I’ve been bad the last couple months. I finished all these books by early October, and have probably started a dozen books since then without finishing anything. And I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson’s Misborn for about three months. I’m liking it, but I just can’t finish it for whatever reason.
This hasn’t been a good Cannonball for me. But, much like my first Cannonball in 2015, I have the birth of a child to blame.
Anyway, I’ll still try and review these books the best I can. But I can’t vouch for how strongly I remember these books.
In 2009, Shane Bauer was arrested, along with two companions, in Iran under bogus espionage charges while hiking in Iraq. They were held for two years in an Iranian jail. Five years later, Bauer, while writing for Mother Jones magazine, took an entry-level prison guard job for $9 an hour at a private prison in Louisiana. He worked undercover, but used his own name and didn’t actively lie about who he was or what he was doing. The background check was virtually non-existent.
This was a fascinating expose, made even more powerful by the experiences Bauer faced in Iran. He’s been on both sides of the bars, and those earlier experiences informed his work in Louisiana.
But the real interesting part, for me, was his describing the fear and discomfort that came from working with prisoners, and how he was having to put on a kind of costume to do the job.
When I got out of college, for personal reasons, I wasn’t able to pursue my chosen profession (archaeology). I took a job working security at a nuclear power plant, which I kept for two years. The pay was good, and it was really interesting being at a nuclear plant, but there was really nothing about the job that I found appealing. My coworkers were all ex-military or ex-police, and their worldview wasn’t particularly familiar to a 25 year old kid with scholarly aspirations. There were a few posts that required me to search people and present myself with authority – which were things I was never comfortable with. I’ve always been a fairly withdrawn, bookish guy. Telling grown men to spread their legs so I could search them was…..weird. There’s no other way to say it.
I could identify, in a small way, at least, the mentality Bauer put himself in going to work every day. And it’s not a feeling I honestly wanted to revisit.
Anyway. The book is excellent.
Did I read this book?
I mean, yes, I did. But I don’t really recall it. I have flashes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Firestarter (which I’ve never actually read, but am somewhat familiar with).
Luke Ellis is kidnapped in the middle of the night and transferred from his home in Minnesota to a facility in the backwoods of Maine. At this facility, he’s surrounded by other kids around his same age who all have psychic or kinetic powers. This facility is government run, and has been in existence for decades.
The book is pretty good, but not one of King’s better recent efforts (Revival was excellent). If it was written in the 1980s, I’d say it was probably one of those King books that started as a somewhat interesting concept, but only came to fruition because he was in a coke-fueled writing frenzy and everything he touched was a bestseller. This book was sold as having elements of Firestarter (which I can see) with the kid magic of It (which I don’t think is remotely true). Your mileage may vary, but this isn’t treading new ground.
I think the best thing about this book, honestly, was the cop character (whose name I can’t even remember). He quits his job in Florida and settles in a small town in South Carolina on a lark. He’s way over qualified for the job, but he signs on to be a night-knocker. That’s, basically, his story. I read this book without really knowing anything about it, and most of the beginning of the book is setting up this guy’s story, only to abandon it in favor of Luke and the Institute. The whole book, I kept waiting for King to go back to South Carolina and show us more of this guy, and we never really get that.
Despite this disappointment, the book was fairly entertaining, even if it’s not one of the more memorable Stephen King books out there.
Remember a few years ago when zombies were all the rage? There was Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, and then The Walking Dead came out and everyone was talking about how vampires were popular under Republican administrations and zombies were big under Democratic ones, and this had broader political insight into the American zeitgeist. Or something. Well, this book came out in 2011 – so right in the middle of all that noise.
It’s not as memorable as World War Z, but I think it’s quite a bit better than The Walking Dead (which was really just an excuse to cynically put all the characters in the worst situations imaginable).
Gus has ensconced himself in a fortified house on the outskirts of an eastern Canadian city. He wakes up every day to get drunk and watch movies, breaking the monotony with the occasional supply run into town. He’s alone. I mean, alone. And has been for some time. It’s mind-numbing, and frightening. Gus does what, I think, a lot of people would do: stay alive without staying sober. It’s a miserable world, but people have an innate desire to live. So he keeps going, for some reason that even he can’t explain.
And then he’s not alone, and he slips right back into having someone there with him.
I really can’t explain why, but there was something so endearing about how rejuvenated he was when he found someone to share the world with again.
This isn’t a great book – but I found it enjoyable. And it highlighted the drudgery of life without civilization that often gets skirted over in these kinds of books.
This is the first book in a series, which I’ll probably pick up at some point.
I’ve never read anything on the Crusades before. Which is kind of weird considering my early ambition to a Medieval historian.
Considering that, this book was a pretty good introduction. It’s a broad overview of the two centuries of conflict that doesn’t get too bogged down in the details while still providing the overarching narrative and enough context to make sense of everything. It’s also coming from a place that tries to divorce the wars from their current political subtext. I think it’s fairly well-understood by historians that these weren’t early examples of European imperialism as they are so often made out to be. They were, in fact, largely irrelevant to the wider Muslim world, doing little to slow the advance of Islam and, ultimately, failing in virtually every respect. And while they have had a lasting impact on European identity, standing as a cultural touchstone for Christendom, their power as a political tool among contemporaries was always limited by the inability of European kingdoms to actually follow through on the promise of conquest. And their importance to Islamic history was fairly minimal until the impacts of colonialism ravaged the Middle East over the last two hundred years. Even Saladin was a fairly minor historical figure until recently.