Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Read: 18 January, 2019

I was really surprised to find out that the author is USian – Space Opera reads just like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, with their particular brand of dry, critical (yet optimistic) humour. It really was such a pleasure to get to enjoy that style of writing again, but updated for modern sensibilities and with modern pop culture references.

And while this may out me as some kind of SJW, I loved the genderfluid and pansexual representation. In particular, I liked the way that aliens got to figure out how to have sex with each other – it was a great analogue for “what do you like?” conversations that we don’t model enough in our representations of sex.

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.

Buy Legendary Northwoods Animals: A Field Guide from Amazon and support this blog!

Meeting David Sedaris

I saw a sign a while ago advertising that David Sedaris would be speaking at my local Chapters branch. I read Me Talk Pretty One Day several years ago while vacationing in Switzerland and scrounging through my father’s large collection of pass-around books. I really enjoyed it and always intended to read more, but I just never got around to it. In any case, I was fairly interested to attend the event.

And then promptly forgot all about it.

That is, until a friend who also writes a book review blog just happened to review Sedaris’s new book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. Hoping I hadn’t missed it, I looked it up online and found that it was going to be on the next day! I do love coincidences!

My husband picked me up from work and we went out to dinner and did a little New Year shopping. The event wasn’t until 7pm and I finish work at 4pm, so we had quite a bit of time to kill. Of course, it was freezing and so at about 5:30, we decided just to go to Chapters and hang around until the event began. Good thing we did because the place was already pretty packed.

We bought a copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and then my husband left (due to his work schedule, he has to get to sleep early). So I was standing in line until my back started hurting too much and I sat on the floor.

More and more people were showing up, and someone asked the woman behind me if she could move up to give more people room. “There’s a pregnant girl here,” she said, perhaps a little indignantly. Then she leans down to me: “Honey, you just sit right there, okay? You can come up in front of me when we get close, but you don’t have to move, okay?” I thanked her and the line moved on without me.

A minute or two later, another older woman leans down to me and says “they’re getting a chair for you.” I was rather surprised, and I asked her if she was the one who had told the staff to do so. “A pregnant woman shouldn’t have to sit on the floor,” she responded. Then I see it – the chair was floating above the crowd, slowly making its way in my direction. A short woman in staff uniform was carrying it raised above her head and trying to make it through the press of people. She put it down when she got to me and motioned to a young man also in uniform. “He’s organizing the event. He’s going to take care of you, okay?”

The young man took up the chair and told me that they were going to put me at the front, asking if that was all right. Who am I to say no? So we went through the crowd (something of a walk of shame, I felt like some VIP who doesn’t have to obey all the rules for ‘commoners’), and he set the chair down all the way at the front, extending the front row of seats so that I was sitting next to a security guard and a speaker. “Is it okay for the speaker to be here? Is this going to be okay?” asked the staffer. Are you kidding me? Like I’m going to fuss at this point!

It was still very early, with perhaps another hour to go before the official start of the event, when David Sedaris showed up. To keep things moving, he started signing books right away. An announcement was made that he would be staying until everyone had their books signed, no matter how long it took, but that there were two conditions: 1) No photography of any kind (close-up or from far), and 2) That to get a book signed, David Sedaris was requesting that we tell him a joke in exchange. I don’t know if the first rule was David’s or Chapters’s, but I think it might be the latter since my book doesn’t have an author portrait in it.

In any case, I was now in the first line, so I got to move up for the signing pretty quickly. I overheard him trying to guess people’s Zodiac signs, which was rather funny because people sounded impressed when he got them right even though he was mostly getting them wrong. “I don’t believe in astrology,” he said. “But it’s fun to try guessing.”

The girl two spots ahead of me told her joke and David howled with laughter. When the next one came up, he asked her if she’d heard the joke. When she replied that she hadn’t, he told it to her:

What did the pedophile say when he was released from jail? I feel like a kid again!

The person in front of my wanted a book-on-tape signed, so David pulled out his trousse and got a silver pen. He came prepared!

As I stepped up, he was talking about how he prefers listening to books on tape rather than reading them because it means he can get his ironing done at the same time. “You can read and iron at the same time, it just takes a bit of practice,” I said – being an expert at doing chores one-handed since my university days offered me the choice between learning to do both or skipping out on one (sleep was already being minimized as far as it would go). “You can do that because you’re a Sagittarius,” he replied. I’m not.

“How many of these have you actually gotten right?” I asked.

“I’m not doing to well tonight, but…” He motioned to the Chapters events rep standing behind him, “she can back me up on this, I was getting them all right last night!”

“Oh yes,” chimed in the woman. “I don’t think you missed any!”

Then he asked me for my joke. I’d been thinking ever since the announcement was made, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. In a panic, I said that I only know the ones about the two tomatoes crossing the road.

“Ketchup?” he asked. Yes. “Yeah… Listen, why don’t I tell you a joke instead?” I failed. Here’s the joke he told me:

Why does it suck having sex with Jesus? Because he’s always trying to come into your heart.

So there you have it!

I went back to my seat and read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk until 7pm.

He read the title story of the book, as well as a story about a fly eating vomit that was apparently excluded from the print version of the book (but is on the audio version) because his editors told him it was too gross. He played with two little sound-effects toys, then he recommended that we all buy a book called Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (saying that we ought to buy this book before any of his own) and read a few passages from it. To finish off, he read out some passages from his diary.

While I was listening to him speak, I kept hearing this snorting noise coming from the right. The only person there was a dour security guard. It was truly a mystery. So I decided to keep an eye on that guard (clandestinely, of course, because security guards don’t generally like it when you stare…).

Sure enough, I soon caught him snorting, face all scrunched up, trying to keep control of himself. The poor man had an image to protect, and here was this author, this comedian, ruining everything!

It was a great night and I really enjoyed the experience. David Sedaris seems like a really nice guy – or, at least, a really good actor. I was also very impressed with the staff and customers who worked together to provide assistance to a complete stranger!

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.

Buy Witches Abroad from Amazon to support this blog!

Continue reading

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.

Buy Small Gods from Amazon to support this blog!

Continue reading

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Read: 17 June, 2008

The edition I have has The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, and So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish all bundled up into one book, so I just read that straight through and I’ll be reviewing all four together.

Firstly, I loved Hitchhiker’s. It was by far the best of the four. It was the most solid in the sense that I could just relax and go with the story without ever having to put the book down and think “okay, now how does that make sense?” I know it seems strange when reading Douglas Adams, but Hitchhiker’s had good internal logic or verisimilitude, something the other three novels didn’t quite achieve to the same degree. I also found this first novel to be the most densely packed with humour.

I found The Restaurant at the End of the Universe to be a little dull, honestly. There were good moments, but the whole bit that followed Zaphod as the main character just didn’t work for me. I love Zaphod, he’s a great character, but most of his appeal comes from how he appears to others. Taken alone, he lost much of his individuality because we saw him having to do non-Zaphody things out of necessity. This was made all the worse because I had an image of who Zaphod was that the real Zaphod, with the story seen from his perspective, couldn’t live up to. I found him dull and tiresome.

Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish were better, but didn’t have that “embarass myself by laughing out loud in public” quality that Hitchhiker’s had. Taken separately from the first novel, I liked them quite a bit (loved the ending, by the way). I just didn’t feel that they measured up to the first novel.

I think that most of what put me off the three novels after Hitchhiker’s is that they spent a lot of their time trying to explain or expand upon the jokes made in the first novel. These were jokes that had worked beautifully on their own. It felt like, when at a party, you tell a joke and some guy comes along while everyone else is laughing and tries to explain the punchline. He might do it in a funny way, but it’s still a little annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I did like all four novels. My complaints are more about saying how wonderful Hitchhiker’s was, rather than saying that the other three weren’t.

Arthur Dent was by far my favourite character. He was just fabulous. I found Trillian well handled – she’s not a major part of the story and she isn’t described in any great detail, but what is said aboput her hints at a character with a lot of depth. Zaphod was great, but, as I said earlier, works best when seen through others as an extravagant character rather than as an actual human with his own mundane life. I felt that Ford Prefect was rather unmemorable. All the details the narrator tells us about him were interesting and funny, I just didn’t find that he jumped off the pages when he spoke or acted in the same way that the other characters did. And why does everyone call him Ford when that’s just the name he used while on earth? That bugged be a bit! Marvin was good. He was funny and, thankfully, wasn’t around enough to get annoying.

All in all, a good read that I would highly recommend.

Buy Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the Trilogy of Four from Amazon to support this blog!

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Read: 14 April, 2008

Tom Sawyer is an episodic piece that might have been titled “sketches of boyhood.” There is a plot, but it takes a secondary position to main plot – the adventures of a young boy in Mississippi. It isn’t a bad thing. The plot of the story (the discoveries of Indian Joe’s various criminal activities) serves well for little bursts of excitement, but probably would have bogged the story down if it had taken central place.

I’m afraid that I don’t have too much to say about the book. It was a light and interesting read, it was terribly funny at times, and the characterization was superb. I do wish that I had read this when I was a bit younger as I think that I would have appreciated it more. So while I definitely recommend it to anyone, I would especially recommend it to 10-15-year-olds.

Buy The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from Amazon to support this blog!

How To Tell Your Friends From The Apes by Will Cuppy

Read: 2 February, 2008

A series of two page profiles for a number of animals (including a section devoted to other humanoids). Cuppy displays a great deal of research and uses it well to make his profiles quite funny. The style of comedy is very subtle, making it easy to miss if the reference isn’t known.

I wasn’t wildly impressed with this book. I did enjoy it and it truly is very funny, but it left me feeling a bit empty; it’s like a meal that just isn’t as filling as expected. Finishing, I couldn’t help but to feel that I could have much better spent my time with a different selection. That being said, however, it truly is quite funny and I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a bad book.

Just to give a sense of what to expect, here is a passage:
“When standing beside a mimosa the Giraffe is indistinguishable from the tree except that he has four legs and a head and a tail. Some hunters will stalk a mimosa tree for days without getting results.”

Ultimately, I found that the introduction by P.G. Wodehouse was the best part of the whole book (not only because Wodehouse is awesome, but also because all the best passages from the book to follow are quoted there).

Buy How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes from Amazon to support this blog!

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.

Buy Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal from Amazon to support this blog!

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.

Buy Guards! Guards! from Amazon to support this blog! Continue reading