Friday, October 14, 2005

From Movies to Books: Here's a sampling of things I've read over the past couple of months (in no particular order):

1. "The Virtues of War" Pressfield, Steven. This guy wrote "Gates of Fire" which was a mostly historically-accurate account (I should note his books are fiction, but heavily grounded in reality) of the last stand by the Spartans at Thermopylae. Very interesting and informative. This one is about Alexander's rise to glory and his conquests along the way during his short life. It's told from his perspective and is very very interesting. A mix of battle plans, political maneuverings, and his imagined passion and drive for both. Pressfield knows how to make "history come alive" and is very well informed. Not too long either; it gets the Razor Recommendation (RR)tm.

2. "Choke," "Survivor," and "Haunted," all by Chuck Palahniuk. I went on a bit of tear there mid-summer. He of "Fight Club" fame (which I won't read given I've seen the movie). Palahniuk practices a form of verbal terrorism -- hitting you over the head with some of the most grotesque, yet gripping images and themes that you'll ever likely read. I can already hear Eno express his distaste for creeping post-modernism, which since Palahniuk wrote a book after 1955, he must be guilty of. There's no questioning his PM credentials, and one can certainly allege that this guy goes for shock value, but he's very creative, and you don't easily put his books down. Of the three, "Haunted" stays with you the longest, but Survivor was the best story.

3. "The Know it All," Jacobs, A.J. -- As the sub-title tells you, it's about "one man's humble quest to become the smartest person in the world." Basically, this guy who works as some sort of editor at Esquire, decides to read the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica over the course of the year. It's breezy reading, full of pop and ancient culture, but the author's editor, wisely kept the focus on the author's life during his travails, including his appearance on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," trying to successfuly impregnate his wife, and generally annoying people with bits of useless trivia (finally, something Eno can get behind!). Fun read.

4. It Must Be Something I Ate, Steingarten, Jeffrey -- Steingarten, the food editor for Vogue, is well, the best food writer ever. He is obsessive yet witty, well-traveled yet far from a snob. He doesn't just critique restaurants (in fact he doesn't do that at all), but introduces the reader to food both familiar and foreign -- and then spends 20 pages breaking it all down for you from how to cook it, how to eat it, and from whence it comes. He also wrote "The Man Who Ate Everything" which was an earlier assemblage of his Vogue columns -- which is what "It Must Be Something" is as well. Still, you'll never be as well informed about what you're putting into your craw as when reading Mr. Steingarten -- or as hungry.

5. "Oblivion," for it....David Foster Wallace -- okay, Eno, you can go jumping from your ledge now. If it makes you feel any better, it's a compilation of short stories, with only maybe a couple dozen footnotes in the whole thing. DFW still hasn't learned to engage the hard return on his keyboard, and run-on sentences remain his milieu, but there's a couple doozies in there, as well as one or two that even in my opinion flopped. Nonetheless, good to see my boy back in action.

6. "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Tom Wolfe -- I just about wanted to marry "A Man in Full" so I was eager to read Wolfe's latest installment (although I waited for the paperback), and I'm only halfway through presently. Here, Wolfe takes on the college campus. As usual, he grabs onto three or four main characters and pushes you into their lives. At first, I was ready to bolt. Seeing Wolfe use what he presumes to be au courant college lingo (although he reportedly did tons of first-hand "research") can be painful. Like your parents asking you about this "M&M guy"...but once you get past the devices, and into the minds of your protagonist and supporting cast, you're as good as hooked. I'm very happy with the read so far and the tension that is building inside and between the characters promises (I hope) for quite the ending.


Flyer said...

The only one of those I've read is ...Charlotte Simmons (thanks Eno) and I agree with your, partial, review. I too loved A Man In Full and was enthusiastic about reading another Wolfe masterpiece. It's a very solid story and the main characters, while archetypes in some respects, are excellently done. Wolfe uses some of the same literary patterns in many of his stories (the two mentioned and Bonfire of the Vanities being the three I've read), like his tendency to obsessivley describe the muscular definition of at least one of his characters (somebody's always flexing their lattisimus dorsi or their sternocleidomastoid is bulging). Other than that I liked it.

Razor said...

Yeah, Tommy definitely has a umm, thing for the young muscular college athlete...