Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August Reading Wrap-Up

August is (just about) over so it's time for another reading wrap-up. Before I get into the stats I wanted to a) direct you over to another awesome blog post and b) write my own two-cents about the topic.

Greg over at The New Dork Review wrote a post responding to an op-ed piece written by Robin Black. Black is angry at President Obama for not reading enough female authors. There's some ranting and raving and the tone  suggests that if Obama and other men would just read some lady authors then there would be no more war or AIDS or having to wake up early when all you want to do is sleep. As I said, Greg wrote a great post responding to this and he sums it up nicely: We read for fun, not to be fair. This is true and content is king. Please keep that in mind for the next paragraph: content is king.

However, I clearly think there is some importance to the author's gender, race, nationality, etc or I would track all that stuff. It is important to break out of your literary comfort zone and read without a safety net. If all you ever read are male authors, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to read something by a woman. Now, very importantly, this doesn't mean read just anything. Because to suggest reading any book by a woman author implies that they're all the same. Since I'm not a hack comedian from the early '90s, I'm not going to tell you "women write like this" and "men write like this". Writers are naturally going to bring their own experiences to their writing. Whether you believe that men and women are from different planets or that men and women are exactly the same and any differences are just a societal construct, the fact is being different means they are going to have different experiences and thus bring a different point of view to their writing. This isn't just for the author's gender, but also race, religion, ethnicity, anything. This doesn't mean you have to have a perfectly balanced cross-section of authors. All you have to do is decide for yourself what's your comfort zone and what's outside of it. But above everything else, read what's good regardless of who wrote it. Content. Is. King.

Now, stats time!
Number of books read

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1990s - 40%
2000s - 60%

Not a lot of variety this month. At least not in those stats, although 2 of the books I read, Hogdoggin' and Tokyo Vice are ones I probably would not have picked up on my own. So some variety, not a lot of diversity. Whoops.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Running Motivation

Photo Credit
For years I've hated running. I think it was mostly out of spite for being made to do it during gym class. I told a teacher at I would run if I was being chased but didn't see the point in just going around in circles. I played a decent amount of sports when I was younger, but I seemed to find the positions that didn't require a lot of running. I was a pitcher for softball and a goalie for soccer. So it's come as a surprise to myself and those that know me that I want to start running. As soon as I'm not being made to do something, I have no problem doing it. Because I'm a brat.

While I may want to start running, I still need some sort of motivation. I figured I'd just load the iPod up with some music and go with that. When I used to have access to treadmills (one of the many things I miss about college was free gym access) I would read while running. I got a lot of homework done that way. However, seeing how I no longer have free access to a treadmill (I'm too cheap to pay for a gym membership) it seemed that reading and running will no longer be an option. But then, Jennifer from Soy Chai Bookshelf mentioned she runs to audiobooks. She said it helps keep her motivated to run until she finishes a chapter. Sounds like a genius idea to me! And even though I want to run (instead of having someone force me to run) I still could use that kind of motivation.

I spent last weekend hiding from the hurricane at my mom's and she just happens to have a few of the Harry Potter books on CD, so that's what I'll be starting with. Has anyone else tried this? How'd it work for you?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are you saying...that the human race was created to irritate Satan?

Practical Demonkeeping is Christopher Moore's first novel and it shows. All of Moore's humor and quirkiness are there but the story itself is rough. Rough as in "could be improved upon to make a more polished finished product" and not "deals with difficult topics".

Practical Demonkeeping tells the story of Travis who accidentally said an incantation to call up the demon Catch. Travis is supposedly Catch's master but controlling a hell demon is a lot of work. Travis and Catch travel to the little town of Pine Cove which is filled with the typical off-beat collection of Moore characters, "winos, neo-pagans and deadbeat Lotharios" as the back cover describes. The Pine Cove-ians have to work together with the djinn (genie) Gian Hen Gian to send Catch back to hell, given his propensity for eating people. Those of you who are Moore fans may remember Catch from his appearance in my favorite Moore book (and favorite book overall) Lamb, and officer Alphonse Rivera from the Bloodsucking Fiends books and Coyote Blue. A few of the other characters and the locations show up elsewhere, but I haven't read those yet.

This has all of the makings of a typical Moore offering and yet it fell short for me. There are great moments, the characters are colorful but not caricatures (at least not all of them) and the plot is unique and funny, but I felt like I was reading something that was unfinished. Maybe it only felt unfinished because I've read other Moore and I know what he can do. It's interesting to see how he's grown as an author, but I'm glad this wasn't the first book of his that I read because I don't know that I would have gone for his others.

If you like Moore and you've read all his other stuff, check this out. If you haven't read him before, start with Lamb or Fool or A Dirty Job first.

Title quote from page 43

Moore, Christopher. Practical Demonkeeping. Harper Collins, 1992.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NPR's Top 100 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books

NPR held its annual reader's survey and asked people to select their top 10 favorite sci-fi and fantasy books. I may not be a devoted sci-fi/fantasy fan, but I am a fan of giving my opinion on things so I played along and picked my favorite books from their list. If I was good at planning ahead I might have recorded what I picked. But I'm not. Hell, I had forgotten about the survey until Lindsay over at The Blue Fairy's Bookshelf reminded me.

So in the interest of me talking about myself some more, in the guise of discussing book things, here is the list they came up with. The bolded ones are the ones I read as well. Or if you just want to see the list you can go to this link.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

21 out of 100.  About what I expected. I guess it makes sense too that most of the one's I've read are near the top of the list and they become more few and far between as we go down.

Update: Apologies to everyone that left a comment. Apparently there is a problem with IntenseDebate that if you have the Mobile site set up and someone left a comment through there and it erased all of the other comments. IntenseDebate says they can't get them back, despite my begging.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Journalism is always about the results, not the effort

It makes sense to take a book recommendation from someone who reads a lot. Having read more books means you have more in your arsenal to pick from and those listening to your recommendation know that you've seen a lot and can pick out the good from the bad. And yet I keep taking book recommendations from my brother who is very much a non-reader. There is some logic here so hear me out. My brother doesn't often read. There are other things he'd rather spend his free time doing, so when he tells me he has a book I should check out I listen. Because this was a book that caught his attention before he wandered back to his usual pastime.

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein is not something I would have picked up on my own. It's a memoir (eh) about a crime reporter (alright) in Japan (I'm listening). Now my brother may have gotten me to pick up the book in the first place but the opening grabbed me. Jake is being told by a yakuza enforcer "Either erase the story, or we'll erase you. And maybe your family. But we'll do them first, so you learn your lesson before you die." We're on page one and Mr. Adelstein is already in a world of trouble. Adelstein then jumps back and tells how he first became a reporter at the Yomiuri Shinbun. The first two thirds of the book introduces you to the world of crime reporting in Japan and feels like individual episodes as he discusses the different crimes he covered. And I know this is positioned as a memoir and I can't say I have any real reason to disbelieve any encounter, but there were definitely points that it felt like Adelstein wasn't going to let the truth get in the way of a good story. Or perhaps it's just his talent as a writer because there were scenes I could picture as a movie. I could see the lighting, the angles, the music, without having anything spelled out.

Weaved within these early reporting exploits are explanations of Japanese culture. If you can't tell by his name, Jake Adelstein is not a native of Japan. He's Jewish-American and constantly teased, sometimes in jest, sometimes not, about being a gaijin, a non-Japanese. Sometimes this works to his advantage as he gathers information. He talks about Japan with a real respect for his adopted home without ever glossing over the uglier parts. And by working the vice and organized crime beats, eventually investigating human trafficking, he's certainly seen his share of the darker side of Japan.

For the first two thirds I couldn't put the book down. It's hard to say exactly what it is, but it had a quality that drew me in and had me thinking about it even when I wasn't reading. By the time he starts investigating human trafficking and as we get to the investigation that lead to a price on his head, the storytelling felt like it was taking a back seat to facts. I was no longer framing scenes for a movie, I no longer thought things seemed too good to be real. Things were slowly building from the start of the book to that yakuza meeting and then all of a sudden we were past that point and I had whiplash trying to figure out how we went by it so fast. The yakuza crime boss Goto didn't want Jake to write the story that ended up becoming Tokyo Vice. It was such a key moment and we sped right by the build up to him finding the story, Goto threatening him, and then his investigation where he finds out what the real story is that Goto was trying to keep quiet. The end of the book is still interesting but it didn't grab me like the beginning did. Which makes no sense because you'd think having the yakuza after him to keep him silent while he tries to hurry and write this story as a kind of insurance policy would be the more interesting part.

I could see this eventually being made into a movie. Or a mini-series. It's has an interesting story with characters you care about, that lost momentum right when it should have been gaining it. Overall I liked the book and I'm very glad I read it. Especially because it's something I would have passed over on my own. It's too bad Adelstein isn't a a fiction writer. I'd read some of his fiction if he ever decides to write it.

Update! My brother sent me a video of an interview Jake Adelstein did on The Daily Show. I feel he gives a bit of the ending away, but then again, it's not supposed to be a twist ending so I suppose it doesn't matter.

Title quote from page 47

Adelstein, Jake. Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat. Vintage Books, 2009.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's a failing of mine that I persist in bringing logic to movies where it is not wanted

I'm a fan of Roger Ebert's movie reviews. I can't remember when I started reading them, but according to Gmail I signed up for his weekly emails* in May of 2006. I know it was sometime back in high school I started reading his reviews because that's when I first heard about IMDB. I would look up movies I had seen, go through the trivia and check out the external reviews. Ebert's were usually at the top of the list. I like his reviewing style. I wish I could review like him. So when Amazon was running a special sale on a number of their Kindle books and Ebert's Your Movie Sucks was on the list for just $1.99, I went for it. Actually it was a friend that told me about the sale and the book, because my love is not really a secret.

Your Movie Sucks, like his earlier book I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, is a collection of reviews about the worst movies he saw. I haven't read Hated, Hated but from what I can tell You Suck covers the awful movies that came out since Hated, Hated was published. His positive reviews are good, but he can really let loose when the movie is awful. While I may like reading these reviews, I only read them under a couple circumstances: I don't plan on seeing the movie, I've already seen the movie. I know, it doesn't seem like I'm really getting anything out of the review that way. I'm clearly doing this wrong. But I don't want my experience with the movie to be too tainted by someone else's opinion. So I'll look at his star rating, I'll read the first paragraph, but otherwise I don't want to see the details of why he hated or loved something, for fear I'll spend the movie looking for those items instead of deciding for myself. Luckily the movies in the book fall into those two categories (I've seen or I won't see), so I could just enjoy his exuberance in describing exactly how bad these movies are.

The title of the book was inspired by the movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. A reviewer named Patrick Goldstein wrote a negative review of DB:EG. Can you believe it? Because apparently Rob Schneider couldn't and he took out full-page ads in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter attacking Goldstein for his (fairly tame) review, threatening to beat him up and claiming that his lack of awards** especially his lack of a Pulitzer Prize means he shouldn't be reviewing movies. Ebert responded to Schnieder's ad: "As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks." (location 216).

Ebert has a talent for some scathing one-liners and they are arguably the best part of the book, so I figured I'd share a few of them with you:
Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way. 
The movie [Bride of the Wind] has three tones: overwrought, boring, laughable.  
Charlie's Angels is eye candy for the blind.
I liked his reviews even when I didn't agree with them. I happen to like Wet Hot American Summer but I appreciate the fact that he wrote his review as a song. If you're not really a fan of Ebert, I wouldn't bother with the book. All of the reviews are online so you can get to them without buying this. However, if you are a fan, the book is entertaining and puts some of his best reviews about the worst movies all in one place.

*The emails include the opening paragraph from 3 reviews for current movies and links to the full story. And for whatever reason IMDB has been falling down on getting the links up to his reviews so for the last year or so I usually go through my email to find the review.

**Goldstein has a few awards. I guess you can't be too surprised Rob Schneider didn't check that first.

Title quote from Location 4610, referring to the movie Romeo Must Die.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Childhood Books

It's Tuesday again so here I am with another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week they're letting us pick whatever top ten list we want. I wish I was clever enough to think up not only an interesting but that I can actually come up with items for the list. So instead of coming up with my own, I'll use an old topic The B&B came up with that I never did. So here are my top 10 Favorite Childhood books

1. The Golden Book of Sharks and Whales by Kathleen Daly, illustrated by James Spence - This was my absolute favorite book when I was little. I can still quote the second page of the book. I don't know why I can quote that one and not the first page, but whatever. The shark section was always my favorite, though oddly enough I'm now terrified of sharks. Oh fear, you won't be swayed by logic will you?

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl - Roald Dahl was one of my favorite authors growing up and this was one of my favorite books. Little girl who is super smart and loves to read gets even with her rotten family and then the evil headmistress. I wished I could control things with my mind. Come to think of it, I still do. Any time I'm on one side of the room and my phone/remote/whatever is on the other.

3. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sacher - I loved this book and read lots of Sacher's stuff because I loved this one so much. It was a kooky story about a bunch of strange kids in a weird school. One girl contemplated selling her toes to the recess monitor because she wasn't using them, a boy who actually turned out to be a dead rat and the girl who brought in a hobo for show and tell. Like I said, it's strange kids at a weird school and I loved it. Now I need to raid my mom's house to see if I can find my copy of it.

4. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster - I don't care if the pun is the lowest form of humor, I love it and this book makes liberal use of them. Milo travels through a mysterious tollbooth to the magical Kingdom of Wisdom, where he has to help rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason and show King Azaz the Unabridged, ruler of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician, ruler of Digitopolis, that both letters and numbers are equally important. It's a great fantasy adventure story and now I want to find my copy of that book.

5. Dr. Seuss - I'm just going to list out the guy instead of any one of his books, because there's no way I could choose just one. I still love Dr. Seuss's books. They're simple, colorful stories that deal with larger issues than most children's books touch on. I mean The Butter Battle Book is about an arms race between neighboring villages, that could possibly end in the destruction of everyone. And of course that distinctive artwork.

6. D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Mythology by Ingrid d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire - My dad got me this book when I was little. Greek myths told in a simple but not dumbed down way, and with lots of illustrations. It was a great introduction to the Greek myths. My dad said you have to know Greek myths and the Bible if you want to understand English language literature so he was getting me started early.

7. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien - OK, in this case the movie by Don Bluth and the Disney Defectors, came before the book for me. But I still loved this book when I finally got around to reading it. Medical experiences, super smart rats and a dark secret. The stuff children's books are made of.

8. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, illustrations by Stephen Gammell - Speaking of stuff for children, this book used to scare the hell out of me as a kid. But I still loved it. And it probably fueled my current love for urban legends and modern folklore. I have to give those illustrations a lot of credit for the fear. I bought a new set of those books when I was in college and those pictures are still terrifying. I just saw a new version of the books with illustrations by someone else and really, you're not getting the full experience if you're not getting Gammell's drawings.

9. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein - I had a couple other of Silverstein's poetry books, but this one was my first and my favorite. There are so many poems in there I can still recite. They were children's poetry that didn't condescend to children. "If you are a dreamer, come in..."

10. Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol - Looking back on it now, Brown could be pretty insufferable and smug but I loved trying to solve the case before checking on the answer. As smug as he was, he figured out the answer.

I'd like to add one more to the list but I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the book. I know, doesn't really make a strong case for a "childhood favorite" but I was never good with details. I did used to take it out of the library roughly a gazillion times and I remember making a diorama of it for a class. It was about a giant chicken that terrorized this village. Eventually they figure out how to defeat the chicken and presumably no one goes hungry anymore because they have giant chicken to eat. OK, so I can't remember the details, but I do remember that diorama and the fact that the images weren't super cartoony. Not realistic but more detailed than you'd expect for a kid's book. And I don't really remember learning a lesson other than giant chickens are terrifying and you should probably destroy it. So if anyone knows the name of that I will be your best-est friend if you share that title with me.

Look at that I made it all the way to 10! 10 1/2 even!

What are some of your favorite childhood books?

Monday, August 15, 2011

[There] was no after. Only an end

First and foremost, I want to thank Ben from Dead End Follies for this book. He described it as "very visceral crime fiction". I can't say I've read a lot of crime fiction but it sounded good and I trust a recommendation from him. Plus free!

Anthony Neil Smith's Hogdoggin' is the follow up to his book Yellow Medicine, which I've not yet read. However, I didn't actually realize this was a sequel until I started looking at reviews on Goodreads after I finished reading the book* so I can first say the book works without having read Yellow Medicine. Maybe I missed details or connections that would have been obvious had I read the first book but no matter. I was entertained anyway. "Hogdoggin'" is described as "a new backwoods sport in which Pit Bulls or Rotts were put into a pen with a mostly helpless hog. The dog would rip into the pig, and all the people had themselves a grand time watching the carnage" (location 883). The story follows a number of characters, with the point of view changing multiple times in each chapter. We primarily follow Bill Lafitte, former cop turned enforcer for a biker gang as he's called back to his old life and Franklin Rome, the ex-FBI agent that has been officially taken off the case and has made hunting down Lafitte his vigilante mission.

The book is violent. Smith lays it on you right away as we watch Steel God, the leader of the biker gang, deal with a member of his gang that's been ratting on him. It's not pretty. I'm certain I was pulling some ridiculous faces while I read this scene while trying to to picture it in too much detail. The violence isn't gratuitous. There's a lot of it but it serves the story. You even see why the various characters commit the violence they do, whether or not it was necessary. Some use violence as a last resort, some as that first handshake, but they all use it. With every page things go from bad to worse and each time you think that's it, things have to start getting better for these guys, the bottom falls out and things become even more hopeless.

My favorite character was Steel God, which probably doesn't say very positive things about me. He's one of those violence-as-a-handshake guys, the one who has no problem using violence. Normally I'm not a fan of violent characters, unless the violence couldn't be avoided. If that was all Smith did with Steel God there wouldn't be much to like about the guy. But if that's all Smith did the book overall wouldn't have been worth it. He's a smart guy and an excellent judge of character, especially those of the criminal bent. I didn't think much about the character at first until he was gone. As soon as he wasn't there I was disappointed I'd be following around these other non-Steel God characters.

As much as I like Steel God, Smith failed a bit for me with the female characters. They didn't quite work for me. They were close to being fully realized. He came so close but just didn't push the females past caricatures. All of the women have this Lady Macbeth vibe, manipulating the men in the life to get to the top. All of them. Except Lady Macbeth had more depth.
"[McKeown] could tell that Colleen was back there pulling the strings, feeding Nate questions, pushing her man to be more aggressive in dealing with the Feds. Good woman to have behind you, if you could stand it."
You could replace "Colleen" with almost any of the other female characters and change "Nate" to whatever guy they were near and it would still work. Even when you're getting a chapter from the woman's point of view I still don't know the why behind their actions.

To end this on a high note, I loved the ending. Loved it. However there might be some spoilers so here's your warning.
When I read the last line and realized that was it, there was no more, I laughed. Smith ends the book when tensions are so high you have to laugh or scream or something to release all of that energy. I laughed, thought "Smith, you asshole," and shook my head in admiration. Because the ending just...happened. And the thing is, it worked.
Spoilers over

*I tend to read reviews after I've read something. Or at least if I already plan on reading something. I want to go in without any preconceived notions. Or at least as few as I can get away with.

Title quote from location 1552

Neil Smith, Anthony. Hogdoggin'. Bleak House Books, 2009

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reading recommendations in unlikely places

Have you ever gotten a reading recommendation from a celebrity? I don't mean directly, like you're good friends with someone who happens to be a celebrity and they recommend something to you cos then really, the celebrity part is incidental. Nor do I mean you read in some review a celebrity mentions reading something and you take that as a recommendation. I mean, have you ever seen an actor in the trailer for some movie based on a book and decided to read the book because that actor is amazing, ergo book must be good? Yeah me neither, but I have seriously considered it. Most recently with Water for Elephants.

Can this sell books?
It was hard not to see this book on stands and in various commuters hands. It is immensely popular. But I never had any interest in it. Almost inevitably with a popular piece of work, it was made into a movie.  I still didn't think too much of it but figured I could find out what the book was about (because picking up the book and reading the back cover was way too much work). Then I saw Christoph Waltz is in it and while I can't say I'm familiar with his full catologue of work (because it's mostly in German), he kicked so much ass in Inglourious Bastards* that he's earned a lot of goodwill in my book. Enough that I considered reading the book. A book that previously I had no interest in. All because I liked him so much as a crazy Nazi in an entirely different movie.

Thus far I have yet to read Water for Elephants and with reviews like this one from Soy Chai Bookshelf, I can't say I'm rushing to get a copy of it. But has anyone picked up a book for, if not the same reason, than an equally weak one? If so, how did that work out for you?

*Seriously, that opening? He is mesmerizing and terrifying and I could watch it over and over again. Really, if you haven't seen the movie, just go watch that one part. I guess I'd say watch the whole thing, but at least watch the first scene.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top 10 Underrated Books

It's been awhile since I've done a top 10 list. I was gone for a few of them and then I just couldn't get back into the swing of things. As past top 10 posts have shown, I clearly don't feel the need to actually hit 10 examples for these lists yet the last few I couldn't even come up with enough to satisfy my low standards. Well this week I'm coming back. I make no promises that I'll hit 10, but I'm here dammit. So here we go! Top 10 Underrated books hosted by The Broke and The Bookish:

1. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think this list was going to suddenly be original and not contain a book I mentioned for nearly every list? Thanks, that was sweet of you. While I mention this ad nauseum, I do think it's underrated and I want more people to pick it up. At least enough so that the Brookline Booksmith starts to regularly carry Fforde's stuff instead of me finding a book on their remainders table.

2. Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite by June Casagrande - I found this book on one of those remainder tables, so clearly it's not getting the love it deserves. I recently wrote about another grammar book, so the topic is fresh in my mind and if you want a witty way to learn about language, go with this one. And seriously, grammar for spite? Yes, please.

3. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by The Reduced Shakespeare Company - One of my favorite plays that I have read again and again (and again). It's Shakespeare but cut down to just get to the good parts. My short attention span loves this. It's fun, it's silly and I watched it in a high school Shakespeare class, so it also counts as educational. I have a copy of this being performed on tape but both my VHS and VCR are kaput so I should really consider upgrading to a DVD.

4. The Umbrella Man and Other Stories by Roald Dahl - Lots of people know Dahl's children's stories. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG. But Dahl wrote stories for adults as well, and they're wonderful. They have the feel of Dahl's children's stories without the childishness. They're quirky, they're sinister, they're sly, and they're worth checking out.

5. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti - This is an excellent book that really deserves more attention. Consider it an intro to modern feminism that deals with where feminism has come from and where it's heading.  It's a good book to learn more about a topic that is so stupidly stigmatized.

I made it to 5, so I'm pretty happy. What are your top underrated books?

Monday, August 8, 2011

A summary with multiple tenses is like a prostitute with multiple reproductive organs - unseemly

I want to let you in on a grammar secret. I am way more insecure of my grammar skills than I let on. I managed to do fairly well on grammar tests throughout school but I swear it was dumb luck. Even now I seem to be able to pick out the object of a sentence without being entirely confident I could defend my choice. I like grammar though and I think it is important to know so I try to make an effort to understand it. To keep me educated and entertained I pick up quirky grammar books. So when a co-worker sent me a link to the book The Elements of F*cking Style with a note "You must read this! It was fucking written for you!" I got excited. Grammar AND cursing? How could things go wrong?

It's an interesting idea: explain the rules of grammar using examples that incorporate sex, drugs and cursing. You know, make it accessible to the kids. It's certainly easier to remember grammar rules when the examples are ridiculous. My AIDS test, you'll be happy to know, came back negative is a good way to remember parenthetical comma usage. I liked this. The more ridiculous the sentence the better.

Overall though I was disappointed. Sure they have these crazy examples, but after awhile the examples and the explanations just feels like they're trying to be shocking. When every example is trying to be shocking it starts to feel like, as a fellow reader on Goodreads noted, a couple pretentious teenage boys wrote it. They're snarky and they understand grammar but they also think any mention of bongs or pussy is automatically hilarious. The information may be accurate, but the writing isn't enough to keep me interested.

It's kind of OK there wasn't a lot to keep me interested though because this book is short. I bought it as an ebook so while I knew it was short (only 96 pages) I didn't get a chance to flip through it as I might have with a physical book. If I had I would have noticed that it's actually 1/2 that length. I was 46% of the way through the book (thank you Kindle counter) when I read the following sentence: "Holy shit, you made it to the end of a book about fucking grammar." I read that sentence a couple times before saying, "No I didn't. I made it 46% of the way through a book about fucking grammar."  I literally said this out loud. Boyfriend looked at me with a confused look, and I brought the book over to have him look and make sure I wasn't going crazy. But no, 46% and I'm on the final chapter. I thought the ebook must have some formatting problems. Nope. 46% = end of book. The rest of the book is made up of "Words Your Bound to Fuck Up" and "Glossary of Terms You Don't Understand". Helpful guides, sure, but disappointing.

If you're looking to get a grammar book for someone who will only crack a book open if it contains drugs, sex and cursing, this book is fine. It gets you the grammar rules and will probably keep some people interested in a topic that would otherwise be ignored. However, I'm going to stick with my favorite quirky grammar book, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. They both want to make grammar accessible to those who would otherwise never open a grammar book. Grammar Snobs just succeeds where F*cking Style fell down.

Title quote from location 762

Baker, Chris and Jacob Hansen. The Elements of F*cking Style. Thomas Dunn Books; 2011.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lacking Adult Coping Skills, I Steal Clean Underwear

I won another book in a giveaway! This time it was Sarah Silverman's The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee and I won it from the always awesome Alice from Reading Rambo. How do I keep winning all of these? Simple: 1) Enter giveaway 2) No one else enters 3) WIN! I like to think that it's my awesomeness keeping other people away because the blogs hosting the giveaways rule, so it's certainly not them.

I'm a medium fan of Silverman. I think her stand up is funny, but I don't go out of my way to see it. (And by that I mean just on TV or something. Not actually going to see her in person. If I'm too lazy to flip the channel, don't you think I'm too lazy to get up and pay to see her somewhere.) I've seen her show a couple times, I remember something about a queefing ghost, but I don't normally watch it. So this book is in the category of "if the book falls into my outstretched arms I'll read it, but otherwise I won't bother". Luckily it did fall into my outstretched arms, in a matter of speaking, and I enjoyed this far more than I had anticipated.

Alice pointed this out in her own review, but the book is a lot more depressing than you'd think a comedienne's memoir would be. It's still funny, especially the chapter titles, but she talks about some tough issues, especially her teenage depression and that she was prescribed around 16 Xanax per day. And the "bedwetter" isn't part of the title just as a joke. She actually had a problem with this through her teenage years and she covers this with both humor (as to be expected) as well as the fear, anxiety and shame this very realistically brought. She slept over at a friend's house and spent the night so terrified she wet the bed that she tried to stay up all night, which resulted in her falling into a super deep sleep and, inevitably, wetting the bed.
"WHO DID THIS!?!?! [the friend's mother] screams, with a look so scary -- like when someone's eyes go wide but with no innocence in them. Just pure fury.
I stand there, quietly enduring the world's youngest heart attack, wishing for my fear to somehow transport me. Am I supposed to answer? Is the onus actually on a six-year-old to fill this silence?
Lest you think this book is just a pity party, she tempers any sad parts with humor (Seriously, of course there's humor. Quit making me repeat this.) and humility. She knows people out there have had it way worse and points out that things might have been hard for her plenty of people have it way worse.

I'm clearly harping on the fact that this book is funny but I want to make sure it's clear that her humor isn't for everyone. I think she's funny. I think her chapter titles like "Summer Camp: The Second Worst Kind of Camp for Jews" are funny. I think the joke she tells that gets her into all kinds of trouble with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans is funny and I think that Guy Aoki totally missed the point of the joke. But I acknowledge not everyone is going to like that. Her humor is offensive, though I think she does a good job of pointing out it's not hateful. But you want to know if this book's humor isn't for you? Here's one of her videos called The Great Schlep. This is pretty tame so know if this offends you, you should avoid the book. She also has a kick ass video about selling the Vatican to feed the world that got her a good amount of hate mail but Alice already embedded that in her post so I won't copy her.

Title quote from page 103

Silverman, Sarah. The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, And Pee. Harper Collins; 2010.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

July Reading Wrap-Up

Another month has past. Time is really flying by. July was my chance to read whatever I wanted after my self-imposed China Rican reading challenge. Unfortunately I've found without real effort most of the authors I read are white. And I really made no conscious effort. Oops. Maybe I'll make another, less strict, effort once summer is over. But for now I"m being lazy. Now onto the stats

Number of books read
SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman
The Elements of F*cking Style: A Helpful Parody by Chris Baker & Jacob Hansen

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks
17% - this is sad considering I went on vacation and still brought a bunch of actual books with me

Percentage of re-reads
0% - first time this has happened

Books written by decade
1960s - 17%
2000s - 33%
2010s - 50%

I was originally going to say the only area I don't need to focus on is the male to female ratio. When I take it by the book I'm even. Then I realized 2 of the books, SuperFreakonomics and The Elements of F*cking Style, have 2 authors each. Way to throw me off guys-who-can't-write-a-book-by-themselves.

I'm also still catching up on reviews. I swear I'll have them done soon. Soon-ish. Maybe I'll even catch up to the book I'm reading.

Update: I finally got those other reviews posted and linked here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bookstore loyalty

Everyone else seems to be writing a post about the imminent closing of Borders, but I figured I'd stay away from it. I wrote a post earlier in the year when Borders filed for Chapter 11 wondering what affect this would have on other brick and mortar bookstores, but after that I don't have too much more to say about the company. Honestly, I'm not loyal to a particular bookstore, especially one of the big box stores. Growing up through college I used to go to Barnes & Noble because that was the bookstore that was closest. Eventually I went to Borders more often because there was one near my office. The experience and the products are identical, so I went to whichever store was closer and I had a coupon for. Until I got my Kindle I hardly bought books from Amazon, because I'm impatient and wouldn't want to wait for the mailman to bring me my book. Even now, the decision to buy a real book vs. a Kindle book is based on price and how much I want the book on my shelves. I had been planning on buying A Visit from the Goon Squad on my Kindle, till I saw it at Costco for a dollar less. Now it's sitting on my shelf. So clearly my loyalty is to being cheap and lazy over a particular national bookstore brand.

I can't say I've been loyal to independent bookstores either. I'll choose them over going to a big box store, provided I don't have to go out of my way to get to it, but I won't choose one indie bookstore over another. I loved Brookline Booksmith, especially when I lived down the street from them, but I wouldn't forgo picking up a book from Brattle in favor of them. I prefer the indie stores, especially for browsing and getting recommendations, but I still went to the big box stores, even when I lived near the Booksmith. As I said, Borders used to be near my office and I had no qualms stopping there at lunch to pick up something, especially if I had a coupon.

I recently visited both a big box and an indie store: Borders to pick over the remains and see if I could score some good deals (I couldn't really) and Booksmith because I was back in Boston and couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit. Right there illustrates the difference between these 2 book buying experience: I'll go to the big stores for the prices (sometimes) and the little ones for the experience. I was actually also recently at a Barnes & Nobles and I spent a couple hours there, but it was just sitting in the cafe catching up with a friend so that doesn't count as a bookstore experience.

I picked up a couple of books at Borders, but hardly the haul I thought I'd come away with. I almost picked up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but even with the discount it was cheaper on the Kindle and I don't really care if that book graces my bookshelves or not. I seriously considered picking up a Gold Prospectors magazine because it was 40% off and seriously? They make magazines for Gold Prospectors? It even had an old timey prospector on the cover. But aside from awesome magazine and the crazy long line to check out, the experience at Borders was mostly the same as it was when business was in full swing. The people were nice, things were in order (I was there fairly early before the inevitable tornado of destruction came through) but that was about it. Nothing special.

Meanwhile I recently visited the Brookline Booksmith and just loved being in the store. This time I did go out of my way, if only because we were in Boston for the weekend without any real plans, so we decided to wander around the old neighborhood. I picked up 2 more books* off their discount table at a better rate than what I got at Borders. And sadly one of the Borders books I got was also on the Booksmith discounted table. Dammit. Overall I enjoyed the experience much more, wandering around the aisles, searching through the tables for staff picks. And I didn't even make it downstairs to the used book section. Granted the selection is much smaller than a big box place but when they have what I'm want or suggest something I didn't realize I wanted, I don't mind having to go somewhere else for certain titles.

Sorry, I'm getting off topic. The point is I'm sad that any bookstore is closing. I'd be more upset if a local indie store closed than a big chain but either way, less opportunity to browse and buy books is sad. But while I can be sad a bookstore is going away, I can't seem to get worked up that Borders is going away. Sorry. It's not you, it's me.

*If you're curious, here are the books I picked up:
from Borders
The Lust Lizard from Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore
Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore
Shakespeare and Modern Culture by Marjorie Garber

from the Booksmith
Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde (Which yes, I know I already read but that was as an eBook and this was cheap enough that this physical copy + the e-copy still cost less than the cover price of the actual book. That was my justification anyway.)