Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

Boy was  this book different than I expected. The only book of Huxley's I had read in the past is his dystopian Brave New World, which this is a marked departure from (or maybe Brave New World is a marked departure from this). Gone is the futuristic setting, the omniscient, despotic government, the Soma. In it's place is a chattering group of wildly irritating British upper class characters who mill around, moving into and out of each others' lives.

The book is rather unstructured, mostly following around said characters as they drink, each, cheat on each other mercifully, and even commit brutal violence against each other. Oh yeah: and they philosophize. Oh boy, do they ever philosophize. During many points of the book, the dialogue degrades into what must be a vehicle for Huxley's own musings over various great, esoteric topics. While these are sometimes insightful and even enlightening, it gets to be a bit much when they stretch to more than a handful of pages. Anyone who has read Ayn Rand's fiction will understand what I mean. I don't know many people in real life who complete a fifteen minute monologue when surrounded by good friends.

Where this novel really succeeds is in its characters. Though they are all caricatures, Huxley creates such an amazing number of them and them manages to keep them all relevant throughout the story's entirety. This perhaps shows the social inbreeding that existed in upper-class British culture in the early twentieth century, but it seems like almost every character knows each other here. It is said that many of these characters are based on real people that Huxley associated during his lifetime. In fact, the only likable character in the entire novel is supposedly based on the author D.H. Lawrence.

While this is hugely different than Brave New World, Huxley's satire still cuts with the same sharp edge when dealing with the sheltered, filthy rich upper class as it does when castigating totalitarianism. As I said, these are not likable characters and I would put all my money down on betting that this is not accidental. They all seem to show a disdain for the poor (or even just the non-filthy rich), work, democratic government, and even each other. If Huxley wanted to show up that the rich were not good people, he has made himself loud and clear. There is no Great-like subtlety here.

I was on the fence about this one. I tore through certain sections of the book and then slogged through others. It's an interested, if flawed, book and I'm glad that I read it, but I don't believe that it has the staying power or accessibility of A Brave New World.

You'll like it if you like: social commentary, writing about early twentieth century England, sharp-witted satire, philosophical meanderings, excellently executed prose.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Wow, it has been a long while since I wrote a review. I didn't forget about you all, though. I've still been reading, though, so I'm five books behind. I'll be knocking these out in the next week or so to try to get up to date. I'm going to be changing to a briefer reviewing format to try to not get back in this situation again. Since I won't be providing as much detail in the reviews, feel free to email or tweet me with any questions on the novels. As always, thank you for reading and continue to feel free to send me any recommendations for stuff you've enjoyed recently!

Plainsong, written by Kent Haruf, tells the interconnected story of a handful of individuals' live who live in the rural plains of Colorado. In typical small town manner, the lives of each of these individuals touches each others', providing a very human, touching picture of a type of living that most of us readers don't even know exists. Plainsong is almost devoid of a plot, instead focusing on letting us "know" the characters and what drives them. This is a gritty novel that is at times very emotional.

The dreariness and featureless-ness of the plains both provides the backdrop for the story-telling and at the same time is the defining factor in what makes the characters tick. The writing style reflects this setting, forgoing eloquent, grandiose prose and instead relying on terse, short sentences that drive straight to the point. This is an amazingly touching novel. Too often we "city slickers" poke fun at the real rural community for its supposed uneducated and backward nature. It's too easy to forget that these individuals are not caricatures, but real people with real problems. While their problems are certainly different than ours, they are just as real and, many time, far, far less trivial. This is easily one of the best books I've read this year and give it my highest recommendations.

You'll like it if you like: Cormac McCarthy (but with a heart), human interest pieces, character building, concise writing styles, small towns drama, emotionally-driven works.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

It's been awhile, but the RNG finally drew another Modern Library Top 100 novel, and this one actually wasn't terrible.

Sister Carrie follows a small town girl who moves to Chicago to escape the drabness and parochial nature of her tiny burg. She imagines glamour, excitement, and all of the other glitz that comes with the "big city". She moves in with her working class sister and her husband, where this vision falls apart. She struggles to find a job and, when she finally does, she abhors her long hours and terrible working conditions as a seamstress. Luckily for her, she is quite the looker and is snatched up and taken care of by an up and coming young man who has fallen in love (or something along those lines) with her immediately. She finally gets to enjoy the social life she dreamed of when heading to Chicago.

Of course, as she gets used to this lifestyle she can't leave well enough alone and seeks "better", in the form of an older, more established man with more money. In a flurry of events, her and this new man run off together, first to Montreal and then to New York City. The two have a difficult time getting on their feet, and live destitute for quite some time. It is at this point that she begins her upward ascent as an actress and he begins his converse path from a weathy socialite to unemployed to beggar. Carrie moves on and he moves to the streets.

The book was not terribly engaging, but it was a somewhat easy read. The characters are well developed throughout the novel, but not of them have an iota of likability surrounding them. The best part of this book, by far, is the description of Chicago and New York City. Everything from the build environment, to the street cars, strikes, women's (and men's) fashion, and the Broadway scene is amazingly detailed. The reader can almost picture him or herself walking through these newly booming metropolises (that's certainly an awkward word), getting lossed in the hustle and bustle.

It's not a terribly uplifting story and in some place is actually pretty depressing. While it's a relatively interested story, it doesn't dive deep into the social commentary like something from Fitzgerald would. Regardless, it's enjoyable enough and if you like period fiction concerning the rise of the cities or the early Twentieth Century, this one might be worth checking out. I give Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser six out of ten stars.


I'm still a review behind since I just finished Plainsong by Kent Haruf, but I should have that one up soon. On deck after that is Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley. As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Falconer by John Cheever

I can't believe it has been almost a month since I've posted a new review. I've been putting off this one for a couple of weeks for a few reasons. The first of which is that I have been crazy busy with house stuff. Amazingly enough, renovating a 125 year old house isn't conducive to reading, let alone writing my reaction to what I have read. Who would have guessed?

The other is that I just didn't want to write anything about this novel. I didn't enjoy reading it and I didn't expect to get much fun out of writing about it. I'll go ahead and finally do it, but you can't make me like it!

Falconer is a faux-intellectual piece of work about a strung out drug addict named Farragut who is in jail for the murder of a certain someone (wouldn't want to ruin it for those of you who still want to read it after this review). Farragut also happens to be a middle class intellectual, unfortunately for us reading about him. Not a whole lot happens in this book; much is in the way of flashbacks that reference his wife and the tumultuous relationship it seems they had before he was incarcerated. There is a lot of music by Farragut about this an that as well.

Pretty much nothing of importance happens in this book. Sure, things happen, but very few of them are particularly exciting, engaging, or thought-provoking. The characters are formulaic, unrealistic and none act in a manner which I expect anyone would ever act in prison. None of them, and particularly not Farragut, are likable whatsoever. Some of them are pitiful, but none with redeeming qualities.

There is really no plot to analyze, only the daily life of a prisoner and the earlier mentioned flashbacks. Outside of a couple interesting moments, such as a prison riot (which amounted to nothing), this is a tremendously boring book. It took me quite a long time tp read, all outside factors held constant, despite barely being over 200 pages. Even the writing itself is quite annoying. The dialogue is completely absurd at points and high culture references are made frequently for absolutely no reason. This is 1970's suburban edginess at its stupid, cringingly vacuous worst.

It should be noted that there is a good deal of content in this novel that could be considered obscene by some. If you are the type who burns books or tries to get them banned from libraries, this one probably isn't for you. There is a pretty good amount of vulgar language and explicit sexual content. Strangely enough, this didn't bother me as much as the writing and the rest of the book itself. Frankly, I was offended by how crappy the book was as a whole, completely outside of any potentially offensive material.

With all of this terrible-ness in mind, I give Falconer by John Cheever three stars out of ten. There is virtually no reason to pick up this book unless you're a huge John Cheever fan (do those exist?) and this is the last book of his you haven't read yet. Otherwise, don't waste your time.


I promise it won't be another month before I get another review up. I actually just finished Sister Carrie (#33 on Modern Library top 100) by Theodore Drieser, which is what prompted me to get my butt in gear so I didn't have to stack up reviews. Next up after that will be Plainsong by Kent Haruf. See you soon!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: The Thin Red Line by James Jones

Is there anything more American than the glorification of World War II and, more specifically, the United States' role in it? I would argue not. Look at the wide collection of popular culture offerings, from Band of Brothers (great), to Pearl Harbor (terrible), to the absurd number of WWII video games created since video games have existed. Hell, even the term "The Greatest Generation" was coined to describe those who grew up in the Great Depression and fought in WWII. If there is anything that defines World War II it is 1a) American Exceptionalism and 1b) its glorification and the glorification of the soldiers who fought in it.

This runs counter to Vietnam, Korea, now Iraq and Afghanistan, or even World War I, where much of the works are cynical or even flat-out negative. Watch Platoon or The Hurt Locker after watching Saving Private Ryan and tell me the tone is the same. All too often, WWII movies make their characters this impossible amalgamation of fearless Norse gods of war coupled with the prototypical crafty American underdog. Glossed over is the terror of being shot at, mortared, grenaded, or bombed by individuals whose sole purpose of existence is to make sure you die. Works covering other wars don't have this issue, but most covering WWII (especially the Western Front) do.

Enter The Thin Red Line. This novel, on which the movie of the same title is based, follows Charlie Company during the Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific Theater of WWII. It starts with them on a ship immediately before transport to the island and finishes with American victory on the island. During this time period, "C for Charlie" goes from combat virgins to relatively battle hardened men who have all experienced shots fired in anger. The interesting part of this novel is watching them slowly progress from the former to the latter.

If you like to read military books because of the tactics, this novel is probably not for you. The small skirmishes, the battles, and even the war itself is not the point of The Thin Red Line. What is important here is the effect of all of those things have on an individual's psyche. The Thin Red Line is essentially a character study of the way war affects a company of men who have never stepped foot in a war zone before. The results are about as varied as one would expect. There are almost equal numbers of displays of bravery, cowardice, cruelty, and glory-seeking. There are lesser amounts of friendship and kindness among the men.

The characters and their development are the draw here. For all intents and purposes, the war and fighting is merely a vehicle to drive these characters to change. Watching them go from smooth-cheeked young men to battle-hardened veterans over the five-hundred'ish pages is very rewarding.

Jone's writing throughout is relatively concise and to the point. Even when relatively important characters are killed in action, there is no grieving or hammering the point. This suits the cynical atmosphere and theme of the book well, as there should be no point in dwelling on a cog in a machine that can be replaced immediately.

This cynicism is reflected not only in the writing itself, which sometimes drifts into dark humor, but in the minds of the men themselves. The terror that comes at first with their entrance into battle turns to shock and apathy. Many of the men realize that they are not cowards, but only because they have come to the know that they and their lives mean virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. This is certainly a different way of portraying WWII soldiers' way of think than in most other popular works.

Just a note: for those of you who don't want your sensibilities offended, this book isn't for you. It includes acts of extreme violence (duh), lots and lots of profanity, sexual content, and some just general grossness (think rotting corpses, dragging entrails, etc.). None of this bothered me, but some of you might be more squamish, so keep this in mind.

What did I think of the book? I really enjoyed it, especially as a counterpoint to many of the other WWII books I've read. It is a gritty, realistic portrayal of the way war deeply affects the bodies and minds of human beings. I was really impressed with The Thin Red Line and definitely will be seeking out the movie. Do I recommend it? Yep, especially if you're remotely interested in war novels. You don't need to know military strategy, tactics, or ranks to enjoy it (though the latter is helpful).

I give The Thin Red Line by James Jones eight out of ten stars.


I realize that reviews have been sparse recently and apologize for the lack of content. Life, as it tends to, has sprung up and massively reduced my free time. Regardless, the next book chosen is Falconer by John Cheever. I'm not familiar with this novel at all, so we'll see how it goes.

In other news, I'll be starting a new beer blog next week called A Beer a Day. The title pretty much gives the theme away, but check out the initial post describing it if you're interested. While you're at it, you can 'Like' the blog on Facebook (pretty please?) and follow on Twitter. I'm starting it to separate the beer and book content, uncluttering this blog a bit. Plus it just sounded fun.

Additionally, I will be joining the wonderful crew at CincyVoices, primarily writing articles about good beer with @brewnas, but it looks like I'll have relative independence to write about other topics which pique my interest. It's going to be a great opportunity to team up with such a knowledgeable individual on all things beer related. I'm going to learn a lot and have a great deal of fun doing it!

As always, thank you all so much for reading! It would sure be boring to write these reviews if no one was interested.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

The month of June has been brought to you by the state of exhaustion. Never, ever before have I experienced a busier, more stressful, more exciting month in my life. Part one of June was consumed by wedding prep, the wedding itself, and the honeymoon. Part two of June has been completely filled with the purchasing of our first home and then the subsequent moving of all of our belongings into said house. All the fun doesn't stop there, though, because even though the house certainly is livable, we will be (and have been) renovating almost every room in it. Between the physical exertion of these activities and the sleep deprivation that comes with getting used to the creaks and groans of a 125 year old home in the middle of the night, I am flat-out exhausted.

I only note this because I have been derelict in my duties to review anything, whether it be books, restaurants, or beer. Luckily (sort of) I've had no time to read, so I don't have a queue of backed up reviews other than this one. Beer reviews, on the other hand, will be forthcoming.

Enough of my whining. I owe you folks a review and I intent to deliver.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold is about magic. Magic: the stuff you know doesn't exist, but you hope does in spite of what you know. Sleights of hand, card tricks, levitation, dangerous feats with sharp or very, very fiery items, and all the other good stuff that boggles the mind.

Charles Carter, the protagonist in this novel, actually was a magician during the 1920s, though this certainly can not be considered a factual biography by any means. The plot of Carter Beats the Devil focuses on Carter's performance that occurs the night before the then-president of the United States, Warren G. Harding, dies in his hotel room. Harding had attended the performance and actually had an appearance in the final act whose name the title of the novel draws from. Since Carter had spent time alone with Harding before the performance and was one of the last to speak with him, he naturally becomes a prime suspect in the case.

As this crime involved the president, the Secret Service are tasked with solving the case and figuring out what exactly happened that night in Harding's hotel room. Through this investigation details on Carter's past are brought up and the reader learns about his childhood and his rise to fame as a magician. Through this clever device, Charles Carter slowly transitions from the subject of an investigation to the main character of the novel.

Despite the description, Carter Beats the Devil is not a typical mystery or perhaps even a mystery novel at all. Yes, there is the whodunnit aspect and yes there is the obligatory plot twist at the end, but in between are three separate love stories, a tale of the rise and fall of fame, the invention of television, and a number of other things you would never attribute to a mass market mystery (at least, not the new ones).

The characters are, for the most part, are beautifully developed, though a few of the peripheral characters could have used a little work. Easily the best part of this novel is the description of the setting in which the story takes place. Most of it is in Prohibition Era San Francisco, with its brothels, speakeasies, dock workers, and beautiful views. I've never been to San Francisco, let alone in the 1920s, but Gold does such a remarkable job describing it that I feel like I can imagine it perfectly. He also does a great job working in a number of cameos of famous, historic figures from the time. A perusal of the novel's Wikipedia page shows what I'm referring to.

So, overall, what did I think of the book? Though not short by any means, it is a relatively easy read, only bogging down in a few places. It is the kind of entertaining read that probably sits itself right in the middle of "lowbrow" and "highbrow" (if not aligning a little bit closer to the latter). I'm going to say that it is pretty darn as close to great as good can get. For it being Glen David Gold's first novel, I would say that it is not a let down at all. He will definitely have a tough time following this one up.

I give Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold 7.7 out of 10 stars.

[I'm moving from 5 stars max to 10 to allow for greater definition between ratings. It was getting difficult to show the difference between, say, a 3.4 star book and a 3.8 star book even though there is a marked quality difference between the two scores. From now on, anything rated about an 8 (instead of a 4) will be the cream of the crop.]


Next up is The Thin Red Line by James Jones. The movies by the same name are based on this fictional account of the Guadalcanal campaign in the Pacific Theater of WWII. I've never seen the movie, but I am looking forward to the book. Also, as noted above, some quick beer reviews will be coming soon to a computer monitor near you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quick Reviews: Do Androids Dream of Girls Who Play with Fire?

Usually, my reviews are a little more in-depth than these, but because of the wedding/honeymoon/house buying, I've gotten a bit behind on the reviewing. I read these three novels while on my honeymoon.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

In a relatively dystopian, future version of planet Earth, androids are created to do the crap jobs people don't really feel like doing anymore. Every so often, the misbehave and have to be put down. This is a story of one of those circumstances. This novel is the "inspiration" for Bladerunner, which I suppose means it is tangently based on it. I didn't really care for the film (I know, blasphemy), so I was hoping for something a little different and definitely got it. This book manages to be lighthearted in a heavy way, with both goofy and very serious moments. It's sarcastic without being explicitly so, and as Philip K. Dick likes to roll, it is a good piece of social commentary. I don't think it's as hard-hitting as some of his other books, most of which I prefer over this one. Overall, though, a solid offering and a quick, interesting read.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

I have to say, I was majorly disappointed by both of these books. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and really enjoyed it, so I was caught off guard hoping these would be good. The former of these two have nothing to do with the first novel in the trilogy except for the characters. Lisbeth Salander, the our glam-emo protagonist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is back in this novel, richer, and a little more grown up (at least appearance wise). She gets caught up in and then framed for the murder of two individuals reporting on a sex trafficking story, and the shenanigans ensue. We have spies, government cover-ups, patricide, fratricide, the whole shebang. This story starts in the second novel and then picks up immediately in the third. Even with all of this craziness, I was still disappointed.

Both of these books, but moreso the last of the trilogy, are unnecessarily long and filled with details which add absolutely nothing to the progression of the plot or the building of the characters. The Girl Who Played with Fire is at least one-hundred pages too long (and probably two-hundred) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest seems to exist solely as a disjointed five-hundred page effort to tie up all the loose ends put forth in its predecessor. Character after character are introduced, few of which inspire enough emotion to be either likable or unlikable.

This trilogy got progressively worse as it went on, so if you've read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in my opinion, you're probably best off stopping there and pretending it's not part of a trilogy.

The Girl Who Played with Fire: 3 out of 5 stars
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: 2.5 out of 5 stars


I'm reading Carter Beats the Devil  by Glen David Gold currently, and crazy schedule pending, I should have it done by this weekend. See you soon!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beer Review: Solidarity by New Albanian Brewing Company

Style: Baltic Porter
ABV: 8.5%
Ratebeer: 93/73
Beer Advocate: B+

The New Albanian Brewing Company is located in, of all places, New Albany, Indiana. Until a relatively recent trip to Indianapolis, I had never heard of the brewery or the city. Apparently it is down by Louisville.

While at the wonderful Tomlinson Tap Room, I was lucky enough to try their double IPA offering, Hoptimus. Thoroughly impressed by this, I figured I would try a different bottle I found from them while still in the city. Since I've been on a big porter/stout kick recently, I thought a Baltic porter would be perfect (plus the label was pretty cool).

Back story and ingredients:


It pours very dark brown, almost cola-colored, with a very light head that cleared out quickly with little lacing. Not the prettiest beer I've ever seen, but you I don't have tastebuds for beauty.

The smell was mostly roasted grain and coffee; don't really get anything else out of it. Taste is much of the same, but with a tiny bit of chocolate on the finish, along with a very, very subtle hop presence. Sweet when chilled and almost cloying when it warms up.

The carbonation is medium, perhaps a bit too present for my tastes. Body is really thin, almost like an iced coffee. Not nearly as thick as I thought it would be. The 8.5% is completely hidden; perhaps the smoothest 8+% beer I've ever tried. If someone told me this was 4.5%, I wouldn't doubt them.

I have to say, I was really disappointed in this beer. I've been impressed with other varieties from the same brewer, so I know they can do better. I was really looking forward to this one, but the taste and thinness of it just kills it for me.

Grade: B-

P.S. Now that I'm back from getting wedded and thoroughly vacationed, I have a few reviews and a couple other posts I'd like to get up. You'll be hearing back from me soon!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A brief break in programming....

Just so no one calls in a missing persons report, I will be taking a two or so week break from posting. Next Saturday I will be marrying my beautiful fiancee and we will be heading off to our honeymoon immediately following. There is going to be a strict "no laptop" rule in place (thank goodness) while we're there, so I won't be checking in. I'll be packing a nice selection of beach reading, though, so I'm sure I'll come back queued up with reviews.

In the meantime, check out the blogs listed down the left side of the page and try to hold down the fort!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cincinnati one of the most "well-read" cities in the U.S.

Yesterday Amazon released its list of the "Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America", which was based on sales of books, ebooks, and other word-based media since January 1*. On it are some cities you would expect: Cambridge, Berkeley, Seattle, and Washington, DC. Much to my pleasant surprise, sitting one spot ahead of our soon to be streetcar sister city Portland, is our beloved Queen City.

Reflecting on it, my surprise was really ill-founded. It was based on stereotypes and misconceptions about cities in the Midwest, in general, and Cincinnati, in particular. Despite what the naysayers might claim, Cincinnati is not a cultural wasteland. Like any other city, this one can not exist (or at least thrive) based solely on business and sports. Creative people are drawn to creative outlets and without either, you can't have a successful city.

I haven't lived here long enough to make any time-based comparison, but I can say that our library system is phenomenal. Not only is the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Public library one of the largest, most accessible large library networks I've ever had the fortune of visiting, but we are also graced with its older sister, the Mercantile Library. It is one of the most relaxing, peaceful places in an urban area that I've ever visited and it even manages to host a great collection. If you're not a member there, you need to be. At least give it a visit. You'll probably never see anything like it anywhere else.

In addition to literature, the rest of Cincinnati's art scene continues to thrive. I dare you to go to an OTR Final Friday (TONIGHT!)and walk the galleries then catch a show (and have a drink) at MOTR and then tell me Cincinnati is a cultural wasteland. You just can't do it. The people who denigrate this fine city have either never spent time here or haven't done so in the recent past.

As is indicated by this study, Cincinnati, the Queen City of the U.S., and its population will not conform to the negative stereotypes of misconceptions of people who have no stake in its/their success. Since moving here I have met more smart, cultured, positive people than I ever expected. These people are the present and the future of this city and they are the reason, in addition to the institutions listed above, that this city will continue to thrive and be a place people want to work and live.

If you ask me, I'll take Cincinnati over Cambridge, Berkeley, or Washington D.C. any day of the week and I doubt I'm the only one that feels that way.

Via: Education

*I have some qualms about the methodology used to create this list, but that's neither here nor there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Beer Review: Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly

Style: Imperial India Pale Ale
ABV: 11%
Ratebeer: 99/96
Beer Advocate: A-

When I think of oaked beers, I think of stouts or barley wines, not IPAs. It's not typical of the style at all.

I have had the un-oaked version of this before and the oaked on draft ($10 a snifter. Yow.), so I wanted to see how it managed in bottle format. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful of a beer it is. Though it doesn't pour much of a head, it is the most perfect transparent orange-amber color. Not a bit of cloudiness.

It certainly does not smell like an IPA. Rather than hops, the first things you smell (other than the alcohol, which is no wonder at 11%) is the oak and caramel. It smells sweet, almost like a barley wine.

The taste is much of the same. Unlike what you would expect from an imperial IPA, the hops don't factor in at all at first. You get a lot of malt-forward sweetness and a good deal of caramel and vanilla from the oak aging. It's not until you swallow that you get a small bit of bitterness from the hops.

It's a thick and syrupy beer. Not particularly refreshing, but I'm sitting inside with the AC on, so it's no biggie.

You know, at first I didn't care for this beer, but time the bottle was empty I wish I had more. It's not the the most perfect IPA I've ever tasted. In fact, it strays far, far from the category in many distinct ways. Despite this, it is delicious. If I was hankering for a big IPA, would I necessarily pick this one off the shelf? Maybe, maybe not. If I was looking for something different, though, or a winter time IPA, I would definitely think long and hard about it.

Grade: A-

Guest Post: Barry Horstman Only A Slightly Better Journalist Than Most Third-Graders

One of my buddies (who will remain unnamed) sent me this earlier today. I decided its brilliance needed a platform and, after receiving his approval, I now present it to you. P.S. It's a lot funnier if you read the article below first.


If Barry Horstman continues to write articles for the Cincinnati Enquirer at his current, consistent level of low quality, it will continue to be only slightly a higher level of writing than that characteristic of an elementary school child.

A Cincinnati-area remedial school teacher last week compared several of Horstman's recent articles to a handful of cursive handwriting lessons completed by her second and third-grade students. She stated that "Barry's writing skills were better than her barely literate students', but only slightly."

This comparison likely will open another chapter in the quest to determine how Horstman talked a "major" newspaper into giving him a job.

The reporter did, in fact, score higher not only on writing skills than his seven year old competitors, but in penmanship as well. The teacher, who requested to remain anonymous, noted that he was "giddy as a schoolboy" when she gave him a gold star for his superb effort. Many of his colleagues recalled that the last time he was this excited, Ohio Governor John Kasich had just stripped state funds from the highest rated transportation project in the state, the Cincinnati Streetcar.

His competitors jealously complained about the unfairness of the contest, especially considering that they had only learned the alphabet a few years earlier and had not yet received lessons in esoteric material such as sentences or the difference between fact and fiction. Horstman retorted that also had not yet received instruction on the latter topic.

Letters from City Council members Leslie Ghiz and Charlie Winburn contested the findings, requesting documentation on every piece of minutia related to the report. The two determined that to avoid the wasting of taxpayers' money, they would instead waste taxpayers' time by hosting a meaningless special session concerning the veracity of the report. Vice Mayor Qualls, joined by Council members Thomas, Quinlivan and Young collectively face-palmed after receiving the news.

A joint press conference between leadership at COAST and Chris Smitherman consisted of nothing but the word "boondoggle" being shouted repeatedly for forty-five minutes.

Related articles: Streetcar only slightly faster than walking

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beer Review: Founders Imperial Stout

Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.5%
Ratebeer: 100/96
Beer Advocate: A

I missed out on this beer when it was being distributed earlier during the winter. Luckily, I picked up two bottles in a trade while I was in Indianapolis last weekend. One to try now and one to stash away for another day down the road.

Poured from a 12oz bottle to a stemless wine class. Color is pitch black, with only a minimal brown head; disappeared before I could get a picture. Smells a lot like coffee; the roasted malts are obvious, too. You can definitely smell the 10.5% ABV in this. Tastes a lot less boozy that is smells, though. Only a little burn on the tail end of the drink. Has a decent amount of chocolate taste, but finishes a little too bitter in my opinion because of the roasted malts and 90 IBUs. This is a great beer, but I don't like my stouts quite this hoppy. It's still a damn good beer, and I'm sure that after it ages and the hops fade a bit, it will be even better.

Grade: A-

Review: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is a great author. I literally don't think I have ever read anything by him which has disappointed me. Even the recently epically-promoted East of Eden (see: Oprah) was as epic as I could have ever hoped. So, what's up with Steinbeck and why are all of his books so great?

He doesn't write with flair, his novels are not filled with action or suspense, and his personal life wasn't particularly exciting. In my opinion, what makes all of his works immensely readable, compelling masterpieces is (brace for the cringe-worthy artistic descriptor) his ability to tell the human story. From the half hour read of The Pearl to the earlier-noted epic East of Eden, what Steinbeck excels at is painting a picture of the complexity and depth of the species Homo sapiens. In Steinbeck's writings, even the most sympathetic protagonist is sometimes a coward or a cheat. Likewise, villains aren't (or weren't) always villains; they have brief moments of kindness, or at least non-evil behavior. 

It is in this way that Steinbeck proceeds in Cannery Row. For the most part, the novel does not have a typical plot or story line. In fact, more than anything else, it is a character study of the people who live in the Cannery Row neighborhood in Monterey during the Depression.  It focuses primarily on two characters. The first is Doc, a cultured, well-educated man beloved by the community who makes a living selling specimens, land and sea-based, dead and alive, for scientific uses. The other character, who actually happens to be several characters, is a group of vagrants who live a relatively carefree life in Cannery Row. On the periphery are a number of other colorful characters, including your stereotypical Asian grocer and a Madam of the local brothel with the heart of gold. 

If there is a plot to the novel, it goes like this: Mac and the rest of his group of squatters decide, because of all that Doc has done for them, that they will throw a party for him. They screw up royally and everything goes to the birds. To make up for this, they decide to throw him a better, more successful party. Shenanigans, as expected, ensue.

In the midst of this main story, there are almost what would almost be considered intermissions. They are two to three page chapters highlighting a very, very peripheral character in an anecdote. This way you come to know not only the main characters deeply, but get a shallower feel for the peripheral characters and an understanding of the community as a whole.

The plot obviously isn't supposed to be the highlight of this novel, though. In fact, the book is just over one-hundred pages, so nailing down a complex plot is not going to happen. The plot exists to allow Steinbeck to shine a light on the traits and behaviors of the characters. The bums, though thieves and sometimes swindlers, are kind-hearted and well-meaning. Doc, though universally beloved and generous to a fault, is a lonely and sometimes sad man.

It is classic Steinbeck that the group of men who have next to nothing are far more content that Doc, who is one of the most well-off members of Cannery Row. Both have their virtues and vices; the only difference is which well each springs from. 

I'm not going to go more in-depth into the analysis and description. Just read the book. It will take you a day or two if you're even relatively diligent about it. It's worth your time.

Is this a great book? You bet it is. Is it one of the best one-hundred I've ever read? I would say no, but I wouldn't say it with complete certainty. Steinbeck manages to pack more in just over one-hundred pages than some (*cough*Virginia Woolf*cough*) manage to say with several times the page length. I'm biased towards this style and this is probably why I love John Steinbeck's works. With this in mind, I'm going to Cannery Row four out of five stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading words.

Next up is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I'm not a huge fan of Bladerunner (I know, travesty), which Do Androids... was an inspiration for, but I'm hoping I enjoy the book more. I've had good luck with his novels in the past.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lunch Review! The Skinny Pig

If you're looking for a busy man in Cincinnati, I'm not sure if you can get much busier than Josh Campbell. Relatively fresh off the opening of his amazingly convenient, craft beer-carrying Mayberry Foodstuffs, he decided to open yet another eatery. Where he finds the time and energy for all of this is beyond me. It just opened on Monday and when folks were looking for recommendations for lunch, I suggested Skinny Pig.

The Skinny Pig is located in a "you wouldn't know it was there if you weren't looking for it" storefront on Woodburn Avenue by Desales Corner. It's always good to see new restaurants open in Walnut Hills; god knows it needs to redevelopment.

The Skinny Pig goes in a completely different direction than Mayberry , Campbell's downtown spot. Rather than delicious, yet food coma-inducing giant burgers, tater tot casserole, and grilled cheeses, the Skinny Pig serves two things: blue corn flatbreads and salads. Certainly a lighter (and theoretically healthier) fare than that at Mayberry. The restaurant space is filled with a handful of high top tables, with a restroom and the kitchen in the back . The interior was relatively sparse when it came to decoration. Not sure if that is a byproduct of the recent opening or just a minimalist touch. The stain glassed windows in the front are beautiful, though.

Unlike Mayberry, orders are taken at the table. The flatbread options include those topped with turkey, pork tenderloin, chicken, garlic beef, and two vegetarian variations. Each of these dishes are themed differently, with assorted vegetables, cheeses, and sauces involved. I settled on the garlic beef flatbread, which also came topped with  horseradish, asparagus, goat cheese, and a tomato chutney. The pork loin and the chicken flat breads were also ordered at my table.

Though you can't tell from my picture, these flatbreads are beautifully prepared. They don't skimp on the toppings, either. So: what is blue corn flatbread like? It almost reminds me of a whole grain cracker. It was crisp around the edges and pliable where the juices from the toppings had soaked in. The asparagus was crisp and tasted fresh, the beef was pretty tender, and the goat cheese was abundant. My only complaint is that I didn't taste any horseradish at all. More (or some) would have been nice to cut the sweetness of the tomato chutney a bit. Overall, a good showing.

The adobo pork tenderloin was a bit hit with one of my coworkers, so I would love to try that the next time I'm there. Either that or one of their salad offerings (which you can add as a side portion).

Will I be back? You bet. It's close to where I live and temporarily work, so that is definitely a plus. The food tastes fresh and seems healthy. I certainly wasn't faced with the after lunch drowsiness I get with a lot of places. It's open for dinner, too, which is definitely cool. At right about $10 for the meal and a drink, it is reasonable priced.

I have to say: if he keeps it up, Josh Campbell is going to be running this city before we all even notice. He continues to pump out new, creative ideas and they keep being successes. Can't argue with outcomes. Also, kudos to him for taking a risk and opening a place outside of downtown. DeSales Corner has a lot of promise; hopefully this is just the beginning of development there. In other words, get your butts over there and give him some business.

The Skinny Pig on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beer review: Avery White Rascal

Style: Witbier
ABV: 5.6%
Ratebeer: 74/86
Beer Advocate: B/B-

Poured from a 12oz can to a pint glass. Very light and cloudy yellow, with a thin white head. Smells like a typical Belgian, with spices, citrus, and banana. Taste is a watered down version of the same. Refreshing and well-carbonated, at least. This would be an excellent lawnmower or beach beer if you're a fan of white Belgians. I've never been a big fan of the style, though, and this is no exception. It beats every macro out there, but there are a million other craft options that I would drink first.

Grade: B-

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Before The Reader was released in film form, I had never heard of the book. I was actually given the movie as a gift at some point, but never got around to watching it. I saw it on the shelf at the Friends of the Library book sale and decided "what the heck".

On its surface The Reader is a very simple book. It is essentially a romance novel set against the post-WWII era in Germany. Michael Berg, a 15 year old boy, through a set of strange circumstances becomes lovers with Hanna Schmitz, a 36 year old single woman. Michael, being young and hopelessly naive, falls immediately in love with her, even believing that they would be married some day. Hanna is tender towards Michael, but is prone to extreme mood swings and is loath to share any information with him concerning her past. This torrid affair goes on for some time until Michael is sucked into the social life with people his own age and then one day Hanna just disappears. He blames himself for this at first, but then he gets on with his life.

Later, as a law student, he is part of a seminar which attends the trials of those indicted of charges of war crimes during WWII. One of these defendants happens to be Hanna. As an SS guard, she is being charged with the deaths of a number of Jewish prisoners during the retreat from the Soviet invasion. Michael's feelings for her, which have been quieted but never fully died away since her disappearance, come full to the forefront. He is forced to examine the shame he feels for having loved a war criminal and at the same time makes realizations of her odd past behavior based on things that emerge from the trial. I'm not going to continue with the plot because I don't want to spoil anything, but the last part of the book primarily focuses on Michael's reflection on his time with Hanna as a young man.

The Reader both explicitly and implicitly looks at the conflict between the adults that were alive during Nazi rule and the generation that follows after it. The shame that Michael feels concerning his brief affair with Hanna is analogous to the shame felt by the children of those adults complicit (or at least tacitly accepting) of the Nazi regime. His conflicted love of someone who committed atrocities reflects how difficult it was for this new generation to deal with their parents' "Holocaust Legacy". It is obvious that this is something Germans struggle with even today.

The writing was good, but didn't blow me away. Written in the first-person, The Reader mainly focuses on telling the story without bombast. This was quite a change of pace after finishing Orlando prior to this. It is definitely an easy read. You could probably finish this pretty easily over a weekend if you set aside some time.

What surprised me most about this novel is the lack of emotion involved. I expected a work heavily reliant on emotion (ala: Sophie's Choice), but received a sober, almost academic look at the themes above. For this reason, the two main characters never really seem human. Hanna, though emotionally unstable and a war criminal, is neither detestable or an object of sympathy. Perhaps the most appropriate feeling towards her is pity. Michael, after his affair as a young man, seems incapable of emotion or feeling. His sterile examination of how he feels during Hanna's trial is something that would be read out of a psychiatrist's patient notes. For the most part I didn't particularly care about how he felt, which worked out because he didn't seem to feel much.

Despite the character flaws, I thought this was a good novel. I won't say it was "enjoyable", but it was valuable. The soberness of the content is not light stuff. Would I recommend this? Yes, but you have to be in the mood for it. It is a serious book about a serious topic.

I'm going to give The Reader three and a half stars. It is very good without being great and is definitely worth a read.


Edit: Almost forgot; the next book up to bat is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck, so this should be an enjoyable one.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Recent beer tastings

Below are some of the beers that I've tried recently and a brief thought on each. Most of these were consumed at my bachelor party last weekend. Without further ado...

 Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree (Imperial IPA, MI)
Very good. A little sweet and malty for my tastes, though.

 Short's The Curl (Imperial Pilsner, MI)
Really, really enjoyed this one. Crisp and refreshing. Not enough imperial pilsners out there.

 Great Divide Titan IPA (IPA, CO)
Solid, but nothing crazy. Tastes about like what you'd expect an IPA to taste like.
 Dark Horse One (Oatmeal Stout, MI)
I had really been looking forward to this part of the night. A tasting of the 1-5 stouts from Dark Horse. This oatmeal stout might have been my favorite drink of the night. Smooth and creamy, tasted a lot like chocolate and a little like coffee. Really good stuff.

 Dark Horse Too (Cream Stout, MI)
As the style implies, I remember it being creamy, but not much else other than that. Hard to follow the last beer.

 Dark Horse Tres (Blueberry Stout, MI)

 I've had this once before and didn't care for it, but was pleasantly surprised. I don't have fruit stouts often, so the blueberry smell and flavor was peculiar. Smelled like blueberries more than it tasted. Reminded me a little of a blueberry pancake. Decent, but probably won't try it again.

Dark Horse Fore (Smoked Stout, MI)
 Don't particularly care for smoked beers, either, but this one only had a faint hint of smoke. Not a smoke bomb like some of the other smoked porters and stouts I've had. This one would go great with a steak or other red meat.

Dark Horse Plead the 5th (Imperial Stout, MI)
 This was a delicious beast of a beer. At 12%, it was probably good that I was sharing it. Pretty well rounded between malts and hops. The high ABV in it is pretty much completely hidden. This could make for some sneaky drunkenness.

Mikkeller and BrewDog I Hardcore You (Double IPA, Denmark/Scotland)
Hops, hops and more hops. As advertised, this is about as hoppy a beer as I've ever drank, which is strange consider that it's a European collaboration. At $7.99 for a 12oz bottle, this isn't something I'd have often, but it was a nice treat.

Lagunitas Maximus (IPA, CA)
This seemed pretty standard, too, but it was about 4:30AM when I drank it, so I could be forgetting a bit.

Allagash Black (Belgian Stout, ME)
A strange brew. A stout fermented with Belgian yeast. Almost tastes like a really dark, malty dubbel or tripel. Not a big fan, but it is a popular beer. I believe Wine Enthusiast rated it their favorite beer of the year. Perhaps it just takes a bit of getting used to.

Alesmith Speedway Stout (Imperial Stout, CA)
Another monster of a beer. I've had this guy sitting in my closet for months to find a special opportunity to try it. At 12% and 750ml, this is about the same, alcohol-wise, as drinking a bottle of wine. You'll definitely want to split this one. An intense-flavored beer. A lot of coffee and heavily roasted malts. There is a good deal of complexity here.
Great Divide Hercules Double IPA (Imperial IPA, CO)
This didn't blow me away at all. It seemed like a pretty standard malt-forward IIPA. It was passable, but doesn't measure up to some of the better offerings out there.

So, what were my favorites? I'd go with the following:

Short's The Curl (Imperial Pilsner, MI)
The entire Dark Horse 1-5 lineup other than Tres
Mikkeller and BrewDog I Hardcore You (Double IPA, Denmark/Scotland)
Alesmith Speedway Stout (Imperial Stout, CA)