- The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History
- Publisher: Hill and Wang
- Year: 2011
- Pages: 272
The first time I physically remember hearing the Yugo referenced in pop culture was seeing Die Hard with a Vengeance on TV (this must have been 1997 or so, when I was 12 or 13), though I must have known about it before because I laughed: Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson drive a commandeered Yugo down a busy freeway, and when Bruce (John) complains about their pokey pace, Samuel (Zeus) replies “It’s a Yugo; it’s built for economy, not for speed!”
I somehow realized or knew, though I don’t remember how or when I would have learned it, that the word “Yugo” was a punchline for a car only a few steps better than a pennyracer. Jason Vuic’s The Yugo is the story of how the hapless automobile came to be the butt of so many jokes, but also how it ever-so-briefly was a commercial success, and how one enigmatic business was behind it all.
- Our Man in Havana
- Publisher: Penguin
- Year: 1958/2007
- Pages: 256
It was Christopher Hitchens that sparked my interest in Graham Greene; I read his introduction to a new edition of Greene’s The Orient Express in Hitchens’ 2004 collected essays, Love, Poverty, and War. Even more recently, Hitchens lent his pen to Penguin’s new publication of Our Man in Havana, one of Greene’s well-known “comedic” novels (as distinct from his “serious” novels like The End of the Affair, a distinction made by Hitchens himself). As I recently had the opportunity to give the book a try, I couldn’t pass it up.
- A Case of Conscience
- Publisher: Del Rey
- Year: 1958/2000
- Pages: 256
Science fiction has a tendency to ignore religion; this may have stemmed from its early Enlightenment-style emphasis on rationality, or it may have been sheer laziness, since predicting how some of our oldest cultural institutions would fare years into the (often dystopian) future is difficult at best.
There are notable exceptions to this, and the situation has gotten better as the years wind on and the genre refines itself. Writers aren’t always nice to religion, but they’ve generally stopped ignoring it as a force for (or resistance to) change. But even in scifi’s early days, there were some writers who not only included organized religion in their stories, but actually centered the plots on it. Most frequently cited is Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. But just a scant year before Miller published his first and last novel, another titan of the early science fiction scene, James Blish, published A Case of Conscience, whose protagonist(?) is a Jesuit priest.
- Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards
- Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
- Year: 2010
- Pages: 288
I can remember being quite young and looking for books by Dave Barry in my local library. Invariably, I happened upon large collections by such venerated humorists as Lewis Grizzard and P.J. O’Rourke, who even in the early 90s had a large œuvre. I never got into O’Rourke at the time, because I was concerned more with Barry’s slapstick and sometime scatological approach to humor, as opposed to O’Rourke’s which was more straightforward political satire.
When I learned sometime about a decade ago that Barry was a Libertarian, I wasn’t even quite sure what it meant (I was probably about 14), other than he apparently disliked government. This is no surprise, given that a large portion of his work was dedicated to criticizing people in authority, especially the government, which was a fair target for lampooning not just by Libertarian humorists, but just about anybody. Let’s face it: the government is a big dumb ox of a target, and even dyed-in-the-wool liberals have little trouble lambasting it for wasteful spending and making jokes about Congress being the opposite of Progress.
- The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
- Year: 2008
- Pages: 288
Last year and I read and enjoyed Taibbi’s Spanking the Donkey—a cross between DWF’s Up, Simba and Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Taibbi is well-known for being acerbic, but admittedly he’s also an excellent writer, and there’s a particular joy in watching a silver-tongued left-libertarian wail on the political and cultural scaffolding with a heavy pipe.
In the preface to The Great Derangement, he expresses his concern that he’s become a victim to this very niche, having become a sort of editorial hatchetman—the guy Rolling Stone calls whenever they need a few pages of righteous fury. His discomfort implies that The Great Derangement will, in theory, be a different beast, but knowing Taibbi as we do, that isn’t necessarily the case.