Resolution update: Books edition

10 May

n221477.jpgThen We Came to the End, by Josh Ferris

One of the best novels I’ve read in the past few years. “Then We Came to the End” centers around a flailing ad agency as it continues to lose business, and, consequently, employees. Those remaining, oddballs each, seem to lose their sanity by the day, leading to stranger and more hilarious actions with each page. The book is written in a multiple first-person – everything is “we” and “us” though you never know exactly who is speaking – which serves to exemplify the groupthink in a typical corporate office. Anyone who’s spent their days in a cubicle, and especially those familiar with the agency world (which author Ferris obviously is), should dig this book. Think “Office Space” atmosphere written in the I’m-just-reporting-this-insanity-as-if-it’s-everyday-stuff manner of “Catch-22.”

Grade: A

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I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert

Like a print transcript of The Colbert Report, “I Am America” finds Colbert spewing stereotypical about every political topic, including race, drugs, affirmative action and more. Colbert so perfectly spoofs the happily ignorant right-wing that I know more than a few people who once actually believed he’s a blowhard Republican. A quick read, if a bit jumpy due to the numerous footnotes, charts and the like. Laughs on every single page. A few excerpts:

On the benefits of religion: “Responsibility. Religion forces every individual to take responsibility. Specifically, take it away from yourself and give it to God. If we had to be accountable for every one of our actions, we’d be crippled with indecision. But with religion pointing the way, we can feel confident in our choice to picket our children’s elementary school when we find out the art teacher is gay.”

On sports: “Sports do have some impact on society. They solve problems, such as how to get inner-city kids to spend $175 on shoes.”

On immigration: “Experts say there are 12 to 14 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. To put that into perspective, if you took all the foreigners who have no business living in America and put them into Dodge Caravans (remember, those seat six) and drove them out of the country taking up all three lanes of the highway, the line of minivans would stretch for I don’t care how long, because the more important question is: How can we get them into those vans?”

Grade: B+

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Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

Proof that any subject can be interesting if you write about it well enough, Sarah Vowell focuses this non-fiction book around her research of the three presidential assassinations: Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield. She goes on numerous tours – crime scenes, museums, memorials, etc – and manages to keep the content light by focusing less on the tragedy and more on the historical happenings leading up to the shootings. We find out who the presidents were, what they stood for and why they were shot, but in a Sedarisesque matter-of-factness favoring personal observations over heavy-handed historical lessons. Tough not to enjoy Vowell’s writing. I liked the book even though I don’t give a hoot-n-holler about American history.

Grade: B

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The Tender Bar, by J.P. Moehringer

“The Tender Bar” is a memoir from prominent newspaper reporter J.P. Moehringer, detailing his life from childhood to his mid-20s, dealing with a fatherless upbringing, poor family and the corner bar that he basically called home from an early age. Moehringer at times overstates the characters’ charm to an unrealistic degree – some of the characters are described as being the most poetic, eloquent people ever described in print, and not, you know, drunks at a neighborhood tavern – but the story, which take the author to Yale and eventually the New York Times, was engaging enough to keep me interested.

Grade: B

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Life of Pi

A fantastically descriptive parable about faith and survival. I was enthralled throughout, but hey, you know what I really love? When the “author’s foreword” tells the reader that the following is a true story, no matter how unbelievable it may seem, that the protagonist was a celebrity for a while because of it, that much of the book’s details came from interview transcripts, etc, so as you read it, the logical half of your brain is screaming that this is clearly a work of fiction, but you keep trying to tell yourself that crazy things sometimes happen, and you even begin to describe to your friends the book’s plot, but as you continue reading, you get the undeniable sense that you’ve been duped and of course this isn’t real because it is literally impossible, and so once you finish the book, your ten seconds of research prove that, indeed, none of this was true and the foreword was fraudulent, there are many others who wonder why the book was posed in such a way, and though you loved reading the book, now all you can do is think about how you were briefly hoodwinked into believing it actually happened, which it didn’t, because, again, you moron, it could not have ever actually happened, which is something you holler to everyone within earshot when this book is mentioned so they don’t make the same mistake you do, shamed as you are.

Man, do I love that.

Grade: is there an emoticon for blushing?

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Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Part 1 in my “embarrassed I’ve never read this one before” series. (Expect a few repeats throughout the year.) I can’t say anything about Slaughterhouse Five that hasn’t already been said (it’s sporadically science-fictiony, of which I’m not fan, but done in a satirical kind of way, plus it’s wildly inventive and at times quite funny), so I’ll just reprint one excerpt that may be my favorite part of any book, ever, when the character describes seeing war in reverse:

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. . . .The bombers opened their bomb-bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.”

Grade: B+

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Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

Part 2 in my ‘shameful previous oversights’ series (still working on the series name). Again, not much I can say about Moneyball, beyond that it’s an absolute must-read for any fans of baseball and box scores. An eye-opener on what parts of offense actually help wins games; this book will surely up your baseball IQ a few notches, if that’s something you’re into.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “Resolution update: Books edition”

  1. BreAnne May 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm #

    I’m reading the Ferris book right now, but only about halfway through. I find it really sad when I find myself smiling and nodding in recognition of all the gossip and other office antics…further proof that every office building in America is fundamentally the same.

    All he needed was the repeated cake day a la Seinfeld (“Get well, get well soon”) and it would have been perfect.

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