What it's all about...

The purpose of this blog is simple: Reading

My friends and me used to get immense joy from reading great books, sharing them, and maybe discussing them over a few beers. We no longer live in close proximity and for most of us free time comes at a premium.

This year, I have made it a personal goal of mine to turn off the TV and read more. I got through 3 books pretty quickly and realized that I wanted "that old thing back" - that community of being able to share these great books with others, so the blog was born.

If you see a book review and the book sounds interesting and you want to purchase the book, you can do so by directly linking to Amazon.com through a text link on the book title. I will be donating all proceeds (probably .15 this year) to Reading Is Fundamental (

Monday, January 14, 2008


Disgrace (Penguin Essential Editions)
By J.M. Coetzee
Book Reporter: Complaint Department

Disgrace reads easily, the prose being straight forward and easy to digest. Yet, the meaning behind the words Coetzee chooses, the way he strings together his ideas and his intentions, is complex and powerful. Disgrace centers around an aging professor who's most recent affair with a very young student has left him without his career, his few friends and his home. He retreats to his daughter's farm where he attempts to re-connect with her, hoping to, maybe, salvage the only thing he has left in his life.

The professor is snobbish, hopelessly stuck in a severe mid-life crisis, and stubbornly insistent on living life the way he wants to, by his own set of rules, no matter how ill-advised his friends and family may feel that choice is. His life is joyless, bereft of any passion and one gets the impression that this is a sullen man who never smiles, never laughs. He is, to put it mildly, very unlikeable.

When he and his daughter are brutally attacked by several men, the consequences that follow and the choices that are made are both frustrating and, sadly, unavoidable in the post-Apartheid South Africa where the story is set. There are several themes that thread themselves through the novel: one's place in the world, the relationships between humanity and the animal world, the political environment the characters live in, and (obviously) disgrace, shame and salvation (or the lack of it). It forces one to reexamine what it means to be alive, what it means to be human.

Bottom Line: Disgrace is both an easy read and a difficult one. It's tone is dark and it's message deep and yet, disarmingly simple. The characters make choices that are maddening: I often found myself wishing that they would fight back more, stand up for themselves. But this is the triumph of the book, no easy way out, no choice but to move forward and accept defeat. Coetzee is universally regarded as one of the world's most powerful writers and with Disgrace it's easy to see why.

Recommendation: STRONG READ

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rule of the Bone

Rule of the Bone: Novel, A
By Russell Banks
Book Reporter: MWP

Before I get to the review itself, I feel obliged to explain how Rule of the Bone found its way into my life (and subsequently many others).

Some time in 1995, one of my older brothers, while fulfilling his Culinary school externship in Northern California, stumbled upon Bone in a small bookstore and was intrigued by its title. You see, one of my other brothers has been nicknamed "Bone" for as long as I can remember, and the fact that there was a book about him ruling (albeit it extremely indirectly) was apparently enough to warrant a purchase.

I'm glad my brother made that purchase, because Rule of the Bone became, as far as yours truly and reading are concerned, an instant classic. The story, called by some a "modern-day Catcher in the Rye," draws you in from the opening line and keeps you engrossed until the final paragraph...

Meet Chap, a scrawny kid from Upstate New York who can't seem to keep himself out of trouble. You can blame it on an unhealthy relationship with his mother and stepfather, on his growing love of marijuana or on the fact that he hangs out with delinquints almost 10 years his senior. It really doesn't matter who you blame, though, because the adventures that he gets in as a result are nearly impossible to lose interest in (as are the quirky characters he comes in contact with).

Avid readers seem to constantly use the phrase "you won't be able to put it down" to garner interest in their most recent paperback love affair. I, unfortunately for you, will be no exception.

Banks's style, while a little awkward, makes for a very interesting read. A run-on sentence the size of a full paragraph is not uncommon, as the narrator's thoughts often drift unapologetically from one point to the next. I've read this book 4 or 5 times, and on more than one instance I would find myself re-reading a page to fully comprehend the story, if only for the fact that I didn't want to miss a single detail.

Bottom Line: It's hard to pin-point just how, exactly, Bone gripped my literary consciousness. I wrote this review over two years ago and, even though some of the details escape me, I will say this: if you consider yourself a fan of the adventurous or crave the type of interaction that only a vagabond could experience, I promise you will be compelled by what is ultimately an extremely emotional -- and at times hilarious -- coming-of-age story.

Recommendation: MUST READ

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Shakespeare Never Did This

Shakespeare Never Did This
By Charles Bukowski
Book Reporter: Joelman

Charles Bukowski's personal account of a late 1970's poetry tour of France and Germany is tactfully complemented by black and white stills taken by German photojournalist Michael Montfort, who accompanied Buk and Linda Lee (Buk's girlfriend) on the trip.

The photojournal is laid out like a coffee table book (landscape layout), with 1/2 of the content being Buk's personal account of the trip, 1/3 of the book being Montfort's photos, and the remainder being Buk's poems written while on the trip. This is great bedtime reading, and very entertaining. Having the photos along with Buk's personal journal make the book really come alive.

A few noteworthy scenarios standout. One involves Buk blacking out from too much wine while on a snooty French talk show and the second being a drunken field trip with his friends to a neighbor's residence that doubles as a whorehouse. I don't want to give away much more than that.

Bottom Line: If you are a Buk fanatic, you have read his work and moved on to documentaries or films like Factotum (great flick in my opinion). This book fills a fundamental space in between the two that is right on the mark. Buk-o-philes will walk away from this feast filled with delight. If you have not read any Bukowski you need to go buy some Buk or go waterboard yourself until you come to your senses.

Recommendation: STRONG READ

Friday, January 4, 2008

Allah Is Not Obliged

Allah is Not Obliged
By Ahmadou Kouruma
Book Reporter: Steak

Think "Rule of The Bone." Follow 10-year old boy solider Birahima through civil war-torn Africa in search of his Aunt. He smokes dope, gets laid, befriends war lords and kills innocent people. His companion is a medicine man Yacouba, who was once a rich, shady money-changer. Birahima starts his journey after his Mom dies. He and Yacouba must be quick on their feet, talking lies and other smack to navigate their way through the madness.

Birahima tells it all as it is. Fafaro! Gnamokode! Walahe!

Bottom Line: If want to know something about civil war and child soldiers in Africa, give this book a read. Some parts of the book reminded me of the movie "Blood Diamonds." The book won the prestigious Prix Renaudox award. The author, born in the Ivory Coast, died in 2003.

Recommendation: STRONG READ

Thursday, January 3, 2008

No Country For Old Men

No Country for Old Men
By Cormac McCarthy
Book Reporter: Complaint Department

Recently made into a film by the Coen Brothers, McCarthy's 2005 novel is complex and easy to misunderstand. It reads, at least for the first half, like a taut crime thriller following a good ole boy named Moss who stumbles across the remains of a drug deal gone very bad. He discovers a satchel filled with over $2M in cash and soon finds himself being hunted by a series of Mexican drug runners as well as two paid bounty hunters, one of whom may or may not be "the ultimate bad-ass". As Moss's bravado and machismo prove to be less and less effective against each person hunting him, he soon starts running out of viable options that will keep him alive.

The book takes a sudden turn about halfway though and becomes much more philosophical switching nearly all of it's gears in tone and texture. The aging sheriff investigating the whole affair takes a more prominent role as he reflects back on the poor choices he has made and the role this final case has taken in the final years of his life.

Bottom Line: Many have commented that the book offers little in the way of resolution, but that's only if you are looking at the surface. The book's heart actually has very little to do with the interplay between Moss and the guys hunting him and much more to do with the choices we make in life. At it's core, like nearly all of McCarthy's work, lies a cynical statement on defeat. It's a great book, but certainly not "beach reading" or a fun way to spend the afternoon while on vacation.

Recommendation: STRONG READ

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Road to Los Angeles

The Road to Los Angeles
By John Fante

Book Reporter: Joelman

Our protagonist is Arturo Bandini, and Italian-American 20-something living in Los Angeles and supporting his sister and mother. Arturo fancies himself a literary and cultural superior to those around him, particularly his mother and sister (both of whom are devout Catholics). Our hero struggles with his status as the "bread winner" and the fact that he is only professionally viable as a manual laborer. In his own mind, Bandini pumps himself up as a womanizer, a man to be feared, and a talented author. In fact, Bandini is a fool, mocked by the Mexican and Filipino laborers that work alongside him. The interplay between his real life and the life he lives in his head is humorously entertaining (if not slightly biting). Despite Bandini's obvious flaws and delusions, you can't help but wonder if he will ever finally break free from his real and imagined chains and become someone.

Bottom line: The "Great Bandini" is a humorous and interesting protagonist, one that lives with intense inner monologue that makes anyone feel sane by comparison. Bandini's "acting out" is something that most angst-filled young men can identify with, making him a timeless protagonist.

Recommendation: Strong Read

The Wine of Youth

The Wine of Youth
By John Fante

Book Reporter: Joelman

This book is a compilation of short stories (likely with an autobiographical thread) that take place during Fante's youth as an Italian American growing up in Colorado. Fante works where many themes converge: growing up Catholic & Italian, dealing with dysfunctional parents, alcoholism, and poverty. These common themes thread together the different stories like familiar snapshots. Growing up Catholic is the dominant theme, and entire stories are dedicated to the sacraments - particularly the sacrament of reconciliation.

Fante does an outstanding job of re-creating the world of his youth where he and his brothers share a bed and must bring in coal for their mother each morning. This is a world where our hero is dominated by the nuns who consistently regard our hero with disdain. Our hero's father, Guido, a mason, goes on multi-day benders while his mother locks herself in her room to cry the days away. It is a sad and cold world that shows what poverty can do to a family and the resolve that it often instills in its children - to get the hell out and never look back.

Bottom Line: This is a great book to read if you are a Fante fan or someone that grew up Catholic or around Catholocism.

Recommendation: READ