Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Challenge's First Challenge

Everything was going well as of January 4. I had finished three books and managed to stay out of bookstores. Then I got an e-mail from After-Words, one of my favorite used bookstores, announcing that any book that has been sitting on their shelves since 2006 or earlier is 50% off in January and February. I had a dentist appointment near the store last Monday, and I couldn't imagine missing a 50% off sale. As an additional incentive, $31 in store credit was waiting for me at After-Words from books I sold there last year.

To make a long story short, I bought seven books, which put me four books behind for 2009. I decided there was a little wiggle room in my resolution -- I don't strictly have to maintain a positive balance every day of the year. I limited myself to few enough books that I can catch up soon, and I didn't buy books that weren't part of the sale.

On Wednesday, I finished Them: Adventures With Extremists by Jon Ronson. This was one of my Powell's purchases from June 2007, and I don't know why I took so long getting around to it. After all, I thoroughly enjoyed Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats (which investigates secret government/military experiments). In Them, the author hangs out with a colorful cast of people who fervently believe that an international conspiracy (Bilderberg Group, Illuminati, et al., though surprisingly Freemasonry isn't mentioned) controls the world from a secret room. Among these "extremists" are a Ku Klux Klan leader, a Muslim who calls himself Bin Laden's man in Britain, Randy Weaver and his daughter (of the infamous Ruby Ridge incident), a paranoid but determined magazine editor, and a radio talk show host who raised money to rebuild the Branch Davidian compound. Ronson shows that these people aren't necessarily evil or insane, despite how the mainstream media often portray them, but he also has some downright weird experiences along the way. An intriguing undercurrent is that Ronson is Jewish, and many of these people/groups are notoriously Anti-Semitic. He also finds that the Anti-Semite label has been used to smear extremists regardless of their actual feelings about Jews.

Overall, Them is an entertaining and insightful book. Ronson uses lots of dialogue and humor to put a human face on people that we tend to blindly label. While he expresses his doubts, he doesn't harshly judge these people. I got the feeling Ronson may have a similar position to mine: I'm not quite paranoid enough to believe it, but I'm not so naïve that I'd be surprised to find out it's true.

I bought Fired! Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, & Dismissed by Annabelle Gurwitch last year after my dad got fired from his job of 35 years. I thought I'd read it and pass it along to cheer him up. Alas, the book is mostly about Hollywood people who got fired from crappy jobs and went on to fame and fortune, so I don't think it would provide much solace to someone like my dad. I left it half-finished a few months ago and read the last 100 pages this weekend. As one might expect, this collection of termination stories is a mixed bag. Some tales are hilarious, others okay, and many forgettable. I would have enjoyed this book more if it had included more stories from "regular" people and fewer tales from Hollywood screenwriters. Gurwitch also made a documentary called Fired!, which is available on Netflix (I haven't seen it).

Current tally: 5 books finished, 7 books acquired

No comments: