Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 2

Since this edition of the book list contains a lot of children's books I figured I'd take a moment to explain why I still read books meant for little children.

The way I see it, a book is a book. An amazing children's book is no different than an amazing book for adults. And yet people often see kid's books as nothing more than basic, shallow, simple fare. They'll laugh if they see you reading a kids' book as if it's as ridiculous as you wearing a diaper or sitting in a high chair.

Why are you bothering with such things anyway? Wouldn't you prefer something of a higher caliber? Something that pushes the bounds of the medium? One with complex wordplay and clever metaphors and all that wonderful stuff?

But those kinds of questions come from a viewpoint that's looking at things completely wrong.

You can't hold up Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to The Great Gatsby and expect them to be comparable. They have completely different goals. It'd be like deriding a Looney Toons cartoon for not having the stark realism of The Wire. Classics of literature use words to shape our imaginations and our understanding, but children's books are using words (and images) to show us why we want to understand those words at all. You can't expect a kid to enjoy swimming if they're afraid to even get in the pool, and all the wordplay of Shakespeare doesn't mean anything if you don't want to read it.

In cartooning, a cartoonist is effectively simplifying and reducing images to their essential elements. It can take something as visually complex as a human face and reduce it to a circle, a couple dots for eyes, and a curve for a mouth. By doing things like that it frees itself from the restrictions of the image; allowing it a greater range of emotion and movement. The image loses specificity and gains relatability.

And that's essentially what a great children's book does: it's just a literary classic that has been done in a style based simplified and highly accessible ideas. Long words and complicated ideas are great, but they require significant experience to fully comprehend. So if you can reduce the amount of experience needed to understand the piece then you can get great stories across to everyone. And by doing so you show can thus show them why stories are worth understanding. There's still wordplay and metaphors and drama and character development, they are just done is a completely different format. A format that appeals to children.

Kids might lack experience, but they aren't stupid. And neither are great kids' books.

There. My rant is over. Here are some books I read.

* = reread
[CB] = Children's Book
[GN] = Graphic Novel



by. Joe Hill

The story of man who was falsely accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend. Despite having never been charged or tried for the crime, the entire town believes he's guilty. Then one day he wakes up to find he's grown horns and people start telling him all their deepest and darkest thoughts. But will this newfound power help him find the real killer or will learning the truth be too much?

The first Joe Hill book I read was called A Heart-Shaped Box. The fascinating thing about that book wasn't really the Horror (in and of itself), but how those themes of horror worked as a larger metaphor. This book does the same thing.

It could be read simply as a horror story about a man who grows a pair of horns that give him the power to tap into people's sins. The horror arising from the manipulation of sin and of the fear of what you might hear if you people told you what they really thought about you. However, the real thing that makes this book so great to me is that at its heart, it's the story of a man who's been vilified because of a horrific event and a story of how changes in the external perception of you can drastically change your inner perception.

While I would say it is still a horror story, I also think that term is a bit of a misnomer in this case. After all, a lot of the story takes place in the form of flashbacks and doesn't involve any fantastical or particularly horrific aspects at all. In fact, those parts are so well done that at times they are more interesting than the fantastical parts. You kind of start reading just because it sounds kind of interesting, but you end up staying because you end up caring about the characters and you want to know how the mystery will end.

A word of warning: since it is a horror story about the dark recesses of the mind, expect some foul language and unpleasant situations at times.

He couldn't stand that simpering smile. He couldn't stand that cross either, planted in the place where Merrin had bled to death from her smashed-in head. A cross with yellow roses. What a fucking thing. It was like an electric chair with floral-print cushions, a bad joke. It bothered him that someone wanted to bring Christ out here. Christ was a year too late to do any good. He hadn't been anywhere around when Merrin needed Him.

Ig had ripped the decorative cross down and stamped it into the dirt. He'd had to take a leak, and he did it on the Virgin, drunkenly urinating on his own feet in the process. Perhaps that was blasphemy enough to bring on this transformation. But no—he sensed that there had been more. What else, he couldn't recall. He'd had a lot to drink.

He turned his head this way and that, studying himself in the mirror, lifting his fingers to touch the horns, once and again. How deep did the bone go? Did the horns have roots, pushing back into his brain? At this thought the bathroom darkened, as if the lightbulb overhead had briefly gone dim. The welling darkness, though, was behind his eyes, in his head, not in the light fixtures. He held the sink and waited for the feeling of weakness to pass.

He saw it then. He was going to die. Of course he was going to die. Something was pushing into his brain, all right: a tumor. The horns weren't really there. They were metaphorical, imaginary. He had a tumor eating his brain, and it was causing him to see things. And if he was to the point of seeing things, then it was probably too late to save him.

-pg 5


Free Range Chickens

by. Simon Rich

The second collection of Simon Rich's wonderful jokes.

I don't know what I can say about this one that I didn't already say about Simon Rich's 1st book Ant Farm: and other desperate situations. It is hilarious. Perhaps not quite as good as the first one, but it still had me laughing out loud...a lot.


—Hey, look, the truck's stopping.
—Did they take us to the park this time?
—No...it's a fire. Another horrible fire.
—What the hell is wrong with these people?


13. [GN]

American Vampire vol.1

created by. Scott Snyder
written by. Scott Snyder & Stephen King
art by. Rafael Albuquerque

Skinner Sweet was an infamous outlaw of the Wild West, until the day he became a legend: the first American vampire. A brand new breed of bad that's only out for himself and doesn't mind if he gets a tan along the way.

A guy at my local comic book shop recommended this one to me and I absolutely love it. This isn't really relevant to the content of the book, but I figure I'd mention it to remind everyone that comic book shops have things to offer that the internet just can't. I mean, by going to the physical store I was able to tell someone what kind of stuff I liked, get recommendations, and be able to flip through the products to see if they suited my fancy. The flipping through part is especially helpful in a visual medium like comics. What I'm getting at that if you're in the mood for a comic, try visiting a comic book shop.

Anyways, this book is amazing. I love it. It's not only a great take on the vampire legends, but a really interesting story in general. The idea that each story deals with a different decade of American history is a truly fascinating story device. I mean, interesting takes on monsters are always up my alley, but the historical angle is the part that really caught my attention.

But was it just another story trying to cash in on that Twilight-based vampire market? Well, that was quickly answered by the fact that Stephen King helped write Skinner Sweet's origin story. Suffice it to say the man has some opinions on Twilight.

Here's what vampires shouldn't be: pallid detectives who drink Bloody Marys and only work at night, lovelorn southern gentleman, anorexic teenage girls, boy-toys with big dewy eyes.

What should they be?

Killers, honey. Stone killers who never get enough of that tasty Type-A. Bad boys and girls. Hunters. In other words, Midnight America. Red, white and blue, accent on the red. Those vamps got hijacked by a lot of soft-focus romance. That's why I was so excited when Scott Snyder...mentioned that he was in talks with the folks at Vertigo about doing a vampire comic series. His take was unique, his enthusiasm infectious.

His ambition for the continuing story of Skinner Sweet (and his victims) was awesome: nothing more or less than to trace the emergence of America through the immortal eyes of a new kind of vampire, one that can walk in the sun. I saw the potential for some terrific stories, and I also liked the resonance of the thing. There's a subtext here that whispers powerful messages about boundless American energy and that energy's darker side: a grasping, stop-at-nothing hunger for money and power.

from the forward "Suck on This", by Stephen King, pg. v


High Five

by. Janet Evanovich

As a favor to her family, Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, has taken up an investigation to try and find her cheapskate uncle Fred after he goes missing. However, she's beginning to think there might be more to this case than meets the eye after finding photos of garbage bags full of body parts are found in uncle Fred's desk.

Yep, still making my way through the series. And yep, I'm still enjoying it. It's like a TV show you really like. You just gotta tune in because you want to see what happens to all your favorite characters. The mystery in this one isn't all that intriguing, but everything else is pretty great. Stephanie Plum beating the crap out of a little person in a fit of rage. Stephanie Plum taking odd jobs help Ranger with some mostly-legal activities. All sorts of good stuff.

When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants. On the outside, she'd look like the perfect lady. Tasteful plastic heels, tailored suit. But underneath, she was naked. I'm a bail enforcement agent now—also known as a bounty hunter. I bring 'em back dead or alive. At least I try. And being a bail enforcement agent is sort of like being a bare-bottom Barbie. It's about having a secret. And it's about wearing a lot of bravado on the outside when you're really operating without underpants. Okay, maybe it's not like that for all enforcement agents, but I frequently feel like my privates are alfresco. Figuratively speaking, of course.

pg. 1

15. [CB]

It's a Book

by. Lane Smith

A literature loving monkey has to deal with a gadget loving donkey who just doesn't quite understand what a book is.

This book sounded great in principle: a depiction of what books can offer you that technology just can't. Awesome.

However, in practice it turns out to be rather pretentious. The character of the donkey seems to be an avid tech user, but he seems genuinely curious about the book his monkey friend is reading. But instead of encouraging his friend and engaging with him about it, the monkey just acts like a dismissive hipster snob.

It's a book...you probably haven't heard about it.

A mouse? Pssh...my mouse is a rodent.

Those aren't actual quotes, but they might of well have been. Here I'm going to ruin the ending with the actual last sentence of the book,

It's a book, Jackass!

Hahaha, do you get it? It's because he's a donkey! Hahaha, that donkey doesn't know any better and his friend is being a total dick about it! Good times.

16. [CB]

Owl at Home

by. Arnold Lobel

The various misadventures in the life of Owl.

I can't really explain why I enjoy this book so much. I also can't explain why I find the stories so amusing. But I just did and I just do.

The book is aimed at kids who are starting to read on their own and can handle full sentences (whatever age that is). Because of this the pages are much more text dominated than your really little kids' book. And while the illustrations aren't as plentiful as they are in books for younger kids, they are timed and placed just right. Not to mention that they are all fantastic. They fit the text perfectly while adding so much humor to the stories.

Have you ever read the Frog and Toad books? Well, this is quite similar to those. Probably due to the fact that they are done by the same person. Speaking of which, I love the Frog and Toad books as well.

The stories are short, sweet, and silly little tales about an Owl. For instance one is about how moon keeps following him around. While another is about how he invites the winter wind inside because it was knocking on his door.

I liked it so much I plan to end up with a copy on my bookshelf one day.

Owl sat near the fire again.

There was another loud noise

at the door.

“Who can it be,” said Owl,

“knocking and thumping

at my door on a night like this?”

Owl opened the door.

No one was there.

Only the snow and the cold.

“The poor old winter is knocking at my door,”

said Owl.

“Perhaps it wants to sit
by the fire.

Well, I will be kind
and let the winter come in.”

Owl opened his door very wide.

“Come in, Winter,” said Owl.

“Come in and warm yourself
for a while.”

pg. 7-9

20. [CB]


A Book of Sleep

by. Il Sung Na

A book about sleep and all the different ways animals go about it.

This book is for very young children. There is very little text. But the illustrations? Oh, dear lord, the illustrations are amazing. They are vibrant and colorful and oh-so-lush. All with a color scheme that strikes me as perfectly suited for a book to read to a child as they're going to bed.

Another kid's book that I'd like to own. If you ever need a book to get for a young child I could not recommend this one more highly. Here's a link to his website where you can see some of the pages from it. Just go to Book Illustration section. It'll be the first one that comes up. Although I warn you that the small digital images don't do the pictures justice. They look a million times better huge and right in front of you.

When the sky grows dark and the moon grows bright, everyone goes to sleep...

...apart from the starring owl.

-pg. 1


Elliot Allagash

by. Simon Rich

A boy is in for than he bargained for when he befriends the richest boy in the world.

This is Simon Rich's first novel. Since I enjoyed his joke books so much I figured I'd give it a try. I guess I would describe it as "Pretty Good". Certainly nothing amazing, but it has its charms. The depictions of Elliot Allagash's over-the-top wealth are pretty hilarious, and his portrayal of the motivations of a kid who just wants to be accepted are also very well done.

My only real problem is that it didn't have room for the story to go. It had an interesting set-up, it had great characters, but it didn't give itself room to try anything very new with it. Guess what? Spoiler Warning: Money won't buy you happiness.

He pushed me down the stairs, I said for what seemed like the hundredth time of the night. He pushed me, on purpose, in front of a lot of people. It was really crazy.

Eventually, my parents returned to the table. I noticed that my father was holding a beer. I had only ever seen him drink at weddings and funerals and I was mildly shocked. They both hesitated for a moment, hoping the other one would do the talking.

The thing about Elliot, my mother said finally, is that he's different from most boys.

I felt a sudden stab of guilt.

Oh geez," I said. Is he retarded?

No, my father said. Not exactly.

What is it then? I asked. What's different about him?

My mother cleared her throat.

He's rich, she said.

My father nodded.

He's very rich.



Science Ink:

Tattoos of the Science Obsessed

by. Carl Zimmer

A collection of science based tattoos and a look at the science they represent.

I think the appeal of this book is obvious without me saying anything about it. If it sounds like something you'd be interested in, well then, you'll probably like it. If it doesn't sound like your kind of thing, then there you go.

Anyways, I think the Forward to the book (written by Mary Roach) goes a long way into describing what the book is like.

Until I sat down with this book, my favorite tattoo belonged to a type designer named Jim Parkinson. Born to Letter, it says, above a menacing black skull smoking a joint. I liked the surprise of it, the sly humor. You don't expect large, showy tattoos on lettering professionals. And you don't expect them on scientists. Or I didn't. But this is silly. Of course scientists have tattoos. Scientists, as much as bikers or gang members, have the requisite motivator for a trip to the tattoo parlor: a passion that defines them. If you like the Mets, you buy a baseball cap. If you love the Mets—or chloroplasts or Billy Bob Thornton—you get a tattoo. The word love appears many times in this book, applied variously to pure mathematics, experimental physics, and marine fossils. That tattoo artists today receive more requests for DNA helices than they do for Mom (and I am guessing here) can only be good.


I have never seen Carl Zimmer without his clothes, but I am told he has no tattoos. As a science writer, he belongs to no tribe. He is the interloper, the interpreter, a dozen United Nations headsets going at once. To writ this book, Zimmer had to learn all the languages, decode all the symbols. This is no coffee-table tattoo book—to absorb it is to acquire instant science literacy. Zimmer explains the tattoos in brief, clear, eloquent essays. You try doing this with the Fourier Transform, the Dirac Equation, and the Lazarus Taxon. (Does everything in science have to sound like a Robert Ludlum novel?)

from the Forward by Mary Roach, pg. vii

25. [CB]

I Want My Hat Back

by. Jon Klassen

A bear asks around to try and find his hat.

You could probably read this book is under a minute, it's short and simple, but it is just amazing. I was laughing out loud. It manages to be hilarious while saying so little. It just has that perfect combination of art and text.

Because the pictures are so crucial I can't really get into all the things it does that I loved so much, but just take my word for it and next time you're in a book store or library see if they have a copy and take a minute or two out of your day to give it a try. You'll see what I mean. In the meantime you can take a look at his art on his website where you can find some examples of his work and even some pictures from this book.

Have you seen my hat?

I haven't seen anything all day. I have been trying to climb this rock.

Would you like me to lift you on top of it?

Yes, please.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 1

It's a new year and that means it's a whole new book list. However, I'm going to be changing things up once again. This year I'm expanding what I'm counting as a book. Previously I haven't allowed comics and children's books on the list. Mostly because they really aren't what people think of when you say "I just read a good book." However, maybe one of you knows some kids and might one day be looking for an interesting children's book. And perhaps you might be in the mood for a great graphic novel.

And who am I to deny You these things?

Speaking of which, Comics can be quite an ambiguous area so I'll clarify. I have two criteria for a comic to be put on the list:
1. They have to be bound. We're talking trade-paperbacks, the kind you could find in a bookstore.
2. It has to be able to stand on it's own. So while Bone's second volume "The Great Cow Race" could both be featured, something like Naruto vol 25 would not.

Which brings us to our new signifiers:
* = reread
[CB] = means "Children's Book"
[GN] = means "Graphic Novel" aka Comic books.


Four to Score
by. Janet Evanovitch

Stephanie Plum's adventures in bounty hunting continue as she tries to track down a waitress who's skipped bail to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend. But when the case ends up being more puzzling than expected, Plum has to enlist the help of a transvestite rocker with a knack for breaking codes.

I feel stupid writing things up for books this far into a series. I mean if you aren't interested in the first book in the series could anything in the fourth really convince you to start? Especially since you can't help but rank books in a series by the other books in the series and not by books in general.

That being said, this book has been my least favorite in the series so far. The mystery aspect was usually a bit too silly to be very suspenseful. However, that doesn't mean that I didn't have a fantastic time reading it. I just like when the mystery is on par with the humor. But it was still a lot of fun. Especially the new character of transvestite Sally Sweets, who adds a whole nother level of hilarity.

Three guys came out of the shadows at us. They looked to be late teens, wearing baggy homey pants and unlaced court shoes.


The kid pulled a Buck knife out of his pants pocket.
How about giving me your purse, bitch?

Sally hiked up his skirt, reached into his briefs and pulled out a Glock.
How about using that knife to slice off your balls?

Lula whipped a gun out of her red satin purse and Grandma hauled out her .45 long-barrel.

Day my make, punk, Grandma said.

Hey, I don't want any trouble, the kid said. We were just having some fun.

I want to shoot him, Sally said. Nobody'll tell, right?

No fair, Lula said. I want to shoot him.

Okay," Grandma said. "On the count of three, we'll all shoot him.

No shooting! I said.

Then how about if I kick the shit out of him? Sally said.

You're all nuts, the kid said, backing away. What kind of women are you? His friends took off, and he ran after them.

Sally put his gun back in his pants.
Guess I flunked the estrogen test.

We all stared at his crotch, and Grandma said what Lula and I were thinking.

I thought that bulge was your dingdong, Grandma said.

Jesus, Sally said, who do you think I am, Thunder the Wonder Horse? My gun wouldn't fit in my purse.

You need to get a smaller gun, Lula said. Ruins your lines with that big old Glock in your drawers.

pg 141-142


The Stupidest Angel
by. Christopher Moore

An angel comes to Earth to grant a Christmas wish, but unfortunately makes a bit of a mess of things when his wish-granting accidentally unleashes a horde of zombies.

If you like Christopher Moore I'm sure you'll like this one too. If you don't find his stuff funny then, you know what, you probably won't like this one either.

I actually haven't read most of his books so I didn't notice, but apparently all the characters in this book are all from his other works. Thus this book is basically a Christopher Moore Christmas Special. But since I wouldn't have known that unless I hadn't been told, I am in the perfect position to say that you really don't have to have read all of them to enjoy it.

There really isn't anything else to say. It's a pretty short book and it's a pretty silly book. A lot of it is pretty ridiculous, but in a book like this it doesn't really matter. It'd be like someone complaining that the Three Stooges never seemed to die of massive brain damage.

Just then the doors flew open, the wind whipped into the room carrying with it a horrid stench. Standing there, framed in the cathedral doorway, stood Santa Claus, holding Brian Henderson in his red Star Trek shirt, by the throat. A group of dark figures were moving behind them, moaning something about IKEA, as Santa pressed a .38 snub-nose revolver to Brian's temple and pulled the trigger. Blood splattered across the front wall and Santa threw the body to Marty in the Morning, who began to suck the brains out of the dead Brian's exit wound.

Merry Christmas, you doomed sons a' bitches! said Santa.


So that sucked.


The Gunseller
by. Hugh Laurie

When a wise-cracking British special agent gets an offer to kill someone, he decides to warn the guy instead. However, that turns out to be a mistake when it unleashes a chain of events that get him involved with a plot much deeper than he could have ever imagined.

You know what? I didn't like this one. I started out thinking it was pretty fun, but it started slipping and began to pick up downward momentum. It reads like a wannabe PG Wodehouse trying to write a James Bond story.

But what I disliked more than the fact that the jokes often weren't as clever as they thought they were, more than the convoluted plot, and more than dumb ending, was the insults to Minnesota.

I can take a joke. I don't mind jokes at Minnesota's expense, but, then again, I generally only hear them from people who have experience with Minnesota. And that was the problem. Has the superbly British Hugh Laurie ever been to Minnesota? I kind of doubt that he has. And yet there's a significant chunk of this book where the protagonist is trying to pass himself of as a Minnesotan. This seems to be achieved by acting like a simple-minded-small-town country boy who don't do much of that book thinkin'.

So fuck you very much, Hugh Laurie.

(also "pyjamas"? you've got to be kidding me.)

'Good morning, Mr O'Neal,' I said, in a stupidly loud voice. The sound bounced back from the distant walls. 'Sorry to see this isn't a convenient time. It's not that good for me wither. Why don't I have my secretary make another appointment with your secretary? In fact, why don't our secretaries have lunch together? Really put the world to rights.'

O'Neal ground his teeth together for a moment, and then looked up at me with what he obviously thought was a penetrating stare.

When he'd overdone that, he put down the papers and rested his hands on the edge of the desk. Then he took them off the desk and put them on his lap. Then he got annoyed with me for having seen him carry out this awkward procedure.

'Mr Lang,' he said. 'You realise where you are?' He pursed his lips in a practised fashion.

'Indeed I do, Mr O'Neal. I am in room C188.'

'You are in the Ministry of Defense.'

'Mmm. Jolly nice too. Any chairs about?'

He glared at me again, and then flicked his head at Solomon, who went over to the door and dragged a reproduction Regency thing to the middle of the carpet. I stayed where I was.

'Do sit down, Mr Lang.'

'Thanks, I'd rather stand,' I said.

Now he was genuinely thrown. We used to do this kind of thing to a geography teacher at school. He'd left after two terms to become a priest in the Western Isles.

pg. 28

Cool, Calm, & Contentious
by. Merrill Markoe

A collection of comedian Merrill Markoe's humorous essays about her life.

Although it will sound like an odd thing to say, the highlight of this book is the fact that it will probably go a long way to making you feel better about your childhood. It's hard to explain but trust me on this. Actually, here is an interview the author did with Jon Stewart for this book. It should give you a look into what I'm talking about.

But yeah, what can I say? Don't expect it to be on par with David Sedaris or anything, but you can certainly expect to have some good laughs while reading it. I would especially recommend it if you are a dog lover as there are a couple of great essays about her dogs.

After many years of therapy, I can't tolerate human narcissists anymore. I don't care about their tragic self-doubts [end of 56] or the roots of their pain and rage. Yet oddly enough, I still love being around dogs. When I try to analyze why, it's definitely hard to figure out. It certainly isn't because of the behaviors they exhibit around me, which, taken at face value, are pretty disturbing.

For instance, if even the most adorable man or beloved family member insisted on busting in through the bathroom door and running up to kiss me every time I sat down on the toilet—not just once or twice but
every single time I went to the bathroom—then stood around staring adoringly, mesmerized by my activities, not only would I find it unnerving, it would fill me with fury. If the person were a relative, this scenario would become an unending topic with the shrink. If it were my husband, it might be the grounds for divorce.

pg. 56-57


There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby:
Scary Fairy Tales
by. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
selected and translated by. Keith Gessen & Anna Summers

A selection of infamous Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's modern fairy tales and other supernatural tales.

I happened to notice this one while I perusing around a comic book shop. As you might know, I love fairy tales, so the idea of creepy modern fairy tales from Russia sounded like something I needed to check out. Thus when I got home I went and requested it from the library.

It is quite hard for me to describe this book, because I really have no point of reference. Some stories are definitely in the traditional fairy tale vein, for instance there's a story about two ballerina's who are cursed to take the form of a single giant women during the day, and another story about a woman who finds a child the size of a water droplet on a cabbage leaf.

But then there are also stories that seem like something out of a Haruki Murakami book. Byu which I mean they were slightly surreal and thought provoking. Stories like "The Black Coat", about a woman who awakens to find herself in a strange world very similar to our own, but slightly different and wearing a strange black coat with only a piece of paper and a box of matches in the pockets.

Then there are also some stories that are almost Science-Fiction, like one about a fatal disease linked to hygiene that sweeps across the world. And some, like the story about the woman that tried to kill her neighbor's baby, are starkly set in a grime reality with touches of an urban legend.

So yeah, if any of that sounds interesting to you then I'd recommend taking a look.

The impoverished monastery, on the other hand, stood unguarded in the forest. It was a popular target for the local kids who needed money for vodka. Eventually the monks learned to do with the absolute bare minimum—tin cans for boiling water in, some straw to sleep on, old sacks for blankets. As for the honey and berries, which could after all be stolen, they hid them in the forest, in the hollows of trees, like squirrels.

They used kindling for heat, since even their ax and saw had been stolen from them.

Then again, that was the monks' vow, wasn't it—to work only with what God had given them, to work only for Him, and to make do with the same food as rabbits and squirrels.


During the winter, the monastery was freezing. There wasn't enough kindling to heat the space, and the monks refused to break branches off living trees. But cold and hunger are hardly problems for a monk—in fact they're blessings, and, what's more, during the winter months the monastery got a break from being robbed. Who's going to drag himself through the hills and snow to break into a frozen monastery—even though every morning the monks rang, not a bell, because the bell had been stolen and sold for its metal, but an iron crossbeam.

It was an ancient crossbeam—the old bell had hung from it—and the hardworking local thieves, try as the might, weren't able to bring it down.

The monks rang their crossbeam with a secret metal crowbar they had. It was the only defense they kept on hand to fend off wild animals, say, or to break through the ice for water when their stream froze, or to beat a path through the forest.


And so every morning the people in the surrounding villages could hear the melancholy sound of the metal crowbar against the old crossbeam. Of course no one was so stupid as to heed the call and come for prayer.

Who calls a doctor to heal a healthy person? Who fixes what isn't broken? Why run off to pray to God when everything is fine?

pg. 178-179


Ant Farm:
And Other Desperate Situations
by. Simon Rich

An assembling of Simon Rich's hilarious jokes.

I'm not sure "jokes" is the right term, but I'm not sure what else to call them. Perhaps saying they are hilarious scenario's or sketches (as in sketch comedy) would be more appropriate. Regardless, you might recall that I came across a couple of these in that Judd Apatow collection I read last year. They were by far the highlight of that book and so I figured I had to find their source.

The only thing I can say about this book is that is absolutely hilarious. There is a quote from Jon Stewart on the back of the book that says you can open the book to any page and you'll find something to laugh at, and that is very true. I read it and then went back through and read a bunch of them again. Later I went back through again and forced some friends to hear a couple of them as well.

It's just hilarious. Do yourself a favor and check it out to see for yourself.


TEACHER: All right, children, welcome to fourth grade math. Everybody take a calculator out of the bin.

ME: What are these?

TEACHER: From now on we'll be using calculators.

ME: What do these things do?

TEACHER: Simple operations, like multiplication and division.

ME: You mean this device just...does them? By itself?

TEACHER: Yes. You enter in the problem and press equal.

ME: You...you knew about this machine all along, didn't you? This whole time, while we were going through this...this charade with the pencils and the line paper and the stupid multiplication tables!...I'm sorry for shouting...It's just...I'm a little blown away.

TEACHER: Okay, everyone, today we're going to go over some word problems.

ME: What the hell else do you have back there? A magical pen that writes book reports by itself? Some kind of automatic social studies worksheet that...that fills itself out? What the hell is going on?

TEACHER: If a farmer farms five acres of land a day—

ME: So that's it then. The past three years have been a total farce. All this time I've been thinking, "Well, this is pretty hard and frustrating, but I guess these are useful skills to have." Meanwhile, there was a whole bin of these things in your desk. We could have jumped straight to graphing. Unless, of course, there's some kind of graphing calculator!

TEACHER: There is. You get one in ninth grade.

ME: Is this...Am I on TV? Is this a prank show?


pg 11-12


A Planet of Viruses
by. Carl Zimmer

A look at the world of viruses and how they affect our lives.

You might remember that I read Carl Zimmer's book Parasite Rex and loved it. It did an amazing job telling you all about parasites in such a way that made you like them in spite of their often gross qualities. While I wouldn't go as far to say that this book is as good as Parasite Rex, but I will say that it does an equally good job of informing you on its subject while simultaneously endearing you to it.

It's a pretty short book with each chapter talking about a specific kind of virus and using that virus as a springboad for talking about a larger aspect or influence of viruses in world. Fascinating stuff. It makes you think about viruses in a different way. For instance did you know that even bacteria can get infected by viruses? Or that certain viruses are crucial components in the oxygen production of algae? Or how about that a large percentage of your own DNA has come from viruses and that without it we would all die? Or how about the fact that some viruses can actually help you by training your body to fight off bigger foes?

Despite the diversity of rhinoviruses, some scientists are optimistic that they can develop a cure for the common cold. The fact that all strains of human rhinoviruses share a common core of genes suggests that the core can't withstand mutations. In other words, viruses with mutations in the core die. If scientists can figure out ways to attack the rhinovirus core, they may be able to stop the disease. One promising target is a stretch of genetic material in rhinoviruses that folds into a loop shaped like a clover leaf. Every rhinovirus scientists have studied carries the same clover-leaf structure, which appears to be essential for speeding up the rate at which a host cell copies rhinovirus genes. If scientists can find a way to disable the clover leaf, they may be able to stop every cold virus on Earth.

But should they? Human rhinoviruses impose a burden on public health, not just by causing colds but by opening the way for more harmful pathogens. But the human rhinovirus itself is relatively mild. Most colds are over in a week, and 40 percent of people who test positive for rhinoviruses suffer no symptoms at all. In fact, human rhinoviruses may offer some benefits to their human hosts. Scientists have gathered a great deal of evidence that children who get sick with relatively harmless viruses and bacteria may be protected from immune disorders when they get older, such as allergies and Crohn disease. Human rhinoviruses may help train our immune systems not to overreact to minor triggers, instead directing their assaults to real threats. Perhaps we should not think of colds as ancient enemies but as wise old tutors.



Ghost in the Wires:
My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker
by. Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon

A famous hacker recounts his life and exploits leading up to his capture by FBI.

Here are the things I liked about this book:

  • Hearing about how people hack into various systems
  • Hearing about how people can drop off the grid and allude the FBI
  • The exciting scenarios that come up from those other two things.

Here are the things I didn't like about this book:

  • Too long.
  • Mitnick starts out as a likeable guy, but soon loses that when you see the angst he kept knowingly causing to his family and loved ones.
  • He kept talking about how smart he was and yet there were multiple times where he'd make idiotic moves. Like, hey this other hacker dude keeps asking us questions that no other hacker would ask and doing things that no other hacker would do...let's keep talking and sharing secrets with him. If you're doing highly illegal things and someone doesn't seem on the level why would you keep trusting them!
  • There are quite a lot of parts that seem less like a memoir and more like bragging.
So there you go. Overall it wasn't the best, but it does have some redeeming features. Anyway here is Kevin Mitnick's interview with Stephen Colbert that made me want to read this book.

My skill at writing these phony resumes and letters paid off within a couple of weeks. I was invited for an interview at, of all places, the local office of a prominent international law firm, Holme, Roberts, and Owen, which had offices in Denver, Salt Lake City, Boulder, London, and Moscow.

Dressed in a suit and tie and looking, I thought, perfectly suitable for a job in an upscale law firm, I was shown into a conference room to meet with the IT manager, a very friendly lady named Lori Sherry.

I'm good at interviews, but this one was a little more exciting than most as I struggled not to be distracted: Lori was really attractive. But—bummer—she was wearing a wedding band.

She started off with what must be a standard opening:
Tell me a little about yourself.

I tried for charming and charismatic, the style that the remake of
Ocean's Eleven would capture a few years later. ...


9. [CB]

East Dragon, West Dragon
by. Robyn Eversole
illustrated by. Scott Campbell

The East Dragon and the West Dragon are very different and they lead very different lives, but due to some troublesome knights they're about to meet and realize that they're not so different after all.

I picked this book up from the library solely because Scott Campbell did the artwork for it. You might recall him from the amazing art series "Great Showdowns". And the art did not disappoint. It is hilarious. The story could've been a lot better, but it wasn't terrible or anything.

West Dragon didn't know any emperors.
He did know kings, though. Kings were a nuisance.
Kings kept knights. And knights were a bigger nuisance. They barged into West Dragon's cave during his naps, waving their silly swords.
Nothing made a cave smell nastier than roast knight.


10. [GN]

Johnny Wander, vol. 2
Escape to New York
by. Ananth Panagariya and Yuko Ota
art by. Yuko Ota

The second comics collection of the hit webcomic Johnny Wander.

Johnny Wander is one of my all time favorite webcomics. It's hopelessly charming and just simply delightful. It details the life of the creators, but not in an autobiographical way. It just takes those special little moments of life and presents them in a way that's just so much fun.

The nice thing about it being a webcomic is that I don't have to try to explain why it's fun; you can just go to the site and see for yourself.

I will also add that this physical collection is quite nice. Especially since it features bonus material throughout that's pretty great. Especially the "Ask John" segment at the end.

Dear John, I haven't gone on a date since November. You seem like the kind of guy who knows his way around women. How do I fix this?

When someone is walking towards you, you move to the right, and they should do the same, thus avoiding an uncomfortable collision. This is generally how women and I get around each other.

Dear John, How can I quickly lose twenty pounds?

I don't know, how heavy are your arms?

Dear John, Calculus-based physics is HARD. How do I get a deep, conceptual understanding of inductance, RLC circuits and EMF waves? Sincerely, PhysicsHater55

Feel them, feel their pain. No one ever takes time to listen to Physics, no, it's just TALK TALK TALK all the time.

What should one do when diagnosed with terminal cancer of the everything.


How do I pick a bathroom cleaner?

That's simple. Just ask,
Can it remove blood?