mini-reviews of books recently read, part 1 (of 2)

the road, by cormac mccarthy

5 stars
i’ve wanted to see this movie, but haven’t gotten around to it. someone told me the book was really worth reading, so i picked this up in an airport when i was on a trip without a book; and i devoured it in 24 hours. it’s a stunning, bleak, sparse telling of a post-apocalyptic landscape and the relationship between a father and the young son he’s trying to protect. the relationship between the father and son is at time heartbreaking (the lengths the father goes to, and the numbness, fear and acceptance of what shouldn’t be that overwhelms the boy), and at times relationally rich and beautiful. it’s not one of those adventure stories that makes me want to experience their adventure, to be sure; but the hope the father holds onto, in the midst of impossible challenges, lifts the story up well beyond a scenario that would otherwise be merely brutal, indulgent storytelling.

the birth (and death) of the cool, by ted gioia

4 stars
the birth (and death) of the cool offers a history of the rise of the concept of ‘cool’ (mostly through jazz; but, eventually, permeating modern culture), then suggest current realities showing it’s demise. the suggestion is that the concept of cool — aloof and above — has gone by the wayside in our culture both by being watered down and co-opted, as well as by replacement values, like earnestness and authenticity. the author is a jazz historian, so much of the story is told through that lens — but this makes sense since the concept of cool was born in that context. more interesting to me than the actual rise and fall of this youth-oriented cultural construct was viewing this as a case study for how values rise and fall within youth culture, and how those values — particularly once they’re simultaneously embraced by wider culture and by marketers — dissipate and are replaced by new (or old) values. worth a read for anyone interested in the evolution of cultural values. i was constantly, during reading, thinking about how youth culture has become the dominant culture in america (and most of the developed world). the transitory values held by youth culture get amalgamated into mainstream culture, lose their purity (if that word can be used) and lose steam; by then, youth culture has moved on, and culture at large starts to look to youth for what’s next.
(ht to bob carlton, who sent me this book)

the dude abides: the gospel according to the coen brothers, by cathleen falsani

3 stars
let me start with this: cathleen falsani’s last book, sin boldly: a field guide to grace, was one of my favorite books the year it came out. so my expectations for this next book were, i’m sure, unfairly high. i like the coen brothers movies, but haven’t seen them all. so i certainly wouldn’t qualify as an uber-fan. this book promises much more than it delivers, i’m afraid. the promise, at least as i picked it up, was a deep dive into the spiritual themes and subtext of the coen brothers movie vault. there’s some of that here, but it’s mostly summaries of the movies. i still think falsani is an author to be watched, and i’ll quickly grab whatever book she publishes next (and i have her blog in my reader, and follow it regularly). but this one was a misfire for me. it did make me want to rent some of the coen bros movies i hadn’t seen, though.

a million miles in a thousand years: what i learned while editing my life, by donald miller

5 stars
i have a handful of favorite authors where i’ve read pretty much all of their books. then there are those like don miller. i’ve only read two of his books (blue like jazz, and this one). and i want to say he’s one of my favorite authors; but that’s a stretch since i’ve only read two of his many books. i’ve also heard him speak a half dozen times, and have found him to be just the right mix of storytelling and provocative ideas for my taste. in that mix, ‘a million miles’ narrows it down: great storytelling and one really provocative idea. the provocative idea, in my own words, is that a great life worth living is one full of risk. in a sense, don applies ‘low risk, potential for low reward; high risk, potential for high reward’ to the art of living. and, since don’s a guy who is naturally disposed to rut-living and risk-averse choices, his life becomes his own case study for all the reasons any of us readers would have balk. seriously, you can’t read this book and not start dreaming of ways to reinvigorate the story of your life.

5 thoughts on “mini-reviews of books recently read, part 1 (of 2)”

  1. The Road is, perhaps, my favorite novel, especially now that I have a son of my own. The film is great too, but feels a bit more bleak than the book (if that’s even possible).

  2. I’ll second the love of The Road. I read it three years ago, just after it won the Pulitzer. I have never had a book affect me so deeply. Maybe it’s because my son was 2 and a half at the time and just beginning to really develop his personality. Can’t wait to see the movie when it hits Blu-ray later this Spring!

  3. Just finished “A Millions Miles in a Thousand Years” and it was very awesome. I have read 4 Donald Millers books now, and this one took me back to Blue Like Jazz, where there was just something to authentic and moving about how he is trying to live his story. very inspiring.

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