My reading list has seen some pretty good action over the past few weeks. I'm currently halfway through my goal of reading 52 books this year, and my to-read is is still stocked full of titles I've been looking forward to reading for a while. Let me give you a quick rundown of what I've been reading the past few months.
I don't read a lot of Stephen King's work, but the premise behind his latest book was intriguing. If you had the opportunity to go back in time and prevent an atrocity from happening, would you do it? I'm not going to give you and spoilers, but that's essentially the premise behind King's 11/22/63, in which the protagonist goes back to the year 1958 and must wait out the five years, working toward the ultimate goal of preventing the JFK assassination. It was a pretty hefty read at nearly 1,000 pages, but it was a pretty easy read. Very entertaining and definitely recommended if you're looking for a smart, but not too complicated read.
11/22/63, by Stephen King -
My good friend Jason has mentioned this book off and on for a couple of years, and I finally got around to reading it. At the surface, it's a story about a brilliant programmer who programs a computer system that, on the event of his death, begins carrying out a programmed mission. To go into more detail might spoil the story a bit. The characters were a bit two-dimensional, but the author clearly has a really solid grasp of the technical details he was talking about, and I appreciated that the technical details weren't just glossed over, but were actually explained assuming the reader had a moderate background on how today's technology works. That may not be a safe assumption for all readers, but it was for me and it made the read that much more enjoyable. Not a masterpiece, but a good technological thriller.
Daemon, by Daniel Suarez -
Daemon definitely left me wanting to know what happened next, so I was glad that I had the sequel ready to go. Pretty much "more of the same," which was a good thing. I could spend an afternoon debating some of the themes of the books and how I felt about where the author took the book, but for a short review I'll just say that it was a good follow-up, very smartly written, and didn't get too bogged down in sharp deliniations between the "good guys" and "bad guys." Realism like that always makes for interesting reading.
Freedom™, by Daniel Suarez -
As I've mentioned before, Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and A Wild Sheep Chase is one of my favorite books of his. It's the surreal story of a pretty typical, self-described mediocre man in his early thirties who is suddenly tasked with a seemingly impossible task. This task, if not completed, has dire consequences attached to it, so he has little choice in the matter as to whether or not he will attempt it. On the surface it's certainly something of a mystery, but I feel like it has a bigger metaphorical message about the time most thirty-somethings go through when they have to learn to leave some of their youthful selves behind or else fall into backwards-focused medicrity. It's something of a "coming of age" for those of us past our youths, but before midlife.
A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami -
It was my second time reading A Wild Sheep Chase, but I only just recently learned that it's actually the third book in a series -- The Trilogy of the Rat. Hear the Wind Sing is the first in the series, and is actually Murakami's first book. It was only recently translated and released in the States, and it's apparently very hard (and expensive) to find a physical copy of the book. Thank God for the ebooks. The book's direction is pretty meandering, and the style is a little rough, but knowing where the trilogy was going gave me a pretty good appreciation for this first book. If you're a big Murakami fan it's worth giving a read, but probably not worth going out of your way for if you aren't.
Hear the Wind Sing, by Haruki Murakami -
The second in The Trilogy of the Rat, this is a book I actually started reading more than two years ago and just couldn't get into. The style is even more disjointed than Hear the Wind Sing, and frankly I just didn't find it very interesting. It features the same narrator as the other books in the series, but it just feels more like "here's what happened to me during a span of a year or so" wherein he doesn't end up anywhere other than where he started. It does fill in the gaps between the other two books, but it didn't serve much purpose apart from that.
Pinball, 1973, by Haruki Murakami -
January heard about this book and the premise sounded interesting, so we thought we'd try reading this one together. The world's scientists one day discover that the Earth is slowly descelerating by a matter of minutes every day, and this is the story of this world as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl. At first, I expected it to be a sort of science fiction thought experiment in what would happen in a world like this, and while it does address a lot of the scientific "what if" questions, it's really more of a coming-of-age story for the narrator. The author's writing is super heavy with the metaphors, linking what is happening to the planet to the struggles of being a teenage girl, but it was an enjoyable, winsome read. It somehow reminded me a lot of The Brief History of the Dead, which I read a few years ago and remember enjoying.
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker -
This is a tough one to rate. On the one hand, The Afghan Whigs are one of my favorite bands from the 90's. I've listened to their albums for years without knowing a whole lot about the band's history, and I enjoyed learning a little more about their background and the process that went into one of my favorite albums. On the other hand, the writing itself wasn't very good. It had that feel when you can tell the author has a thesaurus on their desk, and they just keep looking up other ways to say "great" or "album" because they feel like they've said the word too many times. I almost felt like I was reading narration for a VH1 "behind the music" episode. In some ways that's a good thing; When discussing certain songs, I could actually hear the music as a backdrop to the narration. All that to say that if you're a fan of Greg Dulli or The Afghan Whigs, it's definitely worth your time.
Gentlemen, by Bob Gendron -
So here we are. 31 weeks in, 26 books down. Goodreads tells me that I'm 4 books behind, so I've got a little work to do to get caught back up, but I'm on a pretty good pace. I'll have an update for you again next month, but in the meantime please hit me up with any recommendations. I'm trying get in a wide variety of styles of books, so I'd love to read anything that you think would be worth checking out.
When I agreed to give Birchbox Man a try, I had decided I would give it three months. If, after those three months, I hadn't gotten enough stuff to justify the $20/month price, I would just drop it and go back to my old slipshod grooming habits. My first month's box was pretty good, but my June haul wasn't even worth the effort of a blog review. C'mon guys, I told you I had a beard. What's with all the shaving creams? July was month number 3. Here is the verdict.
Quirky Wrapster - Birchbox makes sure to mention that they are grooming and lifestyle products for men. So while you can expect a lot of lotions and shampoos, you can also expect a smattering of tech gear. The Quirky Wrapster is a neat little piece of plastic that you can use to wrap up your iPhone headphones when you aren't using them. Additionally, it doubles as a stand for your iPhone. It's only $5 if you were to buy it retail, and it hasn't left my pocket since this month's box showed up.
Quirky Cordies - Similar to the wrapster, this is a cheap little plastic thing that is way more useful than you might initially think. The Cordies sits on your desk (or can be mounted to it, if you perfer a little more permanence) and holds all of your laptop computer cables in place. When you unplug your laptop to leave at the end of the day, the cords stay right where you left them so you don't have to go digging on the floor the next morning. Again, super cheap at $10, but something I couldn't go without now that I've used it.
Benta Berry Super Moisturizing Face Cream - The whole concept of face cream is pretty foreign to me. I'm told that the point is to "lock in moisture" and "prevent dryness" after you wash your face. It's hard for me to remember to do this, so I haven't had a lot of time to figure out if I like this one or not yet. Another one that will have to wait and see.
Supersmile Professional Whitening System - I'm not proud of the way my teeth look. I am proud to say I have never had a cavity, but it's not due to any effort on my part. I drink a lot of coffee and the occasional wine, and as a result my teeth aren't quite as bright as I'd like. So I was interested to try this whitening gel. I'm only about 3 days into it, so the verdict is still out. The sample tubes were pretty small, so I'm not convinced I'll even see any serious results unless I decide to invest in the full size bottles.
June Jacobs for Men 3-in-1 Cleanser - Every three months or so, I end up travelling on business. Most of the time I just throw my toothbrush into my suitcase and make do with whatever shampoo, conditioner, and soap the hotel ends up having on hand, but this 3-in-1 thing came just in time. It claims to be a shampoo, face, and body wash, so I took it along with me on this last trip. No complaints, but nothing extraordinary to say about it. I felt clean after using it, and I only had to pack the one bottle. So I guess that's a thumbs up on that one.
This month really redeemed last month's crappy box, so it looks like I'm going to keep going with Birchbox Man for at least another month. I've really had a good long time to get familiar with some of the products from the first month's box that I still have around, and I'm actually considering ordering some full-size versions of some of the samples. I may do a "six months in" post this fall discussing some of the products I've found that are worth purchasing, but in the meantime check back in a few weeks for a review of the August box that should be arriving any day now.
My book selections were really all over the place in May. Sex, bureaucracy, and the apocalypse! Here's a quick rundown of what's been on page one of my Kindle this past month.
I'm embarrassed at having read this. Embarrassed for myself, for the author, and for humanity as a whole for rating this as a four-star book. I actually started reading this one more than two years ago while we were on the road to California. It was in the "top downloads" list on Amazon, so January downloaded the sample to our Kindle. The first chapter was a cute story from the author's childhood about walking in on her parents having sex, and it was admittedly pretty funny, so we went ahead and bought the rest of the book. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a pretty raunchy depiction of the author's very involved and very depraved sex life from that point on. Don't get me wrong, I'm no prude, but this book is such a cringefest that the only response it left me with was embarrassment and pity for the author's sad, sad existence.
My Horizontal Life, by Chelsea Handler -
I can't believe I made it 34 years without reading this classic. To be honest, I think it's something about the classic cover art that turned me off. I'm glad I finally got around to it, though, and I was glad to learn that I'm not beyond being appalled by a story like this. It was so painful to read and I was left genuinely saddenned for most of the characters. Seriously, I was so sad reading about Piggy at the end of the book that it ruined my whole evening.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding -
It really says something that I'm rating this one lower than My Horizontal Life. This is my second attempt at this book, and it's just awful. I know from cultural references to the book that it's supposed to be about the tedium and unfairness of bureaucracy, but really it's more about the self-important central character's inability to act even remotely like a normal human being or to handle his situation with even an ounce of humility. Ultimately, I got about 80% through this book before giving up. Given the fact that the author himself never actually finished this book, I don't feel too bad saying the same.
The Trial, by Franz Kafka -
This is the world's most optimistic book about the end of the world. As the entire northern hemisphere has already been depopulated at the hands of numerous atomic bombs, the rest of the world can only wait as the radiation slowly works its way south. And how do they deal with it? By looting, rioting, killing and generally going crazy? Nope. They have a few boat races, continue to do their jobs, and thoughtfully wait to see what happens. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a criticism -- I really enjoyed the story, I'm just not sure how realisitic it is. That aside, I became genuinely invested in the characters and had a strong respect for nearly everyone's sense of duty and propriety, right up to the end.
On the Beach, by Nevil Shute -