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1st quarter books read - The inexplicable charisma of the rival [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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1st quarter books read [May. 5th, 2012|02:21 pm]
Just me.
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(actually includes April's books too, because I procrastinate).

nonfiction:

1) The Book of General Ignorance By John Lloyd,
2) The Second Book of General Ignorance Everything You Think You Know Is (still) Wrong By John Lloyd

Trivia/debunking compendium. Interesting but a lot of them were facts I'd never thought about and thus had no reaction when they were proved wrong. Stuff like "Oranges aren't really orange in the wild". Still worth skimming if you like these kinds of books.

3) The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History -Jason Vuic(Audio)

Delightful. The story of how one dogged and possibly delusional entrepreneur, Malcolm Bricklin, (who had already spectacularly failed at other car-importing schemes) decided that America needed a tiny car cheaper than Honda and Toyota and looked to Eastern Europe to find it. Business case study combined with a history of the "good Communism" of Yugoslavia, though not at all dry. The Serbian/Bosnia war actually killed the American Yugo before the company could fold based on the crappy quality of its cars, and Bricklin was STILL trying to revive the Yugo brand in the US well into the 2000's after the dust of the breakup of Yugoslavia had settled. May be the only automotive history you read where Slobodan Milosevic repeatedly pops up.

4) The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure-  John Mitchinson , John Lloyd

Stumbled across this compilation of biographical sketches via Book of General Ignorance (same author), and it it was great fun. The book groups famous and forgotten people into chapters based on suitable shared characteristics:  people whose lives were influenced by sex  (Kinsey, Casanova and H G Wells), famous imposters, and for no apparent reason, people who were notable for other reasons but also kept pet monkeys (Frida Kahlo, Madame Mao and Oliver Cromwell). The book equivalent of falling into a wikipedia hole. Recommended.

5) To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism by Chuck Thompson 

Another one of those "travelling to places most people would prefer to avoid" titles by a travel writer that also works for Maxim (and yeah, it sometimes shows in his writing style). The places in question are The Congo (corrupt, broken, friendly people), India during monsoon season (wet, frightening), Mexico City (fun and undeserving of the stigma of the Drug War) and Disney World (the fish in a barrel for a cynical travel writer). I liked it okay, but the Lonely Planet title Tony Wheeler's Badlands covers more ground with more thought.

6) Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness by Neil Strauss

Music journalist Strauss went back to his interview notes to highlight the most telling excerpts that really revealed the essence of his subject(s). So instead of the completed Rolling Stone or Esquire piece, you get the 3 most interesting pages of the interview transcription that would become the profile. A lot of this stuff probably didn't make it into the final articles, so glimpses of the subject doing everyday things (Snoop running an errand to buy diapers for his baby, Courtney Love having the first crisis breakdown of the day) are sort of amusing. Also reads very fast because of the Q/A format.

7) Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

fast read, and still relevant despite the age. Probably essential if you ever find yourself having to name the buttons on a navigation bar and want to instill maximum clarity.

8) Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss

Strauss decides to find out what it takes to get citizenship/a second passport from somewhere less provocative than the US without actually moving there and becoming a resident for 5-10 years (winner: the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts) and along the way starts doing the Doomsday prep routine. Investigates the "stay in your bunker with supplies" versus "bug out to the boonies with a pre-outfitted getaway car, boat, or plane" schools of survival. He also does EMT training and learns wildlife skills from Tom Brown's famous tracker workshops. Made me realize that if anything hits the fan, I am one of those people who is not going to be able to hunt and butcher goats and deer, so my best strategy is to enjoy the time I have rather than preparing for the worst.

9) Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug

Companion piece to "Don't make me think" but focuses more on how to do usability test with actual live users. Not as pertinent to me but still sound advice.

10) Getting Stoned with Savages A Trip through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu By J. Maarten Troost

Reread simply because I applied for a job in Fiji and got a skype interview (no foolin') and wanted to read something contemporary and irreverent about the country in case they hired me. They didn't, but I still enjoyed the book the second time around.

11) The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss 

This is one of those books perpetually asked for by skeevy young men at the public library, so I knew I'd have to read it eventually. It contains some advice on picking up girls but also profiles the Pick Up Artist (PUA) subculture, which I was surprised to learn was a thing. Apparently PUAs give workshops to other aspiring PUAs and often go out "sarging" together. Strauss joins them, learns from them, and eventually rents a house in Hollywood with a group of them, and hilarity ensues. Best parts are when Courtney Love becomes a long-term houseguest/ cracked-out den mother at the PUA house and when the workshops become so successful that Strauss can't use his own pickup lines in LA anymore because every attractive woman in the region has now been subjected to them via his PUA disciples. The basic lesson is obvious: if you can approach women confidently and engage them in conversation for at least 10 minutes, your foot is in the door.

Fiction:

1) Blood Oath (Nathaniel Cade #1) by Christopher Farnsworth

Supernatural political thriller: Every president since Lincoln discovers the office comes with an vampire advisor/bodyguard, who steps in when the world gets into big messes. Kinda silly but I liked it enough to read the sequel (below).

2) The Snowman- Jo Nesbo (audio)

The next big name in Nordic crime fiction. A string of married mothers are killed, with a signature snowman in the yard facing TOWARDS the house left as the killer's signature. It takes a while for the cops to get the connection (apparently snowmen are too common to notice in Oslo) and then you have the standard red herrings, race against time to save the next victim mystery tropes. Still, I enjoyed it and am reading the next in the series. Excellent reader for audio version.

3) The President's Vampire (Nathaniel Cade #2) by Christopher Farnsworth

sequel to blood oath, more of the same, but likeable enough.

4) Zone One- Colson Whitehead

Literary fiction about the post-zombie world in NYC. Our hero is a "sweeper" trying to reclaim the city's buildings from straggler undead. Each of Whitehead's novels cover different plots/themes/styles, and this one was one of his better ones (also, way shorter than "John Henry Days")

5) Blood's a Rover -James Ellroy (audio)

Ugh. The third in the trilogy that started with American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, which I enjoyed, but were really heavy. This one was also heavy but I think I'm just over the J Edgar Hoover/Nixon/CIA/Mob/Howard Hughes/Cuba conspiracy thing. Audio reading was fine, but the book was sprawling and manages to kill off main characters way too often. Plus, I kept falling into Wikipedia holes after every chapter to see what was historically real and what was not. For diehard Ellroy fans that loved the first two books only.

6) Blankets (graphic novel) - Craig Thompson

autobiographical story of first love, Christian parents and growing up in rural Wisconsin. Beautiful art, and good story, but I wanted to see a glimpse of what happens to the main character after childhood (more like Persepolis, I guess). Still, a fine book, but I'd have probably liked it more if I read it at age 17 instead of 42.

7) A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (audio)

Is it a novel, or a series of connected short stories? Yes. Most chapters focus on pivotal players in a fictitious rock scene: the label magnate, his kleptomanic assistant, the has-been rock star, etc. I liked the interplay of a story about punk-loving kids in the 80s intersecting with other characters 20 years later, but there were a lot of loose ends I'd have liked to see tied up. Two of the stories take place in a 20 years away future with new technologies, and I'm not sure I liked that after the realism of the first batch of stories. I thought this was good, but not 2011 Winner of the Pulitizer Prize in Fiction good, if you know what I mean. Other beef- like "Catcher in the Rye", the title doesn't really fit, isn't apparent why it was chosen and the eventual explanation seems like grasping at straws. Audio version is good, but the chapter that takes the shape of a Powerpoint presentation ought to be seen in addition to being heard. Currently in development at HBO, so read it now before it gets a Game of Thrones-length hold list at your library.

8) The Magicians Lev Grossman (audio)

Sorta an American Harry Potter meets Less than Zero, but better. Plot: bright high school kid with a fixation on a set of Narnia-ish children's books is whisked away to a magic school, where there is no "wizarding world" and students are at a loss to figure out what to do with their skills after graduation. After the post grad indolence and descent into alcoholism, the hero and his pals are finally given a Magical Mission. I liked it and will read the sequel, but it took a long time to get to the Epic Quest part, so at first it seemed like just a coming of age story, but with spells and sexual tension.

9) The Marriage Plot By Jeffrey Eugenides (audio)

Contrasts the love triangle experienced by 3 new graduates of Brown University in 1982 with the "Marriage Plot" of 18th century novels, which is Madeleine's Senior Thesis topic. I really liked the story and the character development and the flashback to what it's like to be out of college and have no idea what to do next with your life. What I hated was all the anachronisms that the author could have easily checked against wikipedia before including them, which took away from the realism of the book by making me say "Wait, that can't be right!" (listed below* if you're curious to know)

10) The Second Half of the Double Feature By Charles Willeford
Posthumously collected unpublished short stories, fragments and even poetry from one of my crime fiction favorites. Good, but for completists/fans only.

21 books in 4 months. Having a 45 minute commute again is helping increase the audiobook consumption.


* Marriage Plot anachronisms I found (with help from wikipedia and amazon's "search inside this book" feature):
Leonard "fires up some Violent Femmes on the boombox" in September or October of 1982, despite the fact that their debut LP would be released in April 1983.

Leonard has somehow acquired a Moleskine notebook (mentioned twice), despite having never been to Italy (they would not be exported to the US until 1999)

When Leonard travels to Monte Carlo and visits the casino he "can't remember which Bond film it's in". He later recalls that it's "Never say never again", which would be released in October 1983, so even if it's late 1983 by the time Leonard is in France (I believe it's early 1983, before summer), he'd hardly need to "remember" what film it was, since he would have only seen it a month or so ago.

"Purple Rain" (September 1984) is playing on the stereo at a party in 1982 or maybe early 1983.

Unconfirmed anachronisms (cannot easily prove, but them seem wrong based on available data/my memories):

Leonard got a play microscope from Toys R Us at age 10, which would be about 1971 or 1972. Did the company ever have stores as far west as Portland, OR way back then?

Madeleine goes to her college PO box, gets a letter, tears it up and places the pieces in a recycling bin. Widespread paper recycling bins in 1982? I think that in 1987 my campus post office still didn't have them.
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