Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review and Preview

This year has been an interesting one. It started out full of promise, of hope, and slowly peppered off until few lights shined and I was screaming for 2009 to come. And in the coming year I hope just the opposite is true: that it takes the tread a bit to catch on, but when it does, I hope we really move.

Last year I read some really great books, including No Country For Old Men, Short History of Nearly Everything, The Invention of Morel, Ham on Rye, The Wild Trees, Iron John, The Assault on Reason, Watchmen, The Turn of the Screw, and of course, my year's favorite, Maps and Legends.

It was also a very introspective year for me, I think. I read several books on meditation and eastern religions. Alchemy, which has always intrigued me, found it's way onto my nightstand again. And Iron John gave me pause and insight into the plight and plunder of man proper. I'm glad last year took this tone and intend to continue that into the future. My search is far from over, and it's too fun and interesting to stop.

After the holidays, my reading shelf fills up faster than my waistline, and my dresser is practically throwing up books at the moment. I didn't get to nearly as many books as I wanted to last year, but I don't think I ever will. I still think I'll feel slave to a list if I come up with one, so I can't do that, because I always need room for innovation and books that may crop up, whether they be new or old. Still, there are a few that I do want to read this year, so I may as well list those out, as broad goals.

They are:
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • Watership Down
  • The Book of Lost Things
This is in no way a conclusive list. I'd like to read "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged", but that may be one too many thick books this year. And I'm also hoping to get to some David Foster Wallace, who I sadly overlooked until his death, but have since become very intrigued by. I picked up his book of essays, "Consider the Lobster", last night and hope to read that sometime this year too.

Here's to hoping 2009 is a much more prosperous, less shaky, and surprising year. I wish everyone out there in the internets a Happy New Year and hope for true happiness for you and yours, no matter where or what you are.

Read on!

"World War Z"
by Max Brooks

I don't have a lot to say about this book and I don't intend to spend a lot of time giving my thoughts on it.

I don't think I'm totally into the alternate reality of zombies. I can't buy into it.

Brooks novel is a mish-mash of "collected stories" from around the globe recounting the World War against the outbreak of the living plague, or zombies. It's filled with interesting, gross stories, but is so disjointed and the characters so underdeveloped that it never gained hold in my hands. I never became more than just superficially involved.

I want to read something good!

by Philip K. Dick

Reading Valis is like taking an extended vacation to the recesses of the mind. It truly makes one feel as though one is on some sort of trip, psychedelically speaking, which could be good or bad, depending on your intentions. For me, the trip got to be a bit long.

This is my second Dick reading experience, and I'm not sure if I'll pick him up again. Not because he's not a great writer. He is, he's very readable and his ideas are intriguing, but because I just don't find myself getting into him, not the way most Dick fans seem to.

Of course, I say that knowing I probably will pick him up again. His contribution to science fiction is too important to overlook. His novels too interesting to look past. So when I say I won't read another Dick novel, I say that with the best of intentions.

Valis is about God. More specifically, it's directly based on Dick's self-described experience with a "transcendentally rational mind." The story follows the experience of Horselover Fat, a schizophrenic compartment of Dick's actual self, as he follows a quest to find the messiah after a pink light that he thinks is God tells him how to save his son's life.

The novel rambles and raves about the nature of religion, makes compelling arguments about sanity, insanity, rational and irrational, and would probably be considered a legitimate study of theology if it didn't feel so drug-induced. I enjoyed the book, very much so, and it did make me think. Dick's quest is one to be admired and sought after, but I don't think I can read another. I don't have enough brain cells left.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

by Kurt Vonnegut

I miss Kurt Vonnegut. A lot. His books are witty and clever and they never fail to turn the world on its head, challenge our views, or reinvigorate life as we may never know it.

Bluebeard is probably not one of his better-known books, but as I was explaining to people while I was reading it, "It's Vonnegut". And even mediocre Vonnegut is better than most stuff floating around out there. That really is saying a lot.

I didn't immensely enjoy Bluebeard, but there were a few nuggets of wisdom in it, a few insights I agreed with. And, of course, I laughed a bit, I felt sad a bit, and I thought of my favorite Vonnegut-ism a bit: and so it goes. So, I guess, I missed him a bit too.

The novel is an autobiography about an Armenian artist who hung out with the crowd of Abstract Expressionistic painters, including Jackson Pollock. But it's more about the nature of art, the obscene price of art, and the beauty of art all at the same time. The great thing about Vonnegut is that when he says something that strikes a chord, it really strikes a chord. I especially liked his view on artists and communities. Now that we are worldwide, only a few artists are needed to satisfy the masses, but that leaves several other less talented people who would have sufficed in a village. Sad but true, even more so today, with the internet.

I don't know if I'd recommend this book to a lot of people. Artists, writers, and creative types will all get something out of it. If you can hold out, the ending is wonderful and beautiful and actually well-worth it, one of Vonnegut's best...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James

Henry James classic ghost story is on my "LOST" list of to read books, and, it being Halloween time, I thought it a perfect time to pick it up. And it was too, the chills provided here are slow but deliberate, much like a fog that creeps up on an evil night.

The story centers on a governess hired to watch over two charming children. The governess instantly falls in love with them, and believes they can do no wrong. Then she begins seeing apparitions, evil disturbing images that she finds resemble and very well might be the children's old caregivers, and she suspects that not only can the children see them, but that they might be in league with them. (Shivers!) Though the story is told by the governess, you never quite know if the ghosts are real or imagined, and as the weather turns cold, the children get mischevious, and the fog settles in, the air of disturbia wraps its warm cloak around the characters until you feel practically suffocated in its embrace.

James' writing is from another era, the Victorian, Gothic era. It is both beautiful and bold and very hard to understand. I found myself at times wondering what I had just read, and rereading, just to catch the meaning, and I think this took a bit from my enjoyment of the story. It's like being woken up by a cat in the middle of the night so you never quite get a full night's rest. Still, what James does is slowly layer the story with complexities that leave you unsure of what exactly happened, as if you encountered a ghost yourself and were unsure of whether it was real or not.

It's a fun book to read, delightfully twisted, and what better time to read it than the spookiest time of the year, when the weather turns and leaves die and the cold fog settles in late at night.

Monday, October 13, 2008

by Herman Hesse

Most of the books I read I like. It's hard because I've been recommended so many books and I'm always on the lookout for a new read that I'm usually excited by whatever book ends up in my lap. Sure, occasionally I'll cross a book that's bad, terrible bad, curl up in a ball and cry for your time back bad, but those are so few and far between that it's almost worth it. Or I just stop reading and donate it.

Siddhartha was a fantastic book. Big surprise, right?! Fantastic, though, for reasons I rarely see in liking a story. Every once in a while there is a book that you read, or a story you hear or see, that changes your outlook on a situation. Siddhartha, here and now, is that book for me. It was simply amazing. Perfectly clear and concise, the story rolled along. Reading it was like sitting and listening to the ocean.

Years ago I read The Alchemist, and like many other readers was profoundly affected by its messages. Without sounding hokey, the book was really insightful, and very provocative with its outlook that I've still not forgotten how it affected me and still adopt a philosophy very closely with its message. I've been meaning to reread it, but haven't had the chance.

A friend recommended Siddhartha to me last year, so I finally got around to reading it. Since The Alchemist, I have not been affected or found a book so spiritually inspirational. Its themes are perfectly in line with what bounces around in my small head most of the time, though much more clear and interesting, and it provides a perfect example of a life that is altogether human.

Siddhartha was the name of the real Buddha, but Hesse's Siddhartha is purely fictional. His life mirrors the Buddha's, but he takes his own path. The Siddhartha in the novel starts out as a member of the upper class that leaves the wealth of his family for a life of spiritual study with the shramanas, which are a band of traveling priests. He winds up leaving the shramanas with his friend Govinda to follow and meet the Buddha, a being he finds supremely spiritual and calls a saint. Siddhartha leaves Govinda behind because he realizes that he cannot find enlightenment in the Buddha's teachings, that his enlightenment path is different. He winds up becoming a wealthy businessman so he can learn the art of love from Kamala, and becomes sidetracked by the "child people", people wrapped up in their own life. Finally, he tires of this life and meets a ferryman where he ultimately finds enlightenment, but his path is not an easy one.

What I find most inspiring in Hesse's beautifully crafted story is its realism. Hesse does not make Siddhartha some mythical being, he makes him human. Siddhartha suffers through things I've suffered through, and he suffers through them again and again. Hesse shows life as a recurring cycle of events, something I find to be very true, but with every recurrence, Siddhartha grows a little more until, ultimately, he finds enlightenment. If I haven't said so, it's great, and sad, and yes, enlightening.

The simplicity of the cover is only half as simple as the inspiring story inside. If only I could do the lotus position!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Maps and Legends"
by Michael Chabon

I'm currently in Purgatory. I wake up, sleep through my day, and at night I flip open the pages of my latest book and weep. All because of Maps and Legends. It's just too good to follow.

In short, Michael Chabon's book of essays about everything from genre fiction (great essays!) to inspiration and the process of writing his early novels (fantastic!) to memoirs laced with lies to prove a point (get this guy a Guinness! brilliant!) has left me wanting more. Now I want a good mystery, a well thought out map, a journey through some fantastic land while being dragged along by carefully selected prose that brings the story to life.

I think the best books, and stories, inspire. Many of my revelations and enthusiasms have come from either films or books, be that a good or bad thing. And the best thing about Chabon's Maps and Legends is that it inspired me. Not only do I want to read a good mystery, or go back and walk through the forest of Mirkwood with Bilbo and Frodo, I'd love to write something. And even if it never sees the light of day, I'm thankful, because the fire that books like this ignite, the creative spirit they spark, is worth much more than the jacket price.

I say read this book. Not only does it have a really cool cover, what's in between isn't bad either.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Run Less, Run Faster"
by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss

This book dispels criticisms of not running every day in favor of more efficient workouts and a running program supported by quality cross training. The authors lay out specifically how to train, why to train, and why it works, while at the same time offering sage advice to runners new and old. Their website has many of the helpful tables featured in their book, and if you want more in-depth advice and training guides, you can check out their book from the library.

Like me!!!

by Alan Moore and John Higgins

Graphic novels are different. The blend of image and words to convey story results in a totally unique medium that's not quite cartoon, not quite novel, but the best of both. Watchmen is one of the better graphic novels I've read. It starts out slow and builds steam, until it's a giant boulder rolling down a giant hill with so much velocity and power that it became nearly impossible to put down. The story involves a group of normal people that dress up in costume and fight crime. And as we learn their history, we are following a new mystery involving the deaths of the costumed heroes. It's a brilliant subversion on the idea of a hero and is so with philosophy and interesting ideas, both in picture and words. I really enjoyed the character of Dr. Manhattan, and the image of him creating a giant clockwork out of the Martian sand, as well as some more insight into LOST.

Who watches the Watchmen? We all should. I highly recommend this fantastic graphic novel.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Assault on Reason
by Al Gore

A couple days ago, waiting to be seated for dinner, my wife and I were talking politics and I said, "You know who I hope Obama picks as his VP? Al Gore."

Why, you and she may ask...

Because I love Al Gore, in a he-was-the-best-president-this-country-never-had kind of way.

I mean, take The Assault on Reason, Gore's indictment of politicians having to spend more time searching for funding for 30 second TV campaign commercials than debating whether or not to go to war in Iraq, his full-on critique of the Bush administration, and his pronounced love for this country. The guy is a patriot, he is an American, the way it should be, not the way it's become.

It's sad when 10 years ago the country was crying for impeachment because Clinton lied about cheating on his wife (not that that's okay, I'm just saying) but no one even utters the word at Bush's outright lies about WMDs in Iraq. And that's just the beginning. The turn this country has taken in politics is beyond disappointing. Al Gore knows it, and he still has hope.

What's not to like?

Read this book. This is required reading if you are voting, whether you're Democrat, Republican, or neither, read it. Gore's views are bi-partisan, he's making a claim to both sides, and he gives both sides a chance. His book is enlightening and invigorating. It's books like this that make me hopeful that a democracy can be what it's meant to: not people agreeing but intelligently disagreeing, and openly debating about the best way to go. When Gore mentions, he mentions, it's Republican counterpart. He sees the need for diverse opinions in this country. It's just like farming, if there's only one crop, it's way more susceptible to pests and disease than if there are a variety of crops.

What Gore's against is the claim to faith and fear and things that make reason seem impossible. We need open debate, transparency in the government, and an electorate that doesn't take democracy for granted.

Al Gore was not picked as Obama's VP nor was he probably even considered, but he is still a very worthy American. I'm a fan, huge fan, and have the utmost respect for what he's trying to do. Now he just needs enough people to listen.

Chi Running
by Danny Dreyer

Sometimes I can get a bit obsessive. I recently got back into running, and as with any sport (especially running) there is a learning curve. My muscles ached, I got a minor case of shin splints, and even now my calf has some minor aches where it attaches to the achilles tendon after I run.

Naturally, I turned to books for the answer, and Chi Running was my first taste of that.

The idea: stand straight up, makes sure your posture is good, arms relaxed, tilt your hips back so that they are level and you're engaging your lower abdominal muscles. Now, when you run, tilt your whole body forward like a gas pedal, move your legs in circular, wheel-like motions, and relax. That's Chi Running.

On top of that, you're constantly checking in with your body, keeping your posture straight, and taking it as easy as you can. That's Chi Running. Dreyer claims it is a guaranteed injury-free way to run, and I can't knock him for it, the idea makes sense.

While the book was an interesting read, it interested me more in the mindful approach to running than did the form. I run fine, I just did too much too fast when I started and I need to ease up. Running is a high impact sport, you have to start small. Baby steps, or baby runs, right?

Still, if you're a runner or you're interested in the sport, I'd recommend this book. You'll get something out of it, whether it's form or mindfulness (body sensing) or both is up to you, but it's a worthwhile read nonetheless. I'm just curious how it stacks up against the other running books that my obsession has led me to. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"The Botany of Desire"
by Michael Pollan

Of the many people who write about food, I enjoy reading Michael Pollan the most. I'm biased though, because it was his Omnivore's Dilemma that got me all up in arms over food in the first place. And since that book has literally changed the way I think about food (hint, read it! read it!), naturally I was drawn to this one, which after my wife got it for me as a gift, I had absolutely no excuse to read.

Written years before his foray into how food gets from farm to plate, The Botany of Desire feels like the natural precursor to Omnivore's Dilemma. In it, you are introduced to Pollan's love of plants, gardening, and his witty and smart writing that keep you engulfed in what you are reading. Here, Pollan follows four plants, and makes the argument that they have shaped human culture just as much as we've shaped them, thus exploiting us humans (monkey sounds here) for their own selfish desires.

First there's the apple, whose five seeds in each core will grow trees with apples that taste nothing like their parent, found their way around the country in the form of Johnny Appleseed, who actually was a real person, and exploited the pre-industrial desire for sweetness through grafting, and became the successful snack of pre-sugar times. Pollan then delves into the lure of the beauty of the lily and its power to start a war over its cultivation. He writes about his own short experience growing marijuana and the intoxicating power of that plant, as well as its ability to overcome legal boundaries and still be the largest cash crop of the current market. And finally, he investigates the control of a crop like the potato, a crop that was so easy to grow it fed and wiped out a the Irish nation when it caught some deadly fungus. Pollan experiments with growing a genetically modified potato and, through that, explores an interesting avenue of developing bio-science that scares me to think what will be next.

Written with a love of plants beyond that of a simple passerby, one can tell that Pollan eats and breathes this stuff. He contemplates large amounts of his day to growing and thinking about food, which ultimately lends a biased argument to his claim that plants shape us as much as we shape them. I felt like a large amount of the book was a history lesson for each of the plants with the same conclusion: it was all the plant's doing.

I, on the other hand, don't think we're all that innocent. It's true that, above ourselves, there is a delicate game of survival of the fittest going on between plants satisfying our desires and moving on because of that and, over time, becoming a dominant species. But I'd be hard-pressed to be convinced that an apple hypnotized some pioneer into grafting hundreds of trees to meet its own selfish demands.

Still, Pollan's book is an excellent read, and it only gets better as the pages turn. It's kind of like good wine, that other plant that's rooted itself into nearly every culture on this planet, it gets better with age. I'm a huge fan of Pollan, if you can't tell, I gobbled this book up, and I'm hungry for more still. Reading Pollan is like dining at an organinc, local ingredients restaurant. If you haven't done it yet, you should. Just to try.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Invention of Morel
by Adolfo Bioy Casares

I love short novels. If they suck, you only wasted a couple of hours of your life (and usually they don't suck nearly as much as movies or TV, so it's still time better spent in my opinion), and if they're good, they're really good.

The Invention of Morel was great, fantastic, wonderful. And at 100 pages, it has to be one of the more enjoyable books this year, because I know, with a few hours time, I'll be able to enjoy it over and over again. It's short but layered in a way that every reading, I can tell, will provide new insight into the story.

I'd been meaning to read this book for quite some time, as well as some Jorge Luis Borjes, who comes highly recommended from a couple of blogs that I read, and so when I saw this at the book store, I had to pick it up, along with a couple by Borges that I'm excited about.

Anyways, Casares and Borjes were really good friends in their time, and since they are considered masters of fiction (I've heard nothing but good things about both of them) I had high expectations. They were met.

The Invention of Morel is about a man enjoying his isolation on a remote island until some people show up and force him into hiding (he's a criminal in hiding on the island, and the only human their until the visitors come). He's upset at first until he sees a woman that he falls in love with. What follows is an imaginative story about love, eternity, and complete mystery.

I don't want to give away any of the plot because the story itself is quite beautiful. The characters and the island are, in the best sense, simple. Since everything is simple, it's complicated, get it? And so The Invention of Morel becomes more than just a love story, more than just a mystery, more than simple adventure. It becomes legend, myth, and somehow it's more real than any reality I know, because the themes and ideas in this short novel are ethereal, they're true on another plane, a plane we rarely get a glimpse into when we read or write or watch or hear stories.

It's what I'm always searching for, at least, in some form or fashion. And when I find it I like it.

I like book covers too, and this one was cool.

The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

Somewhere in the middle of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, I started thinking about LOST. I know, weird, right. And I started to get a little scared. Will it be possible for me to ever read a book again and not think about the crazy interconnected web of characters the TV show has made pop culture?

Thankfully, I can safely say, yes. Even after fleeting moments of similarity, I was able to dissociate myself from the TV show I call my favorite and read the book for what it is: a blistering alternate reality story with sensational ideas and philosophical puzzles that are plenty of fun and interesting in their own right.

And even though there are several interconnecting stories tightly weaved throughout this book (some more than others), that was the only similarity to LOST, and it really wasn't much of a similarity as it goes in telling story. (The convention is not new, even pre-Pulp Fiction).

What I'm trying to say, though not well (it's Sunday, the end of a three day weekend, that's my excuse) is that The Man in the High Castle stands quite well on it's own, and though it may not completely hold up after a few decades, I can see why Dick is a master of his form. He has this way of taking a story and elevating it by keeping everything real, down to the smallest details.

It's in the 1960s, twenty years after World War II, Japan controls the western portion of what's formerly known as the United States, Germany the Eastern. Everyone uses the I Ching, and Germany has become a dominant technological force. There is a new caste system, with new leaders, and new slaves, and the world is a different place. Of course, it should be. But what Dick does well is imagine a world rooted in our own, so that nothing is outrageous, so that I, the reader, can buy his alternate reality, delve into it, get wrapped into it, and go completely crazy with his storytelling by the end of the novel.

I enjoyed this book, though it wasn't one of my absolute favorites. I found parts of the novel tedious but was rewarded in others with exceptional writing and a plot conceptualized by a fantastic mind. The alternate reality of the novel is enough on its own, but Dick adds into the mix a good bit of philosophy, current affairs, and religion to make things even more interesting. And then he proceeds, as all great writers should, to confuse the living piss out of you.

Read this book. You'll feel better about yourself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"King, Warrior, Magician, Lover"
by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette

My reading theme this year seems to be "pairs." This is my companion piece to Iron John. A friend lent it to me after we were discussing Robert Bly, and since I'm very interested in Jung, it sounded like a win win.

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover
is about the shared archetypes of humans, what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. These four types show up in stories, myths, and religions for as far back as knowledge of our species reaches, and it is very easy to relate to what the authors are talking about because the archetypes are so relevant.

The argument is quite the same as Iron John's, in that most men are stuck in boy psychology, or in stunted versions of these four archetypes, and the authors point out examples of each. It's because of the lack of positive male models, or Kings, Warriors, Magicians, and Lovers, in present day society, that we have so many problems in the world. Leaders who don't consider the good of everyone, wars fought without conscience, and abusive relationships. Men aren't just "tough guys", and being a man doesn't mean not talking about your feelings, it means lots of things, many which are not obvious because of a lack of initiation.

What the book does is give descriptions of each of the poles of these archetypes and their infantile counterparts, then it gives practical applications on how to access these important archetypes. It's a great book, and actually a great follow-up to Iron John. I'd recommend both, though I'm sure there's plenty of literature out there on these topics to broaden your scope a little. Either way, if you're a man and you are interested in learning and furthering yourself. I highly recommend these books. To borrow a line from one of my favorite radio shows, "They're good for your constitution!"

"The Third Policeman"
by Flann O'Brien

In the wake of the Season 4 Finale of LOST I've been searching for stuff to keep my mind occupied and off of what may happen in the final two seasons of my favorite show. Which basically means I've frantically been trying to come up with an explanation for the whole mystery of everything on that show.

Okay, it's not that dire. I can wait to find out, in fact, that's part of the fun. But, really, in the meantime, I need to keep myself occupied. Luckily, the show is so rich with references that there is no shortage of cool stuff to read and find fun references in the show.

The producers, among other things, have planted several well-chosen books throughout the episodes, and Damon Lindeloff, one of the creators of Lost, has stated that the one book that had the most influence on him in the writing process is The Third Policeman, which, he says, is because you find out at the end that the main character has been dead for the bulk of the novel.

He didn't give anything away, if anything, knowing that the main character was dead shed a little light on this confusing novel. But not much. The narrator and main character, unnamed throughout the novel, has killed a man in a botched robbery and when he goes back to collect the money, everything changes. Suddenly he finds himself in a two-dimensional police station facing mind-bending riddles by three bizarre and over-weight detectives. He discovers that he has a soul and that its name is Joe, that, in this world, people turn into bikes by way of the Atomic Theory, he can reach eternity, ask for anything he wants and it will appear (though he cannot take it with him), relates everything he sees to the fictional philosophy of a man named De Selby (whose work the main character has catalogued extensively, and is partially the reason for the murder), and that nothing is what it seems.

The back flap of The Third Policeman claims it as solidifying O'Brien as one of Ireland's great comic geniuses. I didn't laugh or find any of the situations of the novel funny, but they were extraordinary. If by comic they mean surreal and kafka-esque (yes! I used that word!), then they would be dead on.

There are a multitude of mind-bending puzzles in this novel, not the least of which involve the second policeman, who has invented several objects "too small to see" and boxes that make men crazy and things full of colors that can't be described by any words we have for colors. The novel is, if nothing else, full of imagination and vigor. That I liked.

As for fans of the show, you'll notice a few similarities, which I'll leave open if you want to read it (I don't want to give all the details away - plus, my wife hasn't seen past season 3 and I don't want to give anything away). I will say though that the influence for Jacob's character is quite clear, as is the ability for the Island to produce visions for each of its visitors.

And I've got a theory on Lost now too, one that I won't be disappointed with if it's true. Mark this one of the long list of Lost-inspired books to read. Among the next on my list are The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, Valis by Philip K. Dick, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Watership Down by Adams, and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

All have cool covers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys"
Great Writers on Great Places

I've been reading a lot of articles lately about how vacation isn't going to be much of one this year. High gas prices make road trips hard and plane fares even harder to cope with, and the price of everything seems to be going up.

So if you're not taking a vacation, I've the solution. Read this book!

You'll be able to go anywhere (sort of like the Reading Rainbow, or perhaps by way of...). And, oh, the places you'll go.

The Big Island of Hawaii, Iceland, The Himalayas, a happy jaunt around France, to the mystical world of Ethiopia, the famous but elusive city of Jinn in Jordan. You'll relax in Georgia and set out on a dangerous safari in Tunisia.

This book is a collection of articles from the Conde Nast magazine over the past several years. I've never read Conde Nast before, but I gather that it's a pretty good magazine, and this collection in particular is well worth the time. The only gripe I have is that it sometimes seemed like the writers were traveling very luxuriously, and were accustomed to that sort of travel, something I find hard to relate to. Still, it rarely detracts from the places, and the places are quite amazing. Each article is even followed up with tips for traveling in those particular parts of the world.

And even if you don't read it, the cover is well worth it. You can stare at the tiny drawings and imagine yourself in other parts of the world for hours and hours on end. It's a great way to kill time. Trust me.

"A Short History of Nearly Everything"
by Bill Bryson

I can't even begin to say how much I enjoyed this book.

After a fair amount of disappointment in A Walk In the Woods a few years ago (he didn't finish the Appalachian Trail, a feat that disappointed me), I decided not to read any more Bryson for the time being, even though many people had recommended him.

And so a few weeks ago I checked this one out from the library, plodding it home like some sort of homework assignment, promising myself that I'd at least start it, but I didn't have to finish it. I'd give it a shot, but if he decided to take a rocket ship to the moon and ended up backing out, I would definitely be writing a letter. Without even starting, my hopes were not high.

It was a Big Bang (pun intended), filled with a whole bunch of knowledge, clever insights, and, well, history of the earth and universe. If I were a teacher in any sort of social sciences, this would definitely be required reading - it's far more interesting and effective than any textbook I've ever picked up (and readable). I couldn't put it down.

What Bryson does is take something we all have a passing interest in, science, and make it fun and understandable at the same time. He introduces all the eccentric characters, mentions long lost facts that most people overlook, and explains all the difficult concepts in a very easy-to-grasp sort of way. From the first page I was hooked, and my imagination was buzzing with ideas.

I'm sure you're interested now, so the obvious question is, What will you learn?

Well, tons of great stuff, to be sure. Like everything we know about how the universe started and some theories on it's expansion (some scientists think the universe expands and contracts infinitely, like breathing), the vastness of space, concepts of physics (including a brush-up on Newton and Einstein, both interesting fellows), the history of life on this planet (from bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us...and what may be beyond). You'll learn everything you've ever wanted to know about nearly everything.

And then, if you're like me, you'll forget it all. But it will have inspired and excited you so much that you won't be able to sleep but for the buzzing of science fiction ideas in your head. The kind that kept you up at night when you were younger, when you would just wonder about, well, stuff, and when that stuff was still new and untouched by textbooks and school.

Read this book.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Iron John"
by Robert Bly

First, a story, and it will tie in later. I bought this book at a little used bookshop called "The Iliad" in North Hollywood. It's in the middle of a shady neighborhood, the kind of place you don't want to go at night, which is when we went. It's filled to the brim with books, so stacked that walking in is at once pleasing and overwhelming. The Iliad is not a place to go to browse. You go there to buy, with a list in hand, else you'll never leave.

So my wife and I were browsing (see! bad idea!) and I decided to see if they had a couple of books. The first, Iron John, he had and grabbed, but when I said the second book, he gave me a look. A what kind of fella are you sort of look. The book I was inquiring for was Eat, Pray, Love.

"Never heard of it," he said, the guy is a little older with a wiry frame, seems generally disinterested in everything but baseball and, I imagine, books, but you would never guess he reads, his disposition screamed of ignorance. "What's it about?"

"I'm not too sure," I replied, "but I think it's about this woman who travels through Italy and India rediscovering herself. Or something." That "or something" was because the look I was now getting was like I was some sort of alien, like I was asking for cereal.

"Forget it," I said. I bought the book and we left. Great bookstore, horrible people.

Iron John is "a book about men," as it says on the cover, which is possibly why the old man at the counter knew where to find it (he had read it?) and gave me the evil eye when I asked about Eat, Pray, Love (old man's confusion to younger man's ambivilance of reading choices?), I'll never know. It is, indeed, a book about men, and a relatively informing book about men. Robert Bly proposes that many modern men haven't gone through an initiation into manhood, mostly due to the evolution in science and the dissolution of hunter-gatherer societies. Men aren't supposed to be this dominating creature that doesn't feel (i.e. bookstore guy), nor is he supposed to be this completely sensitive thing with no sense of himself (i.e. opposite of bookstore guy). This leaves us men quite lost, and with no "elders" to guide us, we need somewhere else to look.

But where?

The fairy tales, of course!

Joking aside, Bly's idea is that many fairy tales, being ancient, are filled with symbolism and thus useful to a modern journey of man.

There is so much to go into here that would better be left to the book, so I'll keep it short. Men nowadays have largely been raised by women, and while this is a good thing in some ways, men lack the tools to grow up, to set boundaries, to become Men with a capital M. This I see and agree with. What lacks is the initiation. In certain cultures, the boys are taken away with the elders and initiated at a young age (about 12, it seems), and they come back men. Modern society substitutes video games, TV, and no elders to initiate them at all.

What Iron John sets forth is an analysis of the Grimm Brothers tale Iron John about a kings son who lets a Wild Man out of the cage, is taken to the forest with him, and transformed in ways he never thought possible. Bly is great at analyzing the story and making cultural references that most American men can hold on to. He takes the story apart and shows just how important fairy tales are to our development as human beings.

I have to recommend this book to any male out there, if for the sheer reason that men as a whole need to develop a little more. When you have a nation of boys, you end up invading a country for no good reason and the world is way worse for the wear. Read it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"
by Junot Diaz

About a week after I finished this book, it was picked as the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. What can I say, my wife knows how to pick 'em.

I had read an interview with the author, Junot Diaz, in an issue of Boldtype (an online book newsletter) and was interested in his first novel and first new work in nine years, but I can't honestly say that I would have gotten around to it had it not been gifted to me (by my wife, of the aforementioned paragraph...).

Anywho, the book sells itself (by sell, I mean, it says on the inside flap) as a story about an overweight nerdy Dominican kid who longs to be the next J.R.R. Tolkien - cool - and is convinced there is a fuku (special type of Dominican curse) on his family. It is and, well, it isn't what the inside flap says.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao weaves in an out of four different narrators, different time periods, is filled with footnotes on the history of the Dominican Republic (and a lot of mentions of the sexual exploits of its former leader, Trujillo, and his posse, who seem like a bunch of old school gangsters), and, all in all, is a fairly tedious book to read. Not that it wasn't enjoyable, but there were moments with promise that did not come to fruition.

I must say that I was expecting something different, something far more fantastic (i.e. out there, fanciful) because the inside flap did mention Tolkien and I love Tolkien - he's mentioned only a few times. And the idea of a curse on the family was great, but it took too long to get to and the journey to the curse was a lot of wading through muddy waters with no meaning, so that, when all was said and done, you had little more than you started with, which was a cool opening quote and a bad-ass narrator.

Perhaps if I hadn't read the inside cover, I might have been more satisfied by the oodles of comic book references and the snappy dialogue, not to mention the narration.

So, the narration.

Diaz is a great writer, you can tell, and his style is certainly original. Reading this book, it's easy to get lost in the prose and imagine that you're sitting with Junot Diaz (or whoever's narrating the story) in a coffee shop, and he's smoking a cigarrette and telling you about the fuku of this family, about the fuku Oscar tried to stop. He curses, slangs, and rolls his way along, and you feel like you're right there, not in the story, but in the coffee shop, with Junot Diaz.

That's the books biggest fault and most lauded champion. It's the (dare I say) fuku of the book, what makes it good also makes it bad. We all bring our own history to a book we read, or any art, and we see through that prism. Maybe my prism's slanted, and because I wasn't expecting what I got, I was disappointed. I'm not doing a great job of selling the book, so I will say this: the writing was amazing, and reading Oscar Wao is worth it for the sheer tenacity of the language, the raw power Diaz writes with. It's definitely not a waste of time, all fuku's aside.

And the cover's pretty cool.

Faster Than You Think
"The Kite Runner"
by Kaled Hosseini

I was hesitant about picking this book up, I think probably because the issues in it seemed "important" and usually those books are the hardest to read. Basically, I was worried "The Kite Runner" would drag. And it did, for like a second.

Then it didn't drag. It ran, it ran fast, so, so uncompromisingly fast.

"The Kite Runner" was simply outstanding. I don't know what to say other than that. I loved the book, and it was incontrovertibly hard to put down. It moved with such force and broached diffucult issues with such ease.

Hosseini is a wonderful writer, his use of metaphor and irony add wonderfully to the story. I felt like I was reading an "important" book, but with much more interest.

There's not much I can say about the book that won't give it away, so I'll give broad strokes. "The Kite Runner" is about the unspoken bonds of brotherhood, the changes of a nation in turmoil, and the guilt and redemption gained at the hands of unspeakeable forces. I'm leaving a lot open because I don't want to risk giving anything away. I'll just say again, this book was very moving, I highly enjoyed it.

Stories are supposed to move you, inspire you, teach you, and you're lucky when one does all three. "The Kite Runner" did that and more. Skip the movie, read the book.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

We Suck, and We're Selfish
by Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen has some deep-seated aggressions, and he's made some very interesting correlations between his personal history to the history nations and civilizations have in general.

Civilization is bad. The destruction civilization leaves in its wake is so monumental it is disturbing at a root level, a level we as humans, we as the perpetrators of this violence, have an obligation to stop. Civilization kills everything, all life on earth, without giving anything back, and for this reason, Jensen says, civilization has to be ended.

He's right, on many levels, and these make his book very disturbing and topical. First off, a sustainable way of life is not possible with civilization. Too many resources are taken from the land to keep us going, and, well, it makes sense that since most of us (myself included) have jobs that don't contribute to giving back to the land, that at some point the land will stop giving to us. But even with the efforts of individuals towards sustainability (my wife and I included), we as individuals, Jensen says, will make little difference to the earth. It is more what corporations and governments do, the over-fishing, over-logging, over-industrialization for economic gain that is doing the real harm.

Jensen writes that anyone who buys into civilization is insane, because it is exponentially more harmful to the land and humans the longer it lasts. He equates this violence with personal violence, and says that if we would stop personal violence, why not stop cultural violence, why stand by idly and watch it happen. The phrase he uses most is, "What will it take before you fight back?"

Well, what will it take?

Jensen makes many more points than outlined above, and has a particularly chilling chapter on oil that is as unsettling as it is realistic (by which I mean very), but I have no interest to elaborate here. These are the points that stuck with me, so they are the ones I mention.

Take out the dams, fell cell phone towers, take down civilization and its infrastructure and force people to live with the land like they once did, Jensen says. Yes, this is a valid point to hear in the culture of today, what with global warming and all the destruction still being done to our planet, but I must venture to say that there is little hope for this succeeding. More than likely, as has happened in the past, our culture will reach its breaking point (perhaps even it already has reached it) and homeostasis will begin to take effect. Grand scale things have been done, and nothing can be done to reverse them now. We as humans will live with our mistakes and continue to live with them. Our children will pay for our mistakes the same we do for the mistakes of our ancestors.

Jensen's answer, to fight violence with violence, is unsettling and unrealistic, I feel. As much as I see his point, I can't help but think of Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote in Man Without a Country that the what happens in the world is inevitable at this point regardless of what we do, we have to live with it (of course, he said it much more eloquently). I think Jensen actually said it pretty well too. After he purports we take down civilization by comparing its violence to the sexual and physical violence his father imparted on him (not sure there's a connection other than literary here), he defends taking a plane, despite the damage it does to the environment (not to mention the fact that his book is a complete waste of paper, with at least fifty blank pages throughout). He writes: "The truth is that had I not flown, the airplane would still have killed those wasps, and the industry would still have destroyed those fields. Sure I would have cost the airline money, and United's gross income for the year would have been $400 less than $38 billion..." So he's advocating the downfall of something he uses yet abdicating himself from any guilt in the meantime.

I have little patience for hypocrites like this. Despite the fact that many of his arguments are presented in the form of conversations with various people of through email, he does make good points, but it's not a radical change I'm up for making. I'm fine being insane, thank you, and I'll do what I can to personally make changes to help and respect the environment, because I certainly do) and even do what I can to keep corporations from doing more harm.

I'm not sure whether to recommend this book or not. So, if you're interested, look for the book with thick pages written by an environmental activist who chides logging companies for deforestation yet takes no steps to lessen the impact of his redundant 500 page non-fiction rant against civilization.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

If Lothlorien Were Full of Redwoods
"The Wild Trees"
by Richard Preston

The idea is that nearly half of this earth's life lives in the forest canopy. No one really knows because there isn't a set number on the species that inhabit this earth, but the forest canopy is "earth's secret ocean."

Redwoods are the giants of this earth, cousins to sequoias, and tower over the coast in northern California and the southern tip of Oregon. They amaze the crap out of me (literally! not really), and the amount of life in the canopies is amazing.

They're also vanishing, or have already vanished in large numbers because of logging, and care must be taken to keep these giant trees (some could be dated back to the Parthenon) from altogether being a glimpse into the past.

As I read this book I pictured dinosaurs walking through fields of tall redwoods, the brontosaurus grazing on the leaves at the bottom of the canopies (redwoods can get up to 37 stories tall - the tallest redwood is 379.1 feet, named Hyperion) and moving through vast oceans of giant things. It's a great escape.

Though that's not necessarily what "The Wild Trees" is about, entirely. The book mainly focuses on the people involved with discovering (meaning they measure the trees and study the life in them - redwoods are full of lichens (plant and fungi in symbiotic relationships) and epiphytes (plants that grow out of other plants)) the giant redwoods still on this planet. In this book we meet Steve Sillet, Marie Antoine, and Micheal Taylor (along with the author), among others, whose life quest is the study and discovery of a world many of us just gaze at and think, "wow."

It really is amazing stuff, and redwoods are amazing trees, and trees are amazing beings. It is all very fantastic to me, and for some reason opens the door to imaginations and daydreams about a time lost to us at present. The world is very old indeed.

This book was great. Not only does it highlight a fascinating living thing, the story is compelling, and it enlightens one to the state our world is in now and the mighty endurance of life on earth. Us humans are but a speck on the map compared to the ancient redwood forests. And something tells me they'll be here long after we're gone. Wow.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Now That's a Sandwich
"Ham On Rye"
by Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski is the friend I never had. The guy who gets beat up in fistfights, gets up, and walks home as if he had only scraped a knee. The guy who will say what he thinks about anything to anyone, just because you asked. The guy who will piss all over someone's shoes if he doesn't like them, but is really insecure and unsure about life at the end of the day.

I've not read any Bukowski before this, and my only knowledge has been lyrics from a Modest Mouse song: Bukowski, and yeah, I know, he's a pretty good read but God didn't have to be such an asshole. So, naturally, I was expecting something raw and intense. Ham On Rye blew away my expectations.

Reading a book like Ham On Rye is like spending a night in a bar with the most interesting patrons, if you could wrap all the barflies into one and make that culmination all sixteen years old. The book is, like most of Bukowski's work, semi-autobiographical, and takes on his childhood up through his college career. It's like The Wonder Years but R-rated, and instead of Wendy there are various teachers and authority figures Henry Chinaski (the main character) admires but never gets.

To say the writing is obnoxious and vulgar is an understatement, but the writing is so good, so alive and full of truth that you don't want to stop reading. You want to hear more. You'd read Bukowski tell you how grass grows because he would make it interesting. Its labors towards the sun would be adolescently sexual, its thirst for water reminiscent of Chinaski's early adoration for alcohol (which, I can only assume, became a lifetime pursuit), its harsher times much like Chinaski's beatings by his father. You'd laugh with it, feel for it, and want to know everything about it. That's Bukowski.

I highly recommend this book, not just because of the cover either! And though, Ham On Rye was my first Bukowski read, it certainly will not be the last. I can't wait to read Post Office.

Mushrooms Galore!
"Chasing the Rain"
by Taylor Lockwood

Taylor Lockwood takes lots of pictures of mushrooms around the world. There are a lot of different types of mushrooms.

This makes his pictures very interesting. But Taylor is a terrible writer so you don't learn a thing about the mushrooms themselves or even mushroom hunting.

I loved the pictures, but was hoping to learn a little more about the fungi, so it was a little disappointing.

So it goes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Old Ball and Chain
"Here Lies My Heart"
Edited by Amy Bloom

Okay, I confess, last month I shadowed a book club. A non-fiction book club. I nearly went to the discussion but chickened out, possibly last minute, for several reasons. I could argue they are all valid.

First off, Here Lies My Heart is a collection of stories about marriage - why we marry, why we don't, and what we find there (directly from the cover, as you can see). This collection provides a nice cross section of couples, singles, and single couples, going through various stages of the life-changing process. Some have been cheated on, some have cheated, some have given up on love only to have found it anew, others suffered devastating losses when disease killed their partner. All are interesting stories in their own way.

The collection as a whole was worth the read. Most, I don't say all because there were a few that weren't, were heartbreakingly honest. So much so that I relished a glimpse inside these worlds and felt cheated when a writer wasn't completely forthcoming with details so as to close the shades on me. I got that, as a collection, marriage tends to be something that is really hard, and I can't agree, which is why I found the book kindof intimidating.

This collection is filled with grief over infidelity, and broken partnerships. And while I've not been married all that long, I can't share the sentiments about marriage many of the writers profess. Mine has been an altogether positive experience. I like compromise. I mean, I don't like compromise but I like that we both have to compromise. It's the best way to live for one as lucky as myself to find an amazing wife (okay, too much, yeah).

So I couldn't discuss the book partly because it intimidated me with it's lopsided, probably later-in-life, cynical, view of marriage. And I couldn't discuss it because I felt like I would be outweighed in my argument by a bunch of bitter old people with a lot more experience in their ammo bag. And I couldn't discuss because I really don't have that much of an opinion about it other than that it has been great for me. I feel liberated, I feel like I have a partner, someone I can share my fears and desires and needs and failures and successes and everything else with, plus I can kiss her when I like and she usually kisses back. It's not a bad deal. Maybe one day I'll write a story and send it to Amy Bloom, the editor, about my positive experience with marriage. But not now, I'm too busy being married as it is. Read this book, it's good for its voyeurism and you really get a look inside some lives that are kindof messed up and secretly feel good about the place you're at. Plus the cover is similar to what my wife and I had as our Ceremony program. Small world!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Most Important Thing in The World
"In Defense of Food"
by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan has officially changed my life. Because of him I really really consider what I'm eating on a daily basis. It's cool and it's a lot of work, but it really is worth it.

I was hooked from his last book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, so when I saw he had a new, more advisory book coming out, I immediately purchased it.

While In Defense of Food was very insightful, and Pollan gives some great advice on broad ways of thinking about food, he elects not to go into specifics and give the somewhat confused reader an idea of what exactly to eat. Instead, he gives many examples of the types of foods you should not eat, which is basically anything processed or anything claiming to have added nutritional value.

Pollan's book can be summed up in the words on the cover: Eat Food. Mostly plants. Not too Much. Great words, great advice. Interspersed are guideposts to help navigate you through the vastly confusing world of food (especially at the supermarket) today and some tenets of wisdom to keep in mind when considering what, exactly, to have for dinner (if it's beef, make sure it's grass fed - see Pollan's website for where to find grass-fed beef). Even if I didn't get all of the answers I was looking for, I got a lot, and what Pollan has succeeded in doing is pointing me down a path, a path of knowledge and rediscovery about food that is exciting and empowering.

For anyone interested, I highly encourage reading Pollan's website,, his books (of course, as well as books by people he hangs out with), and visiting and getting to know your farmer's market. It's a great experience that puts one in touch with the people that grow one's food and allows one to appreciate the supreme interconnectedness of life. Food is life, and life is good.

Moving Words
"The Invention of Hugo Cabret"
by Brian Selznick

Experimental fiction is something I am drawn to, I think, just by way of having something new to read and decipher. Sometimes the payoff is well worth it, sometimes, not so much.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a huge payoff.

Probably most interesting is that the story is told in the form of a silent film, with pictures lending just as much (if not more) to the story as the words. The pictures, done by the author in pencil, are so detailed and interesting that you can lose yourself just staring at any one of the hundreds through the book. And the story itself is a compelling one, filled with mystery, intrigue, legends, and the importance of family and friendships.

I guess you could say I enjoyed it. This was a book my wife recommended to me after she read it (plowed through is the best way to describe how she devoured this book) and I felt, after a few months, that it was time I stop ignoring her urges and read the book. Needless to say, she has an appreciation for good stories.

The story of Hugo Cabret is a good one, like I said. Hugo is a young boy, eleven or so years old, who has taken over fixing the clocks in a Paris train station from his mischevious uncle, recently gone missing. He gets caught stealing a toy from a dealer that sets off a chain of interconnected events that leads Hugo to an impressive discovery about his father and a mysterious automata he has been keeping for some time.

I don't do this book justice. It's a hip book to read now because it's good and different. Read it. It's quick and outstanding, and the pictures are so much more enjoyable than the cover, which is good anytime that happens.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Take a Breath, Now Watch It
"Wherever You Go, There You Are"
by Jon Kabat-Zinn

There's not much I can say about this book that it doesn't say better and more simply, so I won't even try. It's enough that it is.

Welles and Good
"Orson Welles"
by Andre Bazin

To kick off my year of reading more non-fiction, I started with a little personal improvement. I wanted to read "Orson Welles" because I was looking for some insights into how the famous director made use of sound, rhythm, and tempo in the blocking and cutting of his films. What I got was much more rewarding.

Bazin is a great writer who takes care to discuss many aspects of Welles filmmaking, including his bravado and cocky attitude that won him out of many assignments. Still, he seems to be the command of his destiny and to only make the films he wants to.

There is much to learn from here, even the foreword by the famous French director and film critic Francois Truffaut is insightful, however brief. Welles career may have been shorter on the directing side than many of us would have liked, but the legacy that he did leave bears a mountain of study. Indeed, Welles was very keen on editing in cinema, and paid very close attention to it, and he also made use of a sense of timing that comes from his experience on the stage.

The attention and appreciation brought to the technical side of Welles' films is enough to appease at least this reader's appetite for knowledge. The book is a little outdated now but is still a good read nonetheless.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"The Alchemyst: The Secret of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel"
by Michael Scott

The idea sounds really cool. Ancient book (Book of Abraham the Mage), immortal dude (Nicholas Flamel), modern day San Francisco, Ojai, Paris, and others, and a whole bunch of magic and alchemy. Sweet!

Bitter! Man was this book a disappointment. Sometimes, when you're going somewhere, and you know what's going to happen, it gets old. You fall asleep. I'm just glad the drive was short because it really could have been dangerous.

It's not all bad, and I have to give credit where credit is due. Michael Scott does a great job of weaving actual events, Gods, and historical people into the story. Nicholas Flamel was an actual person, Perenelle was his wife, Dr. John Dee was a famous everyman, etc. So on that level, the book is an exciting read, and the points it brings up could send you on a weeks long search through the occult on wikipedia. For that, I am grateful, because hearing about obscure things that could be real always excites the imagination, and The Alchemyst certainly does that.

I don't really need to delve into the plot too much (if you're interested, go here), but essentially two twins with perfect silver and gold auras get mistakenly wrapped up in an immortal battle that will decide the fate of the human race. Everything will depend on them, but you'll have to wait for the following books to come out because this is a series!

Constructive criticism: too much fighting against dead things, not enough focus on character. I didn't believe or care about any of the characters, and not once was I wondering what was going to happen. It's a shame too because the idea is a solid one.

Great cover, bad insides. Next!

When I Was Your Age
"No Country For Old Men"
by Cormac McCarthy

The opening scenes of this novel felt like a smack in the face, as McCarthy goes.

I'm used to slow, methodical openings, like a sunrise, from McCarthy. You get into the story like you get in cold water, hesitantly at first, fully later. Usually, he sets his characters up in ambiguous ways, and things happen to them after a few beautiful chapters. Here, you're running the moment you open the book.

It was amazing! Awesome! Thrilling, adventure, morality set against the scales of life and death, it was the perfect way to start the reading year off. And if that's any indication of what's in store, I can't wait.

Earlier, I called The Road McCarthy's most accessibe, but I said that ignorant of this earlier book of his. No Country For Old Men is just as accessible, if not more, than McCarthy's latest; it's definitely his most thrilling.

Llewellyn Moss, on a hunting expedition, stumbles upon a scene in the desert he's not prepared for: the aftermath of a drug trade gone bad. Dead bodies scatter the hot desert ridge where Moss finds millions of dollars in cash along with some heroine in the back of one of the trucks. He takes the cash and scoots off, but later doubts lead him back to the scene, where he is spotted by a man that pursues him to no end, stopping at nothing to get the money back.

Moss is pursued by the drug cartel, who are scary but not in comparison with his other pursuer, Chigurh. Chigurh is evil come real, he is fate and God aligned in man, all the malice and terror you would expect from such a person.

And throughout all this mess is the story of the sheriff of the town, who is riddled by his own demons while he struggles to bring Moss in and ultimately save him from Chigurh, who scares everyone.

McCarthy's ethereal writing lends a terrible weight to the themes of this novel, and his answers are just as disturbing as they ever are, so if you're a McCarthy fan, you're in for quite a treat. I love how he plays the story out and subverts the plot to shed light on the real issues, the real threat of mankind, rather than distract us with just another great story. What McCarthy does well here is what he's best at: evoking a feeling that has a purpose.

Today, there really is no country for old men, things really aren't as easy or as innocent as they once were. So much is working against us. As ever, McCarthy lets us know that the real hope is in the hopeless, our real motivations are never as pure as we want them to be, and, man, this world is messed up. Here, I have to agree. Read this book.