Monday, March 12, 2012

Look Out Publishers Weekly, You Have Competition, and It Is Someone Who Swears a Lot

Heyo everyone! Once again it's your boy Perspicacious P aka the Vanilla Thrilla aka The Doctor of Decadence. More reviews, this time it's books! I understand most of you are Americans, so you don't really read books, and that being intellectual can be a bad thing (just look at Bush v. Kerry!), but don't worry about it. To paraphrase myself, I read so you don't have to. Now, on to the reviews!

Mockingjay (Book 6 of 25)

This is the final book of the Hunger Games Trilogy and was my favorite of the three. I can’t really write too specifically about it because it will reveal too much, but let’s just say shit gets very real for our hero Katniss Everdeen. I was speaking with Kevin on Da Facebookz the other day and called Katniss a true gangsta. After reading this, you’ll see that she is involved in some tru gangsta shit and has a heart of stone like Al Capone. She would have no trouble holding down the block in Compton or Bed Stuy or wherever, even if she is a scrawny 18-year-old white girl. Game recognize game and I know she would get respect in the hood. She even played out two potential lovers for as long as she could.

When you got it, you got it.

ANYWAY the book was well-written and quickly paced. I could not put it down and stayed up damn near all night trying to finish. Its ending packs such a wallop that it kept me up for a few hours after, even though it was hella late. Katniss Everdeen, ultimate hustla.

Devil in the White City (Book 7 of 25)

Soooooooo…another book on the Victorian era. It took awhile to get into this one, simply because I am Victorianed-out at this point. It’s an era that I don’t particularly enjoy reading about/watching movies about/thinking about. Sadly, had it been a few pages longer, it would have counted for two in my 25/50 challenge, since 500 page books count as two. ANYWAY, once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. Of course the Irish come off as terrible in the book because they were either a) assistants to a mass murderer or b) killing the mayor of Chicago, but let’s not dwell on that.

Chicago has always been a fascinating place to me, largely because of the John Hughes movies that shaped my youth and The Untouchables movie with Kevin Costner. My interest in the city was further piqued when I read one of the greatest graphic novels ever written, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.

(As an aside, Stewie from Family Guy was essentially stolen from Jimmy Corrigan. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself.)

Devil in the White City explored Chicago in its ascendency, during an American era where there were no limits on ambition. It’s sort of like China today, no feat of human endeavor or engineering was too daunting or dangerous. Chicago’s goal in the World’s Fair of 1893 was to surpass the greatness of a World’s Fair held a few years earlier in Paris, an event that gave us the Eiffel Tower. One part of the book dealt with this challenge, and how the fair was a coming-of-age of sorts for Chicago. Although it had no equivalent to the Eiffel Tower, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 gave us: Cream of Wheat, Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit, Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Ferris Wheel and on top of all this, some of the most gorgeous architecture seen on American soil.

The other part of the book deals with Dr. H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. Though there’s been no final count, Dr. Holmes body count could be in the hundreds. It’s incredible how inept the Chicago police were in the face of this. Of course, the Chicago police were largely Irish at the time…

Essentially, it was the juxtaposition of one great mind, building up a beautiful city, with another great mind, who was hell-bent (see what I did there?) with tearing it down, or at least the people in it.

By the end, I loved Devil in the White City, which is incredible because I have no real interest in true crime or period pieces. I became enamored with this World’s Fair (official name: World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, as it was supposed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the New World and wiping out an entire indigenous civilization in the process, but of course they couldn’t get it done in time so it was 401 years after, but who’s counting?). All this talk of Chicago even got me listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois album on repeat.

ANYWAY, I think the link between the two men was tenuous; they happened to be in the same place at the same time, but there really was no greater overlap. And the author, Erik Larson, is prone to overwriting and being a little too dramatic in many scenes. He framed scenes in such a way that only a person who was in that moment would have known such specific details, which was hard to take at times since it was a piece of non-fiction. For instance, he spoke about how the killer felt while killing someone, how the room smelled, etc etc--really specific minutiae that is truly impossible to know. But his pacing was perfect and there was a ton of great information about American and architectural history. Big up to anyone who can hold my interest in the Victorian era when I was suffering from an acute case of Victorian-era fatigue.

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