January Reading Round-Up

The Racketeer by John Grisham

The Racketeer by John Grisham

I haven’t read a Grisham book in years, but I don’t remember them being this gleefully devious.  The protagonist, Malcom Bannister, isn’t a noble lawyer on a crusade against social ills or injustices – he’s brilliant lawyer who’s been wronged and hatches an elaborate revenge scheme.  The Count of Monte Cristo meets Matlock.  Grisham keeps the story moving and the characters interesting making this a quick and exciting read.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

I’m a fan of the low-brow.  Television shows, Billy Joel, potty humor, Dumb and Dumber.  So, it’s fun to see these topics discussed in an intellectually interesting way.  Klosterman’s book is full of essays on video games, internet porn, 80’s rom-coms, Saved by the Bell, and a host of other eclectic and decidedly low-culture topics.  Klosterman’s writing is hilarious and he dissects these subjects with surprising insight.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Gareth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I don’t often cry myself to sleep.  But, finishing this wonderful novel at 3AM, I couldn’t help myself.  Stein tells the story of a broken family through the eyes of the one member insightful and wise enough to see the big picture – the family dog.   All novels explore, in some way, what it means to be human.  To Enzo, the terrier protagonist, this exploration takes on a special meaning as he is convinced (after watching a History Channel documentary on the Mongolians) that he will return in his next life as a man.  While a bit of a gimmicky conceit, this book is told with such heart that any doubts about the inherent humanity of Enzo are quickly forgotten.

Escape From Camp Fourteen by Blaine Harden

Ecsape From Camp 14

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in Camp 14, one in a string of North Korean prison camps, from where he managed to escape through China to South Korea and eventually the USA.  This book is his story.  Far from the uplifting tale of survival against all odds, this book is a meditation on the consequences of a system which strips people of their humanity.  It’s a dark, disturbing book but an important one.

The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen

The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen

A nameless protagonist watches porn, plays X-box, watches more porn, hangs out with a gay friend, fantasizes about every female he sees, has sex with his girlfriend.  Repeat.  It’s lurid, misogynistic, outrageous, and offensive – and manages to induce quite a few gut wrenching laughing fits.  I’d never recommend this book.  To anyone, lest they get the wrong idea about my reading proclivities.  But I may very well end up reading the sequel…

World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z

Billed as an oral history of the zombie apocalypse, this novel is a collection of interviews with those people lucky enough to have survived humanity’s brush with collapse.  The zombie genre (like the vampire craze which preceded it) is getting worn a bit thin.  Yet, this book had enough imagination to remain interesting.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

This was a fascinating history of the 13th century Mongolian conqueror.  More than simply recounting Genghis Khan’s rise to power and his dynasty’s eventual conquest of  most of the known world, Weatherford examines Genghis Khan’s historical vilification.  While certainly a product of his time in terms of brutality and disregard for human life, Genghis Khan also championed an almost modern liberal worldview when it came to trade, religious freedom, racial harmony, and crime and punishment.  Weatherford makes a compelling argument that Khan’s vilification was more a result of his challenge to the status quo than it was due to his brutality and violence.

Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn by Jamie Maslin

Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn by Jamie Maslin

A botched book in both conception and presentation.  Harsh words, I know, but this was a travelogue of the worst kind: a privileged white guy’s charmed journey through a misunderstood and alien land. What’s so unfortunate about this tale is that it could have been an extremely interesting examination of a culture in flux.  Instead, he came across as a parody of the hippie backpacker, hitch hiking, sleeping on floors, and taking every opportunity to explain to the natives why George Bush and Tony Blair are war criminals.  His basic conceit – that all Westerners view Iranians as snarling terrorists – is just as offensive as the phantom ideologies which he professes to abhor.

Dear Life by Alice Munro

Dear Life by Alice Munro

An unfortunate collection of short stories which, while quite well written, failed to generate a single instance of genuine emotion in this reader.  I wanted to like this collection so much, and I felt like I should.  But I constantly found myself reading pages and immediately forgetting what the hell I was reading about.  And worse, I just didn’t care.





  1. Obviously one abhors books such as The Average American Male but it might be worth my time perusing this time, purely you understand as an educative experience, to gain a greater awareness nay understanding of this strata of American society and the socio-economic implications of it. Obviously it goes without saying that would be the only reason I would access this literature and any hint that one could experience any nefarious delight from this abhorrent volume would be strongly & vigorously denied.

    1. I concur. As primary source material shedding light on a particular subset of American society, this book is an invaluable research source. Further research may very well be necessary by reading the subsequent sequels solely for the academic pursuit of objective knowledge.

  2. It’s too bad Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn was so bad because it sounds like such an interesting concept. It unfortunately also sounds like it fails in the worst way ever.

    1. It was a pretty bad fail. I’ve read other travelogues that fell into a similar trap but were somewhat redeemed by witty or intelligent writing. Not this one. But, I am fascinated by that area of the world so, at the very least, my curiosity was piqued to read some real books about the subject.

  3. I loved World War Z too. I found it to be a surprisingly good book. In case you are interested, here’s a link to my review: http://maphead.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/about-time-i-read-it-world-war-z-by-max-brooks/
    Escape from Camp 14 is indeed a powerful book.I could not agree anymore with you. Here’s a link to myt review: http://maphead.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/escape-from-camp-14-by-blaine-harden/
    Even though Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World has been on my list to read for years, and I received a copy as a Christmas present last December sadly I’ve yet to start reading it. Perhaps be your review finally I will. Thanks! Keep up the good work!!

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