Monday, February 23, 2015

Book List 2015: January


* = reread
CB = Children’s Book
GN = Graphic novel or comic anthology
audio = audio book


Die Trying

by. Lee Child

Itinerant hoboand ex MP officerJack Reacher offers to help a woman on a crutch with her bags, but unfortunately for him this ends up getting them both kidnapped by separatist terrorists.

It wasn’t as good as One Shot, but it was still enjoyable. I read it during the 5 hours I had to wait for a train from Portland to Minneapolis to arrive and the time flew by. So really, anything else I could say is moot. After all, any book that can make 5 hours disappear has toon one level or anotherbe a rather engaging read, don’t you think?

“He had learned a long time ago that some things were worth being afraid of. And some things were not. Things that he had done before and survived did not justify fear. To be afraid of a survivable thing was irrational.”


Journey to the West
Vol. 1

translated and edited by. Anthony C. Yu

The first volume to Anthony C. Yu’s unabridged translation of one of China’s most famous novels.

When a monkey king gains the power of immortality he quickly becomes a massive pain in the side of the gods. But they’re willing to forgive and forget if he’ll agree to protect a holy monk on a mission to collect scriptures from the distant west.

For those of you who weren’t aware, Journey to the West is a big deal. I can’t think of a great parallel, but the closest I can get is that Journey to the West is to China what Grimm’s Fairy Tales is to Europe. It’s so big even people who have never read the book know the stories. They learn it through cultural osmosis. It’s one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China (aka the best and most influential of pre-modern Chinese novels). It’s so big that youre probably familiar with parts of it without even realizing it.

Anyways, I’ve read Arthur Waley’s abridged version of the story (Monkey: Folk Novel of China) before, but this is my first time tackling the entire novel. If you’re new to the story, I’d probably recommend Waley’s version. It’s a lot shorter and just deals with the real meat of the story. But if you’re like me and already know the basics and want to know what else happened, then I’ve gotta say that so far I’m liking this translation. He’s kept in all the poetry sections which is fun, and he’s got plenty of nice footnotes to explain all the references I don’t understand.

But if you do check this one out don’t feel obligated to read the Introduction. It’s 62 pages long and will probably only interest you if you’re in the mood for a rather dry, scholarly analysis of the text.

“He strode right up to the tiger, crying, ‘Cursed beast! Where do you think you’re going?’ Crouching low, the tiger lay down on the dust and dared not move. Pilgrim Sun aimed the rod at its head, and one stroke caused its brain to burst out like ten thousand red petals of peach blossoms, and the teeth to fly out like so many pieces of white jade.”


I Feel Bad About My Neck:
and other thoughts on being a woman

by. Nora Ephron

A collection of humorous stories from the life of a prominent screenwriter / middle-aged woman living in New York City.

So one day, about 2 years ago, I checked this book out from the library. I then proceeded to misplace it almost immediately. Unable to return it, the library  fined me and eventually charged me with a replacement fee. I KNEW it was in my apartment somewhere and was determined to find the book instead of paying the replacement fee. But this did not happen. And this, my friends, is why last year I didn’t use the public library at all.

In any case, I have since paid the fees and can now check out public library books again. And, of course, I eventually found the book. It was underneath my bookshelf.

I’m still not entirely sure of the logistics involved there.

But after a very long wait I can now say that this book is pretty good. Not the kind of thing I need to owneven though now I dobut it was enjoyable. She’s wonderfully witty, as I’m sure you already know if you’ve seen any of the movies she’s written (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, etc.) and her stories were quite fun. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I were a middle-aged woman, but what can you do? Those are the breaks.

“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.”

[GN]   4.   [GN]

Rat Queens, Vol. 1:
Sass & Sorcery

written by. Kurtis J. Wiebe
art by. Rop Upchurch

A notorious 4-woman adventuring group known as the Rat Queens finds out that someone is offing the local parties. But these ladies aren’t the type to go down without a fight.

The writer described this series as “Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids.” And I really can’t sum it up more accurately than that.

I will say, however, that it was a really fun read and if you’re a fan of sassy ladies / fantasy adventures, then you need to check this thing out.




‘We kill a lot of boyfriends! What makes you think we killed yours?’

‘He told me! He told me that you bragged about it and drank to his slaughter!’

‘Nice one, Gary.’”


The Strange Library

by. Haruki Murakami
translated by. Ted Goosen

A short story about a man who goes to the library to look for a book, but ends up trapped. Forced to consume information to fatten up his brain for a carnivorous librarian.

One of the wonderful things about a Murakami’s books is that you’re never quite sure what they’re going to be like. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. The book is exceedingly short (think short story length), has really weird way of opening, and is scattered throughout with art pages.

As a book, I’m not that impressed. Although as a short story I quite like it. But irregardless I’ve got to give it credit, because it may be a lot of things, but it’s certainly memorable.

“This news staggered me. ‘In libraries everywhere?’ I stammered.

‘If all they did was lend out knowledge for free, what would the payoff be for them?’

‘But that doesn’t give them the right to saw off the tops of people’s heads and eat their brains. Don’t you think that’s going a bit too far?’”


A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

by. Bill Bryson
illustrated by. Yuliya Somina

A kids version of Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, in which Bryson attempts to give the reader a brief summary of...Science. All of it.

The book works nice as a kind of appetizer science book for kids. By which I mean it makes you hungry to know more about all the cool science mentioned, but it is so broad that it can’t do more than to give a very brief overview of everything.

My main problem with it was that it focused EXTREMELY heavily on European scientists. Namely white male scientists. Only a handful of women scientists were mentioned (they didn’t even mention Rosalind Franklin when discussing Watson & Crick!), and I don’t think any scientists of color were mentioned at all.

The hot facts!

  • Yellowstone sits on an enormous reservoir of molten rock that begins at least 200 kilometres down and rises to near the surface.
  • The heat from the hot spot is what powers all of Yellowstone’s vents, geysers, hot springs and mud pots.
  • Beneath the surface is a magma chamber that’s about 72 kilometres across--roughly the size of the park--full of unstable magma that could blow at any time.
  • Since it first erupted 16.5 million years ago, it’s blown up about a hundred times. The eruption of two million years ago put out enough ash to bury the whole of California six metres deep.
  • Scientists have worked out that Yellowstone blows roughly every 600,000 years. The last time was 630,000 years ago.
Could Yellowstone explode again at any time? And without warning? Yes, it happens all the time.

[CB]   7.   [CB]

Hi, Koo!

by. Jon J. Muth

A book that takes you through the seasons with a series of short poems.

I was shocked to find this out, so I’m going to tell you upfront: The poems in this book aren’t really haikus! The author admits to this and explains his reasoning, and he’s kind of got a point, but not really. If you want to stick to the spirit of a haiku, but break the form? Go for it. More power to you. But, personally, I dont consider them haikus anymore.

I mean, to me at least, the whole point of haiku is that it boxes you into a very succinct bottle and the poetry comes out of figuring out how to build a ship inside of it.

But the accuracy of what he chose to call his poems aside, how was the book? Answer: It was enjoyable, but not perfect. I felt he nicely captured the feelings and imagery of moving from one season into another. But there was this whole pseudo-Alphabet thing happening that seemed really unnecessary.

are you dreaming
of new clothes?”

[CB]   8.   [CB]


by. Jenny Offill
illustrated by. Chris Appelhans

A little girl gets a pet sloth. But it turns out sloths aren’t very good at doing the usual pet things.

The idea of a little kid with a pet sloth is adorable and so is book. I don’t know what else to say really. It’s kind of exactly what you would hope a book about a kid getting a pet sloth would be.

“I asked her every day for a month, until she finally said, ‘You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.’

I made her promise.”


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
a memoir

by. Haruki Murakami
translated by. Philip Gabriel

A memoir as told through his relationship with running and how running serves as a metaphor for his life.

I can’t say that I’m all that interested in long distance running, but I am intrigued by Haruki Murakami, so I decided to see what this book was all about. I’m glad I did because it’s really quite an interesting piece. He uses his running as a sort of metaphor for his life and his writing, & goshdarnit if it isn’t an effective metaphor.

Hearing about running is passably interesting, but hearing him talk about writing was exceptionally interesting. If you’re a Murakami fan I’d recommend you take a look at this one.

“No matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror, you’ll never see reflected what’s inside.”


Console Wars:
Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation

by. Blake J. Harris

A look at the war between Nintendo and Sega from behind the scenes of factions.

Growing up I was always a bit more of a Nintendo fan and my best friend was always a bit more of a Sega fan, but we both loved both systems, so we were in the wonderful position of getting to play all the fun stuff for both sides.

But I never before knew just how interesting things were from the companies perspectives. When Sega started trying to make a move on Nintendo, Nintendo was HUGE. I mean, like, controlling 90% of the video game market huge. And through ingenuity and marketing SEGA managed to beat them back down and change the landscape of video games in this country. It was really a fascinating read.

Would someone who doesn’t know/care about that period in the 90s when SEGA v. Nintendo was a big thing, or about video games in general like this book? Probably not. Although the nature of business at work in this book is really interesting in and of its self. Most of the big players in this industry werent huge gamers (a lot of them never played video games at all), they were businessmen and marketing geniuses. That just blows my mind, how some people are such good salesmen that they can sell anything.

Word of Warning: Feel free to skip the Forward. It’s by Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg and it’s essentially them babbling to each other about how they don’t have anything meaningful to say and how they’ll just have to bullshit until they get to their page count. It was so inane that I nearly quit the book right there.

Another word of warning: This thing is nearly 600 pages, so it’s not a light read. I mean, it has a fun and engaging storyteller kind of writing style and all, but it’s not the kind of thing most people would read on a whim.

“‘The new company mascot is ready, and he is sure to be a success.’

‘This is the hedgehog named Mr. Needlemouse?’

‘Ah, you have heard,’ Nakayama said, surprised. ‘We have made some changes, and his name is now Sonic.’

‘Okay,’ Kalinske said. ‘Well, when can I see him?’

‘I will send him over now,’ Nakayama said, and then barked orders in Japanese to someone on the other end. ‘He will enter through the fax. I will stay on the line to hear your reaction. You will be very pleased.’ Kalinske made his way over to the fax machine as it buzzed and huffed, printing out lines of what would be the company’s savior. ‘My guys here have already begun work on the game engine. They showed me an early version, and it is fast like nothing else.’

The fax machine stopped sputtering, and Kalinske picked up the sketch. ‘Ah,’ he said, trying not to sound repulsed. ‘Very interesting.’ Kalinske stared at the drawing trying to see in it what Nakayama saw, but it was no use. The hedgehog looked villainous and crude, complete with sharp fangs, a spiked collar, an electric guitar, and a human girlfriend whose cleavage made Barbie’s chest look flat. ‘I assume this is his girlfriend?’

‘Yes,’ Nakayama said. ‘That is Madonna.’”


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

by. Robert C. O’Brien

In order to save the life of her sick child a widowed mouse is forced to ask for the help of the mysterious rats of NIMH: a strange group super-intelligent of rats.

I had seen the Don Bluth animated adaptation of this, but I had never actually read the book. Clearly this needed to be rectified. Turns out Bluth took a lot of liberties. A WHOLE LOT of really bizarre and terrible liberties.

And as it turns out, the actual book is really well done and I can see why it is such a classic.

The only thing I can really say against it is that...not a lot happens? Think of it this way:

Imagine if your friend told you a story about how she had gone to the store to buy medicine for her sick kid. But on her way she got delayed when she helped out a nice lady who was having car trouble. Then at the store she realized she had forgotten her purse at home! And out of nowhere it turns out that the nice lady with car trouble had been Beyoncé and she shows up and pays for the medicine! This book is a lot like that, except that in this case your friend is a mouse and Beyoncé is an escaped lab experiment.

So, it’s an interesting story to be sure. But when you get down to it, not a lot really happened.

“‘Then,’ Justin said, ‘I guess what we do is stake out scouts wherever we can, try to keep track of Dragon, and hope for the best. Some nights he doesn’t go near the garden at all. We might be lucky.’

‘Or we might not, said Arthur. ‘I don’t like it. We can’t dig that block out without some noise, you know.’

Mrs. Frisby interrupted quietly. ‘There is another way,’ she said. ‘If Mr. Ages can get into the kitchen, so can I. If you will give me the powder and show me the way, I will try to put in Dragon’s bowl.’

Justin said quickly: ‘No. It’s no job for a lady.’

‘You forget,’ Mrs. Frisby said, ‘I’m Timothy’s mother. If you, and Arthur, and others in your group can take risks to save him, surely I can, too. And consider this: I don’t want any of you to be hurt—maybe even killed—by Dragon. But even more, I don’t want the attempt to fail. Perhaps the worst that will happen to you, with luck, is that you will have to scatter and run, and leave my house unmoved. But then what will happen to us? Timothy, at least, will die. So if there is no one else to put the cat to sleep, I must do it.’

Nicodemus considered, and then spoke:

‘She’s right, of course. If she chooses to take the risk, we can’t deny her the right.

[audio]   12.   [audio]

Yes Please

written/read by. Amy Poehler

The autobiography of actress/comedian/writer/director Amy Poehler.

Have you ever gone on a trip to see a friend and they are such a sweet host that at the end of the visit you’re left feeling in their debt? Well that accurately describes my dear friend Hannah and my recent trip I took to Portland to visit her.

Anyways, while I was there I heard her mention that she wanted to read this book, but hadn’t yet because it was only out in hardcover and she didn’t want to pay the hardcover price. So when I got back home I was like, “I should find a used copy and send it to her as a thank you gift! 

But then I heard this clip from the audio book version. And was immediately like, “Screw Plan A, Hannah needs the version that lets her hear Amy Poehler curse out douchey old white guys. I mean, that’s the gift that just keeps on giving.

And even though I took my sweet time in acquiring it/sending it to her, it turned out that she still hadn’t read it, because she had decided she wanted to hear the audio version of it! So in short: Go me! & Go Friendship!

I can’t say how the book book was (although I hear there are some really fun pictures in there), but I really enjoyed this audio book. I’m not usually a fan of biographies (as I generally find them to be rather dry), but I found this one to be extremely entertaining and thought provoking. Not to mention filled with some really great life lessons. It was especially poignant because Amy Poehler reads the book herself and you can really hear the sincerity behind her words.

Plus she has some really great guests with her at the recording studio which made the book all the more fun to listen to.

“I don’t like when bratty, privileged old white guys speak to me like I’m their mouthy niece. And I got that amazing feeling you get when you know you’re going to lose it in like the best, most self-righteous way. And I just leaned back and I yelled, FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU. And then I chased him as he tried to get away from me and I said, You rich motherfucker! Who do you think you are!?  You’re not better than me. Fuck you! Fuck you and your fucking opinions, you piece of shit!


What If?:
Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

by. Randall Munroe

A book that answers such hard-hitting questions as, What would happen if a pitcher threw a baseball at near light speed? And, How long will it for the last remaining human light to go out once were all gone?

If I had a list of obscure genres that I love, “Books applying real science to fantastical situations” would certainly be on there. And this one does not disappoint.

I know it is not extremely practical to know what would happen if a glass of water were to be literally half empty, or if a person could fly by firing enough guns at the ground, but there’s a strange comfort in knowing the answers nonetheless. Not to mention that there’s something wonderfully humbling about using the illustriousness of Science for ridiculous purposes.

“They say there are no stupid questions. That’s obviously wrong...But it turns out that trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.”


Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes:
A No Bullshit Guide to World Mythology

by. Cory O’Brien

A collection of mythology from around the world as told in a simplified style without any of the pomp.

I first heard about this one after seeing a couple of passages from it on Tumblr and I immediately knew that it was something I had to read. For not only do I love myths, but I love when people aren’t afraid to point out how wonderfully crazy they all are sometimes.

I think a lot of people are afraid to see the humor in holy works (especially those of their own religion). But you know what? The world is a wonderfully ridiculous place sometimes. Would you really trust a religion that didnt reflect that wonderful madness in one way or another?

“So next time she and Zeus get busy
she is like ‘Hold on there, bad boy
make love to me like you make love to your WIFE.’
and Zeus is like ‘Aww man, way to kill the mood.
Look, if I did that, you would explode.’
and Semele, thinking that he is speaking figuratively
is like ‘Come on, handsome, I can take it.
And anyway, I totally won’t believe you’re Zeus unless you do this.’
and Zeus is like ‘WHAT? NO, I’M TOTALLY ZEUS
and he turns into lightning
and sets her on fire
and she explodes
and Zeus is like ‘Aww dammit
I knew this was going to happen.’”