The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell

Read: 4 February, 2018

I happened on this book while searching for north African recipe books, and I’m still debating whether that’s a search algorithm win or a search algorithm fail. In any case, I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to read it, and promptly put it on hold at my library.

The book is a collection of memoir essays. They are a bit disconnected (although all come back, in some way, to themes of social justice), but I didn’t mind this time. It felt natural, like a conversation with a good friend that goes all over the place.

I really enjoyed the way Bell breaks down concepts – even when I still understood what he was getting at, I enjoyed the journey of the explanation. I never felt talked down to or excluded, even when he was explaining 101 concepts, even when he was clearly addressing readers who’ve shared his perspective and experiences.

This isn’t as hard-hitting as, for example, Between the World and Me or The New Jim Crow, while still expressing many of the same ideas. This would be a perfect starter book for that white friend who kinda gets it but doesn’t get it get it, but who wouldn’t want “all the negativity” of Michelle Alexander.

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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Discworld #13: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Read: 23 February, 2009

Things just can’t seem to go right for Brutha, Novice to the Great God Om. First a tortoise starts talking to him, then the head of the Inquisition notices that he exists, and that’s just the start! Terry Pratchett delivers yet another wacky, zany, hilariously funny, and delightfully philosophical episode in the Discworld Series.

POSITIVE: Funny. Really funny. Laugh out loud while in public and make others think you’re adled funny. In Small Gods, Pratchett’s focus is on religion – monotheistic religion in particular. He handles his topic with great care, so that it is irreverent and funny, and yet somehow manages never to come off as insulting. The morals and philosophies of the story are also a treat and the ending, in particular, is absolutely perfect in every way.

NEGATIVES: None. Pratchett frequently falls a little short on his plots and endings, but this book is a shining exception. I don’t get to say this often, but I think that this novel might just be perfect in every way.

Overall, this is a fabulous book and a joy to read from start to finish. I think that Atheists and scientists would most enjoy this read. Fundamentalists and religious conservatives may see themselves too accurately reflected and dislike the book as a result. Even so, I think that a good sense of humour will make this book an enjoyable read regardless of your religious beliefs.

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Lamb by Christopher Moore

Thank you, Zeba, for the recommendation.

Read: 11 January, 2008

The story is written from the perspective of Biff, Jesus’s best friend. In the modern day, an angel raises Biff from the dead so that he can write a new gospel. It follows Jesus from the time Biff met him as a child up until their deaths. It shows us Jesus’s early training as a stonemason, his travels into the East, and his eventual ministry.

Lamb is an absolutely hilarious comedy about Jesus that, surprisingly, manages to remain almost completely inoffensive. I loved reading it. It was very funny with a writing style similar to Carl Hiaasen’s, but lacked Hiaasen’s flaws (like the awfully disappointing endings). It was clever where it needed to be, sensitive where it needed to be, and funny where it needed to be. The characterizations of Jesus, Biff, and Mary Magdalene were stunningly constructed.

There were two portions that I felt a little let down by. The first is when Biff and Jesus get to Calcutta and see a ritual dedicated to the goddess Kali. The scene was important to the story, but it felt dry. It was too descriptive, like an anthropological study. I do understand that it’s supposed to be horrifying, so the humour of the rest of the story would have been out of place. But it needed something different. Reading the Afterward, Moore mentions that he had learned about the ritual from Joseph Campbell, which goes a way to explain the tone of the passage. Unable to use his normal humour, Moor had resorted to Campbell’s more academic writing style.

I was also a little disappointed that the story skipped over much of Jesus’ ministry. The reason given in the book is that the real gospels already tell that story, but I would have liked to have heard Biff’s perspective. I understand that it would have been more difficult to write about that portion without offending people and without getting preachy, but the pacing just didn’t match up with the rest of the story. It felt like the last few chapters ended the book with a bit of a “plegh.”

These two complaints are very minor, though. The book was awesome and I highly recommend it for pretty much anyone. Having studied the New Testament a bit, I found a lot of references to theories about Jesus and a lot of jokes that asked for a certain familiarity with the Bible to get and my previous knowledge enriched my reading. But friends who had no previous interest or understanding found no difficulty in following the story. I also think that reasonable Christians won’t find it at odds with their faith. There’s something for everyone.

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Discworld #8: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Read: June 2007

Constable Carrot, Captain Vimes, and the rest of the Nightwatch must save Ankh-Morpork from a “noble dragon” that’s taken over the city.

Another great book from the Discworld series. I absolutely loved Captain Vimes. He’s just such a great character and would work perfectly well in a story of his own sans the comedy. The humour is, as usual with Pratchett, laugh-out-loud hilarious.

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Discworld #4: Mort by Terry Pratchett

Read: 2007

Mort was an awkward farm boy with the horticultural talents of a dead starfish. Eager to send him into a trade that might better suit his dispositions, his family agreed to place him in an apprenticeship with Death.

As far as coming of age and first love stories go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. That’s the major aspect of the Discworld novels I’ve always liked – they are hilarious, but the stories would still be quite good even without the humour.

Like most of the Discworld series, I loved the book right up until the climax. At that point, I usually feel like Pratchett is letting some fumbling inner author take over and I lose interest completely. It’s usually a struggle for me to read the last 10-20 pages.

Overall, though, I highly recommend Mort as well as just about any other Discworld novel for anyone who enjoys comedy, particularly the more word-play witty humour of Britain rather than the slapstick/situational humour of North America.

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