Haruki Murakami - Kafka on the Shore, 2005
While not quite as good as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (but really what is?) this book still blew me away. Just like Wind-Up Bird, this had a similar mix of realism mixed with a completely bizarre dreamlike world. Just like Wind-Up Bird, I can't say that I fully understood everything that was going on but I didn't care. You just sort of roll with it. Just like Wind-Up Bird, there were some truly horrific events that I almost felt guilty reading because they were so damn entertaining! Talking cats and an enchanted forest are just two elements of this book that on the surface sound lame but in the hands of Murakami become truly astounding.
Larry McMurtry - Lonesome Dove, 1985
I watched this miniseries back in the day and remembered really liking it. For some reason, it never occurred to me to actually read the book. Last summer Alex J and Mooney both were reading this book and could not stop raving about it. The next time I was in MD, I noticed that my dad had a copy of it so I took it back to Brooklyn. This summer, I finally got around to the 945 page book.
And holy shit, it was good. I mean, really really good. What an epic! I didn't want the book to ever end. The characters are so richly drawn, the slang so perfect, the situations so expertly woven, the American mythology so expertly crafted and debunked - this book is perfect. I want to reread it again right now which I guess would be a bit silly so instead I'll settle for re-watching the miniseries.
Jonathan Ames - I Love You More Than You Know, 2006
I wish that I liked this more. I used to be a huge Jonathan Ames fan about ten years ago. I loved his New York Press columns, I went to see him tell his stories at Fez, I went to book signings, I went to see him box, I was a huge fan.
Over the years, I've lost touch a bit. I've seen him a few times on Letterman. The mere fact that he's on Letterman on a regular basis amuses me. I'm glad that he's had a bit of success. But the crazy energy of his earlier stories is missing in this collection of essays, mostly from the early to mid 2000's. Don't get me wrong, there are some definite highlights in here. The piece about going to Memphis for the Mike Tyson fight and getting his crotch stuck at the top of a chain link fence and "How I Almost Committed Suicide Because of a Wart" rank up there with some of his best writing. But for any person interested in finding out what Ames is about, the best place to start by far is his collection of those late 90's New York Press pieces What's Not to Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer. Granted, I haven't read his 2004 novel, Wake Up Sir! which I've heard is pretty good.
But no matter what you do, you must avoid his embarrassingly bad Showtime pilot from a few years back.
Tony Horwitz - A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, 2008
Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic ranks up there with Assassination Nation in my humble opinion. They both give good history lessons mixed with fun personal stuff while on an American road trip. (That reminds me - I need to see Sherman's March again.) Anyway, I digress. This book is good but not nearly as good as Confederates but expecting it to be is a bit unfair. In that book, Horwitz spent time with Civil War Re-Enactors to get at the heart of why the South is still so friggin' obsessed with the war. As a follow up, Horwitz is stuck either trying to copy his previous success or branching out. I guess he tries both?
For this book, he travels around the U.S. along some of the same routes that the first explorers and settlers of North and South America did. He starts with the Vikings and ends with the Pilgrims. Horwitz is a good writer and I learned a lot from this book.I don't think I ever really knew all that much about the Spanish conquistadors but, man, were those guys f-ed up. (That reminds me - I need to see Aguirre: The Wrath of God again soon.) The problem is that he doesn't meet the fascinating sort of people that he met when he was in the thick of re-enacting the Civil War - a Northeastern Jew fighting for the "ol Confederacy. Still, I don't regret reading this book - it just doesn't compare (fairly or unfairly) to his previous book.
Marjane Satrapi - The Complete Persepolis, 2000 - 2003
I wasn't sure that I wanted to read this after having seen the movie since I had heard that the movie was quite similar. SHR read it first and gave it a thumbs up so I decided to read it too. I'm glad I did. There is more than enough stuff in the book that wasn't in the movie. I really enjoyed getting a fuller experience than I got from the movie. Good stuff.
Ismael Beah - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, 2007
It is one thing to read a journalist's take on these things. It is another to read a first hand account of it. After running from the fighting in Sierra Leone for weeks (and losing his beloved Run DMC cassette to boot) and witnessing countless atrocities, Beah was finally caught, doped up, and forced to fight. He was 12-years-old. Eventually, he made it out. His story is pretty captivating and a quick read. My school's book club read this and I borrowed a copy of it since I refuse to participate in any clubs that would have me as a member.
Someone told me that the veracity of this account hasn't been confirmed. I hope that isn't true. Has anyone read the Dave Eggers book where he writes as/for a former child solider? Is that any good?
Barack Obama - Dreams From My Father, 1995
Good but not as earthshatteringly good as I was hoping. Although I'm writing this as I'm listening to Sarah Palin ridicule Obama for having written two memoirs, I think that I've decided this is the best book ever.
2 days ago