Modern Cat Lady: 2016 Edition

modern-cat-lady-1

Another year, another litter of cat books!

Not so long ago I decided to fully embrace the cat lady stereotype, but with a twist. I wasn’t going to have too many cats to count, or think of my cats as my children, or come to work every day covered in cat hair. Or dress like the amazing Julie did for Halloween this year.

untitled-design

No, I was going to Instagram on Caturdays, wear adorable kitty-print clothes and accessories, and generally keep my claws in but my spots visible. Did that make any sense? That’s okay. I’m defining the modern cat lady stereotype as I go, so chances are I may change it again tomorrow. But one thing that stays the same is the fact that there are just certain books that appeal to cat ladies (and gents) like me. Here are a few of my favorite feline-friendly books published this year.

Cat-egory: Picture Books
Year after year, there is no shortage of picture books featuring felines frolicking. This year, though, we got a couple of standouts. On the surface, Cat Knit by Jacob Grant is a book about a cute cat who loves yarn and is dismayed when that yarn is taken away, only to be returned as an itchy sweater the cat is now expected to wear. But dig a little deeper and you get a wonderful story of friendship, and how change doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. When it comes to They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel the name of the game is perspective. A cat walks through the world (breaking my #1 rule of cat ownership: never let your cat outside!–more on this later) and every creature it passes recognizes it as a cat. But the cat’s size, shape, and even colors change depending on whether the viewer is a flea (that cat is HUGE and all fur) or a bird (tiny, fluffy little dude). It’s a fun way to challenge young kids to think about how they might see things differently than someone else.

Cat-egory: Art
There’s definitely more than a little overlapping appeal between picture books and art books. Take for example Pounce by Seth Casteel. Imagine a kitten. It’s adorable, right? And totally spastic? Imagine dozens of them leaping around from page to page, living that sweet fuzzy kitten life. These pages of macro photographs by the genius behind Underwater Puppies never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I mean, are you kitten me?! And then there’s Shop Cats of New York, written by Tamar Arslanian and photographed by Andrew Marttila. It would be easy to dismiss this as a rip-off of the popular Humans of New York. If you look at it as a case study of cats living in workplaces it’s absolutely fascinating. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work in a place that had its own cat (or cats!) and how employers would deal with allergies and potential liabilities. But if I concentrate really hard I can block that part of my brain and just get sucked into the ultimate modern cat lady fantasy.

Cat-eory: Health & Wellness
Every great modern cat lady wants to be sure her cat companions live long, healthy, happy lives, right? The mechanics of keeping cats are pretty straightforward: give them food, water, space, something to play with, and attention (on their terms, of course). But what about weird behavior that might start suddenly and throw you for a loop? What’s a girl to do? Pick up CatWise by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam is a certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Yes, really! And while that might sound a little silly to you, consider that Pam offers advice on topics ranging from getting your cat and dog to get along to picky eating and everything in between. You can pick through the Qs & As to get to your specific issue(s) or just read it cover-to-cover and realize how “normal” your cats really are!

untitled-design

Cat-egory: Philosophy 
If you find your life lessons and worldly quotes go down easier with a healthy dose of mind-blowingly adorable cat photos, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Life Works Itself Out (And Then You Nap) by Keiya Mizuno & Naoki Naganuma. I’m kind of floored by the depth of the text here in a book I mistook as humor. Advice is paired with stories and quotes from inspirational (and sometimes surprising) figures. For example, don’t fear conflict shares a story from Steve Jobs about how he was persistent and insisted that the engineers find a way to shave off boot time on the Macintosh computers. He didn’t take “no” for an answer, and sometimes that is the absolutely correct thing to do. Even if it’s difficult and causes conflict where it would otherwise be easier to coast and not deal with said conflict. There are dozens of other tidbits that might give your life a boost. Your soul will definitely feel lighter just seeing all those cuddly little cats page after page.

Cat-egory: Nature 
So here’s the serious section. As Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything so clearly illustrates in this except from the episode on animals, we should never, ever let our cats outside. When you adopt a cat from a rescue organization like Purrfect Pals (which is where I found all my cats) you promise that yours will be a forever home and that you will keep your cat 100% indoors. While it’s true cats live longer, healthier lives when kept indoors it’s also true that letting them roam around contributes to species overpopulation (and those cats born feral live short, terrible lives BTW) as well as species extinction (think: birds). Cat Wars: the Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella dives into these important topics and more in the book Jonathan Franzen calls, “Important reading for anyone who cares about nature.” Do you care? Time to read up!

Cat-egory: Humor
Okay, we made it through the heavy section so here’s your reward! For a funny look at some real-life kitties you’ll want to check out All Black Cats Are Not Alike by Amy Goldwasser and Peter Arkle. Set up like an identification guide, each cat gets a page of text and an adorably illustrated portrait. I have a soft spot for black cats, as they are so difficult to get adopted out and my black furball, Tonks, is pretty much the happiest cat ever. For poems with a sense of humor you’ll want to open up I Could Pee on This, Too by Francesco Marciuliano, which pairs photos of different cats with hilarious poems like this one:

The Box
The box is a toy
The box is a bed
The box is a hiding space
The box is a home
The box didn’t mean a damn thing to me
Until the other cat claimed it
The box is now my fortress
That I will defend to the bitter end

So that wraps another year of publishing aimed at modern cat ladies like me. Until next year, please enjoy these photos of my furry little goofballs without whom my life would definitely be less chaotic and happy.

20161022_095816 20161117_201022 20160923_072649

NaNoReMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Write-ins are happening all over the place, including the library. And some people even go a step further: they become published authors as a result of their hard work and dedication to the craft of writing. How cool is that? One year my husband and I decided that we would each write a novel during NaNoWriMo. While we would be writing vastly different stories and not exactly collaborating, we wrote side-by-side in the same room and bounced ideas and grammar conundrums off of each other. Neither one of us finished our novels, but we had a lot of fun and learned more about each other as a result. Which, let me tell you, after being together for almost half your lives is something special indeed!

But this isn’t a post about NaNoWriMo. This is about a new moniker I am giving November: NaNoReMo, which stands for National Novel Reading Month. Reading books out loud together is something my husband and I have done on multiple occasions. Sharing an experience with someone can definitely bring you closer together, and sharing the experience and enjoyment of a book together is one of my top things for us to do as a couple. It’s free, doesn’t take much time, and can sometimes even be done while doing otherwise mundane or boring tasks. I’m going to share with you a few of our favorite books that we have read together, which will hopefully spark your own imagination and enthusiasm!

1-dad-is-fat

The time we read to each other: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
One of the best things about reading a Jim Gaffigan book is when you can get your hands on an audio recording of it and hear him read it to you. As huge fans of Jimbo, we were tempted to go that route. But instead we decided it would be fun to try reading each other alternating chapters. You read chapter 1, I’ll read chapter 2. One of the best things about this method was sometimes one or the other of us would be sleepy and not be up for reading that night. That’s okay; the other person was ready with the bedtime story. I might be sharing too much of myself here, but there is nothing I love hearing more than the sound of my husband’s voice. When he would read to me, I could feel the stress of the day melt away and if I was awake enough I’d be laughing right along with him as he read. I don’t know if he feels the same way about my voice, but I definitely returned the favor. It was a great balance and the fact that the book’s content was about an experience we haven’t yet shared, parenthood, made the experience educational as well.

2-ready-player-oneThe time we listened to an audiobook instead of watching TV: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
When Ready Player One first came out it didn’t even become a tiny blip on my radar. It’s the worst-kept secret that I detest dystopian novels, and this promised to fit the bill. But then the library acquired the audiobook and I saw that it was read by Wil Wheaton. After a quick fangirl dance of joy I promptly checked it out. On the drive home from work that night I listened to the beginning of the story, and over the next couple of weeks I finished the first few discs on my commute. It was a great way to pass the time while fighting rush hour traffic, but I had a better idea. I knew this story would appeal to my husband, so that night I brought the whole set into the house, set up some equipment, and started from the beginning. We were both riveted, and over the next several days we skipped the usual evening television programming in favor of listening to Wesley Crusher relate the story of Wade Watts and his journey into the OASIS system in search of James Halliday’s three keys and, hopefully, his ticket out of poverty.

3-the-martianThe time we read the same book back-to-back: The Martian by Andy Weir
This was another not-on-my-radar book that I almost missed. A few months before the Matt Damon movie was to be released in theaters, my husband read a story about the movie and knew he wanted to see the movie but read the book first. He devoured the book. I mean, he’s a quick reader anyway compared to my reading speed, but in this case he actually lost sleep in favor of finding out if astronaut Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars for several years, ever made it back to Earth or not. He then began his campaign to get me to read it, too. Our reading tastes don’t often overlap so we aren’t in the habit of pestering each other to read a book we enjoyed. But this was different. He warned me about some technical jargon and heavy use of math (what does that say about me, that I need a math trigger warning?) but said the humor and writing style would win me over, and the suspense would keep me up as well. While I admit that I started reading the book in a thinly-veiled attempt to shut him up, the joke was on me. I absolutely loved it, and consider myself fortunate to have read the book before seeing the movie. Through no real effort my brain read the book in Matt Damon‘s voice.

4-romeo-and-or-julietThe time we will take turns choosing how the book goes: Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
So I don’t know about you, but my Octobers are always super-busy, very stressful, and as a result I always get sick. This year was no exception. It was such a struggle to get through the month that November has so far been a kind of recuperation period. That’s all ending this Veterans Day when both my husband and I will finally have some quality time together. We’ve planned to read this book by Ryan North, aka one of the funniest guys in comics today, aka the crazy mad awesome genius behind The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel. He has reworked Shakespeare so that the reader gets to choose the ending. That’s right; it’s a choose your own adventure for adults, and it has been sitting on our shelf at home for months collecting dust, waiting for its turn in the TBR. Our plan is for one of us to read while the other one drives; that is to say if I’m reading, he’s telling me which choice he wants as we go along. I really can’t wait for this one, as it’s another new type of book that is sure to help rejuvenate our spirits before we plan to travel back home for the holidays (stress x 1000).

So there you have it. Whether you’ve been married for decades or just swiped right, I urge you to file this one away in your relationship database. Let’s make America read again!

What to Read for a Readathon

24 in 48 readathon

This is exactly as heavy as it looks! TBR stands for To Be Read and mine is varied and mostly fun fluff. The dots on my sweater and all the writing was done in the Litsy app, which is like Instagram and GoodReads had an adorable baby that’s impossible to put down.

Even if you’ve never heard the term before in your entire life, you can probably infer what a readathon actually is. It’s a glorious time where you pledge to read for a certain amount of time on a particular day or days. Participants are encouraged to take to their social media streams to share what they’re reading, favorite quotes, beverages they’re consuming to help get them through any reading slumps, etc. I’ll be participating in the 24 in 48 Readathon this weekend, which just means that in the 48 hours of Saturday & Sunday I will read for 24 of them. I can break it up however I like, and break it up I shall.

While it’s true I’ve never participated in a readathon before, I have researched enough to (hopefully) know what I’m doing. The key to everything, I’m told, is to have a variety of reading material at hand so if I start to get burnt out on one format I can switch it up and give myself a second wind. With that in mind, I present to you some stellar examples of each preferred readathon format.

Graphic Novels
You already know about my love of comics and graphic novels. As I reported last month I had a giant stack of single issue comic books at home that I just hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’m happy to say I have plowed through most of them, but some of the larger story arcs and single release graphic novels remain. Nimona is on the very top of the list, partially due to Alan’s recommendation last year and also since it was a National Book Award finalist. It’s by Noelle Stevenson, one of the creators of Lumberjanes (I love Lumberjanes!). Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt gets into foodie culture with witty observations and hilarious illustrations. I’ll probably use the graphic novels as a segue from one book to another, though due to having a pretty hefty backlog of some Marvel comics I might read a whole series run in one go. We shall see!

Poetry
I recently learned that poetry doesn’t have to be boring. Yes, I know I sound like a 12 year old but thanks to an education that forced me to find obscure (and often manufactured) meaning in poems I pretty much have avoided them as an adult. All of that changed when I read Milk and Honey which is written and illustrated by Rupi Kaur. This extremely personal collection of autobiographical poems takes you deep into Rupi’s soul as she rips her heart out and lays it bare for all to read. There’s love, loss, family, heartache, sex, and what it means to be a woman. If you’re looking for something lighter, try Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke, and Hangry by Samantha Jayne. While these poems also seem to burst forth from the poet’s life, there’s a decidedly different tone. Colorfully illustrated, these funny and irreverent poems will resonate with adults young & not-so-young.

Essays
I recently discovered the book that changed my reading life. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by local author Lindy West turned my world upside down. You see, much like poetry, I had the gigantic misconception that feminist works had to be dry, dull, or just not written well. Shrill changed it all for me and led me down the road to Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. I had mistakenly assumed that Bad Feminist would be a book entirely about feminism. It’s more like a look at life — feminism included — through someone else’s eyes. I just checked out The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley. It promises to combine the two biggest parts of me — nerd and feminist — and I can’t hardly wait to dive in. Plus, there’s a dinosaur on the cover. I can’t pass up a good dino! I’ve also got all of Mary Roach’s back catalog that I purchased when she was in town in April. She autographed them all, and I felt guilty telling her I’d never read her books. However, I did immediately follow that up with how excited I was to read them and now is the perfect opportunity.

mary roach and the ellisons

My husband and I got to chat with bestselling author Mary Roach when she visited Everett in April as part of EPL’s Ways to Read. Did you get to meet her, too? Our library is the best!

Short Stories
A few months back I had the (surprise) pleasure of reading and falling in love with Warlock Holmes by G.S. Denning. While I knew it was going to be a crazy retelling of Sherlock Holmes with magic and beasts, I didn’t realize (although I should) that it would be more of a collection of short stories, just like the original Sherlock Holmes books were. You can read a story, move to another book, and come back to Warlock Holmes and read the next story. You can pretty much read them in any order you want after the first story that sets up the world. I have also checked out Chainmail Bikini: the Anthology of Women Gamers. It’s in graphic novel format but it’s truly short, autobiographical stories of girl geeks I can’t wait to read.

Novellas
I confess I had forgotten that I owned Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. It came in one of those literary subscription boxes and I didn’t know what I had. Someone just told me it’s about a bookmobile, which, hello wheelhouse! I usually don’t go for novellas because I tend to want more when I’m finished: more characterization, more plot, more everything. However, I’ve been told this one is perfect the way it is and so I will go into it with that in mind.

Bookshots
If you’ve been following us on social media and/or been to a grocery store in the last few months you’ve heard about and/or seen Bookshots. Bookshots are the newest James Patterson creations that are taking the reading world by storm. Bookshots’ aim is to change people’s minds and habits by convincing them that their excuse, “I’m too busy to read an entire book!” isn’t true at all. These books are short and I would consider them novellas. Multiple Bookshots titles are published each month so there’s always a variety to choose from. Be sure to check out the Quick Picks collections when you’re at the library as most of the Bookshots titles are going into that wonderful grab-and-go, no-holds-allowed collection.

You’ll notice most of the books I’m writing about aren’t featured in my readathon TBR photo above. That’s because I’ve already read them and wrote this just for you, to encourage you to sign up and join the reading fun. A few people have told me that they really want to participate but are pretty sure there’s no way they can fit 24 solid hours of reading into their weekend. That’s totally okay! The whole point is to schedule some reading time into an otherwise hectic life and maybe connect with some other readers along the way. You can follow along with me if you like. I’m on Twitter & Instagram as bildungsromans and on Litsy as Carol. Ready? Set? Readathon!

641.84: A Tale of Two Burgers

pornburger

I. Love. Burgers.

At any given moment I would like nothing more than to sink my teeth into a couple of juicy, almost sizzling patties smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and topped with a slice of tomato and crispy thin bacon. I think Jimmy Buffet said it best:

I like mine with lettuce and tomato
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer
Well, good God Almighty which way do I steer?!
Apparently you steer toward the actual Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant in one of seven states (sadly, not Washington…yet).

So it should come as no surprise that two recently acquired cookbooks have sent my heart into a tizzy, not just because of all the cholesterol it’s now anticipating.

Pornburger: Hot Buns and Juicy Beefcakes by Mathew Ramsey is not just the winner for ‘Best Title of the Year’ in my mental book awards. It’s a mouthwatering cookbook perfect for summer evenings spent around the grill. I literally salivate every time I open the book. This cannot be stressed enough. Do not read this book on an empty stomach. You have been warned.

Glad we got that out of the way! Pornburger has some incredible basic and not-so-basic burger recipes to satisfy both your burger cravings and your need to create something magical in the kitchen. Ramsey calls the book “an ingredient-driven Choose Your Own Adventure-style experiment, where all roads lead into the mouth of burger madness.” And it’s true! You are the boss of your own burger recipe. You can mix and match sauces, condiments, veggies, pickles, buns, etc.

You’re not limited to just ground beef patties either. Venison, pork, lamb, chicken (ground or fried–yes, fried chicken!) or even lobster can be your main attraction. There’s even a great recipe for a veggie burger that looks so much better than those sad frozen pucks you buy in a box.

And don’t stop there! Make your own pickles and condiments and wow the pants off of your dinner party (not literally–though, whatever floats your boat). Some examples include mustard caviar, pumpkin aioli, bacon jam, relish, and even bacon peanut butter. Why I haven’t made that last one yet is obviously a major oversight on my part. There are also recipes to make your own buns and breads, as well as sides and drinks sure to compliment your creations.

But wait, there’s more! While Pornburger is everything I’ve ever wanted in a burger cookbook, I’m also a rabid fan of the TV show Bob’s Burgers which just recently aired their 100th episode. Since the first episode was broadcast, my friend and colleague Jennifer was on my case to watch that show. “You’re going to love it!” was a phrase I heard until my ears bled. Like a fool I resisted until about season 3. She convinced me to give it one episode and if I didn’t love it, she’d never mention it again.

Reader, I loved it to pieces.

If you’re not familiar, Bob’s Burgers is both the name of an animated TV show and the name of the burger restaurant featured in the show. The Belcher family runs this small burger joint in a small seaside community on the East Coast.

Smash-cut to two years later and the world has been gifted with the publication of The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers. For those in the know, Bob keeps a daily burger board behind the counter. Each day on the show the burger of the day changes, and there’s usually a dad pun involved in the name. Well, the geniuses at Fox decided that they should take all those pun-burgers and turn them into actual recipes.

bobs burgers with beefsquatch

What better way to introduce this cookbook than to replicate the Beefsquatch episode (season 2, episode 9)? Bob gets cast as a TV chef on a local morning show, and Gene steals the show as the burger-mad Beefsquatch. The recipe for that episode’s Bruschetta ‘Bout It burger is on page 25.

I know what you’re thinking. The pun burgers on Bob’s Burgers are so simple, why would I need a recipe to create them at home? I see where you’re going but I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. Or, just not right. Not only do the recipes go into greater detail than Bob’s burger board could ever hope to go, the recipes are actually funny to read.

Here’s a great example. It’s the Don’t You Four Cheddar ‘Bout Me Burger from the episode Linda-Pendent Woman (season 3, episode 13). Behold the description ahead of the ingredient list:

How many cheddars are too many in a burger? Science doesn’t know yet. This burger handles four safely and deliciously. The all-beef patty is stuffed with two different cheddars, cooked in bacon fat, and then topped with two other completely different cheddars. Throw some crispy bacon on it along with lettuce and onions, and call it a beautiful, fantastic, cheesy day.

The recipes are all peppered with Bob’s humor in this way. Fans of the show will recognize the way he drops those dad puns and how sometimes he even goes back to emphasize them, in a ‘see what I did there?’ sort of way. Reading this in Bob’s voice adds another layer of hilarity to the process.

You vegetarians will enjoy the veggie burger recipes inside. I have been pleasantly surprised to find veggie-tastic recipes in both of these burger books, and I hope you’ll find something you enjoy making and love to eat.

So there you have it: a porn burger and a pun burger. Not only do these cookbooks provide mouthwatering hunks of deliciousness, they’re also some of the few cookbooks I’ve run across that are actually a joy to read cover-to-cover. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a grill that’s begging for my attention. I just need to put a DVD in first and tilt the speakers toward the sliding door.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

warlock holmes a study in brimstone by denning

Oh em gee, this cover is gorgeous! Here’s another straight-up book review all thanks to the power of advance reader copies from our publishers. Thanks, publishers!

Let me just start this review by saying that Warlock Holmes: a Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning is one of those books that Sherlockians will either love or hate. Spoiler alert: I completely loved it!

Our story begins in a way that will seem familiar to most Sherlock fans: Watson is back in London after being injured during the war in Afghanistan and is desperate to find a place to live. Through a chance meeting with one of his old connections he learns about a man who needs a roommate. His name is Warlock Holmes and he is a consulting detective who sometimes works with Scotland Yard. Thus the literary world is gifted with another first meeting of Watson and Holmes.

Things start out pretty normal for Dr. John Watson. He feels lucky to have landed a roommate who only asks for a one-time payment of just one sovereign for the rent. Things get even better for Watson when Holmes chooses the smaller of the two bedrooms as his own. So now we have a war veteran staying with a successful, if eccentric, consulting detective. Their companionship slowly evolves into a friendship, but even so, Watson is initially clueless as to what he’s gotten himself into by handing over that sovereign.

From the beginning though, it’s clear to the reader that this Holmes is unlike any other Holmes we’ve met before. It’s not just the fact that his name is Warlock and we highly suspect (especially after reading the blurb on the book cover) that magic flows through this Holmes. It’s more like we’re realizing for the first time in literary history that Watson is the one well-versed in deductive reasoning and investigative expertise, especially when it comes to handling evidence correctly at a crime scene. Holmes, on the other hand, seems a bit…distracted. Easily distracted by things that Watson cannot or will not notice, things that seem to have very little if anything to do with the crime being investigated.

Soon enough Watson discovers Holmes’s not-so-well-kept secret: he’s got the magic touch. The spirit of Holmes’s nemesis, Moriarty, is trapped inside his head. And Holmes can command demons to do his bidding. This would normally be a shocking scandal worthy of the penny dreadfuls, but in this Victorian society there are certain creatures that, though not embraced by society, live among them. For example, here’s our cast of characters:

warlock holmes character blurb

Yup! Inspector Lestrade is a vampire, aided by an ogre. Most of Scotland Yard is uncomfortable around Lestrade and Grogsson, if not downright terrified of them. But their record for closing cases (with Holmes’s help, of course) keeps them on the payroll despite others’ misgivings.

I’m laying all this out there to illustrate a point. While this could easily be some weird standalone parody of one of the most famous friendships in literary history, it is instead a faithful retelling of Sherlock Holmes–just a little twisted. And sometimes smoking. Because, ya know, brimstone and stuff.

True to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original format, Warlock Holmes: a Study in Brimstone is composed of several short stories. The first is the longest by far, but it kind of needs to be since it’s setting up the world and the characters. Despite the length, that story flew by for me, as did the others. I actually pouted when I was finished, and was a little bummed out to leave that world behind. Luckily for me this is just the first book in what I hope is a very long series, with Warlock Holmes: the Battle of Baskerville Hall  heading our way in May 2017.

So take a chance on something new! Let me know if you want to read this or not, and definitely get back to me if you end up actually reading the whole thing. I am desperate for people to talk to about this book that will be published May 17th.

The Curious Mind of Mary Roach

eveningwith

Thank goodness for the curious mind of Mary Roach. Without it we would never have found out the hilarious peculiarities of applying the scientific method. I know the terms ‘hilarious’ and ‘scientific method’ are rarely used in the same sentence, but read one of Roach’s wonderful books and you will understand that in her world they actually fit quite well together. Also things can get a bit, well, gross and embarrassing. Throwing caution to the wind, she isn’t afraid to find out exactly what happens when you blend science and odd topics such as death, the afterlife, sex, space exploration and the digestive tract.

In preparation for her visit to the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday April 9th, which is part of the library’s 2016 Ways to Read series of programs, here is a brief rundown of her major works to date. For your convenience, I’ve listed them in the highly subjective order of least embarrassing/disturbing to most.
Capture

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Many leave the idea of the possibility of life after death to religion, philosophy or psychics. Our author doggedly, and sincerely, interviews those who look for a measurable way of answering this age-old question. As you might guess, the results are a bit odd but never boring. Attempts to weigh the soul, analyze ectoplasm and record the sounds of ghosts are but a few of the activities examined. A particular favorite is the ‘Asking Questions Study’ at the University of Arizona where mediums were told to ask practical questions of the departed such as “How is the Weather?” and “Do you engage in sexual behavior?”

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Ah space. To boldly go where no one has gone before. But when nature calls, where, and more importantly how, do you actually ‘go’ in zero gravity? Forgoing the grand mission statements of NASA, Roach explores the very real problems of isolation and confinement for long periods of time, space hygiene, the perils of space sickness and how not to throw up in your helmet, and, of course, the difficulties of sex in zero gravity. The final frontier has never seemed less heroic, or more hilarious.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Once you realize the alimentary canal is just a fancy way of saying digestive tract, it might dawn on you that this book could get a tad gross. And while it does require a strong stomach (har, har) this work is well worth any unpleasantness that might arise. From the mouth to the, ahem, other end, our intrepid author doesn’t flinch from exploring the humor and surreal nature of scientific endeavors to find out just what happens when you eat a sandwich. Favorite chapter title: I’m all stopped up: Elvis Presley’s megacolon, and other ruminations on death by constipation.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Brace yourself for penis cameras, coital imaging, prescription strength vibrators, mental orgasms, impotent pandas and orgasmic pigs when you crack the covers of this great book. You actually start to feel sorry for the scientists who study in the field, since the work they do is important but hard not to giggle at. Roach, and especially her husband, are really troopers in this one: volunteering to perform their conjugal duties at the Diagnostic Testing Unit of London’s Heart Hospital in the name of science. Talk about grace under pressure.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
The gruesome, but impossible to look away from, topic for this book is what happens to our bodies after death. Surprisingly a lot it turns out. If you are just trying to dispose of a body, you will learn about a number of ways to do so with sky burial being a personal favorite. This book also introduces you to many of the ‘jobs’ cadavers have: subjects for instructional surgery, realistic crash test dummies, ballistic trauma recipients, and simply rotting in a field to measure states of decay for forensic scientists. The classic macabre Roach humor is on display here, making this one of her most hilarious and memorable works.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day

my love-hate relationship with valentines day

When I was a little girl, Valentine’s Day was a special time. The green and grey corridors of my school would be awash in reds, pinks, and whites. It was an intense pop of color among all the grey plaid jumpers the girls wore and blue shirts and pants the boys wore. The teacher would lead us in crafting a box where classmates would dutifully deliver Valentines designed with She-Ra, He-Man, Rainbow Brite, or G.I. Joe. It was fun to pick out what I’d give my classmates, and even more fun to read through them all at the end of the day and see if I could read anything into the one I got from my secret crush.

Oh, to be 8 again!

As I grew older, the appeal of the day lost its luster. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed putting out Red Hots candies and Sweetarts, but it seemed that there was a ton of pressure on adults to get it right, and it all boiled down to the bottom line. How much money did you spend on your honey? Did you upend both of your lives for the entire day to make ‘A Grand Gesture?’ No? Well, then you’re obviously not in love like you thought.

Ahem. BS!

All of these feelings were reaffirmed when I met the man whom I now call my husband. “Valentine’s Day is just a commercial holiday manufactured to sell greeting cards, flowers, and chocolates,” he said as he handed me all three of those things on our first Valentine’s Day together. In a bold move that later solidified our mutual affection and everlasting bond, I asked why he bought me stuff if he thought it was all bull. He did it all because it was expected. Once we compared notes and realized we both would rather celebrate milestone dates in our relationship (first date, wedding anniversary, etc.) we ditched the Valentines and never looked back.

Whether you’re like my husband and me and eschew this holiday, or if you count down the days until you can surprise your honey with the biggest box of chocolates imaginable, I have some books that will appeal to your Valentines sensibilities.

be mine sally j shimBe Mine
by Sally J. Shim
Guys, you really need to stop buying us ladies those giant red heart boxes of assorted chocolates. They’re never as good as we think they’ll be, and there’s always at least one variety that makes us gag. Why not make something instead? From adorable greeting cards to eye-catching garlands, this book will become your go-to resource for everything Valentine’s Day. Your sweetie will be impressed and amazed when you present him/her with an in-your-face pop-up card or a personalized message in a (tiny) bottle, complete with confetti hearts and an honest-to-goodness cork sealing the deal. The supplies are easy to acquire (you crafty people may already have a lot of them already) and the instructions are clear and easy to read. Just a little bit of time with some scissors and glue will impress your Valentine more than some random card you grabbed at the market on the way home from work. The thoughtfulness and effort you put into any of these projects will show your love in a way a store-bought something can’t.

one pan two plates carla snyderOne Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder
Sure, for Valentine’s Day you could make a reservation at a favorite restaurant, and wait before and throughout the meal for your food to arrive because you are eating out on one of the busiest nights in the restaurant industry. It’ll probably cost a pretty penny (more, if you’re going the valet route with the car) and depending on where you go, the atmosphere might not be quite as intimate as you’d hoped. Instead, why not cook at home? You can cook together, which is an activity that can actually be fun and bring you closer together. Or you can surprise your lovey with a home-cooked meal that will be just the perfect amount for the two of you. Most, if not all, of the recipes in One Pan, Two Plates are so quick and easy to make you’ll probably want to keep making these recipes all year long. All recipes include a beverage pairing and ways to make the meal more filling. Sauteed pork chops with sweet potato, apple, and mustard sauce is tart and flavorful and takes 40 minutes. Balsamic turkey with artichokes and eggplant caponata marries some really complex flavors and is ready in just 30 minutes. You get the idea. So tie on that apron and get cooking!

tinder nightmares unspirationalTinder Nightmares
In the grand tradition of Richard Benson’s F in Exams and F This Test comes Tinder Nightmares. Benson compiled some of the most outrageous and ridiculous answers college students used on tests and exams. Now the infamous Unspirational shows us the absolutely absurd side to the dating app Tinder. I mean, assuming there’s a side to Tinder that isn’t absurd. Granted, I’ve never had the need to swipe right since I was married years before Tinder was invented. But it doesn’t take a seasoned Tinder user to appreciate the cluster of stupid in this book. It’s full of bad pickup lines like “Hey, did you fall from the sky? Cuz you look like a dead bird.” You’ll also find bizarre date ideas like “I would take you on a date to Popeye’s for some light appetizers. Then, I would bring you back to my place for some TV dinners, grape soda, and two hours straight of Full House!” I like to think these are trolling texts, but I’ve met enough people to know that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

This year I decided we shouldn’t let Valentine’s Day slip by unnoticed. That’s why my husband and I have plans to see the Deadpool movie on February 14th. We’re going to pig out on movie theater popcorn and puns courtesy of Mr. Sir Deadpool, Esq. Then we’re going to go back to our place for a jointly-prepared, mutually agreed upon home cooked meal, and we’ll follow it up with binge-watching old episodes of The League. Because that’s what romance means to me.❤