I was so busy not calling my grandmother that I couldn’t finish these two books.

I once fretted over not completing books, but life is too short and my to-read list is too long to linger over literature I’m not interested in.

This week’s Fail List comprises two books, a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction.


(Mom, TL;DR means “too long, didn’t read.”)

Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. This is one of Time’s 100 Greatest Novels, and is often declared “one of the most important works of American fiction.”

About 50 pages in, I was confused about what I was reading, so I went to the Wikipedia page, which informed me there were 400 characters. The plot summary was a tome in itself.

I continued reading the novel. The first bit is set in England. All was well. Then the protagonist goes to some tropical resort (???) though the war is still on (??? why isn’t he fighting???) and rescues a woman from a Pavlov-trained-octopus attack (???) who is spying on him (???). This is where I lost interest, because I couldn’t figure out what these people were doing putzing around during war time and why, if they knew the protagonist’s dick could predict where bombs would land, they didn’t keep him in the place where bombs were landing. Wouldn’t that be useful? Couldn’t they use that to evacuate buildings beforehand?

If you are interested in a piece of Great American Fiction That People Are Always Talking About, I recommend Infinite Jest instead.

Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought. This book about linguistics turned into That Thing I Read To Help Me Fall Asleep. It’s several hundred pages about verbs and such. This is typically the sort of thing I get zesty about. I couldn’t get into this one.

Not all is lost on the reading front, however.

I did manage to complete


This is by Jon Ronson, who’s probably best known for having written The Men Who Stare At Goats. (I love you too much to lie to you: I haven’t read that one. I saw the movie.)

Them is a pretty light, quick read. It’s just what I needed.

It’s fun — as fun as you can have when chillaxing with jihadists, white supremacists, and paranoid people who are convinced the New World Order is forthcoming.

The overarching terror of the extremists is basically “the Jews are coming for us all, and will rule with an iron fist.”

The author is Jewish, and he talks to these people. He’s surprisingly not murdered. He might be crazy.

Most of the book is devoted to the “Bilderberg Group,” a real entity. Conspiracy theorists outside the group are convinced it’s the New World Order. Do their meetings determine the fate of the world?

The book culminates in Ronson party-crashing their event.

(There are a few other chapters in the book, about 3/4 of the way through, that are about totally unrelated things. These chapters are confusing, because they didn’t tie into the primary narrative.)

The extremists are surprisingly — and perhaps a little disappointingly — normal. They have kids, and struggle with not being taken seriously. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes they’re sad. Sometimes they’re petty. Typically they’re terrifying.

Sadly, if there is a Jewish conspiracy, I have not been invited to the meetings.