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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 4/8/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

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lefthandturnA Left-Hand Turn Around the World, by David Wolman. Reviewed by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

This might be a weird admission, but I’ve always wished I was a lefty. I’ve even spent time teaching myself to do things left-handed, though the results are invariably sloppier than my natural right-handed efforts. That aside, this book, which explores the history of left-handed sounds fascinating (Latin for left is sinister? I should have taken Latin in school). If this sounds familiar, it’s because Wolman was recently on an (also fascinating) episode of RadioLab talking about this stuff.

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Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, by Errol Fuller. Excerpted in Scientific American.

Not a review, strictly speaking, but this book looks pretty neat. The title pretty much explains it: the book is a compendium of documentation of animal species that no longer exist. It’s incredibly fucked up that the human race has managed to wipe out as much life as it has, and books like this are a good starting point for reflecting on all the damage progress leaves in its wake. Old nature photography is mesmerizing in its own right too, and particularly in the cases where, as the author notes, “the fact that photographers often had no idea how important their photos would become. They didn’t necessarily have any insight into the notion that their subject would soon become extinct.”

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Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue. Reviewed by Janet Maslin (New York Times).

Donoghue’s last book, Room, at once impressed and infuriated me. It got mostly love around the bookosphere despite, or perhaps due to, its gimmicky narrator. (The story was told from the maladjusted perspective of a 5 year old child of a kidnapped rape victim who had spent his entire life imprisoned in the same small room with his mother.) It doesn’t surprise me then, that without such a crutch there’s not much to like about Donoghue’s latest, which is based on an unsolved murder from the late 19th century. Maslin actually comes right out and says that the “afterword is a more interesting telling of the story.” Ouch.

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Quickly: Home Movies might be my favorite TV show off all time (though I think I’ve also said that about Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, and Miami Vice plenty), and I found this write up of the show particularly astute.I still haven’t read anything by Karen Russell, and I’m not sure I want to start here. John Paul Stevens is convinced Shakespeare wasn’t really the author of all that good stuff.

Albums as Texts: The Day the Country Died, by the Subhumans; Horror Epics, by the Exploited (’80s Hardcore)

“Micky Mouse is dead” — the Subhumans

Sources:
Alan Moore, Watchmen
The Subhumans, The Day the Country Died
The Exploited, Horror Epics
The Ramones, Too Tough to Die

SUBHUMANS[Punk music: what does it mean?  When and where does this turn to hardcore, punk-rock, intellectual hip-hop, grunge, alternative and indie music?  How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture?  If punk is about tearing down, what remains when all is torn down?  I argue these questions can be answered through a close reading of the best albums in the punk project and the following punk tradition.  We will listen for a close reading of the album as microcosm and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the ‘70s, ‘80s and more recent decades. This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.]

The mid-‘80s were a dark period in the lyrical zeitgeist of the English speaking world.  The very real fear of nuclear destruction at this time is best captured by Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen.  Though the threat-watch color spectrum has mostly replaced notions of a Doomsday Clock, this constant visual motif in the novel of one-minute to midnight– symbolically, doomsday– was a stark reality.  Whether this doomsday would be ecological, nuclear, the gang warfare of Youth Culture, or the best intentions of those trying to save the world–I won’t spoil–read the novel for the greatest climactic gross-out in all of comic-books, a gross-out avoided by the movie.
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REVIEW: Ancillary Justice

ancillary-justiceAuthor: Ann Leckie

2013, Orbit

Filed under: Sci-fi

Find it at Goodreads

This review refers to the audiobook version of this novel.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 9

I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about this book since its publication six months ago. When I finally started it this past week, I was immediately discombobulated. That’s because I’d heard literally nothing else but raving praise; I hadn’t heard, for example, what it was about. So let’s start there.

The main character and narrator is a sentient spaceship named the Justice of Toren. It belongs to the Radchaai, a barbaric race of people whose entire economy depends on invading other planets, killing or enslaving their people, and then laying claim to their natural resources. Of course, since the Justice of Toren is a Radch ship, the narrator finds the zombification and murder of their enemies to be a normal and not horrifying occurrence. At least, that is, until it’s forced to do something awful and kind of wakes up.

Interspersed with this storyline is another following Breq—one of Justice of Toren’s ancillaries—some 25 years in the future. The usual way of life for an ancillary (or “corpse soldier”) is that they are human bodies entirely controlled by the artificial intelligence of the ship they belong to. They think as the ship, but feel what each of their dozens of bodies feels. Breq, however, has become separated from Justice of Toren and is pursuing an ex-captain of herself (I think) along the way toward obtaining a supremely powerful gun that might or might not kill the Lord of Radch.

Got all that? I’m not sure that I do, and that’s part of my problem with this book. 
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Programming note: the end of Book Radar

When I started writing the Book Radar column, almost three years ago, I was working at a bookstore, spending a fair amount of my weekly time paging through catalogs of upcoming releases, and marking the books I was interested in. The column was a natural byproduct of all that casual research.

In the time since, I stopped working at the bookstore and stopped having access to both the catalogs and the spare time to idly flip through them. Instead, I’d pull interesting books from Kirkus, which handily laid out reviews for all the books coming out in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, Kirkus changed their format, and you can no longer sort out upcoming books, and I can’t find a similar website that will let me research a Book Radar column in less than eight hours.

So I’m retiring the Book Radar column, and instead we’ll continue to highlight interesting books in the Week’s Best Book Reviews feature, it’ll just be after they come out. (And no, this isn’t the world’s worst April fool’s joke.)

REVIEW: Words of Radiance

[This high fantasy novel is the latest C4 Great Read. Find the first book in the series here.]

words-of-radiance

Author: Brandon Sanderson

2014, Tor

Filed under: Fantasy

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

[This review is entirely spoiler-free. Maybe even to a fault.]

I picked up The Way of Kings, the first book in this series, almost at random, looking for a long audiobook. The Way of Kings clocked in at over 45 hours, and after finishing it, I pre-ordered Words of Radiance, and when it came out earlier this month, I ripped through all 48 hours in eighteen days.

Sanderson is a rare talent, and this series is a rare accomplishment even for him—I’ve read the first books of two of his other series, and they don’t compare. In short, I’d recommend this book to just about anybody, but especially to those who like Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or any other epic fantasy. 
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 3/26/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

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overwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. Reviewed by Jennifer Howard (Washington Post).

Oh man, I wish I was joking in saying I’m too busy to read this book right now. Never in my life have I had so much to do as this spring. Part of me actually loves it, and part of me wants to go live in the woods and eat berries around a campfire for the rest of my days. Much of my consolation though, is knowing that my current busy-ness levels will subside in another month. But what about those of us who are always busy, no matter what our life situation. Why do we do it to ourselves (or why do we construct a society that demands it)? Seems like a decent rumination to base a pop-sociology book on. I’ve added it to my Amazon cart, but I’ll be waiting until I have more free time to actually read it.

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Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn. Interviewed by Walter Kirn (New York Times).

The pretentiousness of someone interviewing themselves is a pretty big turn off for me, especially when they open with wearing fancy clothes and packing up zebra striped undies. But Kirn’s weirdness (he wrote Up in the Air, which became that Clooney movie a few years back), which is plenty evident in this self-interview, led him–apparently out of boredom between books–to befriend a con-man/impostor/murderer who went by Clark Rockefeller. I don’t know, I probably don’t want to read his book about it, but whatever this is is worth a look.

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Cycle of Lies, by Juliet Macur. Reviewed by John Horn (Los Angeles Times).

I could give two fucks about the sport of cycling or its athletes’ integrity, but I do very much enjoy the schadenfreude that follows a rich, colossal douchebag’s fall from grace. Lance Armstrong’s downfall was his own hubris and assholishness, and the more books like these (the review also discusses Wheelmen by Reed Abergotti and Vanessa O’Connell) that pile on the denigration of his name, the better.

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Quickly: Anyone in DC should try and attend the 826 fundraiser event tomorrow, C4 knows a couple cats who will be there. This book collecting American interpretations of Shakespeare through the years looks fairly interesting. An agent doesn’t like the idea of publishing with Amazon, shocker.

The March 2014 Episode of the Page Count Podcast

c4-podcast-logoOur latest episode is live! This month, we talk about comic books, the correct pronunciation of “Michel Foucault,” a fantasy series that might be better than Game of Thrones, the novel by the guy who wrote True Detective.

Also, Aaron asks a couple questions “bro to bro,” we play a hastily designed game of “Allen Ginsberg or Kristen Stewart?,” crap on James Patterson for giving money to bookstores, and a whole lot of other nonsense.

Subscribe on iTunes here. If you’d rather the direct RSS feed, here you go. You can also stream the episode below.

Have any topic or reading suggestions, or comments about the show? Please email them to info@chamberfour.com or shoot us a tweet.

Albums as Texts: Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska; Bad Brains, Rock for Light (Hope Goes Punk)

“We got that PMA. Hey, we got that PMA” — H.R. of the Bad Brains

Sources:
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
The Bad Brains, Rock for Light
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
Prince, 1999

bruce-springsteen-nebraska

[Punk music: what does it mean?  When and where does this turn to hardcore, punk-rock, intellectual hip-hop, grunge, alternative and indie music?  How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture?  If punk is about tearing down, what remains when all is torn down?  How low can a punk get?  I argue these questions can be answered through a close reading of the best albums in the punk project and the following punk tradition.  We will listen for a close reading of the album as microcosm and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the ‘70s, ‘80s and more recent decades. This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.]

Thought I’d write about some music that’s pretty to listen to this week, situated as it is between such aggressive and sonically harsh musics like hardcore punk.  Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is a return to his minimalist folk roots; and the Bad Brains Rock for Light album is interspersed with uplifting reggae jams, and the hardcore tracks have some of the highest production values of the genre– produced by Ric Ocasek from the Cars.
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews: 3/20/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

 

broken-roadThe Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh FermorReviewed by Katherine A. Powers at the Barnes & Noble Review.

The recently (posthumously) published travel memoir finishes a trilogy of books that cover a trip taken 80 years ago, when Fermor was a teenager. Fittingly, the ineptitude of memory to do justice to the past is one of the book’s big themes. Otherwise, this is what you’d expect: the final book by a legendary travel writer. The Wall Street Journal also reviewed it, featuring a bit more personal history.

 

Long Man, by Amy GreeneReviewed by Ron Charles at the Washington Post.

Charles contemplatively reviews this seemingly slow-paced book about a small town in 1936 that becomes doomed to slowly flood when Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority dams the nearby Long Man River. Against that backdrop, a young girl goes missing and her mother desperately searches for her. Charles calls it “an engrossing blend of raw tension and gorgeous reflection.”

 

The Wherewithal, by Philip SchultzReviewed by Adam Plunkett at the New York Times.

Plunkett simultaneously disembowels this book, and seems impressed by its power. It’s an illustrated novel in verse about various horrors witnessed by a young Polish man during World War II. Plunkett describes its lyricality as “almost mock-poetry” and says it functions poorly as both a novel and a poem. Yet, the theme of the book is that such art and artifice becomes meaningless or worse in the face of such widespread trauma. I honestly can’t tell if Plunkett winds up recommending The Wherewithal or not.

 

In brief: Colson Whitehead maintains his membership in excellent standing at the Pretentious Writers Club. … Russell Brand continues to rail against all institutions except those that pay him.The LA Times’s spring books preview. … Tessa Hadley’s Clever Girl sounds like a book full of intense realism, often too much for comfort. … It’s a “silver age” for older writers (beware puns ahead). …

REVIEW: Path of Valor: A Marine’s Story

Author: George Derryberrypath-of-valor-a-marines-story

2013, CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Filed Under: Short-Run, Nonfiction

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 10

Like every other American born around the time Hitler was invading Poland, I have some very concrete memories of World War II. Rationing. Victory Gardens. Kneading a button of yellow dye into a bagful of grease to create “butter.” Rebecca Tansil, my parents’ good friend, looking perky in the uniform of a high-ranking WAVE officer. My uncle John Hammond, Army Air Force, flying 18 missions over Europe. But my only specific memory of the Marines was howling “From halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” while my elementary school’s vice principal thumped a tiny upright piano during weekly assemblies. (He made every student of Margaret Brent  School #53 learn all the words to all the armed forces’ songs–“shell-shocked,” some whispered.) I even remember how we stumbled, singing the Marine song, when suddenly “in the land and on the sea” morphed into “in air, on land, on sea.”

What a person remembers first and finally about huge global events is probably always made up of details like that, come to think about it. That’s what makes Path of Valor so rich an account.  Every page bears the stamp, the fingerprint, of one individual, H. C. Ayres, and how “Ayresie” experienced the war.  
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