Preference Personnelle
Sunday, August 7
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed, John Vaillant
This book got a glowing review, no pun intended, in Outside magazine, and it's totally worthy of the praise. Here's a succinct version of the story: some Pacific Northwest Haida lived on a tiny island with a very sacred, isolated and biologically unique tree--a spruce with gold-colored needles that figured heavily in their creation mythology. Then Europeans arrived. Logging got big, rapacious, clear-cut-happy and high-tech. An ex-logger and wilderness-survival type, right out of Edward Abbey fiction, had what was either an epiphany or a religious vision or a psychotic episode or all three. He kayaked through some of the roughest ocean water in the world, cut down the tree and then disappeared shortly before his trial. He's presumed dead, but nobody really knows. And there's an epilogue. Great stuff.

Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, Ross Gregory Douthat

Part memoir, part journey to conservatism, and very small part examination of what social class and meritocracy have wrought. I finished it, but I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test is, for me at least, a much more interesting treatment of this kind of thing. If you must read about folks whose educational ambitions find themselves suddenly out of their (Ivy) league, there are plenty of better choices available. (Erich Segal's book are not among them.)

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Nick Flynn

Slacker type gets a job in a homeless shelter, meets his estranged, crazyish, novel-writing father, writes a novel about him. Recommended for people who like literary fiction, memoirs, or biographies about crazy people, as well as anyone who likes to read about parents and children. Great title, too.

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang
Have I mentioned how much I like books with the phrase 'cultural history' in the title? This book should have some of that. Years from now, it will occupy a place in the pantheon of hip-hop scholarship alongside David Toop and Tricia Rose. Excellent for anyone interested in hip-hop music or just modern cultural history. To paraphrase a review I read of Boogie Blind's Live at the PJs mix, Chang picks his spots, and when he hits, he hits hard.

Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy, Lindsay Moran

Decent memoir--Moran is a good writer, and much of the book is fairly interesting, especially the segments related to CIA training. She's an engaging character, and, more than anything, this is a breezy read whose high points come during the incredulous descriptions of CIA training exercises involving made-up countries Vaingloria and Malevolencia, and whose low points come when Moran tries to make sense of the job, and the CIA, post-September 11.

Fried Chicken: An American Story, John T. Edge

By now it's a familiar story--author examines classic American foodstuff, travels the country like Charles Kuralt soaking up local color, chatting with entrepreneurs, elderly lunatics, plucky immigrants and true-believing neo-traditionalists, includes a few recipes, makes me hungry for chicken. You know the drill. This sounds dismissive, but it's not meant to--I love this kind of book. It's a fun time. The author, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, is passionate and knowledgeable. And I've got his Apple Pie, next in what he plans to make a series, on my to-read pile as I write this.

An experiment in one-sentence reviews:
Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict, Seb Hunter
It's a British Fargo Rock City, only not as good.
Courtney Love: The Real Story, Poppy Z. Brite
Brite makes Boswell look skeptical, and given Love's, uh, poetic conception of truth, this is a dealbreaker.
Can't Take My Eyes Off You: 1 Man, 7 Days, 12 Televisions, Jack Lechner
Like Super Size Me, except in print, and with televisions; a sort of sequel/homage/update/whatnot to Charles Sopkin's '60s Seven Glorious Days, Seven Fun-Filled Nights
The thing is, I am perfectly capable of watching a lot of bad television and then having insights about it--I don't need some other guy to do it for me.
Stranger than Fiction, Chuck Palahniuk
Since he published this nonfiction/journalism anthology, I figured I'd give him another chance, but he's still not my thing.
More book reviews, some of them for books I haven't read:

Colors Insulting to Nature: A Novel, Cintra Wilson
Like Burroughs' Sellevision, this is a novel from someone who's better known for other kinds of writing. And like Sellevision, and Wilson's criticism/commentary, this is culturally savvy and savagely funny. It's a sort of coming-of-age story for a debased and celebrity-obsessed era, and I'm a big fan. Recommended for people who watch a lot of television and would like to read more.

Superstud: Or, How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin, Paul Feig
I prefer Feig's Kick Me, about an earlier stage in his childhood, and I vastly prefer Freaks and Geeks (as I've noted earlier, the collected scripts are available, as are DVD sets in exhaustive and super-exhaustive versions). That said, Feig's a funny guy, and this is a funny book. Recommended for fans of witty memoirists like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs (and, of course, recommended for fans of F&G, especially because many of the things that happened to Feig ended up as plot elements on the show).

The Road to Esmeralda: A Novel, Joy Nicholson
It's a dark, funny novel about Mexico and yanquis and tourista imperialism and Third World corruption and a failed writer and his girlfriend and a German eco-resort owner and his crooked handyman. Recommended, especially for folks who like The Tortilla Curtain, The Beach, Graham Greene, that kind of stuff.

Bangkok Tattoo: A Novel, John Burdett
A sequel, more or less, to Burdett's Bangkok 8, this is another mystery/thriller/crime novel set in exotic Thailand. Mamasans, Buddhists, corrupt local officials, international criminals--it's got it all, plus tattoos (here's a rather tattoo-centric review from Needled, a new and appealing tattoo blog). Good choice for crime fans, seedy-underbelly fans, etc. What does it say about me that my main fiction reading interests are literary and crime/noir?

A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke
A Brit gets a job in France, overseeing the opening of a bunch of English-themed tea rooms. Hilarity ensues. If you only read one book by an Anglo who spends time in France, this one's meaner, and funnier, and more lad mag and less New Yorker, than Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon. (Upon further reflection, if you only read one book by an Anglo who spends time in France, your choices are either Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London or Hemingway's A Movable Feast.)

The Only Girl in the Car: A Memoir, Kathy Dobie
Sexually-precocious small-town girl learns a lesson. This book is good--excellent, even--but for some reason it wasn't my thing. Fans of Foxfire and The Virgin Suicides and whatnot would probably enjoy it, as would fans of memoirs like Girl, Interrupted, Bad Girl and Smashed, the last two of which I believe I've written about already.

What're You Lookin' At?! Vol. I of the collected Angry Youth Comix, Johnny Ryan
Speaking of books that aren't my thing. This is like Peter Bagge's Hate, only more stoopid and gross-out-y, and, in the language of obscenity law, without redeeming cultural or artistic value. (Also, I wonder whether my library's copy would withstand a challenge, but that's neither here nor there.)

SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, Steve Salerno
This book's okay, but it left me with a very empty feeling. Maybe it's because, unlike virtually every nonfiction book which details a big problem, it doesn't offer much in the way of solutions. Maybe it's because Salerno blames the suckers and dupes, rather than the pimps, charlatans and liars, more than I would strictly prefer. Maybe it's because he keeps quoting lightweights like Naderite turned corporate apologist John Stossel and pseudo-intellectual anti-feminist Christina Hoff Summers. I was expecting Eric Schlosser or Michael Moore, and instead I got something more like Laura Ingraham or Mona Charen.

The Great Shark Hunt: Gonzo Papers, Volume 1: Strange Tales From a Strange Time, Hunter S. Thompson
I like Thompson, and I'm glad this book is back in print (and I think it's right up there with Campaign Trail '72 among his best work), but I just didn't get around to rereading it. Shrug.

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense, David Brooks
I liked Bobos in Paradise, even though Brooks is kind of a dope. I had this thing checked out for months and never gotten around to reading it, though I like the premise, and I managed to find time to read some fairly scathing reviews. Finally I just gave up. Brooks won't miss me.

American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
This is the third time I've read this book. The first time, it was in 1991, and I was in high school, and it was pretty good. The second time, it was in, what, the late '90s? I was in college, and they were working on the movie, and this time, the book was only decent. This time, it wasn't very good at all, and I didn't finish it. Which is a shame, because yuppies-behaving-badly has long been one of my favorite themes.
A lagniappe of cultural kitsch and B-movie claptrap

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