Blog Posts by NealP

Posted by NealP on 10/29/19
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The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells describes the effects of global warming as a terrifying apocalypse of biblical proportions – the price of doing nothing or not enough.  Wallace-Wells describes the horror human beings might face including floods, pestilence, famines, and wildfires.  Modeling his approach after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, he hopes to increase awareness for greenhouse gases like Carson did for pesticides.
A key strength of the book is the writing.  Wallace-Wells stays away from overly scientific terminology in favor of intense and evocative descriptions of disaster – children dying, plagues released, and towns burning.  He effectively uses fear to motivate us to take action. 
Not all is doom and gloom, though.  Wallace-Wells acknowledges that our responsibility as a species for global warming is actually a good thing, in that it demonstrates that we also have the power to do something about it.  For him, apathy is our worst enemy.  The Uninhabitable Earth is a powerful wakeup call for all of us on the path to extinction.
Posted by NealP on 08/29/19
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Brian Evenson’s latest collection of stories, Song for the Unraveling of the World, are as fantastic as they are terrifying.  A man discovers items mysteriously disappearing from his apartment.  A new pair of glasses reveal shadow-like creatures. 
Most of these 22 tales begin with a mystery or an anomaly, which may or may not be resolved in terms of traditional horror or science fiction stories.  Evenson’s writing is unique within the horror and sci-fi genres.  His writing style is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson, but also contains elements of Franz Kafka, Raymond Carver, and Cormac McCarthy.
Song for the Unraveling of the World is an eclectic collection that is unique within the familiar constraints of horror and sci-fi.  Evenson’s ability to have stories occupy genre, but remain unique is fascinating and worth your time.
Posted by NealP on 06/24/19
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Todd Milstead is a real jerk.  He is egotistical, he drinks too much, and he cheats on his wife.  He thinks he is a great writer, but has not published anything of significance.  One night, while showing off to friends at one of his parties, he quotes a paragraph from a book All My Colors – a book that may or may not exist.  Astounded that no one has ever heard of it, and with a perfect recollection, he publishes it himself to instant acclaim.  Then things get weird...

Written by Emmy-award winning author David Quantick (Veep) and set in DeKalb, IL in 1979 All My Colors is a darkly humorous, twisted, and terrifying novel that shows the painful price one pays for their actions.
Posted by NealP on 03/05/19
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Nico Walker’s debut novel Cherry is a raw and devastating account of war, addiction, and love.  His writing is bleak, insightful, explicit, and unsettling. 
The novel follows an unnamed narrator who goes to college, falls in love, drops out of college, and joins the army.  As a medic in Iraq, he sees the effects of the war on both the civilian and soldier populations where he witnesses many of his friends die.  When he returns home, his PTSD is so profound he turns to heroin to escape his pain.  Eventually, he begins robbing banks to feed his and his wife’s addiction.   
Walker is currently in prison for bank robbery related to his own heroin addiction.  He wrote Cherry while serving his time and has used money made from the publication of the book to pay back the money he stole.   Cherry is a challenging novel in terms of language and subject matter.  Nevertheless, it is a timely book as war-related PTSD and the opioid crisis continue to haunt headlines.
Posted by NealP on 02/04/19
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Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer remains one of my favorite books from 2018.
McNamara died tragically in 2016 prior to completion of the book, and the arrest of the GSK -- a result of a DNA link from a relative’s genetic genealogical test.  The book is dark and terrifying, but skillfully written by McNamara who mindfully humanizes the killer’s victims. 
The book itself will appeal to fans of true crime and mystery, but in McNamara’s hands she elevates the story beyond strict genre study.  I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is more than a detective story – McNamara traces changing forensic techniques through multi-decade investigations, but never loses focus of the killer, victims, investigators, and witnesses.  Readers with an interest in human nature, crime, and investigative dramas will enjoy this work.
We will be discussing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark at our next Books and Brews at Eddie’s on February 13th.  Please feel free to join us.
True Crime
Posted by NealP on 09/18/18
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Andrew Yang is an American entrepreneur who has worked with tech startups and is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.  His book The War on Normal People: The Truth about America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future presents a bleak economic outlook for “normal people."

Yang’s thesis is not entirely new, but it is compelling.  He focuses on six cities where he sees a high concentration of what he identifies as “highly knowledge-intensive” individuals pursuing career paths in finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, and academia.  This, he believes, has led to increasing stratification with American society as those who qualify, leave their hometowns for college and universities, and then stay in these cities to follow careers in these sectors.

What sets Yang apart from others who have studied this stratification is his argument that elites within these fields, especially tech, are consciously working to put the rest of society out of work through automation so that they can keep up with their competition.  Yang’s evidence shows the consequences of this shift are severe.  59,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2016 surpassing car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.  The suicide rate is rising, marriage rates have decreased dramatically for working-class individuals, and single parenthood rates have risen.
Yang notes that automation may not be a problem for just blue-collar workers.  The disappearance of local white-collar jobs to automation in fields like insurance, banking, journalism, and other sectors will further drain money from local economies.
Whether one agrees with Yang that Universal Basic Income (UBI) will be necessary moving forward, his ability to trace the effects of automation on American workers is compelling.
Posted by NealP on 03/13/18
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Nick Offerman’s Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers hilariously assesses twenty-one historical figures, and his own personal heroes, ranging from George Washington and James Madison, to Eleanor Roosevelt and Willie Nelson.  Well-researched and just plain funny, Offerman maintains that “gumption” remains a guiding force in the lives of America’s most notable achievers.
The title of his series of essays examines how these individuals showed “gumption” or “a willingness, even hunger, for one’s mettle to be challenged” by working hard to accomplish their goals.  Offerman’s admiration for hard work is on display throughout the book, “I am always hugely inspired (and personally relieved) to learn of the hard work that was required of any of my heroes before they could arrive at the level of mastery for which they ultimately garnered renown.”
Using famous, as well as more obscure historical figures, Offerman injects humor into history, which makes the book an entertaining, and educational read.  Throughout the book, Offerman portrays perseverance, discipline, curiosity, diligence, idealism, intelligence, and courage as admirable traits – traits that are good for individuals, as well as for our country.
Posted by NealP on 01/23/18
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The Grip of It, a horror novel by Chicago author Jac Jemc, is a fast-paced, unsettling story of a young couple who move into a house in a small town away from the city in which they met.  
The book alternates perspectives between the couple, Julie and James, as they attempt to reconnect following James’ gambling addiction and the trust issues that follow. 
As they settle in, the house, which has an unusual layout with secret passageways and rooms, becomes increasingly malevolent – rooms change, becoming unrecognizable, stains on the wall expand and contract.  This affects Julie and James mentally and physically, laying bare their unresolved problems.  They attempt to solve the mysteries surrounding the house involving past residents, and a strange neighbor who may or may not have lived there before.
Jemc’s prose is chilling, poetic, and economical.  The Grip of It is psychological horror that questions the meaning of home and its constructive and destructive effects on relationships with those we love.
The Grip of It will appeal to fans of horror, suspense, and relationship-based fiction.  Check out her other novels here in eBook form.
Posted by NealP on 11/02/17
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The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band...
Rolling Stone music critic Anthony DeCurtis’ new biography on Lou Reed is essential for fans of the iconic rocker.  Tracing his life as a troubled teenager in postwar suburbia, complete with electroshock therapy, through his years with the Velvet Underground, and later solo work, DeCurtis makes a case for Reed’s enduring influence.
The intensely private Reed despised rock critics, so it’s striking that he respected DeCurtis’ work enough to open up to him.  Their introduction came at an airport bar, both of their flights delayed, with Reed asking how many stars DeCurtis gave his latest album New York (he gave 4).  Reed declared it was a masterpiece, and he should have given him 5. 
This book will be fascinating for fans of Lou Reed, as well as, anyone interested in rock music.  Anecdotes about Andy Warhol and the factory scene, David Bowie, Nico, and others display the intersection between the art and music scenes in New York in the 1960s-70s.  DeCurtis does a nice job of providing backstories to some of Reed’s most famous songs, giving us a glimpse at his creative process.
Reed’s music can be challenging -- however, it is never ordinary.  If you are a fan of his or just a fan of music, this book is worth your time.  Do yourself a favor and pick up some of the excellent music he created, too.  You can find those here.
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