Book Review: The Magician King

I loved the first book, The Magicians. It was a great mixture of old fantasy tropes (primarily from Narnia) and more modern personalities. This book is mostly more of the same. Which is fine, but as I read through it, some of the stylistic flaws became more apparent.

For those of you unfamiliar with the first book, it is basically what would happen if the kids that went to Hogwarts were like today's Ivy-league set, as opposed to the more mythical types that inhabit the Harry Potter novels. There is something of an "It's all fun and games until someone gets eaten by a dragon" theme to these books, in which the main characters are basically like you and I, with fantasy-novel born pretensions of being heroes, but without any of the actual underlying strength of character to actually perform in the manner required.

So, as I said, this book is more of the same. The main strength that it relies on is the author's ability to drop in tongue-in-cheek comments, mostly via the protagonist's internal monologue, about all of the weird things happening around him. It does this quite well, and manages to be quite funny. The biggest issue that starts popping up is that in some ways, there is a legitimate bit of fantasy in here. And to be honest, that part just isn't that great. It's all very surface-y and can be a bit unsatisfying. But I still crushed through this book, and I still laughed. So, overall, worth a skim.

Book Review: The Emperor of All Maladies

This was a great book. The first several hundred pages were awesome. I will, however, ding it a little bit for dragging on a bit towards the end.

It moves in three major arcs. The first major arc is treatment, spanning bloodletting, surgery, and chemotherapy. This arc kicks into second gear when it becomes intertwined with the history of the modern cancer movement, starting with Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker. The second arc is much briefer, and goes through the various prevention efforts, including the war on tobacco. The final arc is essentially the culmination, in which a genetic understanding of the cancer cell leads to what looks like the beginnings of the cure, via gene therapy. Intertwined through all of these arcs are Mukherjee's personal dealings with his own cancer patients, which gives the book a human element.

As a reminder, this book took forever for me to finish. It is not a short read. It drags towards the end. It begins to feel as if you're just going from one discovery to the next, one random doctor to another. But overall, it's very edifying.

A couple of key insights, outside of the random factoids. One. Medical progress comes in fits and starts. A lot of what we've discovered about cancer seems to have come through almost accidental discoveries that almost get overlooked. Two. Organization is key. The modern cancer movement didn't seem to really get its legs under it until Farber and Lasker basically built the American Cancer Society into a well-oiled machine. Three. Cancer is scary, I really would rather not ever get it.

That's about it. I wish I had a witty and insightful review of this book, but it's hard. This is not a particularly emotional book, despite the gravity of the subject. Mukherjee moves very quickly through the subject matter, and in so doing, makes the book feel oddly light. In the few places where he tries to tell a human story, you can tell that he is clearly not in his element, and is - if anything - trying to mimic the feel of something more serious. He is much more at home going through the annals of cancer's history, describing the import of this discovery or that discovery. If anything, this book is more interesting for its compact navigation of what would otherwise be an even longer and denser subject matter.

Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks

So, this Saturday, one of my new coworkers asked me to go out to dinner with him. He had an ulterior motive - he had a date and the date was bringing a friend, so he needed some guys to play wingman for him. Anyone who actually knows me will probably find this an utterly laughable thing to do. Unless your girl's friends are enthralled by short nerds, there is absolutely no reason to ever bring me along. Which is probably why he brought three other guys just in case.

The dinner was good, and I will not lie, the friends were ridiculously attractive. As in, I would happily stare at these women and feel like a love-struck 16 year old. And somehow, dinner ended, and three guys and three really, really ridiculously good-looking girls made their way over to the Rose Bar in Gramercy. And for some reason or another, I happened to be one of those three guys. I really have no idea how that happened.

Now, talking to random girls is not my forte. I usually don't know what to say to them. However, if there is one thing I can do, it's shuffle my feet around really quickly when music plays. And, if the occasion calls for it, grab a pretty girl's hand and spin her around in circles until she looks queasy with dizziness. And that is precisely what I did to the only one of those pretty girls that was shorter than me. And it was awesome.

Anyway, that's pretty much it. Just a really fun night, no illicit sexual behavior or anything like that. The one moment that stands out is when the following song came on. And the girl that I was dancing with it loved it, and wished she knew what it was called. And I - having just recently found it - very casually let drop my little bit of knowledge. And then she loved me, and dancing commenced.

Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks

Two songs

Ok, so I'm a little past this, especially since it's a real downer to have get back to these things. So, this will be the last post on Pudge for pretty much ever, even though there is a ridiculous backlog of songs that all seem to have something to do with her. Rather than post more of the ones that I used to listen to when we were together, here are the really, really depressing songs that I listened to after she dumped me. When you are feeling like shit, there is nothing better than a really, really melodramatic song to make you feel as if someone out there in the world understands you. Even if the words don't actually really have much to do with what's going on in your life. Even if you are vaguely embarrassed by your musical selection and really don't want people to know that you are wallowing in your own self-pity to these songs. Anyway, here we go.

This first song is a little on the nose, and has a little too much jam-bandiness in it for me to not feel kind of like a high school kid for having listened to it. But it worked at the time. The only kink in the lyrics is the subtle implication that the girl might have died, but that's sort of neither here nor there. I tend to remember this song much more for its reasonably accurate portrayal of me drinking by myself for an extended period of time. I will leave out the artist, but I'm sure most of you will figure out who it is and groan loudly. To which I can only say, it is really hard to fully wallow in your melodramatic state of mind when you're not fully sure how to decode the obtuse, esoteric lyrics of the clever-sounding indie band which seems to be playing a sad break-up song, although you can never be entirely sure.

Grace is Gone

The second song came up because at the time of the break-up, I was also getting crushed at work. Every night, I'd sit at the long table in the middle of our office and go over slides and analysis, doing God knows what for hours. If you listen to the lyrics, it's much more about people not knowing how to connect with each other than it is about being really, really mopey because your girl left you and you are feeling really lonely. But, the mood of the song felt appropriately melancholy, and considering that I did actually spend a lot of time looking at elevators, wishing they would take me home, it felt vaguely appropriate.

Stars - Elevator Love Letter

So, that's all done now. Huzzah! I've been listening to new stuff recently, and I'm kind of psyched about it. Will post something new and fun shortly.

Iron & Wine - Each Coming Night

I hate that I have to retire this song. Because I love it. I think it is pretty and beautiful in a way that most singer-songwriters strive - but mostly fail - to achieve. The words are, for the most part, meaningless. But if you move beyond that, the mood that is conjured is intimate and strangely romantic in a way that few songs of this genre ever manage to achieve.

Which is entirely why I played it for the one girl that I loved. And it is now inextricably linked with the image of her singing it, her head bobbing softly from side to side. And I hate that I will never see that again. One more happy thing to put away.

Iron & Wine


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