Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper

Dispatches from the Edge is journalist Anderson Cooper's chronicle of the big-story news events he has covered as well as his own tragedies and demons.

Cooper's text brings together his reflections about Bosnia, famine-wracked Niger, Baghdad during the Iraq War, and the large-scale tragedies of 2005: the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in the US.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom is a rich historical adventure novel set in ninth century England about an aristocratic English boy, Uhtred, who is captured and raised as a Dane following a Viking incursion into northern Britain.

As the novel progresses, Uhtred grapples with divided loyalties, torn between Ragnar, the Danish warrior who raised him like a father, and England, the land of his birth and ancestry.

I have to admit, I was skeptical when I started the novel. Ninth century England? How could it not be gloomy? But Cornwell's penchant for historical verisimilitude and fast-paced action make for a very engaging and fun read.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a timeless story of childhood and family relationships.

Set in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn in the early 20th Century, the novel is primarily the story of Francie Nolan, an imaginative and resourceful child, who, though often poorly treated by fate and people, plunges forward, indomitable and courageous.

This is one of the best and most honest novels I've read and deserves its place among the ranks of perennial American classics. I highly recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

A modern-day muckraking text, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal is an unflinching look at fast food, the values it embodies, and the world it has made.

Examining fast food as both a commodity and a metaphor, Schlosser reports on everything from the poor wages of fast food employees, rising obesity in the US, working conditions in meatpacking plants, and the relationship between fast food business practices and the malling and sprawling of America.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Clerks II

Though not as good as the original, Clerks II is funny and clever (not to mention rude and offensive) more often than not.

The film catches up with Dante Hicks and Randal Graves ten years after the original Clerks, where they've laterally moved from convenience and video store clerks to workers in a fast food restaurant.

What follows include episodes of slacking, riotous nerdboy debates, screwing with customers, and, surprisingly, change, with the prospects of marriage, adulthood, and friendship all in the balance.

Clerks II works and is a worthy sequel because it represents a satisfying return to roots for Kevin Smith, with good dialogue, comedic timing, purity, and themes of male friendship that were so strong in his early films.

The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol

The Shame of the Nation delivers a devastating expose of the de-facto segregation in American public schools.

Author Jonathan Kozol pulls no punches as he reviews the segregation of students by color and income and sums up the reality as a "restoration of apartheid schooling in America".

This book will and should make you uncomfortable. Fifty years removed from Brown vs. Board of Education, The Shame of the Nation reveals overcrowded classes in rotting school buildings, promising students forced into menial job training courses, and the obscene funding differences between rich and poor schools.