Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Reading

I haven't been a very good reader this year or at least not as good as last year. I think so far this year I've managed to get through two Chuck Klostermans (leaving only his latest "Eating the Dinosaur" to be read), one David Sedaris, the eponymous companion novel to Coheed and Cambria's "Year of the Black Rainvow" album, and then I can't remember if I read one or both of those Dan Kennedy books last year. I've got Norman Spinrad's "Bug Jack Barron" on deck. I came across it via a sort of sideways recommendation by Warren Ellis when he mentioned this novel as an influence for his seminal "Transmetropolitan" comic series. It remains sitting on my side table though as I force myself to plow through my stack of unread graphic novels.

I seem to have a rather bad habit of acquiring graphic novels that I either never read or take months, sometimes years to read. This usually happens when I go to the comic shop and find nothing new to buy or that one time I visited New York a year and a half ago and didn't have any montly titles I wanted out at the time. I can't leave the comic ship without a purchase, so I'll often look for some interesting GN to pick up. This has served me well in the past, but has also left me with books I don't need to read right away.

As of last week my stack included the fourth volume of "100 Bullets", the second volume of the "Flight" anthology, the "Ace Trucking Co." collection I bought in New York, the third volume of "Batman: Black and White" that I also bought in New York, the second volume of "Berlin" (which will require to re-read the first volume thanks to the half-decade it too Lutes to finish it), "Batman: Year 100" (which I started, but never finished), volume 4 of "Freakangels", and "I Kill Giants". I was able to get through 100 Bullets, I Kill Giants, and Freakangels, and start Flight volume 2, but there's still a lot to go. This is a stack built up over the course of at least a year and a half though.

My goal is to deplete the pile before starting another traditional book and then to be sure that I get to any GN's between regular books or during my normal comics reading time in the future. The ultimate goal of this being to buy more comics. If I read everything I have then I can justify buying more and not only do I still need to finish 100 Bullets before I can satisfy my desire to collect the Hellboy GN's, but I know there are other fantastic stories like I Kill Giants out there waiting for me. In the end though, if having too much to read is a problem, it's a problme I'm glad to have.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Best of 2009 (part 2)

All right, it's time for books and games now, two categories that become difficult to relegate to just what was released in 2009 and here's why. When it comes to books, I really wasn't reading much before 2009. I would read a book here and there, for instance in 2008 I read 90% of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series (4 books), having begun in 2007 and finished in early 2009. It wasn't until this year that I specifically made an effort to read more. Between the books that people would recommend to me that I never got to until years later and the podcasts like This American Life and The Moth that were getting me interested in all the new non-fiction out there, I suddenly had a huge list of books I wanted to read. At my former pace there was no way I would ever be able to get through them, so the only solution was to make a concerted effort to read more. You see it's not that I don't read well or don't enjoy reading, but more a case of my having not made time to read. Somehow in 2009 a combination of my will to read more, aided by an attempt to calm my mind before sleep and conquer the insomnia that crept into my life last spring (which has since vanished) I was making time to read almost every night, completing a book or two every month. With that as the case, a lot of what I read in 2009 was not released on 2009, but out of what I did read (for the first time) these are my top 5 picks:

5. Emergency by Neil Strauss
The sub title of this book is "This Book Could Save Your Life" and I think what I was expecting was more survival manual, less autobiography. Emergency is the story of writer Neil Strauss and how in the wake of 9/11 and the beginning of Bush's second term he begins to fear that the end may be near for civilization as we know it. His whole premise is summed up nicely at one point in the book where he talks about being a high school student and learning about the Holocaust. In retrospect there was a long lead up to the Holocaust and in realizing this young Neil Strauss wondered why people didn't leave Germany when they started seeing the signs. The answer is two-fold. On the one hand it is natural for people to assume that things won't get any worse. Hope can be as harmful as it is helpful sometimes. On the other hand, it actually isn't that easy to just up and leave one country for another one. So Neil as an adult living in fear of a time "when the shit hits the fan" in the United States goes about seeking a second citizenship in nearby St. Kitts in order to have a viable safe haven WTSHTF. Eventually he begins to realize that an escape plan may not be enough and he goes about learning how to survive a multitude of situations. The great part about the book is that it's really not what you think, or at the very least it not what I thought. It't ultimately not a story about learning how to run away or fight back, it's a story about learning how to live and in the end while Neil does gain all the skills he was looking for, he gains a new outlook as well and while he'll be ready WTSHTF, his outlook on the present and his role in life has made that at most a secondary concern.
 4. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
I had heard about this book a lot before I started reading it and after thumbing through it in a Borders while waiting for my new car stereo to be installed at the Best Buy across the street I decided to buy it. Chuck Klosterman is an intellectual Generation X writer who manages not to come off as an elitist, nor overwhealmingly cynical although he is both these things. When Chuck Klosterman writes he just sounds like he knows what he's talking about. The book's opening essay on how John Cusack is the reason why his every relationship is doomed to fail is nothing short of brilliant. I became an instant fan with this book and I think anyone who's ever argued the social impact of MTV's The Real World or pondered the significance of Saved By The Bell, should read it.
 3. Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton
Some of you may remember Wil Wheaton as the lead kid in the film Stand By Me where he acted alongside River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry Conelly. Some of you may remember Wil Wheaton as the oft times annoying Wesley Crusher on Star Trek the Next Generation. Since that time he's managed to keep busy in more ways than one, ultimately arriving where he is now as well followed blogger, writer, and yes ... actor. More than anything though he's making a living being a geek. Just a Geek is a reworked collection of Wheaton's blog posts spanning the first couple years of his and chronicles his journey of self-discovery from the point where he is still a struggling actor trying to break back into the business and loathing the perception of himself as a character he played on a sci-fi show in the 90's, to the point where he realizes that he loves to write and begins making the transition from actor to writer. Wheaton is a very captivating writer and I've been following his blog for 7-8 years now. Just a Geek is an amazing story for anyone who ever got a second chance in life and was able to start over and discover what they really wanted to do. All told, Just a Geek is moving and fun and Wil continues to blog and write books and prove that above all else, he's a geek. 
 2. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman
This is the second book I read by Klosterman and it's different from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in that it's not a collection of essays but rather the story of a journey made in the writing of an article for Spin magazine. The task was simple enough, visit the sites where various rock stars have died and write an article about it examining the culture of glamorous death that seems to surround rock and roll. Killing Yourself to Live is only marginally about this process however as it ultimately becomes the tale of Klosterman riding around the country in his Ford Tauntaun, gathering information for this article while trying to piece together these three past and present doomed relationships in his head. It's like if High Fidelity were about a road trip. I think Klosterman sums it all up very nicely near the end of the book when he says "I've been inside a car for 1000 years, worrying about women and thinking about death and playing KISS and Radiohead and all this other shit, and - for some reason - I keep writing all this stuff down, and I don't know exactly why. But it all feels the same, you know? It seems like love and death and rock 'n' roll are the same experience."and he couldn't be more right.
 1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I'm a fan of the apocalypse, we all are. We're all just sitting around waiting for the day it all comes crashing down because deep inside we're pretty sure things can't keep up the way they are forever. I read The Road because of the movie. I knew the film was coming out and I had heard the book was good and I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. I'm glad I did, because while the movie was good and a mostly faithful adaptation, the book is incredible. The Road is simply the story of a  man and his boy barely surviving on an Earth that has undergone some unnamed calamity and is all but dead. The simple premise is that the winters have been growing progressively colder and in order to survive they make the decision to head south to the shore along the eponymous road. It's a story about survival and desperation, but more than anything else it's a story about the relationship between the man and the boy and it is incredibly moving. The end of this book has got to be one of the most moving pieces of fiction I have ever read, a scene that not film could ever hope to reproduce with all it's emotional magnitude intact. It's a quick read, but a good read and probably the best book I read in 2009 if not one of the best I have ever read.
 I thought I was going to get to games in this post, but it's already taken me a while to get through books so there will be a part three. Until then, farewell.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Book Review: New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye

Punk and hardcore were alive and well in America in the mid 90's but perhaps nowhere so much as New Jersey, a scene that would give rise to punk and hardcore mainstays such as Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, The Bouncing Souls, Thursday, and numerous others. "New Brunswick, New Jersey Goodbye" is a memoir of sorts by writer, teacher, musician Ronen Kauffman during his years living in and around New Brunswick and being part of the DIY punk and hardcore scene of the time. What starts out as a high school obsession with punk music, leads Kauffman to create his own zine "Aneurysm" and become more involved in the burgeoning punk and hardcore scene of the area, ultimately culminating in his moving to New Brunswick to attend Rutgers Univesity as a Political Sciene/Journalism major. Ronen tells stories that will be all too familiar to anyone who didn't have the cookie cutter MTV version of the college experience. For people who were more DIY, artistic, indie, or just plain anti, there are likely a number of touchstones here that will bring back memories from college or before. From flophouse appartments, basement shows, drunken skinheads, and the naivete of believing that punk music can change the world, Kauffman paints a picture that while specific to the punk scene in New Jersey at the time, is emblematic in a more universal way of the punk, harcore, DIY experience at anytime and in any place. As a fan of punk music, especially the NJ scene of that time, I found myself grinning uncontrollably when Kauffman spoke of the first time he met Dan Yemen (Lifetime, Kid Dynamite) and how the guitarrist enthusiastically purchased a zine from him.

This isn't just a book about punks bands though and Kauffman doesn't spend 200 pages just tossing out names for the sake of credibility, in fact most of the bands he mentions were so scene specific as to likely be unknown most anywhere else. It's a book about the the thoughts, feelings, comraderie, and community that comes with organizing, playing, and going to punk shows. In the end though the real focus of the book is as a coming of age story, wherein a DIY youth with socialist tendencies ultimately has to come to terms with life in the real world, but finds a way to still hold true to his ideals in the end. For me personally this struck a chord. I know all too well what it's like to hit that wall of the "real world" after college and how hard it can be to stay true to one's ideals while still making your way in the world.

While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I don't think this is a book for everyone. But if you were ever part of a scene that existed just (or waaaaay) outside the mainstream when you were young, I'm betting you can find something to latch onto here. For me personally Kauffman's stories conjured up memories not only from my own life, but of stories from my friends as well and that's well worth the price of admission.

New Brunswisk, New Jersey Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements, and the Search for Self by Ronen Kauffman is published by Hopeless Records and available at finer bookstores everywhere.