Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (June 2010)


Wow, it's been four months since I've posted my last book review. If I were a real author, I imagine my editor, agent, or whoever, would have been on my case about not meeting a monthly deadline. Good thing I write these for my own pleasure. To be honest, I had taken a long break from reading books as well. That's not entirely true. The last few books I've read have all been in Japanese, and because Japanese is not my native language and there are quite a few kanji characters I cannot read, finishing a book in another language takes a bit of time. I have also been choosing Japanese books that do not have any furigana (hiragana printed next to some of the more difficult kanji characters). Also I have been choosing essays over manga. I considered consolidating all the books I've read between June and August and titling the post "Ern's Summer Reading" reminding us all of a time when we were given a "summer reading list" from school. Then I came up with another idea. A lot of my regular blog readers are also friends with me on Facebook. So, taking a hint from the title of a current book called "Four Word Film Reviews", I took a stab at writing my own "Four Word Book Reviews". I don't know how many total FB friends have read it, but at least two people posted a comment. One gave me comments on specific titles she found amusing. Another said he enjoyed them, but not to make a habit of it. Or else he would twist my arm and make me cry "uncle", then would threaten me with telling the world that lately I have been hooked on K-Pop and would refuse to help teach me any Korean so I would know what those K-Pop bands are singing! Okay, he didn't he really say any of those things aside from not making a habit of writing just "four word book reviews". You see, he is an avid reader himself and says he enjoys reading about what I have to say on the books I've read. I would say he one of my best friends and critics as well. I think everybody needs a friend who can discuss, debate, and argue different points of view of certain books or movies (or certain movie directors!). Anyway, I apologize to the avid readers who look forward to my book reviews. The reviews for July, August, and September will follow shortly (at least that's my plan). Now enjoy!

FAULT LINE by Barry Eisler - Now that John Rain has retired (for the time being), a new hero is needed. And that would be Ben Treven. But before we meet Ben, we must talk about his younger brother Alex. Alex has been working for the same high-tech law firm for years and is hoping to become a partner. Alex believes that he has finally found a person who can help him achieve that goal – he is counting on his client’s innovative technology that he has invented. But as his client is late for a meeting to discuss terms, it is discovered that the inventor has been murdered! Alex himself nearly gets killed as well. With things looking rather bleak, Alex makes a call to his long-estranged brother – Ben. Unknown to Alex, Ben is an elite undercover soldier working for the United States on their war on terror. When Ben receives the call from Alex, he hurries to help him out. But apparently Alex isn’t the only one who is aware of the creator’s invention, there is also a colleague, Sarah Hosseini, who is an American-Iranian that Alex has had a crush on and that Ben immediately distrusts. However, it’s up to Ben, Alex, and Sarah to find out who’s been trying to silence the three of them. Another action-filled romp from my favorite author.

I AM OZZY by Ozzy Osbourne – Written by the Madman himself, the “Prince of Darkness” – original vocalist of Black Sabbath and still going strong as a solo artist – Ozzy Osbourne! Another timely book to read as Ozzy will be headlining this year’s “Loud Park”, an annual heavy metal festival held in Tokyo in October. He also had released a new album this year as well titled “Scream”. As I’ve been an Ozzy fan, or rather a Black Sabbath fan since the 5th grade (“Paranoid” was the first record I bought with my own money!), it was without question that I would read this. I had read previous books written about Black Sabbath, such as “Wheels of Confusion” (which I lent to a friend and have yet to see its return) as well as a book written by one of Ozzy’s former roadies – “How Black was My Sabbath” which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also have Joel McIver’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” waiting to be read as well. Ozzy talks about his life from being a petty thief to hooking up with Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and Tony Iommi – the most infamous and original members of Black Sabbath. He is candid about the money and success which led to days, months, and years of boozing and drug abuse, to finally being canned by the other members. Then starting his own solo career. He writes about the tragedy of Randy Rhoad’s death, his marriage with Sharon, the biting off the head of a live dove at a record executives meeting, the biting off of what he assumed was not a real bat at one of his shows, his nearly fatal accident with an ATV, and the long-awaited reunion with the other Sabs. Of course the Osbournes became a household name when their reality show was aired on MTV (which I had only seen one episode of, as I had already moved to Tokyo before being oversaturated with reality tv). I mean, if you’ve been a Sabbath fan for as long as I have and continue to listen to Sabbath and Ozzy albums, of course you’re going to want to read this. I’m really looking forward to seeing his performance at “Loud Park” this year.

FLASHFORWARD by Robert J. Sawyer – I think most of you know that my first love of books started with science-fiction and fantasy. Every now and then I like to go back to my roots and read one. I will not say, “Oh, I’ve grown out of s-f”, as people who like to say “Oh, heavy metal? Yeah, I used to listen to that as a kid. I grew out of it”. Stupid f*#$&s (in my opinion anyway). I still love s-f, fantasy (and heavy metal as well). This is an interesting concept of a story (and was also turned into a short-lived television program – which I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing). Something about the show being cancelled after the first season doesn’t really motivate me to go out and rent it (even though one of my favorite Japanese actress’, Yuko Takeuchi, has a guest role in it). Now for the actual story – a couple of physicists create an experiment that unintentionally shuts down the consciousness of the entire world and transports people twenty-one years into the future for a two and half minute span. When people regain their senses, the world is in utter chaos as people who were driving plow into other cars, surgeries go awry, the simple act of walking down a flight of stairs lead to injuries. When the chaos has calmed down, only then do the people realize that they had a glimpse of their future. Some good, some bad, some who didn’t have any (assumed they might be dead within the next 21 years). One person learns he has been murdered and is determined to find his killer. An excellent story which may get you to thinking, what would you do if you had a glimpse into your future twenty years hence for only a couple of minutes? Would you be resigned to fate? Would you try to change it? Would you try to prove that there is no free-will as one of the physicists intends to do by replicating the experiment another twenty years hence? I love these books that make you question your own beliefs long after you’ve finished reading them.

THE BELIEVER No. 71 Odradek – Yes, yes, I know this is not a book, but as I mentioned on a previous note, I think literary magazines which are full of new fiction, nonfiction, essays, reviews, short stories, poems, novellas and whatnot are deserving of being reviewed as well. Wouldn’t you agree? “The Believer” is no exception. This is one of my favorite literary magazines I like to read from time to time; however, I don’t read each and every issue. I can’t remember if it was with this issue or the previous one, but after a long hiatus, “The Believer” welcomed the return of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column which I rather enjoy. His column has already produced three books as well – “The Polysyllabic Spree”, “Housekeeping vs. The Dirt” and “Shakespeare Wrote for Money”. I had read the first collection and was entertained and thought, hey, I do that as well with my monthly reviews I write on this blog (of course I’ve been a bit behind schedule, as these titles are what I read for the month of June). This month’s issue includes pieces by Griel Marcus – “Real Life Rock Top Ten”, Stephen Phelan – “Ninjas I Have Known” which I thought was really interesting. Also includes one page reviews of “Other Flowers” by James Schuyler, “Never-Ending Birds” by David Baker, “Three Delays” by Charlie Smith and more! Always a fun magazine to read.

TIN HOUSE No.43 Games People Play – And yes, this is yet another literary magazine which is published quarterly by McCormack Communications. This was the first time I had ever read this magazine and thought it was a little more erudite than “The Believer”. This issue was rather timely as well since the theme was “games, play, and sport”. I say timely because the World Cup was held this year and one of the pieces included was titled “Total, Utter Madness : A Story of Soccer” by Michael Agovino who writes passionately about why Americans seemed to be “confused by the sport the rest of the world follows fanatically.” Another one of those interesting pieces I found was “A Tin House Compendium of Oddball Games” listing many games from around the world I’ve never heard of and a couple that I have such as sepak takraw (which I’ve also seen an exhibition of at the Thai Festival I went to some years back) – described as a combination of soccer and volleyball. Elephant polo I’ve also heard of. Buzkashi sounded interesting as well and was banned by the Taliban in Afghanistan but has currently returned. It’s a game that’s played on horseback where the goal is “to drag a headless goat carcass across a field”. Um…okay. Fiction by Martha McPhee, Jennifer Egan, Steve Almond and more. An interview with Heather Desurvire, a “playability expert” – a job that pays you to play a video game. Essays by Lord Whimsy on Cricket, David Mamet on “Hunting Instincts”, Blake Eskin on “The Seriously Fun World of German Board Games”. If you’re a gamer or love sports, this would have been the issue to read.

SH*T MY DAD SAYS by Justin Halpern – I couldn’t help myself, the title just called out to me and said, “Read Me!”. This was just too damn funny. We all know that a lot of books were spawned by the Blog phenomena but this, it was created from Twitter! Halpern, who was 29, found himself moving back in with his parents. As he was working from home writing for Maxim magazine, Halpern found he had a lot of time on his hand. And since his father was retired, he could see his own dad through adult eyes and not fear him as he once did. His father is a Vietnam vet and retired from working in nuclear medicine (whatever that is). Halpern decides to start taking notes of the uncanny but funny things his father says. He even decides to take things one step further by sharing them on Twitter (without his father’s knowledge). When he is offered to have a book published from the contents of his Twitter site, he finds himself dealing with his most nerve-racking experience, asking Dad if he doesn’t mind being the subject of a book. But reading this book was making me laugh and had me thinking about my own “fatherisms”. Unlike Halpern’s father, who uses a fair amount of expletives, I never heard my father swear even once while growing up, but he did have some choice annoying phrases he constantly used (I find them rather endearing now, but when you’re a kid, sometimes you have no idea what your Dad is telling you). Here are a few of my own “fatherisms”. Accidently dropping a fork or spoon at the dinner table – “That’s it! Throw it on the floor!” Asking what time is it? – “It’s time for you boys to behave.” Saying, “Huh?” or “What?” – “Take the dirt out of your ears”. And one I didn’t know the meaning of for the longest time. When asking, “What for?” – “Cats fur for kitten britches”. I think I’ll call home tomorrow just to talk to my Dad!

GANGS by Ross Kemp – This book was spawned from a television show on Sky-TV in the UK with host Ross Kemp. A book about gangs? Now? We Americans may have forgotten about most of them as we don’t hear too much news on Bloods and Crips and there is no longer an excess of Gangsta movies a la “Boyz in the Hood”, “Menace II Society”, or “Colors”. That doesn’t mean gangs have disappeared though. Ross travels the around the world and talks to current gang members and locals who are affected by the gangs, and to the authorities who fight against them – from the Favelas of Rio to the Neo-Nazi’s skinheads in California. He also introduces us to Mongrel Mobb, a Maori gang in New Zealand, to the current gangs in London, and also talks about a teenage gang called the Blaenau Gwent. He realizes that all these gangs have one thing in common – poverty! I’ve never had a chance to watch the television series, but this book is a fascinating account of the current state of gangs around the world. There are a lot of not so nice people out there that would kill you just for the sport of it. A not so pleasant line of thinking. Apparently the television show, originally titled “Ross Kemp on Gangs” started airing in the US on the Investigation Discovery Channel (there’s such a thing as the Investigation Discovery Channel?) in 2009 with the show being featured as “Gang Nation”.

GANGS II by Ross Kemp – Kemp is back with another book to fill us in on the world’s gangs. This time his travels take him to El Salvador where he introduces us to “MS13”, more neo-Nazis in Russia, Polish football hooligans, and doesn’t forget the most well known gangs of the US – the Bloods and Crips, but not in L.A. but rather St. Louis, and meets with the Numbers gang in South Africa. The gangs featured in this second book are as hardcore as the first. These are the kinds of people you would not want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere for that matter. La Mara Salvatrucha or “MS13” is probably one of the worst and most violent of the new crop of gangs. They make the Blood and Crips seem like Boy Scouts in comparison. Just reading about initiation into their gang will wish you wanting to never have to confront them. Most of us will likely not encounter the Numbers gang from South Africa, as most, if not all, the members are in prison. They pretty much control a prison called Pollsmoor in Cape Town, famous for being the place where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. This is definitely not a place you want to be sent to!

And there you have it. To mimic Nick Hornby, this was a post of "stuff I've been reading". Or rather, to be just a tad different from Hornby, this was a post of "stuff I've read". But as this is for the books read in June, I'm still three months behind schedule. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I haven't been reading as many books as usual because I chose books that were not written in English. I think I might even be behind in writing film reviews as well. I will have to double-check to make sure. Okay, time to check how many books I read for the month of July. No worries - I will have them posted long before another four months pass by!

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