minded mood to sit down and enjoy it. It’s just so many things and you have to be ready to accept all of them or it just won’t work. This is a movie to watch on your own when you just don’t know what to watch. Trying to watch this with anyone else will just result in annoyed glares from across the room.

PS: If you read the word ‘romance’ and are thinking, “oh, he said romance, that’ll be nice!” do not watch this movie for its romantic aspects. The last 60 seconds of the film are sufficient to leave anyone wishing for happy romance agape with disappointment. I will say nothing else in an effort to avoid spoilers.

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Today in new Books – 2/4/2014

It’s another big week in book releases and it even includes a book written by the guy in the next cube at work. That doesn’t happen very often!


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Friend Me: A Novel of Suspense (****)


Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.


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The Deepest Secret: A Novel (*****)


As usual I received this book because it showed up in the mail without the need to purchase it. Unusually, I don’t seem to be able to track down exactly why it showed up. I am forced to assume it was a direct publisher giveaway of some sort. Nevertheless, my candid thoughts follow.

You’ve doubtless read the blurb so I won’t make even the smallest attempt to resummarize the summary. The narrative is written in round-robin narrative from the viewpoint of our protagonist, Tyler, who can’t be exposed to even the faintest shadow of sunlight, lest he die, his mother, his father and a few random viewpoints thrown in for fun.

On the positive side the whole thing is pretty attention-grabbing. At 450 pages or so I sat through most of it in one prolonged 4-hour stretch. It has a well-executed narrative flair that pulls you along at just the right pace. The writing and editing are all very tight and exceptionally dramatic. This is one of the best executed books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone except the deepest recluse without friend or family. The book draws much of its power from the “What if this were my family?” spirit.

The book’s central theme, as anyone reading the title will no doubt guess, is that we all have our inner little bits that we don’t show anyone. Some of those bits are dark and some of those are light and some of them are a bit of both. Buckley’s true triumph is the realism with which she paints this narrative. Everyone has a secret something and some stay secret, some come to light and devour the secret-holder and some you just get away with. There’s no big happy bow at the end of this one; sometimes a secret is just too big.

In summary, I hesitate to use the cliche terms that usually go here but this book really does keep the pages turning. The page count is somewhat deceptive as you can pound through this light reading pretty quickly. Glad it arrived at my doorstep, even if I don’t really know why it did so.


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The Book of Jonah: A Novel (***)
As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review. Unfortunately I can’t seem to determine exactly from whom. Whover the source of this unknown beneficence, I give my candid thoughts below.

Having read this, would I pay money for it? Probably not, but I’m on the fence.

This is a bifurcated narrative told from the perspective of two people with rather tragic lives. The story flips back and forth between the two the whole way until… well, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I’ll just say “until”.

On the positive side, this book is wonderfully and elegantly crafted. The author is obviously erudite and can really cobble together some wonderful sentences and has a flair for imagery. The style is very fluid and readable and despite being a VERY long 350+ pages, once you get into the rhythm of the text it speeds along quite nicely. I was able to choke it down in 8-10 hours. It’s also very neatly segmented into sections of 20 pages or so if the verbal finery gets to be too much for you then you can put it down and come back later. It has a very literary feel to it; it’s not at all a fluffy novel.

To the negative side of the novel, the narrative seems to hint at many grand story lines but never seems to decide to finish any of them. On one hand it’s an allegory about right and wrong… but only weakly. On another hand it’s a vast story arc bringing characters together in quirky and unexpected ways… but only sorta. I feel about this book the way I feel about this review I’m writing. I want to say something more powerful. I have plenty of words and I keep typing and typing and typing but it just never happens. The threads never come together. That’s exactly how I feel about the book… Just left a bit dangling.

To summarize, no, I wouldn’t pay money for this but boy can the author pump out some words. He’s vastly prolix and quite skilled but the proverbial participles were just left a bit dangling.


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Glitter and Glue: A Memoir (****)


As usual I received this book through the kind courtesy of some giveaway or other. In this case I suspect it was a ShelfAwareness drawing. Regardless of the origin and despite the kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

This book left me in an exceptional state of ambivalence. On the surface of things, pretty much nothing at all happened for the span of 215 pages. As memoirs go this one is rather vacuous and non-eventful. Those looking for a storyline will be sadly disappointed because there really isn’t one. There’s just nothing going on here… except… except that there IS… but it’s all rather mysterious and internal.

Those who are familiar with my usual review format will note a departure from the “good stuff”/”bad stuff” motif. That just doesn’t apply here. If you were looking for car chases and explosions then this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the old adage plays out in detail. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been a married man long enough to know that a fair number of women live in fear of the day that they “become their mother”. For whatever reason mothers and daughters just don’t get along. Until… well, until one day they do. This book is the detailed narrative, told from the inside of the author’s head, of how that transition happens. How one day you think your mother is insane and the next day she suddenly makes sense. It’s a book about transitions and maturing, a woman’s bildungsroman.

At least that’s my take on the book… the other thing about this book is that it’s one of those that has a thousand meanings to a thousand people. If you choose to read the book it’s VERY likely that you’ll look back on my review and say, categorically, that I’m full of crap. That’s really OK because at its heart the book is one of inspiring ideas. The specific idea that’s delivered is up to the person receiving it. Look at it as being about mothers or renewal or recovery or family or whatever… it doesn’t matter. The book is a brief and candid snapshot of someone’s rather privileged life. The real point is that this book is one for thinkers but thinkers in an emotional sense, those who want to feel what someone else feels and extrapolate that to their own lives. There’s little of plot but much of mind.

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Book Reviews: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

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As usual, I received this book through the kindness of some giveaway or other. In this case it appears to have been an actual GoodReads giveaway. That certainly doesn’t happen much any more!

So to begin, I realize that this book is probably in a genre more generally considered appropriate to the female gender and because of that, as a dude I’m a bit of an interloper. Despite that slight misalignment, I found this book pretty delightful. It’s complexity of character made me realize just how bad I am at keeping names straight. After 40 pages I came up short and found I had no clue who all these people were so I went back through those pages and made a nice tidy relationship diagram of who slept with whom and who was previously dating whom and which characters were, in fact, screwing like rabbits in the back storeroom. Of all these there are many examples.

On the positive side, after sorting out all the ‘whos’ in diagrammatic format, this story had quite a bit to say. The intrigues were entertaining as well as demonstrating a clear and refreshing evolution of character and story. I found myself very invested in the characters and fervently rooting for some justice at the end and for things to turn out just so. I took a couple days getting started but by half way I was staying up late and reading before work to get through it. It does get ahold of you.

On the neutral side, some of the subplots came across a bit weakly. I was tied up in most of them but others just left me rather quizzical. There are certainly high points and “meh” points. Also, in this translation some of the dialog just doesn’t come across as very Parisian. At times the characters seem more Midwestern than European and one wonders how a passage from Little House on the Prairie leaked into the novel.

One final item of note is that this book is exceptionally graphic at times. It’s not exactly pornographic but it certainly pulls no punches when it comes to who’s doing what to whom. If you’re easily offended by such things then don’t bother. Personally I found such candid talk refreshing but then again, I am a guy and we do have a different view on such things most of the time.

In summary, a grand and enthralling book that could have used just a little better translation job. It’s a quick and entertaining 430 pages.

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Reviews: Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

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Firstly and as usual, I received this book for because someone was giving it away in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I’ll give my candid opinions below.

This book is at once a biography and a textbook on sociology. The opening chapters focus on black comedy and the environment into which Pryor entered the entertainment world. Throughout the book the names fall like rain and anybody who ever was or hoped to be anybody entered the scene for at least a bit. About a third of the way in we get down to the man himself.

On the positive side, the background presented in this book is thoroughly entertaining and much of the information was eye-opening and uniquely informative. I found myself scrounging YouTube looking for snippets of the people and bits referred to. It’s a fascinating period of history. As to the bits about Pryor himself, the story of his life is at once horrifying and hilarious. This lived a life of incredible pain, as with most comedians, and the book doesn’t hesitate one bit to be absolutely candid about what happened. From the sexual abuse he suffered as a child to the night he set himself on fire, this book goes into it all in sometimes painful detail.

On the negative side, all that detail can sometimes be a bit much. The story is only roughly chronological and meanders in sometimes confusing fashion. All the parts of a great story are here but they need to be straightened out a bit into a more cohesive whole. I felt at times that we were just jumping about for no good reason. There’s a real lack of cohesion.

In summary, after the first third of the book I thought this would be a keeper. I tend to get rid of almost all the review books I get but on rare occasion I’ll keep one about permanently for future rereading. After getting to the end though, it’s just not quite earned the bookshelf space. The first half makes me want to find a more general book about show business in the 60s-70s and put THAT on the shelf instead of this.

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Short Stories: Weep for Day – Indrapramit Das

Perpetual Sunset

This very brief tale is set on a planet that’s gravitationally locked so that the same side faces the light all the time. This is an intriguing thought since it means that the sun is stationary in the sky as long as you don’t travel and some portion of the planet is bathed in perpetual darkness and hasn’t seen the light of day in millions of years. All the really prime real estate, of course, is on the edges where it’s neither too hot nor too cold and the sun is perpetually in the act of setting (or rising, depending on how you chose to look at it).

The author makes delightful use of this when assigning names to geographical locales. The City-of-Long-Shadows, unsurprisingly, rests on the edge of night and day while the dark, mysterious and eponymous Weep-For-Day resides in an area so devoid of sunlight that no amount of lachrymosity will bring back the sun. These murky depths are the home of the shadowy, ebony creatures known simply as: Nightmares.

Risking spoilers, I’d say the real point of the author’s story is an old one in science fiction. The Nightmare creatures represent a fearful unknown. They reside, risking a cliche, in The Undiscovered Country and as humanity is wont to do, we fill in the mysterious with the most dreadful reality that we can imagine. As the story’s 13 pages wear on, we find that the Nightmare beasts aren’t nearly so unknown and therefore aren’t nearly so scary. In fact from some viewpoints it might just be those who sun themselves in the unending light of day that are more to be feared than the murksome denizens of the black pit of night.

You can read the teaser for this on the Asimov website or do as I did and just go buy the 30th Anniversary collection of the year’s best SciFi.

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My What a Beautiful Eye you Have!

Here’s lookin’ at you…

In a book I was reading over the weekend one of the secondary characters, an 8-year-old girl, meets another girl at a pool laying on a raft. The first words are, “I like your raft!” The other girl doesn’t say anything and so the interaction ends awkwardly but it did make me think about the use of compliments as a mode of introduction and in general conversation.

As an adult I’ve always found it awkward to compliment people on anything. When conversing with a woman I always fear that anything positive I say will be taken as flirting and if it’s a guy then… well, that could very well be taken as flirting too. Yet the few cases in which I’ve been brave enough to take the chance, the reactions have always been exceptionally positive. People love to get compliments but I think that as a society (or maybe it’s just me) we’re afraid to give them out for fear of some misunderstanding.

So what say you? Is a compliment really just a compliment or do you always suspect that it carries some ulterior motive? What do you think when a guy comments on your beautiful, bloodshot eye? Personally, from this point forward I resolve to just throw caution to the wind and try to compliment the hell out of people whenever possible. What’s the worst that could happen? Worst case scenario they think I’m some creepy dude that talks too much. This probably isn’t too far off the opinion they’d have if I said nothing and just stared back at them, so what have I to lose? Not a single thing, I say.

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