Review: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m pretty sure anyone with even a hint of interest in international finance will enjoy this book. I, personally, have more interest now than I did before I read it, but that’s only because I had zero interest before, and Lewis a gifted writer. However, that said, I don’t if I got very much out of my read.

Which is not to say it’s bad- just over my head. Lewis travels to Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany, and California, to talk to the people stuck in the middle of financial melt-downs. The key word there is people, and that’s where books by Lewis are strongest, and how a person like me, in over his head, can still manage to muddle through.

I mean, I think I sort of understand that, linked to America’s sup-prime mortgage scandal, Iceland let their natural-born arrogance lead them into financial stupidity, Greece embraced an ancient taste for hubris to make for financial hypocrisy, Ireland turned an unprecedented boom economy into a historically familiar bust, Germany got tricked and guilted into trying to pay for it all, and California managed to accomplish all four scenarios by itself. (My challenge to you is to read the book and come back and tell me what a terribly glib and woefully inaccurate synopsis of Boomerang that is.)

I’m going to keep reading the books that Michael Lewis has written, because, like I said, he’s a gifted writer, and sometimes I end up learning something, even if I don’t understand it. In a lot of ways I’m just like the Icelanders, and the Greeks and the Irish. But at least Michael Lewis is making me aware, which is better than I was before, if nothing else.

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Review: A Dance At The Slaughterhouse

A Dance At The Slaughterhouse
A Dance At The Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t you just love these titles that Block comes up with for each new Scudder novel? Boneyard, Cutting Edge, so much pulp, so much gristle. And now we’ve got a slaughterhouse. Once again, Block ups the ante. Book number 9, and Scudder is getting in deeper, and the reader is too. Whereas old Matt was existentialistic and numb, modern Matt is losing a pyrrhic battle with his conscious. Morality is the ultimate victim.

Let’s really examine that word, slaughterhouse. Metaphorically, it’s used to describe a place where blood is shed, in excess, the strong and evil preying on the weak and defenseless. You can’t call a battlefield a slaughterhouse because both sides have guns. But chain kids up to metal poles and murder them? Slaughterhouse indeed.

(No, Scudder doesn’t kill any kids in this one. That’s not what I was getting at, above).

But the literal definition of slaughterhouse a place where animals are killed in the first step of digestion (kill ’em, clean ’em, cook ’em, eat ’em) is even more appropriate. Matt’s still going to AA meetings, still hanging out with his best gal (a call girl) and his best friend (a mobster) and his mission control (a jaded cop) and his amanuensis (his sponsor). Block gives us a good-old-fashioned abattoir here, where Matt chews his way through a nasty piece of meat that just gets nastier and nastier.

Makes a man see maybe what those vegetarians are talking about. Except it’s fun to dance, isn’t it. And since I didn’t end up with a bad case of indigestion, and dizzy from the fandango, I guess we’ll just have to see if the next book gets nastier, dances faster.

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A Broken Four Miler

I have to remember that I am not a performance runner. I enjoy running it’s good for me and it feels great to go fast and to get some good times now and again, but not at the expense of being content. There’s probably some sort of philosophy in there, about how being mostly content ids better than being only occasionally happy. I dunno.

I hadn’t run in several days, and things kept piling up to keep me off the road. The wife said I had a window, and so I dashed out for a quick 4 miler. The problem there is I thought I had to be “quick.” I didn’t. If I had run slower, I might have finished faster.

I’ll try, for sake of readability, be a little less descriptive of every road and every turn and every mile., We’ll see how that goes. Today’s run started off north on 1st Ave. Shoes were very loose on my feet, which felt kind of good. Achilles tendon was a little sore for now reason I can think of.

Mile one was a smooth 9:13, cause I like the downhill from 145th to 155th. It’s my jam. Right turn on 155th, and starting to climb– every time I take this bit, it looks less steep. Had to stop and retire my shoes at one point, but otherwise, it was fine. However, the music on the iPod was a little too awesome, because I pushed it.

Pushed it? Yes. Mile two was right after the right turn onto 15th Ave, an 8:42, and I was not feeling well, even though it was more downhill after that. Mile 3 ended right at the lowest point, 9:12, and I knew I was spent. I made a few hundred yards into the climb before I gave up and walked for three minutes.

I chalked it up to not only going too fast too early, but also not eating much that day. Once I got my legs back, I ran some more, starting with a right on 125th, which drops, then climbs as it turns and becomes 130th. I prayed for do-not-cross signals. Mile 4, 12:26.

Zipped the rest of the way home, another third of a mile. Final time was 42:18, which works out to 9:48 per mile. Aren’t averages funny? If I had run every mile more slowly, and not walked– well, I already said that, didn’t I.

Oh well. Going to try and take my own advice, and not let it get to me. I hope to get in one more good long run before my hernia surgery next week, and then, alas, no running for a while. Maybe I can still; keep blogging, though, about how much I miss it. That should be some scintillating reading.

Review: A Ticket to the Boneyard

A Ticket to the Boneyard
A Ticket to the Boneyard by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Scudder number eight. We’re still sober, though we don’t go to as many AA meetings as we used to. (By which I mean, “we” the reader; Matt still goes, he just doesn’t take us along as much as he used to.) This is not the same Matthew Scudder who started the series, but never fear: alcohol and bars and prostitutes are still around, still filling up pages. The irony is that in the first several novels, these things were just backdrops. Now they’re front and center, central to the plot.

And this novel reads differently from the others so far, another irony: you’ve got to be familiar with good old Matthew to understand him at all in this different kind of book. Instead of a cold-case, a distant client, a reluctant unlicensed private investigator working for a few bucks, Block gives us an actual bad guy, crimes happening recently enough to be in today’s papers, and a scared-as-hell recovering alcoholic.

That’s the genius of this novel, or the subtlety which I’m calling genius so I look smart cause I figured it out. Up until Ticket, Scudder didn’t really have all that much going for him. No real skin in the game. Camus’ Meursault if he lived in New York in the early eighties. But now, he’s being terrorized, and the best way for Block to show us, this how scared he is, is by having Matt be tempted to drink.

Oh, the scene is over pretty quickly, sure, and then Matt gets his own back and returns to his existential numbness (I am almost being literal, by the way). This is, after all, a mystery novel, not a Roman a Clef. Nevertheless, it makes those scenes when we do go to AA with Matt a little more comfortable.

A few old faces in this one, some from way back- since alcohol, bars, and prostitutes aren’t the backdrop anymore, the old familiar faces take their place. And New York’s the same cess-pit it’s always been, so if nothing else, home is still a place you can hang your hat, no matter what kind of shape it’s in.

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