Short Book Reviews
No, I don't just watch movies.  Here's what I've read (and maybe recommend) so far this calendar year.

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker
A somewhat dense (in some chapters) but very thorough treatise on the "nature vs. nurture" debate.  It doesn't get as much into biology as it could have (or as much as I would have liked), but Pinker is simultaneously brilliant and accessible, so if you're interested in this (and if you have kids, you should be), then this will be an enjoyable read (in some chapters).

Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
This is the first of two planned sequels that wrap up Frank (Brian's dad) Herbert's original Dune series.  Up till now Brian and (Star Wars hack novelist) Kevin have been doing "prequels" as warm-ups (i.e., milking the audience) as well as fleshing out a universe to draw from for these final novels. The elder Herbert set the bar pretty high (to date he's still my favorite fiction author), so it's no surprise that these guys come up a bit short here.  Still it is much-needed closure on loose threads that have been nagging me since I finished the original series in the 9th grade.  Psychotherapy can't promise results this tangible.

The "Found" Book by Davy Rothbart
You've probably (or at least should have) heard Davy on NPR's "This American Life" by now.  The book is a collection of "found" pieces of writing that are by their very nature out of context: letters, fliers, "to do" lists, grocery lists, etc.  Sometimes they're hilarious, sometimes poignant.  They're all peculiar snapshots into people's lives that are sometimes right beneath our feet if we stopped to pick them up.

Next by Michael Crichton
This is a really different novel for him.  Unfortunately, it isn't all that great, but whereas a lot of his novels are somewhat dry because he tries to keep the science as grounded as possible, here he does kind of go way out there the way he really hasn't since Jurassic Park.  Still, if you're like me, you'll discard the fiction elements as garnish around the (as always) thoroughly researched material in which it's couched, and you'll enjoy the appendices and/or afterword more than the story itself.

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
It's a short book with a terrific reach and a mean upper-cut.  Christians won't be able to turn the other cheek if they read this because they'll be out cold.  Or not Christian anymore.

The Far Side Gallery by Gary Larson
This was released on the tenth anniversary of Larson writing his famous strip, and in it he goes "behind the scenes" (as much as one can in this medium) to show alternate versions of his comics, his early work, and "deleted scenes" (i.e., cartoons that never saw print for one reason or another).  Funnier even than the comics are the anecdotes about angry readers' letters and befuddled editors who simply don't get it.

The End of Faith by Sam Harris
At times this book detours too much into philosophy, but I realize this wasn't so much an indictment of a specific religious sect as his later Letter was (see above) as it was a thorough examination of the ridiculous concept we call faith.  Don't worry though, although it slows down in points, Harris has a wry sense of humor in picking apart what he understandably can't help but see as nonsense.  It makes for an unholy trinity alongside his Letter and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.

Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need by Dave Barry
Personally, I like Dave Barry.  Reading him and finding his style dated is like reading Shakespeare and finding his work full of clichés.  Hey, who do you think coined them?

America: The Book by Daily Show
If you aren't sharp enough for Dave Barry, then you'll probably be lost here.  The humor is so dry that Katrina wouldn't have had an effect on it.  You'll find yourself re-reading passages in this one a second (or third) time until the voice in your head adopts the appropriately sardonic tone that Jon Stewart has mastered.  Bonus: It may manage to offend Canadians even more than South Park.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Honestly, I have no idea what this was about.  I mean, I get it.  I just don't get the big deal.  Obviously I'm not a big fan of any religion (even if Buddhism is among the least of entirely too many evils), so it just didn't connect with me.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
One of my favorite quotes by the author (though not from this novel) sums up the book nicely: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."  There are a lot of fun conversations among druggies who are in a different reality than us from one moment to the next, but (as with most of Dick's works), the fun is in teasing you with hints that you aren't in the reality you think you're in.  And by the end, you're as paranoid as the characters.

Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.

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