Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Between Two Worlds

The story of what happened to Roxana Saberi boggled my mind. Saberi, a citizen in both the United States and Iran, was living in Iran and was arrested and imprisoned for being a spy (which she was not). Her book, Between Two Worlds shares what happened to her in the months between her arrest and her freedom.

As I stated earlier, Saberi’s story is astonishing. The strength she showed in dealing with being imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit, in a country with an incredibly fuzzy justice system, is admirable. Reading the book, I had to continue to remind myself that this was a true story, that it really happened only a year and a half ago.

Initially, I was not particularly impressed with Saberi’s writing style. Between Two Worlds tells what happened to Saberi during her imprisonment, but it does not offer as much commentary as I had hoped it would; the writing is simple and straightforward. However, as I think about it, I’m not sure what more I would want Saberi to do. What happened to her is engaging enough; she does not need to embellish it with beautiful sentences.

In the end, I’m going to give Between Two Worlds a 4/5. It is an exciting, and appalling, read.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Roxana Saberi. (Really, do watch this one, especially if you aren’t going to read the book. Her story is unbelievable).

Buy the book.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Bridge

Before I read it, I thought David Remnick’s book The Bridge: The Rise and Life of Barack Obama would be a breath of fresh air. I checked it out from the library at the same time as Marc Thiessen’s Obama-bashing book Courting Disaster and expected the enjoy Remnick’s, if only by comparison. Perhaps I would have had I read The Bridge directly after Courting Disaster. However, in addition to those two books, I had also borrowed A Captain’s Duty, Comeback America, and Between Two Worlds, which left me with lots of other reading material. So when I finally picked up Remnick’s gigantic book, Courting Disaster wasn’t on my mind, leaving me disappointed with The Bridge.

The Bridge, in addition to chronicling Obama’s history, attempts to cover the histories of civil rights, black politicians, Chicago politics, and all of Obama’s ancestors. It does not manage these many subjects elegantly. Instead, the book jumps from one to another, sharing irrelevant information, not even following a simple chronological order. The sections directly dealing with Obama were the book’s strongest, but even those could have used a lot more work; for instance, the sections about Obama’s early life were filled with quotes from anyone who ever had anything to do with him, giving the book a tabloid-esque feel, and randomly inserted into a chapter about the beginning of Obama’s political career was an in-depth book review of Dreams of my Father.

I wouldn’t say that Remnick is a bad writer, and I appreciated that he didn't portray Obama as someone who is all good (or all bad), but The Bridge was in need of another draft. If the book maintained focus on Obama—rather than taking brief forays into other histories—shortened and cut some of its many quotes, and shifted into a clear organizational structure, it wouldn’t be bad. And it would be much shorter, something I wished it were each time I picked up the 600-page book.

I’m giving The Bridge a 2/5. But unlike the last 2 I gave (Get Him to the Greek), The Bridge is at the low end of the spectrum. I certainly don’t recommend it to you.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with David Remnick

Buy the book

Friday, June 18, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

First off, before I jump into the review, I want to apologize for my absence here (not that anyone is really at the edge of their seat waiting for a Daily Shill update.). I just graduated from Kalamazoo College, and the week of graduation and the one following have been crazy busy. But I am back!

I had low expectations going into Get Him to the Greek. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the movie where Aldous Snow’s character originated, the trailers did not look good. My expectations were met; the movie was okay.

Get Him to the Greek follows Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), an under-appreciated record company employee, as he attempts to escort washed-out, drugged up rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to a concert at the Greek Theater. As one might expect, everything that could go wrong in this transportation process, does.

The movie was very hit or miss for me. Though there were some scenes that cracked me up, like the “furry wall” one the movie will likely be remembered for, they were outnumbered by the attempts at humor that didn’t land. I never thought I would say this, but I thought Diddy was the funniest actor/character in the movie. Make of that what you will.

Get Him to the Greek follows the comedy blueprint that has worked well for movies of the past two summers like The Hangover and Superbad: there is some time-sensitive problem (get rock star to the gig, groom to the wedding, or booze to the party) and a duo (or trio) of guys have lots of comical obstacles until they solve it. But unlike in Superbad and The Hangover, I wasn’t endeared to the characters; I just didn’t care if they succeeded in the end. Also, I didn’t laugh as much.

I give Get Him to the Greek a 2/5. It’s a high 2 (I’d rather watch it than read George Lucas’s Blockbusting or Newt Gingrich’s novel), but a 2 nonetheless.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Jonah Hill

I’m currently making my way through David Remick’s biography of Barack Obama. It’s a long one, so it may be a bit before another review. But I will be back!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Comeback America

David Walker’s book, Comeback America, is filled with doom and gloom about our country’s economic state. He paints a rough picture of the pile of debt and the “borrowing is okay” mindset America has. Though he provides some potential solutions, the brunt of Walker’s focus is on the problems facing our nation.

Comeback America centers on irresponsible government spending, with special emphasis on social security, health care, and the pentagon. Walker’s credentials on this topic are high – he’s US Comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office. He has a genuine interest in our country’s fiscal responsibility, and he fills the book with appalling statistics (such as, if America’s debt was divided over the number of households in the country, each one would owe $483,000). Walker also avoids aligning himself with a political party throughout the book: he was a fan of Bush Senior and Clinton’s economic policies, upset with Bush Junior’s, and hopeful, but worried, about Obama’s.

As I was reading Comeback America, I knew what I was learning was important, but despite my efforts to engage, I was mostly bored with it. Walker’s writing is clear, but not particularly inspiring. Walker often gives speeches dealing with the same issues Comeback America does, and I would’ve rather heard him speak on them: his passion for the subject likely comes across better in speech than in type.

It’s difficult for me to settle on a fair rating for this book. Comeback America is not what I’d call an enjoyable read—something that is actually acknowledged by the author in the epilogue of the book—but I did learn a lot, and it’s made me think about the problem of excessive spending and how to deal with it. I give it a 3/5, but know what you’re getting into if you pick it up.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with David Walker

Buy the book

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Weapons of Self Destruction

I will always have a fondness for Robin Williams because of Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, two of my favorite movies as a kid, and The Birdcage and Dead Poets Society, two I enjoy now. However, it turns out that that affection does not extend to his stand-up.

Watching Williams’s comedy act, Weapons of Self Destruction, I was disappointed at how un-funny I found most of his material. Though you could argue that I was not his intended audience—as many of his bits centered on sex, masturbation, and profanity, something thought of as “boy humor” – I expected to enjoy the comedy special more than I did.

Williams did make me laugh, however, with his political jokes. Though those bits mainly consisted of one-sentence summaries of current events that would surprise people from the past, Williams had the timing down and edited these “headlines” in a way to maximize their humor.

I give Weapons of Self Destruction a 2/5. Watching it didn’t make me want to cry, but I wouldn’t recommend it either.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Robin Williams

Buy the DVD (Or, if you have HBO on demand, it is currently watchable there).