I have a lot of interests. One of them is books. I’m more of a lover of contemporary novels because most of the classics I had to read for academia were incapable of holding my attention. Some were dull and were just references to ideas most of us already knew. I’ve read a lot of books from the last fifteen, and most of them I’ve liked. But there were four that stood out.
Generation Kill by Evan Wright
Stephen Ambrose’ Band of Brothers was an excellent book about a famous portion of U.S. paratroopers during World War II; it’s a pinnacle of literary military history and a must have by any self-respecting history buff. Generation Kill, however, is the modern day version of that book. Much like Band of Brothers, Generation Kill centers around a group of closely knit soldiers; this time, Marines in the 1st Recon Battalion as the tip of the spear in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Unlike Band of Brothers, it’s much crasser, more violent, more technically detailed in terms of describing the details of military life (equipment, tactics, and weapons). The horror of war is something that needs to be described in a book about war…and Wright does it fairly well. Wright was embedded with the Marines for several days and posted articles in Rolling Stone magazine. They became the basis of the novel and the HBO series of the current name. The other major difference between current warfare and World War II is the people involved. Our reality-show, TV, and video game obsessed culture made up the bulk of the soldiers in the book. This is not the Greatest Generation. This is a culture of the cynical, contemporary, vulgar and sardonic. It has plenty of humor, accounts of sheer terror, as well as brave actions and horrible mistakes by U.S. troops. It is amazing true story that everyone should read, even if it’s probably not for everyone.
Fool by Christopher Moore
Hands down one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Shakespeare outside of Macbeth, but I am a huge fan of Christopher Moore and his books. I don’t think I’ve read a bad one by him. Fool, in my opinion, is a step up…mainly because it surprised me at how good it was. This book is an epic bastardization of the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear, one of my least favorite of the playwright’s tales. But I ended up laughing almost all the way through the story. It has its heavy, drama moments, but it’s still a hilarious alternate universe of King Lear; chock full of anachronistic phrases and situations. The story revolves Pocket, the court jester of King Lear, whose job is to entertain the King’s youngest daughter Cordelia. However, when she is disenfranchised and married off due to her refusal to carry out her sinister sisters’ brown-nose chicanery, the main character is forced to engineer a series of events to take revenge on malevolent Regan and Goneril. The humor ranges from subtle to outright crude, but it kept me entertained all the way through. The story, like many plays, even breaks the fourth wall at one point. It’s definitely worth a read. I absolutely loved it.
White Oleander by Janet Finch
I loved this story. Boiled down to its component parts, it isn’t complex. A young girl named Astrid drifts from foster home to foster home after her mother, Ingrid, kills her ex-lover and is sent to prison. But a story is more than just a simple explanation. The prose makes it an absolutely beautiful story. Finch uses a large variety of unique metaphors, references and other devices to make the story seem like a modern day epic poem of sorts. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but Astrid, the narrator, or to be more specific, Astrid’s character, fall in line with the story’s style. Some would argue that White Oleander is overly pretentious, that the language of the story pads and flowers the book itself. However, Finch’s work allows it to be that way. The foundation of the story and the two central characters, Ingrid and Astrid, is allowed to create a world through the force of their personalities. That’s the effect of a powerful narrative. Astrid gets her nature from her enigmatic and eccentric, and some would argue conceited, mother. If the story was told from Ingrid’s point of view, no doubt it would be just as flowery and metaphysical, if not more so. The characters are also pretty amazing and they serve their purpose in Astrid’s life very well. Since the novel takes place over a period of a few years, her surrogate families become things of the past only referenced at few certain points. In fact, perhaps that’s the basis of the story: the passing of life through tragedy, different kinds of love, hopelessness, and redemption.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
This is probably my favorite book of all time. White Oleander slays Fear and Loathing in the prose department, but the truth is that this book is the ultimate novel. It doesn’t drag on and it’s very entertaining because the old adage that humor comes from real life is completely true. I couldn’t believe the book was marked as non-fiction when I picked it up. I had little idea about Thompson and concept of Gonzo journalism until I looked it up myself. It’s slightly confusing since the context of the book is steeped in reality, but told from a fictional standpoint. However, regardless of this, it’s an amazing piece of work. Where White Oleander was simply beautiful to read, Fear and Loathing takes a simple idea about two people going to cover a motorcycle race is turned into an unbelievable story about the drug culture of the time and a commentary on American life in general. The narrator, “Raoul Duke”, seems to view the world with a jaundiced eye all while commenting to his lawyer, “Dr. Gonzo”, about finding the American Dream. As they are there to cover the Mint 400, the aforementioned motorcycle race, they imbibe a varied mix of drugs that lead to very humorous dialogue and situations. And in the end of their insane, drug fueled adventures, the commentary becomes about the decay of the American culture at the time. Despite the time period, it still provokes a lot of thought about current time, at least I think. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like this…or ever will.