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Tung has commented on (40) products.

The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall
The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

Tung, April 28, 2015

(Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this book for free for review purposes.)

It took me a few weeks to pick up this book after receiving it, but once I started reading it, I basically finished it within 24 hours. That's compelling writing!

The author was nearing 40, stuck in a dead-end position as an adjunct at a college with little to no hope of landing a tenure-track position, when a mixed martial arts studio opened up across the street. Facing something of a mid-life crisis, he decided to train toward a real MMA fight and to write a book about the experience. The book ended up being a bit different than what he had expected, because the MMA training experience wasn't what he expected.

As other reviewers have noted, this book probably wouldn't have worked very well as a pure memoir. The way that Gottschall doles out bits and pieces of his own experience with discussions of the history of dueling, studies on innate gender preferences for competitive versus cooperative play, and other relevant factors, makes for fascinating reading.

Finally, it's worth noting that I've never watched a complete MMA fight and have only seen a few highlights on Sports Center. I haven't watched much boxing, either, just - of all matches to pick - the Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson bout, and only then because my roommate had HBO and the fight was free. Yet, despite my general lack of interest in competitive fighting (as opposed to action movies and TV shows, which I love), I was utterly enthralled by this book.
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The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
The Word Exchange

Tung, October 24, 2014

At its heart, Alena Graedon's "The Word Exchange" is a subtle bio-terrorism near-future thriller about the "word flu" pandemic that causes its victims to start to speak/write unintelligibly. More horrifyingly, the transmission vectors appear to include the popular "Meme" devices (like advanced smartphones). I say subtle because this is not a "24"-type of story. There's not much physical action. Rather, the suspense stems more from a growing feeling of paranoia, and an intriguing mystery about the disappearance of the main character's father.

I will say that at times the novel got hard to read, as the nonsense words used by the infected were quite jarring. After a while, though, it became something of a game to try to figure out what they were trying to say.

(I received a complimentary advanced reading copy of this book for review purposes.)
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Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing by Erin Beresini
Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing

Tung, October 22, 2014

I read a lot of books about running, and I'm pretty obsessed about running myself, but I'm not really into obstacle course racing (OCR); I much prefer straight road racing (except for those zombie vs survivor races). That said, I really loved this book! As other reviewers have noted, it's kind of like Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run," except about OCR, which is to say, a melding of the author's own sporting experience with gonzo journalism about colorful, almost mythic characters in that same sport. And while the subject matter of "Born to Run" is more to my liking, I think this book is even better than "Born to Run."

Author Erin Beresini really gets into the guys who basically started the whole OCR craze, the founders of Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race. Neither is perfect, and she lays out the good and the bad so that you get a good sense of who they are. She also profiles a couple of the famous participants, including one guy who got his entire back tattooed with the Tough Mudder logo in exchange for a lifetime pass to Tough Mudder events. Beresini doesn't shy away from the high-profile wrongful death litigation over participants who died during OCR events, though she also puts the fatality risk in context by comparing the number of triathlon deaths over the same number of participants (triathlons are riskier?!?).

She's a charming writer, and also I never felt like I was being sold the "perfect" way to do something, unlike "Born to Run," which I think makes some implausible claims about the benefits of forefoot striking. (I run with a midfoot strike, not the dreaded heel strike, and I indeed don't have any knee or hip problems, but I have had minor lower leg/foot injuries which are consistent with the medical research about front/mid-foot striking; "Born to Run" made it sound like if you just switched away from heel striking you won't have any running injuries.) I don't have the urge to do any Tough Mudder or Spartan Race events, though.
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Happiness Ltd. by Michael Mcghee
Happiness Ltd.

Tung, August 20, 2014

(I received a complimentary copy of this novel directly from the publisher at the author's request.)

"Happiness Ltd" is a book of allegorical ideas, not unlike "1984" as other reviewers have noted (or perhaps Huxley's "Brave New World"), though it's not quite as unrelentingly bleak as Orwell's masterpiece. This novel posits a near-future where capitalism has reached its ultimate point - a single mega-corporation (with multiple divisions, such as news, entertainment, consumer products, etc.) that controls all of society save for those who've dropped out - i.e., the Disenfranchised. The main character is a rising start with the mega-corporation, tasked with stimulating increasing demand for its products, which is how society is kept placated. One evening, however, the protagonist meets a disenfranchised woman who offers him a massage to ease his back pain, and from there he becomes enchanted with her. This, naturally, does not please his supervisors.

The novel was chock full of social commentary done with a sly, subtly sarcastic tone with a lot of allusions to pop culture events in our recent past. I enjoyed trying to spot all of these. The actual plot of the novel was a bit thin, but this is a novel of ideas, not plot. I'd say that the modern novel it most reminded me of was Matt Ruff's "Sewer Gas Electric."
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Identity by Ingrid Thoft

Tung, August 17, 2014

I enjoyed Ingrid Thoft's debut novel (LOYALTY) and gave it a 4-star review. Her follow-up, IDENTITY, is a worthy successor and even better: leaner, more suspenseful, and a more interesting and topical mystery. The protagonist, private investigator Josefina "Fina" Ludlow, is just as much of a smart-ass as in the first novel, but for whatever reason, her rough edges seem utterly charming here (whereas they were mildly annoying last time around).

The primary storyline concerns a pain-in-the-ass client, a single mom who wants to break the confidentiality of the sperm donation that helped her conceive her older daughter. Fina's father, a renowned but somewhat despised plaintiff's lawyer in Boston, tells the client that the case is a loser but is willing to proceed. At the same time, however, they have Fina see if she can identify the donor through means other than a lawsuit. She succeeds, but a day later, the donor has been murdered. Who did it?

There's a manageable-sized cast of suspects, with clues and red herrings tossed out along the way. There's a bit of action but it's mostly Fina's investigation, which means a lot of talking and back-talking. It builds up toward a satisfying conclusion.
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