I freaked out last weekend when I found out that David Mitchell is doing a reading in town tonight for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Which is...moreI freaked out last weekend when I found out that David Mitchell is doing a reading in town tonight for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Which is kind of funny on paper, because Cloud Atlas was the single work of his I'd read, and only gave it 4-stars. I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it, so why all the David Mitchell fan-fare? Ah, you see I heard a most excellent interview & discussion with Mitchell on the BBC World Service when they picked Cloud Atlas for their Book of the Month Club. (Link is here, thanks to Ken-Ichi for pointing it out!) Holy Crud, I have an author crush. He was funny, insightful, self-deprecating and engaging.
It just didn't feel right to rush off to Hollywood for the reading with only one Mitchell book under my belt. So I started searching around for another title to read. He must really be popular here in Pasadena, because ALL of his books at every branch of the library are checked out, most with waiting lists. Luckily I have an 'in' at a university library, but this was the only non-Cloud Atlas title they carried.
Hoo boy, am I glad this is the book that landed in my lap! Black Swan Green is funny, touching, sad, and just plain entertaining. Yes, yes, it's a coming-of-age story of a 13 year old boy living in a Worcestershire village in Thatcherite Britain. But it's also a series of short-stories, each a vignette of an important event happening in what's the most important, pivotal year in the life of young, stammering Jason Taylor.
What's also fun for the reader is the shout-outs Mitchell gives to his previous books & characters. He mentions the song, "#9 Dream" by John Lennon, also the title of his second novel. What's funnier is that an elderly Eva van Crommelynck (last seen in Cloud Atlas as a young woman) makes a significant appearance, as well as Robert Frobisher's Cloud Atlas composition. In the BBC interview, Mitchell explains that he likes to do cross-over characters partly to show readers that the character lives on.
I'll say up-front that I'm quite biased. Not to mention my newly budding Mitchell fandom, many of the stories in the book parallel my husband's life.
At any rate, I'll leave you with a few quotes:
"She'd probably love to have my stammer if she could have her leg back, and I wondered if being happy's about other people's misery."
"Eavesdropping's sort of thrilling 'cause you learn what people really think, but eavesdropping makes you miserable for exactly the same reason."
"Gravestones mostly flake away after a couple of centuries. Even death sort of dies. The saddest sentence I ever found was in a graveyard on Bredon Hill. 'Her abundant virtues would have adorned a longer life.'"(less)
"What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose... his own soul?"
Honestly, I knew very little about the story of The Picture of Dorian...more"What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose... his own soul?"
Honestly, I knew very little about the story of The Picture of Dorian Gray before reading this. The creepy horror tale is very Poe-esque, but with more description and emotion. It's brilliant!
The dialogue is excessive (more talking than doing) and frequently turns to very long monologues. I read in the reviews here that The Picture of Dorian Gray is really a play written as a novella. Very true. Except the dialogue, while frequently witty, is not particularly natural. My only other quibble is that there are frequent railings against women. Most come from the bawdy Lord Henry, though, so I can forgive him these.
Wilde was clearly obsessed with: flowers, perfumes, fancy side-tables, precious gems, and tapestries. Wilde was the Lawrence Llewelyn‐Bowen of his day! It also appears that Wilde was obsessed with obsession, and describes infatuation to a T.
Oh and this story deserves four stars alone for the most awesomest diss I've ever heard: "Yes; she is a peacock in everything but beauty,"
A few more awesome Wilde-ish quotes:
"The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbour with the possession of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us."
"When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good, we are not always happy."
"There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour."
"Oh! anything becomes a pleasure if one does it too often," cried Lord Henry, laughing. "That is one of the most important secrets of life. I should fancy, however, that murder is always a mistake. One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner."
"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."(less)
Packing for Mars is like Bonk, Stiff and Spook (her three previous books) but in space. Awesome! Everything is better in space. And hilariously entert...morePacking for Mars is like Bonk, Stiff and Spook (her three previous books) but in space. Awesome! Everything is better in space. And hilariously entertaining.
I have a huge author crush on Mary Roach. She isn't embarrassed by any subject. (I know this for a fact, I got to ask her at her book reading.) She won't pass up a Howdy Doody joke when discussing the difficulties in pooing in zero-G. She also scammed a free copy of zero-G porn movie series and watching it to 'research' zero-G sex. She asks all the probing, detail oriented questions that 99% of us would never even think of. And yet, once we know the questions, we are fascinated by the answers. She uncovers the slightly embarrassing marginalia of the space race.
Mary Roach does it so we don't have to!
Now for just a few interesting and funny bits I learned while reading Packing for Mars.
I had no clue that defecating in zero-G presents with a whole host of complications, many of which only become apparent while in space. NASA and other space agencies have spent a lot of time and money researching ways to not just make a space toilet comfortable and private, but just to merely work.
"A successful zero-gravity toilet is a subtle finessing of engineering, materials science, physiology, psychology, and etiquette. ...If just one element is missing, things don't come out right."
If I ever hear about the cost of developing a space toilet, I will not flinch an inch. This is important work.
Here's another fun random space-based factoid for you: "The contract for the Apollo lunar landing suits went to International Latex, which later became Playtex." As in bras. Roach mentions earlier that when NASA needed to develop a space suit, they had no experience in rubberized materials, so they went to a huge bra & underwear manufacturer who sold through the Sears catalogue.
This fact is a little more serious (by that I mean less squicky) than the poo/bra stuff above. Did you know that moon dust is incredibly abrasive? Since there's no wind, there's no erosion smoothing the rough corners. Moon dust quickly scratches lenses and helmet visors. To make matters worse, the dust is bombarded with cosmic particles which being impart a charge to the dust. Not only is it sharp, it also sticks to absolutely everything. Get this: there are companies that exist just to produce faux moon dust for NASA.
Finally, one last poo joke, because I can't resist. Did you know the opposite of ingest is egest? As in: to reduce the amount of egesta, you must ingest low-residue foods. Here's Roach's goofy footnote to this:
"Egesta is my new favorite euphemism for 'feces,' and an even better toilet brand name than Ejecto. Certainly better than Toto. Who names a toilet after a lapdog? Unless it's Shit-Tzu. I'd buy a Shit-Tsu toilet."
Me too, Mary. Perhaps a footnote generated after sharing too much vodka with the cosmonauts?
This book is extremely amusing and wicked entertaining. And I love Mary Roach. I hope she keeps digging up the marginalia of the world. ____________ PS: Make sure you watch the book trailer - I think it's linked at right on this page. Normally I hate those things, but this one is genuinely funny. PPS: Mary signed my book "Spacily yours, Mary Roach" *swoon*(less)
Went to Shteyngart's reading/signing and it was hilarious! He's a bit like a stand-up comic looking for an audience, so he trolls bookstores. I'm goin...moreWent to Shteyngart's reading/signing and it was hilarious! He's a bit like a stand-up comic looking for an audience, so he trolls bookstores. I'm going to read this on vacation next week. ______________
I'm baaack. I'm also terrified of giving this book 3-stars. After reading the scathing reviews here on Goodreads, it appears all the cool kids hate this book. Fine. I've only ever been the opposite of cool. And that's hot.
Here's the thing: I don't think Shteyngart's witty, super fast, referential humor comes across in written form very well. Like I said above, the book reading had the whole audience in stitches. Not just the banter introduction, or even his self-deprecating way he'd answer all the lame questions he must get at every reading ("What's your typical work day like?"). The reading itself - you know, the actual words in the printed book - was really, really funny. He did voices, he had comedic timing, it all made sense. So I was reading Lenny Abramov's diaries in Steyngart's voice, and it was pretty funny. In parts.
It just wasn't anywhere near as funny as when he read the book out loud.
Also, I got the strong impression that as a minimum, the target audience for this book should be well acquainted with New York City. More appropriately, the designated reader should belong to one of the immigrant classes described in the book. I don't think I was part of the target audience, and just like when I watch Seinfeld, I miss a huge part of the joke. Not unlike this philosophy class I took in college where the prof would make a Yiddish joke every 15 minutes, and a huge question mark would appear above my blonde shiksa head.
Nonetheless, I thought the characters were interesting and fleshed-out. They certainly weren't like characters I've encountered before, so that was new. The future Shteyngart paints is impressionistic and not particularly believable, which is a shame. The story was silly, but it kept me entertained. I don't know about it being Super or True, but I'll grant that it's a Sad Love Story. And... that's why I gave it 3 stars.
I'll never get into the cool kid clique now, will I?(less)
If you've ever been to a school Nativity pageant, you know the kids can be right unpredictable, often with hilarious consequences. Gervase Phinn was t...moreIf you've ever been to a school Nativity pageant, you know the kids can be right unpredictable, often with hilarious consequences. Gervase Phinn was the Inspector of English in the Yorkshire Dales, and saw more than his share of Nativity pageants. This little book is the retelling of the best and funniest of those moments.
This was a gift from my English mother-in-law a few years back, and it makes me chuckle even on re-reads. He frequently captures the Yorkshire dialect, such as one of the shepherds saying upon seeing Jesus in the manger, "By the heck, 'e's an 'andsome little feller!"
And how about the little girl who hearing that there was no room for Joseph and Mary at the Inn rightfully pointed out "Well, they should 'ave booked in advance. It allus gets busy at Christmas."(less)
Stir contents vigorously. Serve with eggs on hard tack with maggoty butter.
Sounds implausible, doesn't it?
The narrator, Adam Hazzard, tells the story of the rise of Julian Comstock, nephew and unwanted heir to the current President Deklan Comstock in 2172.
The world has survived an almost-apocalypse with the End of Oil and the Plague of Infertility. By the start of the story, new mega-countries have been formed, the population is growing again, and America is at war with Mitteleuropa over Labrador and has effectively replaced the Supreme Court with the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth. (I should mention that America has 60 states and covers most all of North America. The Presidency is effectively a hereditary emperorship prone to coups.) It's all a bit Republic of Gilead, don't you think?
This new world isn't all bad - as a matter of fact, it's very much like America in the 19th century. Horse, carriage and trains are the main modes of transport, women generally wear long skirts, and people are expected to maintain their lot in life. Wars are fought mostly with rifles and calvary in trench warfare, but "new" weapons are starting to tip the scales. Movies are very rare and still don't have sound.
Adam Hazzard gives the story an "aw, shucks" naive tone. Many of Adam and Julians' hi-jinks will have you amused and laughing like you did at Tom Sawyer. Adam and Julian are boyhood friends from Athabasaka (northern Alberta) who love to shoot and fish together. Despite Adam's lower caste (lease-holder, one step above indentured servant), Julian (a high-born Aristocrat) tries to share with Adam the knowledge of the Secular Ancients that he's gleaned from non-Dominion approved antique books. This knowledge is in effect heresy, because it claims that space travel existed and evolution was accepted science.
Once Adam and Julian get conscripted into the Laurentian Army to fight in Labrador, the stories of training and warfare take over. Normally this is where my eyes would gloss over; I'm definitely not a fan of war stories or strategies on the battlefield. However, Wilson seems to move deftly from battlefield to human stories, and kept me interested throughout.
I can't really tell you too much beyond this without spoiling the story. Adam develops a love of writing and telling stories from his childhood and his path to becoming a writer is an amusing subplot. Even more amusing are his attempts at romance with the "fairer sex." It's rare that I laugh out loud while I read, but I was chuckling over and over again at Adam's naïveté, or supposed innocent observations. However, all the characters Adam describes end up being deliciously flawed and curiously interesting.
Likewise, the near-dystopic society Wilson creates is fascinating: it's in the future, but it's backwards! Certainly it will have you contemplating society's future after Peak Oil, although hopefully in a fictional way.
I feel a bit guilty giving Dirk Gently #1 only 3 stars. After all, it's wickedly clever and chock-a-block with crazy, colorful, and differentiated cha...moreI feel a bit guilty giving Dirk Gently #1 only 3 stars. After all, it's wickedly clever and chock-a-block with crazy, colorful, and differentiated characters. But I sadly think I just wasn't in the mood for all the absurdist situations and comedy. It was all just a little too random. I'll have to try a re-read when I'm feeling particularly goofily giddy with 1980s British nostalgia.
Just two quotes that struck me: They are not the funniest nor the most famous, just ones I'd like to remember:
"Shapes that we think of as random are in fact the products of complex shifting webs of numbers obeying simple rules. The very word "natural" that we have often taken to mean "unstructured" in fact describes shapes and processes that appear to unfathomably complex that we cannot consciously perceive the simple natural laws at work. They can all be described by numbers."
"The things by which our emotions can be moved—the shape of a flower or a Grecian urn, the way a baby grows, the way the wind brushes across your face, the way clouds move, their shapes, the way light dances on the water, or daffodils flutter in the breeze, the way in which the person you love moves in their head, the way their hair follows that movement, the curve described by the dying fall of the last chord of a piece of music—all these things can be described by the complex flow of numbers. That's not a reduction of it, that's the beauty of it. Ask Newton. Ask Einstein."
Those two quotes pretty much sum up why I felt so compelled to study physics after years of intending to get an art degree.(less)
My 8 y.o. niece could NOT stop laughing at the poems in this book. Her favorite part (so far) is the end pages that have the drawings and list of Runn...moreMy 8 y.o. niece could NOT stop laughing at the poems in this book. Her favorite part (so far) is the end pages that have the drawings and list of Runny Babbit's friends, like Toe Jurtle, Goctor Doose, and Polly Dorkupine. Over the next few days, she was re-reading the poems then trying to speak Runny Babbit talk. I loved seeing her think about and play with language!(less)
***Goodreads swap from 10/09 at Vroman's. Thank you anonymous swapper!***
What an achievement to write a book that steps into the mind of an autistic t...more***Goodreads swap from 10/09 at Vroman's. Thank you anonymous swapper!***
What an achievement to write a book that steps into the mind of an autistic teen yet allows us to laugh out loud and feel some deep emotions! Not to mention it reminded this crusty scientist of her childhood wide-eyed amazement and enthusiasm for the beauty of math.
Seriously, it's okay to laugh at Christopher's quirks and missteps despite his autistic-spectrum disorder. He has Behavioral Problems that most of us have experienced in one way or another, but perhaps not taken to such extremes. He reminds me a lot of Adrian Mole, twisting and bending rules and getting himself into funny, awkward situations.
My favorite part of the book is where he describes his logic of seeing red cars and having a Super Good Day. He points out to the psychologist that other people take seemingly illogical cues (the weather as they step out of the house) that sets their mood for the day. His cue is a bit more unique. Likewise, people have morning routines they faithfully follow that shows they like things nice and ordered, too.
This book should be read in high-schools. It reads fast, funny, with emotional reverberations and a strong empathy moral. Readers question what it means to be "normal," a question that torments teenagers daily.
OK, I can see where the "normal is not all its cracked up to be" moral is a bit ham-fisted at the end. The emotional or sympathetic didacticism here can turn off some readers; not everyone wants a moral lesson with their novel. However, sympathy and empathy are two morals-of-the-story that everyone should learn, embrace and practice. This books gets you there with a laugh.(less)
Jim Dixon is like a cross between Holden Caulfield and Adrian Mole. Maybe just ever so slightly smarter than either, but just as cynical, aloof, and f...moreJim Dixon is like a cross between Holden Caulfield and Adrian Mole. Maybe just ever so slightly smarter than either, but just as cynical, aloof, and full of troublemaking buffoonery. That type of humor hits some people in just the right way, while leaving others in the cold. Personally, I was in hysterics.
This book is quite funny if you have worked in upper levels of academia, and particularly hysterical if you have worked at a UK university. The skewering academic humor still rings true today - research of minutia, clueless older profs, uncertain job market, and the social awkwardness of the intellectual community.
Even if you haven't had the unique "pleasure" of academia, just the mischief Dixon creates to cover his hide will send you rolling. He likes to pull faces when people aren't looking (I was imagining a Jim Carrey face). His internal dialogue while trying to pay attention was a hoot - the situation in reality is much tamer than in his head. And his inabilities with women are funny, even if dated.
Just a good, amusing read. If you liked Catcher in the Rye, you'll most likely like Lucky Jim.(less)
What an odd, quick read. Vonnegut wrote only one play (thank goodness!) and set it as a retelling of Odysseus's return home from war set in the mid 20...moreWhat an odd, quick read. Vonnegut wrote only one play (thank goodness!) and set it as a retelling of Odysseus's return home from war set in the mid 20th century. Like the Odyssey, Penelope has several suitors and a son who lamely attempts to fight them off. The role of the returning war hero is Penelope's brutish husband, Harold, an older, gruffy, rude man who's been missing for 8 years while diamond hunting. A lover of big game, guns and "traditional" masculinity, he revels in his surprise return and emotional control over his family.
Frequently the play reads like something from The Theater of the Absurd. The stilted dialogue, particularly at the end, lends to this affect. In true Vonnegut fashion, Happy Birthday, Wanda June is a commentary on heroism, war, and death. So it goes.
One funny note: I noticed the original Off-Broadway cast (1970-71) included Dianne Wiest (In Treatment, Law & Order, Edward Scissorhands, etc.) as the female understudy.(less)
I have no idea how I came upon Frank Bruni's blog when he was the food critic of the New York Times. I started following his behind-the-scenes comment...moreI have no idea how I came upon Frank Bruni's blog when he was the food critic of the New York Times. I started following his behind-the-scenes commentary while I was living overseas, and his quick wit and descriptions of restaurant visits made me long for the food and customer service of home. I loved that he was as much a fan of good greasy take-away grub as he was with Keller's work at Per Se. Never mind that I was not from New York - his writing was too captivating to ignore.
I was highly intrigued when I heard earlier this year that not only was he leaving his position and "outing" himself (i.e. revealing his true identity) by publishing a memoir, but that he had struggled with overeating his whole life. It shares many similarities to David Kessler's memoir The End of Overeating Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite which also came out this year. Both are eloquently able to elucidate those unspoken urges to overeat. Kessler has taken the scientific and commercial tack with his life story thrown in, while Bruni's focuses wholly on his life story, revealing all that was happening within. Both are very worthy reads, and I would suspect Kessler and Bruni would be two peas in a pod discussing their struggles.
Luckily Frank Bruni has both had an unusual life and describes it with humor, drawing us into his extended Italian-American family and circle of friends. As a journalist, he has lead an unusual path from working as a movie critic, to being a staff reporter following the Bush 2000 Presidential campaign, to working as a foreign correspondent in Rome, and eventually landing him as food critic at the NYT.
If you can't relate to having a complicated relationship with food, Bruni's memoir might come across as slightly whiny, or a little too self-reflective; i.e. you won't relate. To others us who through our life have had to have a serious "relationship discussions" with food, he really lays himself bare, admitting to various levels of eating disorders and self esteem issues. It's honest. It's funny, and a well-written account of his life.
The only flaw is that the book is heavily marketed as "food critic who was overweight", yet only about 25% of the book deals with his years as a food critic, eating lavish dinners 7 nights a week. After following his blog, I know there's much more to this story - more behind the scenes stories, surprises, learning about the industry. Perhaps Bruni is trying to be kind to restauranteurs still in business or he's saving the majority of those moments for some future book.
At any rate, reading Bruni's memoir is like getting to sit next to that unusual stranger at a dinner party who has a magical way of telling his life story. If only!(less)
Predictions of the year 2010 as imagined in 1972? Brilliant! It's shocking how many of Hoyle's predictions came true. (BTW, Hoyle is the son of famous...morePredictions of the year 2010 as imagined in 1972? Brilliant! It's shocking how many of Hoyle's predictions came true. (BTW, Hoyle is the son of famous astronomer, Fred Hoyle.) Vision phones replace: books, telephones, classrooms, offices, restaurant menus and more! All students' homework is stored on a massive computer at the school. "In the year 2010 everyone wears a jumpsuit and shoes." Ok, maybe that last one didn't come true, but the jumpsuit illustrations are hilariously both futuristic and way out of date.
In addition, the owner of the tumblr site has been trying to contact Geoffrey Hoyle to ask him about how his predictions have held up to the real 2010. He started a Facebook group to report his findings. I can't wait!(less)
Part of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza. ________________
Wow that was really a fun mash-up of historical fiction, time travel and humor! All lo...morePart of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza. ________________
Wow that was really a fun mash-up of historical fiction, time travel and humor! All lovers of time travel and its implications should give this a go. Certainly if you enjoy the zany humor of Douglas Adams, you should give this a go. I might even suggest that if you're a fan of Victorian England and its foibles, you should give this a go. And most certainly, definitely if you know what a penwiper is, you have no choice but to read this book. ________________
June 26, 2010:
I saw two interesting reviews about TSNOTD.
The first is the ever insightful Jo Walton at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/06/acad... "To Say Nothing of the Dog takes place in Willis’ “Firewatch” universe, along with her earlier Doomsday Book and more recent Blackout (and much anticipated All Clear). In this universe, there’s time travel but it’s for academic research purposes only. It’s useful to historians who want to know what really happened, and experience the past, but otherwise useless because time protects itself and you can’t bring anything through the “net” that will have any effect. The thought of time tourists hasn’t occurred in this universe, or rather it has been firmly squelched—and just as well, considering the problems historians manage to create all on their own. Despite having time travel and time travel’s ability to give you more time, Willis’s historians seem to be like my family and live in a perpetual whirlwind of ongoing crisis where there’s never enough time for proper preparation."
The second is Suvudu's 25 Years of (Bantam) Spectra series, which has a short intro from Willis herself: http://www.suvudu.com/2010/06/25-year... "I’d also always wanted to write a Victorian novel. You know the sort, crammed with eccentric characters and an incredibly convoluted plot full of butlers and afternoon tea and ruffles and séances and Oxford dons and falling in the Thames. To say nothing of the dog. And time travel. " (less)