A Stroll Through the Pun Forest or Crime and Pun-ishment

BullwinkleHello poetry lovers. Today’s poem is a pun of stunning disregard for human frailties. It is titled, Names of Hair Salons:

Bangs For The Memories,
     Shear Hostility,
          The Best Little Hair House,
                                             Come Hair;
                              Hairway To Heaven
                                   Babalouise, Bang, Headonizm,
                                        Hair Today,
                                            Curl Up and Dye,
                                                 The Bobshed

But I jest.

It’s been called the lowest form of humor, which is a compliment in this case. Puns are illegal in 37 states (I made that up, but it’s an idea whose time has come), they are frequently annoying, and the people who regale others with punnage seldom bathe (also made up) [it’s TRUE!]. Yet puns are standard fare in the names of both hair salons and cozy mysteries. Why? Is it sadism run amok?

We may never know.

Pun also risesPerhaps you’d like to start your voyage with a thorough understanding of just what a pun is all about. Wellsir, I would recommend The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics by John Pollack. Penned by a former Clinton speech writer, the author not only explores the definitions and history of puns, but makes a case that they are significant to the rise of modern culture.

Next we’ll stroll over to the cozy mystery section and discover that puns in titles are completely out of control. There are puns on classic book titles (The Cakes of Wrath; Grapes of Death; Grape Expectations; Grey Expectations), movies  (Nightshade on Elm Street; Bell, Book, and Scandal; Arsenic and Old Puzzles; The Silence of the Llamas), Plays (End me a Tenor), Poems (Murder had a Little Lamb), songs (Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti), television (Ghouls Gone Wild), magazines (Deader Homes and Gardens) and musicals (A Little Night Murder).

Mysteries1

Had enough? Too bad. The most egregious offenders are puns based on common phrases. Choose your favorite from the following (the last one being my fave):

Three’s a Shroud          Thread on Arrival                 If Books Could Kill
Meet your Baker        Kill ‘em with Cayenne          Book, Line and Sinker
Hiss and Hers         Going, Going, Ganache      Animal, Vegetable, Murder
Read and Buried           Wined and Died                To Brie or Not to Brie
Skein of the Crime        Mallets Aforethought             Assaulted Pretzel

Mysteries2Cozy mysteries often have a hobby or interest associated with them, like archery or fan dancing. In these examples we have food (The Cakes of Wrath, Grape Expectations, and Kill ‘em with Cayenne to name just a few), bookstores (Book, Line and Sinker and If Books Could Kill), and needlecraft, knitting, crocheting (Skein of the Crime and Thread on Arrival) among others.  Cozies, rather than police procedurals, thrillers or uncozy mysteries, tend to be the books that have bepunned titles.

Eats shootsOf course, many books sport punny titles. One of the best, in my inflated opinion, is Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a book on the importance of punctuation (no commas would be a story about a panda, commas tells of a character involved in specific activities)

CalahanSpider Robinson, a most excellent author of science fiction tales, has created a series of stories set in a bar called Callahan’s Place. Its denizens, including extraterrestrials, a talking dog and time travelers, listen to visitor’s stories, offer comments, and generally pollute the atmosphere heavily with puns. I think this series of stories truly gave me an appreciation for the gross art of punnery. Nowadays I find myself engaging in it, often against my will, and I fear that it’s just a short step to miming my incarceration in an invisible cube.

I apologize for this blog, but just like with any disease, it’s good to know your enemy in order to best defeat it. Please don’t judge me.

I Didn’t Expect the Spanish Inquisition!

In one of the greatest Monty Python skits, Cardinal Ximinez of Spain pontificates, “Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms…”

Perhaps this bit of comedy has influenced my books-to-read list. I find myself thinking, “Amongst my reading objectives are forays into such diverse categories as non-fiction and YA, ruthless non-stop reading, an almost fanatical devotion to new books, and snazzy high tops…”

And then I forget everything and read another Perry Mason novel.

Dave BarryBut slowly I am expanding my choice of reading materials. After compiling a list of non-fiction titles I would like to attack, I promptly ignored it and read Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry. By Dave Barry. As I ponder the world of non-fiction, it seems odd that humor is classified as part of it. One can certainly write a true story in a humorous style, but conversely, humor can just be made up stuff. This sometimes bothers me at night, interrupting much-needed sleep, but Dave Barry is funny and seldom bothers me (since the restraining order). And sure, there’s not much new under the sun in his approach to writing, but each of his books makes me laugh out loud, which is no mean feat. This collection of essays, ranging from teenage insecurities that never go away to the stupidity of refrigerating mustard and ketchup, kept me figuratively on the edge of my seat rolling on the floor with laughter, and then signaling for help up off the floor.

TinseltownTinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
I don’t seek out true crime unless it is exceedingly well-written (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote), educational and fascinating (Breaking Blue by Timothy Egan), or both. I chose to read Tinseltown because I’m starry-eyed about early Hollywood, a time when southern California was still a bit rural, when the status of movie stars and the content of movies were being defined. Here we find the true story of the murder of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Pictures Directors Association. Not a household name in this day and age, nor perhaps during his lifetime, but an important person in Hollywood none the less. This tale is as vivid as any well-penned novel, bringing century-old events to life. We learn a tremendous amount of history, of the growth of the film industry, the control that studios exerted over theatres, and the extreme power wielded by Adolph Zukor. And, somewhat surprisingly to me, of the drug and sex-crazed lifestyles of many of the early movie stars, which of course brought backlash from conservative religious groups. Be warned, this crime remains unsolved. I was looking forward to a nice wrap up with the detective in charge solving the crime some 30 years later, but it was not to be. The author does offer a solution, and it is plausible, but it is still guesswork rather than closure. However, that aside, this is one of the most entertaining, educational and enjoyable non-fiction books I’ve ever read!

AtlantisMeet Me in Atlantis: My Quest to Find the 2,500-Year-Old Sunken City by Mark Adams surfaced next on my random unplanned reading list. I have no particular interest in Atlantis, but this book seemed to be about the people who are interested in Atlantis. Now that I’m nearly finished I find that it’s also about theories, possible locations of Atlantis, and whether or not it was a real place. Amazingly, the only ancient reference to Atlantis was an extensive one made by Plato in two of his later works. As a kid watching cartoons, fictional shows and even documentaries, I thought that Atlantis was a widely documented lost continent, even though its authenticity was in doubt. Now I find out it was mentioned by one person in all of antiquity! Adams interviews philosophers, scientists, and Atlantis enthusiasts in an attempt to find out what’s the hubbub, bub? The author seems to vacillate in what he believes as he encounters one plausible theory after another.

After a year trapped in fiction I am excited to re-encounter the world of reality. The breadth of topics is astounding, and if one can find a good writer, learning becomes fun. I’ll be posting more new non-fiction reads as I continue my quest, so stay tuned!

Terry Pratchett Remembered

There are plenty of opportunities to read about his life, so I thought I’d share how Terry (as I called him in my head) affected me.

I was raised on Monty Python. Their brand of humor is somewhat unusual, and when they more or less ceased to function as a group there was a hole in my humor reserves. I’m not sure exactly when I discovered Mr. Pratchett (as he required me to call him), late 80s or early 90s, but I do remember the moment of discovery.

WitchesIt was a day like any other day, except that it was unique, and I was making my weekly pilgrimage to the Everett swap meet. There amongst some books I spied Witches Abroad. The cover art was silly and the book’s description was, well, extremely silly, and I was immediately taken by this post-modern fairy tale and the amazing character of Mistress Granny Weatherwax.

Discworld, where many of his books take place, is sort of a sideways version of Earth, mostly focused on a semi-pre-industrial quasi-Europe. The planet’s inhabitants face the same problems that we do, and Pratchett, amongst non-stop wet-your-pants hilarity, offers precious daubs of wisdom. Describing this fantasy world in brief is just not possible, but it is a place I think of fondly, much as one might of Oz or Hogwarts or… well, nowhere else I can think of.

MonstrousIt would be impossible to choose a favorite, but Monstrous Regiment is a Discworld novel that stuck with me. The general premise is that there’s a war, a girl’s brother goes off and does not return so she impersonates a man and enlists (wait, this is sounding familiar…), her regiment of misfits becomes notorious, and, well, read the book! But amidst all the belly laughs and borrowing from Shakespeare, Pratchett makes deep and insightful points about war. And this sums up his best books: gut-wrenchingly funny and poignantly wise.

I will miss anticipating the latest Discworld novel, but I revel in the knowledge that there are over forty of them to read and read and read again. And so I leave you with the final tweet from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Twitter feed, released after his death.

[Death speaks]: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER,” it stated. Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The End.

Terry Pratchett

 

 

New Year, New TBR

I am waving a white flag of surrender, admitting defeat, giving up. I had an uber-ambitious list of reading resolutions in 2014 and I did not complete it. However, I did manage to cross off 8 of the 12, meaning it’s by far my most successful set of resolutions I’ve ever attempted. Here’s a last look back at what I wanted to read last year:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular 
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Not bad, right? Granted, I could have done more. But by the time the leaves started changing colors I realized I was left with the most challenging selections. I was running short on both time and desire to actually put in the work required to complete my list. And it definitely felt like work. As someone who was once forced to read a bunch of books against my will (aka required summer reading in school) I didn’t want to resent reading, and that’s what it started to feel like: resentment.

With that in mind I’d like to tell you what my plan will be this year: nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I will be reading. I’m not a monster! I just won’t be planning it out ahead of time. Instead of a list of reading resolutions, I want to show you some of the books I missed out on last year that I hope to read this year. But I’m not going to lose any sleep if I don’t read them all!

Carol’s 2015 TBR (To Be Read):

textsTexts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Synopsis: Hilariously imagined text conversations–the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange–from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield
Why I want to read it: A book that fictionalizes electronic communication between some of my most beloved literary characters, from Sherlock Holmes to Nancy Drew. How could I skip this one?


steampunkThe Steampunk User’s Manual
by Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich
Synopsis: A conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator.
Why I want to read it: Steampunk! I just started getting into reading steampunk fiction in 2014, and I’d like to learn more about the subculture before I attend Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) in March.

 

jackabyJackaby by William Ritter
Synopsis: Newly arrived in 1892 New England, Abigail Rook becomes assistant to R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with the ability to see supernatural beings, and she helps him delve into a case of serial murder which, Jackaby is convinced, is due to a nonhuman creature.
Why I want to read it: While I hope hope hope (!) the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners will be out in 2015, I’d like to read Jackaby to tide me over, since it sounds like it might be a literary kindred spirit.

 

batmanBatman ’66 Vol. 1 by Jeff Parker
Synopsis: DC Comics re-imagines the classic Batman TV series in comics form for the first time! These all-new stories portray The Caped Crusader, The Boy Wonder and their fiendish rogues gallery just the way viewers remember them.
Why I want to read it: My favorite Batman was always Adam West, and I am obsessed with that campy portrayal of the Dark Knight in all forms, including this new comic series. It’ll also help get me in the mood for ECCC, where I’m sure to encounter at least a few amateur caped crusaders from the Pacific Northwest.

dont touchDon’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
Synopsis: 16-year-old Caddie struggles with OCD, anxiety, and a powerful fear of touching another person’s skin, which threatens her dreams of being an actress–until the boy playing Hamlet opposite her Ophelia gives her a reason to overcome her fears.
Why I want to read it: Um, did you read that synopsis? Swoon!

Regardless of whether or not I read all or any of these appealing books in 2015 the fact remains there are some great books out there. What’s in your TBR?

Embracing the Stereotype: The Modern Cat Lady

Growing up I had zero love for cats. In my defense I had every reason to keep my distance. None of my extended family had cats, and all my cat-loving friends tended to house whatever the feline equivalent of Cujo is. One friend in particular seemed to have an aversion to cleaning the litter box, so as a result the house just reeked. I thought that was how all cats smelled. I thought that was how all cats behaved. All of that changed in 2007 when in one afternoon I found myself with two kittens of my very own.

Over the ensuing years the number of cats in my house has fluctuated. Now my husband and I share our home with three, yes three darn cats:

  • The Dude, his name a blatant The Big Lebowski reference meant to win over my father-in-law, does indeed abide, though he can be a total spaz, too.
  • Tonks, named after my favorite Harry Potter character, is fiercely obsessed with all humans.
  • Gypsy, who was named after the squeaking heroine of MST3K, is the stereotypical ‘fraidy cat.

And stereotypes are what we’re talking about today, people. For one day I woke up and realized one giant truth about myself: I’m a cardigan-wearing, library-working, crazy cat lady. And I’m totally owning it! If you, like me, want to embrace the crazy cat lady stereotype, you’ll want to check out these books stat.

67 ReasonsFirst, let’s establish that cats are better than dogs. Don’t believe me? You definitely need to read 67 Reasons Why Cats are Better than Dogs by Jack Shepherd, who is responsible for launching the Animals section of BuzzFeed. Did you know that cats are better engineers, won’t eat your baby, comfort the afflicted, face their adversaries head-on, and are extremely hard workers? It’s true! Much like the website, this book is packed with imagery that proves point after point.

CHNA7291*catlady_case_1stPROOFS.inddat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy showcases dozens of glamorous, stylish, and posh women and their cats. These portraits range from classical paintings to iconic black-and-whites from Hollywood’s heyday to full-color photographs from the last few years. Marilyn Monroe, Ali MacGraw, Lana Del Rey, Lauren Bacall, Keira Knightly, Eartha Kitt, Twiggy, Ursula Andress, Eva Longoria, and of course Lee Meriwether dressed as Catwoman. These women embrace the stereotype and challenge it at the same time.

Cat PersonCat Person by Seo Kim is a collection of comics that started out as the author’s challenge to herself to create one new comic each day. I can tell she’s a true cat lady at heart because her cat, Jimmy, is featured in many comics in the front and back of the book. My favorites include the ways to hug a cat, different cat charades (imagine what chicken nugget and slug look like; if you have a cat this should be easy), and the horrible fate of unattended food left in front of a computer screen, Skype call in progress. Sometimes the panels so reflect my own life that I do a double-take. I’ve definitely found a kindred spirit in Seo Kim.

CatificationOnce I realized that being a cat lady isn’t so bad, I decided to see what more I could do to make life as a cat under my roof more enjoyable. That’s when I picked up Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for your Cat (and You!) by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin. I don’t have TV any more, so I hadn’t heard of Jackson Galaxy or his TV show, My Cat from Hell. But now I realize that Jackson is a genius. Yes, this book is packed with projects you can make to keep your cats happy and healthy inside your home. But it’s also got some great tips on recognizing your cat’s mood. You’ll also learn how to ensure your indoor-only cat can still have his animal instincts met (hunting, climbing, and so on). A happy cat is a happy cat lady. If this isn’t already a saying, I’m making it one.

PetcamSo what holiday gifts do you buy the modern cat lady in your life? Start with Petcam: The World Through the Lens of Our Four-Legged Friends by Chris Keeney. Any cat lady will appreciate all the trouble the three cats in this book went to in order to take some snazzy pics of their daily lives. Botty, Fritz, and Xander each wore small cameras around their necks and took photos of the places they traveled, the things they did, and the faces they saw along the way. If you think you’d like to get your cat lady a pet camera for her furry friend you may want to check out the back of the book before wrapping it. There are all kinds of tips and resources that will get you started.

Does your modern cat lady also work with customer service and/or social media? She’ll appreciate opening up QR Codes Kill Kittens by Scott Stratten. Scott was named one of the top five social media influencers in the world by Forbes, and his author photo on the dust jacket includes an adorable black cat. Consider:

If you knew that your terrible business decisions could cost a kitten its life, would you still do it? Of course not. No one wants to hurt a kitten, and no one wants to damage their own business through easily avoidable mistakes. But the trick is knowing which things are the wrong things to do.QR Codes

That’s where this book shines. Using real-life examples and plenty of illustrations, your modern cat lady will learn just what ideas that might seem great are actually hurting her image, both online and in real life, or IRL if you’re nerdy like me. Give your modern cat lady this book and she’ll thank you. In hashtags.

This year we at the library are participating in a Secret Santa game. Whoever is my Secret Santa knows me pretty well. I’m still not sure if this is a coincidence or killer intuition. But on the day I planned to write this post I received this little gift.

IMG_20141204_090918

You don’t have to live life avoiding the cat lady stereotype. Embrace it. Own it. Be it. Love it. You can thank me in hashtags and/or catnip.

Inquiring Minds

whatifAccording to tradition, curiosity is a bad thing. If you’re a cat, curiosity kills and if you’re Pandora your curiosity releases all the evils of humanity. A tad harsh if you ask me. Luckily curiosity has a lot of defenders, especially among those that are scientifically minded. It makes sense since questioning and experimentation are at the heart of the scientific method. As Mr. Einstein said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

The best thing about curiosity is that it can take you to some really weird places. I’ve always liked those incredibly odd hypothetical questions curious people ask that seem to come out of left field. There is a problem if you like these types of questions though. Rarely does anyone take them seriously enough to try to answer them. Imagine my delight then, when I saw this title while perusing the new nonfiction books here at the library: What if?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. Time to investigate.

Randall Munroe is the author of a popular webcomic, xkcd, and a former NASA roboticist. The fans of his webcomic are an inquisitive bunch that enjoy sending him all sorts of hypothetical questions that range from the intriguing to the downright scary. Monroe receives so many of these questions that he has set up a separate blog, what if?, to answer many of them and share them with the world. This book is a collection of some of the best of these questions and answers as well as lots of material not on the blog itself.

So how odd are the questions? Here are a few examples to give you an idea:

What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

If you suddenly began rising steadily at 1 foot per second, how exactly would you die? Would you freeze or suffocate first? Or something else?

How much Force power can Yoda output?

Which U.S. state is actually flown over the most?

And my personal favorite:

What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely?

Each question is answered by Munroe using all the powers of reason, science, creativity and lots and lots of humor. As you might guess, the author sprinkles each answer with hilarious, and often informative, illustrations of the concepts he is trying to get across. Whatever you do, don’t skip reading the footnotes. They are the opposite of the usually arcane explanations found in academic journals and Munroe’s dry wit really shines through. His footnote for the sentence “The periodic table of the elements has seven rows” reads:

An eighth row may be added by the time you read this. And if you’re reading this in the year 2038, the periodic table has ten rows but all mention or discussion of it is banned by the robot overlords.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that in addition to it being quirky and really funny, I found myself learning a lot. While the questions are definitely outlandish, the concepts used to answer them are grounded in many diverse fields such as physics, mathematics, geology, astronomy and many others I usually find difficult to absorb. It’s amazing what you can learn about fluid dynamics when the author is trying to explain what would happen if a rainstorm dropped all of its precipitation in one giant raindrop.

So ignore all those archaic dire predictions and let your curiosity run rampant while reading What If? Inquiring minds want to know.

Invasion of the Killer B-movie Robot Monster from Mars

It CameB-movies meet P.G. Wodehouse in the 2014 graphic novel It Came!, ‘directed’ by Dan Boultwood. Boultwood previously illustrated a series of graphic novels about The Baker Street Irregulars which were written by Tony Lee, who has also written for IDW’s Doctor Who Comics.

Before the main ‘feature’ there are a number of 1950’s style advertisements. For example, the top of one page sports an illustration of an attractive, stylish woman declaring, “I like my men like I like my bacon: Smokey.” At the bottom of the page: “Smoke & Choke’um Cigarettes: For that discerning odour.”

Just before the ‘feature attraction’ begins there is a ‘trailer’ for another ‘feature’ (and possible future comic, according to interviews with the author): The Lost Valley of the LostLost Valley features the two stars of It Came!, Dick Claymore and Fanny Flaunders, as well as Cecil Herringbone and Sir Rutherford P. Basingstoke as Caveman. The trailer features views of canyons with our heroine, played by the lovely Fanny Flaunders, in perilous situations: being attacked by a snake, a plant and a spanner. The trailer’s climax sees the heroes being confronted by a rather cuddly dinosaur.

On to our ‘feature’, It Came!, presented in Eyeball-O-Rama-Vision! A colorful poster-style page depicting a giant robot clutching a beautiful woman proclaims, “Something is coming round for afternoon tea…and it isn’t the vicar!” Then our story begins. In 1950’s England an old farmer drives his tractor under the stars. Suddenly, a robot monster attacks!

Two days pass and Dr. Boy Brett, dashing pipe-smoking British scientist, and his lovely assistant Doris Night are motoring down a country road in what appears to be a Morris Minor. Brett is very English, with rather Wodehousian speech patterns. For example, complimenting Doris, Brett says, “You know, Doris? For a girl, you’re a good egg!”

Doris and Dr. Brett stop at a pub in a quaint country village. The village is deserted. Our heroes are chased by an alien robot. They escape to the next quaint village, which is inhabited by people who appear to be living in the 1940’s. Dr. Brett makes a very British phone call to Colonel Willie Warwick Wilberton of the British army, who sends out some troops in exchange for two pints and a pork pie.

And that’s just the first quarter of the book!

Earth vs Flying Boultwood is inspired by American B-movies of the 1950’s, the type one might see on Mystery Science Theater 3000, such as Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and Attack of the Crab Monsters. However, It Came! is more of an homage than a send-up. Boultwood has lots of fun with the genre (for example, when the flying saucer is revealed there is a string attached!), but the fun is never cruel.

It Came! has everything: beautiful women, flying saucers, soldiers, politicians with really big pipes, explosions, tea and crumpets, and, of course, science! It’s enjoyable, funny reading and I highly recommend it.