Monday, October 14, 2019

My Reading Life: with Alex Reid

What are five books you loved? For one of them, why did you love it?

The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Black Shirts and Reds
The 100 year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
The Paleo Manifesto
The Winner Effect

It is a close tie because the Paleo Manifesto and the winner effect. Both had massive impacts on my life. I think that the Paleo manifesto had a bigger impact on my life and that What Women Want by Geophrey Miller and Tucker Max had the biggest impact on my life. I owe the most to that book but my favorite book is The Winner Effect. It talks about testosterone, dopamine, aggression, bullying, dominance and the chemical effects those have on us. With that lens, you gain a neurochemical breakdown and insight into the origin of power and corruption. The book can be dangerous if you see humanity through that lens so it is good to be mindful and not fall into biological determinism. I did that for over a year and I was depressed when I thought about humanity.

What is a book you didn’t like, and why?

One book I didn’t like was How the Brain Works by Steven Pinker. It was insanely wordy; it was as if he was trying to make it as inaccessible as possible. My top consultant also said he is terrible. I spent over a month trying to read it and I could only manage a few pages at a time. I read about 100 pages then gave up on it. I’m going to list an extra book I didn’t like because it disappointed me so much. I read The 48 laws of Power and it was the longest and most boring read I have ever forced myself to get through. I would recommend running screaming naked into a busy highway with your eyes closed before I would recommend this book.

What is a funny/interesting/unique anecdote about you as a reader?

I don’t think there is anything interesting or funny about me as a reader; I’m not able to read Latin while uni-cycling in a purple leotard or anything like that.

How did you first fall in love with books?

I originally started reading because I wasn’t allowed to play video games during the week. My mom said I can play video games on Thursday if I finished a book that week and I could play on Wednesday too if I finished two books that week. I fell in love when I was about 13. I took a break then read like a maniac from age 17-21. I didn’t read any of my textbooks in college. I just read other books and I never stressed about the assigned readings.

What book or books are you planning to read soon?

I am planning to read Unsettling Canada, Working Harder isn’t Working and to read more of Guns, Germs and Steel soon.

What book do you always recommend?

I always recommend the Paleo Manifesto. People immediately think of it as a diet book so I rarely get good reception. To men, I recommend What Women Want. It changed my entire life and fast forwarded my understanding of women and dating by at least 10 years. We learn a whack of stupid things from men and you always hear about how complicated women are. They aren’t as complicated as 95% of men would have you believe.

What book/books changed the way you see the world and your place in it?

I can’t think of many books that changed how I felt about my place in the world. Most of that came from talking to people and life experience. The most impacting thing I read was an interview my grandpa did about 50 years ago. He talked about his life and the problems that we indigenous people face. One book that made me more sensitive to the suffering of women was The Language of Flowers.

What was your favorite childhood book?

My favorite childhood books was either the 5th Harry Potter book or one of the books from the Eragon series.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

My favorite under appreciated book would have to be The Neon Bible, that John Kennedy O’Toole wrote with a mind boggling amount of emotion.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

I don’t have an author I didn’t like that I grew to like but I have the opposite. I loved Tucker Max’s books when I was younger but now they are appalling to me. Still partially hilarious but overall too distasteful for me. I no longer take pride in that macho BS anymore.

What book have you read that has most influenced your life?

In general I think Black Shirts and Reds is the most influential book people can read.

Who are your favorite writers?

My favorite writer is George Carlin. 

What do you read on holiday?

Holiday? What’s a holiday?

Which author (living or dead) do you think is most underrated?

One underrated author is Arthur Emanuel.

Which author (living or dead) do you think is most overrated?

I don’t think it is humble or fair of me to name an writer that I think is overrated.

Did your parents read to you when you were young?

My mom read to me while I was young and I am suddenly incredibly grateful for that.

Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?

If I could drink with any fictional character it would be Fry from Futurama.

Where do you buy your books?

I typically buy my books from Amazon unfortunately, but once in a while I get them in store.

What impact can a book have on the reader?

A book can entirely radicalize someone. It can take someone from isolated and depressed and bring them into a new sphere. It can fill their life to the brim with purpose and satisfaction. I was radicalized into being madly in love with the working class and most of that came from life experience and talking to people but some of it came from reading. I volunteer now and spend time around amazing, compassionate and brilliant people. I have become connected from it. It has restored part of me that was gone. It has let me accomplish small, meaningful things that I wouldn’t get to do otherwise.

End of Interview

Alex is trying to make it as a comedian and writer. He has done 13 full seasons and 2 half seasons of commercial fishing. He also has an Associate of Arts Degree, and a handful of marine certifications, including marine firefighting. He has one unpublished book of adventures and a second book in the works. He’s currently working on a third book for men that breaks down masculinity and capitalism into ways that anyone can pick up. The last section of which is a guide to understanding women. His ultimate goal is to share as much insight and entertainment with as many people as he can. Long live the working class!

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Saturday, October 12, 2019


Here’s my problem. I want to believe in God and religion. I do. I want the certainty that comes along with it. I also want the comfort in knowing that when I die, I could be reunited with the ones I love. But I can’t. I’ve tried. I have prayed to God for years to help make me believe. But all I’ve ever received back is silence. Which can mean only one of two things, so far as I can tell. That I am either damned and have been from birth, or, and more likely, that God doesn’t exist.
I tried to be a religious person. The impulse lasted approximately one year before it one day vanished. I went to sleep one night and when I awoke the next morning the capacity to believe was gone. It simply wasn't there anymore.
The way I look at it is that I didn’t have the talent to believe. I’ve always had a hard time getting past the obvious fiction of the whole thing. Having grown up in relative poverty, religion held complete irrelevance to my life. I had no time for it and the religious leaders had nothing to say about it either and if they did it was only to say that suffering, on the whole, was a good thing. Which only infuriated me. Which is probably one of the reasons I was so angry as a young man. To a large extent I still am. As a result I lost all respect for any type of authority. Which has both served me as well as handicapped me in life.
Religion proved to me that authority was impotent when faced with real problems. So my eventual atheism had as much to do with human reason, as it did with a rejection of authority itself. But, digging deeper, I realize now, that my eventual atheism, had just as much to do with a rejection of family itself.
My Dad’s side of the family were a very religious clan. They honestly used to scare me. They are, in a word, fanatics. Even today they are more like relics from another time than actual people. Curiosities meant to be displayed and gawked at by foreign tourists.
They eschew television, makeup, short-sleeve shirts, jewelry, pants, any form of entertainment outside of the church, up to and including, and especially, books.
I always felt looked down upon whenever I was around them. Because even though I was a part of their family I was still separated from them by my mother, and more importantly, by my mothers religion.
My mother belonged to a different denomination. She is a member of the Old Regular Baptist church, Indian Bottom Association, while they belonged to the Holiness church, which is a branch of Pentecostalism.
As a boy I can remember plenty of times being dragged to those old camp meetings where they worshiped under a tin roof with sawdust on a dirt floor, high upon an old strip mining site. The shouting, the hysterics, and for me, the confusion and fear.
My father, earlier in his life, had previously belonged to the Holiness church, converting and then joining my mothers church only after they were married. This infuriated his mother of course, whom I have heard, on more than one occasion, scold him by telling him that he, “Once knew good, but has now strayed.”
Once my mother found out about one of these exchanges she too was upset. Mostly because my father hadn’t bothered to defend her and let his mother talk about their sons mother in front of his children in such a way. I’ve overheard many such conversations however, conversations that I won’t recount here.
And so gradually, over the intervening years, I came to hate that side of the family. Admittedly, hatred may be too strong of a word. But I did stand against them. I did not wish to be like them in any way, shape, or form and so naturally atheism was as far from where they stood as I could get.
So I ran from them. I ran from sports. I ran from conservatism, from anything that might link me to them either familially, culturally or otherwise. This I think played the biggest role as to why I can’t believe, even though I never really believed to begin with. And then, of course, after a time, I soon discovered philosophy and the arguments against religion gave me a more solid foundation to stand on. Reason alone had finally pushed me across the dividing line I had been toeing for so long and I credit Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion, for giving me that final push.
In response to all of this, several people, i.e. family, have said to me that my disbelief is only the result of “hasty conclusions” and is nothing more than a sure sign of, not only “my foolishness,” but of “my own vanity.” I don’t deny these charges. I have weaknesses in my personality and pride is certainly one of them. My conclusion, however, is that man created God in his imagination when he realized his deficiencies, limitations and shortcomings. In this way he got the courage he needed to face all the trying circumstances he encountered and was finally able to meet all dangers that might occur in his life and was also able to restrain his outbursts in both prosperity and affluence. We carved an idol out of fear and called it God.
As uncomfortable a thought as this might be to some people, it should still be preferable to the alternative. To accept it, means to become an adult.
But, atheism, is really a forced position if you think about it. Atheism simply means a disbelief in a God which by default makes you an atheist. But there aren’t specific words for a disbelief in anything else. There is no term for someone who doesn’t believe in leprechauns for example. I just don’t believe. Why does my disbelief need to have a special label attached to it that also brings along with it so much ideological baggage?
Nevertheless, my last conception of God, right before I lost the capacity to believe altogether, was in Spinoza's God, also sometimes referred to as Pantheism, which basically means that God is everything, God is nature itself. And once I realized how ridiculous it was to think of God in such a way, once you define him to mean literally everything, what meaning does it still have? And what happens when we drop the word God altogether? Nothing. Everything stays the same. The sun still rises. Gravity still holds me to the earth. God I found, in the end, was just another meaningless hypothesis.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Review: The Chain

The Chain by Adrian McKinty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for my children.” Parents love saying this, and a few of them might even mean it. But in his latest thriller, Adrian McKinty, will test this assertion in ways you could never envision.
Those old enough to remember chain emails will likely remember the ridiculous, laughable threats that came with them. Now imagine they’re real, but instead of being told to forward an email to a dozen friends or suffer a breakup in the next week, you have to commit a serious crime, ruining someone else’s life in the process.
Rachel is expected to do just this, after she receives a phone call early one morning, telling her that her daughter Kylie has been kidnapped. To secure Kylie’s release Rachel must transfer the ransom money into an account and kidnap someone else’s child until they pay up and do the same. No Police can be contacted and each link in the chain must fulfill their obligation and perpetuate the despair. Those that break the chain, find their lives cut short by unfortunate events, as will the links on either side of them. Thus, the nefarious creator of the chain remains protected and makes each link harder to trace. As Rachel’s world implodes we follow her every move as she attempts to secure her daughter’s safety, whatever the cost.
All crime novels are, to a certain extent, morality tales, but this one is more so than most. Because beneath it’s surface, The Chain, is quite clearly the work of a philosophically minded thinker. Mckinty even has Rachel teach a class on existentialism. He also mentions Sarah Bakewell’s superb 2016 book, At the Existentialist CafĂ©. He wants the reader to understand that what they’re reading is existentialism in action, with Rachel defining herself moment by moment with each choice she makes. Read in this way, it’s a thriller on more levels than one. And one of the most chilling things about the book, is the insouciant way in which Rachel does whatever the logic of the situation demands. The book forces the reader to ask again and again: what would I do in this situation?
But because there are no moral certainties, we all inevitably lapse into error whenever we begin to think in moral terms. Nothing in the physical universe tells us what makes an action good or bad. The world is silent, it just doesn’t speak to us in normative situations. We are alone. Thus, all of our moral values are purely chimerical. All we are left with are choices. The hard part is learning how to live with them.
“I wanted to take a person who breaks all these codes of morals – in every conceivable code of moral philosophy, she does the wrong thing,” says McKinty, who studied philosophy at Oxford. “In terms of Kantian ethics it’s the wrong thing; in terms of utilitarian ethics it’s the wrong thing; in terms of Aristotelian ethics it’s the wrong thing. It’s the wrong thing to do and yet our instinct as a reader is, I’d do it too. We’d all do this even though it’s horrible.”
We have a natural resistance, however, to the idea that "ordinary" people could bear the commission, not to mention the psychological consequences, of such atrocities without going mad. And yet they do, which is both alarming and, in the context of this story, utterly plausible.
Mckinty raises a good many rudimentary philosophical questions and does so starkly. What is necessary? What is inevitable? What is justifiable? What does it mean to be a moral person? But, while interesting questions to explore, he fails to examine them as attentively as he sets them in place. Yet, still manages to tell a thoroughly absorbing story of choices made, both well and badly, and consequences stalled, evaded, suffered and escaped.
Whereas the majority of most novels are able to knit up the complex sleeve of circumstances they create, albeit, more engagingly than they unravel it. McKinty, like a lot of writers who have a great idea, suddenly seems not to know how to finish it, and the book disappoints a bit at the end, but not nearly enough to undo its mesmerizingly unsettling effects. But the climax is still, nevertheless, a poignant miscalculation. The premise, however, is by far the strongest aspect of the book and it’s the premise that will get people to pick it up in the first place. It kept my attention pretty consistently throughout, and the plot moves forward at a moderately consistent pace. It’s a gripping narrative really.
On the other hand, is this a great piece of literature? Of course not. But it does deliver on its promise, which is more than I can say about a lot of books within the same genre. Just go ahead and read the book. I don’t know how else to say it. As a writer, it’s one of those books that makes you hate the author, because you know you’ll never write as well as him. It’s a beautiful, challenging, disturbing, and, oddly enough, uplifting novel. My review, however, is none of these things.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Top 5 Picks for October

This is the greatest horror novel ever written in my opinion. King produces a visceral corporeal disgust in the reader.

This is a great coming of age novel, if you happened to have come of age with Charles Manson as a best friend.

More than just about making a deal with the Devil. It’s really about finding your way in the world and what the world demands in return.

It’s just so well written. Blatty really took his time with this one and it shows.

Rice creates an entire theology concerning the Devil and his back story. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book Review: White

White by Bret Easton Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mention “millennial” to anyone over 40 and the word “entitlement” will immediately be thrown back at you within seconds. Ellis refers to millennials as Generation Wuss, which sounds a little like something your boomer Uncle made up, but this is just what it feels like to be young now. “Not only are we screwed,” as Michael Hobbes has written, “we have to listen to lectures about our laziness and our participation trophies from the people who screwed us.”
White, originally titled, White Privileged Male, is a provocative commentary on the changes in society that Ellis has observed and also laments. He makes a few gestures at the memoir genre: passages about his childhood as a rich, unsupervised white kid growing up in Sherman Oaks, where he developed a taste for gruesome horror flicks; the surprise success of his debut novel, Less Than Zero, which he started writing when he was still a teenager and saw published while a junior at Bennington; the cocaine-hazed Manhattan where Ellis, a member of the literary Brat Pack, wrote American Psycho between benders in the late ‘80s. These sections, I refuse to call them essays or chapters, are serviceable and are of mild interest to fans who might wish to know what went wrong with the film adaptation of Less Than Zero, or simply how it might feel to do a lot of cocaine.
What Ellis is essentially arguing for, is our right to admit to our own selfishness, our own bitterness, and our questionable longings. He’s arguing for irony as an antidote to the outrage machine that keeps many of us in a perpetual anti-intellectual tizzy. As a way of achieving what he seems to oxymoronically idealize as a form of empathetic detachment.
But what Ellis seems to have wanted to accomplish more than anything else with White, was to browbeat, good liberal west coast Democrats, who are still hysterically upset about Donald Trump’s election. The Left cannot help but to continue to act like horrified schoolteachers, lecturing us about a very, very bad man; that nobody should play with. It’s a childish fascism really, but fascism nevertheless.
And he’s right. A self-righteous moral superiority has destroyed a faction of the Left. A desire to remain a child forever, is the defining aspect in American life now. The reactions to harsh economic realities have caused young people to want to retreat into a world where that harshness is hidden; safe spaces are a surrogate mother. It’s a symptom of economic insecurity and precariousness. Identity politics has become a discourse where what can be said is only what should be said – a tyranny that reduces the complicated contradictory human being to a “virtuous robot.”
But I also think Ellis, and other commentators like him, miss a very important point about the Lefts hatred of Donald Trump. Because I’ve become convinced that this seething hatred is symptomatic. It’s really apropos of an omnipresent hatred of the lower classes, in particular the working class.
Trump is essentially what happens when someone from the working class wins the lottery. Trump even speaks like he’s from the working class. Preferring to communicate through “rough” or “offensive” language at times. His off the cuff remark, “Grab them by the pussy,’’ for example, is constantly brought up as a sure sign of, not only his misogyny, but his ultimate lack of sophistication.
And yet, if you take a walk through any impoverished neighborhood, you will hear the word “pussy” a lot. A lot. It’s just how some people talk. “Suck my dick," a man will say jauntily to his friends. Or angrily to his friends. Or randomly to some women passing on the street. “Fucking pussy” is a popular phrase too, as in “you’re a or "I need some.” Street talk isn’t something that poor Americans came up with magically a year after the Pilgrims landed. It’s a product of environments in which everyone’s always posturing just a bit, just in case. Being poor, in the country especially, requires a bit of toughness. Out of necessity poor people walk around being just a bit rough and tumble, a bit sharp-edged. Our neighborhoods don’t have a place for weakness in it and it makes us hard like warriors. A lot of the time it means absolutely nothing. But I’ve come to believe that it’s the reason most people hate the way Donald Trump speaks. He speaks the language of the working class.
While White was Ellis’s first essay collection, and appears to have been written solely as a way to trap anyone who dislikes it, the truth of the matter is that, White, isn’t likely to trap or trigger anyone. There’s nothing challenging about the rather banal opinions he expresses. For me the book’s only value comes when he delves into film criticism, where he actually does offer some insight. It makes one regret that he gave up writing novels in favor of podcasting, writing screenplays, and, according to Ellis, getting into arguments with rich liberals at dinner parties. So reading this book as anything other than a sustained wail into some aging Gen-Z created, nihilistic void, is a wasted effort.
However, does this mean that Ellis is an arrogant little twit with no self-awareness about his lack of knowledge of the subjects he covers, or that his novels are worthless? Or even that he’s a racist? Of course not, but I will say that the idea that artistry lies in being able to express insights one doesn’t hold personally is, unfortunately, on the verge of disappearing from American cultural life.