Here are a bunch of very short synopses of the books I've read this year.
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt. Basically, it's no fun being a poor Catholic kid in Ireland. Except McCourt says it far more beautifully and far more engagingly than that. N-F *****
Anthem, Ayn Rand. Fighting for individualism is the highest good, as
collectivism is the prime hindrance to human progress. Also, listen to Rush to hear stories of individualism set to anarchic time signatures! F ***1/2
Better Writing Skills. You should learn how to write good, so we're gonna give you a substandard work fit only for those who have recently entered the world of literacy! N-F *
Blink, Malcom Gladwell. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Like, for instance, the idea that snap judgments are very often dead on, with a mind-boggling precision even more reliable than carefully reasoned decisions. N-F ****1/2
Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, Michka Assayas. Bono is rock star demigod, yet Bono is human. N-F ***1/2
Business Etiquette, Ann Marie Sabath. The Golden Rule is a great rule of thumb for your business practice. N-F ***
Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale. If life's a drag, just become a different, cooler person. N-F (or F?) ***
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris. Sedaris is an alchemist who can create a story of pure gold that would be boring from the mouth of any other. $1000 to anyone who can find a topic on which Sedaris cannot be outrageously funny. N-F ****
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer. All attempts at summarizing in one sentence have failed. Just go read it. F ****1/2
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. Censorship is bad. Wow, no author in the 20th century ever said that. Of course, the sheer volume of books written on the pitfalls of censorship just might be an indication of the need for such warnings. Bradbury's work is among the better anti-censorship novels. F ***1/2
Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes. History is impossible to truly understand, a tale woven together by whatever threads a historian likes. It is like a net--"a collection of holes tied together with a string." Recounting a historical tale or seeking to find meaning in the events of your own life is really nothing more than gathering random, uncontexualized data and putting your own spin on it. F ****
For the Time Being, Annie Dillard. "God is no more cogitating which among us he plans to be born as bird-headed dwarfs or elephant men--or to kill by AIDS or kidney failure, heart disease, childhood leukemia, or sudden infant death syndrome--than he is pitching lightning bolts at pedestrians, triggering rock slides, or setting fires. The very least unlikely things for which God might be responsible are what insurers call 'acts of God.'" R/P ****
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis. If you could choose heaven, where you give up all claims to what is yours, or hell, where you never have to relinquish the illusion that you can keep you think is yours, you'd probably choose the latter. R/P ****
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers. Extremely self-conscious and self-loathing accounts of raising your 8-year-old brother (after both your parents die) can be really funny. Complete with drawings of staplers, accounts of dancing puppies in the sky, staggeringly heartbreaking attempts to grapple with death, and the occasional touch of genius, Eggers earns the distinction of being unlike any other writer out there. N-F ****1/2
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson. Not all who wander are lost. F ****
Life of Pi, Yann Martel. Both reality (or your interpretation of reality) and faith (again, your interpretation of reality) are human constructs. A rationalistic interpretation of reality that insists on dealing only with "dry, yeastless factuality" (or your interpretation of reality) will miss out on deeper metaphysical truths. Or maybe it's just a story about a boy, a tiger, and liferaft survival. F ****
Long Day's Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill. Human tragedy makes for a great play. F *****
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl. If you can create some sort of meaning in your life, some reason to keep on kickin', you'll probably keep on kickin' regardless of what happens. R/P ****
The Night of the Iguana, Tennessee Williams. Human contact is cathartic and therapeutic. F ****
The One-Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. State your goals concisely (One Minute Goals™ waste less paper and less time), give credit where credit is due with One Minute Praisings™ (it's not just dogs that like to be patted on the head), and give firm but brief direction (because if your One Minute Reprimands™ were any longer it would throw off the symmetry of the book). The other theme is: Be sure to buy lots of copies of this book and distribute them to all your coworkers. N-F ***
reallivepreacher.com, Gordon Atkinson. Not all who wonder are lost.
Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Occultist medieval documents are exciting. Also, obsession will ruin you. F ***
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson. "Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart." I.e., quit complaining about how screwed the world is and do something good. F ****
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut. If you're prone to buying into "The System," (War is good! America is shorthand for all that's true and just, regardless of the fact that we napalmed the non-military city of Dresden, full of civilian men, women, children, and our own POWs!), then you're (a) a fool, (b) likely to perpetuate the world's horrific cycle of butchery. F *****
Straight Man, Richard Russo. If you experience the tragedy of failing to meet the goals you'd set for your life, there's a simple explanation--you didn't have it in you to meet the goals. Also, such tragedy is quite funny. F ****1/2
The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell. Reality is often counterintuitive, because itty bitty things, seemingly insignificant make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, and Malcom will prove it to you. N-F *****
Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom. Live your life to its fullest. N-F ***
Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard. If you run out of cheese, don't sit there in anguish waiting for your cheese supply to magically replenish; use your brain to go find a different source. The other theme is: Be sure to buy lots of copies of this book and give them to all your coworkers. N-F ***
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee. Imagination and denial are powerful tools for alleviating heartache. F ****
Categorized as fiction, non-fiction, or religion/philosophy.
1. Allen, my younger brother, and I, now inhabit a large 4-bedroom house recently occupied by my older and more famous brother. We have opted for a more spartan decoration scheme, by which I mean that the house is empty save for 2 beds, 2 easy chairs, 1 couch, some bookshelves, and a few appliances. The house is currently the ideal bachelor pad, what with its mismatched furniture, its steady stream of visitors at all hours of the night, the bomb-shelter style stockpile of canned food and instant macaroni, and the seldom-played guitar in the corner which proves that we really are good ol' boys.
2. The third resident of our house is a Himalayan cat. She is morbidly obese and cross-eyed. The name she has traditionally ignored is Polly, but we have recently renamed her Thor. I have decided that I like Polly/Thor because though she bites, she can't bite hard. One's friends should be either powerless or benevolent. Polly/Thor is both. No doubt her benevolence is directly related to the box of kitty treats on the shelf, but one can't be too picky.
3. I have fallen in love with “White Unicorn” by Wolfmother. The music snob in me recoils at the thought of heaping any praise on Wolfmother. The objections are numerous. The band is an unabashed Sabbath and Zeppelin ripoff, they’re still stuck in the 70s, their album cover designer is undoubtedly a pale pony-tailed Dungeons & Dragons expert, their guitar riffs are simple runs up and down a blues scale, their lyrics are truly ridiculous. Well, that’s all true. And it’s loud and stupid music. But it’s delightfully loud and stupid. “White Unicorn” boasts wonderful 3-chord thunder and a trippy organ-flavored bridge. Check it out.
4. I have ascertained through careful research that Richard Russo's Straight Man may be the funniest novel ever written. I'd write you a review but someone more articulate than I beat me to it a decade or so ago.