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Thursday, April 1, 2010

You Know, Reading is Fundamental and Shit

I have recently had the opportunity to sit down and read real books. This is a nice change of pace from my college days where I felt guilty if I ever picked up an unassigned book. (I could waste my days watching tv, going to the movies, or hanging out with friends, but if I picked up a book I would tell myself that I should be reading one of my textbooks.) Here's a rundown of the past few books I've read and what I thought about them.

World War Z
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarThis book, by Max Brooks, is not something that I ever would have picked up. I'm not a big zombie fan and while I enjoy a few of the movies, I never thought they were that cool or scary or exceptional. Then I read a tweet that highly recommended the book. So, I did a little research and all the praise seemed to be glowing. I caved and picked it up. Needless to say, I was floored.

The book is setup as an oral history, which seems to make it read faster. It describes the Zombie War, tracing the beginning in China and following the outbreak and panic that spread across the globe. There are chapters focusing on both the war in America and abroad. There is a lot of detail and research put into this so that everything seems plausible and possible. Perhaps the most disturbing are the parts that mention the armies tactical flaws. If something like a zombie outbreak were to occur, it would probably take a long time for a proper adjustment to be made. At least, it would be longer than you want.

Overall, this book was fantastic. It made me want to go and pick up other books on the Zombie Wars. Then I realized that there were none and it made me a little sad. Then I was happy again because our civilization hasn't be plagued by zombies. Yet.

One L
One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law SchoolThis is the story all about one man's journey through his first year at law school. Holy shit, does  it sound rough. Granted, the man is going to Harvard Law, so of course it should be hard and fuck him for complaining, but it is pretty crazy stuff.

First, there is the caliber of people he is taking classes with. These are the cream of the crop. Everybody is at the top of his/her class, of course, but they also generally have something else that makes them stand out. One classmate had just finished medical school and decided to take law school because it "sounds fun."

The most daunting tasks seem to be the professors and Socratic Method. The professors know more than the One L's (first year law students) and let them know that they will always know more. They are arrogant, snide, and occasionally rude. On top of that, the method that they use to teach their class is the Socratic Method. This is where you take one of your students at random and ask them question after question about the case or law that you are discussing. You don't stop quizzing the student until they can no longer answer, the class is over, or you are satisfied with their responses. To say that it horrified the students and kept them in fear, is to put it mildly.

Despite this, Turow seems to actually enjoy himself and what he is going through. He likes the law, he likes some of his classmates and he appears to be enjoying himself. If you are considering law school at all, you should try this book. It could scare you away or fortify your resolve, either way you'll feel more definitive about your next move.

Falling Man
Falling Man: A NovelI picked this up based on reading Underworld (which is a fantastic read) and figured that DeLillo would have more magic up his sleeve. Sadly, I seem to have been mistaken.

The book takes place in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. (The first chapter begins as the towers start to fall.) It follows a family who were divided before and come together after. The father had been at work in one of the towers and made it out in time. The wife and son were at home and surprised to see their dust and blood covered father/husband show up that morning. The family soon gelled back together, with things slowly getting back to normal.

The biggest problem I had with the book was how slow it moved and how isolated the characters were. Even when they were interacting, they were simply going through the motions. When they weren't interacting, when they were alone, the reader is treated to pages and pages and pages of their thoughts. This would not be a problem if the characters themselves were more interesting. Sadly, they are not. If you don't live in New York, I feel like this book is not for you. It's too bad, because DeLillo is a hell of  a writer.

The Corner
The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City NeighborhoodThe true story of a year in the life of a drug neighborhood in West Baltimore. I picked this book up because it is written by the creators of The Wire, one of the best shows in the history of television. Co-author David Simon also wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Street, which followed the Baltimore Homicide police for a year as they dealt with over 200 murders. If I went in to this book with high expectations, the authors were able to meet and exceed them.

There are many, many characters introduced and mentioned, but the focus is on a broken family. Father and mother both are addicted to heroin and coke. They no longer live together, but both occupy the same stretch of land. Their son, starts the story at 15 and is already working a package on the corner. We follow them through this year as they all show signs of growth of attempts to get out of this lifestyle, but ultimately fail. If a character says they're going to get clean, they might. For a time. If a character gets a real, honest job, they might keep it for a spell. However, the siren sound of the corner touts is to great to deny. ("Spider bags! Get your Red Tops!")

Simon and Burns use these stories well and craft them to make a larger point: What has the war on drugs brought us and where do we go from here? They don't presuppose and answers and offer up none. They do lay out the problems with many solutions. They show the difficulty and humiliation of government assistance, the struggle just to land in a detox program, and the meaninglessness of corner arrests (Maryland's jails are so full, that many offenses, even violent ones, result in probation, either supervised or unsupervised). They show how the system is failing these people. And they show that nobody seems to care.

This book is powerful and intoxicating. The more I read, the less I could put it down.

Those are the last few books I have read. Any suggestions for future reading? Have you read any of these? Agreed or disagreed with what I said? Let me know, in the comments section!


  1. Your last paragraph echo's my thoughts as I was watching The Wire last night. The War on Drugs has proved useless, and in fact perpetuates the problem. It has created the reality of life these people live in. It is unfortunate that our understanding of drugs has been so skewed. For example: There is a root that grows in Africa, that is illegal in the states, (considered one of the higher class drugs, close to cocaine, or heroine) that has been used for centuries as a healing agent for addiction. Particularly cocaine, and heroine addictions. Why this root is considered dangerous, is beyond me. And why it isn't utilized in a country rife with addiction, is even more boggling. This simple fact, is a clear example of our ignorance, and failure in healing our country of this disease. There is really no excuse for this kind of ignorance in our government/country. They have the tools, and the power to make a difference, and they wage war instead. Inexcusable. The question then lies...what can we do to make a difference? I mean, what can we REALLY do? One solution: Educate. Simple and effective. Outside of that, I don't see much hope.

  2. Susan, thanks for your long and thoughtful reply! However, in order to educate, you need students in school. Reading The Corner will show you how Quixotic that goal truly is.

  3. Therein lies the irony. Truly, deeply saddens me.