Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Next Right Thing

Posted by Kurt

I really didn't expect to finish this book. My impression for the first few chapters was, "Wow, this is like a regular bad airport paperback, but with added preachy Recovery jargon." Characters bounce around the various settings, not so much having conversations as quoting from the Big Book at each other. Even when they aren't spouting proverbs from 12-step programs, the dialogue is simply horrendous (for example, a young woman bursts into a scene to stop someone from hitting her friend, and when the potential aggressor asks if he knows her, she responds, "You should. Because a******s like you have been stepping on my feet and ramming pencils up my nose since before I knew what feet and pencils were. You've got a big f*****g truck where your soul should be, and you want to drive it over someone, but you can't because it's encased in flesh and you would die if you tried." I'm serious. This dialogue is presented as realistic for the situation. If you buy this book, then you are paying for this dialogue.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness

Posted by Kurt

Candia McWilliam is a supernaturally gifted writer, able to craft prose into unforgettable images and potent insights.  Her latest book contains breathtaking observations and crippling emotional honesty.  What a shame, then, that so much of it is a waste of her talent that makes the memoir as a whole such a chore to finish.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900

Posted by Kurt

No one approaches drunk driving policy in a vacuum.  Each person has a background and a bias, and the most impressive part of this book is that Dr. Lerner is quite clear about his bias and then tries hard to craft a balanced history book that will help inform readers from other backgrounds.  Dr. Lerner is an expert in public health issues, and he writes a passionate story of the way that drunk driving (and public perceptions of drunk driving, from media coverage to legislation) has had an impact on public health in the last hundred years.  I had a hard time reading this book because of my own personal perspectives, but it does contain a wealth of information, organized in an effective way to tell the story of a nation that is failing to keep its people safe on the roads.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Mirage

Posted by Kurt

Matt Ruff has written a novel that, in many ways, is a perfectly fine political thriller. Three government agents fight a terrorist plot and find themselves drawn into a world of political intrigue full of gangsters and corruption and gunfights. At that level, the book would be at home on a rack in an airport bookstore - nothing special, but a perfectly competent example of the genre. The central hook to this book, though, the thing that makes it a must-read, is that this is not our world - in this world, at some vague time around the turn of the twentieth century, the United States degenerated into a loose sprawl of squabbling states run by fundamentalist despots, and the Muslim world united into the globe's dominant superpower. So in this mirage world, the three government agents are named Mustafa, Samir, and Amal, they work in a Baghdad still adjusting to the loss of its World Trade Center towers (after Christian fundamentalists flew planes into them), and the leaders of organized crime and political corruption are Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions

Posted by Kurt

I went to a prestigious law school, and I've been practicing as a public defender for more than five years, and until I read this book, I thought I didn't like Constitutional law.  The big Constitutional cases tended to be confusing and dishonest examples of judges using implausible means to reach the ends they thought were most just (Wexler completely wins my heart again when he comments that Supreme Court justices like three-part tests almost as much as they like big corporations), and they tended to look much more like politics than legal reasoning.  Through these odd clauses, though, Wexler has made me respect the Constitution (and the history of its interpretations) much more.