Friday, August 26, 2011

Super Freakonomics

Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Harper Perennial 320 pgs
From my library
Rating 2

I read Freakonomics, the predecessor of this book, 5 years ago and loved it. It was totally original, never seen anything like it. It was a run-away hit and sold 2 billion copies on 6 planets. Who would've guessed that a book could turn so many people onto economics? So when I saw Super Freakonomics I was excited. I cleared my calendar, rounded up a Dr. Pepper and my smokes, and prepared to be impressed.

It's not that I didn't like this book. There are plenty of interesting and funny anecdotes and head-scratching asides. Unfortunately this book is just more of the same and I probably should have expected that. I would have liked a new spin of some sort, a new dimension, something fresh. It took longer to read this than it should have. It was frequently slow, plodding along. But there were parts I liked.

Such as Chapter 2 "Why Should Suicide Bombers Buy Life Insurance?" It's my favorite. The answer to that question is fascinating. I suggest that you read chapter 2 first, or maybe only chapter 2. This is also the chapter with lots of good points regarding medicine, birth, death, etc. All the biggies.

Chapter 1 is a rehash of statistics and anecdotes about the costs of being a woman: hookers, witches,
Title IX, Realtors, etc. Don't read Chapter 3 "Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism." It's depressing. I don't remember what Chapters 4 and 5 were about. You might want to pay some attention to the epilogue. There are some disturbing monkeys in there.

I think this book suffers from sky-high expectations. So my final comment on Super Freakonomics is that the authors tried too hard to duplicate the success of the first book. This book could have been as big a success with a different spin. But it's not. So if you're looking for something to read check out the reviews below. There are plenty to choose from.

You can read about the authors at:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


By Keith Richards
Back Bay Books 576 pgs
From my library
Rating: 5 - Sheer Perfection

 Full disclosure: I am hopelessly in love with Keith Richards

OK, now that you know that I'd like to talk about rock and roll for a minute. Rock and roll is a force of nature. It can and does work radical change on every culture it touches. Remember back in the day when parents were horrified by it and teachers warned of a break down in discipline and preachers were calling rock and roll the devil's music? Everyone was running around hyperventilating and claiming that this music was all about sex and the ruination of western civilization was at hand. I always thought that claim about sex was utterly ridiculous. But you know what? It is about sex. It's sexy, exciting, feverish, sweaty and little dirty (come on you know it.) Hedonism personified. So is Keith Richards.

Mr. Richards is living quite a life and shows no signs of slacking off after some 50 years as a guitarist, vocalist,  songwriter and co-founder of the Rolling Stones. He spent his childhood in Dartford, England as an only child. He joined a boys' choir and sang in Westminster Abbey for the queen. Then his voice began to change with puberty and that was all she wrote for that choir. They kicked him out. Keith was devastated. It was a betrayal. And so he turned into a delinquent, sort of, and to this day carries with him a deeply felt contempt for anyone or anything claiming authority. His grandfather Gus gave him a guitar.

Keith discovered rock and roll while listening to the radio late at night in his room under the covers because he was supposed to be asleep. "Heartbreak Hotel." Then he began to hunt down rock and roll and it's predecessor, American blues. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf. He taught himself to play these songs. Then one day he happened into a man on a train platform with a couple of these records under his arm. Mick Jagger. They began to get together to play and Mick knew a couple of other guys and pretty soon they had a band. They played covers of rhythm and blues songs. The Stones played the club circuit where they were very successful. The band had accomplished what Keith and Mick had envisioned: they were a highly successful London rhythm and blues band. Then along came Andrew Oldham. Turns out that old story about his locking Keith and Mick in a kitchen until they came out with a song is true. "As Tears Go By."

And then Toad's Wild Ride.

Keith's personal relationships have been tumultuous, let's say. A decade long relationship with Anita Pallenberg gave him two children, Marlon and Angela. Another baby died as an infant of CIDS. Keith doesn't say much about that and I wouldn't either. His relationship with Anita finally fell apart due to a devastating heroin addiction. Keith finally got clean and Anita couldn't. A few years later he met and fell in love with Patti Hansen, a model in New York. They have been married for almost 30 years and have two daughters, Theodora and Alexandra.

This book is also deeply satisfying. It is candid, the good and the bad, the ugly and the sublime, and as a reader you are grateful for that. Keith is not a tease. My conclusions in the end are that this is a moral man. He knows right and wrong in a cosmic sense. He gives and demands loyalty most of all. And he is a loyal father, son, husband, band mate and friend. In the end the best thing about this book is the style in which it is told. There's a riff behind the words. Life is written as if you were sitting at the kitchen table having a drink, a smoke or two, and telling stories.
Please visit the author:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shadow Tag

By Louise Erdrich
Harper Perennial 272 pgs
From my personal library
Rating: 4

This book is excruciating. Also spellbinding. You will be appalled by the mind games being played but you will also come to understand them. At first you won't believe that you would ever play these games. But then you will begin to reflect and wonder if you haven't played some of these games yourself. I enjoyed this book greatly. It is a pleasure to read. Just be forewarned.

Irene and Gil are married and have 3 children. Gil is a successful artist and Irene is supposed to be working on her thesis. Irene has been keeping a journal since their first child was born. There are many of these red bound journals. She has recently discovered that Gil is reading her journal so she has bought another journal, a blue one, and it is the real journal. She has gone so far as to rent a safe deposit box for this blue journal. So far so good but Irene keeps writing in the red journal. She is writing for Gil.

Gil is an almost completely unsympathetic character. He never exhibits any kindness that is not corrupted by self. He so desperately needs to keep this family of his together that he is moved to ever more inspired heights of cruelty. The majority of Gil's work are portraits of Irene in many poses, all graphic images of different stages of body and life. His portraits are an attempt to maintain control over Irene. Almost as if the old Native American belief that a picture takes some of your soul is true. Gil takes pieces of Irene's soul.

Irene seems a much more sympathetic character. But then you realize that you may have made a mistake. There are deep, very dark currents at work in this marriage. Irene begins to resent the portraits Gil has painted of her over the years. She begins to feel those pieces of her soul as they go missing. In big ragged chunks. So since Irene has discovered Gil's disrespect and invasion of her privacy she begins writing fiction for Gil to read.

This is how the plot spins out of control for everyone. As Gil and Irene each struggle for control of the other they take no prisoners. Shadow Tag is sort of a thriller and the tension builds and builds. The twist at the end shocks. And then again it doesn't. You saw this coming even if you didn't. And it tells you all you needed to know about Gil and Irene.

Please visit Louise Erdrich's book store:

*Note that many people believe this book has autobiographical elements. You can take a look at this short bio of Ms. Erdrich's former husband Michael Dorris and make up your own mind:

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan
Anchor 352 pgs
From my personal library
Rating: 5 - Sheer Perfection

 Goon = Time

And in the immortal lyrics of Don McLean's American Pie: Can music save your mortal soul?

A Visit From the Goon Squad says yes it can. Visiting the present and the past and back again, this infuriating and lovely novel is about the ravages of  time and how it affects a cast of characters whose lives swoop and dart and intersect each other at the most unlikely points along the way. Just as importantly this book is about music, rock and roll and how it transports and transcends and heals.

Let's see if I can get this straight. As a teenager Sasha is a drug user and kleptomaniac who is a passionate devotee of music and of Bennie and his high school band. Years later Sasha is an assistant to Bennie who has become a music executive famous for discovering a band called The Conduits and starting his own record label. He was in a high school band with Scotty who has been down and out and possibly a little mental. Years later Scotty becomes a successful musician with Bennie's management. Stephanie is Bennie's ex-wife. She works as a publicist for Dolly who has a daughter named Lulu. Years later Lulu is an assistant to Bennie and hires Alex, who had a one night stand with Sasha, to promote Scotty's first concert in 30 years. Sasha eventually reconnects with Drew, her college boyfriend. They marry and have a daughter who confounds Sasha by keeping a diary using Powerpoint.And any number of various characters.

The question is what happens between A and B? How do you get from back there to right here? How can you tell if the journey was successful? This set of criteria is put forth for your consideration by Jules,  Stephanie's journalist brother, while he was in prison:

How to evaluate the relative success or failure of a life: "Marriage or lack thereof, children or lack thereof, professional success or lack thereof, healthy bank account or lack thereof, contact with childhood friends or lack thereof, ability to sleep peacefully at night or lack thereof, fulfillment of sprawling, loopy youthful ambitions or lack thereof, ability to fight off bouts of terror and despair or lack thereof..."

Now these are all good questions. But can any of us come out in the black on all of them? At any given time? I don't think so. And neither do these characters. But they do get from A to B and they are moving along to C D E.....

If you'd like to visit the author: