29 December 2008

Still Life With Woodpecker

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
This book took a long time to get my interest and never got me to that point where I wanted to know more of the story. Mostly all I wanted was to finish it so I could read something else, but, I did finish it. That is more than I can say for some other books. At least it was good enough to finish.

It was overly descriptive of everything. This could have been a 100 page book, but describing minute details of things in five or six different ways each ballooned the word count. 277 pages of overly descriptive, overly philosophical, obviously cocaine inspired word play. The ideas and theories behind all those words must have been thought up while under the influence. :-)

The story itself was interesting. It had an exiled king and queen living in Seattle, a coming-of-age princess, a "worldly" love interest who just happens to be a terrorist, sheiks, outlaws, redheads, aliens, pregnant cheerleaders, CIA, revolution, conservation, social activism, prison, etc etc. So many of the elements of a good story, and it was a good story. It was a good story that was polluted with wordiness.

An example (just one of a zillion):
This is from page 50 of the book. Here the author is describing tequila.
"Now, tequila may be the favored beverage of outlaws, but that doesn't mean it gives them preferential treatment. In fact, tequila probably had betrayed as many outlaws as has the central nervous system and dissatisfied wives. Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, creme de cacti; tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!"

It is a nice descriptive picture of tequila. Now imagine every page having this same type of stuff done for a pack of cigarettes, a banyan tree, an attic, a blackberry bush, a boat, the scent of lovemaking, the moonlight shining in a window. Description after description. Ugh.

Between that and the psychological parts where people are thinking up all kinds of crackpot theories for the meaning of life, the purpose of the moon, how to make love stay, and the origin and real reason for pyramids made it hard to read at times.

Something good? OK, the main characters were redheads (hence the Woodpecker). They spoke many times about the superiority of the redheads, and described it in thousands of words. LOL

25 December 2008

Driver #8 - Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I forgot about reading this one some time in 2007. It was recommended by my father after he finished it.

I was a bit surprised. I always thought Dale Jr got his ride because of his name and that he was just some spoiled rich kid. I learned some things about the man. He is a very grounded individual who takes his fame in stride. He did not get a big ego.

I learned to like Dale Jr. I like him even more now that he drives for Hendrick Motorsports.
Should you read this book? Well, if you are a NASCAR fan then it would be a fun read for you. If you don't know squat about racing I am sure there are better books for you to read.

23 December 2008

The Communist Manifesto

Yes the real Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx.

Isn't that just a lovely piece of work?

Well, I figured I read the US Constitution enough times, but I never read this. So, now I have. The deed is done.

Into The Wild - John Krakauer - Dec 08

Wow. I mean really, wow.

This was a true story. I remember when I was living in Maryland, just outside of DC, from 1987 to 1993. I recall the news reports and the printed articles about this story. The family was living in Virginia and Maryland at the time and so it was considered a local story. I had no idea that this book was about he same incident and family from that time. It quickly brought back the memories of that time.

I did not know all these details back then. Chris McCandless was an amazing person with an amazing story. I can't believe anyone was able to piece it all together like John Krakauer was able to do.

So...on to me...this book made me think of my own desire to go "Into the Wild", sort of. I have spoken a bunch of times with my wife about wanting to go for a walk. I have this desire to just sell my stuff and go walk around the country. I want to meet people, get a stupid job in a small town until I feel like moving on and then hit the road again. Just keep on going until I get sick of it. Chris McCandless took that much further than I desire too. I would never burn my money. I don't want to disconnect from my family. I just want to go out there and "explore". (BTW...my wife gets upset when I talk about doing this because she thinks I am not happy at home or something. That is not the truth and home has nothing to do with the desire to explore.)

In some ways Chris McCandless is my hero, except for the starving to death part. I know I would have gone better prepared. I would have had a map and compass at least. But, he did what he wanted. He chased his dream. He actually went into the wild!

Let It Snow - John Green/ Maureen Johnson/ Lauren Myracle - Dec 08

"Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances"
This book has three authors: John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. All three are young adult fiction writers with many books of their own.

This story is actually three different stories in one book with all three stories originating and ending in the same place with the same characters (Is that called framing?). I found it very interesting how each of the authors would write the story from a different perspective and still include glimpses into the other stories as the characters ran into each other while it all played out.

Also...in case you care...this book gave me a warm fuzzy of Christmas cheer. It really did. I read the book in two or three days and when I was done I felt all gooey and teenagery for a while. I came home and hugged my children and wife. :-)

I will read this book again next December...and hope to see it made into a movie some day. It would be like a modern day Miracle on 34th Street meets the Breakfast Club.

Lord of the Flies - William Golding - Nov 08

A classic book. Another of the books I was supposed to have read in school but failed to complete it at the time. Now I can honestly say my homework is complete. :-)

The book itself was excellent. It is interesting how the kids on the island sunk further and further into a state of anarchy where they would all have eventually died or killed each other.

Anyway, I am sure this book has been reviewed enough that I couldn't possibly give anyone any new insight. I will just say that I liked it and am glad I finally read it.

Paper Towns - John Green - Nov 08

Paper Towns is the third novel written by Nerdfighter John Green, a young adult fiction writer. There was a lot of buildup in the Nerdfighter world about the release of this book. I picked it up about two weeks after it's release and read it in a matter of two days.

This story has some elements of the other books he has written. The main characters are yet again the less than popular group of high school kids. There is the girl, this time Margo Roth Speigelman, who is super alluring everyone loves her type that has deep seeded problems that create turmoil for everyone.

There is a ton of detective work and clues to follow throughout this story. Some of these clues are so buried that it is amazing they were thought of, let alone found. There is the obligatory road trip to reach the climax of the story.

Again, John Green is a master at creating characters that are interesting and seem to be like real people. He writes his books in a way that people can see themselves in the role in one form or another.

It is a very enjoyable read.

An Abundance of Katherines - John Green - Oct 08

John Green's second novel. The characters are again the less than popular kids, but they go on a road trip. Right after graduation the main character and his best friend hit the road. Why? Because Colin has been dumped by his girlfriend, Katherine the 19th. Yes, he has been dumped by 19 girlfriends...all named Katherine.

So, Colin just happens to be a child prodigy and he tries to create a mathematical formula which will predict the outcome of a relationship based on factors of each parties personalities.

It is a good story with some youthful adventure. Math is used in the story. Math which is way over my head. It does not matter much really. The math does not create or define the story at all. It is just part of the story. Math can be fun.
Also, the author has the main character have the ability to anagram very easily. Colin can come up with a list of anagrams for anything on the spur of the moment. In case you care, an anagram is when you take the letters in a word or phrase, rearrange them, and come up with a new word or phrase.

This is the first fiction book I have ever read that had footnotes throughout. The footnotes are used to explain things that are not part of the story, but they are used as backup information which enhances the story. It is quite interesting how that was done.
So, combine youth, intelligence, heartbreak, guts, mathematical theory, anagrams and footnotes...take it all on a road trip...mix in some love interest and some conflict...what do you get? A pretty darned good book.

Looking For Alaska - John Green - Aug 08

This is the first novel by John Green. He is a writer of young adult fiction and is a co-founder of the whole Brotherhood 2.0 vlogs and the nerdfighter "movement" on You Tube,

This coming-of-age novel is about a group of less than popular kids at a private school in Alabama. The main character, Miles, likes to memorize the last words of people. They keep coming up throughout the novel. He, and many others, are intrigued, if not in love, with a girl named Alaska Young. Miles is in search of what Francois Rabelais called "the Great Perhaps". Rabelais' last words were "I go to seek the Great Perhaps."
The book is divided up into chapters labeled "before" and "after" the major tragic event that the story hinges upon. It is an interesting way to give it all a sense of time passing.

The story is very interesting and the characters make you want to know more about them. Something I really liked about this book is that it does not have a feel good happy ending. All the characters learn to deal with tragedy on their own terms. It does not culminate all neatly wrapped in some fake "everyone will be OK" ending.

I enjoyed the book. I am not sure if I enjoyed it because it is a really good book, though I think it is, or if it is because I know who the author is. :-)
The word is that this will book will be made into a motion picture by Paramount. The screenplay is being worked on. The title will be changed to "Famous Last Words". I suggest you read the book now, before the movie ruins the story for you. They usually do.
Read the book and THEN go to the movie. That is my strategy.
This one blurb keeps coming up in every review of this book I have found...so I should probably include it here. "The spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on. -- Kliatt"
This book won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award presented by the American Library Association.

John Green - Hank Green - Maureen Johnson and Nerdfighters

This last spring I stumbled upon these videos on YouTube made by a couple of brothers named John and Hank Green. They called themselves the vlog brothers and had a project they called "Brotherhood 2.0". In this project the two brothers had sworn off of all text based communications (mail, email, im, faxes, etc) for the entire year of 2007. They swore to communicate with each other through a daily video log put on youtube.

I watched all these videos. So did many people. Their video following grew and became a community. They called themselves the Nerdfighters. They were mostly teens that liked to read.

John Green and Maureen Johnson are both authors of books for young adults.

The videos are hilarious and I recommend them to anyone with the time.

Since watching the videos and taking part in some Nerdfighter "events", I decided to read the novels written by John Green and Maureen Johnson. I have finished all of John's. I am starting Maureen's in 2009.

The Catcher In The Rye - J D Salinger - Dec 08

OK, this is supposed to be one of the best books ever. So many people consider it an all time favorite. I have heard the name Holden Caulfield as a hero many times. I expected to read the greatest book ever. I didn't.

I know, there is a lot of hidden meaning, metaphor, analogy, blah blah blah in the book.

I'll tell you what I think about it... I was so tired of hearing Holden's incessant cry-baby act by page 50 that I almost put it on the shelf forever.

The story was OK, and I kept hoping he would turn out alright in the end, but damn. He would bitch and moan about everything, and then turn around and do exactly the same things he was just complaining about.

I just wanted to reach out and smack the little turd.

I did finish the book and did not hate it, but as far as the best ever? Nah.

The American Political Tradition - Richard Hofstadter - Nov 08

"The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It" - Richard Hofstadter

I picked this up after reading The Audacity of Hope. I was wondering about a few things. Most of my wondering had to do with the New Deal. There had to be dissenting opinions at the time. There had to be people who vehemently disagreed. What was the political climate of the late 20s and early 30s? I had no idea and wanted to find out.

I picked up this book because it was written in 1948. I didn't want a 1970s opinion of the 30s. I wanted as close an opinion to that time as I could get.

I learned a lot about the founding fathers, Jefferson, Lincoln and a number of other political superheroes (or not). These are the reasons for the actions they had taken. These are the explanations for WHY the men did the things they did and said the things they said.

It is quite fascinating to see these stories in a historically factual framework.

Next - Michael Crichton - Sep 08

I couldn't do it. I put the book down and started reading other things. I have read his work before. The list of Crichton novels includes: "Airframe", "Jurassic Park", "The Andromeda Strain", "The Terminal Man". I liked them all...but this time I just couldn't get into the book.

Was it the book or was it me? I am not sure. I will find out one day when I pick it up and try again.

The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama - Nov 08

Full title: "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" by Barack Obama

Wow...a book that explains the man and his thinking process.

I understand a lot more about the man after reading this book. I am not afraid he will destroy America. I do not think he wants to turn us into a Soviet state. I think the man has the best intentions of our nation at heart and will give it all he has to offer.

Maybe I don't agree with all of his positions on issues, but I am much more willing to let him try than I was before I read this book.

Flowers For Algernon - Daniel Keyes- Dec 08

I was supposed to read this book in junior high school. It was called "Charly" then. It think that was the name of a movie version of this book. Anyway, I never finsihed reading it. I have felt bad about that.

I decided a few months ago to go back and read many of the books I was supposed to read at one point or another. I did't read them all. I remember reading "Animal Farm", but the rest, well, I really doubt I put in much effort. I was busy playing baseball or exploring the sand pits.

So I read this one. It was awesome. Written as a journal by a retarded man who undergoes an operation which makes him extremely smart. All that intelligence is great, but it comes at a cost. What an excellent story.

At the end I feel really sad and almost relieved for the man at the same time.

Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut - Dec 08

Hmmm...is this another science fiction novel that I say I like but I also say I don't like science fiction novels? Maybe I do like science fiction novels.

Anyway, this one I read very quickly. Why? Because I wanted to know what happened next. I have always felt that if I wanted to know what happened next then the story must be good. This one was very good and had me hooked from the beginning.

Time travel from World War II POW camps in Dresden to small towns in upstate New York to the people in the zoo on the planet Tralfamadore. All of these things happening not in turn, but simultaneously.... very interesting.

Everything that ever did or ever will happen is happening all at once and all the time and always will be and... ummm.... my brain hurts.

Farenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - Dec 08

I just finished this book last week. I did not know if I would like it much because I am not all that into reading science fiction, especially future based worlds where people stretch things to extremes...but...

This book was excellent.

Burning books for the good of the people because they wanted to the eliminate critical thinking that comes along with reading is not my idea of a better world.

Replacing books with the walls that seem very much like MT Anderson's "Feed" is a very very bad idea. :-)

Feed - M T Anderson - Aug 08

I read this book in the summer of 2008 because it was recommended by many folks online.

It is based in the future. People have this thing planted in their heads that gives them access to an Internet like system at all times. They can communicate through messaging, see websites, look up facts, find places, and get bombarded with advertisements for things the "feed" thinks they would like based on their past purchases and interests.

Well, not all goes well. The characters get hacked. One character has a problem with the feed and ends up dying.

What does it come down too? I am not a real sci-fi reader, but this didn't stink too bad. I do know that I never want a "feed" in my head.

Culture Shock! Ukraine - Anne Meredith Dalton

This is a book written to explain cultural differences between Ukraine and us. Some of it came in very handy while we were there. Not so much in the bigger cities where Ukraininas have become more western tolerant, but in the smaller towns, where tradition still reigns.

I will never be sure, but I know by following s few of the guidelines in the book I should not have offended people. At least they did not look at me funny or have to correct me in my ways. :-)

The problem with the book is that it is dated. The world changes. The people change. The book remains the same. It is a bummer because it was useful when it was written. Now you have to glean out the stuff you can and can't use.

American Skin - Don DeGrazia

This was the first (and only, as far as I know) book written by Don DeGrazia. I grabbed it off a shelf in a bookstore while living in South Korea. I was bored to death and looking for something to read.

I took it home and read the whole book in one night. It was an excellent story.

It is a story about a kid whose parents get busted for drugs so he heads for the big city (Chicago). He gets hooked up with a gang of ANTI-nazi skinheads. That's right. They even had black members. They ended up in a gang war with the neo-nazis. It is a violent book...but is really a love story.

I'll be damned if I didn't have to go back to the store the very next day.

The Truth About Chernobyl - Grigori Medvedev

I have read a lot of books and articles about the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Usually the writings are far too general, far too technical, or are written with some anti-nuclear bias that wants you to view all nuclear power plants as unsafe and time-bombs waiting to kick you in the balls.

This book on the other hand was about what really happened. Why didn't the Soviet government respond immediately? What mistakes were made that caused the problems? What mistakes were made during the aftermath? What was done right during the same periods? What were the design flaws in the reactors that caused this problem?

This book went through a chronological breakdown of the disaster...minute by minute. This exposed many mistakes and systemic as well as bureaucratic reasons for the failure.

I loved it. I got a lot of answers.

I learned the following about Grigori Medvedev:
Medvedev served as deputy chief engineer at the No. 1 reactor unit of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the 1970s.
In 1986 Medvedev was deputy director of the main industrial department in the Soviet Ministry of Energy dealing with the construction of nuclear power stations.
He was sent back as a special investigator following the disaster because he knew the Chernobyl plant very well.

Chickenhawk - Robert Mason

The full title was "Chickenhawk: a Shattering Personal Account of the Helicopter War in Vietnam".

I picked up this book while I was in technical training to be a helicopter mechanic in the US Air Force. I thought it would be a nice story. What I learned was that the Vietnam War sucked on many levels.

I was being tought to work on the very same helicopters that were in the book. It confused me though. We were being tought to do everything according to regulations...but then there was this real world account of what really happened...and the WAS NO REGULATION.

Reading this book gave me a diferent perspective. I never took the words coming from my superiors the same again. They were saying exactly what they were supposed to say...but there was always a "real world" scenario that would play out.

Even later, when I became one of the superiors, I understood why the company line needed to be stated...but I stiull never believed it. I would pass on the information I needed to pass on, and then do what I needed to do to make the job easiest and safest for the people working for me.

Chickenhawk spoke the truth.

The Enormous Egg - Oliver Butterworth

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth.
When I was a kid I read this book about a boy who hatched an egg on his farm. The thing that came out was a triceratops. He had a pet triceratops that he walked around on a leash.

Come on! It is every young boys dream!

It will forever have the fondest memories for me because it sparked me to dream of things that would make me as happy as that kid in the story.

I would still love to have my own triceratops.

The Night Church - Whitley Strieber

This book is one of the few I have read twice in my life.

The first time I was in my 20s. I remembered it for the rest of my life because it scared me. It involved so much satanic ritual and demonic activity that I could not sleep. What if this stuff is true? Not so much this story, but the demons and stuff that it speaks about. It really scared me a lot.

Since I never forgot that feeling this book gave me I was destined to read it again. I waited until I only had the memories of what the book was about and not the details of the story. So, last year (2007) I read it again.

Well, it really wasn't that scary. Infact, it is kind of stupid. I guess I have grown up and learned a few things in life. It was not scary. It was not well written. It was supposed to be suspenseful, but tried too hard to build that suspense.

I will not waste my time reading it again. LOL

Stephen King

I have read a lot of Stephen King novels. I had read all of them until somewhere in the early 1990s and I stopped reading his books.

When I look back at what is still memorable...what books would I suggest for others to read?

Pet Semetary...scared me into reading the whole book.

It...was VERY long, but once it got flowing it would not let me put it down.

Christine...An evil car that fixed itself? Dude, I want one, maybe without the evil part.

Carrie...This was a great movie, but the book was what was really scary. This is the book that made King who he is today.
I don't know how much I would enjoy these books today. I have a feeling they are good for the younger me. I picked up a copy of "Lisey's Story" and will read it this year. We will see if my taste has changed.

Without Remorse - Tom Clancy

This is my favorite book of the Jack Ryan universe.

This book is not the first book published, but it is the first book chronologically in the "series".

It takes place during the Vietnam War and shortly afterward. This book explains to us all how John Clark/John Kelly becomes who he is. Why is he involved with the CIA and black operations throughout the Clancy novels? This book explains it all.

This story involves drug dealers and prostitution in Baltimore, POW camps in Vietnam, the Mafia, corrupt cops and the CIA.

I loved it and will read it again one day.
A- - Recommended if you enjoy the genre

Red Storm Rising - Tom Clancy

This is one of my favorite books. I read it when it was first published in the late 1980s. It was about a third world war sparked during the cold war. The players (countries) are obvious. The scope of what was covered during the war (land, air, sea, intel, diplomacy, etc) was amazing and still the story flowed.

Read this one if you like war stories.
A- - Recommended if you enjoy the genre

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan World in the Orient

"Debt Of Honor" and "The Bear and The Dragon"

These were two of my favorite Clancy novels. Both have the Jack Ryan world charachters. Both are heavily military books.

Debt of Honor is a war between the US and Japan.

The Bear and The Dragon is a war between China and Russia. The US is fighting alongside Russia in Russian territory.

Both were excellent stories with many different plot lines. I would recommend both books.
A- - Recommended if you enjoy the genre

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan World in Eastern Europe

I continued reading the Jack Ryan world books and will divide them into categories.

The first I will cover here. They include books that are centered around the Cold War/CIA-KGB. I had read most of these in the past, during the 1990s. The ones remaining were "The Cardinal of the Kremlin" and "Red Rabbit".

The Cardinal was a very good read where the CIA gets a KGB dude out of the Soviet Union. This book had a lot more of an intelligence and spy related theme than most of his books. They are usually very much military or police operations. This one was all about the black ops and behind the scenes intel world. It was good, but not my favorite Clancy story.

Red Rabbit is another book written in the Jack Ryan world. This one also goes back in time a bit. The plot here concerns another defector from the Soviet Union, but this time he is a KGB agent. Another exciting story where I felt like I was sitting on the edge of the cliff.

Rainbow Six - Tom Clancy

This is the book that got me reading again. In March 2006 I spent a month in Ukraine. I took this book with me because it was thick and would occupy some bored time. I had read some Tom Clancy books in the past and had enjoyed them quite a bit. So, I took this one with me and I read it.

Rainbow Six was exciting and made me want to read more. Many of Clancy's books are like a long series. The stories have the same charachters popping up over and over again. They call them the Jack Ryan books because Jack Ryan is the charachter most of them are centered around. Rainbow Six is an offshoot from them. Ryan is not the central charachter.

This book is about an international counter-terrorist group set up in England that gets involved in a plot to attack the olympics with chemical weapons, along with some other events. It was quite detailed, fast paced, and very exciting to read.

It was so good that I ended up reading every one of Clancy's Jack Ryan books that I had not previously read. I read them all before the end of 2006.
A- - Recommended if you enjoy the genre

In The Beginning

Here it is, the 23rd of December 2008, and my brother, Mike, has told me about this challenge he has participated in for years where he is challenged to read 50 books and review them on a blog.

This all came up because I asked him about book recommendations a few weeks ago.

I have been reading a lot lately. I had not read much for years, but in the last two years it has picked up steadily. I wish for that to continue. I think that maybe this blog will give me some sort of motivation to read. Can I reach the 50 book goal? He says that few ever do read 50 books unless they are unemployed. I would like to read 50 books, but remain employed while doing it. :-)

So, since this year is almost over and I can not possibly read 50 books this year, I will start this blog by creating entries for books I have already completed at one time or another. Most of these have been read in the last two years. I will start the official 50 books for 2009 once the holidays are over.