Category Archives: Literature

My Year in Books 2012

Recent Good Reads

With the help of a Kindle and a little more discipline reading on the metro, I think I was able to have a better 2012 than 2011 in terms of volume of reading.

Here is what I read in 2012:

Highlights include How You Lose Her, State of Wonder and A Life Full of Holes. Were it not for the dense Heaven On Earth and the long Gai-Jin, I probably could have gotten to a lot more books on my reading list.

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Recent Good Reads

I am now subscribed to Good Reads, an online resource for tracking and sharing what you’ve been reading. It helps to remind me of what I have read, especially since I have moved to mainly reading on my Kindle, which has the major defect of not leaving a physical trophy on the book shelf to impress my friends with. This is my Good Reads list, and below is what I have read recently:

Each was good in its own way, but I would say that the biggest highlights were State of Wonder and A Life Full of Holes (and Skippy Dies if it weren’t so long winded).

And here are some of the titles on my Kindle waiting for a chance to be read:

Why so many classics, you may ask? They’re easy to find for free on the net.

I should also mention that I have uploaded song lyrics onto my Kindle as a cheat sheet for when I sing my son to sleep at night.

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War as American Entertainment

On Monday I was reading via Glenn Greenwald about NBC’s new military-meets-celebs reality show and how

Nine Nobel peace laureates have called on NBC to cancel this show, pointing out that “war isn’t entertainment” and “people—military and civilians—die in ways that are anything but entertaining,” adding: “Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.”

This got me back to my early posts on how we really are becoming more and more like a page out The Hunger Games every day.

Then yesterday afternoon I finally got around to starting Kurt Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse Five and read,

[In response to the narrator writing a novel about his experience in World War II] Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of the other glamorous, war-loving dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”

So maybe we’re not suddenly becoming more like The Hunger Games, but have for a long time worshipped War as the ultimate heroic sport. Think about it. What other nation constantly produces year after year blockbusters centered around the victorious combatants? Arguably only the Chinese and Japanese have anything remotely comparable in their cultures. Meanwhile we continuously label other religions and cultures – who have absolutely no traces of violence in their popular entertainment — as innately murderous; this, of course, serving the purpose of perpetuating our own ongoing thirst for even more entertainment.

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Filed under Essays, Literature

Propaganda Straight from the Hunger Games

Last month I wrote about Americans’ fascination with The Hunger Games and the cognitive dissonance between their love of the freedom fighting heroin in the book and their adoration of authority in real life.

Now after reading Glen Greenwald’s recent “Leon Panetta: macho Renaisance man” on 60Minutes‘ full-on propaganda campaign in favor of the White House’s war machine disguised as journalism, I was immediately reminded again of The Hunger Games. How can Americans, so enamored with Ms. Katniss, watch that 60Minutes segment and not immediately see clear as day that their beloved trilogy is a direct criticism of the times we are living in today. Pelley is playing the role of Caesar Flickerman in pure, unapologetic and unfettered government propaganda.

And here we are all licking it up. We get to believe we love freedom and hate totalitarianism, all while worshiping our pseudo-soldier-rulers at the same time.

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Filed under Essays, Literature, Obama 44

First Book List in the World of Virtual Reading

I have recently acquired a Kindle and since my last book list update, I have read the following – possibly some of my last – physical books:

But now on my Kindle, with a little generosity of peers, I have built up the following e-book reading list:

I hope to write further about the differences between reading e-books as opposed to the “ real thing”, but for now will only say that the biggest disadvantage of the e-book in terms of  “user experience” is that you have to close your book (ie, shut off all electronic devices) during take-off and landing.

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The Hunger Games and Cognitive Dissonance

Earlier this year I fell into the great Hunger Games trap. Out of pure curiosity and as result of witnessing my nephews and (my own) mother literally consume the books, I decided to give the story a try. And the first one was great.

Not great as a literary achievement but as pure entertainment that also touched at the heart of the American fiber: our passionate, ingrained belief that we stand up for the underdog and up against tyranny. In a sense, The Hunger Games has the perfect formula to pull on the All American heartstrings. The main character is a young woman, fatherless and coming of age in a simple miners’ town, subject to the cruelties of a brutal elitist despot class that is reminiscent of both the nation’s past subjugation at the hands of King George and the contemporary shallowness of “ reality TV”.  Add an element of a love story and how could an American not fall head over heels for Kantiss? It is the kind of tale that has the Declaration of Independence in its DNA.

Yet the irony is that just as we think we love the guy who fights the power, who stands up against the Elite-run media, the State, the For-and-By-the-Leader, isn’t that what we have become? Can’t The Hunger Games be read not as a tale of how the American people won independence from the British Crown but of how that independence is being lost?

In reading an article written today by Glenn Greenwald on the mainstream media’s government stenography (specifically, how Brian William’s recent story on the Bin Laden killing was nothing more than pure pro-White House propaganda), I was immediately reminded of Caesar Flickerman, the Capitol’s reporter-in-chief. We are more like the Capitol than like the Thirteen Colonies.

So do we love or hate authority? Here’s Greenwald from at the time I was reading The Hunger Games:

As Digby recently observed, after posting a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon on the willingness of progressives like this to accept and defend these absues from Obama: “The fact is that deep down, many Americans really want to be subjects.” They just want their benevolent tyrant to be a sophisticated, East Coast-sounding, eloquent orator — just like conservatives wanted theirs to be a swaggering, evangelical Christian cowboy — because those tribal familiarities ensure that your leader will be exempt from the universal corruption of vast emperor-like powers exercised in the dark (I want this person assassinated; I want this person imprisoned; I will not account to anyone for my decrees, etc.). I can’t tell you how many times during the Bush years I heard this from conservatives: you’re paranoid if you think Bush would do evil things because he’s a good man. As Scahill summarized this mindset last night: “Trust But Don’t Verify. Don’t Question Authority. Speak Power to Truth.”

We love to think of ourselves one way while we are secretly the opposite, like the homophobes’ latent homosexuality. No where else in the world are people so “distrusting of government” yet constantly worshiping the police, capital punishment, the military and their president as the warrior chief.

And that is the inherent irony of The Hunger Games and the American mind. We love the hero who defies power in fiction and history, because in the here and now, in our real lives, we are glued to our televisions cheering our leaders on, no questions asked lest you be the villain.

And if you’re asking: read the first one, but leave it there. Installments two and three go from disappointing to a waste of time.


Filed under Essays, Literature

My Year in Books 2011


While I thought that getting any reading done during my first year of parenthood would be close to impossible, I have actually been able to take advantage of my commute to and from work and my son’s nap time on weekends to get quite a decent amount of reading done.

So in the end, 2011 has been a pretty good year for reading after all, more so considering that some of my favorite contemporary authors published new books this year. Here is what I have read in 2011:

Of course with the trial and tribulations of parenthood (and a day job as an attorney), I do not have the time to write a review of each of these, though I do wish I could. Nevertheless, let it be said that I would recommend all of them.


Filed under Literature, Parenthood

Hard to Find the Time


Now after little over three months of being a father, I would think that what I missed the most from my pre-parenthood days would be alone-time and sleep.  But actually what I miss the most are (in no particular order):

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Jazz

In a sense, I have learned to compensate for each. For example, instead of writing in Grave Error, I have followed the Twitter trend (btw, follow me) . Just as “video killed the radio star”, Twitter has killed blogging (which previously killed journalism). Now I tweet what I used to blog, just in a dozen words.

While I no longer have any justifiable excuse to lay in bed and read a book (or the news for that matter) instead of sharing the parental responsibilities of an infant, I have learned to do all of my reading almost entirely on my metro commute to and from work, at the expense of listening to podcasts. Surprisingly for only a 30 minute commute, in just three months, I have already finished Jonathan Frazen’s Freedom, Ryu Murakami’s 69, Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, and believe it or not, Tolstoy’s War and Peace! And I am about to finish Rafael Yglesia’s A Happy Marriage. Not bad. Meanwhile, my consumption of other written media has been relegated to merely previewing what others post on Twitter.

Finally, with regards to Jazz, unfortunately, my baby’s ears are simply not ready yet for the angular sounds of Coltrane, Monk and Dolphy. Nonetheless, with his confusing daily exposure to Arabic, English, French and Spanish along with his multiple nationalities, I am forcefeeding my boy healthy doses of that other great and uniquely American, American music genre: Motown and old school R&B. He gets lots of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and others. His favorite songs, I have decided, are “People Get Ready”, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, and “Where Did Our Love Go”. Almost every Motown song that exists seems to have the word “baby” in the lyrics, making singing them to him appropriate at almost any time.

But regardless of those three sacrifices, I more than delighted with the lack of mobility that parenthood has forced on mommy and daddy — meaning no more weekend commutes to and from Paris. And, of course, there is my favorite substitute past time — when not changing diapers and soothing a crying baby — seen in the photo above (though now at three months he barely fits anymore).

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Filed under Digressions, Jazz, Literature, Parenthood

Book Vending Machines


These book vending machines are a nice alternative to the ones that just sell junk food. I have no idea whether they actually make many sales. This one is at the Principe Pio train station in Madrid. There are also a bunch of small libraries in a few of the Madrid metro stations where people can check out books for the commute.

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Filed under Literature, Living la vida española

Adding to the List


I have recently finished reading The Sultan’s Shadow: One Family’s Rule at the Crossroads of East and West by Christiane Bird and Geoff Dyer’s ode to Jazz, But Beautiful. The Sultan’s Shadow was slow at the beginning, often with great emphasis placed on things that had little interest to me (like the details of the Sultan’s palaces in Zanzibar), but overall was a compelling read about a time and place in history that I know almost nothing about: Eighteen Century Zanzibar and East Africa, Omani control over the region and the entrance of European Colonialism, the East African slave and ivory trades, and the British fascination with locating the source of the Nile.

But Beautiful was more of a mix bag. At times, I felt that Dyer was simply trying too hard or that his fictionalized vignettes of the historic accounts of famous Jazz musicians did not always add to a greater understanding of musicians or their craft. For example, the story related to Thelonious Monk reads identical to the Straight No Chaser documentary. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayals of the Lester Young and Charles Mingus. If there was an overall theme it was that the the underlying tragedy of the Jazz musician — beyond even that of racial oppression — was addiction, vitally affecting each character and, instead of enhancing their performance, ultimately inhibiting it (maybe with the sole exception of Mingus whose addiction and principle personality trait was to devour everything in his path). Finally, although I did not particularly enjoy the piece on Chet Baker (mainly influenced by the haunting Let’s Get Lost documentary), I found Dyer’s analysis of Baker’s aesthetic as a sign of his inability to express either beauty or compassion as quite interesting.

And now – due mainly to the fact that for a number of personal reasons I am in a rush to read as much as possible by the end of the year – I have continued to add new books to my list. Like an insensitive ex, I have shamelessly moved on. I have already started David Mitchell’s new The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet, about the Dutch trading post at Dejima, Japan at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. As always with Mitchell, the beginning is slow as I adjust to whatever vernacular he has created for his story, and then it picks up very quickly. New on my roster are:

These, of course, fighting on deck with the books I have yet to get to from the previous lists.


Filed under Jazz, Literature