From my 18th birthday to my 20th, I wrote short book reviews immediately after finishing them. Here's all 31.
Some disclaimers: Infinite Jest's review is longer, not because I'm a college aged white guy who thinks it's my Bible, but because it's an edited down version of an email I sent to a high school teacher who recommended it to me. I also read plays and reviewed them during this time, but took those reviews out.
Kitchen Confidential: Fucking excellent book, great insights and narrative by Bourdain. Totally read it in his voice. Balances the biographical and informational very well.
Dune: Brilliant world building, it’s legacy speaks for itself. The political aspects of this story are what make it so special and important.
Kafka on the Shore: Awesome storytelling strategy of alternating chapters and connecting with war mystery. Crazy surrealist elements and interesting metaphors. A little on the nose and overly sexual, but well fleshed out characters. Murakami is an extremely matter of fact writer which takes some getting used to.
Blood Meridian: Incredible prose that makes you work and smile to understand. Gruesome and subtle.
East of Eden: Somehow makes you care about every member of the families over all three generations. Ending made me cry and the little world that Steinbeck creates is both natural and engaging. “Kind of about wanting to escape who you are and not being able to but other people being okay with that”
Guards, guards!: Hilarious, well fleshed out characters and dialogue. Super fun to read.
Wind Up Bird Chronicle: Interesting backstories for characters and dream sequences. Not entirely satisfying and seems too long for the themes it was trying to convey. Murakamis still a beast, though. The war story sticks with you.
Fun Home: Bechtel is a fun, striking writeartist and paints an incredible portrait of a family that is probably not too unusual, but becomes entirely unique.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: Great ethnography about Hmong culture and American healthcare. Balances both sides, gives detailed history of Hmong, good sense of humor.
Infinite Jest: Before anything else, I think a good disclaimer would be that I have been fortunate enough in my own life not to have personally dealt with the two main themes IJ deals with: depression and addiction. But in that sense, Wallace does a wonderful job of illuminating them for those who have not faced them. The book goes into addiction and AA culture in great depth, with many sections of the book being dedicated to one-off stories of addiction from both those at AA meetings (and various subsets of the group) and those at the Ennet House where much of the novel takes place. A great majority of the iconic endnotes at the back of the book are just descriptions of the exact substance a character is talking about, including the company that made it and the exact scientific dose.
There are similarly lengthy excerpts just talking about depression/”ennui” in general, aside from when he talks of specific people’s depression. Half of the story is a loose yet vivid allegory to Hamlet, specifically the part that takes place at the Enfield Tennis Academy with the (arguable) main character Hal. I mean, the title of the freakin’ book is from the “alas poor Yorick” monologue, it’s not like Wallace was hiding the relation there.
I LOVED the maximalist style of this book: the endnotes, the deep dive-ins to minor characters, the scientific journal style of some of the novel/endnotes, the way that Wallace’s grammar and syntax would change depending on what character he was talking about (even in the third person). That kinda stuff is just right up my alley. I wouldn’t necessarily call it immersive, but definitely enjoyably extensive. That’s definitely one of the more polarizing parts of the book: I’ve seen folks say that much of the book could have been cut down to reduce fluff and frustration. But to me, that’s missing some of the point. Wallace gives you all this extraneous, detailed information about the world not just to help us infer some narrative questions we have at the end, but to include the reader as part of the storytelling process itself. This book is aware that you are reading it, if that makes sense. I honestly don’t know if that does.
Gosh, this fuckin’ book. The more I try to write about it the more impossible it seems to, but I imagine that’s expected. This book really had me laughing out loud a lot. Along with everything else, it’s definitely a satire with some seriously tight-nit writing. The foreword said that “there is not a lazy sentence in this book” and they were correct. But man, it is easy to miss really important information about the story if you’re not careful. The “ending” of the book that helps you infer what happens to the characters is in the first 100 pages. There’s wraiths. There’s floating dudes who lick your sweat off. There’s ginormous feral hamsters. Time is subsidized. There’s descriptions of rape, animal abuse, violence, and drug use that don’t pull their punches. Wallace predicted Netflix, Facetime, and honestly parts of the Trump presidency.
Wallace’s writing may be extraneous, but I’ll be goddamned if he was not one of the most lucid voices of hypermodernity, sincerity, and addiction I’ve ever read. It seriously pains me reading this book, which focuses so much on depression, knowing Wallace’s fate. But this book has seriously changed the way I view literature, and life I guess. Of course that would be different for an older, more well-read fellow like yourself. But that’s just literature, too. And it gives me joy that his legacy gets to live on in this way, where I can find out about a cool as hell book from a cool as hell high school English teacher and read it a couple years down the line. And I’ll definitely read it again.
The Hobbit: Fun, easy book to read. Something I wanna read to kids someday. A bit dated language and pacing but really enjoyable. I liked how Smaug wasn’t the end-all conflict.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy: High fantasy is just satisfying to read: the respectful dialogue, distinctions of races/lore, interesting places. Really subverts expectations plot-wise in regards to the ending, making it actually more realistic and melancholy. Just a good story clearly told with love and attention to detail.
Chapo Guide to Revolution: Just good takes for the most part. Voice can get a little over the top and requires you to know a lot about online political discourse and history in order to get a lot of the humor. Great artwork.
The Brothers Karamazov: Incredibly interesting look at late Tsarist Russia, and how Dostoyevsky was responding to changes in Orthodox Russian Christianity and socialism. All the characters are realistically confusing and contradictory. The stories like the Grand Inquisitor and Zosima’s life story are super interesting. Pretty funny at some points, like Snerigov not accepting the money and how the women act. Very heartfelt, real and human. Lots of cool philosophy and religious ideas.
Dear Committee Members: funny book entirely written in letters of recommendations. Funny, smart, sustains the tone and has good message of the decline of academia and the acceptance of failure. Would recommend as a quick read.
True Hallucinations: Shroom theory. Well written with an interesting narrative, but definitely an (enjoyable) slog due to the psychedelic subject matter and alchemical jargon. Interesting ideas and a unique window into intellectual hippie culture of the 70s.
The Name of the Wind: Cheesy, fun fantasy. Cool world building, cool magic system, mostly cool prose with some over-the-top, unsubtle stuff. Kvothe is a pretty boring protagonist since he’s just good at everything or gets good at everything. Still an engaging read that I wanted to finish even tho it wasn’t that satisfying.
Truth in Comedy: great beginners manual for improv, every person unfamiliar with improv should read.
Song of Solomon: Very interestingly written, occasional non chronological jumps. Incredible perspective on the connections black people have made to their past in America, and a refreshing look at female sexuality. Crazy characters that are still entirely believable.
Of Mice and Men: Wonderful short read, tragic and illuminating about working class issues. Surprisingly deep characters for such a short book.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: A book that was definitely important for its time in terms of its philosophy and its new views on technology and education. Hasn’t aged super well, has some fallacies in his points. I’ve realized I don’t always like books when the protagonist KNOWS they’re the protagonist. Gets a little annoying. This is deflected a bit by talking about Phaedrus in 3rd person but it’s a bit pretentious regardless. I enjoyed the actual narrative of the trip a lot, and his ideas of quality and gumption are both useful. Found myself zoning out a lot while reading, but more because the book made me think a lot rather than it being uninteresting. Tricks you into learning philosophy. Very unique narrative and philosophy for the time, with a cool ending.
Catcher in the Rye: Such an interesting narrative style and likely revolutionary at the time. A surprisingly touching look at what depression can look like, and the sort of layered feelings of teenage boys.
Slaughterhouse Five: wonderfully funny and morbid while remaining concise in its themes and ideas. Enjoyed the non chronological storytelling and narrative voice.
Stretching My Mind: collection of Edward Albee essays largely concerning artists and the collection/creation of art. Some great interviews dealing with critics, writing, and American culture.
In Cold Blood: Cool book that really views the crime and characters from all angles. Sometimes wished we could see directly how Capote fit into the events but I get why he kept himself out of the book. Just a wonderfully extensive and interesting read.
Circe: I forgot how much of a sucker I am for Greek mythology: used to be a big Percy Jackson fan so I suppose it’s the natural next step. The writing style at first left me wary, but it was so masterfully used that it really sucks you in. Awesome depth to characters and reimagining of classics.
Men at Arms: Forgot how much I love Terry Pratchett. Hilarious, clever, and really engaging read. So much fun and such great new characters!
Mitterhal’s Post: a very unique and creative book written by my friends father. Part 1 is a slow burn and surreal and Part 2 is more narrative driven. Fun world building that lets you put the pieces together yourself. Fun focus on characterization.
No Country for Old Men: I had already seen the movie, so reading the book made me respect the movie more. felt like I was reading a screenplay some times. Some of my favorite dialogue out of anything I’ve read. All the characters are fleshed out almost entirely through action and dialogue which was incredible.
submitted by OldManJimster