Monday, August 19, 2013

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Written by: Jon Ronson

First line: This is a true story.

Why you should read this book: After an interview in which the normally garrulous Uri Geller reluctantly discusses his recruitment to the US government's psychic spy program, the author sets out to track down the identity of a mysterious figure known only as "Ron" in an engaging story that often strains credulity but never forgets to cite its sources. The author's investigation takes him down the rabbit hole and into the labyrinthine catacombs of top secret military programs from the First Earth Battalion to MK-Ultra Mind Control, with fact, stories, and demonstrations from the those who participated in these endeavors. This well-written book also connects the faith placed in some of these programs, and their mismanagement by those who lacked the best intentions, to the Heaven's Gate mass suicide and some of the most egregious abuses of the US government in Iraq and elsewhere.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already wearing a tin foil hat.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our Town

Written by: Thornton Wilder

First line: This play is called "Our Town."

Why you should read this book: This classic play presents small town life in three acts, reminding the audience that life is a miracle and every day is indescribably precious, especially when it seems prosaic or scary. George Gibbs and Emily Webb fall in love in the usual way and take it to the next level, just as their parents and everyone around them expects them to do. Only through Emily's death in childbirth does the miracle of her ordinary life become clear to her and to the audience, who, when properly primed, should leave the theater in tears, determined to make the most of every moment.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Too busy living life to its fullest.

The Savage Sword of Conan Volume Thirteen

Written by: Charles Dixon, Larry Yakata, and Don Kraar

First line: Know ye, O Prince, that the Kozski, which means "wastrel" were a loose confederation of mercenaries, criminals, and fugitives turned to brigandry in defiance of the Empire of Turan.

Why you should read this book: This book has it all, if all you need is swords, sorcerers, brawny dudes killing people for gold, honor, revenge, or whatever, and, of course, scantily clad princesses who really know how to show a guy some gratitude (off the page). Conan gets to kill men, demons, and monsters; eat the occasional decent meal, move back and forth between civilization and the darkest wilderness, and even spend some time on a boat. It's basically silly and yet very compelling if you want to slip into a world where men better be men if they want to survive, women have a bit more leeway (if they can wield a sword to any useful degree), and political correctness will never be invented.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You apply the Bechdel test to everything, including your college courses and real-world interactions.

The Psychopath Test

Written by: Jon Ronson

First line: This is a story about madness.

Why you should read this book: I really enjoyed reading about the experiences of a slightly neurotic journalist who begins to investigate an unusual hoax in the science community and ends up becoming an expert in spotting psychopaths, who, as it turns out, are everywhere, but especially in positions of power. Ronson's journey brings him into contact with scientists and CEOs and death squad leaders and Scientologists, committed criminals and Truthers who should probably be committed. It's a fun book on a slightly scary subject, which does an excellent job of explaining how one percent of the population enjoys ruining things for the rest of us.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe 9/11 was an inside job.


Written by: Julie Anne Peters

First line: It was the feel of her presence in my room that woke me--again.

Why you should read this book: Ever since she was little, Regan's known that her genius brother Liam was actually her sister Lia, but no one else in the world seems to understand this (including their parents, who force rigid gender roles on the kids) and Regan feels, very strongly, that Lia's only safe if she stays hidden during the day, only making appearances in her room at night when no one knows. Now Liam's announced that she's definitely a girl, and her name is Luna, and she can't keep pretending, so she's going to come out to their parents, their friends, and the entire world; Regan can't protect her anymore, and can't relax long enough to have any normal high school experiences either. This well-told story is a nice resource for those looking for an accessible way into to learning about gender dysphoria issues or the experiences that lead up to the decision to transition.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The story is from Regan's point of view, and ends up being more about her fear and embarrassment over Luna's transition than Luna's perspectives and feelings.

Y: The Last Man 10 Whys and Wherefores

Written by: Brian K. Vaughan

First line: Well, that's unexpected.

Why you should read this book: Pretty much everything is unexpected in this final volume of the series, beginning with Yorick and 355 finding Lenin's corpse on a train, following through to Yorick's long-awaited reunion with Beth (and other Beth, and Hero, and Alter...), and the big time jump showing Yorick's later life. Nothing ever works out the way it's expected to, but everything works out somehow, as the human race unlocks the secrets of cloning and ensures its continued survival for at least a while longer. A thought-provoking piece and a satisfying conclusion to a complex story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to know how it ends. Or, you already think you know how it ends and you don't want the writers ruining your happy ending.

X-Men Longshot

Written by: Ann Nocenti

First line: These troops want me bad!

Why you should read this book: Although I found both the plot and the artwork somewhat convoluted and difficult to follow, the tale of this ridiculously lucky transdimensional alien/slave/rebel leader/amnesiac/pretty boy remained strangely compelling. Basically, imagine that David Bowie is a comic book superhero in the ‘80s, with monstrous bounty hunters chasing him through an increasingly psychedelic landscape. There’s a girl who’s pretty cool, and a bad guy who’s pretty revolting, and some inexplicable magic, and a knotted back story that gets slowly unraveled, plus some cameos by more popular Marvel characters.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Really, it doesn't make all that much sense.