The Month of Humor

As April is National Humor Month and glum has been the prevailing tilt to the world’s axis this past year, it seems to be a golden opportunity to highlight titles that might make you laugh or give you a lift. Reading has always been a conduit for joy for me, and this past year, the funnier the better. 

YA and Middle Schoolers

Don’t keep the celebration to yourself. Check out the library’s collection of joke books, and pick a favorite to tell your best pal (who’s 38, for instance) and child (who’s 8). My guess is they’ll both appreciate the laugh.

One of my favorite forms is clowning around, nonsense humor, wit and satire. I have long been a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, particularly the merry distraction that is Jeeves and my favorite knucklehead, Bertie. Because of these two, The Code of the Woosters is a joyous romp. I re-read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome whenever I’m especially blue. Bring on the silly!

More Fiction

Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series

Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Especially fun, as well, is You Suck, although most anything by Moore is an odd, fun, joy-ride of a read.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, first in the Thursday Next series. 

Mort by Terry Pratchett, one of the Discworld series

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, book one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Dark humor can be the outlet where we brighten ourselves and others up by pointing out the funny sides of adversities or shortcomings in order to laugh about them. While they can have a cheerless aspect, look for the buoyancy, as well.   

Twelve-year-old Flavia, “the world’s greatest adolescent British chemist/busybody/sleuth” (The Seattle Times), lives in a decaying mansion in 1950s England with two prickly older sisters and a distracted father. Part of the charm of a Flavia de Luce series is Flavia’s plucky take on the circumstances in front of her and then heading where that leads. Mix in her avid curiosity and author Alan Bradley’s sterling, darkly comic plot, and you have the recipe for smart and funny mysteries.

At the heart of the 10th installment, The Golden Tresses of the Dead: a Flavia de Luce novel, is a ghoulish question: “How had an embalmed finger found its way from the hand of a dead woman in a Surrey cemetery into the heart of a wedding cake?” While you can grab any one of the books and read it, if you start at the beginning with the wickedly brilliant first novel, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, you’ll follow Flavia’s bigger story as it slowly unfolds.

Bradley, who has few peers at combining fair-play clueing with humor and has fun mocking genre conventions, shows no sign of running out of ideas.(Publishers Weekly, starred review)

In The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman, Asperger’s sufferer Samuel Hoenig puts his syndrome traits to good use running a business called Questions Answered. With the help of his new colleague Janet Washburn, Hoenig uses his unique powers of deduction to investigate the disappearance of a preserved head from a cryonics institute and the murder of one of the facility’s scientists.

Told from Hoenig’s perspective, this cozy mystery series uses light-hearted humor to point out that the approach of the “normal” world can be confusing and, at times, downright silly. Intricately plotted, thoughtful and frequently humorous, these gentle stories showcase Samuel’s unique perspective as a help rather than hindrance to his sleuthing success.

Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is a funny, award-winning re-imagining of the Western novel.

A gorgeous, wise, riveting work of, among other things, cowboy noir…Honestly, I can’t recall ever being this fond of a pair of psychopaths. (David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick. This Emmy-winning screenwriter, who started as an intern for the original Late Night starring David Letterman, makes his debut with this collection of personal tales ranging from childhood to being a dad. The book is full of tension between Resnick and everyone in his life, whether he’s on vacation at Disney World or finding a blade in his milkshake at a fast-food chain.

The writing is sharp and sharp-tongued, sometimes close to the line of mean-spirited—the book is not for readers who are easily offended…. A neurotic, unapologetic, hilarious collection. (Kirkus Reviews)

One of the best laugh-out-loud reads I have had in a long time.

Non-Fiction

The Corfu Trilogy: a naturalist and his family leave England to live on the Greek island of Corfu. These are the tales of the interactions they have there–with both humans and animal varieties.

Allie Brosh’s latest offering, Solutions and Other Problems, continues where Hyperbole and a Half, her first book, left off in 2014. Both are based on collections of personal stories and drawings, including funny tales from her childhood, the adventures of her ‘very bad pets,’ and the absurdity of modern life in a mix of text and intentionally crude illustrations. They are part graphic novel, part confessional, and overall delightful. The books come from collections of blog posts in the form of her very popular webcomic, Hyperbole and a Half. Brosh started Hyperbole in 2009.

“A quirky, humorous memoir/collection of illustrated essays.” (Kirkus Reviews)

 **************

“‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, “Do trousers matter?”’

‘The mood will pass, sir.’”

~  P. G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves

Them Bones

One of my favorite types of TV programs is the solving-a-mystery-while-being-funny genre, shows like Castle and Psych. Recently, I discovered a not-so-new entry in this genre which is perhaps the best one I’ve run across, Bones.

The premise of Bones is that the world’s foremost forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan, helps the FBI solve murders through the examination of victims’ bones. Brilliant but sadly lacking in social skills and tact, Dr. Brennan, or Bones as she’s called by her FBI agent partner Seeley Booth, finds clues in the most unlikely places. Small scrapes on a rib or an indentation on a femur can indicate murder weapon, time of death or even a murderer’s identity. The other members of her team specialize in flesh, bugs and facial reconstruction among other things, each specialist hovering loftily at the top of their field.

A sad fact of television mysteries is that the “rules” of mystery telling and constraints in time often make it obvious who perpetrated a murder. I generally can identify a TV murderer by how they’re introduced or whether suspicion is cast on them. There’s no need to pay attention to the investigation to solve the case. One of the beauties of Bones is that it’s not so strongly bound by these conventions. Sometimes the killer is a newer character who we don’t meet until late in the episode. Other times storylines take abrupt turns that could not be anticipated. The writing is a cut or four above most procedurals.

Now perhaps you don’t care about murder solutions or quality of writing, but you are a fan of gore. Wellsir, Bones is the show for you! Because Dr. Brennan specializes in bones rather than the meat portion of bodies, she’s only called in on cases where the victim’s body has deteriorated significantly. This leads to liquification, intense maggot activity, limb detachment, exploding abdomens and so on. In other words, the bodies are waaaaaay gross. I can only imagine that the visual effects people had a field day working on this show.

Over the 12-year run of the show, characters become more than just coworkers. Of course there’s the usual everyone-dates-everyone-else nonsense, but these people have intense loyalty and affection for one other. At the core of it all is the deeply profound partnership between Booth and Bones. Booth is a man of intuition, a specialist in reading people and a devout Catholic. Bones relies on evidence, does not make assumptions, disdains psychology and is a card-carrying atheist. Other members of the team bring a wide variety of philosophies, personality traits and socio-economic backgrounds. But above all, each team member respects and cares for the other members of their team/family.

If you’re looking for humorous, unpredictable and gory mysteries, look no further. And with 12 seasons to choose from you’re guaranteed over 200 hours of viewing bliss! So lean back in the recliner, pop the tab on a fresh kombucha and prepare to be entertained.

On the Road with David Sedaris

David Sedaris brings you into his life and adventures with his 9th and probably best book yet, Calypso.  The 21 stories and personal essays will amuse, shock and lead to an understanding of the family and brilliance of Sedaris.

He’ll take you to Tokyo where he and sister Amy buy absurd clothing (clown pants with suspenders, a trio of hats meant to be worn together) that ‘refuse to flatter.’

He’ll show you what he goes through in his attempt to make a wild fox his friend.

He’ll take you to the post-dinner dining room table of his youth where he and his 4 siblings would vie for their chance to either light their mom’s cigarette or tell her their daily story. Mom Sedaris would give helpful notes to each (“lose the part about the teacher….” or “cut to the chase here…”)

You’ll go with him on his Fitbit-induced walks from his countryside home in Sussex. By the time he works up to 60,000 steps a day, he’s sporting a grabber in one hand and a big garbage bag in the other. He imagines stories to go along with each piece of interesting garbage. Neighbors report to his long-suffering boyfriend, Hugh, such things as “We saw David in Arundel pick up a dead squirrel with his grabbers” or “We saw him outside Steyning rolling a tire down the side of the road.”

Hugh, seemingly in permanent eye-roll mode, has a lot to contend with when the rest of the Sedaris clan are around. And they’re around a lot after Sedaris buys a beach house off the coast of North Carolina. The vacation home, purposefully without any TV, gives Sedaris and his 90+ year old father Lou, brother (plus sister-in-law and niece) and four sisters a place to be together on holidays. The four sisters become three in the aftermath of the youngest one’s suicide. This fact is dealt with off and on throughout the book in the inimitable fashion of Sedaris.

Sedaris finds his always critical father has been replaced by a nicer more agreeable one. And while Sedaris admits it makes a better story to hang onto the cantankerous Dad he remembers from his youth, he still makes a good case for holding a grudge. David is the only one taken out of Dad’s will after a particularly spectacular argument.

Sedaris writes beautifully about the moment the two found common ground. “Just Listen,” his dad commands the 15 year-old, as he goes about playing John Coltrane’s ‘I wish I knew” and Betty Carter’s “Beware My Heart.”  I won’t spoil it for you by quoting the ending here. You’ll just have to read the book for yourself. And, when you get to page 141 and 142, you might want to que the music and JUST READ!

The Nerdiest Murder Mystery Ever

What do you think of when you read the words Comic Con? Do you think of ECCC, the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle? Do you think of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or Star Wars? Indie comics artists, fandom cosplay, and merch galore? How about murder? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

A result of a power partnership between two veteran comics geniuses (writer Fred Van Lente and illustrator Tom FowlerThe Con Artist is more than just a hilarious mystery where a slightly washed-up comics artist is blamed for the death of his bitter rival. The whole book is set up to mimic a written police statement, recounting day by day and hour by hour what exactly happened at Comic Con. Here’s the opening note:

Due to ongoing litigation, many names of the companies, trademarked characters, and real people in the statement of Michael “Mike M” Mason have been changed upon the advice of the publisher’s counsel. However, none of the artwork has been altered in any way; it has been reproduced exactly as it was found in the sketchbook confiscated by the San Diego Police Department.

So let me tell you more about Mike. He had some limited success years ago as a comics illustrator, but is mostly known for his run on Mister Mystery, a popular long-running comics series owned by one of the industry’s most lucrative publishers. In the last few years, he’s become essentially homeless. He flies from convention to convention often giving up some or all of his appearance fee in exchange for a longer hotel stay. He’s running away from permanence, from the possibility that he’s now a has-been and he doesn’t know how to enter the next phase of his life. He’s also running away from a breakup and betrayal that did a tap dance on his confidence and smashed his heart into a tiny million pieces.

But back to the con! After arriving at the airport in San Diego, Mike is immediately swept into the madness that is the world’s biggest and most well-known comic convention: SDCC. It’s not long before he eases back into the norm of con life, the signings and parties, only to be slapped with the news that his comics mentor has died. Everyone thinks it was natural causes, but Mike starts to wonder if maybe someone got to his mentor before he could secure the intellectual property rights to one of his biggest creations.

To make matters worse, Mike’s mortal enemy is also at Comic Con. And who’s on his arm? None other than the ex-love of his life, the one who betrayed him and tossed his life into chaos. Mike tries to keep his cool, but after a well-publicized fight at an after hours Comic Con party, his rival winds up dead and Mike’s the San Diego PD’s prime suspect.

Mike knows he didn’t murder anyone, but he has to convince the police that he’s innocent. He starts his own investigation knowing that serving up the real killer on a silver platter is the only way to completely remove suspicion from himself. But then other people start turning up dead and it becomes a race the clock for Mike. Not only does this need to be wrapped up before the end of the con, but the killer just might decide to kill Mike next.

It’s important to note that both the author and illustrator are seasoned comics veterans and that really shines through the pages. I’ve only been to one big comic con (ECCC, big but not nearly as big as SDCC I know) but I relived some of my experiences (lines! getting to meet rad artists in Artists’ Alley! awesome cosplayers!) while reading this book.

In getting the con experience right, and in highlighting the details that only the people on the other side of the table (comics professionals) would experience, the author holds up con culture, nerd culture, and the entire comics industry for scrutiny. Pay attention to the social commentary, especially surrounding the darker side of comics where artists’ original intellectual properties often become absorbed by mega publishers and where no health care is to be found for these artists and writers who brought so much joy to children and adults through their staple-bound pages.

The text is lightly peppered with sketches from the main character’s notebook and I figured there would probably be clues in them that the reader should try to interpret to determine whodunit. Mike occasionally recalls a clue from one of his sketches, but once or twice he recalled details I could not discern from the sketches I saw. It helped prolong the unmasking of the killer’s identity for me, which added to the suspense.

Thanks to our book vendor for sending us an early copy from the publisher, I was reading this book while in line at Everett Comics for Free Comic Book Day back in May. If that’s not meta I don’t know what is. Nerds, read this book and rejoice!

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.

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. ❤

Fictional Non-Fiction

One of the more frequent questions we get here at the library is: What is the difference between fiction and non-fiction? The question is usually grounded in the very real need to know where a book is located in the stacks. The practical answer is that both are shelved in separate sections: fiction by the author’s last name and non-fiction by the Dewey number. If you are of a philosophical bent and want to know why something is considered fiction or non-fiction, well that is where it gets complicated. It seems obvious that non-fiction is ‘real’ and fiction is ‘made up,’ but in fact there is more crossover than you might think.

Case in point is the weird and entertaining world of fictional non-fiction. These books have avoided the fiction label and are housed in the usually serious and reality based non-fiction stacks. They are unexpected gems of fancy, shelved alongside their more serious brethren. Listed below are a few topics that house a lot of this fictional nonfiction.

User manuals for technically non-existent, but really, really cool vehicles:

deathstarThere are a surprising number of workshop manuals, many put out by Haynes no less, for fantastic vehicles in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. Whether you want to figure out how to kick start the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive, fix the cloaking device on a Klingon Bird of Prey, or find out where the holodeck is located on a Galaxy-class starship, we have got you covered. Whatever you do, don’t pass up the Imperial Death Star: DS-1 Orbital Battle Station manual. Sure death is in the title, but you have to admit that the Death Star was a marvel of engineering. If nothing else, this book will give you an appreciation for all the hardworking men and women, most of them just trying to collect a paycheck, whom the Rebel Alliance thoughtlessly murdered. Twice no less. Just saying.

Not self-help:

zonetheoryWhile it is true that actual self-help books can seem a bit odd, there is a small subset that are clearly not intended to be helpful, one hopes, and are played for laughs. One example is Tim & Eric’s Zone Theory: 7 Steps to Achieve a Perfect Life. From the creepy images throughout the book and advice such as ‘friends are replaceable, money is not,’ this book is funny and disturbing which is to be expected from the creators of several Adult Swim TV shows.

7secretsIf you’ve ever seen the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you know that none of the characters should be giving out life advice. But that is exactly what has happened in the book 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today. If you are still tempted to apply their maxims, take heed of the warning on the back cover: ‘Following the advice contained herein could get you arrested, maimed or killed.’

Alternative histories taken seriously:

federationSadly we don’t even have a moon base yet, let alone the wherewithal to set aside our differences and unify the people of earth, but if you want to read a future history where there is an actual Federation of Planets, definitely check out Federation: The First 150 Years. You also might want to brush up on The Klingon Art of War and read The Autobiography of James T. Kirk to prepare yourself for the brave new world to come.

timelordlettersWhile the library has lots of great books about Doctor Who, they tend to treat it as a television show that continues to be produced. True believers know that the Doctor must surely exist on some plane of Space/Time. For this select group we have The Time Lord Letters, a detailed collection of the Doctor’s correspondence including his application for the post of Caretaker at Coal Hill School to his telepathic messages to the High Council of Gallifrey.

Practical guides to fictional places:

portlandiaWhile Portland is an actual place, Portlandia is, well, a place unto itself. But don’t take my word for it. Instead check out Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors and learn about a city where Kyle MacLachlan is mayor, knots have their own store, and cars are not allowed. If you are feeling more hands on, definitely take a look at the Portlandia Activity Book to learn how to ‘Build Your Own Chore Wheel’ and ‘How to Crowdfund Your Baby.’

zombiesurvivalZombies may not actually exist at this point, but bad things have been known to happen. If you want to be safe rather than sorry and prepare for the coming undead hordes, the now classic Zombie Survival Guide is the book for you. Chock full of useful information (including ideal weapon selection, home preparation, and useful zombie weaknesses) this book will guide you safely, for the most part, through a fictional disaster. The one gap in this very thorough tome is nutrition. Luckily we also have The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse which contains recipes as well as advice on how to get the calories you need to fend off the living dead.

The Library and Family Holiday Traditions

Do you celebrate the holidays? My family celebrates Christmas and this year I turned to the library for help with all of the decorating, events, and family gatherings. Here’s what I found!

index (3)We cut down a tree at the Happy Valley Tree Farm every year and while it might sound like a wonderful time, in truth it was cold and the babies cried and all of the trees were Charlie Brown ones. So I checked out Country Living Merry and Bright to help decorate our pathetic tree. It is filled with hundreds of ideas for creating Christmas beauty everywhere and there’s also help for entertaining and crafts and baking. Bingo.

index (6)I have sent what one friend called ‘the best Christmas card ever’ but the photo shoot was pure hell: the same babies didn’t want to be photographed and fought over the props. Awkward Family Holiday Photos will help you to feel better about your own holiday card. Or check out one of our many books on making your own cards, if you have time.

 

index (1)This year our grand-daughter went to the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker which is a big holiday tradition. It’s the Nutcracker designed by Maurice Sendak with brilliant sets and costumes. If you can’t make it this year, which is the last, check out  Nutcracker from the library. The long text is broken up by small cameos and full-page art and many of Sendak’s pictures are highly dramatic.

 

index (2)Some families read The Polar Express by Van Allsburg on Christmas Eve. The story we read over and over again is Santa Calls by William Joyce.  Art, Spaulding, and Esther are summoned to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, 1908. They have a grand adventure, including battling dark elves and an evil queen. Along the way Art learns how to get along with his sister.

index (4)index (5)Music is always part of our celebration and a favorite is this instrumental CD Christmas Spirit. Other times, it’s great to sing along with Tony Bennett. Come and browse the Holiday Music section of the Library’s CD collection to find tunes to your liking.

indexMy own personal holiday tradition is to wrap gifts while ‘watching’, actually listening to, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, a desperate and suicidal man, is visited by a guardian angel who shows him how important he has been to those around him in his life. Clarence the angel says: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Perhaps you get together with your wonderful and/or neurotic family to celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or the New Year and you need a little comic relief. If so, you will surely enjoy these two humorous treasures from the library:

index (4)Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris is a collection of hilarious short stories perfect for those dreading the holiday season. Bestseller Sedaris (When You Are Engulfed In Flames) makes life a little easier with this re-release of his uproarious essay collection. Sedaris gets the most mileage out of Christmas, from his stint as a Macy’s elf in “Santa Land Diaries,” to comparing American and Dutch holiday traditions in “Six to Eight Black Men.” Read it and laugh and better yet, listen to the author read it on CD.

index (5)You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs is a similar collection of funny yule-tide tales from a childhood complete with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father. “As a young child I had Santa and Jesus all mixed up. I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip, but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house? Had a good little girl somewhere in the world not received the doll he’d promised her, making the father angry?”

pausfamilyportraitnfb-18645If all of that family togetherness makes you want to know more about the origins and history of your family, mark your calendars for Saturday, January 24th at 2 PM at the Main Library. Jeremiah Karpowicz of the Chronos Society and eHeritages.com will introduce essential digital tools for genealogical work today. Software, digital media formats, and the file types you will need to preserve your work for posterity will be discussed.

Good luck with your family gatherings this season.  Happy Holidays!

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Warmth of Other Suns coverThe other day I was walking out with an armload of books on CD, and Richard our audio book selector got all excited because he thought I was getting non-fiction (something he’d like to see checked out more). Shamefacedly I had to admit that it was all fiction, and that I had been slacking a bit on listening to anything factual. His enthusiasm for promoting our non-fiction audio books inspired me to put some of my selections back and browse the other shelves.

I’ve always been a big non-fiction reader, but for some reason this passion hasn’t translated well to audio books. I have a long commute and like to pass the time listening to stories. I’ve found them to be easier to listen to in the little 35 minute drives I have to do throughout the week because I don’t have to pay too close attention to make sure I’m not missing any important points. It’s also easier to pick up where I left off if I haven’t listened in a while because we’ve been using the other car; often with non-fiction audio books I have to rewind a bit to refresh my memory. The only things that combat these issues for me when listening to non-fiction books is to find ones that are written in a very narrative style and have great readers.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of non-fiction audio books that I’ve listened to recently that have kept me enthralled from start to finish.

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (read by Robin Miles). I guess if you need a place to start, choosing a Pulitzer Prize winning book generally isn’t a bad idea. Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by tracing the paths of four African-Americans who migrated north and west to escape the Jim Crow world of the South. Because the author interviewed all four individuals, the book is rich with dialogue and personal stories. Miles does an excellent job of reading Wilkerson’s work, making each individual’s personality shine through, and adding appropriate emphasis and emotion to some of the more difficult passages.

Mushroom Hunters coverThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook (read by Kevin R. Free). Foodie, traveler, hiker, lover of the Pacific Northwest – no matter what you consider yourself to be, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about this title. Mushroom Hunters reads like investigative journalism mixed with Food Network programming (in the best way possible). Cook tells the story of his quest to learn about the secret not-always-legal world of commercial mushroom harvesting in the Pacific Northwest. I really enjoyed driving back and forth on Highway 2 as Free described the kinds of lush rainy mountains that surrounded me, and all the secret things that may be happening in them.

Detroit cover imageDetroit: an American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff (read by Eric Martin). This is a book that I would have loved even if Mickey Mouse was reading it, but Eric Martin’s narration took it from good to perfection for me.  Martin’s gravelly no-nonsense delivery perfectly matches the tone of LeDuff’s vignettes of the rough, hard-working, beautiful, disturbing, hopeful, and troubled City of Detroit. This book isn’t another work of ruin porn aimed at exploiting what befell Detroit after the decline of its industrial might. It’s the honest collected experiences of a journalist who has spent his entire career covering every side of a city that seems to be almost universally hated and feared by the rest of America. No predictions are made about the future. No excuses are made for the past. It’s just the facts as he saw them happen, and it’s dark, light, and magnificent.

Naked coverNaked, by David Sedaris (read by the author and his sister, comedian/actress Amy Sedaris). Ending on a lighter note, I just have to say I’m a sucker for David Sedaris in any format, but I think experiencing his writing performed by himself is always the best. Whether it be appearances on This American Life, or full-length readings of one of his many titles, you’d be hard-pressed to not be entertained. Well, at least you would be if you and I share a similar sense of humor. In Naked, Sedaris tells stories about his upbringing; considering that his family spawned two comedians, you know things had to be unorthodox.  Even though he may be describing something completely ridiculous, his sense of humor remains dry and ironic. This tone is amplified when you hear him perform his work. His readings are so well-timed and pitch perfect that it’s almost impossible to later read something of his without hearing his voice in your head.

I hope some of these recommendations inspire you to treat yourself to some of the many excellent non-fiction audio titles we have in our collections. I know I’ll continue exploring!