Book Review: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

18 05 2009

Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedThis book has been getting a lot of attention from the New York Times and I see why. This is a stunning debut collection of stories from author Wells Tower.  Everyone in this collection is down. Down on their luck, down in terms of money, and down in terms of mood. Yet all of these characters have compelling stories and adventures that don’t seem to get them anywhere while defining who they are.

From the mental aquarium in The Brown Coast, to the tension of riding in the car with an ex’s new lover in Down Through the Valley, to viking raiding parties in the title story Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned you watch lives slowly burn themselves toward the end of their fuse.  Sometimes they pop, other times they fizzle.  

The writing in this collection feels effortless.  It’s clean anf each story takes on it’s own voice. To be honest, this is one of the best collection of short stories I’ve read in years.





Repost: New Music – Jakob Dylan

20 04 2009

So I went to see Jakob Dylan on June 6th at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I knew he was touring without the Wallflowers and hadn’t yet heard his new album, which comes out on June 10th (though I did pick up a copy after the show).

Jakob DylanThe tour is in support of his new album Seeing Things and I’ve got to say that both the show and the new material were pretty good. For those of you who haven’t been to the Lincoln, it’s an old theatre with the seats ripped out and a small balcony. In essence it’s like seeing an artist play in your living room. It’s quite an inimate venue and Dylan’s new acoustic set and underscored band were ideal for the space.

The band played one or two older songs off of Bringing Down the Horse including Three Marlenas. The highlight of the night may have been an impromtu solo version of Josephine off that album. However, the newer material led the way and was a pleasant surprise. At one point of the evening Dylan asked the crowd if they were ready for some uplifting material and then rolled into evil is alive and well. Dylan’s sense of sarcasm was also well placed when dealing with a giant drunk woman who seemed to be screaming so loud over the music that I could hear her from 30 feet away over the music.

Other highlights off the new album included valley of the low sun, everybody pays as they go, something good this way comes, and on up the mountain. The new songs are haunting, quiet, moving, and show some maturity in Dylan as a song writer. The ninety minute set moved along at a nice clip and felt much fresher than most times when an artist plays new material.

Hearing the songs live first may have helped but I’d rate the new album as a 7 out of 10.

UPDATE:  Upon further listening, this album keeps getting better and better.





Recent Reading

11 03 2009

inhobokenFirst up is the Christian Bauman novel In Hoboken.  It’s the story of Thatcher, a young folk singer recently discharged from the army, who moves in with his friend James in Hoboken (of course).  The book chronicles Thatcher and the people he meets, including members of the music community and Orris, a mental patient who at times feels like the most real character.

Overall, I found the book well written and enjoyable, but the plot ambles along never really going anywhere.  It ends kind of flat, failing to wrap up or even address some of the issues in the characters’ lives.  

The second thing I’ve been reading is Marvel’s title, Secret Warriors.  

secretwarriors_01_cover1

Nick Fury has discovered that the only person he can trust is himself and it’s kind of crazy awesome.  So far we’ve had a new team of young heroes, Skrulls, and Hydra.  I like how this book is trolling the back alleys of Marvel’s Dark Reign. I’m hoping to see this book cross over into the rest of the Marvel universe (and vice versa).  It would be great to see Captain America and others all show up.  

Well, off to the pile of comic books and books remaining.

I almost forgot to mention, I recently also finished Stewart O’Nan’s a Prayer for the Dying.  A beautiful but heartbreaking book that can be difficult to read.  Essentially it’s a tale of a small town after the U.S. Civil War that experiences a diphtheria outbreak and is threatened by wildfires.  Written in the second person, the book grapples with the moral implications of what must be done and then often asks, how do you live with it?

prayer_for_the_dying1Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in the past year or so.  That being said, there were times I had to put it down.  What happens throughout the story is sometimes depressing and disheartening.  Not only do you feel for Jacob, the main character, but you cringe as you feel the novel’s world sliding slowly out of control.  

That being said, I’m starting to really admire O’Nan and his writing.  He can change voice, style, and subject so easily from book to book, yet still manages to produce great work.





Movie Review: Juno

21 01 2009

juno-poster2-big1So last night, our TiVo presented us with the darling of the film world, Juno. About half way through this movie, I felt compelled to write something about how it made me feel. Let me start by saying that I don’t get what all the buzz was about. While Juno was technically a well shot movie, the writing was horrific and that just ruined it all.

First, the dialog between the teen characters was the most annoying thing I’d ever heard in my life. First, I don’t believe that teens talk that way today. Secondly, I felt like the movie was trying so hard to be hip and cool that none of the characters had conversations that amounted to anything.

The characters in the movie were horrific. Between the teenagers who seemed incredibly smart and dumb at the same time and the portrayal of Gen-X adults as shallow and borderline pedophilic, I found myself repulsed by nearly all of the paper-thin characters. The only actor who seemed to rise above the limited writing was J.K. Simmons.

The thing that disturbed me greatly, wasn’t how the movie depicted teen pregnancy, it was that there wasn’t a real emotion or situation in the entire script. Diablo Cody has written a screenplay that, while cutesy and cheeky, has none of the truth or real emotion she seems to think it contains. It also contains an incredibly weak portrayal of pregnancy. As my wife pointed out, some of the facts presented were just wrong.

I have no idea why critics loved this movie. The performances were fine, but the source material was really limited. The quick fire, “witty” dialog attempts to hide the sins of the plot and characterization.

To top it off, the music in this movie was the worst I’ve ever heard. It seems like it’s a collection of the worst played indie rock from the last five years.

I’d avoid this movie. Just read some of the other reviews here.





Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

12 01 2009

mystpittscvr1I recently finished Michael Chabon’s first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a tale of the summer after college.  The narrator (Art) is the son of an infamous gangster and in some ways, that’s the most pedestrian part of the book.  The rest are the crazy twists and turns of a youngman figuring out how to be an adult while forming the kinds of friendship and love that one can only form when they have no real responsibilities.  

For a first novel, the book is beautifully written.  While it starts out a little bumpy, one it gets going the writing is smooth and easy.  In the version I read, Chabon discusses how he wrote the book in a basement crawlspace, precariously balanced on a stool atop a suitcase.  

The thing I think that is most powerful in this book, is the universe Chabon creates.  Not only are the characters powerful, but there is a definite sense of nostalgia for specific places in Pittsburgh.  From the Cloud Factory to the Lost Neighborhood, you get this feeling like part of the city is hidden and just waiting to be discovered.  

While not as powerful as some of his later works suck as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or Wonder Boys, you can clearly see Chabon working out the themes that show up in those later books.  This is a great first novel from a great writer and definitely worth picking up.

Apparently the book was also made into a film in 2008, however the casting makes me think it might not be the best adaptation.  Additionally it appears that they’ve dropped Arthur (there is one who isn’t the narrator) and combined him with Cleveland.





Review: Indignation by Philip Roth

26 11 2008

indignationI’ll be the first to admit that I’ve started reading Philip Roth late in his career.  Despite his having written 29 books, I’ve been through a grand total of three with the third being Indignation

I’ve found lately that I’m enjoying fewer and fewer novels.  I’m having to hunt more for books that I find compelling and challenging and gripping enough for me to tear through them.  All too often I find myself slowly wading through novels lately and being happy to have finished them.  It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just uninspiring. Shannon (my wife) and I have such different reading styles and preferences that, despite her voracious appetite for books it’s rare that we can recommend and/or discuss books together.

Since I’ve discovered Roth, I’ve tried to ensure that his books enter my rotation so I bought a copy of Indigation the last time I was at the bookstore.  I was very impressed with this bookand really enjoyed it.  I tore through it at a pace that I rarely read at any more.

It’s a story of fear and breaking away.  Marcus finds that when he enters college his father’s fear for his well being is so irrational and so disruptive that he must leave New Jersey and go to rural Ohio.  With the Korean War hanging over his head, Marcus struggles with roommates, falls in love, struggles with authority figures and makes choices that ultimately guide him along his path in life.  

I don’t want to give anything away but this book and Roth’s writing were powerful.  The thing that amazes me about Roth is that his writing is so straightforward, so simple, yet so eloquent and powerful at the same time.  He seems to so easily generate fear, dispair, love, desire, power through his writing. He’s one of the few authors I’ve found lately that makes me feel deeply and strongly while reading.

Indigation is definitely worth reading.  It’s by no means a happy story, but it’s a great, thought provoking book.





Review: Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

19 11 2008

snuffI’ve long been a fan of Chuck Palahniuk and his books. He’s written a few of my favorites, including Choke, Lullaby, and Fugitives and Monsters (though I love the entire series of those travel books).  I’ve found his work to be engaging and fresh.  It always comes from a different place and challenges me as a reader.  His latest book Snuff, however falls short.

Snuff focuses on five key figures at a gangbang shoot for a porno:  three of the participants, the talent wrangler, and the star going for the world record.  We get the perspectives of the participants and the wrangler, alluding to the star.  Throughout the book we learn that she mothered a porn-baby and later learn that one of the participants waiting to go on-stage may be that child.  

My problem with the book is not the subject matter, but that the plot of the book isn’t enough to keep it going for nearly 200 pages.  While the book is full of disturbing/odd/interesting trivia (that may or may not be true), that seems to be the main device (and nothing new for the author).  The coy and clever porn movie titles are wildly interesting, but in the end the plot and characters just don’t seem to hold up.  

The twist in this book (don’t worry no spoilers ahead), isn’t overly surprising and I guessed it about half way through.  Additionally, there isn’t enough tension between, or substance within the characters to make me care about any of them.  In the end, I’m left with a very vivid book that doesn’t really go anywhere.  Snuff leaves you with a sticky feeling, like you just spent a few hours of your life eating off the craft services table in a basement with a bunch of sweaty, doughy men waiting for sloppy seconds.  

Overall I wonder if he’s getting the same love and attention from his editors and publisher as he used to.  I haven’t yet read Rant, but based on Snuff and Haunted it seems like he’s being pushed to just release a book a year. It’s interesting that Snuff came out in May of 2008 and his next book PYGMY comes out in May of 2009. However, to be fair, the description of PYGMY sounds interesting and like he’s decided to move in a new direction as a writer.

Recommendation: Skip Snuff and try Invisible Monsters or Survivor.