Friday, July 31, 2009


Man, the heat has been killing my ability to do anything, including post. Here's hoping the heat wave really is gone. Here are a few things I noticed of late.

Are the Misfits the ultimate New Jersey band? Idolator says yes. I just know they rule.

Here is a nice bit on the parodies of that scene in Downfall. The Hillary one remains my fave.

I've long had a fascination with LA. In my imagination, it is a sunny sort of place with all manner of evil lurking just beneath. Yes, yes, the very images from LA Confidential. For the longest time, I thought it was Ellroy's LA Quartet that created my fascination. It should be Chandler, I know, but there you are. In reality, I think it was Axl Rose who did. I have been listening to Appetite for Destruction again and I am pretty sure it is songs like My Michelle that nestled in my brain and created the fascination.

This post makes me consider, at least, reading Vollman's massive book Imperial.

Have you tried the limited edition coconut M&Ms? Not bad.

The future's so grim, I gotta wear shades

If you are looking for a brief story about a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, Genesis is your book. The framing device is an entry exam to the Academy, an elite and apparently ruling organization in a future polity modeled on Plato's Republic. The candidate has four hours to present an argument in hopes of joining the mysterious institution. Candidate Anaximander chooses to discuss the life of Adam Fforde, a key historical figure in this world.

Author Bernard Beckett packs quite a bit into this slim volume. You get discussions of artifical intelligence, the role of memes in society, the role of the state and power and commentary on the current world. If that seems like a lot to pack into a short book, it is. Not only that, but we get a mix of Biblical and ancient Greek references. These make sense for the story that Beckett tells, but I think it muddles the book a bit.

The ideas flow by so fast that they can get lost. In the end, I think this is OK, as the book is more about a story of politics and the ideas give flavor to the ultimate resolution. This one got quite a bit of buzz, I think because of the post-apocalyptic element which continues to find favor in today's media. The Wall Street Journal has a nice piece on upcoming post-apocalyptic movies and TV. It's worth a read.

New Rennie Airth

I knew this Rennie Airth, who certainly takes his time between novels, had a new one coming out, but I am a little surprised it is set in World War 2. The NYT Crime column has a brief positive review. Like the prior books, it featured damaged hero John Madden. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to read River of Darkness, the first Madden book, for first time, please read it now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

M-O-O-N, that spells good science fiction

Moon is great fun and something of which I hope we see more, the small intelligent hard science fiction film. The set-up is simple. Sam (played by Sam Rockwell) is coming to the end of a three year tour as the only human employee of a mining operation on the far side of the moon. He is getting ready for the return trip when things start getting a little strange.

Fortunately the strange all makes scientific sense without getting into hand waving fantasy that plagues the science fiction movie world. The movie has a tiny cast, and Sam Rockwell has nearly all the screen time (the robot voiced by Kevin Spacey is the next most prominent.) Given that, he does a great job portrayed a confused person.

Thinky sci-fi movies can become glacial bores, but that isn't the case here. The movie has its fair share of tension and surprises, but it keeps the story on track as well. This one is worth watching before it goes to DVD.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On spoilers

Spoilers are a tricky thing. Most of us know not to reveal an ending, but reviews in particular are guilty of effectively revealing the ending. I am guilty of this myself I have at some point mentioned that a story reminded me of An Occurrence at Owl Creek. If you haven't read that Ambrose Bierce story then go read it and then come back. Now, if you know the story, it has a particular ending that has been re-used many times. By referencing that story you are planting the seed of that sort of ending, or at the very least the notion of the twist ending.

The thing is, I as a reader, or movie watcher, do not want to know that there is a twist ending. More than half the fun of the twist is the jolt of surprise. Most twists themselves are fairly boring (he/she is actually insane and criminal/his momma is his aunt/we are but a dream of sleeping cockroaches,) but well presented they are wonderful. Once we expect them, they look like a parlor trick.

This makes all manner of things difficult to cite. If I mention Angelheart, you probably won't think about creepy ladies scrubbing blood off the wall. I suppose this really only affects thrillers, but I must say it vexes me.


Just back from the coast where it was warm to the furnace of Portland. Oh for air conditioning.

Anyway, George Packer has some nice bits on the New Yorker blog. He has me excited for Fred Kaplan's book 1959. Even better, his review of the war movie Hurt Locker, which he quite liked. Here is the first para:

I didn’t particularly want to go see “The Hurt Locker,” because every other Iraq war movie I’ve seen managed to portray American soldiers as psychopaths in a crude, politically overdetermined video game, with the same hand-held camera tricks and heavy-metal score creating a nauseating sense of randomness and meaninglessness. But “The Hurt Locker” turned out to be the first good movie about the war I’ve seen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Night They Drove Old Glory Down

So I watched CSA, the faux documentary/expose about a modern Confederate States of America that occupies all of the continental territory of the United States today. I am of two minds on this movie. The commentary on race relations and the unfinished business of the Civil War and Reconstruction is great and quite well done. The alternate history, which drives the narrative and can't be avoided, is terribly flawed and drove me to frustration.

First the good parts. The framing device is that a British documentary is being shown on Confederate TV in San Francisco. When the show goes to commercial break, a number of cutting ads are shown. This one starts out normal, but wait for the finish. Far better are the ones that show the celebration of the CSA or the racism that lingers or was once more prominent. This ad for Sambo X-15 is a good example. There is also an excellent spoof on Cops, which often has cops beating on black men, called Runaways, where cops beat on runaway slaves. The movie definately puts stereotypes and our easy acceptance of them in culture right in our faces. So well done there.

The alternate history on the other hand is really quite bad. The film-maker wanted to have the whole country be the CSA, the better to compare our society with a more explicitly racist one. Fair enough, but it is simply not credible to have the CSA occupy the entire US, even with the help of the British and French. What's more, world history follows along more or less the same even though the CSA is building a giant empire, except in Canada. Canada, which cannot be defended against an aggressive continental power to the south, has to exist so they can make it the nicey-nice country to which to compare to the CSA. There is yet more that goes wrong (it is hard to see Hitler arising in the world he portrays, yet he does) but the point is, if you care about counterfactuals, this will drive you crazy.

I recommend you rent it, but fast forward to all the commercial segments.

Theres so much you have to know

As part of Citizen Reader's Book Menage, I read Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Bissell addresses the first question I had about this book in the opening sentences of the book. Do we really need yet another book on Vietnam? Bissell says that he has grown up with the war because of how it changed and affected his father. Although the book centers on a trip to Vietnam that Bissell takes with his father, it is also a book with rich analysis of the war.

The analysis may be too much for some people. He spends pages and pages going over certain periods like the evacuation of Saigon, the Tet offensive and the My Lai massacre. I found that Bissell was remarkably even-handed. Although he leans left and his father constantly calls him my son, the communist, (depsite Bissell having written about the disastrous communist rule of Central Asia), he is just as prone to point out the wrongs of the Vietnamese as he is the wrongs of the United States in the war. He opposes the war, but he does not believe the North or the NLF were the good guys.

The sections of the book that deal with the father son relationship are touching and often sad. Bissell was hoping to find and understand the happy man who went to Vietnam, only to be replaced by a quiet withdrawn man. It seems that father and son become a little closer than they were before hand, but there is no great epiphany or reconciliation in the book. I was left hoping that when they got back to the United States, they managed to engage deeper, but it wasn't clear what would happen.

All in all, a very good book.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Population 485

I doubt I would have read Michael Perry's Population 485 if it wasn't for Citizen Reader's Book Menage. I am happy to read most non-fiction, but I wasn't naturally drawn to a book about working as a volunteer fireman in a small Wisconsin town. I have to give thanks to CR, because the book is a great read.

The book is divided into a number of essays on topics like the impact of dangerous road corners, the first time you puke as an EMT, dealing with the death of someone you know on the road and living in a small town. One of my favorite chapters is called Tricky. It tells the story of a local ne'er do well named Tricky who crashes his car into the laundromat. Perry relates how the fire department deals with the accident from traffic control to triage to clean up. The accident victims bizarre behavior spices up the story and so does Perry's description of the town. He is given to multiple threads in his essays and this one features a defense of country living and lifestyles, including yard art.

Although the tone of the stories vary and the book is often quite humorous, the overall, there is an overall tone of seriousness set by the opening and closing essays. These two stories center on tragic accidents and while they are quite different they are both deeply affecting, without being exploitative. The last accident involves a family member and his treatment is particularly good here.

Perry is a great writer and a stalwart defender of small town life and I want to read his other books, Truck: A Love Story and Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Farming.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This is true

Vulture has it right, the new Pearl Jam single is the best thing they have done in years. I heard it this morning and drove around the block a few times so I could hear it all. Called the Fixer, it reminds me quite a bit of Whip It in message, an apparently unironic message about getting things done in nice pop rock package.

Menage at Citizen Reader

Head over to Citizen Reader where you can participate in the latest Book Menage. This time it is a pair of memoirs. The first is Michael Perry's Population 485, a collection of essays about living and working in a small Wisconsin town. The second is Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son and the Legacy of Vietnam, which is part travelogue, part story of familial relationships and part history. I'll have reviews of each in the coming days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


As one should with most movies, I went into Timecrimes with almost no knowledge. Thanks to the title, I assumed it would similar to the confusing, time travel crime story Primer. Those looking for a plotline that requires note taking as found in Primer will be disappointed, but if you want a simple, bleak, but still entertaining story will enjoy this one. I'm no expert, but I thought it obeyed the various "rules" of time travel well. In fact, at about the half way point, I worried the story was going to go down a boring path. It turned out not to be the case and I thought the ending payoff was strong, if dark.

Rather than say more, I entreat you to take a look the short film, 7:35 in the morning that got director Nacho Vigalondo the funding to make Timecrimes.

Friday, July 17, 2009


The best live show I have ever seen was a Superchunk show. They walked on announced that they were a band from North Carolina and tore up the Crystal Ballroom. Of course I love Slack Motherfucker, the Gen X anthem, and Seed Toss, but but my absolute favorite is Without Blinking. It is unapologetic alterna-guitar rock of the variety we now rarely see. If you can see them live, be sure to do so.

Crash course in dude surgery

So yesterday I went into the hospital for some (very minor) surgery. There I was, all naked in my hospital gown and stressed when my doctor came in with a science fiction paperback. My first thought was, dude, sweet, science fiction, nice choice. My second thought was DUDE WHAT THE FUCK, you are reading a novel before you use the tools on me? My third thought was, well I guess I am glad you are feeling pretty confident and not freaking out about it. Then I was going to sleep. It obviously turned out OK.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You could have it so much better

So I was pretty excited for Warren Fahy Fragment, a heavily promoted novel about a lost island with a divergent ecosystem, said to be in the spirit of Jurassic Park and the Ruins. Well I read it, and it isn't like those books. Let's start with the Ruins. That book is, I think falsely, viewed as a thriller. Like Smith's only other book, the amazing A Simple Plan, the book is a rich study of torment, both emotional and physical. Fragment is many things, but it is not strong on emotions or characters. The death toll has no apparent impact on the characters other than to make them grimly determined. The book's two rivals, meant to portray different versions of science, are laughably stereotypical, one angelic and one eeeeeeevviilllll.

The comparison to Jurassic Park is also inapt. Crichton always (after Andromeda Strain, at least) put story before science. He let it support and ground the story, but not derail it. Fahy just loves his material too much. He provides paragraph after paragraph of example, theory and idea. The examples are the worst, where one might suffice, he is happy to provide five. He also chops up the action with a bit too much description of the monsters.

When it comes time to tell the story, the book works pretty well. The set-up is great as a reality show science expedition stumbles onto the Lost World, a violent ecosystem similar to that in the Skinner. We get a pair of redshirt holocausts, political infighting and a number of imaginative horrors. The book shifts from adventure mode to political thriller as changed viewpoints lead the surviving characters in a race against time.

If this were a movie (and I am sure it will be), I would say you should Netflix it. As it is, head down to the library for this one. I tore through it, but my pleasure decayed as the book continued. I hope the next one is better.

A question to which I don't really need the answer

After a delightful lunch at Russell Street BBQ, my eldest and I walked past a thrift store. I saw a stack of the Left Behind series up for quick sale. I recall these being the top of the news for quite awhile, but talk is mostly done. I wonder what the Millenarians read now?

The Show that Smells

Derek McCormack's The Show That Smells isn't your average read. It reads like a screenplay and features Lon Chaney, Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and an unfortunate country singer suffering from consumption. It reminded me quite a bit of a John Waters film, something out of the Polyester era, not quite as crazy as his early work, but not for the masses either. The humor is strange, scatalogical and sexual. It's experimental, probably a bit too experimental for me, but should appeal to fans of outre post-modern fiction.

You can read an excerpt here. McCormack will be at Hawthorne Powells tomorrow, July 16 at 7:30. I suspect hearing him read from the book will be particularly interesting.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting into Phish

Not me silly, Carrie Brownstein. She of Monitor Mix asked what bands people liked that their friends could not understand. Phish came up huge. She realized that people had opinions about the band without ever listening to them. She has challenged herself to become a Phish fan and you can watch this video as she drives down to the record store to swap CDs for a bunch of new Phish ones. It's quite funny.

I actually attended a Phish show in 1993 (it may have been 1994, I don't remember). It was a Phish heading lining HORDE tour. I was a little, uh, under the influence, so I honestly don't recall much. Even whether they played Reba, a song I honestly like. Here they are playing it at fan favorite Hampton Coliseum.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Scandal in the Asquith Cabinet

Once I find a writer I like, I tend to binge on them. I stop when I have had enough or when I realize I am about to exhaust the oeuvre. In the mid-90s I read all of Robertson Davies and was sad when I all I had left was personal letters and the like. I similarly tore through Patrick Robinson's and Dennis Lehane's crime novels and the Barset Chronicles by Anthony Trollope. Robert Goddard's body of work turned out to be too large to consume all at once. Already in the teens when I started him, I read four or five in a row. loving them all, and then moved on. His books were great, but I guess I had enough of moody, English thrillers for the time.

I had forgotten about him until Stephen King came out calling him his top read for 2008. I picked up a copy of Past Caring late last year and just got to it this week. It was actually even better than I recalled.

Past Caring is lengthy, but that is because it has to fit in the diaries of a long dead British minister as well as the historical research of the less than ideal Martin Radford. Radford is a failed academic and teacher who seems to enjoy drink more than books. A chance visit to Madeira leads him to hunt down the story of Edwin Strafford, a rising political star in 1910 who disappeared from politics for mysterious reasons. As he digs deeper, Radford finds that there are those who wish to keep the story buried along with Strafford.

This book works better than most thrillers because he is interested in his characters as well as his plots. This makes the book twice as long as many similar books, but it is well worth the investment. At many points in the back half, I thought I could tell where the book was going only to have the plot shift in a surprising way. The ending was also true to the characters and did a great job tying it all together.

I think I am going to get on another Goddard jag now.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Unjustly forgotten

There are a lot of reasons that most people are unaware of how great a song Kim Gordon's Panties. The most important of course is the band name. When you call your band Rapeman, you are asking for people to hate you. It doesn't help that the output is, overall, the low point of Steve Albini's recording career. Sure you have an amazing song about the combination of low self esteem and sex addiction, and a nice song about how vegetarians should shut up about the meat eating, but overall, the output is not great.

Kim Gordon's Panties, though, is fantastic. Really. Not only is a bizarre paean to Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, but it is also a salute to the Sonic Youth song Schizophrenia. In the song, Albini sings that Thurston Moore, husband of Kim Gordon is not getting any play. Incredulous, Albini claims that if he "had that to go home to, I'd never leave my bed." He then goes on to claim that any red blooded male would act differently. Not surprisingly, the Sonic Youth folks didn't take kindly to this and dedicated Beat on The Brat covers to Albini in subsequent shows.

Even though much of my enjoyment of the song comes from the sophomoric humor, I love the musical build up and the drum crescendo mid-way through the song. Listen for yourself.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Of course work sucks

William Browning Spencer is an underappreciated novelist in the vein of Tim Powers, James Blaylock and Jonathan Carroll. He writes stories of men, often writers, beset by terrible supernatural forces. I loved his Zod Wallop and I recently got my hands on a copy of his Resume with Monsters. When I say underappreciated, you should read that also as out of print. The status of his book would certainly vex his main character, Phillip Kenan, who fights through dead end job after dead end job in hopes of getting his massive novel published.

Phillip's daily drudgery is made all the worse by this constant combat with Lovecraftian forces. I don't mean alluding to Lovecraft, but actual Cthulhu mythos creatures like Azathoth and the Old Ones. This shouldn't work well, but until the very end of the book, it is not clear whether Kenan is delusional or is really fighting eldrictch foes. Spencer writes the loner who no one believes quite well.

Spencer spends a lot of time satirizing the work place in this book. It gets better as it goes along. It isn't a pretty vision, as he has hate for companies large and small, but I still found it amusing.

This book is a bit like the Atrocity Archives, and a lot like the Kings of Infinite Space. I think the author of the latter was more than a little inspired by Spencer's book. The latter book is funnier, but the Spencer book has its charms. The most significant are the wild swings in plot. Much of what happens is completely unexpected. The book is a tad long for what it is, but it is worth reading. Note, I tried this book three years ago and gave up on it. Here is what I thought then. Starting over, I can see why I gave up on it, but I am glad I stuck with it. I was somehow more ready for it this time.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Douglas Preston, of the Preston Child writing duo, writes some of the better techno/scifi thrillers out there. His most recent novel Blasphemy is another fun one, but it feels a bit calculated to create controversy. There is a disclaimer in the back about how the book is not anti-religious, since the hero is a practicing Catholic and former monk.

Still, the book involves crazed fundamentalists creating acts of intense mayhem and a crooked television preacher riling up the rubes. The end of the book also calls into question the notion that the book isn't anti-religious.

With this in mind, the book is a good thriller, with red herrings, mounting tension and lots of action. It isn't his best, but it works pretty well.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Nice sentence

I burned through a number of Robert Goddard's novels back in the late 90s. I burned out and moved on, but I just recently picked up his first one called Past Caring. I have to thank a recent Stephen King hat tip for rekindling my interest. Any doubts about the read were dispelled by the excellent first sentence* which is below:

The spring of 1977 found me, newly past thirty, a bad case of wasted talent in a largely waste city - an unemployed, divorced ex-schoolteacher of foundered promise and dismal prospect.

That's really packing in some info in a sentence.

*Technically not the first sentence as there was a brief prologue.


The parody of the NYT bestseller list is quite funny. Sometimes it satirizes specific books, other times whole genres as in Cracked Like Teeth by Dexter Egan: A memoir of petty crime, drunken brawls and recovery by a writer who was addicted to paint thinner by age nine.

Do you miss the days of the Creature Feature with the local host with the spooky name and bad make up? I certainly have fond memories. In my case, we had Dr. Madblood, who is still doing his thing, and then some other guy who wore green make up and did a lot of extreme close ups. i09 has some clips from one of these old shows that makes me think I wouldn't like it as much these days.

Awhile back I saw a video that replaced the lyrics to an A-ha! video with a literal description of what was going on. That one was funny, but the one for Total Eclipse of the Heart is funnier.

Monday, July 06, 2009

McNamara RIP

Until the coming of Rumsfeld, we had yet to have as complex a Secretary of Defense as Robert Strange McNamara. There are a lot of takes on him out there like a nod to his World Bank work at Marginal Revolution, this negative one from Mickey Kaus via Matthew Yglesias, a short take from Robert Farley that leads to others, and a thoughtful note from Kevin Drum.

Update: As I suspected, Stephen Walt's take is direct and brutal.

I will sidestep giving an opinion and instead beg that you watch the Fog of War. Don't watch it to judge whether McNamara should be forgiven or not. Watch it to see one of the best ruminations on war on film. We can only hope that Rumsfeld does something like this eventually. The full movie is embedded below:

It's the same old thing

I love the Ramones. No matter what happens, the Ramones will always be greater gods of my rock pantheon. The first four records are astounding, the next four solid and the follow on albums are, to be kind, so so. I feel the same way about the films of George Romero. His early works are excellent and worthy of horror film canonization.) His recent effort, the Diary of the Dead, is crap.

Diary of the Dead combines two moribund approaches to film making, zombie social commentary and Point of View film making. Zombie movies are mostly played at this point(although I hold out hopes that World War Z will be good,) but this movie is killed by the use of the point of view style.

The movie's characters are a group of film students making a horror movie in the PA forests when they hear about the zombie attacks. While they pack up the film crew RV and head to their families, one of them decides to film for posterity. There is some pushback from his friends, but they mostly go along with it. The device becomes more and more unbeliveable as the film continues. They film while people are being killed or while they are in huge peril. This is a comment on media, I know, but I doubt college kids would act the way they do in this movie.

I suppose everyday conversation can be as stilted and ridiculous as the dialogue in this movie, but I doubt it. The acting doesn't help. Most annoying of all is the film school teacher who takes breaks from his booze drinking only to deliver horrendously cheesy pronouncements of world weariness.

There is a sequel to this film being made now. If I hadn't seen this film and wanted to take a guess at its likely quality, I could take note that one of the characters is named "Nicotine" Crockett. I hope Don Johnson gets the role.

Crack Up

Big Black is one of those bands which attracts eternal followers. One of the tasks of the followers is to gather all of the desiderata. If you want giant hooks, you have come to the right place. Rather than forcing you to buy the otherwise uninteresting God's Favorite Dog, here is Crack Up.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

USA books

Happy Independence Day! Here are a few good books on the US that I have enjoyed.

The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S Wood. It dispels the notion that the American revolution was a conservative affair.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff. The title is not ironic.

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson. It's thick but it is good one stop shopping for the Civil War.

The USA trilogy by John Dos Passos. For the literary minded, this critical take of the early 20th century is outstanding.

Special Providence by Walter Mead Russell. The best treatment of American foreign policy that I have yet found.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Newsweek loves books

I like the new Newsweek. The longer articles are better and the new visual style is fresh and appealing. I am most happy though that the new issue is titled What To Read Now. The title refers to a book list that is more interesting than the typical top books list. Starting any list with an Anthony Trollope is going to make me happy, but I was particularly happy to see Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes. He remains an underappreciated crime novelist and I hope to see his books re-released.

There are also author interviews, the "best books ever" by a few experts, and other articles including this one on re-reading books. Jonathan Lethem's photo tour of literary New York is worth a peek too.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Kids today

It's easier to be a fan of genre writing than literary writing. If your favorite author comes out with something you don't like, you can take solace in that he or she will pump out another one in a year, or even less. Some literary writers take so many years between books that we have to make do with the occasional essay or short story.

So I am excited that Michael Chabon has a new essay in the NY Review of Books. It is titled the Wilderness of Childhood and it is about the cult of safety that parents, including Chabon himself, in which parents today find themselves mired.

He speaks to the possible impact on literature, as kids who do not explore have less chance of developing an adventurous imagination. He also talks about the conflict he feels as a parent:

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children's imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn't encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

(via Bookstorm)

Last week we were at Eagle Crest, a vacation spot in Central Oregon. In the evening, the kids from connecting condos would rush out and play amongst the golf course trees. I remember doing this almost every night as a kid, but this was out of the ordinary for my kids.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Short takes

Here are a few notes on some recent reads.

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James McPherson. Written by the leading popular authority on the Civil War, this is a concise study of Lincoln as military commander. This is not a military history, but a easy to understand study in civil-military relations. It is easy enough for the uninitiated, but also helpful to fans who want to understand why Lincoln put up with the incompetents as long as he did.

Postcards from Tomorrow Square by James Fallows. This is a collections of Fallows China essays for the Atlantic. The quality is high, so you will probably want to read them all. Unlike other collections, I actually read this one cover to cover. It is typical Fallows, plenty of insight in reader friendly prose.

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson. This one didn't do it for me. The small time crooks trying to game one another felt like a Elmore Leonard novel with more hard boiled language. It wasn't bad, but I didn't care enough about the story to get fully invested.