READING WITH XIPHOS
Hidely-Ho boys and girls! Xiphos here trying out a new section to shamelessly garner attention and run up the site content. It’s a book section! I figured I would do this whenever the mood hit and I don’t watch anywhere near as many movies as ya’ll do and TV is slipping in quality again (thank you writers strike cocksuckers). I needed some reason to justify my status as a contributor, so I hit on doing a book section as my raison d’être.
I don’t see this as anything big or in depth, just quick hits about what I’m reading or books I like. I figure this could be a clearing house sort of place where you fine folks can leave suggestions or warnings about books and we talk about them and simultaneously increase the site content. Win! Win!
Time for the housekeeping part. I usually read between 1 and 3 books a week depending on the week and the books. I try to split between fiction and nonfiction although that isn’t a hard and fast rule. For instance, the last few weeks it has been strictly fiction but now I have a stack of books about science, history, biographies and the like. So I figure the pendulum will be swinging the other way very soon.
So are we up to speed here? Everybody clear on the article’s objectives? No questions? Good let’s get started!
I’m going to start with a couple of old favorites both of which are nonfiction. The first is titled The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark by Carl Sagan. This book is the primer for critical thinking and skepticism. That’s skepticism friends and not hollow cynicism about science, pseudoscience and how to view wild and crazy claims about woo woo subjects accurately. Sagan’s crisp first person narrative zips along and provides reams of useful information in an entertaining manner.
The next book is at or near the top of my all time favorite list. It’s called Why the West Has Won: Nine Landmark Victories in the Brutal History of Western Victory by Victor David Hanson. The book was renamed at some point and the alternative title is Carnage and Culture. Don’t be a stooge like me and get both titles. What can I say, I’m slow.
Hanson, a former classics professor in the University of California system, analyzes 9 battles from history that he thinks showcase why the “West” has been the preeminent military force for the past 2500 years. His conclusions and distinctions between the eastern and western world politically, economically, socially and militarily are quite insightful and the book is extremely well written. The battles that Hanson uses to illustrate his ideas about the “Western way of war” range from the naval engagement at Salamis in 480 BC to the ground war during the Tet offensive in 1968. The book covers land, naval and air engagement throughout history.
For the English among us Chapter 8, which might be the best chapter in my opinion, may be of special interest as it deals with both the fight at Isandhlwana and the defense of Rorke’s Drift. In about 75 pages Hanson delivers a masterful dissection of these two battles.
Don’t worry if you are not up on your history. Hanson’s writing style is such that he can pass along all the info needed to understand his larger points in a crisp and efficient manner without once making the reader feel like a fool.
I highly recommend this book. If your enjoy history like I do, you will be fascinated by this book. If you are a causal reader of history this book is still entertaining and informative and gives you pause to think about why things are the way they are.
Now that the serious stuff is out of the way here are some fiction books I’ve been burning through lately.
California Fire and Life by Don Winslow (Wiki link to author info: http://tinyurl.com/yfun6nx). I enjoy Don Winslow as a writer because he used to be a private eye so he draws from his real life experience to stock his books full of interesting outsiders, plausible mysteries and surfing. Most of his books take place around San Diego so I admit I have a bit of bias because of that but they are good and entertaining books. I’ve read a majority of Winslow’s books and they are all solid. One of the few I have not read yet is set in London. I’m looking forward to that one.
California Fire and Life is about arson investigator and claims adjuster Jack Wade (Winslow was an arson specialist) who gets drawn into a plot involving murder, arson, the Russian mob, Vietnamese gangs and corporate corruption. The book has some great descriptions of the city of San Diego and the San Diego county area. Plus it has surfing which instantly makes any book better. Same as nudity and midgets do for movies.
I found the passages about fire science and arson investigation engrossing and informative without slowing down the story and the resolution was not what one would expect but most of Winslow’s work tends to be that way. They aren’t twists or anything like that, they are just not the usual stock endings you would expect from a genre book.
Personal note, every surfing spot that Winslow mentions in his books I’ve spectacularly wiped out in and Winslow’s describes those places beautifully.
Next up is Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale (Wiki link to author info: http://tinyurl.com/6edsxh). If you have not had the pleasure of reading a Lansdale book you are missing out on an experience, his books are not like anything you’ve ever read. Lansdale is probably best known for his Hap and Leonard series (fantastically fun books) but all his books share similar characteristics. They are all set in fictional east Texas towns full of wacky characters, dark deeds, secrets and ass kicking. Lansdale could be thought of as the William Faulkner of east Texas. His books are dark, violent yet funny as hell.
Leather Maiden is about a Pulitzer Prize nominee newspaperman and former Army veteran of the Iraq war and current borderline alcoholic trying to get his life together. The main character, Cason Statler, returns to his home town of Camp Rapture Texas after getting canned from his job at a Houston paper for banging his editor’s wife and step daughter (she’s adult). Statler takes a job at the local Podunk newspaper and promptly gets involved with a story about a missing and presumed dead coed from a local college.
Read Joe Lansdale for his mastery of language and the nuances of east Texas he provides. His books are pure joy. Also Lansdale wrote the short story that the movie Bubba Ho-Tep is based on.
Lastly there is Haiku by Andrew Vachss (Wiki link to authors info: http://tinyurl.com/n4df6). I don’t know how to begin to describe Vachss’ style. Hard boiled, gritty, noir doesn’t scratch the surface of his writing style which is dry, spare and Spartan. Even that sentence doesn’t really say anything because Vachss’ works are soulful and full of emotional clarity. It’s dark emotions like revenge and retribution but oddly hopeful in some unfathomable way I can’t begin to explain.
Haiku is set in “the city” and is about a tribe of homeless men led by Ho, an elderly self exiled to the streets, martial arts master. The story starts off as a half assed blackmail scheme by a member of Ho’s tribe but quickly and darkly devolves into something more. I know I sound vague but Vachss’ books are more of an experience and defy easy descriptions.
Vachss’ Burke series are my favorite works of fiction but if you are going to read any single Vachss book, check out Shella. That book will punch you in the gut and curb stomp your head. Let me give you taste of Shella, here’s the opening paragraph:
“The first time I killed someone, I was scared. Not scared to be doing it—I did it because I was scared. Shella told me it was like that for her the first time she had sex. I was fifteen that first time. Shella was nine“
The rest of the book goes pure black from there and the story is so dark that it created new shades of black.
That’s it, that’s my first book talk post. Like I said it’s not going to be weekly or anything, just whenever I have some books I would like to share. Let’s see what kind of talk we can generate. Thank you for reading this.