Only about six weeks behind on these, no big deal. If you got a gift card for Christmas maybe you’ll find something in here to use it on.

The Last Tourist – Olen Steinhauer
My latest entry from a recent list of best espionage novels. I knew this came from a series, but it got tremendous reviews so I figured it could stand on its own. It was only after I finished it that I saw I had read the first book in the series nine years ago. Whoops.

A group of rogue former CIA assassins have joined forces with some of the most powerful businesses in the world. Their aim: to get around international boundaries, regulations, and laws so these mega companies can do whatever the hell they want.

Milo Weaver, who once led these CIA “tourists,” discovers the plot and works with intelligence officials from other countries in an attempt to expose and stop this plan.

Ohhh, there are twists and turns and double crosses. Things are messy in the end. As you would expect. Solid read but I don’t know that it is a great one. It is truly frightening to think of Zuckerberg with assassins, though.

The Night the Lights Went Out – Drew Magary
I’ve shared a lot of Drew Magary’s work here over the years: posts from sites like Deadspin, pieces from GQ and other magazines, plus write ups from his three novels and one book about parenthood. And his Twitter presence is one of the best.

In December 2018, Magary collapsed in a bar after a Deadspin Christmas party. No one saw him collapse but he was quickly discovered, bleeding profusely and vomiting. Paramedics were called. Thinking he was just wasted, they stabilized him and took him to a hospital. In the ER, the doctors who initially saw him also thought he was just drunk and didn’t investigate his injuries.

The thing is, he was not drunk. He had drank one, maybe two, beers all night. Fortunately his editor at Deadspin is married to a doctor, who rode to the hospital with Magary. He insisted the doctors take a CT scan of Magary’s head. When the scan was performed, it showed massive internal bleeding and they rushed him to surgery. He would have likely died had the CT scan not been performed.

Magary spent the next two weeks in an induced coma, allowing his brain to heal. When he woke, he remembered nothing of the episode.

Since he has no memories of his collapse and time in a coma, the first quarter of the book is an oral history of it, told by his friends who were at the party with him, his family who watched him suffer in the hospital, and the doctors who treated him. It is a truly frightening read.

Once his memories return, Magary takes us through his brutal recovery process. His head trauma caused issues to his balance, senses of smell and taste, vision, and took a toll on his overall mental health. By Christmas 2019 he might not have been back to normal, but he was approaching a new normal where he could again function as well as he probably ever will.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan
I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I’m almost positive I’ve brought it home from the library before and just didn’t get to it. It was the perfect book to mostly knock-out while in Hawaii.

Finnegan, a long-time writer for The New Yorker, shares his life as a surfer. From his pre-teen days in California, through high school in both Cali and Hawaii, he grew up in the glory days of surfing. Running in the counter-culture of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Finnegan set aside a normal life for traveling around the world to surf some of the planet’s most remote waves. Along the way he taught in Apartheid-era South Africa, working to educate Black students on ways they could undermine the system. When he eventually forged a career as a journalist in the States, he still found ways to surf in amazing places.

This book won’t be for everyone. It can get tedious hearing him describe wave after wave, especially when, as a non-surfer, I have no context for what the hell he’s talking about. But I loved his adventurous spirit, and how he eventually translated that into being a reporter and writer.

A Very Merry Dunder Mifflin Christmas – Christine Kopaczewski
An impulse grab from the library’s holiday section. Thank goodness it only took about 20 minutes to read, because it’s kind of trash. It pretty much just summarizes the various Christmas episodes of The Office. It also squeezes in some lame quizzes and recipes for items served at Dunder Mifflin parties.

Empire of Pain – Patrick Radden Keefe
A thorough and pretty amazing accounting of the Sackler family, the force behind Purdue Pharma and OxyContin, one of the drugs most responsible for our opioid crisis.

Keefe lays out how the Sackler family basically invented the concept of modern, pharmaceutical advertising. How, once they stumbled into the world of pain killers, they totally transformed the company to push massive amounts of the pills into the market. How they never fully tested OxyContin, and hid the truth about its effects from regulators and physicians. How they turned a blind eye to “pill mills” that were cranking out fake prescriptions because they fattened the company’s bottom line.

At its core, the story is a case study in how big business, with near endless resources at its disposal, can use loopholes and flaws in a system designed to protect consumers to actually protect itself from ever being held accountable for its misdeeds.

I had not followed any of the investigations into Perdue Pharma or the Sacklers closely, so didn’t have a great idea of who they were before I read this. I suppose there are some folks out there who will view them as victims in all of this. I tend to think they are straight-up evil.

A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
My 14th annual re-reading.

Normal Sport – Kyle Porter
Porter, who covers golf online for CBS Sports, slapped together this hilarious summary of the past year in professional golf.

The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s – Andy Greene
A very good oral history of The Office. Worth the time for any fan of the program. It also made me recall that I really didn’t watch the last two years of the show. Doesn’t seem like I missed much. I have watched probably 20 episodes of the classic years over the past few days.