Book Log – Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

I read this earlier this year but forgot to log it.  Don’t remember when.

I remember it was a good read for the most part.  It’s a book of essays on different aspects of how we’re planning to live on Mars, and what it will take to get there.

I skipped the biology chapters, because… gross.

Otherwise, engaging reading.

Book Log – Yes, Please

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

Who doesn’t love Amy Poehler?

Seriously, who?  I will cut you.

She’s funny, she does one of the best female characters on television, she’s the brainchild behind the Smart Girls at the Party website (http://amysmartgirls.com/).

Her book is a fine read.  She’s witty, and learning of her evolution to where she is now is a reasonably interesting story.  She has a good outlook on life, and its infectious.

Perhaps there wasn’t quite enough story to tell just yet, at her young age.  Or perhaps she could have fleshed it out a bit more.  Her years at SNL are told in little one or two sentence snippets; Perhaps if she’d told them as full stories with more detail, we could have gotten a more vivid impression of what it was like to be her in that famous writer’s room.

Regardless, I enjoyed the book.  After all… she’s Amy Freaking Poehler.

Book Log – The Land of Stories

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

This another bedtime reader.  My whole year of reading is basically reading to kids.

Land of Stories we read at the same time as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, alternating nightly.  My son much preferred this book; My daughter complained she never knew what was going on, largely because she would fall asleep halfway through each evening’s reading.

This is an okay book, the first in what appears to be a popular series.  Written by one of the kids from Glee, it documents a fairy-tale obsessed couple of siblings that fall into the world where the stories come from.  There’s a whole lot of fan-girling at storybook characters and “wow can you believe we’re really here and it’s really real?” stuff.

There’s a lot of plot machinations to get them going on a quest that will allow the writer to introduce all of the storybook characters.

All in all, it was okay.

Book Log – Mr. Gum series

  • You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum
  • Mr.Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire
  • Mr. Gum and the Goblins
  • Mr. Gum and the Power Crystals
  • Mr. Gum and the Dancing Bear
  • What’s for Dinner, Mr. Gum?
  • Mr. Gum and the Cherry Tree
  • Mr. Gum and the Secret Hideout

all by Andy Stanton

This is a series that the kids and I ploughed through at bedtime.  This series is by far my favorite set of kids books.  It is absurd, and ridiculously funny.

Mr. Gum is a deplorable human, with a disgusting house with “carpet the colour of unhappiness.”  We have taken to describing things we don’t like as having the colour/shape/smell of unhappiness around our house.

Each story captures the evil plot of Mr. Gum and his conspirators being battled by the forces of good, namely the bold and courageous young Polly (whose full name is half a page long) and the eccentric and possibly magical Friday O’ Leary.

The true value of the books lie in the language and word play.  Polly’s dialog and the narration are a delight to read.  The whole stories are terrifically over the top.

A must have for any kid over the age of 6 or so.

Book Log – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This was a request from my daughter for our nightly before-bed reading.  My son tolerated it, but just barely.

Scout enjoyed it, though she admitted it was super-trippy.  My son didn’t understand why it was so popular, not making a whole lot of sense.

My only answer was that perhaps there weren’t so many fanciful children’s books at the time.  No Harry Potters or the like, and kids grabbed on to what they could.

Or maybe kids did a lot of drugs back then.  Dunno.

Book Log – Stardust

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is the first book I’ve read that was culled from our Little Free (Monster) Library out front of our house.

Looking it up on Amazon just now, I see that it’s a movie from 2007 with a bunch of movie stars in it… Robert DeNiro, Claire Danes, bunch of others.  I had never heard of it, but the visuals look pretty spectacular.

But, the book.

The book is a very Neil Gaimenesque wonky tale with plenty of eccentricity.  If Gaimen does anything well, it’s invent new fantasy elements.

In fact, my only issue with this book is that it feels like a clever bunch of fantasy elements strung together on a thin plot.  The ideas are entertaining and stick with you… perhaps that’s enough to call it a good book.

An ordinary town called Wall is near a wall between the fairy land and the regular old world.  A boy is with a parent from each side is raised on the dull side, then begins a quest for a girl’s love through the never traveled fairy land.  And fantasy elements ensue.

It’s a good read, and I’m passing it on to my son, so he can read it before we watch the movie.

Book Log – Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Peter and the Shadow Thieves (Peter and the Starcatchers #2) by Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Greg Call (Illustrations)

This has been my nightly read-aloud to the kids, and both of them looked forward to the nightly chapter or two. It’s a good solid action/fantasy, with a nice take on the Peter Pan origin story. We picked up the next three books, so we should be enmeshed in this world for a couple years.

It will be interesting to see how long my 11 year old sticks with the nightly reading. My guess is he would be fine with just reading to himself at night, but it’s like when someone is watching a good tv show in a room you walk through… it’s hard to keep walking sometimes.

Book Log – The Blood of Flowers

The Blood of Flowers: A Novel by Anita Amirrezvani

I actually finished this quite a while back. I got it for a neighborhood book club, but never actually went to the book club meeting.

I really enjoyed this book on a 17th century Persian rug maker. I never know how accurate this period novels are, but it certainly immersed me in some kind of world, regardless of how true it was.

It’s got a great female protagonist, strong writing, humor, sensuality… good stuff.

Shoulda’ gone to the book club meeting.

Book Log – Americanah

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked up this novel at Malaprop’s bookstore in Asheville, NC, thanks to their “blind date with a bookseller (‘s recommended book)”. The store wraps books in brown, plain wrapper and an employee covers the front in adjectives describing the book. So, if you like the adjectives, you buy the book. title unseen.

It’s a great idea, because it can expose you to something you might not have picked up otherwise.

I certainly wouldn’t have picked up Americanah. A novel about young Nigerians coming to America? Not my typical fare.

But, a mostly enjoyable read. Adichie writes well, and the book moves quickly. It’s an entertaining glimpse into a world I know nothing about, and probably will never see.

But I ran up against a prejudice I have, and I felt a bit betrayed by the main protagonists, and the ending. Fair warning, I’m doing spoilers here.

There’s a point in the book where a protagonist goes in search of stories where a married person leaves their decent and kind spouse for another, truer love and everything turns out great. She doesn’t find it. I think that’s largely because it’s not an inspirational or even sympathetic story. It’s the main reason why Sleepless In Seattle sucked, and I say this as a big fan of Hanks and Ryan.

It’s a shame when a marriage of decent people falls apart. I understand that someone can realize they made a mistake in marrying too rashly, or for the wrong reasons. And perhaps divorce is the correct thing to do, even if it means the spouse is hurt in the process. Perhaps that’s better than a life of pretense and lies, and hopefully everyone is better off in the end.

But it falls flat as a story. In David Copperfield (and again… spoilers, but seriously, the book is over a hundred years old… read it), Dickens has to kill off the unsuitable spouse to make the story work. In Jane Eyre, the unsuitable spouse is batshit crazy, and commits suicide, and for good measure the other spouse tries valiantly to save them and get injured in the process, before marrying a truer love.

So, I enjoyed the ride of Americanah, but it kind of went off the rails for me at the end.

Maybe the flaw is in me, and not the book. Maybe this book is a bold choice reflecting real life situations that should be explored and considered.

I guess we’ll see how we look at it in another 100 years.

Book Log – More Baths Less Talking

More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby

Somewhere, a few months back, I discovered that Nick Hornby had restarted his “Stuff I’m Reading” column in the Believer magazine. I had loved his column so much that I had bought all three collections, and subscribed to the Believer magazine, even though I couldn’t slog through a single other article in any of the issues.

I felt, though, that someone should have told me the column was back. I mean, it restarted FOUR years ago. If Amazon hadn’t recommended the latest compilation (May 2010-Dec 2011), it would have slipped by.

Which leads me to a sort-of-anxiety attack… what ELSE is there out there that I’m missing? I’ve mentioned before that I’m overwhelmed by the vast number of books out there, the smallish percentage that are worthwhile reads, and the even tinier percentage that I would be blown away by– how am I going to find them? I have neither the time nor money to read the first chapters of thousands of books and toss them away if they don’t meet standards. It just seems hopeless.

But, ironically, the cause of my distress is also a cure, or at least a treatment. I’ve got a list of books that Nick Hornby likes, and if history is any guide, I shall find a great deal of them enjoyable as well. True, he’s never pushed Cryptonomicon, and I don’t think I got The Lonely Protagonist from him. Or did I? Looking back at my log, I see I don’t know where Polygamist comes from… it just showed up on my Amazon Wish List.

But, he did get me into Charles Dickens. Granted, the whole world tells us to get into Dickens all the time, but it took the author of High Fidelity to take the recommendation seriously.

Most amazingly, several of his recommendations are book that I, via Stacey, already owned. Let the Great World Spin, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks… Not things I would have picked up on my own. Nor would Stacey, in fact, but thank goodness for her book club. And Nick Hornby.

Apparently, I need to check in on Muriel Sparks, and also a biography of Dickens by Claire Tomalin. So, I’ve got all that to look forward to.

In honor of the “Stuff I’m Reading” column:

Books Bought:
The Blood of Flowers: A Novel by Amirrezvani, Anita
Peter and the Shadow Thieves (Peter and the Starcatchers) by Barry, Dave
The Wee Free Men: A Story of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (repurchase)

Books Reading:
Blink by Malcom Gladwell
Doctor Who: Who-ology by Cavan Scott
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Joss Whedon