Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book List 2010: 1/3

        As some of you might know, Emily Horne and Joey Comeau's A Softer World is one of my absolute favorite comics. What you might not know is that Emily Horne has a journal and every year puts out a list of every book she's read and movie she's watched. I've always felt this was an great idea. It not only only allows you to look back at all the things you've read, but also provides others with an interesting data depiction of yourself. This year I finally decided to try my hand at it. Well, technically it isn't a complete list, because I only started recording them at the beginning of May, but it's the best you're gonna get.

        My main problem with Emily Horne's list is that she only gives a list of titles and authors and an occasional comment. This means you really don't always know what all those titles are unless you're willing to do a bunch of research. So to help you out, along with the title and author you'll also find: a short description, some of my thoughts on it, and a quote from it. All this data, however, means that in order to not have one horrible freak post I'm going to break it up into three pieces. Here is piece the first.

* = reread
[A] = audio book

1. *
Small Gods
by. Terry Pratchett

A once powerful God suddenly finds himself trapped in the body of a tortoise with only one follower to his name. Together they delve into the depths of religion to get him back to his proper place.

Terry Pratchett is my favorite author. He has that rare gift of being able to be laugh-out-loud funny while saying something deeply profound. In this one he turns his satirical lens on the world of religion. In a book joking about religion it would be easy to assume an arrogant atheist stance and mock the beliefs of others as silly, but Pratchett doesn't do that. Yes, he does harpoon some ideas about God, criticizes the dangers of blind faith, and shows how religion can be used to advance personal agendas. But the story focuses on the character Brutha, the only follower of a fallen God. He is shown to be smart, thoughtful, and questioning. It is through him we are able to see the strength and comfort of believing in something bigger than yourself.

“He looked nervous, like an atheist in a thunderstorm.”

2. *
Going Postal
by. Terry Pratchett

A crook is given a choice: death or becoming the Post Master of the city's ramshackle Post Office.

This is the first discworld book to introduce Moist von Ludwig, and the Moist books have quickly become some of my favorite Discworld books. The book's depiction of a conman being forced to run a profoundly out-of-whack Post Office is just wonderful. In addition the characters themselves are so hilarious and engaging that you'd hardly need a plot at all. Yet there is a plot and it is full of excitement, romance, and adventure.

“Would you like to have dinner tonight?”
“I like to have dinner every night. With you? No.”

Too Many Curses
by. A. Lee Martinez

A kobold named Nessy must try to keep a magical castle full of accursed inhabitants in order after her cruel master gets his just desserts and an evil sorceress comes calling.

Martinez is an interesting author in that he either knocks it out of the park or strikes out. Sadly I felt this was a bit of a strike out. Although even the strike outs are still fun because he is so good at coming up with such memorable pieces of imagery. So sure the plot was weak and the protagonist is pretty lame, but all around the periphery of the story are all sorts of delightful little jokes and characters. It's a simple book that you can read pretty quickly and you'll get some chuckles and memorable moments out of it.

Aren't we going to read tonight?” asked the monster under her bed.

She kept her eyes shut. “I'm sorry. Maybe tomorrow.”

“This is two nights in a row.”

“I've been very busy,” she mumbled softly. She'd nearly drifted off when he spoke up again.

“There's someone else, isn't there?”

Monstrous Regiment
by. Terry Pratchett

With a haircut and a sock down her trousers a young girl disguises herself as a boy to join her nation's army. However, she quickly learns it wasn't what she was expecting when her regiment finds itself in the center of the war.

Sadly, I was a little disappointed with this one. Looking back I think that my disappointment wasn't because of what the book was, but was because what it was wasn't what I was expecting it to be (tongue twister much?). If I read it again I'd probably enjoy it a lot more. I expected there to be a lot more Vimes in it. Vimes is my favorite Discworld character so I spent most of book wondering why he wasn't in more of it. My friend, another Pratchett fan, read it after I did and said he really liked it, so there you go. There's lots of actions, lots of laughs, and lots of tough women kicking guys' asses.

“The enemy isn't men, or women, it's bloody stupid people and no one has the right to be stupid.”

The Nameless Witch
by. A. Lee Martinez

An undead witch with a taste for flesh and her talking duck go on a quest to avenge their master's death. They join up with a handsome white knight and the witch must struggle with her desires to love him and to eat him.

Another strike out for Martinez. But like before it's a simple quick read that'll spark your imagination and give you some chuckles. I mean there's a killer duck and a woman who wants to eat the man she loves. I mean it's kinda worth it just for that.

“It's easy to defeat life-or-death ordeals. Such tribulations demand success. It's the small tests that require something more from us. When we can turn and walk away is when we find what we're made of.”

Tokyo Suckerpunch
by. Issac Adamson

Billy Chaka is supposed to be writing a story about a martial arts tournament in Japan, but instead he is trying to solve a murder and find a geisha.

I don't even know how to describe this book. It has melted in my mind into a puddle of assorted scenes. It is a slighty odd and slightly fantastical (but not really) kind of book. Rest assured that in this book you will find: Billy Chaka stealing a punk kid's motorcycle, a man who made a career out of making bad movies, a mysterious geisha, and a truly bizarre secret brothel. If you're in the mood to read a funny story about a guy with a penchant for karate awkwardly adventuring through Japanese society, you'll probably love it.

“I slipped on my cowboy gear, donning both the bandanna and the Lone Ranger mask, and pulling the big cowboy hat low over my eyes. Billy Chaka, paranoid cowboy.”

Bet Me
by. Jennifer Cruise

A woman's friends bet her to go out with a guy, while the guy's friends bet him to go out with her. They hate each other, then they love each other.

The best description I can give for this book is that it is exactly like reading a romantic comedy movie. It is rather delightful. I only really had two big issues with it. The first is the fact that there's this kid in it who gets sick whenever he eats doughnuts. Despite this that kid just keeps eating doughnuts! I don't know about you, but if I threw up every time I ate a doughnut I would never eat doughnuts. I mean, is a minute of enjoying the taste of a doughnut worth the subsequent taste of vomit in your mouth? No. No it is not. The second thing is that these characters eat way too much Chicken Paramasean. I swear there is a week where they eat nothing else. That is absurd.

“'I'm Min's fairy godmother, Charm Boy,' Liza said, frowning down at him. 'And if you don't give her a happily ever after, I'm going to come back and beat you to death with a snow globe.'”

Charmed Life
by. Diana Wynne Jones

A strange boy and his sister are orphans. They get adopted by a very rich and powerful wizard. The boy turns out to have more powers than people would have thought at first.

How do you describe a book that is done well, but just isn't your thing? The whole thing reads as if someone wanted to write a Harry Potter-esque book in the style of His Dark Materials. However, it didn't have the over the top fun of Potter or the scope and excitement of Compass. If you're looking for my opinion I'd say read one of those series instead, but that's just me.

“He was practising away one evening, when Gwendolen stormed in and shrieked a spell in his face. Cat found, to his dismay, that he was holding a large striped cat by the tail. He had its head tucked under his chin, and he was sawing at its back with the violin bow. He dropped it hurriedly. Even so, it bit him under the chin and scratched him painfully.
'What did you do that for?' he said.”

The Lives of Christopher Chant
by. Diana Wynne Jones

The story of a young boy, who just happens to be a powerful wizard, is just as good at getting into trouble as he is at dying.

This is a prequel to that last one and you know what? I enjoyed it much more. A large part of it takes place in dream worlds and that provides a much more interesting fantasy setup than the previous book offered. If you're interested in checking these books out I'd say read this one first. That way you'll enjoy the other one more because you'll get to see how the kid has grown up.

“I must be the only person in the world ever to be punished for breaking my neck!”

10. *[A]
Me Talk Pretty One Day
by. David Sedaris

David Sedaris tries to learn french and other essays.

I don't know how to describe collections of essays. I love David Sedaris. This is probably my favorite of his books and that is saying something. It's hilarious, it's witty, it's wonderful, I've read/listened to it so many times that I've lost count.

“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned 'Lie down,' 'Shut up,' and 'Who shit on this carpet?' The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. 'Is thems the thoughts of cows?' I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. 'I want me some lamb chop with handles on 'em.'”

by. David Rakoff

A collection of essays by David Rakoff.

I can't remember too much about this one. I recall it being enjoyable, but that it tended to sway between delightful and tedious.

“I find life itself provides ample and sufficient tests of my valor and mettle: illness; betrayal; fruitless searches for love; working for the abusive, the insane, and the despotic. All challenges easily as thrilling to me as scrambling over icy rock in a pair of barely adequate boots.”

12. [A]
When you are Engulfed in Flames
by. David Sedaris

David Sedaris tries to quit smoking by going to Japan and other essays.

As you may have noticed I tend to listen to David Sedaris' audio books because I think he is a wonderful story teller and his voice just adds something to the stories. Oh, do I still need to share my thoughts about it? Okay, umm...David Sedaris is wonderful and this book is wonderful too.

“This left me alone to solve the coffee problem - a sort of catch-22, as in order to think straight I need caffeine, and in order to make that happen I need to think straight.”

Apathy and Other Small Victories
by. Paul Neilan

A comedy about a man living a life that is not ideal.

Jeez, that was a hard one to summarize. The whole book is kind of like that summary to Seinfeld: it's about nothing. Like Seinfeld it isn't really about the plot, it's about the character, his comedic views, and his misadventures, both ordinary and ridiculous. It has an interesting style of writing; I want to say it is done in a steam-of-consciousness style, but it isn't quite that. If you enjoyed the movie Office Space you would probably like this book.

“The fact is any time spent at work not sleeping in the bathroom is wasted time.”

by. M.T. Anderson

In a future where ads are beamed directly into our brains, two young kids fall in love. A stark depiction of the consequences we pay for senseless consumerism.

The whole thing is kind of like if Fahrenheit 451 was aimed at young teens. From a kid's point of view, that means it is much more appealing: the characters are their age and it deals with things they can relate to. It is a really good book for younger crowd. However, even though I'm perfectly aware they were aiming for two completely different demographics in two completely different time periods, I still feel compelled to say that Ray Bradbury's was better.

“…It’s like a spiral: They keep making everything more basic so it will appeal to everyone. And gradually, everyone gets used to everything being basic, so we get less and less varied as people, more simple. So the corps make everything even simpler. And it goes on and on.”

Don't Get Too Comfortable
by. David Rakoff

Another collection of essays by David Rakoff.

I remember even less about this one than I did the last one. I think I liked it better though. David Rakoff is kind of like an upper class version of David Sedaris.

“Too many were the early mornings spent sitting at the table, insomniac in the gray dawn, thinking to myself, Eggs would be good. Not for eating but for the viscous wrath of my ovobarrage. It seemed only a matter of time before I was lobbing my edible artillery out the window at the army of malefactors who daily made my life such a buzzing carnival of annoyance. I could almost feel the satisfying, sloshy heft of my weapons as I imagined them leaving my hands and raining down upon my targets...All would taste my All Natural, Vegetarian Feed, Grade A Extra Large brand of justice!”

16. *
by. Davy Rothbart

A collection of found letters, notes, photographs, and so much more.

There is a voyeuristic thrill that comes from reading these. I don't know what else to say. It's a collection of the little snippets from other people's lives for you to peruse and ponder over like a wannabe archaeologist. It's good fun.

“Don't take mattress. Leanne died on it. Shame on you. Apt. 306.”

Geek Love
by. Katherine Dunn

The story of a family of carnival freaks. One has psychic powers, one starts a cult, another tries to find love, and they all try to get by.

Weird as shit, but highly entertaining. If you like circus freaks you'll be sure to get a kick out of it. If you don't like circus freaks you'll probably get a creepier sort of kick out of it.

“They thought to use and shame me but I win out by nature, because a true freak cannot be made. A true freak must be born.”

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by. Dave Eggers

The story of a man who has to take care of his brother after their parents die.

Definitely an unusual book. Beautiful but strange. It is all written in a kind of self referential stream of consciousness style that's hard to describe. I'm not really doing it justice, but it is very interesting, very intimate, and very, very good.

“Because secrets do not increase in value if kept in a gore-ian lockbox, because one's past is either made useful or else mutates and becomes cancerous. We share things for the obvious reasons: it makes us feel un-alone, it spreads the weight over a larger area, it holds the possibility of making our share lighter. And it can work either way - not simply as a pain-relief device, but, in the case of not bad news but good, as a share-the-happy-things-I've-seen/lessons-I've-learned vehicle. Or as a tool for simple connectivity for its own sake, a testing of waters, a stab at engagement with a mass of strangers.”

John Dies at the End
by. David Wong

After getting dosed with a crazy drug John's eyes are opened to the world of the paranormal. Unable to stop seeing these strange things he is forced to deal with them and it takes him on one crazy journey.

This book is just so bizarre and I love it to death. It moves between being scary and laugh out loud funny. I love this book and one day I will own it and that is all I have to say about that.

“Let's say you have an ax. Just a cheap one, from Home Depot. On one bitter winter day, you use said ax to behead a man. Don't worry, the man was already dead. Or maybe you should worry, because you're the one that shot him.”

Three Cups of Tea (Young Readers Edition)
by. Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

The true story of how Greg Mortenson built a school in rural Pakistan and how education can change lives.

I accidentally requested the young readers edition. I'm not really sure what the differences are besides the obvious fact that this one tried to teach me what words like Avalanche meant. Pretty moving stuff. It gives a fascinating look into what life is like in that part of the world and the dramatic difference education can have on both individuals and socities.

“Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”

The Manual of Detection
by. Jedediah Berry

A clerk charged with handling the paperwork of the most prominent detective in the agency must become an agent himself when that ace goes missing. With only the Manual of Detection for reference he has to solve the case. However, it seems there is a chapter missing: the chapter on Dream Detection. Turns out dreams can be manipulated and invaded. His new job just got a whole lot harder.

First of all the book was written before Inception. So I don't want to hear any jibber jabber about this book ripping it off. It was interesting, but it ended up getting a bit convoluted for me towards the end. Interesting ideas though. I loved the clerk detective. He is awesome.

“The expert detective’s pursuit will go unnoticed, but not because he is unremarkable. Rather, like the suspect’s shadow, he will appear as though he is meant to be there.”

The Sparrow
by. Mary Doria Russell

After journeying to an alien planet, Father Emilio Sandoz is the only one to come back alive. However, his body has been horribly mutilated and his psyche traumatized. If that wasn't enough his rescuers claim he is guilty of heinous acts, including prostitution and murder. After years of refusing to talk about the events that ruined his life Sandoz finally recounts what happened on the planet.

A truly beautiful story that is profoundly sad. It's about the joys of love, both for others and for God. But it is also about the pain of loss, both of those close to you and of God. You spend the whole book wondering what happened to the guy and then you find out and wish you hadn't. I mean...holy shit. If you're up for riding an emotional roller coaster you won't find a better one.

“There's an old Jewish story that says in the beginning God was everywhere and everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove Himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist. So he breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists.”

“So God just leaves?”

“No. He watches. He rejoices. He Weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering.

Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine: Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.

But the sparrow still falls.”

Unseen Academicals
by. Terry Pratchett

The city's wizards find out that in order to continue getting all their needs paid for by the government they are required to field a soccer team and one more thing: they can't use any magic.

Pratchett turns his satirical lens onto the world of soccer and sports in general. I throughly enjoyed it, but I think I would have liked it more if I knew more about soccer. Regardless, it is an interesting take on the role of sports in society, as well as a fun story about underdogs fighting for what makes them happy.

“Well, yes, but it's not about the football.”
“You're saying that football is not about football?”
“It's the sharing,” she said. “It's being part of the crowd. It's chanting together. It's all of it. The whole thing.”

Guinea Pig Diaries:
My Life as an Experiment

by. A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs puts his life to the test, with each chapter depicting a different experiment. How much of his life can he outsource? What is it like living by George Washington's rules on decorum? How will practicing radical honesty effect his relationships? What will happen when he agrees to do whatever his wife tells him to for a month? The answer to all these questions is: Hilarity.

Oh, A.J. Jacobs. You are delightful. This book is both hilarious and enthralling. I don't know how to describe it but Jacobs' books are always so great, not just because of the crazy situations he imposes on himself, but also because you really feel like you are connected to him. For being so silly his stories are surprisingly intimate and therein lies their charm.

“Plus, in one of his e-mails, the guy said he didn't like pancakes. What kind of asshole doesn't like pancakes?”

The Pluto Files
by. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson goes over the history of Pluto, from discovery to today, from planet to dwarf and all the controversy inbetween.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an amazing fellow. He is just so adept at making science accesible and through that he is able to explain why there was so much scientific controversy behind Pluto. I should also mention that the hate mail he got from little kids is particularly wonderful.

“Dear Dr. neil Tyson degrasse,
At first, remember all of those kids that send you bad letters? Well, I want to apoliJize all the things that we were wrong about. We're sorry about...giving you mean letters, saying we love pluto but not you. I'm very sorry. It'll be ok.
age 7.”

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