Monday, July 2, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 11

Wow, I really kind of failed at posting stuff in June, eh? In my defence I got a new job (bringing the total up to 3) and I found a new place to live.

In short: I've been rather busy.

But I've got a bunch of stuff I want to work on. Hopefully I'll find the time and be able to muster the motivation to work on it.

Anyways, the books I've read are piling up a bit, so let's trim them down a little bit.

* = reread
[GN] = graphic novel/comic anthology

by. Gary Paulsen

A teenager named Brian is riding on a single engine plane when the pilot has a heart attack. Brian manages to fly the plane into a lake. However, the pilot is dead, the plane and its radio are under water, and all Brian has to help him survive is a hatchet.

You know what? I could've sworn that the title to this book was “The Hatchet” and not just “Hatchet.” Frankly I kind of prefer the title with the “The” in it.

Regardless, the first time I read this was in elementary school. I don't think that I've read it since then, but I remembered liking it (and yet couldn't remember much about it), so I figured I'd reread it.

It's pretty good. Not amazing or life-changing or awesome or anything like that. Certainly not as good as it was as a kid, but it's a solid enough story. And it's interesting hearing about what this kid does to survive in the wilderness.

I only have two complaints.

One is that Paulsen tries to add this plot element about how the kid saw his mom cheating on his dad and he's haunted by it...or something. Anyways, it's the definition of superfluous. It doesn't add to the story and I'm at a loss for why it gets mentioned at all. I'm sorry to say it, but if you're stranded in the wilderness and fighting for your life, no one cares that your parents are getting a divorce. What was that? You're full of inner turmoil? Great, great, whatever, tell me more about how you're going to catch one of those birds.

My other problem is that this kid is way too smart and yet incredibly dim. You're telling me this city kid can actually figure out how to make himself a spear, a hut, a fishery enclosure, and even a functioning bow and arrow; using only a hatchet and nature? And yet he never even bothered trying to see if he could dive down to the plane to get to the emergency survival pack?

So like I said, the kid is plenty bright, but not much for common sense.

It was not possibly believable. Not this. He had come through the crash, but the insects were not possible. He coughed them up, spat them out, sneezed them out, closed his eyes and kept brushing his face, slapping and crushing them by the dozens, by the hundreds. But as soon as he cleared a place, as soon as he killed them, more came, thick, whining, buzzing masses of them. Mosquitoes and some small black flies he had never seen before. All biting, chewing, taking from him.

In moments his eyes were swollen shut and his face puffy and round to match his battered forehead. He pulled the torn pieces of his windbreaker over his head and tried to shelter in it but the jacket was full of rips and it didn't work. In desperation he pulled his T-shirt up to cover his face, but that exposed the skin of his lower back and the mosquitoes and flies attacked the new soft flesh of his back so viciously that he pulled the shirt down. In the end he sat with the windbreaker pulled up, brushed with his hands and took it, almost crying in frustration and agony. There was nothing left to do. And when the sun was fully up and heating him directly, bringing steam off of his wet clothes and bathing him with warmth, the mosquitoes and flies disappeared. Almost that suddenly. One minute he was sitting in the middle of a swarm; the next, they were gone and the sun was on him.

Vampires, he thought.
pages 36-37

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 2:
by. Charles M. Schulz

The complete collection of Peanuts strips from '53-'54

If you recall, when I talked about the last volume I said that these old strips are vastly different from the Peanuts we think of today. However, it seems that this is the time frame in which the Peanuts we know of really begins to emerge. Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, and Pig-Pen all take up their posts; and Charlie Brown becomes that sad sack we all love.

A lot of the people of my generation will list Calvin & Hobbes and The Farside as the greatest comic strips of all time. And while those strips are superbly genius, I think a lot of people overlook Peanuts. Even if you want to dismiss its legacy and the fact that Peanuts changed the face of the comic strips, I still feel Peanuts can go toe-to-toe with any strip you pit against it. I could go on forever discussing all the reasons why, but I don't want to bore you. Suffice it to say that Peanuts is an absolutely brilliant strip. And yet it is very easy to overlook, because it is a master of subtlety.

“Men are lots smarter than women!

They are not!

“Men are lots smarter than girls!

“Not necessarily.

“ must be smarter than girl babies!

“I guess I can grant you that, Charlie Brown.

“Somehow that wasn't much of a victory.
Peanuts strip from 11/26/1954

Three Word Phrase, Volume One
by. Ryan Pequin

The first collection of strips from the webcomic Three Word Phrase.

Three Word Phrase is one of those comic strips that I find hilarious, but that I could understand if someone else didn't. It has a really strange sense of humor. I'm sitting here trying to think of how to describe what the strip is like, but I just don't have the right words. So instead I'm just going to leave you with some strips.

107. Morning
158. Got Me
174. Exam

“Look at all those stars.

“I don't know if you know this, but there are literally hundreds of stars up there.


“The moon, too—it's really big. SUPER BIG.

It's's bigger than a car, like, for sure.


From Three Word Phrase strip #170 Amazing

War Dances
by. Sherman Alexie

A collection of poems and short stories.

I really enjoy Sherman Alexie's style and this collection really shows off all the things he does so well. It's much more varied and polished than his first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and it's a bit edgier than his young-adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

He is so very good at saying what he thinks. For instance check out this interview he did with Stephen Colbert (I can't help but love an author that bashes e-books). But the best thing about him is that he doesn't pick on anyone. He just calls it like he sees it. While his past stories from all been from an Native American POV he branches out in this book. For instance in one of the stories he writes from the perspective of a privileged young white man.

“This was Seattle, on a dark street on Capitol Hill, the Pacific Northwest center of all things shabby, leftist, and gay. What was I, a straight Republican boy, doing on Capitol Hill? Well, it's also the home of my favorite Thai joint. I love peanut sauce and Asian beer. So my friends and I had feasted in celebration of my new junior partnership in the law firm of Robber Baron, Tax Dodger & Guilt-ridden Pro Bono.”
page 78
That last sentence is a decent example of the Call-it-like-I-See-it humor he is so deft at.

While the stories are all very good, I have to say that it is the poems that really stood out for me. Every single one of them is just brilliant.
So yeah. I really enjoyed it. I would say it's the best short story collection I've read in quite some time.

The Theology of Reptiles

We found a snake, dead in midmolt.
“It's almost like two snakes,” I said.
My brother grabbed it by the head
And said, “It just needs lightning bolts.”

Laughing, he jumped the creek and draped
The snake over an electric fence.
Was my brother being cruel? Yes,
But we were shocked when that damn snake

Spiraled off the wire and splayed,
Alive, on the grass, made a fist
Of itself, then, gorgeous and pissed,
Uncurled, stood on end, and swayed

For my brother, who, bemused and odd,
Had somehow become one snake's god.
page 65

The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh
by. A.A.Milne
illustrated by. Ernest H. Shepherd

A Milne omnibus containing: Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six.

“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best——” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying 'What about a little something?' and Me saying, 'Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you, Piglet,' and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and the birds singing.

 “I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.

 “How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time. 

“Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it. 

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh. 

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing now.

 “Oh, I see,” said Pooh again. 

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.
pg 337

You gotta love Winnie-the-Pooh. Well, maybe some people don't, but I certainly do. Not only are his stories really cute and charming, but they also does a number of things you don't often see in children's books.

Mostly I love the fact that all the characters have very noticeable flaws and aptitudes. For instance Pooh is a glutton and not very bright, but he's also kind and is good at composing poetry.

The weird thing about reading them now is that there's a lot of subtle things going on in them—especially in the framing of the stories. The whole thing takes place as a story being told to Christopher Robin by his father. Which doesn't sound all that intriguing, but if you read the stories you'll see what I mean.
The low point in this huge collection was the non-Pooh poem books. Some of them are pretty great poems, but a fair amount weren't really to my tastes. Although I will say that Milne has a really interesting style of poetry. Lots of onomatopoeia and some rather odd rhymes. Usually when people do that the poems are just terrible and amateur, but he somehow really makes it work. Once again it'd be hard to describe without having gone through them with the intent of doing an in-depth analysis. But suffice it to say that it is an unusual style.

I think, in the end, I'd rather just have the Pooh books on their own instead of in a giant compilation book.

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. 
page 344

Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs
by. Ken Jennings

The famed Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings takes a look into the world and the history of Trivia.

I think I liked about half this book. I remember watching Jeopardy! when Ken Jennings was on and so his accounts of what it was like to be on the show were a lot of fun. I also liked how he talked about the history of trivia and about its place in the world. However, I found myself getting rather bored whenever he started talking about professional trivia buffs. Reading about fanatics of any kind quickly grows tiresome when you don't share their passion.

But like I said, he makes some rather interesting observations about trivia.

“Maybe the best test of a well-composed trivia question is how you feel when you don't know the answer. Anybody can enjoy getting a question right, even if it's poorly written or dull. It's fun to show what you know. But the ideal trivia question is so good that you even enjoy getting it wrong: you liked the mental exercise of rooting around for the answer, and you like the surprise of hearing the right answer after you gave up.”
page 118
In addition, the actual history of trivia was kind of intriguing, because before this I had never really asked the question Where did trivia come from?” Jennings also points out the extent to which trivia is a part of our lives. Neil deGrasse Tyson once pointed out that the things we take for granted are often the most telling of our culture. With that in mind, this book really does bring your attention to the fact that trivia has ingrained itself in our culture.

“If trivia is a fad, in other words, it's certainly a pesky one. Like the Terminator, Halley's comet, or genital herpes, trivia just keeps coming back.

And it's still around. In fact, though trivia isn't necessarily faddish at the moment, it's still somehow omnipresent. America plays hundreds of thousands of trivia games every day—in urban bars, on suburban coffee tables, on FM radio stations, on cell phones. Trivia appears on our beer coasters, under our Snapple caps, on our Cracker Jack prizes. It clogs our e-mail in-boxes and magazine article sidebars. It fills the blank space at the bottom of columns in the phone book. It pacifies us while we watch the cola-sponsored advertising on movie screens. It's the bumper that takes us to commercial on cable news and entertainment shows. It's such a familiar part of American life that we don't even notice it anymore, and yet there it always is. We live surrounded by trivia.”
page 5
Plus he tells you all sorts of stuff about what it's like to be behind the scenes on Jeopardy! which was pretty cool. It's always kind of neat to hear what things are like behind the scenes.

I guess what I'm saying is that the book isn't perfect and it isn't for everyone. However, if you're a Jeopardy! fan, if you're interested in trivia, or if you're just interested in lifting up the rock of an unknown subject in order to see what creepy-crawlies lie underneath, then I think there's a lot to this book has to offer.

“I realized something on the plane yesterday. What would you say got us together in the first place?

“Well, you kept pestering my roommates to set us up, and—


“Trivia got us together? What, did we play Trivial Pursuit or something?

“What were the first two things we knew we had in common?

Mindy thinks for a minute. “That we both knew all the words to the songs in Once Upon a Mattress?

“That's one. You loaned me your CD.

“Knowing a lot about Broadway musicals doesn't necessarily mean you were into trivia. You could have been gay.

I soldier on. “And then the day after our first date, I saw you again, and we traded lines from What's Up, Doc?" We had both grown up on worn VHS tapes of this 1972 screwball comedy, a favorite in our respective families. That afternoon, Mindy had said, as I was leaving her house, “Let's not say good-by. Let's say 'Au revoir.'“No, let's say good-bye,” I'd responded automatically. Then we'd gaped at each other, realizing we'd been quoting the same movie.

“Love at first sight.

“So maybe we never would have realized we were so compatible if we hadn't been trading song lyrics and movie dialogue. That's textbook trivia right there.

Mindy looks unconvinced. “But that's how everybody gets together. They find some dumb thing they both know a little about that they can talk about until the waiter brings dinner. According to you, there probably isn't a marriage or a relationship or a friendship anywhere today that wasn't jump-started by trivia.

“I think that's exactly right,” I agree. “To trivia.” We toast with our soda cans again as the sun dips behind the big maple tree.
page 244-245

123*. 124*. 125.
The Newsflesh Trilogy:
Feed, Deadline, Blackout
by. Mira Grant

There is a point on the literary love scale at which you lose your ability to effectively and impartially review it.

I love this series. I kind of want to leave it at that, but I know that wouldn't be fair to you. So let's start at the beginning.

I first read Mira Grant's Feed because a friend had recommended M.T. Anderson's book by the same name. However, in an odd twist of fate Grant's book was the better book. I really have nothing I can compare it to. It's a political thriller, it's a journalistic thriller, is a zombie story, it's a mystery, it's a bunch of other little things. It had really interesting characters, and even more notable was that it featured the best world building I have ever seen. The post-zombie-rising world that Grant portrays is fleshed out incredibly well. She puts in a lot of research into these books and you can really tell. Just seeing how this world is setup makes the book a lot of fun. But then you add in the witty dialogue and the mystery and the action, and it's just cherry.

Then Deadline comes along and it's even better than Feed! Feed wasn't perfect and it had a couple little thing that I had problems with, nothing major, just little things I thought it could have done better. However, they aren't even worth mentioning because Deadline fixes all of those problems. So rarely do you find a sequel that has learned from its mistakes so well. Plus the story of Deadline is much more exciting. There's a lot more action and a lot more surprises.

Which brings us to the last book in the trilogy: Blackout. If anything Blackout is a combination of Feed and Deadline. It has a fair amount of action, but it also has more of that journalism/politics angle that Feed had. But more than anything it had a very satisfying conclusion. And if all that wasn't enough, it goes and explains away the couple little problems I had with Deadline! Plus it provided a very satisfying conclusion to a pretty epic plot line and you can't ask for anything more than that in a series' last book.

Really, I just love this series to death. I love the setting. I love the characters. I love the story. And I love the overarching ideas regarding the nature of truth of lies.

The difference between the truth and a lie is that both of them can hurt, but only one will take the time to heal you afterward. 

King City
by. Brandon Graham

The story of a guy named Joe and his cat, Earthling J.J. Cattingworth III. But unlike normal cats, Joe's is able to do...pretty much anything. With the help of his catmaster powers, Joe works in the underground taking clandestine missions. But something big is lurking on the horizon.

I picked this one up on a whim because the webcomic Johnny Wander highly recommended it and because it was a 400+ graphic novel on sale at Amazon for $11 and that's a pretty darn good deal.

What surprised me is that it isn't as plot heavy as I was imagining. In fact it's a very meandering story. There is an overarching story that propels everything forward, but it really isn't the point of the book. The point is the characters, and the banter, and the fun art, and the puns. Oh, the puns. Brandon Graham has a true knack for puns, because this book has some absolutely amazing ones. I had to stop a take a moment to appreciate some of them because they were just that brilliant.

While being set in a wildly fantastical world it's all oddly relatable. I know that most of you probably won't get this reference, but the best way I can describe King City is to say that it's like a combination of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim, and Corey Lewis' Sharkknife.

When I lived here before, it would have been different.

Everything's different since I got the cat.

With the right injection, the cat can do anything.

The cat is a weapon.

My name is Joe.

I pick locks.

I pick my nose.

Soldier Dogs:
The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes
by. Maria Goodavage

A look into the dogs in the United States' Armed forces. What they do, how they do it, and why they're so important.

I don't really know what to say about this one. The writing really isn't all that great (it's pretty straight forward and simple) and instead of creating and arranging chapters around fully developed ideas and/or themes, they seem to have been created and arranged at random. For instance, one chapter was only a couple of pages long and was a brief aside about the weird names some dogs get stuck with.

But despite the fact that the book seems to have been arranged through means of 52 Pickup, the subject matter was interesting enough to make up for it. Before I saw Goodvage's interview on The Daily Show I had never really heard about military dogs before. Let alone the fact that the dog's have a handler who they spend all their time with. The stories about these dogs and their handlers is really intriguing.

As a final thoughtand I know this might be controversial to say dogs are smarter than cats. I've often heard people try to make the claim that cats are smarter than dogs, but after reading this book I'm more confident than ever that they are out of their minds. Now, I'm not saying dogs are a better pet than cats, or that cats are stupid, or anything like that. But I am saying that cats can't serve in the armed forces, save soldiers from IEDs, or track down terrorists. So maybe you should belay your dog slander.

More parachutists drop in front of us as we round a bend later towards the kennels. Hollywood, that's what there are, Gunny spits.I don't know how many frickin' millions of dollars they spend every year to let those guys jump out of planes. Dogs save so many lives out there, this course has saved untold numbers, and as of now, we have no funding after October 2012.
Finally, perhaps, we've come to the reason he feels disdain for the jumpers.

It costs the DOD about $750,000 a year to run the IASK Course. Some 225 handlers go through the course annually. Despite the tremendous (if unquantifiable) success of the course, it's on the chopping block because of the same major budget cuts causing pain everywhere in the military. The program is currently considered a Tier III course, which means it's looked at as
extra" in times of budget crises.

But what is $750,000 when it comes to saving lives? If you have to put a life in terms of dollars, it costs the government $400,000 to $500,000 in death benefits for ever soldier, sailor, airman, or marine killed in action. The Defence Department would have been shelling out more money for the lives Patrick saved that day than it costs to run the IASK Course for an entire year.
It's astronomical the number of lives that are being saved because of this Yuma program, says Bowe. And I will panhandle to get this if I have to. 
page 157-158

Prom and Prejudice
by. Elizabeth Eulberg

It's like what you'd get if the Disney Channel made a modern interpretation of Pride and Prejudice...except worse.

I'm sure you're all wondering, Jesse, why on Earth would you bother reading a book called 'Prom and Prejudice'? 

So I shall answer that question first. I read it because I happened to come across it while searching for things at the library and I thought that it had one of the dumbest titles I had ever heard of. Which meant one of two things: A) This book would be really bad (and perhaps even hilariously so), or B) This book knew how silly that title was and thus the entire book will be silly-good-fun.

...and, I can't lie to you, I may be incredibly naive, but I really did have hope that this wouldn't be some trite romance story for unliterate-vapid teenagers. I thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be using Pride & Prejudice as a way of pointing out the ridiculousness of the genre. But I was wrong.

I was so very wrong.

People generally give me weird looks when I say this, but Pride & Prejudice is actually a favorite of mine. It seems many people think of it as nothing more than a romance story. While romance is certainly a central part of the story, there is so much more going on. There's comedy, there's witty dialogue, there's crazed family relations, depictions of the class status obsession of the age. And it does what so few romance books do, which is make an extremely compelling argument against marrying for love. Plus it has a truly amazing female lead, who is just such an intriguing character.

While Ms. Eulberg claims to be a fan of the original, you'd swear she read a completely different book than I did. She cuts out all the amazing things about Pride & Prejudice until it is a mere skeleton of a romance story and then fills it back in with trite garbage.

The Lizzie in Prom and Prejudice is no Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth was smart. She used her intellect to turn the tables on people who treated her badly. When Lizzie gets picked on she runs away and has a cry. Excuse me? One of the great things about Elizabeth was that she was proud of who she was. Sure, she'll hold a grudge against someone who's been rude to her, but she likes who she is and she has a family that, while ridiculous, love her, so it doesn't matter what some jerks think.

Did I mention that this book pretty much completely cuts out the family dynamics of the story? That was one of the best parts! Elizabeth's family was hilarious! Her mother was pushy and oh so dramatic. Her younger sisters were flighty and simple. And her dad was content to take a backseat and just enjoy the show. But Prom takes place at some boarding school, so her family is barely mentioned. The older sister Jane from the original, is replaced by the roommate Jane, which changes everything! Elizabeth loved Jane so much because—aside from being her sister and a kind and loving personshe was a rock in the storm of madness that was their family. She was the only one she could really confide in. Lizzie loves Jane because Jane is the only one that is nice to her. know what? One of those seems to have a much deeper connection than the other.

Plus in Pride & Prejudice Elizabeth was judged only partially because of her family's status, but mostly because her family kept acting like crazy people and embarrassing everyone. Which is completely different than the angle Prom takes, which is that everyone hates Lizzie because she's....poor! *GASP!*

What's next? Oh, of course: Darcy. Mr. Darcy is often held up as a kind of ideal man. He's handsome, rich, kind to his family, and he loves Elizabeth for who she is. Prom's "Will" Darcy, however, is a total asshat! Example? Well, in a scene in Pride & Prejudice Elizabeth overhears Darcy say that he doesn't find her all that attractive. In Prom's equivalent scene Lizzie overhears Will say that he doesn't like her because...she's poor! *GASP!* and ewww, poor people, amiright?

You know what? Yeah, Darcy was kind of a jerk, but in all fairness he was having a terrible time. He didn't really want to be there and people wouldn't leave him alone, so right off the bat that's not a good way to meet someone new. And I think we can all relate to meeting someone and over time they go from They look alright, I guess to I can't stop thinking about their pretty face.

...or maybe you can't relate to that...maybe that's just me...

Regardless! there's an excuse for saying that kind of thing in private to a friend. But what possible excuse is there for telling your friend how much you detest poor people? There is none! If your friend says that to you you should seriously reconsider why you are friends with them.

And back to Lizzie. In Prom and Prejudice Lizzie can afford to go to this preppy school because of her musical scholarship...

...stop...go back...

She has a music scholarship? Not an academic one? Oh, Charlotte fucking Lucas has the academic scholarship! Elizabeth was intelligent and well read, but not particularly musically gifted. Obviously she should have gotten in because of her intelligence! Give Charlotte Mr. Collins isn't so bad Lucas the musical scholarship! Honest to God, there is a part in this book where Lizzie bemoans the fact that she's expected to maintain at least a B minus average. Excuse me? A B minus average? Unless your school has a bunch of wicked smart people (this school definitely did not) wrecking the curve, maintaining that shouldn't be all that hard. But Boo-hoo! She has to do better than average to get a huge discount on a great education. Woe is her!

You know what? I'm done. I could rant about this thing forever. It might seem that I've covered all the big stuff, but I haven't. I HAVEN'T EVEN STARTED COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS! But I think you get the gist.

In summary: This book is terrible. It is a complete and shameful mockery of the original book. I would've stopped reading it right away if not for the fact that I needed to warn you all. I needed to warn you that this book is terrible. Seriously. It's awful. Just go read Pride & Prejudice and try to forget that this book exists.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.
page 1

1 comment:

  1. "I think we can all relate to meeting someone and over time they go from 'They look alright, I guess' to 'I can't stop thinking about their pretty face.'

    ...or maybe you can't relate to that...maybe that's just me..."


    "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date."


    Also, I laughed at 2 of the 6 Three Word Phrase comics you posted here...can you guess which ones?