Category: books

January Love List

Posted by – January 10, 2015

Seems like I’ve been bouncing around nonstop since the holidays began, but here’s what’s been in my recreational diet of late.


Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice (2014) – All due respect to Paul Thomas Anderson, but I went into this one a little skeptical about how well Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice was going to translate to film – and it did feel condensed. That said, the tightly crafted shots and character performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and a handful of others kept the frenetic plot-twisting from the book alive and meaningful.

The larger plot is a massive, rickety construction for presenting everything that’s worth watching here. But that was kind of already the case in the novel. The leaps of logic and motivation just aren’t super-sensible, and that’s partially due to the detective noir genre that Pynchon used for the story, as well as compression of the longer story that leaves out conversations and beats from the original work.

What works the best is the perpetual vinegar-and-oil-splashing of contrasting and conflicting elements that keep the story alive. It’s a roller coaster and a poem about what makes America tick, and it’s funny while being tragic and gorgeous while being vulgar. Go see it for yourself.


Alias Omnibus

Alias Omnibus Marvel’s Max titles may be among my favorites that they’ve put out in the last couple of decades, but I somehow never got into Alias when it was originally in print. Then, by the time the omnibus collection got popular, I was late to the game again, and it was already going for way beyond my budget on eBay.

This is the kind of book that celebrates what Brian Michael Bendis writes best. It’s detective fiction. It’s crime fiction. And it’s stacked with little quips about Marvel history.

Superhero Afterlife

The Superhero Afterlife A. David Lewis generously offered me a look at this one ahead of its release in November. It’s a critical look at the different ways that the afterlife gets depicted in superhero comics. Notably, he gets into really interesting territory here, picking apart what death means in serialized fiction and what resurrections and multiple planes of existence mean to notions of self—particularly through models of understanding that will make sense to Derrida readers. And that definitely worked for me.

It’s an exploration worth reading for Thor lovers, Greek myth lovers and comics folk in general. (Also, there’s a great little Fantastic Four/Wizard Magazine-related flashback that I’m glad he reminded me about. Thanks, A.D.)

George Washington

Washington: A Life I’m knee-deep in this one right now. Maybe it was visiting Washington’s Mount Vernon estate last year. Living in D.C. was probably also a motivating factor. But Ron Chernow’s biography has a been a really enlightening read so far. I’m amazed about how many holes there are to fill in from Washington’s early life—but I probably shouldn’t be, given how long ago we’re talking about. It’s a solid, even-handed look at his rise to power, strengths and weaknesses.

October Love List

Posted by – October 11, 2014

Amid travels over the past month, here’s what’s been rolling by in front of my face.


Digital Death

Digital Death A. David Lewis, one of the co-editors on this collection of essays, was kind enough to let me read through an advance copy a few weeks ago – and it really is an excellent piece of work. Its essays’ authors address a strong series of questions about how concepts of death have been altered by technology. These issues include how we memorialize loved ones, how we speak about death and how concepts within our daily lives and writing (especially online) may be evolving.

With Apple entering the smartwatch market soon and wearable tech pushing the Quantified Self movement into bigger, more mainstream places, a lot of what gets discussed in Digital Death challenges the reader to confront some ideas that are worth exploring. For instance, when you look back at the now Internet-famous story about a son racing his deceased father’s ghost in an Xbox game they used to enjoy playing, there’s a seed of something potentially a lot bigger going on. One of the essays in this book deals with where our data from social networks and other places goes when we die – and who should have the right to use it or own it when we do pass on.

The idea that we could soon be in a place technologically where people could preserve more complex digital ghosts of their loved ones and interact with them introduces all kinds of concerns and dilemmas. I mean, if a company like Google or Facebook has the data to render such a ghost, should it have to get legal permissions to do so? What does it do to the mourning process if such ghosts become crutches for bereaved people who don’t want to let go? (And who’s to say there’s any moral imperative or requirement that they should have to let go?)

Anyway, this is a great book, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Nixon and Mao

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World – This 2007 book by Margaret MacMillan was my companion for down time during the Iceland trip. I’m a sucker for Richard Nixon history – particularly when it involves vignettes like MacMillan dishes out. One of my favorites comes early on regarding an exchange between Nixon and Ford about Henry Kissinger:

“Henry is a genius,” Nixon told Gerald Ford as he was preparing to hand over the presidency, “but you don’t have to accept everything he recommends. He can be invaluable, and he’ll be very loyal but you can’t let him have a totally free hand.” He advised Ford to keep Kissinger on as his secretary of state but hoped, he told an aide, that the new president would be tough enough. “Ford has just got to realize that there are times when Henry has to be kicked in the nuts.”

Those moments of Nixonian candor alone are worth the price of admission for this book, but it’s also a trove of research and historical explanations that illuminate the world stage today – both with its explanation of Russo-Chinese relations and the culmination of events, factors and people that made Nixon’s trip to China possible.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m two episodes deep into the second season and can’t get enough of this one. Parts of the first season dragged a bit, but I’m constantly impressed with how many story elements the show can keep spinning in the air at once. Also, Lucy Lawless and Patton Oswalt have been a huge gust of wind in its sails. I’m glad I hung on through the end of the first season and even happier that it came back with an Absorbing Man story that was better than any I’ve ever read in the comics.



Slack – I’ve been using Slack recently in place of email for a lot of work things, and I’m pretty sold on it so far. At face value it seems like standard reinvention of chat rooms and instant messaging, but I love it as a group communication tool. Totally beats massive email threads – hands down.

August Love List

Posted by – August 3, 2014

I’ve run into a handful of people this summer who asked me what I’m reading lately. It seemed like a roundup might be in order. Here’s what I’ve been looking at and listening to lately.



Snowpiercer (2013) – Bong Joon-ho had a heck of a time getting this film to the U.S. market, but I’m glad it finally arrived. The story’s parallels with BioShock have been documented elsewhere, but it seems to have struck a chord with fans of that series (a group to which I belong). I was actually more entertained by parallels with The Truman Show (1998), and the graphic novel‘s now on my to-read list.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – When this franchise got rebooted again in 2011, I honestly walked away pretty indifferent to the project. The new installment worked a lot better for me, though. Part of that was do to the much richer cast of characters – but Dawn also had a really rich sense of place and setting. Much like Snowpiercer, the locations in the story where the action was taking place added layers of history and drama what the actors were doing. This is the Bergman fan in me talking right now, but I really love when films can minimize the number of locations they’re set in make what does get used as memorable as possible.



Boris – I just saw this Japanese group at the 9:30 Club Saturday with The Atlas Moth and Sub Rosa, and it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of getting hit with a wall of sound that deep. The band’s newest album’s called Noise, and it’s beautiful.


NPR One app

NPR One – The team behind this app deserves a lot of credit. The old NPR app on iPhone had become a huge mess for me over the past year or so. For some reason, it had problems resuming play with one given station and I’d have to start playing another station and stop it just to be able to begin playing the first station again (Don’t worry, it was just as confusing as it sounds). Then, there were really odd issues with advertisements playing repeatedly (Seriously, one time I walked to work and heard the same government contractor ad more than ten times amid quick excerpts of the WAMU broadcast I was trying to listen to).

This One app is the real deal, though. It streamlines the entire listening experience, personalizes content in a meaning way and does some really interesting things with interactive mic-enabled functions. (Just don’t be surprised when robo-voices in the ads start talking to you.

I really can’t adequately express what a breath of fresh air this has been (no pun intended). And it’s got a lot of potential.



Hearthstone (Mac/iPad) – I am super late to this one, but it’s my new unwinding habit at night before I go to bed – and I was never a serious CCG player. Still, I cannot for the life of me beat the spiders in the story mode yet.


The King in Yellow – After finishing the first season of True Detectives, I decided to dive into Robert W. Chambers’ world here. His writing is so incredibly fresh after more than a hundred years. Can’t recommend this one enough.

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy – Here’s another one I was late to, but Christophe Blain and Edward Gauvin did an absolutely stunning job with this graphic novel. Its expressive, animated visual language and insights into the sausage factory behind diplomatic decision-making made it one of the best reads I’ve picked up recently.

48-hour vacation

Posted by – November 8, 2013

If you need me this weekend, check the beach in Florida. I’ll be the guy by the water reading Alex Segura’s new novel Silent City.

George R.R. Martin gets his own Flipboard magazine

Posted by – September 21, 2013

World of Ice and Fire Flipboard magazineUp until recently, I’d been extremely selective about the “Song of Ice and Fire” commentary and analysis I paid attention to. The wiki can be a spoiler-laden minefield to navigate while you’re still trekking through the existing books, and I have no regrets yet about allowing into my life. I was wrapping up an epic read through the latter’s chapter remix of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, though, and since it was my first time looking at both of those books, the goal had been to let as many shocks and delights unfold in their full glory as possible.

I’m 100% caught up on the series now, however, so I have no qualms about reading the new George R.R. Martin Flipboard magazine that Random House has launched. The publisher is actually backing two such author-themed ventures right now, one for Martin and one for author Margaret Atwood. And the more I think about them, the more I think these magazines mark a pretty smart move on Random House’s part.

Now, I’ve been on the fence and off again about Flipboard since I first tried it out on my first-gen (now aging, slow and nearly useless) iPad. At first glance, my thoughts were, “Why do I need an RSS reader that shows me fewer headlines at a time and requires more gestures and navigation to see everything I want to see?” Nevertheless, the interface and design have grown on me. Flipboard is a clever platform for tablet (and smartphone) reading when the content plays nicely with it. A lot of publishers just sort of show up, and some barely look like they care about being in Flipboard at all, but when it works, it works well, and I hope the library of accessible publishers who don’t make you click through to a web browser continues to grow.

Fan magazines like this new George R.R. Martin one seem like sensible fits, though, in theory. As I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of Flipboard stories that require normal web browser viewing, but for magazine-type articles with curated content being mixed in, I could see “The World of Ice and Fire” working out really well. The iPad is where I do most of my novel reading these days, and having a magazine-like experience to complement that makes a lot of sense on Flipboard, both for reader use and an easy option for book publishers, who (let’s face it) can use all the help they can get to corral and connect with audiences these days. I’d love to see some similar Haruki Murakami and Salman Rushdie options show up to the party as well.

Where’s my head at?

Posted by – January 26, 2013

In lieu of some longer reviews right now, here a few scattered thoughts on what I’ve been reading and otherwise seeing or hearing the last few weeks:

  • Cyborg 009Ezra Claytan Daniels’s serialized Upgrade Soul comic on iPad: Andrew Hayward clued me into this one via his review at Mac|Life. It’s a slightly animated multimedia version of a comic with surreal and sci-fi elements, and it makes much better use of its medium that most other motion comics or similar narrative presentations that you’ve probably run into. I recommended trying an issue and seeing if it’s to your liking.
  • Girls is back on at HBO, and I’m caught up with the first two episodes of Season 2 as of today. It’s interesting that show dived right into responding to last season’s race criticism by introducing Donald Glover’s new character Sandy. Nevertheless, it’s been a pretty shallow response as far as the writing goes. They’re upping the ante as far as Adam’s creep factor goes, but right now this is still a show my heart’s only about half into whenever it’s on.
  • It started reading George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows, and was quickly steered toward reading the book simultaneously with A Dance with Dragons by Sean T. Collins. I’m reading Sean’s chapter remix sequence at the moment, and it feels very natural. Also, I think this is the approach that any real Tyrion lover should take, based on what I’ve seen so far.
  • For $2.99, the new Archaia take on Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009 was a pleasant digital surprise. I picked up issue #0 from comiXology, not realizing that the new comic came with 60 pages of the original manga packed into the file as well. I’ll definitely be with this one for at least a few issues, but both the old and new material were a steal for the price.

‘The Drops of God’ Volume 1 Review: There’s only so much wine

Posted by – July 1, 2012

I don’t necessarily avoid manga in my reading diet—it’s just not a staple. I’ve enjoyed Cromartie High School, Ghost in the Shell, Akira and even a little Yotsuba&!. Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto’s The Drops of God was little off the beaten path for me—not something I would have come to naturally. As David Brothers over at ComicsAlliance wrote last year, though, it’s manga about wine. What’s not to be interested in?

Being neither a manga nor wine connoisseur, this book only had things to teach me. It’s a comic about the son of a famous wine critic, who has a quest that conveniently allows him discover and describe real-life wines or trigger a lesson on the history of French winemaking. After you begin to understand the structure and story beats that are going on, you start to get curious as a reader about what’s around the corner, what’s on a label that’s being obscured or why a wine tastes a certain way.

Yes, there is a hokey quality to the melodrama that permeates the pages of The Drops of God. Those groan-inducing sequences of a manager belittling an employee or the story’s villain pondering his master plan snowball hilariously into moments of revelation that punctuate the chapters and keep things going at a respectable pace.

I’m only one volume into this series so far, but I’ve already learned more about Henri Jayer and French vineyards than I ever would have read and remembered anywhere else.

The near-photorealistic illustrations of the labels and bottles integrate seamlessly with cartoonish illustrations to stitch together the non fiction with the fiction.

And I should note that you won’t walk into the wine department at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods able to dazzle your friends with observations and interpretations after reading this manga. In fact, most of the knowledge you glean will only be useful under significantly more expensive circumstances. However, if you do happen to wander onto some French vineyards in the future, you may find yourself significantly more informed about why a crop of grapes is going to be ideally suited for whipping up a particularly good batch of wine, as well as why that batch shouldn’t be enjoyed for at least 20 years.

New ‘Cosmopolis’ teaser

Posted by – March 22, 2012

Every time I see Robert Pattinson in an image from David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis adaptation, I can’t help but think how impossible it sounds to get Twilight readers buying Don DeLillo books. (I remember picking up my hardcover up off the clearance shelf at a Barnes & Noble years ago.) But I guess stranger things have happened.

5 technologies explored in Shteyngart’s ‘Super Sad True Love Story’

Posted by – February 28, 2012

After finishing Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story a few weeks ago, I was struck by how intimately he had thought through the impact of technology on human relationships. His book anticipates the evolution of Facebook, as well as the descendants of devices such as the iPhone and yet-to-be-released Google glasses. The novel also picks apart the nuances of shared information, how credit scores and health records could define us publicly, and even what those details would mean in a world where biological immortality is an achievable (if prohibitively expensive) dream.

For tech geeks, as well as story lovers, there is a lot to digest in Shteyngart’s complex brink-of-collapse society. I wouldn’t want to spoil the political speculation and Chinese lending consequences that he also explores, but if you haven’t read SSTLS yet, here are five technologies that are present in the book and why the author’s vision for them may be worth your time.

1. Äppäräti, the PC evolved — As phones and tablets become more and more like out laptops and desktop PCs, the question of how many devices the average consumer will own and what they will look like is a valid one. In SSTLS, Shteyngart envisions something along the lines of Google’s glasses. There is a line at one point where a character makes fun of an outdated äppärät model by comparing it to an iPhone, clearly poking fun at how quickly our personal devices become outdated, but also positioning the äppärät as a replacement for smartphones. The gizmo is a networked link to the world, which also broadcasts information about the owner, whether they are looking for a restaurant or sizing up other singles in a bar. It’s the gateway to augmented reality fully realized.

2. GlobalTeens, the all-purpose network and communication platform — It wasn’t all that long ago that Facebook was just a site for college students looking to check out pictures of their friends and talk about classes. Shteyngart pokes fun at this evolution with SSTLS‘s Facebook analogue, which is called GlobalTeens. Although the name implies a young, immature audience, “Teening” (the verb for communicating over the network) is an activity that replaces instant messaging and email. If you want to call someone or talk to them in person, it means you want to “verbal.” The vocabulary from the book is hilarious and thought-provoking in this regard.

3. Socialized credit scores and health records, info habits that make “oversharing” seem like a word that only stodgy people use — Of all the practices and gadgets that change how people understand themselves in SSTLS, none are more eye-opening than the standard profiles available to complete strangers. You can imagine that single people are quite a bit more conscious of prospective mates’ credit scores in a world where everyone in the U.S. is over their heads in debt, but beyond that, everyone in the room can have a look at your health status and size up your probable lifespan. Most of these things would be totally doable via a smartphone app right now if users were willing, which just makes SSTL all the more believable.

4. The state of online shopping — Hand in hand with the äppärät, shopping for people who have money is a universally accessible option that allows purchases to be made anywhere and everywhere. There was also a brief moment where Lenny showcased the ease of cash transfers. Not wanting to accept money from Eunice’s father, he quickly transfers dollars straight into the man’s bank account. Services like Square and Paypal are already on top of options like this (and banks in many countries know that this is a convenience people want).

5. Post-Human Services, info habits that make “oversharing” seem like a word that stodgy people use — Lenny, the main character in SSTL, works for a company called Staatling-Wapachung, and his job is to sell life extension services to the world’s super-wealthy. Appropriately, the possibility of living forever impacts numerous other dimensions of day-to-day living. Everyone (including Lenny) seems bent on one-upping everyone else, devising a calculus of nutritional and financial choices that will let them live long enough to save up enough to afford extreme and indefinite life spans.