Category: Book Reviews

Reviewed: 5 Best Academic Texts

Here at Diversions we take “text” to mean anything literary worth studying: novels, film, graphic narrative, and more. Yes, texts come in a variety of forms. So here are our top five favorite works that just exude sexuality.

Freud1. The Bio-Graphic Novel Freud For Beginners by Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate.  A summary of Freud’s life and works, in Graphic Novel format. Be ready, if you read this in public and people can see the illustration- you’ll be stared at. Incredibly wonderful, but graphic, drawings surround his theories, which are broken down quite nicely so that anyone can understand them. A favorite among all types of students. Check out the other “For Beginners” series.

Continue reading

Reviewed: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Image

Have you ever tried reading the entire Bible in four weeks? That’s what bestselling author A.J. Jacobs did in preparation for one of his four New York Times Bestselling books, The Year of Living Biblically. Spawned from an outcast family member’s religiously unique life, Jacobs takes on “one man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.” Considering the many absurd rules in the Bible, this may seem ridiculous—if not impossible. However, Jacobs immerses readers into his life and biblical-living endeavor with intrigue, humor, and complete honesty.

Jacobs’ endeavor is ambitious to say the least. He sets aside twelve months of his life to devote to living biblically, working still for Esquire magazine and managing a family. After volumes of research, interviews, interactions and brave steps into the oddities of the Bible, Jacobs completes this daunting task, but it certainly provides its challenges along the way.

To begin his journey, Jacobs decides to embrace the Bible chronologically. Structurally, his book is separated into chapters by months. He also labels sections of each chapter by numbering days of his approximately 381 day spiritual journey. The pages are spaced nicely and Bible verses guide the discussions and progression of his biblical activities and daily encounters.

Jacobs approaches the Bible from an agnostic stance and a secular Jewish heritage. He explains to readers his religious experience, ultimately inviting readers into his spiritual journey, somewhat certain that this endeavor will not affect his religious stance significantly, but also wondering what impact it might have.

During his four weeks of intensive, five-hours-a-day Bible readings, Jacobs compiles a list of rules to adhere to from the Bible. He acknowledges, “I’ve decided I can’t” take every part of the Bible literally. “That’d be misleading, unnecessarily flip, and would result in missing body parts. No, instead my plan is this: I will try to find the original intent of the biblical rule or teaching and follow that to the letter” (10).

For many tasks he does a literal job, wearing tassels, avoiding mixed fiber clothing, not shaving facial hair, abiding by purity laws, following the ten commandments, stoning sinners, playing a horn on the first of every month, offering  prayers each day, visiting Jerusalem, and many more. Some are purely comedic in today’s era; others pull the agnostic Jacobs closer to the potential of a divine Being.

Image

His external appearance, a large bushy beard, white attire, even a staff sometimes, tassels hanging from his shirt—all of these may seem absurd in modern New York, but just as Jacobs’ outward appearance morphs to adhere to the biblical lifestyle, so does his inner self. He creates a biblical persona to differentiate himself. There is “A.J.” the original and “Jacob,” the Bible following self.  Jacobs’ ethical arguments between his two conflicting selves are entertaining and very personal.

The whole book is personal. He invites readers into his family dynamics introducing readers to his wife, Julie, his son Jasper and his and his wife’s attempts to “be fruitful and multiply” as the Bible commands. Their journey to have a second child is well underway as Jacobs tries to live the Bible literally.

Part of the charm of the book is the inclusion of Jacobs’ personal life. Witnessing his honesty, hearing his mental progressions and watching his spiritual formation brings readers into the realness of the Bible and its many followers. His genuine openness to the oddities of the Bible and to listening to the Jews and Christians and considering the whys of what they do, opens him to understanding. However, while he understands why prayer is valuable to followers, or how Bible stories teach lessons of morality and guidance—not to lie, cheat, steal or give into lust—there are some concepts or laws in the Bible that are just too perplexing. So Jacobs seeks help from others. Jacobs acquires many mentors, spiritual guides, who offer their varying insights to some of the most perplexing concepts of the Bible such as eating locusts, finding the red heifer, snake handling, or taking a pigeon’s egg from a nest. All of these are odd, but as explained in his book, have some significant meaning, even if humans can’t fully explain.

His adventures are riveting, hilarious, and engaging. Jacobs writes as if you are there with him, using tasteful descriptions and fluid writing. As you hear of his ventures, you want to know more yourself. You are wondering what you believe and why.

This book is a fascinating read. It covers a year of life. It’s a man’s story of faith or lack thereof, a journey of seeking to understand the Divine through many lenses. Literal versus figurative, Jews and Christians, churches, rituals, tasks, rules—all of these he delves into and readers get to see one man’s quest to understand the benefits and negatives of religion.

I highly recommend this read. You won’t be able to put it down and you’ll enjoy its blunt but genuine way of confronting the Bible, an ancient text, in today’s modern world.

Pros

You will laugh out loud

Your own preconceptions of the Bible may be challenged

Cons

Some animals are killed throughout the duration of this book

The book deals with lust and other sexual content

Source: Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007. Print.

Reviewed: Julio’s Day and Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez.

In April Gilbert Hernandez released not one but two beautiful new graphic novels, Julio’s Day and Marble Season.


julio's day, gilbert hernandez, best graphic novels 2013, marble season, graphic narrative

I loved the simplicity of this beautiful book! A meditation on the inevitably cyclical nature of life and of time; how storms rage, the sun shines, and then it all happens again. In Julio’s Day graphic novelist Gilbert Hernandez follows the story of Julio: starting in 1900 with his birth and ending in 2000 with his death. Certain plot nuances just make the story absolutely twisted and still offer an incredibly meaningful narrative that has the potential to make an impact on readers and their thoughts on the particularly deep subject of the meaning of life.

Hernandez– always the ontological explorer– does an excellent job juxtaposing both tragedy and celebration against the experience of contemporary person-hood. Not a few pages in and Julio’s mother shares her wisdom with the young boy:

“I don’t feel so sad when somebody dies, Julio, because they fly away to explore the stars and planets.”

Her calming words on the scary subject of death set the stage for the rest of the story, where readers will encounter Julio and his network of family and friends as they face both good times and bad times.

Julio and other characters will be bullied, will be lonely, will be brave… will just “be”. Hernandez is able to capture not only a multitude of human emotions but his studies are fine-tuned; the writing and illustrating breathe life into these fictional people. Hernandez seeks to explore the origins of a character, finding a way to acknowledge the neuroses that are tied to behaviors- especially in deviant/violent behavior. Freud’s theory of the unconscious deeply affected the 20th century, so it was nice to see this studied.

Julio’s Day is an absolute must read for those interested in the study of ontology— the nature of being— which is hopefully just about everyone!
Julio-Nature

Pro: This is the kind of book you’ll want to add to your home library. This beautiful hardcover edition comes with the added bonus of a quality forward by writer and scholar Brian Evenson.

Pro: Hernandez is a gifted storyteller. The emotive nature of this book leaps off the page. The imagery is powerful!

Con: You’ve got to slow down and be patient with the story. Allow yourself time to reflect not only on each panel, but on the spaces between the panels, which can be just as telling.

Con: Especially because most of the characters are related, and they are all aging so quickly, it was easy for me to get them confused. But Hernandez does provide a great cast of characters that can always be referenced!

There are similar books (such as Galleano’s “Century of the Wind”) that tell the story of the 20th century through a fictional accounts grounded in historical facts– and Hernandez joins the ranks with this incredible account of Julio and his experience throughout the century. Read this book, and be ready to get emotional (in the best possible way!) !


Marble Season

Marble season by gilbert hernandez

Marble season by gilbert hernandez

A very cool story of the experience of young Huey and the escapades he gets into with his brothers and his friends in their neighborhood.

Marble Season is partly based on the authors own life.

Huey’s boyhood love for fun and fiction shine through the pages of this graphic novel. Caught between worlds- of an older brother and a younger brother, Huey adores writing and acting out stories and is always reading comic books. His character is multifaceted, however, and he gets into some trouble both as a boy and as a creative soul. He hits roadblocks and makes some poor decisions– albeit pretty innocently– throughout.

There’s something in this book that induces a sharp nostalgia for a return to the feeling of childhood innocence. It is quite an indulgence to put yourself in that mode and explore the story through that lens.

Marble Season

Pro: Another great hardcover book, with a thorough afterword by Corey K. Creekmur from the University of Iowa and a “detailing of pop culture references” page that Hernandez has constructed.

Pro: Safe for younger or more conservative audiences, as opposed to most other Hernandez works.

Con: This book left a good impression on me, but the subject just wasn’t as interesting to me as I think it will be for others, especially guys!

Con: I’d loved to have seen Hernandez use some color in this book! At least we got the cool covers out of the two books.


Remember, we’re giving away our copies of these two fine graphic novels! Enter here!

Reviewed: The Grammar of Rock: Art and Artlessness in 20th Century Pop Lyrics

grammar of rock
Popular music in America, at least over the last couple of decades, has, in my opinion, disintegrated into meaninglessness and timeliness, with lyrics that are undeniably catchy but equally as terrible and lacking in substance and philosophical fortitude. Musicians today seem to be simply trying to produce music that will sell rather than focusing on music that is of the highest quality, particularly lyrically. Older artists, such as Marvin Gaye, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and dozens more, had a much better sense of what to write their music around. Cliche as it sounds, kids these days just don’t possess the same level of recognition or appreciation for great music. Being quite the music fanatic myself, able to appreciate works from almost every genre, I was very interested to read what Alexander Theroux had to say about musical lyrics. Rather than taking the standpoint of an all-knowing, official, academically certified scholar whose input on 20th century music’s lyrics should be taken as matter-of-fact, Theroux wrote his book more in the form of an essay with a rather conversational, amenable voice. It is as if he was attempting to give readers a sense of what it’s like to chat with him about the topic of 20th century musical lyrics. He writes with a satirical, rough, and, at times, cruel tone that some readers may very well find off-putting. He points to many songs’ downfall in their lyrics’ grammatical flaws, topical, disorganized and unrelated subject-matter, and overall haphazardness and meaninglessness. Whether done so intentionally or not, the book itself has its fair share of grammatical and structural issues, and left me wondering what exactly his purpose was for writing it.

For a book whose title, I’m sure, intrigues a large percentage of both music and book lovers, The Grammar of Rock: Art and Artlessness in 20th Century Pop Lyrics may start off solidly, but ultimately is very poorly written and organized, shallow and pedantic. The idea of analyzing song lyrics as a form of literature is a very interesting one, but one that Theroux is never able to explore fully or fairly. With such an interesting concept for a book, readers, much like I was, must’ve been chomping at the bit to get through it. Not too far in, it became a rather painful and distasteful experience, and one that I wanted to end immediately. It is clear from reading that the author is a wise man with some interesting ideas dispersed throughout, however the book fails to satisfy what readers were hoping it would – an interest in the evolution and explication of musical lyrics and analyses of songs as pieces of literature. A mere 40 pages in (out of the book’s 350 pages total), the author had portrayed himself as a cynical, old, out-of-touch writer whose curbed opinions should be taken as matter-of-fact. There is no doubt a quirkiness to his writing, which he seems to feel allows him to spew unfounded criticism in the form of jabs and jokes at not only the musical artists, but also the fans of such music. Theroux writes in a manner that can be described as arrogant, pompous, autocratic, and misguided as he attacks seemingly the whole population of poorly educated Americans who appreciate music for all the wrong reasons.

Theroux does make some valid arguments, pointing to music’s tendency to disregard proper grammar, pronunciation, and dialect, however fails to realize that doing so is often necessary in order for musical artists to maintain appropriate rhyme and meter, much like what poets must often do. His inability to permit any sort of dialectic imprecision inhibits him from being able to appreciate music for what it’s worth. One example of this that I loved was his ability to “permit” song titles and lyrics such as Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” alluding to the fact that while “Mrs. Jones and I” would be the grammatically correct form, it would not have the same “backstreet sordidness” of the original song’s title and lyric. I was certainly able to appreciate the humor he includes within his analyses, whether done so intentionally or not, as it helps to lighten the mood and soften the rigid strictness of most of the book. While allowing certain permissions, such as “Me and Mrs. Jones,” Theroux seems unable to help himself from spending several pages condemning grammatical blunders and misusages, incongruities, contradictions, and improperly used expressions or phrases. I certainly don’t believe, after reading his book, that Theroux intended coming off as so pompous that it’s humorous, but that is absolutely the feeling I was left with and am thus able to appreciate the work, if for no other reason than that.

Reviewed: Sean Faircloth’s “Attack of the Theocrats”

attack of the theocrats, sean faircloth, richard dawkins

Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. – Mitt Romney

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. – James Madison

Freedom of religion is one of the cornerstones of American democracy. Sean Faircloth, former Director of the Secular Coalition of America (SCA) and Director of Strategy and Policy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science,  would argue that freedom from religion is as crucial an aspect of our democracy is the freedom to engage in various religious practices. His book Attack of the Theocrats: How The Religious Right Harms Us All – And What We Can Do About It outlines a path to liberation from what Faircloth perceives to be religious oppression at the hands of theocratic usurpers.

Faircloth argues that religious biases in American culture promote discrimination against members of the military, inhibits the progression of legislation serving and protecting women, slows the progress of potentially life-saving health research, degrades our educational system, and much, much more. Faircloth, a former attorney, makes his case by listing repeated examples of the harm done by religious fundamentalists, repeatedly driving his point home. The message is clear early in the book, and it is reinforced emphatically for the majority of its pages: Religious involvement in public policy severely inhibits social progress.

Beyond the legislative dangers posed by theocrats, Faircloth warns of a creeping philosophical shift that is distinctly un-American.  The second chapter, entitled “Our Secular Heritage: One Nation Under the Constitution,” describes the Enlightenment-era philosophy upon which the American political system was built. In Faircloth’s estimation, secularism and skepticism are synonymous with American patriotism.

One interesting feature in Faircloth’s book is a chapter devoted to a group of Congressmen whose violations of the separation clause are particularly frequent or egregious. He labels these offenders “The Fundamentalist Fifty.”

Faircloth includes a chapter devoted to the SCA’s blueprint for maintaining the U.S.’s status as a secular nation. He calls the plan Our Secular Decade: A Patriotic Plan to Reclaim America, and it provides guidance for individuals who are interested in secular political advocacy. Faircloth understands how effective grassroots movements begin, and he encourages the secular faithful to get involved in the fight to preserve secularism by lobbying congress and making contact with the media. Also, Faircloth says the SCA is striving to help at least ten openly secular citizens get elected to Congress by 2020. For some deeper exposition regarding the history of secular philosophy, I highly recommend Susan Jacoby’s excellent “Freethinkers.”

Faircloth’s tome is quite short and it moves at breakneck speed. He writes with conviction and a sense of urgency, pleading with readers to take action before Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state is irreparably damaged. This is nonfiction with a purpose, and it is written by a man who wholeheartedly believes every word of his own message. Some may be turned off by Faircloth’s assertions, as well as his insolent delivery, but it’s hard to debate the merits of his arguments. He is simply and justifiably offended by the legislative coup d’état taking place in our nation’s capitol.

Faircloth makes numerous examples of the insidious and toxic practices brought about by misguided legislation, so initially it may seem as if this book has a somewhat pessimistic tone, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The essence of this book is rooted in hope and in patriotism. Faircloth writes, “We must protect the religious liberties guaranteed in the Constitution, including the rights of the so-called Moral Majority and their allies to express their ideas with absolute freedom. However, special privileges based on their religious bias, or anyone’s religious bias, must be removed from our laws. We must devote ourselves to rebuilding Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state, a wall that has crumbled so terribly these last thirty years .We must reinvigorate a culture of innovation. And if we do these things, a great America will become even greater, a proud America will become even prouder.”

This book is a must-read, no matter who you are. If you are a secular American, this book may inspire you to become more active in your community and it will certainly broaden your perspective on the legislative quagmire that is currently slowing down our nation’s social progress. If you are a religious American, you’ll benefit tremendously by learning more about how the loud, influential, powerful fundamentalists in Washington D.C. are doing you far more harm than good. If you’re not an American at all it’s still worth reading to gain some thoughtful insight into how the political system of one of the world’s most powerful nations has been subverted by semi-crazed ideologues. I truly cannot think of a more relevant and crucial book for any socially conscious person to add to their library.

Reviewed: Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary & Social Innovator by Robert E. Price

resampled_shopping cart painting frameIn the summer of 2010, San Diego local Robert Price wanted to publish a book about the life of his late father. For my last book review of the year, I wanted to choose a book that encompassed not only the American experience but also the American Dream. Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary & Social Innovator was my favorite book of the summer because it is a smart business book that is tailored for the average person as well as for the seasoned businessman. Besides the fact that the book offers great business advice, it is also a detailed biography of American businessman Sol Price. Price came from humble beginnings to creating Price Club, one of the most successful retail companies in the 20th century. The book is composed of personal recordings from Sol Price as well as hand written accounts from his son, Robert Price.

The book starts off as a biographical account of Sol’s life. It documents his parent’s immigration from Europe at the turn of the century. The book also documents Sol’s early life growing up in southern California. What makes the biographical side of the book so amazing is the fact that the pages are filled with family photos and other historical documents. The photos bring the book to life. The family history is detailed and Robert Price does a excellent job of creating a voice and also painting a picture of what life was like when Sol was growing up in early 20th century America.

The second part of the book takes on the Business side of Sol’s life. After reading the book, there is no doubt that Sol was an extremely savvy businessman from an early age. The book is filled with his business models as well as lessons that can be applied to any field of work. The book explains how Sol valued his customers, employees and shareholders. With the help of Sol’s natural business skills, Price Club grew from a local San Diego business to a company covering all of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Price Club Ad

Price Club Ad

The book gives a detailed account of how Price Club was formed and why it stood out from other retail stores in America. Sol developed the first wholesale retail store in America. His business stood out in the retail world because it was a very simple concept and “no frills.” Sam’s Club and Costco are both designed after Sol’s revolutionary business models. The book illustrates how Sol changed the retail industry in America. Sol’s business ideas still echo throughout the retail business world.

The last part of the book is by far the most interesting. After Sol made his name in the world of retail business, he decided to give back to the San Diego Community. The last part of the book chronicles Sol’s charity endeavors throughout the city of San Diego. It turns out that Sol’s charity program has worked with multiple high-schools in San Diego.

Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary & Social Innovator is a very unique book that has the ability to cater to a large audience. The book has the best of both worlds. It is jammed packed with great business advice as well as a great historical account of one man’s dream. The book also is great for anyone who is interested in San Diego History. It is hard to find flaws in this book. The best part of the book is that it is a very easy read. Robert’s narration of his father’s life has a great flow. If you are composing a summer reading list, Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary & Social Innovator should be at the very top.

If you would like to learn more about Sol’s community program in San Diego, you can visit http://www.aaronpricefellows.org/

Religion and Science

Reviewed: Religion and Science: The Basics by Philip Clayton

Religion and ScienceA strike of lightning reminiscent of a scene from an old, mad scientist film—or perhaps a lightning bolt from the heavens covers Philip Clayton’s book, Religion and Science: The Basics. In today’s society, the debate of religion versus science is highly contentious. Considering this topic’s significance, Clayton posits, should we be asking about religion versus science or religion and science 1?

Many readers’ opinions on the existence and the qualities of God range variably. However, many religious philosophies compose the same questions that science is asking. Religion has its answers to some of these questions—but so does science. How was the world formed? Creation from nothing, the big bang, evolution, matter always existing—these core principles of life are still theorized and fairly debated within the realms of science and religion. Can these two seemingly conflicting and incoherent topics merge? Author Philip Clayton expands the typical Western Christian mindset to include diverse ideologies from worldwide religions and religious thought. This effectively welcomes readers into a foundational comprehension of these religions. He also addresses many components of established scientific thought, successfully creating stimulating, provoking arguments that are subtle but cause the reader to ponder—no matter what his or her stance might be.

religion and sciencePhilip Clayton is a distinguished professor of Religion and Philosophy as well as the Dean at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. Additionally, he is Provost of Claremont Lincoln University. His credibility is further maintained by his authorship of some twenty books and his prominence within the field of religion, philosophy, and science.

Clayton recognizes that the field of religion and science is highly valuable. In his preface, he acknowledges, “the questions that arise at the boundaries between the sciences and the religions will likely be with us for as long as there are humans to ask questions” 2. America was founded upon religious freedom but also values science. Clayton illustrates the need to address these challenging topics that are often misconstrued by stereotypes. This book pertains to anyone interested in expanding his or her mind; after all, as the back cover claims, “knowledge begins with the basics.”

Clayton’s book’s organization is clear and accessible. The book is welcoming to readers with all sorts of backgrounds. It is structured into clear sections with titles and explanations aiding the content. This structural choice is one of my favorite components of the book. The book is compartmentalized, focusing on four major concepts:

  • Science or religion, or science and religion?
  • Intelligent Design vs. the New Atheists
  • The role of scientific and religious ethics—designer drugs, AI, and stem cell research
  • The future of science and the future of religion

Each chapter is concluded with discussion questions. Clayton does a fair job of staying neutral and attempts to encourage readers to deduce their own thoughts of all these conflicting concepts.

Clayton is fantastic at pulling readers into the realm of awareness. He writes emphatically and intelligently, keeping people fascinated with these debates occurring between religion advocates and scientists. He acknowledges that most people are not aware of the reality of these types of debates other than the negative stereotypes media and bloggers emit. However, by showing readers a potential debate and then following up with appropriate explanations and elaborations, he allows room for readers to discern and decipher their own beliefs, opinions, and stances—prompting his audience to consider whether religion and science are indeed in combat or are potentially compatible.

lightning The second major theme Clayton presents is “The Two Most Famous Foes.” These foes are proponents of Intelligent Design and the New Atheists. These opponents would certainly seem to be in support of the theme of “religion versus science” as Clayton notes, “[a]t the end, each side hopes, only one contestant will remain standing” 3. However, once again, Clayton breaks stereotypes and brings rationality to each side of the argument, while also revealing flaws from both sides, ultimately prompting readers to evaluate their own understandings of the topic. Clayton urges readers: “As you read, try to determine which group has the most convincing arguments. Where would you locate yourself, and why?” 4.

Clayton pulls from numerous, credible sources, ranging from Immanuel Kant to Richard Dawkins, heightening the validity of his overall work. It is clear that there is no secret agenda, but in fact, it appears that Clayton wants readers to evaluate their own opinions.

After reviewing some of the sciences, Clayton advocates this concept: “it at least appears to be possible to be scientific about one’s religion and to be religious about one’s science” 5. Throughout, readers recognize the simple notion that religion and science may be more compatible than is vocalized or acknowledged. Yet this potential compatibility may lead to even more questions.

Clayton notes, “by this point some readers will be tired of all these questions about what is true and what is not true, what can be known and what cannot be known” even claiming, some “may have become agnostic…in the light of the complex and apparently unresolvable debates between scientists and religious traditions” 6. When exploring the concepts of scientific and religious ethics, Clayton illuminates a codependency of the two topics. Clayton hits upon all the most controversial topics within scientific and religious ethics, including: stem cell research, ethical issues at the end of life, the rights of subjects in scientific experiments, and warfare technologies.

After much examination, Clayton closes with five potential options for the future of science and religion, concluding the final chapter with this prompt: “They’re your questions now” 7.

I appreciate how Philip Clayton employs many diverse sources throughout his book, considers various religions for examination and comparison, and also gives reasonableness to each side of the argument. Perhaps the only downside of the book is the fact that Clayton is so objective. He leaves everything very open, causing much curiosity and pondering; however, it is through this objective lens that the book functions most effectively. This book serves to alert people to consciously choose what to believe. The choice belongs to the readers and Clayton certainly reveals many choices throughout. If you are interested in just religion, just science, or both, you should read this book. It may cover things you already know, but it is bound to enlighten you in some sense. It is a quick, fascinating read. Read it!

Pros:

  • Religion and science are topics that will not go away from our culture.
  • This book is organized and clear; readers will be able to engage in the concepts presented.
  • This book will not tell you what to think; it challenges readers to think analytically and critically.

Cons:

  • This book is very objective; readers may become frustrated with all the open ends, desiring specific or definitive answers.
  • This book will not tell you what to think; it challenges readers to think analytically and critically.

You can check out the book here.

Footnotes:

  1. 2
  2. iii
  3. 17
  4. 17
  5. 82
  6. 121
  7. 167

Reviewed: Gonzo Republic: Hunter S. Thompson’s America

Image of Gonzo Republic Book Cover

Book Cover

In Gonzo Republic: Hunter S. Thompson’s America William Stephenson explores the life and work of legendary Hunter S. Thompson, praising the importance of his unique and stylistic writings, and keenly analyzing ways in which the work relates to greater American Literature and Culture.

Hunter S. Thompson led a fascinating life– full of intrigue and extraordinary moments. Riding with motorcycle gangs, taking acid to toy with his perception, and running for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado are how most of us remember him. Yet Stephenson reminds us that Thompson was very different from the character we most often associate him with: Raoul Duke from the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Gonzo Republic readers are treated to the full story of the man behind the legend.

Thompson’s views, life, and work are first detailed in an earnest effort to pinpoint his literary, philosophical, and political roots. From Thoreau to Eliot to Wolfe to Kerouac, Gonzo Republic situates Thompson as having been influenced by some of America’s greatest authors.

Stephenson then conceptualizes Thompson from many other angles. Delving into the meta-narratives of Thompson’s ‘fictions’ and drawing specifically from Baudrillard’s idea of the hyper-real (a world that is being simulated or amplified), he describes the effect of Hunter S. Thompson’s unique writing style as similar to the music of the time. “Like the Jimi Hendrix of journalism, Thompson cranks the volume up so loud that the feedback and the original signal become blurred”. (p.32)

Old Blue Eyes, inked drawing of Thompson

Steadman’s depiction of Thompson, “Old Blue Eyes”

Stephenson seems to admire Thompson’s effectiveness at writing as an act of rebellion. He explains why the moment at which Thompson arrived on the literary scene the nation was poised for a revolt. Citizens were not finding fulfillment in the ‘the American Dream’ and thus Stephenson decries, “The Gonzo style was the cracked mirror of a broken nation” (p.33).

Gonzo Republic likewise explores how Thompson’s push towards both living on the edge and writing on the edge was a tool of protest:

Thompson’s work implies that when the ground of the human subject is the sign, but one seeks to resist this state of affairs through authentic action, then a self-conscious dissident subject is more likely than ever before, at least in modern American culture, where the real, territorial frontier no longer exists, to end up practising edgework, exploring borderlands of chemicals, sub-cultural living, dissident politics, guns and motorized speed (p.92).

Thompson’s edgework is about using psychedelic sport, in all its forms, in order to experience liminal states where one can glimpse an inner boundary, and even briefly travel along it, as the risk of crossing over permanently (p.107)

We also find praise for the writing style found in the myriad of Thompson’s work, in passages like:

[his] best political writing is nonlinear and riven with tension. Through its often fragmentary, abrasive syntax and episodic structure, it reflects a freedom-seeking individualist’s resistance to the power structures that would interpellate him for their own ends” (pp.80)

The drug, sport, and betting metaphors in Thompson’s political writing blurred conventional, conceptual lines in a subversive way, because they revealed that even at the very top, the legally legitimized democratic process had become riven by compulsive desires that were not fundamentally different from the cravings of the junkie or the gambler (p.77).

freak-power

Freak Power Poster

Furthermore, Thompson’s personal brand of politics (“Freak Power”) is detailed as Stephenson puts his ideas into the context of the late 20th century political stage. The reader is exposed to a scope of his commentary not just from the 1960s but all the way until his death in 2005. Stephenson analyses his warnings against trusting the political animals that are part of the political machine, saying that these are quite applicable in our time. Thompson believed that visual propaganda directly affects the important political choices we make as modern Americans. Stephenson even suggests that Thompson’s extreme life and his use of an exaggerated and warped writing style is a comment on the formulation of power structures — within both literature and culture.

The sheer volume of information to be gained from this book is incredible. Pick it up today! It is an excellent study that will please anyone interested in learning more about both Hunter S. Thompson and American Literature and Culture.

Pros
1) This is a detailed pursuit with no shortage of both abstract concepts and maps of detailed roads between Thompson, Literature, and Culture.
2) Readers will find not only literary analysis and biography, but the most quirky and even hilarious tidbits such as how Thompson would read the book of Revelations to get “cranked up about language” (pp.40).
3) Stephenson offers a unique reference section, an index, and has organized his citations of Thompson’s works in a simple way that will please readers.

Cons:
1) As someone who picked up this book because I thought I was a fan of Hunter S. Thompson I quickly realized I knew not the first thing about his work, but only knew of him through the movie Fear and Loathing. Though not absolutely necessary, it would behoove the reader to read a bit of Thompson’s work before-hand.
2) The book will not be an easy read for those who have not done previous cultural studies using the types of classic scholars Stephenson relies on for many of his arguments– DeLuze and Guittari, Derrida, Foucault, and Baudrillard.
3) Unfortunately the book has no pictures, though the cover art is quite nice!

Check out the book here!

the great gatsby book cover

Reviewed: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has long been considered an American classic and a milestone for literary commentary on social class and “The American Dream,” namely focusing on the 1920s’ rise of a wealthy middle to upper class.  Through the character of Gatsby, Fitzgerald masterfully highlights the corruption, greed, and monotonous depression that comes from a lack of fulfillment in one’s life.  Underneath all of the glamour, Gatsby truly just tries to find love and a sense of purpose.  The narrator, Nick Carraway, gives readers a unique perspective from which to perceive the novel’s characters, events, and underlying messages. It is Gatsby’s wealth that empowers him as the novel’s enigmatic, tragic hero.  Despite how he might be perceived based on his exterior and extraneous lifestyle, Gatsby’s main focus is on winning back his love, Daisy.  As a self-made man, both in terms of his persona and true disposition, his ambitions are less-than-respectable, striving to live simply for the money, wealth, and popularity he’d achieved.  His unrelenting will to prosper is ultimately the cause of his demise.

At first read, the plot may seem like a transparent tale of unfulfilled love. The novel’s prominent theme, however, deals more with a pragmatic, worldly sphere than a simple romantic anecdote.  With a deeper analysis, readers can delve into the symbolic relevance of America in the 1920’s, particularly the loss of what was once a prominent, widely held belief in “The American Dream.” Due to a never-before-seen boom in wealth and materialism, the country was undergoing dramatic changes. Through portrayals of greed, distrust and pessimism in his characters, mainly acting to please only themselves, Fitzgerald presents us with a story that illuminates a social degradation in morality and personal values.  All of the frivolous exultation, perfectly portrayed though the weekly parties Gatsby throws, demonstrates just how corrupt the pursuit of “The American Dream” can make people.

Pictured: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Pictured: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Respectable, worthy endeavors take a backseat to lesser goals of obtaining money and experiencing momentary, meaningless amusement.  A generation of World War I surviving Americans, naturally traumatized by the horrors of war, became embittered and distrusting of the moral, humanitarian efforts of the early 20th century, and seemingly as a way of numbing such monotony and gloom, they turned to lives of lavish, trivial, temporary enjoyment.  A perfect illustration of this is consumerism; as the nation’s wealth grew virtually across the board, spending and consuming grew to anomalous heights. Suddenly, regardless of pedigree or social background, seemingly anyone could strike it rich given the right combination of work, luck, and knowing the right people.  Both being veterans of the war, Gatsby and Nick serve to symbolize both the grandeur and pessimism of their generation.  A good example of those trying to work their way up the ladder are the people who attend Gatsby’s lavish parties without a single noble or altruistic intention; they are simply serving themselves.

In American culture today, many of the same elements present in The Great Gatsby are still prevalent, if not growing even stronger.  Consumerism, capitalism, fame and fortune are things that an unruly percentage of the population devote most of their time, thought, money and energy towards. I feel as though advancements in technology have only served to perpetuate these frivolous endeavors in our society.  In a matter of months from now, The Great Gatsby will be released in theatres, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire.  I find this to be another perfect illustration of American culture today; one or two famous celebrities starring in a movie is all it takes to draw an audience.  Despite the widely held belief that movies based on books never live up to expectations, the vast majority of moviegoers will not opt to read the book before seeing the movie. Others, I’m sure, will be completely unaware that there was even a novel at all, and simply go to see good-looking celebrities on the big screen. This highlights, albeit cynically, the average American’s laziness, naivety and utter idiocy. Reading for pleasure used to be a very common pastime, however, as I’d alluded to, the technology boom in recent decades has diminished the prevalence of such activities while also increasing the ubiquity of less-than-respectable endeavors.  One could argue that consumerism in America is even more of an epidemic now than it was in the era about which Fitzgerald writes his novel.  As a young man who has gone through more tumultuous times than the average 40-year-old, I have come to devote all of my being into a lifestyle of love, happiness, simplicity and enjoyment in the routine, everyday things that satisfy me.  I feel as though perhaps Fitzgerald strived to instill these ideas into the minds of his readers by showing just how shameless and ugly those who dwell on various meaningless things are. The novel begs many questions, the deepest– and most cliche of all– being ‘what is the meaning of life?

Reviewed: Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

Drop Dead Healthy

In previous works such as “The Know-It-All” and “The Year of Living Biblically,” A.J. Jacobs has educated and entertained readers with his unique, humorous style of immersive, experiential journalism. Now, in “Drop Dead Healthy,” he has completed a trinity of sorts, exploring the development of his mind, spirit, and body.

While the origins of body consciousness may have originated in ancient cultures, there is no question about where it has reached its zenith. Americans are constantly bombarded with images of idealized bodies, alleged miracle wellness cures, fitness routines designed to bring out the visibility of the musculature on our torsos (why?), and weight-loss diet programs. Jacobs wades out into the conceptual quagmire known as “health” and attempts to make some sense of it all by subjecting himself to repeated, often genuinely funny, experiments and procedures while chasing after healthiness.

Jacobs’ narrative begins with a traumatic bout with pneumonia during a family vacation and some not-so-subtle prodding from his wife. He realized how his quality of life and life expectancy could both benefit from a reevaluation of his current lifestyle choices. As with his previous pursuits, Jacobs dives into the quest for health wholeheartedly, consulting with an assortment of so-called experts before engaging in experiments on various bodyparts.

AJ Jacobs

“Drop Dead Healthy” is a very organized book, structured according to whatever specific aspect of health Jacobs was focused on while writing. For example, food, sex, stress management, sleep, “toxins” and hydration all get their own chapters.

Jacobs’ inquisitive spirit leads him to try anything and everything in order to achieve optimal health, and he quickly learns that a lot of the information in the multi-billion dollar fitness industry is contradictory and often useless. When he finds something that does work, Jacobs gleefully relates his successes to his readers, and he delights in skewering allegedly effective health remedies and programs when they amount to nothing more than hype. He donned noise-cancelling headphones to preserve his hearing and wrote the majority of the novel while walking on a treadmill with a makeshift desk for his laptop in an effort to burn calories and strengthen his cardiovascular system. Behaviors that may seem weird to casual observers often proved effective in Jacobs’ project, and he welcomes the attention his odd practices generate.

Jacobs’ self-deprecating humor is his greatest attribute as a writer, and this is one area where his books truly shine. There are few authors who lay themselves bare in the way Jacobs does, both in his experiments and in his more personal relationships. Jacobs’ wife, Julie, is a frequent fixture in his books, and he isn’t shy at all about sharing exactly how his lifestyle experiments affect his relationship. For example, after reading about how arguing may help keep the brain healthy, Jacobs began looking for ways to engage in verbal skirmishes. “Nowadays, I’m always looking for a fight,” Jacobs wrote. “Yesterday, Julie told me she read an article about how songbirds are being illegally hunted in Europe. ‘Isn’t that terrible?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ I said. Then I saw an opening. ‘But let me ask you this. Is it any more terrible than people killing and eating turkeys or chickens?’ I then ranted about how we think it’s okay to eat ugly animals: cows or turkeys . . . By this time, Julie had stopped listening, and I’m following her around the kitchen as she puts away glasses and bowls.”

Although Jacobs ostensibly embarks on a mission to learn what fitness gurus have to say about whatever the secrets to healthy living may be, his narrative is more accurately described as one of perpetual self-discovery. Jacobs learns that health is a relatively flexible idea, and the process of finding what works for him is the part of his journey readers will benefit the most from.

Pros

  1. Jacobs’ style is supremely accessible and easy to read.
  2. The book is extremely informative. You will learn things.
  3. This book is funny. You will literally laugh out loud while reading it.

Cons

  1. Some of the gimmicky experiments feel, well, gimmicky.
  2. Because the volume of information is so great, it can feel very academic sometimes. This happens rarely, but it may provide problems for readers with shorter attention spans.