Book Review

Barbarian Days- William Finnegan

I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.


The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli

A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.


Submission- Michel Houellebecq

I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.


10 thoughts on “Book Review

  1. I’ve read bits and pieces of The Prince from when I was taking a philosophy course years ago. That is great, some guy bench pressing with that book by his side. How hardcore is that?!

    I always thought surfers (and skateboarders) were insanely cool, so the first one appeals to me the most. There was a time several years ago where I watched a lot of films having to do with either.

    Aside from my studying I’ve been reading The Girl in the Spider’s Web for pleasure. It’s another installment in the Millenium series, only written by a different author as the original one passed away and there was a feud between the author’s partner and his family over his estate and an unfinished manuscript for the fourth book. Not sure if you’re familiar (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.).

    I’ve been paid to write music reviews but I’m not great at writing book reviews, not at all! I enjoyed yours, especially since your personality shines through and you share some interesting details about yourself in the process.

    • It was kinda cool. He was a big tall middle eastern looking guy. He looked like an adult too, not a gym moron type dude, if you know what I mean. re: surfing/skating films, any you’d recommend? Ive heard of that latest millenium trilogy one. I haven’t read or seen any of them. I gather they are thrillers with some extra quality that elevates them. But what is it? Thank you so much for the complement because writing my little reviews was like giving birth. A muscle I’ve never used before.

      • Yep, I am all too familiar with the gym moron type dudes. You might check out Dogtown and Z-Boys as well as Lords of Dogtown. If you like goofy 80s films, try Thrashin’. Surfing: Step Into Liquid, Riding Giants, The Endless Summer, and Point Break (1991).

        Yes they are thrillers/crime novels. The extra quality is the amazing female character Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant computer hacker. She’s an antiheroine and one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever come across. It’s set in Sweden.

        Here’s to a speedy recovery from giving birth. Always nice to challenge yourself every once and a while.

      • He references The Endless Summer in the book. He reckons the impression it, and other things like it, give of surfing is off the mark. But I will check the 80s ones out regardless, they sound fun. Big Wednesday is another I think, I remember renting and watching that when I was a teenager. I may give the millennium trilogy a go too. Cool, cheers!

  2. Ah yes, The Prince. Just remember there’s always a bigger bastard. I can’t say that I’ve ever read a surfer memoir but your review makes it sound interesting. You should do more reviews… you’re much better at it than you think.

    • That would be worth keeping in mind if you’re gonna go bastard, true enough. Thanks… It took quite a long time to organise my thoughts just, was the problem. Cheers for the comment.

  3. I completely agree with cremedelauren. I really like how little bits of you emerge in the reviews. Great recommendations. Going to go look for Barbarian Days now. Love Houellebecq like you, so I’m sad to hear about his latest.

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