I’ve been pretty busy this year at work and at school, but still have managed to read a few books, at least one of which was seriously good, though most are just escapist fare. Presented roughly in order of enjoyment:
What’s the Matter with Kansas?
by Thomas Frank
“How Conservatives Won the Heart of America”: I’ve already written at length about this great book, earlier in the year.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss
Another runaway best-seller on punctuation with a panda on the cover.
Not especially rigorous, but entertaining:
My producer invited John Richards of the Apostrophe Protection Society to come and talk to us…Suddenly I was a-buzz with ideas[:] What about issuing stickers with the words, “This apostrophe is not necessary”? What about telling people to shin up ladders in the dead of night with an apostrophe-shaped stencil and a tin of paint? Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?
…We must take up arms. Here are the weapons required in the apostrophe war
(stop when you start to feel uncomfortable):
stickers cut in a variety of sizes, both plain (for sticking over unwanted apostrophes) and coloured (for inserting where apostrophes are needed)
tin of paint with big brush
strong medication for personality disorder
Big Trouble: An Actual Novel
by Dave Barry
I can do no better than to quote Stephen King: “I laughed so hard I fell out of a chair. This is the funniest thing I’ve read in almost forty years. It’s his funniest, coolest book.”
I personally can’t think of the phrase, “It’s a powerful law-enforcement tool,” without grinning maniacally, now.
by Terry Pratchett
…he collided with someone who hurried him across the floor.
“Don’t say a word, don’t say a word, but you are looking for a book, yes?”
“Well, actually–” He seemed to be in the clutches of a wizard.
“–you are not sure what book!” said the wizard. “Exactly. It is the job of a librarian to find the right book for the right person. If you would just sit here, we can proceed. Thank you. Please excuse the straps. This will not take long. It is practically painless.”
Another fine Discworld novel. Like all of them, it’s thoroughly readable. If you’re unfamiliar with the series then you should definitely start out with Guards! Guards! and then read Men at Arms, after which you will likely be pretty much inescapably hooked by the Night Watch grouping of novels, which continue with Feet of Clay, Jingo, and Night Watch.
Mr. Pratchett outsold any other author in Britain in the 1990’s, and rightly so.
A Hat Full of Sky
by Terry Pratchett
There is something called the Doctine of Signature. It works like this: When the Creator of the Universe made helpful plants for the use of people, he (or in some verisons. she) put little clues on them to give people hints…
…”This one’s called False Gentian,” [Miss Level] told Tiffany when they were in the long, cool workroom behind the cottage. She was holding up a weed triumphantly. “Everybody thinks it’s just another toothache cure, but just look at the cut root by stored moonlight, using my blue magnifying glass…”
Tiffany tried it, and it read, “GoOD F4r Colds May cors drowsniss. Do NOt oprate heavE mashinry.”
“Terrible spelling, but not bad for a daisy,” said Miss Level.
“You mean plants really tell you how to use them?” said Tiffany.
“Well, not all of them, and you have to know where to look,” said Miss Level. “Look at this, for example, on the common Walnut. You have to use the green magnifying glass by the light of a taper made from red cotton, thus…”
Tiffany squinted. The letters were small and hard to read.
“‘May contain Nut’?” she ventured. “But it’s a nutshell. Of course it’ll contain a nut. Er…won’t it?”
An outstanding children’s novel, and a sequel to the award-winning The Wee Free Men.
A Question of Attraction
by David Nicholls
“As a Glaswegian, born and bred, I think it’s safe to say that what we’re looking at here is an absolutely classic misunderstanding of the basic principle of the head-butt,” says Rebecca Epstein. “The whole point of a head-butt is to bring the hard part of your forehead down with as much force as possible onto the soft part of your opponent’s nose. What you’ve done here, Brian, is to bring the soft part of your nose down against the hard part of his forehead. Hence the blood and the loss of consciousness.”
The story of a working-class British boy’s first year at University, along with a sizable helping of obsession with the University Challenge quiz program (for one thing, each chapter begins with a Quiz question, having something to do with the chapter’s direction).
The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)
by Lemony Snicket
If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle…
Like Harry Potter, this has recently been made into what Sean tells me is an insipid movie. Read the book instead.
His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman
I got around to reading this delightful fantasy trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) this year, thanks to my sister Jan (a children’s librarian by training and experience). It’s targeted at youth, but that’s never stopped me.
He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys
by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
A book about relationships, targeted at women, written by two of the people responsible for the similarly-titled episode of Sex In The City. I read it because I quite liked the TV episode, and to get some insight into the kinds of things that men do that drive women crazy. The book’s unrelenting message to women is simple: if the man in your life doesn’t call you when he says he’s going to, if he doesn’t want to do things with your (perfectly-nice) family, if he belittles you in front of your friends, if he, in short, doesn’t treat you well, it’s not because (a) he’s afraid of intimacy, (b) he was screwed up by his mother, (c) he’s extremely busy and important, or (d) any other reason, really. If a guy isn’t treating you right, he’s just not that into you, so stop making excuses for him and go find someone who is. Sure, exceptions may exist, but 9 times out of 10, that’s why.
Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls
by Matt Ruff
Once it was in my hands, however, I was a bit put off by the subject — it sounded as if it would be more fun to write than to read. I got around to reading it this year, and it definitely has features of interest, though I’d certainly recommend that you read the other two first, especially SG&E.
Flu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic
by Gina Kolata
Or, “Why I, Tom Chappell, always get a flu shot every year, now.”
Naked in Baghdad
by Anne Garrels
“The Iraq War and the Aftermath as Seen by NPR’s Correspondent”: a great account by Anne Garrels of her experiences covering Gulf War II.
by Carl Hiaasen
Another enjoyable thriller, though the main character occasionally did some things that made me say, “Oh, you’ll never get me to believe that she would have done that.”
State of Fear
by Michael Crichton
A festering turd of a novel. Mr. Crichton has a real axe to grind here, about the [as he claims] poor quality of the science behind fears of global warming, and will do absolutely any violence to his characters’ integrity in order to further this aim. A clear low point comes when the protagonist, a supposedly-good lawyer, asks another lawyer unlawerly dopey question after dopey question, all so that the second character can be given a chance to deliver great expository rants. I’m not even saying, in this paragraph at least, that he’s necessarily wrong about the science — it’s just that the novel isn’t very good.