Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Read: 12 February, 2017

There’s a man no one remembers, a young woman who holds a piece of paper that she can’t put down, a boy whose absent father suddenly reappears and reappears and reappears… It’s really just your average Night Vale day.

I’ve somehow managed to have never listened to the podcast. I know, I know, I’m just not really a podcast sorta person right now. But many of my friends listen to Night Vale and post quotes and tweets and such, and I’ve always found them the perfect combination of funny, insightful, and weird.

So when I found a Welcome to Night Vale audiobook at my local library, I figured I’d give it a shot – helpfully in a more familiar format.

And I really enjoyed it! Night Vale does a fantastic job of ‘hyper-reality’. Details of the story are absurd, but they’re also true, they are subjective impressions rendered literal. The character of Josh is the perfect example of this: a teenage boy, his body assumes a different shape every day – some days he has skin, some days he has a carapace – but no matter what form he takes, his mother always knows him.

I loved how inclusive and refreshing the book is, too. Josh has a crush on a girl and he has a crush on a boy, the only explicit couple in the book are gay men, and the plot revolves around an absent father who is a perfectly nice guy but just not a good father. The central relationship that emerges from the plot is a friendship between two women. It’s just wonderful.

I see quite a few negative (and negative-ish) reviews complaining about how the narrator’s voice carries over into a print, and I can see that. The narrator’s intonations and pauses added a great deal to the story. And that’s not particularly surprising – these characters were made for a podcast format.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Read: 13 January, 2017

After a very unusual night, Richard becomes re-acquainted with his college friend, Svlad Cjelli – or, as he is currently calling himself, Dirk Gently. There’s also a ghost involved. It gets weird.

I have my doubts that Adams knew what the solution to the mystery would be before he started writing. This was my impression with the Hitchhiker’s books as well – he seems to just sit down, write what’s funny, and then try to come up with something that’ll end the book.

And that’s fine. This is one mystery where the journey really is all that matters, and the journey is hilarious.

Now that I’ve finished reading the book, I can finally watch that show I keep hearing about!

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Legendary Northwoods Animals: A Field Guide by Galen Winter, illustrated by John Boettcher

Read: 21 August, 2015

I recently found myself in a friend’s home in Wisconsin with nothing to read. This was part of the plan; I never bring more to read when I visit this friend than is strictly necessary for getting there, because she has the most wonderful book collection. Books, in fact, just like this one.

The premise is explained in the title, it is a field guide to the legendary animals of the northwoods. Except there’s no hodag, or other “established” legendary animals. Rather, Winter has just made up a bunch of legendary animals, then treated them as real, for a larf.

And a larf it is! I especially appreciated the number of slow-build jokes, where a detail mentioned early in the entry might not pay off until the very end of that entry, when it suddenly becomes clear that the name of the creature, read backwards, is the joke (for example).

While very funny throughout, I did find that it started to drag a bit by the end, and I don’t think that this book was meant to be read from cover to cover. Rather, this a book you might put on your coffee table or in your bathroom to be read an entry or two at a time.

The illustrations, done by John Boettcher, were quite beautiful. I enjoyed the wood-cut style, and they did a great job at capturing the absurd animals.

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John Dies At The End by David Wong

Read: 26 August, 2014

After taking a hit of Soy Sauce, John and David start to see things, scary things, horrible things. Next thing they know, they’re trying to save the world.

John Dies is rather haphazard. It’s very funny (you know, penis and poop jokes funny) and reasonably scary (i had one night where I briefly considered leaving the hall light on), but it’s all over the place.

It was a fun read, and the titular John was absolutely hilarious (gotta love the puns), but it just never seemed to go anywhere. the final portion of the book, where the author tries to give an explanation for all the weird stuff, feels very forced. It’s rather clear that he hadn’t really thought through where the story was going until he got there, and no amount of world-destroying dog diarrhea can cover that up.

It’s brain candy – no nutrition, but enjoyable enough in moderation.

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Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Read: 3 December, 2013

Fat Charlie’s father died while singing karaoke, and that was only the start of his troubles.

I’ve been listening to people recommend Gaiman for years and finally gave Sandman a try recently. I was unimpressed. But, I did want to give him a second shot, so I picked up Anansi Boys, and I’m very glad I did!

This book is wonderful, pretty near perfect. The use of mythology is, of course, right up my alley, but that alone wouldn’t have sold it. Anansi Boys is also clever and hilarious. The narration was a joy to read, and the characters were entrancing.

I was really blown away!

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A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Read: 4 April, 2013

Upon moving into a new home, Bryson discovered that he was living near an entrance to the Appalachian Trail. With far less consideration and forethought than would have been ideal, he decides to hike it’s length with Stephen Katz – a man he hadn’t seen in years and whom he couldn’t really stand.

I come from a hiking family, but have personally always been somewhat sedentary. So Bryson’s account of being an outsider, then briefly something of an insider, then once more an outsider resonated for me. In particular, where Bryson describes looking on as the more experienced hikers easily tackle obstacles that seem to him to be insurmountable (or at least extremely difficult).

Bryson uses his journey to talk about the history of both the trail and the environment surrounding it, including the rather depressing story of what we’ve done (and continue to do) to the plants and animals that once populated the areas the trail crosses.

The story is hilarious – laugh-out-loud funny, which my son found disconcerting as he was trying to nap. Bryson uses a lovely dry humour that keeps the story interesting and lively.

Bryson is rather a jerk and is very judgemental of the people he meets, but he does it in a way that gives the people a sort of secret depth, and an opportunity to introduce some side issues such as Katz’s battle with alcoholism.

It was a lovely little read that left me inspired to do a bit more walking of my own. I definitely recommend it to any ‘weekend hikers,’ or people with a history of biting off rather more than they can chew.

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The Last Testament by David Javerbaum

Read: 18 March, 2013

This is an extended, 364-page joke in which God has been convinced by his publisher to write a new testament, his first since the Quran, in which he finally answers all those questions people have been asking about Him and His work. 

Despite really being a single joke wrought out into a full length novel, The Last Testament did mostly hold my interest. It was very funny, funny enough to have me laughing out loud in several places, even if many of the jokes have been done before (“Actually, it really was Adam and Steve…”).

The book is written in a King James-ish style, full of thees and thous and -ests, and it’s broken up into chapters and verses. This works for the larger joke and, in several places, really added to the humour of what was being said, but it made for difficult and tiresome reading. It ended up taking me a long time to get through the book because I could only read in short bursts or I’d just get bored with the writing style.

I’m probably the worst person to judge, but I found the jokes to be more or less unheretical. I mean, obviously, he’s poking fun at the Trinity and all that, but at no point did I get the sense that he was deliberately trying to offend anyone. If anything, the jokes were mostly in the same vein that I heard in Church and Meeting growing up.

Since I’m working on reading through his first Testament, so I really enjoyed the first part of the book where Javerbaum gives a “behind the scenes tell all.” While the rest of the book can be read and appreciated by anyone with a reasonably good pop culture knowledge, the first part is definitely much (MUCH!) funnier with a good overall knowledge of the Old Testament.

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Discworld #7: Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

Read: 26 April, 2012

I felt that it was about time for me to return to Discworld!

In Pyramids, we follow Teppic – the heir of Djelibeybi – as he goes to Ankh-Morpork to study with the assassin’s guild. He’s called home just after passing his final exam because his father has died and it’s now his turn to be king.

Like the rest of the Discworld series, Pyramids is laugh-out-loud-and-then-realize-you’re-on-the-bus-and-die-a-little-inside-with-shame funny. The plot is a little flimsy, but that’s not what I’m coming to Pratchett for anyway. I did also find that Pyramids didn’t have any characters that really stood out. Dios and Ptraci (Tracey?) both had potential, but neither was really sufficiently explored. And, like most Discworld novels, the climactic end is written too visually and doesn’t come across very well – I often find myself skipping through the last 10-20 pages of Pratchett’s novels.

And, of course, I love how dense Discworld novels are with thinking food. Pratchett is a master at bringing up complex issues and ideas in a very simple (and funny!) way.

I don’t think that this would make a good starter novel for someone new to the Discworld universe, but it’s an excellent addition for old fans!

There’s a whole lot more Discworld novels that I haven’t read yet. Help me afford to expand my collection by buying Pyramids (Discworld Book 7) from Amazon! Continue reading

Bridget Jones’ Diary 2: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

Read: 2005

I am often typecast by friends and family as “the one who likes books.” To non-readers, a book is a book is a book, so I often end up getting some really weird books that I would never pick up for myself. This is how I ended up in possession of The Edge of Reason, Helen Fielding’s second Bridget Jones novel.

In this novel, Bridget stumbles through her day-to-day life, surviving one ridiculous mishap after another, until she is finally reunited with her love.

The writing is designed to imitate a form of shorthand that might be used to keep a diary. It reminded be somewhat of Flowers for Algernon in the sense that the form was an important part of the content (something that we (should) see often in poetry, but that is quite a bit rarer in novels). It was interesting and it gave the story quite a bit of verisimilitude. The short sentences kept me reading at a faster pace than I do normally, which was rather interesting. And even though I read this about four years ago, I still use the “v.” (or “vee,” if I’m speaking) as a shorthand for “very.”

Bridget Jones herself is a hilariously inept character, bouncing from one situation to another with little agency of her own. I have a soft spot for such characters, so long as they aren’t annoying about it, so I rather enjoyed her as well. The situations themselves were so ridiculous (particularly the one involving a naked boy and a bunny – yes, really) that they had me laughing quite a bit as I read through.

This is the ice-cream of the reading world – it’s enjoyable, not particularly nutritious, but it won’t rot your brain out either (provided it’s consumed only sparingly and interspersed with meatier fare).

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Discworld #12: Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Read: 26 April, 2009

A beautiful young servant girl is destined to marry a handsome prince, thanks to her fairy godmother. The ball has been arranged, the gown made, and everything prepared so that Ella can meet her prince charming and live happily ever after.

But there’s a catch. Three witches have come to put a stop to this fairy tale and make sure that Ella never marries the prince. Ella couldn’t be happier!

Terry Pratchett’s twelfth Discworld novel returns to Bad Ass and to the adventures of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat.

There isn’t much to be said about this novel that can’t be said for pretty much any of the other Discworld books. As usually, Pratchett his hilariously funny. I love Granny and Nanny and how they play off each other. The inversion of the classic fairy tale is quite clever as well.

But this isn’t just about fairy tales. A large portion of the novel could better be called a mock-travel narrative, which was very interesting.

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