I was cataloging some children’s material and I came across this one and, after pausing to read through it, had to post my thoughts. I was familiar wi...moreI was cataloging some children’s material and I came across this one and, after pausing to read through it, had to post my thoughts. I was familiar with the cover, having definitely seen it in bookstores, etc., before. It depicts a rather cute Siamese cat, chewing on a plant, nothing too unusual, so I expected a cute story about a cute pet kitten getting into trouble. Reading the blurb was a bit strange, “a rambunctious kitty boy with an overactive imagination?” That’s a bit weird, a “kitty boy?” Okay, I wonder what’s up with that… oh… oh… wow. That’s a bit, er, not quite right.
Frankly, I was shocked that such blatant ethnic stereotyping was published in the last decade to such acclaim. Listening to the author read aloud her own silly, Mock Spanish accent, (including such terms as “stinkito,” “ding-a-lito,” and “bumblebeeto”), rhyming to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance, I was left with the feeling that she simply knows “Spanish” culture exclusively from old cartoons and fast food commercials. Which, I guess, may be an accurate representation of the mindset of the kitten who “imagines” such stereotypes. Our young Anglo-American cat, bored with his bland suburban life, daydreams that he is a Chihuahua, and using “his very best Spanish accent,” he makes up Spanishy sounding words as he mentally transports himself to “Old Mexico” to cavort with (and rescue) broken English speaking little dog banditos wearing sombreros and pining after their frijoles. Yeah. Powerless to effect their lives, they need the heroic sword fighter El Skippito to accomplish anything. Later adventures take our Taco Bell imitating kitten into space, the Cretaceous period, etc, all showing that Mexicans, er I mean, Chihuahuas, are exotic and strange denizens of make-believe land and only have as much relation to our everyday “normal” feline culture as dinosaurs and, um, aliens. Hmmm. It’s kind of like the kid’s book representation of one of those garden statues depicting a sombrero wearing little man slumped against a cactus.
“Racist” may be a bit a strong of a word to use on a no-doubt perfectly well intentioned mischievous “fun” children’s picture book about cats and Chihuahuas and imagination, but I can think of no other way to express my uncomfortableness with the contents of the story and its treatment of Mexican cultural stereotypes. While a lot people of all ethnic groups seem to be able to look past these “silly” representations, the very fact that many of them have said that “it didn’t even cross their minds” that this material might be considered offensive or insulting illustrates how pervasive such thoughts are in the general culture. One unfortunate thing is that there seems to be people who actually recommend this book as somehow “multicultural.” Ugh. I just cannot recommend it for use with children in school or home settings. I just have to think that, at the very least, there are less insulting depictions of other cultures, just as silly, just as whimsical, with cats even, that can be used instead. (less)
A fun premise, but a bit of a let down in execution. Rich Smith, better known for traveling across the US breaking a variety of absurd laws, returns t...moreA fun premise, but a bit of a let down in execution. Rich Smith, better known for traveling across the US breaking a variety of absurd laws, returns to America from the UK to experience the most bizarre festivals and events the States have to offer, and some of them are pretty weird. Along with a handful of other English adventurers, Smith takes on battle reenactments, 48-hour film festivals, yard sales, hobo conventions, and other odd Americana and some of their “fish out of water” shenanigans can raise a laugh or two. Hoping to confront the weirdness of American culture head on, Smith and compatriots spend a summer crisscrossing the US from Montana to Georgia, and many states in between, meeting interesting (and disturbing) characters and places. A very interesting topic that could be used to spark a lot of intercultural discussion and jokes alike, Smith unfortunately is unable to really take advantage of his idea to its full potential.
Around the Weird in 80 Days* was, for the most part, just not the most interesting travelogue and Smith comes off as a bit of an unprepared naif, simply showing up and seeing what happens, and seems to take pride in doing absolutely no research. While this could be a fun approach in theory, it amounted to little more than Smith telling us; well, this happened, and then that happened, and then this crazy thing happened! (just kidding, that didn’t actually happen, just added it because the rest was boring). Mainly, it was accounts of various typical travel snafus, like almost running out of gas in the desert, trying to locate beer in a dry county, or being unsure what happened to your travel companion the morning you’ve got to catch your plane. There could be interesting tales milked from such travel issues, but Smith’s writing is just not witty enough to carry it. While some readers were put off by Smith’s condescending and obtuse attitude toward UK/US differences, I felt this was the most amusing part, and the rest was just dull. If the earlier work, You Can Get Arrested for That, is at all similar, I may skip it.
On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon (that eternal rival for Minneapolis’ title of “most bike friendly city”), I found that Fugitives and Refugees, Ch...moreOn a recent trip to Portland, Oregon (that eternal rival for Minneapolis’ title of “most bike friendly city”), I found that Fugitives and Refugees, Chuck Palahniuk's autobiographical travel guide to the iconic Pacific Northwest city was an invaluable companion to my visit. Describing the towns various quirks; the Voodoo Doughnuts, Shanghai Tunnels, and Powell’s City of Books (all of which I, tourist that I am, had to experience on my stopover), Palahniuk’s essays present a lot more than a mere travel guide. In spite of being more than a decade old at this point, Palahniuk’s personal tour through a few of the odder denizens and locations in a very odd city paints a vivid and affectionate portrait of the history and background of Portland, both in the grand scheme and in Palahniuk’s personal relationship with the city. Exploring the city’s seedy underbelly of sex shows and hauntings, Palahniuk’s ties his own experiences deeply into the culture of Portland through various “postcards” written from different periods of his life there.
Particularly useful was the glossary and list of slang and pronunciations so the visitor can blend in with the locals. In the years since this book has been written, as indicated the presence of the tv series0[i]Portlandia[/i], Portland continued to rise in prominence as a home for America’s “fugitives and refugees” (as Palahniuk attributes to Geek Love and Portland-dweller Katherine Dunn) and as an urban renaissance “city that works. It is interesting to see in Palahniuk’s account the very beginnings of this growth of Portland as a city “young people go to retire,” a place more than just a grungy small Pacific Northwest town filled with weirdos, but as a poster city for such a movement. Portland, I must say, is on my short list of American cities were I ever to leave Minnesota, and Fugitives and Refugees, I feel, presents a thought provoking background. (less)
This was my first Bill Bryson book and it was, I must admit, not what I expected. Unfamiliar with Bryson’s work as I am, I had the impression that thi...moreThis was my first Bill Bryson book and it was, I must admit, not what I expected. Unfamiliar with Bryson’s work as I am, I had the impression that this book, “Lost Continent,” in which the expat (who had lived in the UK for half his life at this point), Bryson returned to the United States to do a little cross country road trip would be a nostalgic, affectionate, even sentimental trip through a nation left behind. How wrong I was. Bryson writes with a bitter, critical tone throughout, mocking and attacking just about everyone he meets. In spite of this, it was still a good read to accompany my recent road trip, visiting a few of the same terrain Bryson did.
In "The Lost Continent," Bryson finds himself journeying through the worst excesses of the tawdry, tasteless 1980’s in America, a vapid and bland land full of mindless, gormless drones and ignorant, if not actively hostile, rubes. Trekking through nearly half of the states, he finds our countrysides boring and featureless, our cities derelict and cesspools of crime, our small towns and suburbs riddled with conformist consumers. While he does end on a positive note as he returns to his unassuming home state of Iowa with feelings of affection, Bryson finds precious little to like about the United States, South, North, East, or West.
While he begins by searching for an idealized “perfect” American town, Bryson quickly grumbles on about expenses, television, tourist traps, After the first chapter, a wonderfully sharp-edged yet self-deprecating account of his home state of Iowa, Bryson’s wit is poisoned- downright mean, and he often comes across as a chauvinistic, bigoted snob. He really does not present himself in the best light, using the bad service he got in a restaurant showing up 10 minutes before they closed as a good reason to skip the tip- not that he was going to leave one anyway, or disparaging Mexican music as “all sounding the same,” to give a couple examples. In spite of this, though, I did find myself laughing alone with some of Bryson’s biting commentary and the book was a fun, witty companion to my own road trip as I visited some disappointing roadside restaurants and wrestled with overpriced tourist traps.
While a lot of his complaints and griping seemed to cross over from humor into true mean spiritedness and downright cruelty, I did find some of his critiques compelling, particularly the American tendency to pave over history, particularly negative history, and transform the survivors into overpriced shrines of commerce, blind patriotism, and myth. It seems Bryson has mellowed in later books, while keeping his sharp wit, so I will definitely be checking out more of his work. (less)
An amusing and heartfelt look at the end of a relationship and it's lingering effects upon life. Corinne Mucha's depiction of her breakup with her fir...moreAn amusing and heartfelt look at the end of a relationship and it's lingering effects upon life. Corinne Mucha's depiction of her breakup with her first serious boyfriend of three years, whom she had moved across country for right after college and with whom she remains friends in spite of their complicated relationship is humorous and sympathetic, with great art. Taking a self-deprecating look at her situation, Get Over It! is a great read for anyone who has lived through their twenties, attempting to figure out who they are and what the future is like while "playing at" being adults. Mucha has a great style, drawing in loads of witty metaphors, in particular the hilarious conversations between her brain and her heart. I will definitely look for more of her work!(less)
“No wonder you miss the Net so much. Where else can you be all-powerful and completely inconsequential at the same time?”
I posted an insulting comment...more “No wonder you miss the Net so much. Where else can you be all-powerful and completely inconsequential at the same time?”
I posted an insulting comment online the other day. Not on Goodreads, of course, but on a certain “literary” site known for wretched attempts at "satire," it was just such a smug, contemptible, heaping of ignorance, I felt compelled to toss in my own two cents. Not really something I tend to do, even online, but I could definitely feel a bit of the appeal of the loss of all censoring impulses on the web. It was a pointless gesture, of course. Poe’s Law, you know. Still, would I say anything in real life? No.
I bring this up as a segue into my response to reading Wayne Gladstone's quick paced, genre defying satirical novel, Notes From the Internet Apocalypse. Both a satire of online habits and an exploration of the meaning of self and our reactions to grief, Notes hits with a furious mixture of pathos, thoughtfulness, and dick jokes, tossing out a thousand interesting ideas, from the nature of our relationship with information to our own self identities. Not unlike the subject it tackles. On the other hand, the novel takes on so much, that it almost feels over stuffed in spite of its fast pace; the quixotic quest of its unreliable narrator, a dozen aspects of online life put forth for examination, and the ramifications of a generation lived under the and what this means for our culture, particularly among men under 40.
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse takes the forms of the journal of one Gladstone, a 30-something schlump whose life has hit a low point; having recently lost his wife, his career, and his only source of solace aside from a flask of scotch… the internet. Something, or someone, has killed the internet and conspiracies abound, spread now by word of mouth. As society begins a slow collapse, the government cracks down on protesters, aimless millennials wander around looking for replacements for their web, annoying anyone in their path, and Gladstone, lacking anything better to do, attempts to track down the secret in the tradition of a film noir private eye. Aided and foiled by his two friends, Tobey (a former web writer and manchild) and Oz (an Australian camgirl) they encounter various factions and characters who all wish to return the internet for their own gains, including a psychic former librarian who pegs Gladstone himself as the Internet Messiah.
Written by Cracked columnist Wayne Gladstone, the novel definitely shares this website’s style; irreverent, crude, glib. This is both a strength and a weakness. Gladstone’s alter ego struggles with his own life and used the internet to distract himself from it. At times, the book reads like a collection of anecdotes imagining what subcultures users of Twitter or 4Chan would form offline, while at other times on philosophical implications of the internet itself. On occasion, the points and political asides seem a bit heavy handed, at others vague, but there is so much to think about and quite a lot of humor too. Would we ever be able to go back to a time without instant connections, now that we have grown accustomed to it? In the end, it is all personal.
As an aside, as a librarian, I have a somewhat fraught relationship with the internet. It is by far the most powerful tool I can use, and it is important that we keep abreast of its power. You know, I used to keep lists of my library and the books I’ve read in print. Now, with Goodreads, and LibraryThing, and BookLikes, there’s no need. If the internet disappeared, I fear even my knowledge of the books I read, my own books, would disappear too. Have I read at all it if I have not rated it and tagged it and social networked it on my accounts? Has this become a problem, or a blessing?(less)
I have to say, this was quite a mess. A handful of mildly interesting ideas marred by awkward conceptions and stereotypical depictions, Steampunk Orig...moreI have to say, this was quite a mess. A handful of mildly interesting ideas marred by awkward conceptions and stereotypical depictions, Steampunk Originals leaves a lot to be desired, both in the first and second parts of the title. In spite of the intriguing descriptions, which posits a variety of alternate history tropes, hardly any of these ideas are used, and the features end up feeling both disconnected and repetitive. While the art here ranges from amateur to pretty good, the writing is generally trite and cliched, with chaotic panel layout, awful dialogue, and nonsensical world building that does little to explore just what “steampunk” is, aside from gears, goggles, and the Union Jack. It’s really anything but “punk”, and the “steam” aspect only exists because gears. While short comics often are great ways to explore a diverse setting, here the lack of space may be part of the problem. Most were too short to even begin to sketch out a story, and many are simply one page spreads relying on jokes that go nowhere and ridiculously wrong headed ideas of the nineteenth century. None are effective, either at exploring the themes of the immense steampunk genre or commenting upon them and are simply variations of the same pseudo-Victorians in old timey robot suits fighting monsters. Particularly egregious was the “End of Bushido,” a laughable depiction of the “last samurai” battling laser blasting robots with some of the worst depictions of samurai I have ever seen in a comic; they looked more like vikings than anything else and I had to wonder if the artist had ever even seen a picture of actual samurai armor? Those interested in steampunk can find better, more interesting, comic offerings. (less)
Saw this while browsing at B&N the other day and became curious enough to check out the ebook from the library. Like a lot of blogs that spawned a...moreSaw this while browsing at B&N the other day and became curious enough to check out the ebook from the library. Like a lot of blogs that spawned a published work, Fuck! I'm in My Twenties was a lightweight but amusing little book that can be read in a matter of minutes. Emma Koenig's simple doodles and diagrams are a fun way to explore the "quarterlife crisis" stage of life and more of the jokes hit than miss though there is little that has not been discussed online a lot already. Still, Koenig has a fun, casual wit that was easy to identify with, particularly the "real resume" (hey- I too am an expert in Procrastination and Avoidance!) and the comparisons between first dates and interviews. It is a little depressing, actually, as so many of the jokes regarding the transition from "Stage I: The Shitty Years" to "Stage II: When All My Dreams Come True" I could totally identify with even though I left my twenties behind a little while ago. My only consolation is that I was in my twenties, technically, when this book was published. Oy. (less)