Books That Started as Blogs

If you’re like me, and I hope you are, you follow a blog or two just because it’s fun. Of course I read this very blog because my smart and hip co-workers contribute valuable stuff to it. Hey, you’re reading it right now! You must be just like me.

Did you know that there are a lot of great books which have been spawned from blogs? Let’s explore some recent titles which had their starts as blogs. I’ll start with the visual ones:

indexCake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates is so funny! Yates has been entertaining us with the worst cakes ever, including the ugly, silly, creepy, sad, and suggestive on her blog since 2008. It currently features photos of awful graduation cakes. Have your cake and laugh at it, too. With witty commentary and behind-the-scenes tidbits, Cake Wrecks will ensure that you never look at a cake the same way again.

index (1)There, I Fixed It! No, You Didn’t by Cheez Burger is part of the ubiquitous Cheezburger Network of blogs and is another hilarious visual feast full of epic fails which show human ingenuity at its worst. My favorite ‘chapter’ features quick fixes with duct tape.

index (14)How To Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You is based on the blog, The Oatmeal, a hugely popular website. It is a brilliant 136 page offering of cat comics, facts, and instructions to help you enjoy, love, and survive your cat. The book is a #1 NY Times best seller and sold over a half million copies in its first three months in print. Check it out from the library for free. Even I laughed, and I hate cats.

index (3)I do love dogs and fortunately for me there’s Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire, based on the blog with the same name. This book features the most hilarious, shameful, and never-before-seen doggie misdeeds. It reminds me of the evening we were sitting around with friends having a nice conversation, when we discovered that our friend’s dog had chewed apart another friend’s shoe. We didn’t think to take a photo, but these folks have taken some pretty funny ones.

index (13)And what blog-book list would be complete without an awkward family photo selection? I’ll include Awkward Family Pet Photos which came from the Awkward Family Photos blog. These books are always so weird, yet funny. Just look at this fellow hugging his dog on the cover. The photos with monkeys, possums, and chickens are especially hilarious. And now on to the blog-books which have more text than photos.

index (4)Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:  (A Mostly True Memoir) is written by Jenny Lawson, the “Bloggess”. She’s ‘like Mother Theresa, only better.’ She writes this about her book: “You should probably go buy it right now, because it’s filled with awesomeness. And cocaine. But only if you hollow it out and fill it with your own cocaine. I’m not buying you cocaine. Because I love you.” I thought it was hilarious when I read it and you may also, since you’re just like me!

index (5)Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas who writes dispatches on McSweeney’s. Scott Douglas works for a smallish public library nestled cozily between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. This is where most of his observations occur, although sometimes he goes to other libraries. This book is super funny because it could have taken place at our very own local library. Read it and see for yourself.

index (6)The Happiest Mom by Meagan Francis who writes the Happiest Home blog online. The author also writes for Parenting magazine and is the mother of five children, so she presumably knows her stuff and spells it out in ten simple rules that are delivered with humor. This book has gorgeous graphics and the main idea is that you can be a mom (or grandparent) and still be happy. As I’ve always said, if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

These blog-books are sure to make you happy.  Check them out at your local library!

To Read or Not to Read [Shakespeare]

It’s Month Five of 2014 and I’m still clawing my way through my Reading Resolutions. That’s right—I haven’t quit yet! As a result, I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve ever followed through with resolutions I’ve made. Hooray! Anyway, this month I tackle reconciling my past. Sounds scintillating, right? Here’s a recap for those of you just joining us, or those of you who may not remember them all (I have to look them up constantly, and it’s my list after all):

  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 (see below)
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

This will surprise no one who had to suffer through countless English classes with me in school, but I’ve never held a fondness for Shakespeare. It’s true, and this knowledge cuts through the heart of my English-major boss. However, as she is responsible for buying the Dewey 800s (Shakespeare’s home) I’ve discovered some of the more unique Shakespeare related titles she has ordered. Because of this, I’m learning to love Mr. William and think you will, too.

bricks

Who doesn’t love LEGO? I grew up playing more with LEGOs than I did Barbies. Luckily, the authors of the Brick Shakespeare series know how to hook the LEGO generation (but please don’t call them hookers). One book covers the comedies, and one covers the tragedies. I’ve always consider them all tragedies because I tragically could not get into anything The Bard composed. These books changed everything! Each scene is adorably illustrated with LEGO pieces and the dialogue is typed verbatim. So, sadly, you do still have to do a bit of translation. But in the end it’s totally worth it. Watch Shakespeare’s words written hundreds of years ago come to life with children’s toys! The next generation has a shot at loving and understanding Shakespeare, thanks to these brilliant books.

reducedTouted by the New York Times as “intellectual vaudeville” The Reduced Shakespeare Company performed the longest-running comedy in London with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).” RSC’s two managing partners, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, then wrote a book on the topic. Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impared [Abridged] is told in an engaging style sure to grab anyone’s attention. Not only are each of The Bard’s works broken down and summarized in plain English, there’s also a healthy dose of humor sprinkled on top. And, to make this truly educational and thought-provoking, the authors have included essay questions at the end of each piece. Consider the following essay questions:

Was one of your siblings considered the family’s “problem child?” Did they get this label simply because they were not as funny as they should have been? (Triolus and Cressida)

In this play a baby is abandoned on the shores of Bohemia, a country with no coastline. Make up some smart-ass essay question about the “genius” of Shakespeare’s knowledge of geography and then answer it. (The Winter’s Tale)

There are also an assortment of pop quizzes scattered throughout to keep you on your (mental) toes:

Pop Quiz, Hotshot: Which famous sexual come-on originated in “Venus and Adonis?”
A. “Let’s get it on.”
B. “I’ll smother thee with kisses.”
C. “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire / What’s your desire?”
D. “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
(Answer: B)

insultedShakespeareThese books are all about making stuff that was written many hundreds of years ago relevant to today’s idiot children like me. If I still haven’t hooked you, this next title will do the trick. Shakespeare Insult Generator, compiled and introduced by Barry Kraft, has been all over the interwebs this publishing season. In fact, I’ve kind of been hoping to see it in a future Quarterly shipment from Book Riot. But I digress. I consider this book to not only be required reading for everyone struggling with Shakespeare, but I’d like to see it have a permanent home on every English major’s desk (do you hear that, boss lady?). This ingenious spiral-bound book dares you to “put dullards and miscreants in their place.” You can mix and match three horizontal pages at a time to create one of over 150,000 combinations of Shakespearian insults. Flip each word over and you’ll get the definition so you can be duly informed of just what you’re calling someone.

So don’t be a hater. Join me in welcoming The Bard into your life. With the right tools at your side, you can prepare to become a Shakespearian scholar at your next dinner party. It’s like I always say: wow them with whimsy.

I Love Bernie (And So Will You)

This year I decided to give my reading life a little bit of direction and structure. Though I tend to prance through life with copious amounts of chaos, I decided that I could and would cram in some reading goals for 2014. Why not stretch my mind a little? Though I’ll still be reading fun, fluffy, and frivolous books (currently reading a YA spy thriller) I thought if I mapped out my year I could easily shift in some unexpected titles and see how well I do following directions, even if they are from myself. I detested assigned reading in school but I’m hoping that taking orders from myself will go over better.

Yeah, I’m a hot mess.

Let me recap for you what I’m calling my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book (see below)
  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

wheredyougobernadetteThis month I decided to tackle the Everett Reads! book. As Kate mentioned already, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is what we’re hoping all of Everett will try this month. On February 23rd at 7pm Maria will be at the Performing Arts Center downtown. We’re told she’s a very engaging and entertaining speaker, and those who wish to meet her/have a book signed afterwards will have that opportunity. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?!

We’ve been doing this “one book for the whole community to read” type of program for several years now. The first year we read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I love mysteries, so that year I read the book, discussed it with colleagues, and went to the programs offered. In the intervening years I didn’t really get excited about any of the other titles. That’s not to say they were bad books. They just didn’t capture my interest.

This year everything changed. This year we picked a book that was funny.

I’m not great at summarizing stories without giving anything away. What you should know is that, although everyone told me this book is all about teenager Bee searching for her mother Bernadette who just disappeared, it’s so much more than that. I checked out the eBook edition and Bernadette didn’t disappear until about 2/3 of the way through the book. While many books heavy on exposition and background can be tedious and overbearing, it’s just not the case here. The writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious, the best lines coming straight from Bernadette herself:

Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are “gals,” people are “folks,” a little bit is a “skosh,” if you’re tired you’re “logy,” if something is slightly off it’s “hinky,” you can’t sit Indian-style but you can sit “crisscross applesauce,” when the sun comes out it’s never called “sun” but always “sunshine,” boyfriends and girlfriends are “partners,” nobody swears but someone occasionally might “drop the f-bomb,” you’re allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with “no worries.”

Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?

The whole story is told through varying forms of communication: school memos, emails, faxes, magazine articles, and even a captain’s report from a cruise ship. This structure really held my interest and also provided deep insight into each characters’ motivations, feelings, and personalities. That’s a really tricky thing to do well in a book but Maria Semple pulls it off.

Unfortunately this format can be tricky to follow when listening to the audiobook, as one of my colleagues discovered. So I would suggest if you’re getting lost or losing interest in the audio, grab a hard copy of the book and try that instead. Give Bernie a chance to win your heart like she did mine.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (yes, it bothers me that the official title does not include a question mark) has something for everyone. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is an avid cyclist, so this will appeal to my friends who bike to work. Elgie also works at Microsoft, and the book goes into great detail about life on a business campus. I read these parts out loud to my software engineer husband. There’s a lot of coverage of the school Bee attends and the moms Bernadette refers to as “gnats” since they’re annoying but nothing you’d really exert effort over (hello, all my parental friends who have experience in the trenches). Ever been on a cruise? Deal with motion sickness? You’ll be nodding your head (nothing that would trigger that horrible nausea feeling, though). If nothing else, this book is a great fit for anyone who has had a complicated relationship with their parents (who doesn’t?) and, of course, any humor fans.

bernie

I want to hear from you. Are you joining your neighbors in reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I’d love to see you all pack the house at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 23rd. The program starts at 7pm but if you want the good seats you’ll want to get there a little early.

If Bee can search the ends of the earth for her mom, surely all of Everett can enjoy the same book.

Physician Heal Thyself

DR.I’m not sure exactly when the shift happened, but doctors, in the real world at least, are no longer considered infallible gods. This is great when it comes to getting second opinions and not being railroaded into unnecessary treatments. There is, however, a downside:  the perils of self-diagnosis. You see, without an authority figure (I tend to imagine Spock or Tuvok) to say “the chances of you being inflicted with such a disorder are infinitesimal” my fevered brain tends to see a deadly and rare disorder in the slightest cough or rash. Luckily, perhaps, the library has many tomes to guide me on my journey of disease self-discovery.

It is always best to start with the classics. The two heavy hitters are Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment (CMDT) and The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Such scintillating titles no? Both are geared toward the medical professional and provide rational, current and highly technical information on almost every disease and its symptoms, that you could possibly think of. Just don’t expect much sugar coating. Also avoid looking at the diagnostic images at all cost.

If ice cold logic doesn’t put your mind at rest, perhaps it is time to admit that the problem lies in the fear of disease itself or as the professionals like to say, hypochondria. Luckily, you are not alone. There are many tomes dedicated to individuals who struggle with the fear of disease. Best of all, they tend to use liberal doses of humor to describe their plight. Here are a few examples:

wellenoughalone

Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria by Jennifer Traig
Convinced she was having a heart attack at 18 (the college nurse’s reply: It’s a gorgeous day and you’re not dying) the author realized that she just might have a problem. This book is a witty, and often hilarious, self-examination of all the foibles of a woman convinced she has every disease known to man. Each chapter not only highlights her own “issues” but also puts her hypochondria in a historical perspective with amusing anecdotes from the past.

Hyper-Chondriac: One Man’s Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down by Brian Frazer
hyperchondriacFrazer definitely suffers from hypochondria, as a child he came down with a new disease every month, but this book is also a far ranging quest to find relaxation and, for lack of a better term, inner peace.  He tries reiki, yoga, Zoloft, Craniosacral therapy, Ayurveda, dog walking, and even, gasp, knitting. Sadly none of them seem to fully rid him of his demons, but the hilarious journey is well worth it. For the reader in any case.

The Hypochondriacs: Nice Tormented Lives by Brian Dillon
hypochondriacsnineAnother subtitle for this book could be: misery loves company. After reading about these nine famous suffers and their quirks, you probably won’t feel so bad about any fears of disease that you might have. While each sufferer’s oddities are definitely amusing, this work also highlights the interesting connection between each malady and the individual’s creativity. In several cases, such as Charlotte Bronte, the illnesses, both real and imagined, provided a means of escape as well as inspiration.

hypochondriacsguidetolife

The Hypochondriacs Guide to Life and Death by Gene Weingarten
While there is a smattering of actual medical information throughout this work, this is pure satire and all the better for it. The author introduces you to his own neuroses, and then tries to convince you that you should have them as well. The chapter titles (such as ‘How Your Doctor Can Kill You’ and ‘Pregnant? That’s Wonderful! Don’t Read This!’) tell you all you need to know about the contents of this book. There are even helpful quizzes to confirm your paranoia.

So you now have all the tools you need to calm your irrational fear of disease. I’m sure you will be fine. Well, maybe not.

What’s Overdue? or Books I Wish I’d Read in 2013

2013 brought a great change in my reading habits. Without any conscious choice I found myself checking out great big bunches of books, reading a little of each, and continuing with the one (or ones) that tickled my fancy. The result? I checked out a whole lotta books that I never read.

As the year came to a close, I decided to look through the books I didn’t finish in search of hidden gems. After all, I’m usually pretty excited about a book when I check it out.

So what we have today, O Brave Readers, is a list of titles that I wish I’d read in 2013, and beyond that a list of books that I pledge to read in the upcoming months. I’m actually quite excited by this prospect as I’ve never created a reading list for myself and, after all, the books are all titles that I want to read.

And with that I present:  What’s Overdue? or Books I Wish I’d Read in 2013.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Red HarvestPulp detective stories rank among my favorites, so it is somewhat strange that I do not enjoy the highly-regarded Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Still, I want to like the writing of this legendary ink slinger. So imagine my satisfaction when I read a gushing review of Red Harvest, a story based in Hammett’s experiences as an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Butte, Montana. The main character, The Op, is called to clean up a corrupt town, Personville. But quell horreur, a woman The Op’s keen on is found murdered with an ice pick he recently handled. Now The Op must extricate himself from a murder where he is a prime suspect.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
I Hunt KillersI am fascinated with fictional serial killers. One of my favorites, Dexter, only kills really bad people… usually… and we generally like and sympathize with him even though HE KILLS A REALLY LOT OF PEOPLE AND CUTS THEM UP! But we like him. Now there’s a YA book, I Hunt Killers, about a nice teenager named Jazz whose father is an infamous serial killer. He even forces Jazz to witness (and perhaps participate in?) his killings. Jazz begins to wonder if he is destined to follow in daddy’s footsteps. As dark as this all sounds, the book is described as being consistently hilarious. Comedy and serial killing – it makes my list!

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
Gideon SmithI consider myself a trend-bucker, but steampunk has me by the islets of Langerhans. If there’s a zeppelin, silly old-fashioned names and adventure, well sir, I want to read about it. Set it in England, all the better! In Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, Queen Victoria rules most of the world, including the east coast of America. Gideon loves penny dreadfuls penned by Lucian Trigger, and when his father disappears he commences a long journey to London to find Captain Trigger. Along the way he meets Bram Stoker (who blames vampires for the father’s disappearance), mummies, and a clockwork girl.  And upon finding Captain Trigger, a further journey to Egypt leads to encounters with sky-pirates, frog-faced hordes, and a variety of historical characters. Will Gideon be the hero that Victoria’s empire needs?

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Dog StarsIn a world where most people have been killed by influenza, Hig and his dog fly a 1956 Cessna around their abandoned airfield in a small corner of the land formerly known as Colorado. One day he receives a radio transmission and Hig decides to give up the life he’s been living in order to find the broadcast’s source. Thus begins an adventure filled with risk, shattered hopes and potential happiness.


Snapper
 by Brian Kimberling
SnapperI’ve always loved stories set in the cozy small towns that probably never really existed. Add quirky characters to the mix and I’m sold. In Snapper we find Nathan, a bird researcher, arriving in a small Indiana town filled with peculiar citizens and animals. Here, in one place, he finds both love and “Thong Thursdays”. But mostly he finds birds and an ever-unfolding life heading down unexpected paths.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Books I Wish I’d Read in 2013!

Crafty Double-take Titles

Cover image of I Felt AwesomeFuture me is an amazingly crafty and talented person. I owe this predicted success to the hours I’ve spent hoarding craft ideas on Pinterest. Unfortunately the current me is pathetically unskilled and can only dream of making the upcycled t-shirt tank tops, tiny felted owls, and clever Chicago map quilts my heart desires. Nevertheless, this momentary setback doesn’t stop me from trolling the craft section when I’m on my lunch break. During my most recent foray to the 746’s I found my attention grabbed again and again by book titles. More specifically, I kept doing double-takes at book titles written by authors who clearly shared my slightly off sense of humor. My conclusion? Crafters are a funny, sometimes naughty, group of people.

Here are my top ten favorite crafty book titles found at the EPL:

10. Wild with a Glue Gun by Kitty Harmon and Christine Stickler. My idea of getting wild with a glue gun involves frustration, cursing, burnt fingers, tears of rage, and a half-finished pompom snowman; thankfully the ladies who wrote this book are far more creative and coordinated than I am. Once I’ve acquired some welder’s gloves I’d love to try out their scallop shells party lights idea, or the tin art that’s featured.

Cover image of Men in Knits9. Men in Knits by Tara Jon Manning. If this was a tumblr, I’d subscribe to it. This title gives handy tips to more experienced knitters (or shoppers) about what kinds of patterns are most suitable to different male body types. Patterns featured in this book are best suited for experienced knitters, but the eye candy is nice for the rest of us.

8. Socktopus by Alice Yu. Though I love the name, this is written for experienced knitters. There are loads of really elegant knit patterns, but Socktopus is short on pictures of how to do the actual stitches. Some day.

Cover image of Stitch and Bitch7. Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller. Aside from the catchy title (or perhaps because of it), this series is pretty popular with people looking to learn how to knit and crochet (I purchased their crocheting title, The Happy Hooker, when it was featured in BUST Magazine). Featured within these pages are trendy styles, easy to follow diagrams, and amusing banter.

6. Sensual Crochet by Amy Swenson. This may be more of an unintentionally-funny title than deliberate, because there’s not much that seems sensual about crocheting, or the contents of this book. What it does have to offer are sophisticated, current styles that crocheters can try out. These elaborate patterns are best suited for more experienced hookers.

5. I Felt Awesome: Tips & Tricks for 35+ Needle-Poked Projects by Moxie. This book is useful for beginners and more experienced crafters alike. Early sections explain the equipment needed, and provide loads of great close-up color photos to illustrate step-by-step directions. For the experienced felter, there are many fun, offbeat project ideas, such as scarves that look like racetracks (complete with felted cars) and martini olive necklaces.

Cover image for Joy of Sox4. Sweaters from Camp from Meg Swansen’s Knitting Campers. Aside from the hiking name, this book is more or less window shopping for me until I develop some skills. For advanced knitters, there are many detailed patterns to explore.

3. Too Hot to Handle? Potholders and How To Make Them by Doris L. Hoover. Enter the fast-paced world of potholders, mitts, and other skin-savers with this helpful how-to title. Readers will learn a bit about the history of potholders, as well as where the potholder industry is headed. Later sections of the book are dedicated to a variety of unique pattern ideas, as well as tips on how to upcycle old clothing to make new potholders.

2.The Joy of Sox by Kinda Kopp. This saucy number is ideal for inexperienced knitters who may be interested in adding some pep to their sox life. Early chapters are dedicated to explaining terminology, demonstrating techniques with clear drawings, and helping knitters navigate patterns.

Cover image for Still Stripping1. Still Stripping After 25 Years by Eleanor Burns. This title coaxed an embarrassingly loud snort-laugh from me in the stacks. From the homey cover shot of the author saucily tossing a fabric strip over her shoulder, to action shots of her working her sewing machine in the company of her labs – I feel like I want to get to know Ms. Burns. Thankfully I can in a way because she has a YouTube channel that hosts a large collection of her ‘how to’ videos.

I hope this list has given you the motivation to bust out the pinking shears or home-spun yarn, or at least given you a chuckle or two.

Self-Help and Humor or If I Told You Where the Self-Help Books Are, It Would Defeat the Purpose

Please prepare yourself. I’m going to blow your mind: we at the library love to read. We read everything from fiction to biographies to cookbooks and history. So it should really come as no surprise that we love to talk about books just as much, if not more, than actually reading them.

Occasionally we’ll have a staff meeting focused solely on discussing one type of book. What did we like? What did we not like so much? What’s popular in our community?

This past week we discussed self-help books. In addition to facilitating our discussion, Marge prepared a list of 50 authors to know in the self-help world. She also shared an article by Daniel Lefferts with an overview of the top self-help books to take into 2013.

           

In preparation for this discussion we were asked to think about what self-help books we’d recommend to others. Turns out I don’t really read many of them now, although according to GoodReads I have rated a lot of them in the past. I wondered why this might be. What do I do, in my 30s, that I didn’t in my 20s when I read all those self-help books? The answer slowly appeared, as if from a magic 8 ball: I’m way into stand-up comedy.

That’s right: I worship at the altar of hilarity, where the main dogma is, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Feeling down? Try a stand-up routine! I guarantee it won’t solve the underlying problem you’re currently moping over, but it will lift your spirits and maybe even give you the confidence to face your problem head-on.

My husband, Chris, and I decided this would be the year we’d go out and see some of our favorite comedians up-close and personal. Would the real-life experience stack up to the edited versions we’d heard on CDs, podcasts, and on TV? Turns out that, like most fascinating things you see on TV, the reality is just bigger and more satisfying in person.

Our favorite show so far this year has been finally getting to see Jim Gaffigan. Jim was at the Paramount back in July and we had front-row seats and got to meet him after the show. In case you weren’t aware, his persona centers on the fact that he is very pale. One of my favorite albums is Beyond the Pale, and he co-starred with Conan O’Brien in an animated short series called Pale Force, where their paleness is over-exaggerated for comedic effect. That paleness is also the source of their superpowers.

Anyway, after the show as Jim reached out his arm to shake my hand, he smiled and said, somewhat gleefully, “Oh, you’re pale, like me!”

Day. Made.

All the way to Seattle, and walking to the theater, I had made sure to impress upon Chris that I was going to ask Jim if we could pose in a photo with all of our arms turned out to show how pale we all are. When the time came for us to take a photo, I mentioned my idea, that I would love it if we could all three stick out our arms, etc. etc. This is exactly what he said:

“Oh now, I think I win. And…I didn’t want to win.”

Well we did a visual recount and I think you’ll agree that I am actually the victor. And to the victor, goes the sunscreen. He then asked to take a photo with our faces so we could remember who the palest was.

Gaffigan ArmsGaffigan GroupI didn’t solve any of my problems that night, but I did have a great experience and an amazing time with my husband. We made some memories and laughed until we cried. That kind of emotional release can, I propose, be even more helpful than reading a detailed book about how to organize your life, or lose weight. And let’s be honest: it takes much less time to watch or listen to stand-up than it would take to read the latest self-help tome.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try some of the comedy your library has to offer. I suggest the following: take two stand-up routines and call me in the morning.

Carol

A Nice Jacket (tie is optional)

In a recent blog, Lisa confessed to judging books by their covers. Now it is my turn to enter the confessional. Please don’t judge me.

I’m a browser.

Sure, I read reviews and get excited by their eloquent descriptions. Inevitably, in a state of rapture I’ll put a reviewed book on hold, sometime later I’ll be notified of its arrival, and sure as shootin’ I’ll have no memory of placing the hold and no interest in the book. It’s either not a genre I read or the description sounds depressing or the colors on the jacket clash. Perhaps at the time an epic intergenerational romance between a potato bug and a budgie tickled a particular nerve, but now it just seems so overdone.

So yes, I browse. And typically I look for authors that are new to me rather than tried-and-true scribes who would all but guarantee an enjoyable reading experience. My selection process is rather complicated and technical, but I’ll try to boil it down:

 The books I select must have appealing jackets.
With quirky artwork. And a nice font.

Thus I end up with some unusual reading material, things that I would not necessarily choose from a review, and have the added bonus that the book is in hand and can be read immediately (before I forget why I was attracted).

It’s always interesting in the line of duty to rediscover a book that I’d found through browsing but had since forgotten. Here are a few titles that I read in the mists of yesteryear and recently rediscovered on the shelf.

The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills Scheme for full employment
How do they create full employment in the UK? By building factories that make parts for the vans that drive between the factories to deliver the parts that the vans need as they wear out delivering parts for the vans. Got it? This system works perfectly until the company’s employees break into two different ideological groups and mess things up.

IntoxicatedIntoxicated by John Barlow
In 1860’s England an entrepreneurial hunchback midget engages the help of a businessman to create an exciting new elixir using rhubarb and coca leaf. The process of coming up with the perfect formula for Rhubarilla is described in great detail, shedding some light on a practice that is taken for granted in our modern industrial world.

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt Rangergirl
Marzi is the night manager of a coffeehouse, but her true love is cartooning. Specifically, she creates The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, a neo-western cowpunk adventure. More and more, Marzi starts seeing the world through Rangergirl’s eyes. One day she finds a secret door in the coffeehouse that leads to … well, a strange and dangerous place created by Marzi’s mind. Both the “real” world and the world behind the door are in grave danger, and Rangergirl is the only one who can save the day.

gaudeamusGaudeamus by John Barnes
Author John Barnes writes a story in which the main character, science fiction author John Barnes, is approached by an old friend who spins a wild tale of telepathy pills, Native Americans dressed in clown suits, and an enigmatic technology called Gaudeamus. Strangely enough, Barnes is already deeply involved with a Web cartoon called Gaudeamus that makes references to his friend’s adventures. Gaudeamus the book mixes bits of autobiographical material from Barnes’ life into a fantastical plot to create a unique reading experience.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi agent to the stars
Many books and movies speculate on what would happen when humans and an alien race meet for the first time. Agent to the Stars is a first-contact story where the peaceful aliens, gelatinous blobs who communicate through foul odors, are savvy enough to know that earthlings will find them unpleasant. So, before revealing themselves to the entire human race, they hire an up-and-coming Hollywood agent to create a positive image for their people.

So there you have it: a collection of admittedly weird books that I never would have discovered without walking the library’s aisles. If this is not your typical method of book selection, give it a try. Perhaps you’ll soon discover your own version of foul-smelling gelatinous blobs that will burrow their way into your heart.

Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa

Reading Every Day, In Every Way: a Bibliovore’s Dilemma

I have a problem. No, it’s not one you can help me with. If I went to a psychiatrist, they wouldn’t know what to do with me either. Book club? Maybe that’s the ticket—though I have to admit to an avoidance of assigned reading ever since Animal Farm in high school. Regardless of the solution, my problem is this: at any given time I have too many books I want to read. 

I also have too many varying reasons for wanting to read in the first place. Sites like GoodReads are amazingly great for reading and sharing book reviews, as well as discovering new and emerging authors. But sometimes I think maybe as a reading resource it’s almost too good. I also have a cataloging job in a public library. This means that there are days I am literally pulling myself away from my work in order to get it all done.

Me: THIS BOOK SOUNDS AMAZING!
Book: Um, I’m on hold for someone else right now.
Me: Oh.
Book: Yeah, you need to get it together, girl. You don’t have time for this.

Up until now I’ve never been one to read more than one book at once. I have friends who do this, and I would be completely baffled by their behavior. I’d harass them: Won’t you get confused? What if you get the characters mixed up? Who reads a cookbook cover-to-cover anyway? Does your husband (and father of your children) realize how obsessed you are with true crime, the gorier the better?

These ponderings almost landed me on the doorstep of a closed friendship door. Reading, be it method or content, is an innately private matter. But I’m going to take you book by book into my new-found obsession with reading multiple books at once. Why? I’m hoping you won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made: both in not getting through my TBR stack quicker, and in hounding my friends for answers where there are no good responses outside of, “Mind your own business!”

Bad motherFirst up is Bad Mother: a Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman. This is a particularly difficult book for me to read, mainly because I am not a mother so it can be tricky at times to relate to the material. It covers aspects of parenthood and feminism, and includes autobiographical passages to help tie it all together. However, the over-arching point of the book isn’t something you need to be a mother to appreciate. Mothers have been judged, often unfairly, by strangers since the dawn of time. But it’s like anything else really: a stranger observes part of an interaction and makes a snap judgement about the people involved based solely on what they saw (or think they saw).

This is a book I pick up and put down every month or so, due to the deep intellectual aspect of the content. I own the e-book, so it’s pretty easy to find where I left off. This is good, because I can only take so much heavy reading material in one sitting. I really need to be in the right mood to take it all in, ponder the facts and anecdotes, and feel like I’m actually getting something out of the experience.

InvisibilityI’m also reading Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan. This is a compelling YA novel about Stephen, a boy who was born invisible—and the one person to ever see him, his new neighbor Elizabeth. Love, magic, friendship and adventure await me every time I crack the spine. I thought I would devour this book exclusively when I checked it out. But it turns out I am becoming a slave to many stories at once, so this one I save for bedtime reading. If nothing else, it makes for very bizarre dreams—one more added bonus of reading such impossible stories.

Dad is FatMany months ago, my favorite comedian Jim Gaffigan announced he was releasing his first-ever book, called Dad is Fat. His publisher announced a pre-order special: if you pre-ordered the book by a certain date, not only would you be guaranteed to receive it on release day, but you would also receive many extra perks, including a signed letter from Jim himself. My husband and I have been huge fans of his for almost a decade, so we were thrilled to hook ourselves up with all of these extras.

Later, I realized that the library was purchasing the audiobook on CD, read by the author. What?! Jim Gaffigan reading Jim Gaffigan? It would be like getting to hear an as-yet-unreleased standup show. The book came out in early May, and after a month of waiting for the CD and a stellar review from Alan, we decided to just take turns reading it out loud to each other. The book, a humorous look at parenting his 5 small children in New York City, is proving to keep us busy in the evenings, laughing our way through it. Sharing the experience is part of the fun. Of course, when the CD comes in, we will undoubtedly listen to it. We know the author will do a better job of reading it than we have. And no one does voices quite like Mr. Gaffigan.

Tao of MarthaTwo days before writing this, I received the audiobook CD for The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog, read by the author Jen Lancaster. I have read many of her autobiographical—and humorous—books, most fondly Pretty in Plaid, a story of growing up in the 70s and 80s in New Jersey. I’ve even met her in person and had a great time. While her stories always made me laugh, I found myself not really identifying with her experiences in a compelling way: they were just a little off the mark from my own experiences. So I’d laugh, but not have the satisfaction of laughing at myself.

This book changed all of that–I feel like she is describing my disorganized home life! The Tao of Martha is all about Jen making a conscious decision to make her New Year into a great year by actually doing something to bring about the change she wanted. How did she do this? By immersing herself in the words and deeds of one Martha Stewart (you may have heard of her). The hope is that she’ll become organized and crafty, and thereby happier than she had been the previous year. I’m only about halfway through the first disc, but I have high hopes for Jen and her quest for happiness via Martha.

I know that if I sat down and focused on just one book at a time I may be able to finish one book quicker. But my moods are always changing, and I’m discovering that I like keeping my options open. And this way, I’m kind of killing 4 birds with one stone. Take that, TBR stack!

Carol