30 January 2010

9. The Story of O

The Story of O - Pauline Reage (Anne Desclos)

This was given to me by a guy at work. Yes, the same guy who gave me the Batman "graphic novel". I won't be getting any more books from him. He is obviously not into the same stuff I like.

This is a story about a woman who becomes her lover's slave. They are into a world of sado-masochism, bondage and disciplne. I just can't relate.

I read some information on-line about the book and find the history of the book and it's author a little interesting, but the book itself didn't do much for me.

28 January 2010

8. Slapstick

Slapstick - Kurt Vonnegut

I have a pile of Vonnegut books sitting on the shelf, so I figured I better read them once in a while. This one was on the top of the stack. It was chosen for no other reason than I was in a hurry to get to work and grabbed the top one to take with me.

While this is no Mother Night or Slaughter-house Five, it is a fun and interesting book.

I happen to like Vonnegut's writing style and the way he uses words. It felt like there were a million thoughts and he just wrote down whatever he was thinking at the time. Try to keep it all in some sense of chronology, but bounce it around a bit and let it flow. Throw in some anecdotes and some things totally out of left field once in a while. I am sure there is some literary term for what I am trying to describe.

This story is about a man who is some kind of freak who became President of the United States just before the country ceased to exist any longer. He was born to very rich parents, but was seriously ugly and "retarded", as was his twin sister. They have six fingers and six toes. They have neanderthalish features. They are much taller than normal people. The parents send the kids to live in a cocoon made out of a farm they own in Vermont. They are raised as a pair of really rich retarded children. They play the part very well, but are far from retarded.

The boy and girl find that they are actually super-geniuses as long as they put their heads together..literally. Problem being that he can read and write and she can't. She is able to process information and make links to connect events and theory, and he is totally ignorant in this area. He is the right side of the brain and she is the left. Together they are amazing. Apart, not so much.

There are a lot of interesting happenings in this story. Tiny Chinese people (a guy the size of a thumb is actually huge). Travels to Mars (where his sister died). Plagues that killed millions. The man even lives in the lobby of the Empire State Building with his grand-daughter and her lover. Gravity fluctuations that create some interesting scenarios.

I had never heard of this book until I picked it up. Now I find that it has been around since 1976. It was adapted into a movie in 1982 called "Slapstick of Another Kind", which I have also never heard of but will put it on my NetFlix que. Jerry Lewis was nominated for a Golden Raspberry award for Worst Actor for his role in the movie. I am sure it is a wonderful film. LOL
(Update: Slapstick is not available on NetFlix. I guess it really sucked.)


26 January 2010

7. The Short-timers

The Short-timers - Gustav Hasford

This was an awesome book. The movie Full Metal Jacket was based on this novel. I loved this movie, and I loved the book even more.

At first I thought the book was going to be exactly like the movie and it would be a bit of a letdown because I would already know what was going to happen. I thought that because the movie stick very close to the whole basic training part of the story just as it was written. Almost exactly. I could hear the Gunnery Sergeant saying the words with the same voice the actor used. "Your days of finger-banging old Mary Jane Rottencrotch through her pretty pink panties are over!" It was so darned memorable. :-)

The book was divided up into three sections. Section one was called "The Spirit of the Bayonet". It was the entire training section of the movie. Sections two and three were called "Body Count" and "Grunts". The movie took these two sections and scrambled up the story a lot. It was very different from the beginning of the second section till the end...and shocking.

The Body Count section is where Private Joker spends time in Vietnam as a reporter for Stars and Stripes. The action never stops.

When Joker gets busted for wearing his peace symbol button he is assigned to a unit at the front and becomes a "grunt". This is where the story has major changes.

I tried not to describe the story too much because I do not want to spoil it. I can not state enough how different it is. How the characters come to life. How the feeling of the war becomes part of the reader. I liked it so much more than I ever expected.

Go get this one right away. The movie was an ass-whooping...the book is a nuclear detonation!

6. The Art Of War

The Art Of War - Sun Tzu

I served twenty one years in the Air Force and this book was on the recommended reading list for all non-commissioned officers and leaders. I never read it, though I had heard numerous quotes used many times.

I have finally read it. I thought it would be much harder and much more involved. Sun Tzu kept it pretty darned simple...just as a war really would be. Even with it being so concise, there is a lot of information. Though it was written long ago and the battlefield has changed, the lessons taught in this book can be adapted and utilized on a modern battlefield.

I enjoyed every minute of this book and wish I had read it long ago.

24 January 2010

5. The Freedom Outlaw's Handbook

The Freedom Outlaw's Handbook: 179 things to Do 'Til the Revolution - Claire Wolfe

I must say right up front that I do think this book is geared toward people that are far more "outlawish" than I am.

I say that because there were times where the author defended David Koresh and the Waco garbage. She would say that the government was thuggish going against a few kind people for failing to pay taxes on a couple little guns. There was more involved with the Waco situation that not paying a few taxes.

Then she took the side of the guy who hid in the mountains for a while evading the cops on gun charges...I forget his name.

Then she said stuff about how the Unabomber wasn't caught by millions of dollars and man hours, but by his own brother turning him in.

She even made some statements about the Oklahoma City domestic terrorist attacks that casted doubt upon it even being a terrorist and maybe was our own government creating problems to help itself.

That kind of stuff is just crackpot bullshit and I discounted much of what the author had to say because I am not an extremist, can't support extremist tactics, and don't have much respect for people that go as far as the above mentioned individuals went...even if their point was to protect their constitutional rights.

That being said, this book did have a few little tidbits of information that I can and will use in my life. There are some interesting points of view that I had not thought about before.

"If the government issued permits for free speech, would you get in line for one? If your local sheriff was willing to grant permission to practice your religion - after you passed certain tests, gave your fingerprints and let yourself be photographed, would you apply? If your state allowed you to hold a political meeting, but only if you obtained the proper license and consented to having your name entered in a government database, would you lay your money down?

The proper answer is, "We don't need no stinking permits!" Right?

Then you don't need no stinking permit to exercise your right to own and carry firearms either"

I found that section to be interesting. The rights being spoken of are guaranteed by the Constitution. If one has been limited, why not the others? Actually, the others have been limited in small ways also. It is just to say that we are not as "free" as we like to run around shouting about to the rest of the world. We used to be, but we no longer are.

And then there was this...which is exactly how I feel about limited federal government:

"Fear is the most potent weapon of power-mongers. They spook us with some threat - which may be real or illusory. Then they promise to save us from it - as long as we just give up a few more billion dollars, a few rights, a little of our privacy, a lot of our independence, and ultimately all of our freedom.

They'll "save" us from foreign terrorists, drug users, abusive spouses, global warming, foreign invaders, foreign diseases, flag burners, left-wing radicals, right-wing reactionaries, immigrants, domestic terrorists, bad parents, racists, date-rapists, unfair employers, fast food, poverty, herbal supplements, imported drugs, deadbeat dads, people whose opinions hurt our feelings, unAmerican activities, obesity, crooked corporations, high medical bills, pollution, our own stupidity, and our neighbor's stupidity. They'll save us from "hate crimes", discrimination, immorality, gay-bashing, inequality, "gun violence", hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and the consequences of everybody's bad choices.

Except that somehow they never do. And after all the trillions of dollars spent and giant (often heavily armed) bureaucracies erected to save us from every single other thing in the entire world including, I kid you not, excess caffeine drinking and kids who sass their parents, the government is big enough that who's going to save us from it?

It's hard not to feel fear these days, especially when we're sitting in front of the TV set or getting our daily dose of bad news from the net.

But it's crucial not to let that fear overmaster us. If we let it freeze us, then we've already lost."

So, this book is full of suggestions for people to do to protect their rights from the big evil government while we are all waiting around for it to get bad enough for the population to revolt.
While much of it is just too far out there for any mainstream society member to do, some of it is actually quite useful to even us "normal" people.

Here are some of the chapters:
-Don't give your Social Security Number...she means to anyone, ever. Burn the card and make up something or just refuse to answer. There is a lot more to it that that, but it was based in good practice and taken too far.

-Don't get all goo-goo about cops and soldiers. Yes, she is right. They are no better than anyone else. Some good. Some bad. Once again though, she took it too far.

Ahhh, ya know what? I don't feel like typing them out any more. It is kind of stupid to attempt to explain this book without having to explain where I stand of every single issue she brought up.

If you are into the whole extremist-survivalist thing (burying weapons stockpiles, etc) then you should check it out. Otherwise, it is a lot of over-the-top BS just to get to some very good nuggets of wisdom.

22 January 2010

4. Slatewiper

Slatewiper - Lewis Perdue

Biological warfare with a twist. This time it is not governments controlling the bio-weapons, it is a corporation in Japan with a serious nationalist streak. This company is a global super-company. It is well respected (and feared) throughout the world. Nobody seems to catch on that they don't like anyone who is not Japanese. They hate everyone else.

So, the biological weapon they design can be "programmed" to attack specific genetic makeups. Yes, this is a weapon that is harmless to anyone except the race they decide to kill. There is a bit of dialogue between characters about the superiority of the Japanese race and how Koreans are just dogs, etc etc.

There is a lot of time spent writing about Japanese World War II atrocities and comparing Ishii to Mengele as far as medical experimentation. I had heard that the Japanese were pretty vicious once they landed on the mainland, but I had not heard the stories mentioned in this book, not had I heard of Dr. Ishii or Unit 731. I have ordered some books about the subject and will see how much is fact.

It felt like the author spent a lot of time researching and writing about Japanese history and culture and threw in a heavy dose of biotechnology.

As far as the book, I think it fell short of a rather good potential. Too many times things just fell into place. Either the people involved just happen to have millions laying around when needed, or perhaps they were just the right people in some powerful position to get exactly the thing needed to save the world. It got ridiculous after a while.

I think the biggest letdown was the lack of a climax. The story droned on and on and on. I kept waiting for the big finale...and then noticed I was reading the epilogue. Damn!

No need to go find this book unless you have read others of the genre and have nowhere left to go. It was OK, but no big thrill. I can't quite say it was a waste of time. It was just OK.

14 January 2010

3. More Twisted

More Twisted: Collected Stories, Vol II - Jeffrey Deaver

Last year I read A Maiden's Grave by this author and thought it was good enough to read some more by Mr. Deaver. This book was not the one I should have chosen. It lacked the intensity of the former. It lacked the suspense and the edge of the seat heart pounding I felt with A Maiden's Grave.

This was a collection of stories. All were written to have a "twist". All were centered around crimes, large and small.

The twists were pretty predictable. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the stories. I did like a few of them. Even Deaver himself says that these stories are best read in small doses because the "twist" gets old after it is done repeatedly. Maybe I should have broken it up over more than a few days.

09 January 2010

2. World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks

I loved it! I must state that I am a zombie fan, so that may be a biased opinion.

This book is written about a war that takes place between the people all over the earth against the walking dead. Needless to say, the world gets it's ass handed to it for many years, but triumphs in the end.

The whole story is told in a series of interviews conducted by the author. He interviews people involved in this war. The interviews take place in China, South Africa, The USA, Japan, Korea, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Iceland, Canada, and many other places.

The way the story unfolds in these interviews is quite interesting. The reader has to piece the big picture together for themselves. Each of the interviews only supplies the point of view of that person, but they related to each other in ways only the reader would see. Some of the interviews are with heroes. Some are with jerks. All of them weave an excellent story from many different perspectives.

What a pisser. Check it out.

1. The Learned Arts of Witches & Wizards

The Learned Arts of Witches and Wizards: History and Traditions of White Magic - Anton and Mina Adams


02 January 2010

2009 In Review

I looked at 2009 as a challenge right from the start. Could I read 50 books in a year? I had no idea. I had not read 50 books in the previous ten years. I was able to always have a book in progress during the year. There were a few points where the actual reading of the book slowed to a crawl, but it was always in progress.

I did reach the 50 book goal. I am surprised I reached that goal as early in the year as I did, but then kind of slowed to a more "normal" pace. I think the 50 books is a good goal for the future. It seems like one book per week with two weeks off is quite doable though is not easy. It takes dedication to maintain that kind of reading.

I really enjoyed reading this year. I read books in all kinds of genres. I looked at it like I was exploring the world of literature and trying to catch up with many of those books I should have already read at some point in life, yet somehow failed to complete. It was not only fun, but it allowed me to put check marks in some blocks that I had ignored in the checklist of stuff to do before I die.

So, to finish up 2009 and put it behind me I am going to do a little review. I read some books that still are in my mind (they were that good), some that were just plain stinky, some that had scenes that still haunt me, and some big surprises in both the good and bad categories.

So, here goes:

The book that really surprised me at how memorable it has been: The Iron Tracks by Aharon Appelfeld. I read this book a year ago and it is solidly stuck in the forefront of my memory.

One of the best books I have ever read is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I was surprised because it was a "best seller" and those can be quite the disappointment.

In The Cobra Event by Richard Preston there was a scene where the man was stuck in a tunnel that still gives me nightmares.

July was the best quality reading month overall. That month I read ten books including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Night by Elie Wiesel, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Ivan Denisovich is one of the best books I have ever read. Right there with The Kite Runner.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was nothing like I had expected and was awesome.

I had heard of Kurt Vonnegut and had only ever read Slaughter-House Five. Mother Night kicked it's ass. I have since purchased eight more Vonnegut novels and will go on a Vonnegut tear probably this year.

Lolita was an outstanding work about a subject matter that was difficult to read about. It really tore me up inside emotionally. Sickness? Hate him? Sympathy? Empathy? Morality? Arrgghhhh! It was quite a book.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave was an amazing book that everyone should read.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and Anthem by Ayn Rand were also outstanding and very memorable.

Then there was that horrific Oliver Stone piece of shit that I could not finish. Very memorable, but not in a good way.

The biggest waste of time may have been Head Count by Brian Duffy. I chose this one because when I think about what book was the stupidest use of my reading time...this one always comes to mind first.

The biggest disappointment had to be On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I have heard about this book repeatedly in my life. I have heard how it was so influential...and I think it stunk!

So, that's it for 2009. Now on to 2010. I doubt I will maintain the pace set in 2009, but I will still try to reach the 50 book goal.

Also, in 2009 I tried to spread the wealth a little and not repeat authors. That left me with some books sitting on the shelves that I really want to read. Vonnegut for one. A Thousand Splendid Suns has been sitting on the shelf for almost a year and taunting me. Atlas Shrugged has been doing the same. Faulkner, Hemingway and Sherman Alexie got caught in that no repeating problem I created also. I am lifting the self-imposed no repeating authors clause for 2010. :-)