War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

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A Year in Reading: Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend)

I began The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson, on a Sunday afternoon in May flying home from a friend’s wedding and finished it around 2 am that night holed up in my “office,” a 6×8 foot room covered in music equipment, gym clothes, and a decent amount of garbage. My desire to finish Ronson’s gripping book without waking my cat and girlfriend outweighed the putrid stench of my terrible fetid lair. I felt like a psychopath! But I’m not one — I have a sense of humor and experience empathy. Ding ding ding.

In the book, Ronson runs through a 20-item checklist used to diagnose psychopathy, in the process interviewing a mass-murderer, mental patients, daytime talk-show producers, a corporate downsizer, and more. Dark stuff, certainly, but Ronson is able to find hilarity in the truly morbid. When I finished it, I passed it on to my mom and she loved it!

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges, tells of the author’s experiences covering wars for The New York Times. I’m fascinated by how, in an era where more and more things are documented online, much of what actually goes down during war remains hidden from public view. This slim volume goes a good way into explaining the mindsets of those who have lived through war and the journalists who regularly cover it.

I also really enjoyed The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. It got me thinking a lot about the nature of family generally, and my departed grandfathers specifically, which I don’t do often enough. I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

In terms of purely enjoyable language, I need to recommend The Angel Esmerelda, by Don DeLillo. That man, to this day, knows how to write a spectacular sentence.

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Making Love on a Live Grenade

Tam Tam Books, my friend Tosh’s labor of love, released it’s fourth book this past week: Boris Vian’s Foam of the Daze. Vian is mostly unknown in the States but he is one of France’s modern masters. His novels are at once absurd and doleful. Foam of the Daze is his masterpiece.An AdmissionI’ve done something that I do every once in a while and that I feel a bit of guilt about. I’ve put a book down without finishing it. In this case, though, the book was actually very good, and what I read I enjoyed very much. Chris Hedges pulls no punches in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. He ruthlessly whittles away the myth of war and violence until all that remains is the set of lies on which they are based. His arguments are almost too convincing, and after he lays it out, it is hard to make a case for a situation in which the use of force is warranted. I especially enjoyed the way he went about laying all of this out. Instead of proclaiming the virtues of peace, he very clearly described how war becomes a tool that those in power use, willingly or not, to maintain their power. And that’s it, that’s the whole book. And that’s pretty much why I quit about halfway through. He made is argument very convincingly and I found myself quite moved, but then he made his argument again and again. I’ve described here in the past the lingering anxiety that has accompanied opening the throttle, so to speak, when it comes to reading. And now sometimes when I feel that I have extracted the essential nugget of wisdom from a book, I am ready to cast the book aside so that I can get to that next nugget. And, sometimes, this nugget is given away freely before the end of the book. I have become a very thirsty reader.

More Stories

Another comprehensive collection by a short story master is hitting shelves this week. Bradbury Stories is a collection of 100 stories by, who else, Ray Bradbury. Aside from being delightful reading, this collection displays his mastery of the form, providing whatever “proof” might be necessary that Bradbury diserves to be considered one of our best writers. Here’s a good interview with Bradbury from The Onion.A Letter to ThailandHere’s a letter to my friend Cem. He’s world travelling and I thought I might recommend him some books.Cem…Checking in. Southern Turkish still in Northern Thailand I presume. From my little hammock of paradise, it’s hard to imagine your jungle roamings. I don’t know if you have the time to read or the ability to acquire these books, but I’ve got two more for you: War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges. He talks about the effect of national conflict on individuals, and, more specifically, he explores his own addiction to war, which has led him around the world. Also, I’m reading a surreal mystery novel called Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. As the title suggests, it’s set in the country where you hang your hat.It’s all picnics and baseball here in the states. I hope you’re enjoying an appropriate Thai substitute.Dreaming of Ships,Max[Note: These books are great for the general populace, too. Not just world travelers]

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