It seems like it’s always this time of year where I find myself compelled to do somewhat condensed book reviews rather than full ones. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m not obligated to anyone to do a full review of the particular book or it could just be I don’t have the time. Anyway, here’s this year’s December installment of brief book reviews:
Nothing’s Sacred, Lewis Black — This is a combination tongue-in-cheek autobiography and humorous pieces by Lewis Black, some of which appears in some of his shows out on DVD. I am one of undoubtedly many who had not heard of Black prior to The Daily Show. Some familiarity with Black’s live humor is necessary to completely enjoy this book. As Jon Stewart notes on a back cover blurb, “Lewis Black is the only person I know who can actually yell in print form.” If you’ve watched Black, that is truly what happens on the pages. If you haven’t, his vocal intonations and utter amazement may not come across. The ability to hear Black’s voice in your head as you read this adds greatly to the book. While not every page or chapter is a gem, the books is above average for politically-oriented humor and ain’t at all bad for the how a comic became a comic.
The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint, Tommy Chong — It seems somewhat ironic that I stumbled across this book — which deals with comedian Tommy Chong’s federal imprisonment for distribution of drug paraphernalia — in the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s a far cry, though, from Midnight Express. In part autobiographical, the book deals largely with Chong’s conviction and imprisonment. He focuses on the perceived unfairness of his sentence given his celebrity status but also makes clear that his stint in the joint certainly wasn’t hard time. Although traces of Chong’s humor show up in the book and he makes a valiant effort to show the impact of his spiritual ponderings since then, Chong has a tendency to ramble. That’s not surprising given his style of humor but it undercuts the book. The lack of direction leaves it coming off more as a work he quickly dictated to a typist than a truly insightful or thoughtful analysis of what his case means with respect to the “war on drugs” and post-9/11 America.
The Echo Maker: A Novel, Richard Powers — I know this won the National Book Award for fiction. I will also admit it has a very interesting premise and that Powers does a generally good job exploring that premise. Still, I can point to other fiction works this year I thought were far better. The premise? Mark Schluter, 27, suffers a closed head injury in a car accident just outside Kearney, Neb. When he regains consciousness, he recognizes friends and his surroundings. He is convinced, however, that although the woman attending him might look like his older sister Karin, she is really an imposter. It is a real condition, known as Capgras syndrome. As Powers explores the syndrome and its impact on Mark and Karin, you occasionally feel as if you’re reading an Oliver Sacks book. In fact, Karin brings a character like Sacks into the picture and he, too, must deal with changes wrought by Schulter’s experience. The concept and a twist near the end involving the book’s mini-mystery make it an interesting but at times overlong read. I am also enough of an “illiterati” that I never did fully get the connection with the Sandhill cranes that are both a theme and subplot to the book.
If there is a hell, it is modeled after junior high.
Lewis Black, Nothing’s Sacred