Drive-By Reviews: Spring 2015

So it’s Saturday night! Party night for tons of people, and Rant About How John Green is the Worst Person Alive night for me!

But . . . well, then I read the chapter(s) for this week.

I didn't care for it.
I didn’t care for it.

So let’s procrastinate with some less infuriating judgment: it’s time for my more-or-less semiannual Drive By Reviews!

In case you weren’t around for my first time doing this, basically I offer a list of all the books I read over the last vaguely-defined period of time, a summary, what other people thought of it, and then a tweet-length review of my own. It’s fun . . . for me, at least.

And I’m not reading The Fault in Our Stars, so that’s always a good day.


Since I’m a party person, basically the only things I read are books for school (this semester being “Dramatic Literature I,” “History of the Future,” and a seminar on Seamus Heaney), the occasional fun literature, and spiritual/religious books. I kept the latter off last time because I was worried about offending people, but what the fuck, right? I got opinions, I got booze*, and I got a captive audience hoping this might be entertaining.** Let’s go!

*May not actually have booze

**May not actually have audience, and they certainly don’t expect this to be entertaing

Now it’s a party!

Ajax by Sophocles (drama: tragedy) description:

Ajax presents the story of the final day in the life of one of the most glorious heroes from the world of the Iliad, the great Ajax, king of Salamis, the finest warrior after Achilles, who is driven mad by the gods, commits unspeakable atrocities, and then must face up to what he has done, particularly to the shame he must now encounter from his colleagues and his family. How can a hero who has always lived by the traditional heroic code continue living after such a disgrace? Ajax’s resolution of this problem is one of the very greatest scenes in tragic drama. rating: 4.6 stars

Drunk review: Eh. Ajax is really unlikable, but I think that might be the point. In any case, I’d recommend Antigone if you want a good Sophocles drama.

Awoken by Serra Elinsen (novel: parody) description:

In his house at R’lyeh, great Cthulhu lies dreaming… of her.

What would you do if you discovered you were the only one in the world with the hidden power to keep it from utter annihilation?

What if you had no idea what that power might even be?

Andromeda Slate, the self-proclaimed most ordinary girl in America, can’t figure out why the gorgeous but mysterious new boy at high school seems to hate her so much. It couldn’t have anything to do with the strange dream she had the night before he first showed up in class, could it? The dream where the very same boy rescued her from a giant, green, tentacled sea monster?

And it couldn’t have anything to do with that time she read aloud from that ancient tome of eldritch magic, the Necronomicon… could it?

Andi Slate never imagined she’d find herself in a situation where somehow she was the key to saving the world.

Her life is about to get a whole lot less ordinary. rating: 4.2 stars

Drunk review: It hurts to say I couldn’t finish it. I love the people who wrote it & had such high expectations, but it didn’t work for me. It’s boring.

The Burial at Thebes by Seamus Heaney (drama: tragedy/political allegory) description:

In this outstanding new translation, commissioned by Ireland’s renowned Abbey Theatre to commemorate its centenary, Seamus Heaney exposes the darkness and the humanity in Sophocles’ masterpiece, and inks it with his own modern and masterly touch.

Sophocles’ play, first staged in the fifth century B.C., stands as a timely exploration of the conflict between those who affirm the individual’s human rights and those who must protect the state’s security. During the War of the Seven Against Thebes, Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, learns that her brothers have killed each other, having been forced onto opposing sides of the battle. When Creon, king of Thebes, grants burial of one but not the “treacherous” other, Antigone defies his order, believing it her duty to bury all of her close kin. Enraged, Creon condemns her to death, and his soldiers wall her up in a tomb. While Creon eventually agrees to Antigone’s release, it is too late: She takes her own life, initiating a tragic repetition of events in her family’s history. rating: 4.4 stars

Drunk review: Some think comparing Creon to Bush is too on the nose, but I thought it was clever. And ignoring the politics (easy to do) it’s a good play.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (novel: fantasy/allegory) description:

C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia has captivated readers of all ages for over sixty years, enchanting them with a magical realm where worlds come and go at the toss of a ring, where boys and girls become kings and queens, where there are more talking creatures than people.

This box set includes all seven titles in The Chronicles of NarniaThe Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; and The Last Battle . . .

The journey begins even before the Dawn Treader sets sail and ends long after its voyage, so don’t miss out on any part of this definitive fantasy series of our time! rating: 4.7 stars

Drunk review: It’s no Tolkien, & as allegory it’s no Screwtape Letters. Maybe it’s watered down for kids, but it’s lackluster & anemic despite cool ideas.

Climate Changed by Philippe Squarzoni (graphic nonfiction) description:

What are the causes and consequences of climate change? When the scale is so big, can an individual make any difference? Documentary, diary, and masterwork graphic novel, this up-to-date look at our planet and how we live on it explains what global warming is all about. With the most complicated concepts made clear in a feat of investigative journalism by artist Philippe Squarzoni, Climate Changed weaves together scientific research, extensive interviews with experts, and a call for action. Weighing the potential of some solutions and the false promises of others, this groundbreaking work provides a realistic, balanced view of the magnitude of the crisis that An Inconvenient Truth only touched on. rating: 4.3 stars

Drunk review: Smart, scary, and surprisingly moving, placing responsibility without blame & with empathy. Format isn’t a gimmick, but used to good effect.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels (rhetoric) description:

The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels’s revolutionary summons to the working classes, is one of the most important and influential political theories ever formulated. After four years of collaboration, the authors produced this incisive declaration of their idea of Communism, in which they envisage a society without classes, private property or a state. They argue that increasing exploitation of industrial workers will eventually lead to a revolution in which Capitalism is overthrown. This vision provided the theoretical basis of political systems in Russia, China, Cuba and Eastern Europe, affecting the lives of millions.The Communist Manifesto still remains a landmark text: a work that continues to influence and provoke debate on capitalism and class. rating: 3.7 stars

Drunk review: Not as radical as I’d expected. It’s about half historical treatise and half predictions that don’t happen. Definitely worth reading.

The Conquest of Granada by John Dryden (drama: tragedy)

Wikipedia description:

The play concerns the Battle of Granada fought between the Moors and the Spanish at the historical fall of Granada. The Spanish are kept generally in the background, and the action mainly concerns two fractions of Moors, the Abencerrages and the Zegrys. The hero is Almanzor, who fights for the Moors. He falls in love with Almahide, who is engaged to Boabdelin, king of the Moors. She loves him, too, but she will not betray her vows to Boabdelin, and Boabdelin is torn between his jealousy and need for Almanzor. rating: 3.15 stars

Drunk review: This is a bad play. Like, famously satirized for being terrible. That being said, there’s something charming in its story and characters.

Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World by Leroy Barber (spiritual) description:

It’s not every day that you get a visit from God. Burning bushes, ladders to heaven, chariots of fire and all that–we look for those stories in the Bible, and we look for them in our lives. When it comes to something as important as what we do with our lives, we think, maybe God owes us a big event. But, as Leroy Barber has learned through his work in inner cities and with young people, that’s not usually how it works. More often God calls out to us from everyday misfortunes and all-too-common injustices, and he invites our response–not just a response in the moment, but a recognition that we have a role to play in seeing God’s kingdom come, God’s will done, on earth as it is in heaven. Through the surprisingly normal stories of the heroes of faith in the Bible, and through Barber’s experiences with Mission Year and other ministries, in this book you’ll learn what it means to change the world from your own little space in it. rating: 5.0 stars

Drunk review: If you haven’t started an organization to help impoverished youth, you might not relate to this. But it offers a lot to think about.

The Feigned Courtesans by Aphra Behn (drama: comedy) description:

Behn’s Restoration comedy of mistaken identities, women wearing breeches, convoluted and crisscrossing love intrigues, and ridiculous characters. rating: 3.5 stars

Drunk review: Language is tough to get used to, but it’s fun, funny, & sort-of progressive in an age of very conservative plays. Definitely worth seeing.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (novella: allegory) description:

C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a classic Christian allegorical tale about a bus ride from hell to heaven. An extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment, Lewis’s revolutionary idea in the The Great Divorce is that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. Using his extraordinary descriptive powers, Lewis’ The Great Divorce will change the way we think about good and evil. rating: 4.6 stars

Drunk review: The most original version of heaven and hell I’ve seen. Lewis makes me uncomfortable sometimes, but that’s the mark of a good philosopher.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (novel . . . I think: horror/postmodern insanity) description:

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams. rating: 4.0 stars

Drunk review: The best book I didn’t like. It’s astoundingly well-crafted and should be considered a masterpiece, but I didn’t care about the characters.

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (collection: poetry) description:

Seamus Heaney’s new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present–the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered. Human Chain also broaches larger questions of transmission, of lifelines to the inherited past. There are newly minted versions of anonymous early Irish lyrics, poems that stand at the crossroads of oral and written, and other “hermit songs” that weigh equally in their balance the craft of scribe and the poet’s early calling as scholar. A remarkable sequence entitled “Route 101” plots the descent into the underworld in the Aeneid against single moments in the arc of a life, from a 1950s childhood to the birth of a first grandchild. Other poems display a Virgilian pietas for the dead–friends, neighbors, family–that is yet wholly and movingly vernacular. rating: 4.8 stars

Drunk review: Heaney is a genius, but compared to his earlier poetry (Opened Ground) this left me cold. Doesn’t seem to have the same heart and fire.

John Dies at the End by David Wong (novel: comedy/horror) description:


You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.

NO, don’t put it down. It’s too late.

They’re watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.

You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye.

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read John Dies at the End, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this:

The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension.

John and I never had the chance to say no.

You still do.

Unfortunately for us, if you make the right choice, we’ll have a much harder time explaining how to fight off the otherworldly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity.

I’m sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind:

None of this is was my fault. rating: 4.3 stars

Drunk review: Brilliant. Don’t even know what to say, it’s so good. Surreal, gross, scary, complex, gorgeous world-building, dick jokes. It’s incredible.

Life in the Word by Joyce Meyer (devotional) description:

A dynamic, new devotional for the millions who hear the Life In The Word broadcast on over 280 radio stations and 250 television stations nationwide! rating: 4.7 stars

Drunk review: I threw this against the wall. Just some saccharine, fake, “Christian=perfect!” nonsense. Which I should’ve guessed, seeing the cover. Ugh.

Love for Love by William Congreve (drama: comedy) description:

Love for Love (1695) is a comical farce manifesting the verbal polish and the theatrical wit that audiences so enjoy in Congreve. Valentine, Sir Sampson’s dissolute eldest son, finds himself at a standstill; the only way out of his financial difficulties is to give in to his father’s pressure to renounce his right of inheritance. While this suggestion immediately increases the chances of his bluff younger brother Ben on the marriage mart, Valentine’s own chances with his beloved Angelica would proportionally decrease. To avoid having to sign the renunciation Valentine puts on an ‘antic disposition’ and pretends to be mad. Angelica, seeing through him, provokes him back into sanity by pretending to agree to marry his father. Valentine recovers, the lovers reunite, and Ben, too, has meanwhile found the girl of his heart. rating: 3.3 stars

Drunk review: If you enjoy spoiled stalkers being rewarded for their douchebaggery while the likable characters are sidelined, this is the book for you.

The Malcontent by John Marston (drama) description:

The Malcontent is a striking example of the new satiric tone and moral seriousness in English comedy of the early 1600s. The play’s vision of a fallen humanity driven by lust and ambition is created partly by its depiction of Machiavellian intrigue in the court of Genoa, and partly by the disaffected Malevole, the malcontent of the title, who is actually the deposed Duke Altofronto in disguise. Marston’s tragi-comedy is full of reversals, surprises and moral transformations and offers a thin disguise for the Jacobean court and its vices. rating: 4.2 stars

Drunk review: Did I read this? Really? Was that the one with a king who . . . uh . . . Are you sure I read this?

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (theology) description:

In the classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, the most important writer of the 20th century, explores the common ground upon which all of those of Christian faith stand together. Bringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks during World War Two from his three previous books The Case for Christianity,Christian Behavior, and Beyond Personality, Mere Christianityprovides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith. rating: 4.6 stars

Drunk review: So much good, smart stuff to think about, though those 1940s prejudices are kinda jarring and Lewis never was progressive enough for me.

Opened Ground by Seamus Heaney (collection: poetry) description:

As selected by the author, Opened Ground includes the essential work from Heaney’s twelve previous books of poetry, as well as new sequences drawn from two of his landmark translations, The Cure at Troy and Sweeney Astray, and several previously uncollected poems. Heaney’s voice is like no other–“by turns mythological and journalistic, rural and sophisticated, reminiscent and impatient, stern and yielding, curt and expansive” (Helen Vendler, The New Yorker)–and this is a one-volume testament to the musicality and precision of that voice. The book closes with Heaney’s Nobel Lecture: “Crediting Poetry.” rating: 4.7 stars

Drunk review: The man’s a genius, at his best when talking about his childhood, the Troubles, and being the poet son of a rural family. Beautiful poetry.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (novel: dystopia) description:

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. rating: 4.1 stars

Drunk review: If the thought of dystopias or love triangles leaves a sour taste in your mouth, have your faith restored. Stunning and disturbing.

Othello by William Shakespeare (drama: tragedy) description:

Othello, a Moorish captain, secretly falls in love with and marries Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. While the two live happily at first, a spurned suitor of Desdemona’s and Iago, an ambitious officer under Othello’s command, plan to tear the couple apart out of revenge for perceived slights suffered at their hands. rating: 4.2 stars

Drunk review: If anyone tries to tell you this isn’t the best Shakespeare play, they’re wrong. I’m almost embarrassed by how much I love it.

Philoctetes by Sophocles (drama: tragedy?) description:

En route to fight the Trojan War, the Greek army has abandoned Philoctetes, after the smell of his festering wound, mysteriously received from a snakebite at a shrine on a small island off Lemnos, makes it unbearable to keep him on ship. Ten years later, an oracle makes it clear that the war cannot be won without the assistance of Philoctetes and his famous bow, inherited from Hercules himself. Philoctetes focuses on the attempt of Neoptolemus and the hero Odysseus to persuade the bowman to sail with them to Troy. First, though, they must assuage his bitterness over having been abandoned, and then win his trust. But how should they do this–through trickery, or with the truth? To what extent do the ends justify the means? To what degree should personal integrity be compromised for the sake of public duty? These are among the questions that Sophocles puts forward in this, one of his most morally complex and penetrating plays. rating: 4.2 stars

Drunk review: Sophocles must’ve lost a bet or something, because so many of his plays star unlikable jerks. Did they not have nice guys in ancient Greece?

Pseudolus by Plautus (drama: comedy/farce) description:

Pseudolus, a servant of the Athenian Simo, observes one day that his master’s son Calidorus is deeply despondent about something. Questioning him on the matter, Pseudolus is given a letter from Phoenicium, a slave girl with whom Calidorus is in love. She has written that Ballio, her master, has sold her to a Macedonian military officer for the sum of twenty minae. However, the transaction is not yet complete; the officer has given Ballio fifteen minae to seal the bargain and has arranged that Phoenicium is to be delivered to a servant of his who will bring the remaining five minae and a letter bearing a seal to match the one the officer has made with his ring and left in Ballio’s keeping. This servant is to arrive during the festival of Bacchus, now being celebrated. Calidorus is thoroughly upset by this news, for he has no money with which to buy Phoenicium and no prospect of acquiring any. Desperate, he appeals to the wily Pseudolus for help. With great self-confidence, the servant promises to trick Calidorus’s father, Simo, out of the money. rating: 3.51 stars

Drunk review: You know A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? This is that. Funny if you enjoy farce (I do), and charming in a sleazy way.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (epistolary fiction: satire) description:

The Screwtape Letters by C.S.  Lewis is a classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written. rating: 4.6 stars

Drunk review: You know what I’m gonna say: it’s Lewis. It’s uncomfortable, smart, makes you think. Much more entertaining than Narnia, though not funny.

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell (theology) description:

Velvet Elvis is the first book from Rob Bell, the New York Timesbestselling author of Love Wins.  Selected as one of 2011’s most influential people by Time Magazine, pastor Bell offers original and refreshingly personal perspectives on what Christianity is truly all about in Velvet Elvis.  A vibrant voice for a new generation of Christians—the most recognizable Christian leader among young adults—Rob Bell inspires readers to take a fresh look at traditional questions of faith. rating: 4.0 stars

Drunk review: A world-shaking kinda book, with fresh, new takes that somehow also feel ancient. I don’t care if you’re kinda sketchy now, Bell, I love ya.

Volpone by Ben Jonson (drama: comedy) description:

Volpone portrays a rich Venetian who pretends to be dying so that his despised acquaintances will flock to his bedside with extravagant gifts in hope of an inheritance. rating: 4.5 stars

Drunk review: When every character is a massive asshole, you have to root for the smartest and most asshole-ish, just to see what they can get away with.


Well, that’s all for me! Tomorrow night I’ll hopefully tackle Green, and it’ll be nice to keep in mind that I actually have read some good stuff.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you think! It’s a weird mix, but hopefully you’ll have at least heard of a couple of these, or they’ll have piqued your interest. Happy reading!


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