Known Johnson

December 20, 2007

No coal – book suggestions for Santa

Filed under: Books — Tom @ 2:46 pm


What am I hoping Creepy Claus has in his bag this year? He’s going to need a big bag ‘cuz I got a big list . . .


Daniel J. Levitin – This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession
: Why does music, or anything non-essential, really, stick with us and make us happy? Author/researcher Levitin was on a local morning show hawking his book a few months back and I found his thoughts fascinating about the physiological reasons why, say, some of us are driven to own thousands of CDs and spend most of their days thinking about music . . . GOT

Dave Eggers – What is the What: I know a lot of people don’t like Eggers’ loose, free style, but I was instantly hooked by his Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and to a slightly lesser extent, You Shall Know Our Velocity. This one, however, is a little different. Eggers uses the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee from Sudan who comes to the US, as the basis for a fictional memoir. Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? Read some of the sample provided by Amazon – it had me hooked and I found myself very frustrated when the 5 page excerpt ended. GOT

John Elder Robison – Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s: The brother of writer Augusten Burroughs proves that the gift is in the genes in his family with this story about dealing with this disorder, which is similar to, but not as crippling as autism. As Amazon seems reluctant to give a sample, check out his site for something to read and you’ll probably see why I wanted to read this, too. It’s not solely about his disorder, it’s about how people cope and live normal lives, and that’s something that always fascinates me. GOT

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – Freakonomics: When a coworker suggested this one, I scoffed. A book about statistics? Give me a break. And then I took a look out of curiosity and was riveted. Sure it’s full of statistics, but it’s statistics in relation to other, seemingly unrelated statistics, the writers using both to draw out conclusions about the state of society today and why people do the things they do. Not only that, but it is written with humor and elegance not normally associated with this topic. Seriously, give it a look and I bet you’ll be more fascinated than you thought you would be. GOT

David Sedaris – Box Set: I’ve been reading Sedaris for a few years now and he’s grown to be one of my favorites. He straddles that line between reality and uncomfortably realistic. He writes from his own experiences, maybe not completely 100% true stories but more pieces crafted to represent the Truth of the experience. In this post James Frey world, it appears a distinction must be made, regardless of how much people enjoyed reading what the author wrote, and Sedaris makes no attempt to conceal the fact that he writes exaggerations of his real life. Really, does it matter? Why? You liked reading it, it meant something to you, what damned difference does it make if the guy lived it exactly as he wrote it or not? But I digress. GOT

Alissa and I saw David Sedaris when he stopped in Scottsdale on his book reading tour a few years ago, and it’s an event that has stayed with me since then. While I loved his writing before then, what happened since then is that the writing took on a third dimension, and I find it almost impossible not to imagine his distinctive voice reading the words out of his books directly to me in my head, something I have a feeling he might find disturbing. And here, in this box, is a bunch of CDs of recordings of his readings so I always have the ability to do just that. I’ll always prefer actually reading a book over listening to one, but Sedaris’ readings have a special charm that I’ve never experienced before.

Santa, have at it. There’s something like 38 choices for you to choose from. I’m not going to fall for that “sit on my lap” routine, but I will leave cookies out for you. Dig in. Just be sure and leave some good stuff behind. Oh, and clean up after those reindeer. By the time I find their shit on the roof it’s turned to little smelly rocks.

September 7, 2007

All the classics I’ve never heard of

Filed under: Books — Tom @ 2:07 pm

Am I the only one that somehow missed out on all these “classics” that I always see mentioned? Madeleine L’Engle, auther of A Wrinkle in Time, died Thursday, and the book is mentioned everywhere as something pretty much all children read in school at some point. Not this kid. I may have seen the title mentioned somewhere, but I definitely don’t know the story. I also never read The Scarlet Letter, or a whole bunch of other “classics.” And I was a big reader, so it’s not out of distaste for reading. My teachers just didn’t employ these books in our learning, but I don’t know how, since it seems like they form part of the cornerstone of modern learning. I did, however, read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and I’m apparently the only person I’ve met that actually liked it. So there.

July 25, 2007

Book worm

Filed under: Books — Tom @ 10:50 am

I managed to devour two books recently, which is kind of a record because I get distracted easily. I probably got into these more than usual because they’re music-related, but they were actually just good reads all around (I did, however, have a few issues with each of them) . . .

Love Is A Mix Tape is the true story of Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield dealing with the eventual loss of his wife, a fellow music junkie like he is (I’m not spoiling anything here – this happens in the first chapter). It’s pretty heart-wrenching stuff, all written from the perspective of him going through mixtapes that somehow involved their lives together. It’s a very well-written book, but at times toward the end, I started to question whether, so many years later, he could manage to maintain such a “damaged by love” attitude. It got a little tiring after a while to constantly read how this or that song impacted him emotionally so many years later. In the condensed time-frame of a book, it’s hard to conceive how he’s still curling up on the floor, sobbing, at the loss of his wife many years after the event. I’m not saying it can’t happen, I’m saying that his writing didn’t realistically convey to me, the reader, why these songs or memories knock him down after so long. I will say, however, that her death later in the book (like I said, I’m not spoiling anything – he is upfront about her fate in the first chapter) was one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever read in a book. It was beautifully rendered, and it made it all the more difficult to deal with what wasn’t so well rendered.

Perfect From Now On is an all together different sort of read. Light-hearted and fast-paced, it’s good for those music lovers who want to read about a fellow obsessive music lover’s trials and tribulations . . . with music. It’s written basically like a blog after the gripping first chapter, and gets a little too “in crowd” in the last few chapters, which deal with his infatuation with the all-together too-easily infatuatable Guided By Voices, but overall if you don’t mind the blog-style writing, it’s a fun, rewarding read, especially for music freaks like me.

Isaac Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation I’ve just begun, but I can see I could have a hard time with this one. I opted for this one because I’ve been meaning to check out Asimove for ages and figured that the book he wrote later in the series as an introduction to it might be the best way to get started. Now I’m not sure. First things first – I’m not a “fantasy sci-fi” reader by any means. My interest in sci-fi is in the “hard sci-fi” realm, that is to say, it deals with things that have at least some semblance of feasibility according to what we know now. I don’t deal well with people who have “powers” and such crap. I’m not saying that Foundation will be like that at all, but I’m seeing less hard sci-fi than I was hoping to see. I have a short time in which I will give a book a chance. Right now it’s already on the edge of going back on the shelf for another few years, which is where it has resided since picking it up in a used bookstore a few years back. Right now, it’s all talk, and all that talk is about some guy’s ability to mathematically deduce the future. Hmm. And it’s pretty dry writing, I hate to say it. Why all sci-fi writers can’t have Arthur C. Clarke’s beautiful ability to meld the technical with the human, I don’t know, but it’s what keeps me from ever being a particularly big fan of the genre.

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