Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Friday

We have to start moving if we're every going to get there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Buying Book Reviews, or Am I Doing It Wrong?

People make money reviewing books. I knew this.

People make money posting fake reviews on websites like Amazon and Goodreads. I suppose I understood this to be true.

But people make a living doing this?

It sounds like a scam; if I put it in email format, it would get sucked into your email junk box along with the Nigerian prince and the chain letter from Aunt Martha.

But when I read about people making $28k per month, I think to myself, am I doing it wrong?

Not that I'm interested in selling out, posting fake praise, boilerplate reviews, or demanding money for a review. To consider reviewing a book, all I ask for is a copy of the book. And I've got a queue of reviews to write, including some books that, damn it, I am going to finish reading just in case the last chapter moves me in ways the first two dozen chapters haven't.

I'd like to rush to a moral judgement. I mean, seriously, Todd Rutherford and people like him seem to be savvy enough to make this buck another way. So, muddling the process of reviewing books with money is a desecration (and yes, I'm willing to invoke desecration in all its contexts; it is blasphemous, it is profane, it is a violation of the divine).

But there's a small part of me that wishes, though I'm keeping it tucked away beneath the part that swears I would never- there's a part of me that wonders:

Why didn't I think of that?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

In his memoir One Bullet Away, Nate Fick shares his story of joining the Marine Corps as an officer, and deploying just before the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Fick's story, told in ways that are both too glib and too frank, confuses the hell out of me.

I understand the call to serve. I understand the frustration that clearly mounts as he is thrust into war zones, in Afghanistan and again in Iraq, that his training did not fully prepare him for by commanders more interested in jockeying for promotion than in the safety of Fick's platoon.

But I don't understand who Fick was writing for. Who does he think will love his book?

Fick starts off with a glorification of war, of the Marines, of martial life that is, to me, off-putting. "The grunt life was untainted," he writes. "Being a Marine... was a rite of passage in a society becoming so soft and homogenized that the very concept was often sneered at." I could spend all day trying to unpack what Fick means by "soft," but I think the quote shares the flavor of the opening chapters, and the hard-soft motif resurfaces throughout the memoir's nearly 400 pages.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review: World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler

My lovely wife brought me the audiobook of World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler, so we could listen to it together on our way to my 10 year high school reunion. And I have to think back that far to remember I book as terrible as World Made by Hand.

I love post-apocalyptic literature, from the deathly serious, like Lord of the Flies, to anything as glib as Slapstick. I think that this kind of science-fiction gives us the chance to see humanity reduced to its roots. In the same way that Hemingway strove to boil things down, to write "one true sentence," the post-apocalyptic world brings the true things into focus.

There are two common mistakes.

The first kind of mistake is what I call the Rabbit Hole Mistake. The author imagines a world so vast, so complex, so different from our own that describing that world takes all of the air out of the book. Tolkien didn't make that mistake in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, but if you've ever tried to read any of his notes, The Silmarillion, or the unpublished tales, you quickly understand that you've gone too far down the rabbit hole.

The second mistake (I think, the worse mistake) and the mistake of World Made by Hand is the Tract Mistake. You'd know a tract if you saw one. The Bible thumpers hand them out on street corners. At restaurants where I've worked, the after church brunch crowd would always leave them on the table, often wrapped in (or in lieu of) my tip.

A tract is poorly written, littered with straw men and false corollaries, and exists only to foist the author's belief upon us. A tract novel exists in a limbo, marketed to adults, but written with all the grace and subtlety of a children's chapter book (which is to say, none of the grace or subtlety that makes writing interesting to me).

Kunstler believes that the United States is hurtling towards the end of the world's oil supply. In World Made by Hand, America loses the war for the last oil, and nuclear bombs destroy Los Angeles and Washington DC. Somehow, in his telling, America has the resources for war, the world sees the end coming, but instead of dumping billions of dollars into solar, hydro and wind power, our leaders (and all of us) step happily off the ledge. But don't think too much about how we got here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Cruel to Be in Reviewing a Book

I recently finished the audiobook of one of the worst books I've ever read.

I mean it. It was terrible. So this site has been silent while I dig around for what to say.

I love reading the NYTimes' movie reviews. Their reviews are always informative, written at a high level and show a mastery of the genre. But they become something magic when it's time to pan a lousy blockbuster.

Go ahead: read A.O. Scott's review of The Cat in the Hat.

I want to write like that: to eviscerate an author who probably spent less time thinking through the premise of his novel than I've now spent thinking about what to say.

At the same time, I never want to be cruel to someone who has endeavored to create art and failed.

Writing is hard. Impossibly hard. Doubt it? Go ahead: click the link to "Next Blog" that's at the top left hand corner of this page. I had to click 5 times to find a blog that had been updated this month. To write demands discipline, focus, and talent.

I never want to mistake a lack of talent for a lack of focus or discipline. So, although there are more and more calls out there for us to be brutal in our book reviewing, I try to let my gut reaction settle before I write. I will not say untrue kindnesses, but I will find (if I can) points to praise before I find points to demean.

Unless the book is World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler. The worst book I've read this decade.

Full review to follow.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Happy Friday

Posts coming-
I've had a post-apocalyptic week of reading including The Hunger Games and World Made by Hand.
I've let work swallow big chunks of my time and mind, but in between I've been thinking about some board games and I've been buried in an old video game, so there's a post peculating on the comforts of a familiar game.
Later today, I'm off to the Chess & Rockets summer camp (oh yes!) to be a part of their camp ending Bughouse tournament.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy Friday

So this weekend is my 10 year high school reunion.

I don't have any of the stereotypical feelings- there's no one I dread seeing, I'm perfectly content with where I am in my life and how I look, and 10 years doesn't make me feel old.

But I know I'm getting older because I'm not looking forward to the road trip, 6 hours in the car probably through the rain.

So here's a song that was stuck in my CD player 10 years ago.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Drift by Rachel Maddow, Book Review

from here
I don't write about politics much here, but Rachel Maddow's brilliant Drift demands that I do.

America is in a weird place in regards to its military right now, and Maddow makes a compelling case that our historical moment is unique and the unintended consequence of a series of well intended decisions.

We have an all volunteer force, a political necessity as part of the post-Vietnam reaction to the draft. But part of the reason that Vietnam War dragged on was because the draft, at that point, had been watered down with exemptions. By allowing so many young men out of military service, we lessened the war's impact at home.

We've continued this trend in the years since: outsourcing security details to mercenaries like Blackwater, issuing stop-loss assignments for members of the National Guard, and acting at home (from a policy perspective) as though we're not at war abroad.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Open Mic Day

It's Open Mic Day over at Hazel & Wren, so I'll be leaving comments on people's poems over there.

You should leave a comment on mine.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Happy Friday

Happy Friday!
Counting minutes because it's First Friday, so it will be a night out and I need it.
I wonder how many games of Catan I can cram into this weekend?