Mateer’s Aphrodite Made Me Do It

Aphrodite Made Me Do It
Trista Mateer

I don’t know what to make of this book. I truly don’t. It made some best of the year poetry lists, but it is very much not my thing.

That said, I’m a forty something year old CIS white dude and I’m pretty damn sure I am not the writer’s intended audience. This is a combination of art, selfcare advice and poetry. It left me confused about the strong reviews, but we must accept that its quite possible I just don’t get it.

When I started doing these reviews years ago I committed to either recommending, not recommending, or recommending for the enthusiast. I considered not doing that here, but that felt like a bit of a copout. So I’ll honor this author by being honest and saying while I cannot recommend it that could really very well be more about me than the author.

Not recommended.    

Bowden’s Killing Pablo

Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw
Mark Bowden

Dad book. Tick tock of the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar written by the dude who brought you Black Hawk Down. In hindsight, I don’t know why I even bothered to read this book – I already know more than enough about Escobar and I learned nothing new here except the best way to get sources to talk to you is to make sure they appear like heroes in the book. Basically a very surface look at the drug war and the life of Escobar. Juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Not recommended.

Review: Carney’s The Wedge

The Wedge: Evolution, Consciousness, Stress, and the Key to Human Resilience
Scott Carney

New book by the author of two really good books What Doesn’t Kill Us about showman and actual real life health guru Wim Hof, and the Enlightenment Trap about the tragic death of mystic lead astray Ian Thorson.

This new one, the Wedge, is an exploration of experiences that Carney thinks can assist us in breaking free the routinize life and learning more about ourselves. In pursuit of this Carney hits the saunas, throws around kettlebells, takes ayahuasca and does basically everything else a Joe Rogan style self-improvement bro would do in this moment. It all, frankly, rings hollow and fails to hold together in the way his previous books have. Both What Doesn’t Kill Us and the Enlightenment Trap were propelled by a clear narrative and a captivating character at their center. This one, unfortunately, doesn’t have either.

While I imagine these experiences were revelatory for Carney, for the reader, it comes across as following a journalist having a really interesting couple of years off a book advance. I hope next time around Carney goes back to the formula that worked for him previously.

Not recommended.

Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head

The World Beyond Your Head:On Becoming An Individual In An Age of Distraction

Matthew B. Crawford

This book by Crawford of “Shop class is Soul Craft” fame is another in a long line of recent books on the power of attention and craft in a age of twitter and youtube. There’s an important point here — that focused attention, especially on actual physical labor, is fulfilling and important, but I found some of the extrapolations to larger philosophical points labored. Crawford on the jig and its place in the work of a skilled laborer is fascinating, Crawford on Kant I found a bit of an overreach.

Not Recommended.

Review: Jame’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Marlon James

Booker award winning novelist Marlon James jumps into the epic fantasy game and produces a book that is gorgeous on the sentence level, well constructed on the paragraph level, but hugely challenging as a book.

Perhaps I’m not smart enough, or my attention isn’t focused enough, but I found this one to be tough sledding. James’s use of language is stunning, and I often found myself awed by his phrasing, but I also found it difficult to follow the narrative (such as it is) and never came to care much about the characters. People I respect love this book and say it haunts them months after they finished it, but it never landed with me. I kept feeling like I was just a couple of pages from having the whole thing click together, but it never happened. Despite the beauty of some of the language, I can’t recommend this. Your mileage may vary.

Not Recommended.

Review: Zelnick’s Becoming Ageless

Becoming Ageless: Four Secrets To Looking and Feeling Younger Than Ever
Strauss Zelnick

Part memoir of the super-rich and successful Strauss Zelnick, part guide to aging well, this book is just like many many others that claim to have some new information but are really saying – eat well, exercise regularly, sometimes hard, sometimes easy, have a strong community, go see a doctor regularly. That’s basically it. If you’re just getting started on a healthy journey, this is as fine a place to start as any, but no new ground is really broken here.

Not recommended.

Brown’s The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown

Dad literature in extremis. Which usually isn’t something that turns me off, but this time, it was all just a bit too much bootstrapping, a bit too much greatest generation propaganda, a bit too much they beat the nazi’s twice kind of thing.

It isn’t that the lives of these young men, almost uniformly from hardscrabble depression era childhoods aren’t inspiring. They are, but that isn’t enough to make a good book.

Joe Rantz, the central character here had a childhood that’s hard to imagine today in most of America today. Living in work camps, and unheated shacks, he started working at an extremely early age, and was abandoned by his father and step mother when he was still in high school. Even with all that, he managed to attend the University fo Washington, and win a gold medal in Berlin. That’s inspiring. But in the hand of Brown, it all comes off as a little too Horacio Alger. The prose is too purple, and descriptions, too overwrought. When dealing with material as compelling as the lives of these young men, its better to be subtle, reserved, but Brown doesn’t write that way and that’s a pity. There’s great story here, but not a great book.

I’m sure this has been optioned for a movie. I hope whoever directs it does a better job.

Not recommended.

Review: Ferris’s Tools for Titans

Tools for Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Tim Ferris

I’ll confess to being a fairly regular listener to the Tim Ferris podcast. While Ferris can be annoying at times and the whole can smell like techbro city, he is a good interviewer and his guests are often interesting people I would have never run across otherwise. This book is a collection of excepts from those interviews but distilled down to lists and bites and devoid of the kind of personal energy that comes through in the podcast.

While there’s some good bits in here, you’re much better off just picking the episodes of the podcasts that interest you.

Not recommended.

Review: Simenon’s Pietr the Latvian

Pietr the Latvian

Georges Simenon

The first of the many, many Maigret novels. Many smart people love these novels, but I’m not yet convinced. The writing is strong, the characters compelling, and the plot serviceable, but there’s more than a whiff of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment here. I might give one more a try since they’re so canonical in the world of crime novels, but all in all, I was underwhelmed and put off.

Not recommended.

Review – Card’s Enders Game

Enders Game

Orson Scott Card

Super genius boy in distant future is trained to play ever more complex war games until it is eventually revealed to him that (spoiler alert) oh shit, they weren’t games after all.

A book about the ethics of war, the bonds of friendship, and the isolation of the leader. When I read this, I was aware of its status as a classic, but not aware of Card’s horrific views on LGBT issues. Taken as a stand along book, it’s an excellent example of someone taking he confines of so-called “military SF” and doing something new and exciting with it. But taken in conjunction with his hyper reactionary views on gay rights, it reads differently.

I’d be lying if I said this isn’t an excellent book, but is it a necessary book? No. It grapples with serious issues in a thoughtful way (and I should note, isn’t homophobic) but so do many, many other science fiction novels not written homophobes. If I had to do it over again today knowing what I know now, I think I’d skip Enders Game, not because it’s a bad book, but because there are other loads of other books to read not written

Not recommended.