Here are some brief thoughts on books I’ve read in the past year, from best to worst in fiction and nonfiction categories.
A Roissy-recommended book of four short stories written by famous children’s author Roald Dahl, originally published long ago in Playboy magazine. The first and last story are about the wealthy Uncle Oswald and his womanizing ways. “The Great Switcheroo” is a story about two men who attempt to trade wives for a night, and “The Last Act” is about a suicidal woman who loses the love of her life. The stories are very well written and I found myself racing to the unpredictable climaxes.
With nonstop action this is like a summer Hollywood blockbuster in book form. If you don’t normally like books because they’re “boring,” you’ll like The Running Man, written by Stephen King under his pseudonym Richard Bachmann.
The government owns “the Network,” a broadcasting channel that takes reality television to a new level: on one show people with heart conditions are put on a speeding treadmill for prize money while another is called “Swim With Crocodiles.” Cheers erupt when contestants drop dead. These shows serve as an opiate of the masses to hide more serious problems with society.
Our hero eventually signs up for The Running Man show where contestants have to run from The Hunters for thirty days in order to win a billion dollars. Contestants get extra money for killing cops, but viewers get money as well if they report a sighting. The longest contestant survived for 8 days. I don’t want to give away the end (like the book’s introduction did), but it was quite satisfying.
A 15-year-old and his “droogs” go around town doing the “ultra-violence.” He eventually gets caught and is rehabilitated to be a puppy dog who cannot lay a finger on anyone, even to defend himself, raising the question of how important moral choice is to being human. The first 50 pages of this book is hard to understand because of the made-up language that Burgess uses, but eventually you pick up on it and enjoy parts 2 and 3, where the book becomes a page turner.
A novelized introduction to Buddhism (with Hinduism thrown in) that chronicles one man’s search for wisdom and meaning. If you like Eastern philosophy you’ll enjoy it as many of the concepts will be familiar to you. It’s a quick, somber read that gets you thinking.
This book depicts a future dystopia where book ownership is outlawed, and those burning the books are firemen. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman who becomes curious of books and how things were like when firemen put out fires instead of starting them. To him, society has to be more than being constantly glued to the television, wanting to be entertained. This is an good book, but more like a warm-up to 1984 then something I’d say is on the same level.
Another dystopia book that shows how humans of the future will be chemically conditioned at birth to fit pre-determined casts (gammas, deltas, betas, and alphas). Conditioning continues in childhood with “sleep learning,” where a speaker near the bed teaches them an entire belief system that they will keep for the rest of their lives, all to maintain social order and stability, the ultimate goal of civilization.
All future humans know their place and are always happy, amused with constant distractions and soma, a pharmaceutical that causes blissful relaxation. A problem arises when a “savage” enters the picture and questions civil society. Some say we’ve more realized the vision spelled out in this book more than in 1984, as we’re drugged, always entertained, and trained to be apathetic through individualism. Brave New World is not quite a page turner but I did enjoy it.
This is one of George Orwell’s earliest works that he claimed to write solely for the paycheck. It’s about an English man who rebels against the “money God” and quits his corporate job for a meager life as a poet and bookshop assistant. He’s initially somewhat happy at his noble lifestyle, but money soon becomes an obsession that shapes his relationships and turns him into a neurotic mess, until a drunken escapade sends him into the abyss. The main theme of this book can best be described as “Being poor sucks,” and while I enjoyed reading it, I can’t help compare it to George’s more famous and interesting work, Down And Out In Paris and London.
After Dorian’s friend paints a beautiful portrait of him, he prays to never age. His wish comes true and the painting ages while he remains young and flawless. He leads a dark life and the painting becomes a source of all his shame, driving him mad in the process. This book contains mostly flamboyant dialogue, but is somewhat enjoyable. The author had a lot of interesting thoughts on beauty and women.
This book has seven short stories that are loosely related and filled with Kundera’s real experience in Czech during the Soviet occupation. The halo around Kundera’s writing has faded a bit for me after my second reading of The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, due to fatigue from his constant explanations into the motivations and behaviors of his characters. Here’s his basic formula: present a difficult situation between individuals with symbolic references to innocence or sex and then explain it to death. His writing is excellent and he’s eminently quotable, but parts of this book was a slog to get through.
An emotionally detached man ends up killing an Arab. During the trial his thoughts on the meaningless of life becoming more evident. This very short book is an introduction to the philosophy of absurdism.
An old man falls in love with a 12-year-old girl. I’ll admit I bought the book for the pedophilic sex scenes but there were none. Instead we have the main character drone on about his love for the little girl in language that was too flowery for my taste. The writing was fine, but by the end of the book I still didn’t understand why he was so deeply in love with her.
A distinguished war veteran and former Congressman faces problems with his marriage that he is unable to solve. He ends up killing his wife and then gets involved with the dark New York underworld. The book starts off strong with great writing but then falls apart in the second act.
Very entertaining story of the most legendary trip to Las Vegas ever recorded. That’s all you need to know.
Well-written memoir of a boy growing up poor in Catholic Ireland around World War 2. Provides a good view of how fucked up Catholicism is. Book starts off slow but becomes more engaging as the narrator hits his teenage years. A little disorienting with the lack of quotation marks in dialogue.
The book teaches you the main concepts of Buddhism including The Four Noble Truths, Anatta (doctrine of no soul), and Meditation. I wrote detailed notes about the book here.
I read this book because I’m bombarded with so many different messages on what I should and shouldn’t eat that I was becoming confused. Basically I needed a manual on how to eat food. The book didn’t disappoint, using a scientific approach to push a natural, plant-based diet low in saturated and trans fat. The author skewered the USDA food pyramid and offered one of his own that limits dairy and meat intake. It was written a few years ago but is otherwise current with its conclusions.
A reporter for the AP based in Lebanon repeatedly ignores dire warnings to his own safety until he finally gets kidnapped by Islamic Jihad. He is held for over seven years in various apartments within Lebanon, often with other hostages. This book is a memoir of his time held captive, leading up to his eventual release. The narrative is not exactly gripping (hard to do so when you’re chained up against a wall most of the time), but it was an interesting read if you want to mentally prepare yourself for behind kidnapped and held for long periods of time. I have to give the author credit for holding up in a situation where most other humans would break down.
I was hoping for a more gritty account of how the commoners faced the depression, but instead I found a technical, month-by-month account of the events that led to the crash. The book offered some lessons for the future that were of course ignored.
Do you want to read more book reviews? Click here for the previous set.