Monday, October 01, 2007

BooksFirst - September 2007

Books Bought
The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
King of the Vagabonds – The Baroque Cycle #2 by Neal Stephenson
Odalisque – The Baroque Cycle #3 by Neal Stephenson
My Boring Ass Life by Kevin Smith
Fiasco by Thomas Ricks
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Books Read
Spook Country by William Gibson
American Virgin: Head by Stephen T Seagle and Becky Cloonan
American Virgin: Going Down by Stephen T Seagle and Becky Cloonan
Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich

Books Heard
The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson


For a good while when I was traveling for business a lot I listened to several books on tape/CD. It’s a great way to “read” books you otherwise might not have time for. For several months I have been listening on and off to The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I read Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything last September. Bryson is best known as a travel writer, but Thunderbolt Kid is a memoir where he travels back to his childhood in the late 50s and early 60s.

The book is more than a memoir in that it is more of a eulogy for the forgotten era of the major city downtown. Many of the funnier parts take place in or around downtown Des Moines, Iowa. He also writes about timeless rites of passage such as seeing naked girls and stealing beer. The tone is nostalgia tinged and prone to comic exaggeration. No person could be as bad a cook as his mother. Well, maybe not. My dad read this book and says Bryson nailed the era dead center. I wasn’t even born until his narrative trails off, but I also recognize a lot of the universal truths of childhood.

I blogged about seeing William Gibson touring in support of Spook Country, so I plowed through it as fast as I could. Stylistically, this is much faster paced and complicated than its predecessor Pattern Recognition (see last month for that synopsis). The two books have one character in common, the new media advertising genius Hubertus Bigend. Here Bigend hires a former punk band front woman to hunt down a new technologically sophisticated art form that involves virtual reality helmets.

The trail immediately goes down a rabbit hole and leads all sorts of other places. This book has a slightly darker and more cyberpunkish tone than Pattern Recognition. There are two other intersecting plots where you don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys until the end, and maybe not even then. The chapters are much shorter and the interlocking narratives give a little whiplash until everything converges. The three points of view are very interesting because they all come from people who aren’t sure what they have got themselves caught up in. The puzzle that gets set up and solved is also very clever and topical and worth a book or two of its own.

The American Virgin series are graphic novel collections that feature a non-superpowered evangelical abstinence advocate as a hero. He practices what he preaches and when his fiancé is brutally raped and killed, he vows vengeance.

The supporting cast is very well-rounded. His best ally is his slutty tatted-up half sister. His brother is a skater punk that takes his vow of chastity a lot less seriously. There are also a lot of unsavory hanger-ons including his Tammy Faye-ish mother.

The huge ironic set-up of the series is that Adam, the titular virgin, keeps finding himself in sexually charged situations where his beliefs and attitudes are always getting challenged. The first volume, Head, has him wading through the moral cultural relativism of Africa where even the Christians have very different outlooks on purity. Going Down, the second volume, continues the revenge track to the leather bars and transvestite underground of Australia. As you can tell by the covers, the artwork is excellent as well as a bit graphic and suggestive.

It’s good to know that a decent education will help become a success in whatever field you apply yourself. Before there was poker on television 24/7, the only game where you could make money was blackjack. Bringing Down The House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions with its subtitle that needs a spoiler warning tells of a blackjack card counting ring made of MIT students that for several years treated Vegas casinos as ATMs. They had a sophisticated team system that upped the odds in their favor considerably.

The book spends some time delving into the gambling subculture, but most of the book is about if and how the MIT sharpies will get caught. There is an arc to the story, but a lot of the moral hand-wringing is glossed over. They make it look and sound easy, but if it were, more people would be doing it. And maybe they are, but I would not want to go head to head with casino security goons under any circumstance.

My wife as a teacher got a good educators discount this weekend on anything and everything at BigBoxOfBooks™, so I went a little hog wild with the new purchases. We’ll see how long it takes me to clear the inventory.

BlatantGettingSuckeredByAMeme: This week is Buy A Friend A Book Week. I had no idea such an event existed, but it seems to happen quarterly. If you miss out this week, the next one is the first week of January, just in time for Just Read More Novels Month.


Cedar said...

My favorite thing about the book Bringing Down the House is the text on the back. The book description ends with the line "This is the book Vegas doesn't want you to read!" and the first quote from a review is "This book makes me want to go to Vegas! Vegas! Vegas!"

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