29 February 2012

25. Dominion

DominionJ.L. Bryan
I stumbled upon this book while searching for something else on the internet. I had heard the name once before through some US Marine Corps friends. Supposedly this book has or had some kind of a cult following with US Marines deployed in Iraq. When I stumbled on it I remembered that and decided I wanted to read it. That worked perfectly for me since I had just gotten a kindle for free and this book was in that format. That is how I read this one.

This is my first time reading a book that the author does not sell at all. It was written and given away freely. The book is “licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License” (creativecommons.org). The author says “this means you’re free to make copies of this book and give them away. Hey, why don’t you give away a copy right now? Thanks!” I have never heard of this before. Get the book for free in .pdf format HERE.

I think musicians should do this online. Give away the music content and earn money on merchandise, concerts, etc. Adapt to the 21st century and stop worrying about anti-piracy. The more people hear, the more junk they will buy.

Anyway, this book is about America in the future. Terrorists have detonated a nuclear weapon in Columbus, Ohio and killed millions. The government has drastically changed to protect the citizens. They now have a Dept. of Terror and have a state sponsored and run Dominionist Church. Child and Family Services mean something entirely different. The state run news agencies manufacture news to form opinions in the population that they wish to see. Non-conformists are eliminated through mass hangings at sporting events. Lots of stuff like that. It is a very interesting and unfriendly world.

The story is full of adventure and discovery as a man’s eyes are opened further as events unfold. The ending is pretty decent too. It was a fun read and has some pretty good potential to be a great action adventure movie. I am thinking along the lines of Mad Max meets Diehard.

25 February 2012

24. The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon

"The letter itself had nothing much to say, had come in response to one of her dutiful, more or less rambling, twice-a-week notes to him, in which she was not confessing to her scene with Metzger because Mucho, she felt, somehow, would know. Would then proceed at a KCUF record hop to look out again across the gleaming gym floor and there in one of the giant keyholes inscribed for basketball see, groping her vertical backstroke a little awkward opposite any boy heels might make her an inch taller than, a Sharon, Linda or Michele, seventeen and what is known as a hip one, whose velveted eyes ultimately, statistically would meet Mucho's and respond, and the thing would develop then groovy as it could when you found you couldn't get statutory rape really out of the back of your law-abiding head."

I understand it...but the author is being difficult just to be difficult?

"Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head to everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie."

That kind of writing occurs over and over throughout the book and it makes the flow so choppy and deliberately complex that it is agony to try and figure out what the heck is happening.

I had high hopes for this book. The further I got into it the more I hated it. I realized something. It was written in the 60s. It was about California. I was a time of social and political upheaval. The drug culture was in full swing. This was a time of major change in American society. Some change was stupid. That whole acid dropping culture was so self-destructive, yet, the participants thought they were so enlightened. That is what this book was about to me. It was Pynchon trying to fit in with the culture of the day.

It reminds me of the poop on canvas and call it art crowd. It reminds me of the people who do controversial things just to be controversial and swear they are doing it for the art. It is all a load of stupid to me. (Yes, I used stupid as a noun.)

This book was funny. The satire and imagery used was what kept me going. It has it good points. The flow and the weirdness is what makes me say this was a dookie of a book. All those literary analysts that think it is a masterpiece can eat it. There are tons of masterpieces that don't suck. Read those.

24 February 2012

23. The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door - Jack Ketchum

Extremely disturbing. Haunting. Intense. Very unpleasant subject matter written in a way that grabs you by the throat and forces you to slam the gas-pedal to the floor knowing the bridge is out ahead and the pain is coming. I absolutely could not put this book down.

I will now have to watch this movie. The author approved. That is different.

This is a story loosely based on a real event from 1965 but placed in the more familiar surroundings of the authors childhood neighborhood. The real world events involved Sylvia Likens and Gertrude Baniszewski.

This book is full of mental illness, child abuse, and eventually murder. Knowing that these things happened make it even worse.

The involvement of the other children in the house and from the neighborhood in the abuse of this teenage girl remind me of Lord of the Flies. Far more violent and disturbing, but similar.

This book really left me feeling uncomfortable, angry and frustrated. It is rare for me to get real emotion from a read, but this one did it.

20 February 2012

22. Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

This is a seriously long book. I was never going to read the written word, so I downloaded the book and listened to it in audio format.

The writing is amazing. The characters are some of the most well defined I have ever encountered. That probably comes easily when you use a zillion pages. I think the reader did an outstanding job with this humongous task.

So, why is it just OK? Because the whole book is just total soap opera. Ugh.

Tolstoy's writing is awesome. Tolstoy's story? I found it laborious and uninteresting. But, I am a man living in 2012.

18 February 2012

21. Dark Places

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

Back in 2009 I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I liked it. I said I would read more of her writing. I am glad I finally did. Ms. Flynn's writing has made her one of my favorite female authors.

He stories are not happy. They have a very dark side to them. They are full of dysfunctional families and females with violent streaks. Her website says one reason she writes these novels is because:

"I think women like to read about murderous mothers and lost little girls because it’s our only mainstream outlet to even begin discussing female violence on a personal level. Female violence is a specific brand of ferocity. It’s invasive. A girlfight is all teeth and hair, spit and nails — a much more fearsome thing to watch than two dudes clobbering each other. And the mental violence is positively gory. Women entwine. Some of the most disturbing, sick relationships I’ve witnessed are between long-time friends, and especially mothers and daughters. Innuendo, backspin, false encouragement, punishing withdrawal, sexual jealousy, garden-variety jealousy — watching women go to work on each other is a horrific bit of pageantry that can stretch on for years."

This book is full of all that. The book bounces back and forth between present day investigation and past events that took place 24 years ago (1985). A family was devastated by the murder of a mother and two sisters by their teenage brother. A surviving sister testified against him. She was seven at the time. All these years later she is finding out that maybe what she said was not true and her brother was wrongfully convicted. Unraveling the events of that time and the repercussion it had on the lives of many people is an outstanding tale.

Sharp Objects was good. Dark Places was even better. I will read anything Flynn writes.

"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ."

17 February 2012

20. Four Weeks in the Trenches

Four Weeks in the Trenches: The War Story of a Violinist - Fritz Kreisler

This was an outstanding and quick read. It was only fifty pages, but it was fantastic.

The story is an autobiographical account of Mr. Kreisler's experience as a member of the Imperial Austrian Army fighting against the Russians on the eastern front in 1914.

The book sticks to the first hand experiences of the author. It does not elaborate on political themes. I really enjoyed that. Nothing but the guts of the front line and a recollection of this one man's experience.

One of the insights that I found interesting was this: Mr. Kreisler says that as time passed in the trenches and you could see the enemy faces through field glasses (binoculars) that the hatred faded. When it is one army fighting against another it is done with hatred in the heart. As time went on and he "got to know" the other side, the hatred diminished and it became more like a sporting event that both sides wanted to win. He even went as far as to say that when a member of the other side was taken down that he felt a sadness for the loss experienced by the other side. That was a very interesting perspective.

I loved this little read.

16 February 2012

19. Utopia

Utopia - Sir Thomas More

This book was originally published in 1516. That makes it one of the oldest books I have ever read. It is quite possibly the first of it's kind, those books describing a "perfect" society. Who knows?

I liked reading it. I didn't see much that was new to me, but did see how all those common themes keep coming up in so many other books where there is a supposed perfect society.

I also think this book must have had some influences on Marx and Engels. That is just my opinion.

Some interesting little tidbits I learned while reading...

Raphael Hythloday (a narrator)...his last name, in Greek, means "speaker of nonsense".

The Greek word for Utopia means "noplace". There is another interpretation that says the Greek word was actually Eutopia, meaning "good place". I don't know which one is true.

It was an interesting book, but I can't say it was very fun or even enjoyable to read. It was different. I kept going because it was so stinking old. I kept reminding myself that this was written over 250 years before the Communist Manifesto (not that it is exactly the same, but the principles definitely are). That made it interesting.

13 February 2012

18. Babbitt

Babbitt - Sinclair Lewis

I read this review of Babbitt a long while back and said I would read it. Yes, it took three years, but I got it done.  :-)

Anyway...that review was correct. Babbitt pretty much sums up the problems with societal conformity en-mass. George Babbitt politically thinks exactly what his Republican Senators tell him to think. George Babbitt religiously thinks exactly what his Presbyterian minister tells him to think. George Babbitt socially thinks exactly what his friends in the boosters club tell him to think. He regurgitates all those thoughts throughout his life.

Stuff happens...he takes a walk on the wild side...then he comes back to the comforts of conformity. End of story.

It is a funny book in a way. It made me laugh as George was cramming his thoughts and ideas down other people's throats.

One of my favorite lines, or conversations, or pieces of dialog, or whatever you want to call it...George was talking about his children. His son didn't want to go to college. He wanted to be an auto mechanic. Needless to say, George was less than thrilled. Then he was talking about his daughter, who was into the arts and attended many gatherings for cultural events. George's opinion was that all she wanted to be was "some kind of Socialist agitator". I thought the way he said that was hilarious.

Anyway, Sinclair Lewis is an outstanding writer. His characters are real. I thoroughly enjoyed Babbitt and hope to read Main Street and Arrowsmith some day. If you have not read Babbitt, you should.

04 February 2012

17. The Cosmic Computer

The Cosmic Computer (Junkyard Planet) - H. Beam Piper

Here is a great science fiction novel first published in 1958.

There are a whole lot of sci-fi/ space novels from around that time. What is different about this one? Well, for one, I REALLY liked it. I think this is just as good as Jules Verne and H G Wells. Yes, it is that good.

I listened to this one on audio. I downloaded it for free. You can try it out on an mp3 player and see what I mean. You can get it here: The Cosmic Computer at Librivox.com

You won't be disappointed.

16. Kiss Me, Judas

Kiss Me, Judas - Will Christopher Baer

"The judgement of Phineas Poe, ex-cop, is not at its best. Just released from a psychiatric hospital, he is lured into bed by a beautiful and menacing woman who calls herself Jude. He wakes up in a hotel-room bathtub packed with ice, holding a damp note that reads, "If you want to live, call 911." Jude has stolen one of his kidneys. "Don't worry," she whispers in his dreams, "you really only need one." This brilliantly minimalist novel follows Poe--a grungy, seductive, and deeply vulnerable antihero--as he pursues the mysterious Jude and is plunged into an edgy, drug-blurred underworld where he almost feels like he's come home. Falling helplessly in love with a cruel but tender killer, he fights to avoid becoming her accomplice as well as her victim. As Kiss Me, Judas propels its cast of comic and sinister characters toward a shocking climax. This rare new voice glitters with corrosive wit and razor-sharp images that invade the mind with the arrogance and sexual intimacy of film. Will Christopher Baer doesn't describe arousal and vertigo--he evokes them."

That is what made me want to read this book. It lived up to everything I thought it would be and more. It is dark and disturbing. It is unpredictable. I was constantly trying to figure out what was going to happen next and getting it wrong 90% of the time.

If you want to go for a wild ride in a book that kept me engrossed and turning pages, this is one to do just that.

The characters throughout this book were outstanding. I could really hate them, or feel for them, or be disgusted by them...and sometimes it was multiple feelings at one time. Rarely would I feel bad for a dude that is a big a douche as Phineas Poe, but I did.

Here is the books description from the author's website: "Have you ever loved someone who's mortally wounded you? Phineas Poe, disgraced cop and morphine addict has just been released from a psych ward. He meets a beautiful woman and killer-for-hire named Jude in a hotel bar. Red dress. black hair, body like a knife. He takes her back to his room and wakes the next morning in a bathtub full of blood, missing a kidney. Dragging himself from a hospital bed, Phineas discovers he wants to get close to Jude like a hunger--and he wants to kill her. Finding her is a downward spiral. Falling for her is the start of a twisted love story that takes him from the snowy streets of Denver to the high plains of Texas where the boundaries between victim and torturer — killer and accomplice — become nightmarishly distorted."

If you are looking for any happy-happy/joy-joy, look elsewhere. It will not be found in these pages, but it is a great read.