Monday, June 11, 2012

BooksFirst November-December 2011

Books Bought  
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck (Kindle)
American Gods: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman (Kindle)  

Books Read  
Reamde by Neal Stephenson  

Books Heard  
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling  
The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass by Bill Maher


Just when I think I have finally caught up with the thousands of pages of Neal Stephenson novels out there, he goes out and publishes another book. The press meme on Reamde is that it is 'light' Stephenson because it doesn't do the deep philosophical tangents endemic in Anathem. But at over 1000 pages, it is hardly light. Perhaps 'contemporary' is the better word. The plot revolves around an internet millionaire and his next generation World of Warcraft-like game where goldfarming is not only allowed but encouraged. Form there it goes literally all over the globe and includes Islamic terrorists, British undercover agents, Christian fundamentalists and more.

And while it focuses on current events, the level of detail is Clancy-esque. But more so, the story is masterfully plotted. Every time I thought some string had been dropped or some tangent was just a red herring, it came together at some point later. Everybody has a role and it's a lot of fun watching Stephenson moving the pieces together. All the characters have a role to play and Checkov's Rule is lavishly followed as no detail early in the book fails to be significant later.

In some ways it feels like Stephenson is slumming by saying that he could write a Ludlum level thiller at will. And the characters are much more real than he usually manages even if they do tend towards Heinleinian hyper-competency. The book is fast-paced and literally a page turner. Over a thousand of them, each of them a gem.

Mindy Kaling plays the ditzy guy-crazy Indian-American on The Office. What many people don't realize is that she is also one of the writers and a producer on the show. This book is very much in the vein of Bossypants by Tina Fey in that it is a roughly chronological biography of her entry into the comedy world.

It's tough to create any tension out of being a reasonably successful if slightly sheltered Ivy League graduate who is pretty much an overnight success. She first hit the radar of the comedy world with her off-off-Broadway two woman show based on a completely fictional version of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Her behind the scenes anecdotes are charming and self-deprecating. The book is full of all sorts of funny one-liners and clever observations.

It's the personal stuff  where she seems to be really pulling punches. While she admits to failed relationships and awkward dates, she never really lets loose enough to get a good feel for her as a person. Another aspect which should have been fascinating, the cross-cultural life as the Amercanized child of immigrant parents, is also given short shrift. She does focus a good bit on struggles with weight and body issues in a way that is both humorous and enlightening. I just wish she had pulled fewer punches.

Bill Maher is one of my comedy heroes.While I do not agree with all his politics (and nobody right of Che Guevara could), I find the way he presents them convincing and hilarious.

This book is a very obvious cut and past job from the past several years of the New Rules segment of his HBO series. As such, a lot of the topical humor has not aged well. On the other hand, how prescient some of the observations were is a bit frightening. But there are plenty of places where you will shoot soda out of your nose in laughter at his outrageousness.

Maher's profane sense of humor is not for everybody, but if you like his take on the world, this collection of greatest hits is well worth it.


utenzi said...

I bought Readme a month or so ago but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Your review is giving me a lot more incentive to do so. I doubt I'll ever enjoy a book of his as much as Snowcrash but this one does sound very good.

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