Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 7

 Oh, dear. It seems I've fallen quite a ways behind on my book listing duties. It's always better to stay on top of it, because otherwise the books aren't fresh in your mind. But what can you do.

Anyway, there's a pretty good spread of genres going on in this edition. Also, I should warn you that last one on here (#83) starts out as a review and quickly devolves into me cursing at the there's that.

[GN] = Graphic Novels
[CB] = Children's Books


To The Nines
by. Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter extraordinaire, is on the case of a visa bond who's gone missing. But when she starts investigating she finds herself the target of a dangerous group with a demented sense of the word "game".

You know what? I'm 9 books into this series so I think I've earned the right to really half-ass these reviews. So here's the what I wrote for book 8. It applies to this one as well.

None of the mysteries in these books recently have really been up to snuff. But you know what? As long as there's a decent bad guy, and I'm still having fun while reading it and getting some solid laughs, then I don't care. This one had those elements and thus I quite enjoyed it.

“Hey, we should make a stopover at the mall. I could get a new purse and then just for the hell of it we could go into Victoria's Secret and see if Tank follows us in. That's how you tell what a man's really made of. It's one thing for a man to be big and brave and kill a spider. Any man could do that. Trailin' after a woman when she's shopping for thongs and push-up bras is a whole other category of man. And then if you want to see how far you can go with it, you ask him to carry one of those little pink bags they give you.”
page 136


Just My Type:
A Book About Fonts
by. Simon Garfield

It's a book about fonts.

On one hand I'd like to say that this would be a great book for someone who wasn't already interested in fonts. It talks about the history of different fonts and also shows how fonts affect people and make the news. However, if you really have no interest in typography then I think the flowery way he describes letterforms might be hard to take.

But who cares about you? I think typography is interesting and I'm willing to overlook rapturous descriptions of letterforms if the rest of it is interesting. And it was interesting. I learned all sorts of interesting things. I learned that the shape of an ampersand (this lil fella --> &) comes from a stylized writing of the letters "et". I learned that the guy who created Comic Sans also created Trebuchet (Fun Fact: Trebuchet is what I use for author's names in these booklists). I also learned that the type designer Eric Gill was a world-class pervert...I mean, Damn, was that guy ever into some messed-up shit.

It's chalk full of interesting information like that. I also liked that he'd often write a font's name in the actual font. Although it spoiled me and thus I fond mylself annoyed any time he didn't. And sometimes he'll be waxing poetic about the subtle curve of some font's capital G or something and he wouldn't have an example to look at, which was annoying. (I realize that these issues were probably due to copyright restrictions and thus weren't the authors fault. But I still feel they're issues worth pointing out).

So yeah. It's not perfect by any means, but I like it. It took chances and tried some interesting stuff that you usually don't see in font books. Sure, it didn't always pull everything off, but I like that it tried. It did a great job at showing that fonts are interesting, and artistic, and that they matter; whether you've realized it or not.

At the end of August 2009, an unusual thing happened in the world: IKEA changed its typeface. This wasn't so strange in itself — big companies like to stay fresh, and this is often the easiest way to do it — but the odd thing was that people noticed.

Most customers didn't like the switch. There was rudeness on websites. Newspapers wrote about it in cutting ways, and there were frank exchanges on BBC radio. It wasn't a revolution on the scale of Gutenburg's printing press, but it did mark a turning point, one of those moment when a lot of people found they cared about something they had never cared about before.

One walked around IKEA and felt a little queasy — or rather, queasier than normal. The place still offered meatballs, and the IKEA sign was still up there on the side of the building in its yellow and blue proprietary IKEA logo. But there was something unfamiliar about the signage and catalogue. IKEA had abandoned its elegant typeface Futura in favour of the modern Verdana, and the switch had caused consternation not only among type geeks, but real people. Suddenly there was a font war.
page 73

76. [GN]

Fairy Quest:

Written by. Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos
Art by. Humberto Ramos

Every time someone reads a fairy tale the characters of that tale have to act it out. The same thing every time. Again and again and again. Or else Grimm comes and takes you away. But Red has become friends with the Wolf and she's sick of having to pretend otherwise. So now Red and Wolf are on the run through the land of stories trying to escape Grimm and make it to the real world.

Humberto Ramos is one of my all-time favorite artists. I adore his work. It has this slick cartoony quality to it that I just love. The last time him and Paul Jenkins got together it was for a comic called Revelations. I thoroughly enjoyed that one so I was super excited to hear about this one.

Too bad this one is incredibly hard to get a copy off. They haven't had any luck selling it to a distributor so they've had to do it themselves. But I finally found a copy on ebay.

My only real problem with it is that it's much too short! I want to know what happens next!


You know me to be a hard taskmaster—

—but have I not always been fair?

I ask only for unquestioning loyalty to your stories—

—and you are otherwise free to live peacefully.

There has been a betrayal: a defiance of our rules—

—one of our loyal agents has uncovered evidence of a group of deviants living among us.”

Oh, no!

“Bring forth the prisoner!”

“Grimm's lying to you! You can be free of his tyranny! You've all got to listen to me—!”


You have violated the fair and equitable rules of storytelling—

—and as an enemy of Fablewood you will be forcibly rehabilitated.”


The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian
by. Sherman Alexie

A kid named from a Spokane Indian Reservation puts himself in the center of two worlds when he starts going to a high school off the reservation. Now he's the only Indian at school, and his community at home treats him like a traitor.

This really is an amazing book. It's aiming at a young adult audience, but it's done so well that I think anyone can enjoy it. Well, not everyone. Apparently it's gotten banned in a number of places.

Personally I think it is ridiculous that schools would ban this book. Yeah, it talks about poverty. And yes, it does talk about alcoholism and dysfunctional families. Guess what? A lot of kids can relate to that. Guess what else? Trying to pretend it doesn't exist won't make it go away.

The entire thing is just so well done. It's funny, it's poignant, it's even a little sad. And above all it is just done with so much heart and honesty.

“ I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,” I said. “By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
pg. 176


The Show That Smells
by. Derek McCormak

Fashionista vampires battle in the mirror maze of a carnival and a married couple is stuck in the middle of it all.

I honestly cannot describe this book. It is just so utterly unlike anything else.

Let's make it simpler. You see, I get a lot of book recommendations from an author named Joey Comeau. He's on the website Goodreads which let's me see all the stuff he's read and is planning on reading. And it is there that I first heard of this book. Here's his review of the book:

“This book is insane. I didn't know books could be like this. It is a mirror maze of a book. It is a string of dead baby jokes and high fashion references. it is a vampire love story, loaded with gay sex and the monster hunting, gospel singing Carter Family. I have never read anything like it.

I think Derek McCormack is easily the best writer in Canada.”

As I was reading this book I had a number of problems with it. But afterwards I started to think about it. And the more I think about it the more I start coming around to the idea that it's actually kind of genius. I think my problems with it were mostly due to the fact that it was so far removed from my expectations that it took me completely off-guard. And I wasn't able to completely change those expectations before it ended (it's only 120 pages).

It's so short that I definitely think it's worth taking a look at. Just don't go in expecting a traditional story. If you do it'll be like going to a museum wanting  to see Monet's and getting Mondrian's.

Actually I quite like that comparison. This book strikes me as a literary Mondrian painting. Take from that what you will.

“At my vampire carnival, the gent at the Guess Your Age game will guess your age within a hundred years—or you win a prize!

“At my vampire carnival, I will not give away goldfish. Play the Fish Pond and win—a baby! Play the Milk Bottle Toss and win—a baby! Boy babies, girl babies, arranged on prize racks, screaming their lovely lungs out!”
pg 80.

79. [GN]

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
Change is Constant, vol.1
Story by. Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz
Script by. Tom Waltz
Layouts by. Kevin Eastman
Art by. Dan Duncan

The beginning of a retelling of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

You may have noticed that I listed a lot more of the people involved in this comic than I usually do. For space reasons I tend to gloss over the work of the letters and the colorists and the inkers and all the rest (my apologies to their fine work, but I don't often meet people who'd read a comic because of its inker). But this time there's something important to note in all these names: Kevin Eastman has played a significant role it the making of this comic.

For those of you who don't know, Kevin Eastman is one of the original creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So the fact that he helped create the story and did the layouts means that it might be being given a update, but its roots are going all the way back to the source.

And I think it succeeds! I loved it. It's a great new take on the story. They've made a few changes, but I feel the changes have strengthened the story. For instance April O'Neal is now a scientist instead of a bimbo reporter. Raphael's anger and rebel spirit? That's because he was separated from the others right after they got exposed to the ooze so he was on his own for the first part of his life. Casey Jones' aggression and vigilante spirit? He comes from an abusive home where the only help he's gonna get is from himself.

There's all sorts of clever little twists that really work to give the story a solid framework. And (unlike the original) I feel this one is a lot more accessible to a younger audience as well.

The storm has broken—

—its wrath unleashed.

And each of us must face torrential rage in his own way.

Our individual techniques are as unique as each new crash of thunder.

Coldly analytical and deliberate.

Militantly disciplined and precise.

Absurdly unorthodox and carefree.

Wretchedly misguided and vengeful.

And with the bittersweet experience of the centuries.

I have defeated Old Nob before.

Then, as now, the battle was fierce.

But once was solely a fight for survival has become very personal.

Eventually the tempest subsides.

And what began with a ferocious roar ends in uncertain silence.

It is simply the calm before the next storm. 

80. [CB]

Extra Yarn
by. Mac Barnett
illustrated by. Jon Klassen

On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.

Did I read this book just because Jon Klassen did the artwork?

Yes. Yes I did.

And I will continue to do so because his stuff always looks fantastic.

The writing was good. It wouldn't rave about it, but it was fine. And a decent story paired with absolutely fantastic artwork makes this something that's worth giving a look.


by. Brian Jacques

An otterbabe is kidnapped from the peaceful Redwall by a clan of vermin and raised to be a killer. However, when he grows up he decides that this isn't the life for him, defies the clan, and sets off in search of the home he's never known. But his old clan isn't about to let him go that easily.

You know what? Terry Pratchett might be my favorite author, but I have to admit that Brian Jacques is the author I most consistently enjoy. I can't think of a single Redwall book of his that I didn't like. You can always be sure of what you're going to get when you pick one up: adventure, songs, poems, delicious descriptions of food, and an interesting cast of characters.

I could do without the fact that certain species of creatures are always inherently evil, but I can understand why he does that. It's just how the genre works, isn't it? I don't go around complaining that Tolkien's Orcs and Trolls were always evil do I? So I have no ground to stand on to complain that rats and weasels are always evil and should probably just keep my trap shut about it.

I don't think I even need to describe too much about the book. Like I said, the man is consistent. All you need to know is the description to set the scene. And you already know what you're going to be getting and you know it's going to be really good. I mean, sure, there's an argument for wanting something exciting and new that takes chances and all that. But you know what? We all have our favorite meals.

 Sometimes it's fun to taste new dishes and try something you've never had before. But other times? Other times you just want your go-to dish. You want something comforting where you know what you're going to get and you know that you're going to enjoy the heck out of it. You want that classic hamburger. That Thanksgiving dinner. That sesame chicken combo with rice.

Redwall books are my literary go-to meal.

Boorab stood to one side, striking a fine dramatic pose, one leg behind the other, ears laid soulfully back, paws bent at chest height in true hare singing fashion. Casting his eyes over the contents of the carts as the servers trundled them up to the tables, he coughed politely and launched into a speedily delivered verse.

“How can one count the praises of the vittles at 
Oh pure delight, oh wondrous night, I'll sing to one 
and all.
Thaaaaaaat blackberry pudden looks such a good 'un,
All covered in meadow cream.
And the hazelnut cake, well for goodness' sake,
I hope it's no jolly dream.
That huge apple pie, oh me oh my, the crust is pipin' hot,
Good creatures be nice, an' save me a slice,
Or I'm sure I'll die, wot wot!”

Foremole Brull nudged a cart with her footpaw. It rolled gently to rest, right under Boorab's nose. The hare tried bravely to carry on singing with a hot mushroom pastie, dripping onion gravy, simmering under his nose.

“What rhymes with pastie, I'll try to sing fastly,
My nose tells me 'tis wrong,
This soon will grow cold, if I may make so bold,
Pray excuse a chap endin' his song!”

Unable to stand it any longer and disregarding cutlery, the gluttonous hare hurled himself barepawed upon the pastie. “Grmmff, I say, sninch grrmm, rotten ole mole cad, grmmff grrawff, put me off my ditty completely, grrmff snch, bounder!”
Page 55-56


Forgotten Bookmarks:
A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between Pages
by. Michael Popek

A collection of things a bookseller has found in old books.

I don't know what I was expecting from this one, but whatever it was, it didn't deliver it. I was really excited to read it, but it was just...dull. I mean, sure there was a few interesting things. And I liked how he'd show what book the items came from. But in the end it was all just rather dull.

If you want to read a book about interesting found items I'd suggest you forget about this one and just go read Davy Rothbart's Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items From Around the World instead. It's much more interesting and a ton more fun.

Seven Razor Blades inside a book called Stenciling With Style

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Found in Sex Without Guilt by Albert Ellis, PhD. Published by Lyle Stuart, 1958


Stephen Fry in America
by. Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry takes a journey across America to learn about this land through its individual states.

I don't like this book.

I really don't like this book. In fact, it actually makes me rather angry just thinking about it. I wanted to like this book so badly, but it is just awful.

He sets up his journey like that of a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, but it isn't. For those of you who don't know, de Tocqueville was a French man who was sent to the US in 1831 by the French government to study the American prison system. However, de Tocqueville used the opportunity to study American society instead. He used his findings to write a book called Democracy in America.

So here's my point: de Tocqueville went around America and wrote about what he saw. He had his own biases, of course, but he was an intelligent guy, a historian, and was capable of putting the things he saw together into poignant observations and predictions.

Stephen Fry acts like he's doing the same thing, but he's not! He's spends barely any time in each state, goes on a couple of bullshit set-up tourist excursions and then thinks he's entitled to make generalizations about the states and the country as a whole.

Even worse is that he goes on all these stupid "events" but half the time they involve doing some shit he hates. He's a complete pompous atheist type and yet he meets with every fringe religion under the sun. Why? Why would you go out of your way to do something you don't like? If you were just road tripping across America and seeing what you came across it would be one thing, but you set these things up in advance! It's completely fabricated and yet you think it entitles you to expound on America as whole!? Honestly!

And the whole time he just reeks of arrogance. A number of times he talks about how Americans don't know anything about cheese, wine, and tea. Guess what? We can tell the difference. We aren't some fucking tongueless simpletons. The thing is that most of us just don't give a shit about those foods.

I am perfectly capable of noticing that a fancy cup of tea is better than the tea bag stuff I drink, but I just don't care. The difference just isn't worth the bother and the expense. I am CAPABLE of noticing the rubbery nature of the cheap-ass cheese I get at the grocery store. But I just don't care enough to go for the pricey stuff. "Can't tell" my ass. Fuck you very much, Mr. Fry.

But maybe some of you are thinking, "Oh, Jesse, maybe you just had problems with it because you're an American and he had some unflattering things to say about your home."


Well, bullshit! de Tocqueville had plenty of unflattering things to say, but most of the time his unflattering things were quite true. He had the experience and the knowledge needed to make those kinds of claims. He didn't just show up, go to Disneyland, eat a hot dog, shoot a fucking gun, and then go home to write a book.

You know what? I'm going to just end this review here, because I'm all riled up.

But Fuck you, Stephen Fry. I generally love your work and I bet you're a super nice guy and I bet you'd be really fun to hang out with in person, but your book is fucked up. So up your ass with glass for writing this.

I'm going to go listen to some Frank Sinatra and try to calm down.

P.S. If you want to read something that looks at America from a British lens, or something that looks at Britain from an American lens, check out Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away and Notes From a Small Island, respectively.

Mind you, Mount Rushmore itself isn't exactly the Parthenon or the Sistine Chapel either. After the naive daftness of the Crazy Horse monuments, I find the pompous idiocy of those four presidents somehow more risible still. Wishing to show respect or feel a vicarious thrill of admiration or pride, I can only giggle. For which I am very sorry. Any loyal American reading this who feels outraged and insulted is free to explode with derisive snorts or laughter at any British equivalent. 

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt are pompous idiots? Are you out of your fucking gourd?! Seriously? Are you mentally ill? Washington and Jefferson kicked your fucking elitist asses to the curb during the revolution and established an entire friggin' country. Lincoln prevented an entire country from ripping itself apart. And Roosevelt did a number of great things, but most of all he established national parks, effectively protecting some of the world's most beautiful natural wonders from being destroyed. You can't go around praising a national park one second and then go around dissing Theodore Roosevelt the next. So how about you show some G-damned respect you fucking choad.

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