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Bigwig

Bigwig

Joined September 2020

Book reviews from the warren
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Bigwig
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Shout out to @unfortunately.ashley for the gift of this 2008 novel (I‘m probably the last person on the planet to read it). The narrator, a dog named Enzo, provides insightful/hilarious/tragic commentary on the lives of the young family he lives with. I know…a dog book. But Enzo, an intelligent, big-hearted character with aspirations and a moral code, has a refreshingly precise voice and his way of seeing the world is stripped of human artifice.

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Bigwig
The Twilight World | Werner Herzog
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This is a lyrical retelling of the story of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who continued to hide and fight on an island in the Philippines for 30 years after the end of World War II. Herzog‘s style is razor-precise, dreamy, and captivating as he speculates on Onoda‘s experience of the passage of time in endless solitude. The uniqueness of the context made this book an unusually interesting character study, as well as a tragic meditation on war.

9 likes2 stack adds
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Bigwig
The Thin Red Line | James Jones
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This 1962 novel of World War II is a powerful read. Depicting the experiences of an American infantry company during the invasion of Guadalcanal, the plot focuses on a dozen soldiers who discover pain, terror, heroism, and deeply cynical truths as they face the cruel indifference of death and fate in the jungle. A very bleak tale, and one that is rougher, more nuanced, and more grounded than the introspective 1998 Terrance Malick film adaptation.

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Bigwig
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My sister‘s first book of poetry was recently published. I‘m obviously biased, but I loved it. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys poetry, and even those who don‘t.

9 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
Deliverance | James Dickey
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Just enjoyed a re-read of this classic thriller in a vintage paperback (shout-out to McKay‘s used books in Chattanooga, TN!). While the (awesome) movie may be a pop culture punchline at times, the novel about a wilderness nightmare experienced by four suburban men on a canoe trip is fast-moving, frightening, and still of considerable psychological interest in our day. Read this one on a camping trip if you can, preferably by flashlight.

Leftcoastzen McKays! I‘ve been to the one in Knoxville. 1mo
Bigwig Nice! My uncle was kind enough to introduce me to McKay‘s…what a place. I could spend all day there. 1mo
The_Book_Ninja Squeal lil‘ piggy! 1mo
10 likes1 stack add3 comments
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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

I took the true-crime bait. This is an interesting read about a very strange family (?), the Benders, who robbed and killed travelers at their remote cabin in Kansas in the 1870s. They buried their victims in the orchard. The dearth of comprehensive sources/records from the time and the lack of definitive answers results in a readable but only partially satisfying narrative. The author did a commendable job, especially for a first work.

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Bigwig
Rabbit Redux | John Updike
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Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, now 36 (and a doughy reactionary), deals with the implosion of his marriage and job by allowing the radical summer of ‘69 to literally take up residence in his bland suburban living room…with hilarious and tragic results. What a character: passive, depressed, noble and weak, fiercely traditional yet intrigued by doomed rebels and angered by the narrow-minded neighbors. Updike is on fire, with a fierce, hypnotic style.

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Bigwig
Rabbit, Run | John Updike
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In 1959, 26-year-old Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom flees from his pedestrian rust belt life, abandoning his pregnant wife and young son. Rabbit, a former high school basketball star, is a creature of impulse with a stagnated identity. His existential crisis leads to tragedy. Updike makes Rabbit‘s interior life both sympathetic and infuriating. Do moral norms exist to prevent suffering? I‘ll be reading the series to see if Rabbit‘s thesis holds true.

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Bigwig
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In 1996 two female hikers were savagely killed in the Shenandoah region of the Appalachian Trail. The author reviews the case, torpedoes the government‘s strangely misguided pursuit of the (likely) wrong suspect, and narrates the hikers‘ story with great empathy. This is a disturbing, detailed pursuit of the truth and real page-turner. Importantly, the skilled writing focuses strongly on the lives of the victims, not just their terrible deaths.

9 likes3 stack adds
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Bigwig
First Cosmic Velocity | Zach Powers
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Mehso-so

The premise: The Soviets used twins to hide their space program failures. One flies and dies, the other becomes a hero. This reflective novel of survivor‘s guilt, identity, sibling bonds and tragic absurdities has a lot of interesting things going on but never quite ‘gels.‘ The best parts involve the protagonist‘s scary childhood in a Ukrainian village and later surreal happenings in Mission Control. A strong effort but only partial catharsis.

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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

This is a fun ‘beach read‘ from 1978 about a mission to explore the ocean depths. I mostly read it for the experience: the ‘70s paperback smell, the feel of the yellowed pages, the dated but genuine scientific sentiments. It made me feel like a kid at my grandmother‘s house, staying up late to have my mind blown by some old thriller found on a shelf. It‘s nice to have a reminder of the special years when the love of reading really sinks in.

Hamlet Your Grammie‘s house was full of great old paperbacks like the one you describe. Great memories of home! 2w
8 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
Elevation | Stephen King
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This is a strange, sad, sweet fable about facing the inevitable. The allegory: a small-town man begins mysteriously losing weight, but not mass. There is no reason, no answers, no solution as gravity loses its hold. How he goes about the final months of his earthly existence is a lovely sketch of compassion and dignity. This mysterious, graceful work felt intimate, maybe more personal than we know. More like this, Steve-o…for as long as you can.

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Bigwig
Ohio | Stephen Markley
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An Ohio town ravaged by drugs, despair, and NAFTA becomes an emotional hellscape for four adults on one bitterly cathartic night in 2013. Markley‘s ambitious debut aims for greatness and almost gets there. Nimble jumps between high school/present day and beautiful, fluid writing make up for distracting polemics and a Hollywood plot-heavy climax. In this dark midwest fever dream, unhealed high school wounds linger on and the losses just pile up.

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Bigwig
No Man's World: A Novel | Martin Caidin
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Mehso-so

This 1967 hard sci-fi novel starts with a neat premise: The Soviets establish themselves on the moon first, and when the Americans eventually arrive, a bleak, realpolitik-infused deconstruction of peaceful space exploration mythology ensues. This is all stock characters and PLOT, but told with suspense, technical detail, and a Golding-esque view of human nature. While niche, this is an interesting warning cry from the heart of the space race.

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Bigwig
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This posthumous 2009 collection of Updike‘s verse has nothing to prove beyond the joy of words and the wit of a great observer in his last years. He wrote to the very end of his life, and I dreaded the final pages. Sly, cheeky, and wistful, he eased me through. One of the greats, of mind and soul.

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Bigwig
If It Bleeds | Stephen King
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Mehso-so

This collection of novellas is a mixed bag. The best are “The Life of Chuck,” which swings hard and sends the ball farther into the twilight than you expect, and the title work (a sequel to “The Outsider”). I‘m a lifelong Stephen King fan, so I know what I‘m getting with his late-career work: A quick, spooky read in a comforting, familiar style. The old magic is gone, but there are still moments when he sneaks up and scares the shit out of you.

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Bigwig
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A marine gets a leech stuck in his urethra in the opening pages of this epic novel of the Vietnam War. It only gets worse after that. The plot: two months in the life of an infantry company as its members try to survive jungle fighting, political idiocy, and racial tension. The book avoids caricatures as it illuminates the blood, despair, suffering, and courage. The storytelling feels effortless, approachable. The author was there, and it shows.

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Bigwig
Ordinary People | Judith Guest
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I saw the classic film first, so my hopes were high. This novel didn‘t disappoint. An insightful look at a family in crisis after the death of one son and the suicide attempt of the other, the POV shifts between the guilt-wracked son and his bewildered father as the frigid mother grapples with her limitations. The characters are finely tuned to the late ‘70s zeitgeist but still familiar as they claw through grief. Powerful and ahead of its time.

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Bigwig
The Hammer of God | Arthur C. Clarke
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Mehso-so

This 1993 novel about attempts to divert an earthbound asteroid in 2110 is a quick read with enough historic and scientific tidbits to make one glance at the night sky with unease. No melodrama here, and little characterization - it‘s more of a speculative sketch of how such a problem might be addressed after a century of technological development. Clarke‘s writing can be cold but his vision of the future is worth a look for fans of hard sci-fi.

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Bigwig
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I found this 1986 book by Judith Viorst to be a wise, sensitive, and clear-eyed guide to understanding and processing the unavoidable losses (of every sort) in the successive seasons of life. Viorst doesn‘t tell you how to feel - she just shows you the country and walks with you. Psychology, literature, anecdotes, and memoir are plied for insight. I recommend it for anyone looking into the gulf of loss, or struggling with the fear that they will.

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Bigwig
Northern Borders: A Novel | Howard Frank Mosher
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This novel, set midcentury on a northern Vermont hill farm, is masterful. The vignettes cover a dozen years of a boy‘s life with his irascible grandfather and formidable grandmother whose marriage is known locally as the forty years war. Steeped in pine trees, firelight and farm work, this tale of a dying north woods culture is funny, dramatic, and bittersweet. Its power crept up on me, and I cried before the end. Pure writer‘s magic here, folks.

4 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
The Apollo Murders | Colonel Chris Hadfield
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This top-notch science thriller by astronaut Chris Hadfield has the suspense of a Michael Crichton novel combined with the scope and detail of a Tom Clancy door-stopper. It imagines an alternative-history 1973 Apollo 18 mission with secret military objectives. Tangles with Cosmonauts and surprises abound. This is a robust, confidently written “summer read,” loaded with technical Apollo details and real NASA personalities. Space junkies rejoice!

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Bigwig
2061 | Arthur C. Clarke
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I‘m a fan of the Arthur C. Clarke “Odyssey” series of books/films, but never read the third installment. The plot: centenarian Heywood Floyd leaves on his final space journey to Halley‘s Comet and gets wrapped up in a rescue mission to Europa. It‘s a gentler and rather lesser cousin of “2001” and “2010” but I enjoyed the speculative (modestly outdated) science and Clarke‘s humane vision of humanity‘s pursuit of the unknown.

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Bigwig
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A theology professor finds his tepid faith challenged by a sharp contrarian of a grad student who wants to prove God‘s existence with computers. Add an incestuous subplot and the professor‘s obsessive imaginings of his wife‘s infidelity and you get a chamber drama with a terrific Updike narrator…erudite, neurotic, and hilariously reactionary as he grapples with faith, science and class divides. Not an all-time classic but compulsively readable.

Nute Intriguing! 5mo
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Bigwig
Couples | John Updike
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Here are the psychosexual intrigues of a dozen couples in an early 1960s Massachusetts town, laid bare and sharply probed: fun and games, a church for the churchless, adultery, gossip, and suburban dinner parties, amen. Sacrilege and expiation are inevitable. This milieu may be long gone but Updike‘s magic pen brings this fumbling, witty, yearning bunch to life. The story is as melancholy (and salty) as the coastal marshes surrounding the town.

9 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
What Really Happened to the Class of '65 | David Wallechinsky, Michael Medved
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In 1965, TIME profiled the senior class of the elite Palisades High School in L. A. and 10 years later Michael Medved and David Wallechinsky interviewed the graduates to learn how their lives had turned out. The result is part biopic, part memoir, with brief narratives framing the subjects‘ memories and reflections. Anyone who ever wonders about long lost high school friends - and what they might recall about you - would find much to ponder here.

Nute Oh, I like this type of curiosity. Why that particular high school? Is that the high school that both authors attended? 5mo
Bigwig Yes, the authors both attended this school. In addition, the school had been featured in a TIME profile years earlier. So the idea was for the authors to find out what had happened to their classmates, and due to the previous magazine profile, general readers might already be familiar with many of the personalities. It‘s from another era, but the insights are universal. 5mo
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Bigwig
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Just finished the third (and best so far, in my opinion) omnibus of this entertaining niche 1980s/1990s fantasy series about the grim adventures of a brotherhood of roughneck mercenaries over several decades. Gallows humor, hard-boiled narration, bewildering battles with a “grunt” POV, decidedly trippy magic…the unpolished blue-collar vibe of “The Black Company” series is subversive and strangely addictive. I‘ll be finishing the series soon.

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Bigwig
The Other | David Guterson
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This is a beautiful novel. The narrator, a candid, sensitive soul named Neil Countryman, reflects on the conventional path of his life in contrast to his best friend John William‘s radical multi-year withdrawal into the literal and philosophical wilderness. Neil is such a compelling voice - insights are rendered gently but firmly and I can‘t imagine any reader not wanting to take a long walk in the woods after finishing this sobering treasure.

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Bigwig
Space Station Down | Ben Bova, Doug Beason
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Mehso-so

“Die Hard on the International Space Station.” How could I not read this? Kim Hadid is the sole survivor on the ISS when two terrorists infiltrate the station. The science in this action thriller is interesting but the writing is…dodgy. It attempts the problem-solving spirit of “The Martian” but gets bogged down when the protagonist longs for her ex-husband‘s recognition between offing bad guys. Just wait for the inevitable Netflix adaptation.

Bigwig Well folks, the plot of this thriller turned out to be eerily prescient. The head of Roscosmos just threatened to crash the ISS into one of Russia‘s adversaries. Unreal. 6mo
5 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
2034: A Novel of the Next World War | Elliot Ackerman, James Stavridis
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This speculative novel, a page-turner co-authored by a decorated marine and the retired Supreme Commander of NATO, imagines how a future conflict between the U.S. and China might unfold. The crisis is based on faulty predictions, cultural misinterpretations, wild card human nature, and escalations that seem inevitable but lead to tragedy for both nations. Written with insider knowledge, it‘s a profound warning and the scariest novel of the year.

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Bigwig
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I vividly remember seeing the 1998 “Everest” IMAX film and being astounded by the images captured by the climbing team. So when I stumbled across director David Breashears‘ memoir, I rewatched the film and then devoured the book overnight. I expected climbing thrills and Himalayan adventure (both excellent here), but the introspection about the author‘s abusive father and painful marriage breakdown surprised and moved me. This was a great read.

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Bigwig
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I was a decade late to the party on this travelogue, but the author‘s tale of master runners in the mountains of Mexico contains timeless thrills and insights into humankind‘s oldest “superpower.” Detours into anthropology and insanity-level ultramarathons add to the fun. I felt bittersweet upon finishing, as I wanted to spend more time with the eccentric characters and the dwindling tribes that preserve ancient ways of running and living.

llcoolnate i was late too but loved it! 6mo
5 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
The Remains of the Day | Kazuo Ishiguro
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Yes, the narrator‘s voice in my head was Anthony Hopkins throughout the entirety of this novel. It‘s unavoidable if, like me, you saw the iconic Merchant Ivory adaptation first. Ishiguro is so good - the writing is like a chesterfield sofa with buttery old leather that you just sink into. The story of an English butler who aspires to the very best of his profession while perhaps missing out on his one chance at love is elegant and heartbreaking.

Nute Excellent review! This is one of my most favorite books, and the movie adaptation with Anthony Hopkins was spot on! 8mo
17 likes1 stack add1 comment
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Bigwig
The Nickel Boys: A Novel | Colson Whitehead
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I had to digest this novel for a few weeks before reviewing it. Beautifully written and unbearably sad, it follows a Black boy‘s experiences after he is unjustly sent to a Florida reform “school” whose horrors unfold with gut-wrenching terror. Everyone should read this novel. To use a movie analogy, this was a story that had me sitting in the theater long after the credits rolled and the lights went off.

SamAnne There is a horrific news cycle story in Canada. Indigenous kids in both U.S. and Canada were forced to go to schools to basically best their culture out of them. First Nations just found 215 children‘s bodies on the site of one of the Catholic run schools in Interior B.C. Sexual and physical abuse was rampant. This book, of course, immediately came to mind. And the place was operating in to the early 70s. (edited) 1y
14 likes3 stack adds1 comment
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Bigwig
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Gladwell uses the events leading up to the tragic 2015 death of Sandra Bland to explain three fallacies most people appear to share when interpreting the behavior and intentions of strangers. I found the implications for our social fabric unsettling, and if “trust default” isn‘t in your vocabulary, it will be after you read this book. I always enjoy Gladwell‘s lean, quick books. Their insights stick and you can read them in an evening.

6 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
A Memory of Light | Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson
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After reading 4.4 million words over 10 months, I finally finished book 14 of Robert Jordan‘s fantasy megaseries “Wheel of Time.” The series is bloated, hugely ambitious, totally inconsistent and outrageously entertaining. If you want to escape into a richly detailed high fantasy series for months or years and your imagination is still functional, go for it. I needed an escape this year, and I‘m glad I gave it a try.

The_Penniless_Author Cool, I'm attempting this now and just finished the first book. Funnily enough, everything you said about the series as a whole applies to the first book as well. It was messy, inconsistent, but totally entertaining. I'm excited to keep going. 1y
Bigwig I hope you enjoy it! I raced through the first seven volumes, and like most readers I found eight through ten to be a slog. If you make it through, though, eleven through fourteen are a complete blast and definitely worth the commitment. (edited) 1y
llcoolnate sounds like a challenge and a half! 6mo
Bigwig Definitely. I‘m selective about fantasy series because so many are derivative or lacking that special something. This one was imperfect but I also jumped out of my chair with excitement during the final book. Unforgettable fun. 6mo
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Bigwig
Underland: A Deep Time Journey | Robert Macfarlane
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This travelogue/memoir delves into all the hidden, deep places in the earth: caves, underground rivers, mines, catacombs. Macfarlane is a serious writer and never lets you forget it, but I forgave the occasionally precious style because the journey is so interesting: Myth, science, philosophy...but most importantly, the guy actually descended into these places. You‘ll want to read about what he found down there. I‘m glad writers like this exist.

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Bigwig
An Inventory of Losses | Judith Schalansky
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This book should be read slowly and with care, as Judith Schalansky‘s meditations on lost objects and places had to teach me how to encounter them. Each meditation unspooled in an unexpected way, and once I realized that the meandering journey was the point, I settled into the rhythms and tried to match up to the author‘s breadth of imagination. The text is dense and indulgent. Some of the ideas still scratch at me late at night. A unique meal.

Nute Stacking! 9mo
5 likes2 stack adds1 comment
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Bigwig
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John Hershey, known for the unforgettable “Hiroshima,” wrote this 1967 novel and it was something of a palette cleanser for me: lean story, confident prose, time capsule characterization. The plot? Two middle age couples with troubled marriages sail through a hurricane. I couldn‘t put it down. Roll your eyes at the outdated sixties gender politics and enjoy with a glass of Cutty Sark on a wet, windy evening.

Hamlet The Curry Sark line is right on the money. Well done. 1y
2 likes1 stack add1 comment
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Bigwig
WAR | Sebastian Junger
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What is it like to be stationed for months at a time at a dangerous outpost in war-torn Afghanistan? Sebastian Junger eschews politics and war fighting cliches, instead digging into the most fundamental questions: Who chooses to fight? Why? How does it change them? This book is precise, thoughtful, and as objective as Junger could manage while depending on others for his very life.

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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

Your subconscious is a powerfully selfish presidential administration and your conscious mind is the press secretary lying to you about it. That‘s the premise of this interesting but uneven book exploring subconscious motivations for our supposedly logical and altruistic behaviors. I wanted to be captivated, but never quite got there. Think of it as “late night super interesting dorm room conversation with your roommate: the book.”

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Bigwig
Ascent | Jed Mercurio
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What if the Soviet Union, on the verge of losing the moon race, decided to send a lone cosmonaut on a last ditch hail-Mary effort to beat Apollo 11? What if the spacecraft suffered a catastrophic accident, hurling the cosmonaut (an aging ace fighter pilot) towards the moon with zero ground support, failing equipment, and a dead radio? Though a bit slow starting, the final third is as riveting as anything I‘ve read in a long time.

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