Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021, Pt. 3

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Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021, Pt. 3

1bragan
Jul 3, 10:04pm

Hey, look, we've now made it more than halfway through 2021, the year we once thought might never actually get here. And I, of course, am continuing to read right on through it.

My previous thread, for the second quarter of the year, can be found here. And, surprisingly, I have once again gotten organized enough to provide a list of my Year's Reading Thus Far. So here is it:

January
1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
2. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
3. Every Tool's a Hammer: Life is What You Make It by Adam Savage
4. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
5. The Book of Dzur by Steven Brust
6. Humans by Brandon Stanton
7. What the Hell Did I Just Read?: A Novel of Cosmic Horror by David Wong
8. Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
9. Of Muppets & Men: The Making of the Muppet Show by Christopher Finch
10. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
11. The Buying of Lot 37: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Vol. 3 by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

February
12. Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally) by John McWhorter
13. Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé
14. The Legends of River Song by Jenny T. Colgan, et al.
15. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought by Susan Jacoby
16. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
17. Network Effect by Martha Wells
18. Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
19. A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard

March
20. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
21. Reactions: An Illustrated Exploration of Elements, Molecules, and Change in the Universe by Theodore Gray
22. Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time by Robert Silverberg
23. The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
24. Geek Ink: The World's Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals by the creators of Inkstinct
25. Bunnicula: 40th Anniversary Edition by Deborah and James Howe
26. How to Dispatch a Human: Stories and Suggestions by Stephanie Andrea Allen
27. Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose by Deirdre Barrett
28. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
29. The Case of the Imaginary Detective by Karen Joy Fowler

April
30. Mysteries of the Mall and Other Essays by Witold Rybczynski
31. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
32. Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian
33. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
34. Circe by Madeline Mill
35. Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by James Goss, Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, and Matthew Sweet
36. Chemistry for Breakfast: The Amazing Science of Everyday Life by Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim
37. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
38. Enchanted Pilgrimage by Clifford D. Simak

May
39. The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
40. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
41. Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
42. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith & Neil Morgan
43. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 5: Like I'm the Only Squirrel in the World by Ryan North, Will Murray, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi
44. Brightness Falls from the Air by James Tiptree, Jr.
45. Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut by Nicholas Schmidle
46. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
47. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
48. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

June 2021
49. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
50. The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams
51. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
52. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner
53. There There by Tommy Orange
54. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
55. Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson
56. Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer
57. Fox 8 by George Saunders

More will be coming soon, of course!

2bragan
Jul 4, 9:21pm

58. The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA's Challenger Disaster by Kevin Cook



Most accounts I've read of the Challenger disaster have focused primarily on the engineering and management issues behind it. This volume covers those things adequately, if in somewhat less detail, but focuses mainly on the shuttle's crew, particularly Christa McAuliffe, and on the larger context of the mission. It does this very well, in informative and engaging fashion. It also made me cry repeatedly, which, I admit, is probably a given when it comes to this particular topic. Thirty-five years later, and I somehow haven't gotten any less emotional over it than the day it happened. But there is a bittersweetness to some of the tears, as I kept finding myself feeling inspired and excited by the thought of what these brave people were trying to accomplish with their lives, even through the sadness of knowing how it would all end for them.

Definitely recommended for anyone interested in the topic.

Rating: 4.5/5, although I admit that extra half-star might say more about my own responses than about the book itself.

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

3bragan
Jul 9, 4:10am

59. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia



Casiopea Tun longs for a bigger, better, freer life than the one she's currently living, doing drudgework for her powerful, unpleasant grandfather and dictatorial cousin while the rest of her family looks down on her an inferior poor relation. Then one day, she opens a locked box in her grandfather's room, releasing a Mayan death god who whisks her away on a quest of mythic proportions.

I'll admit, I wasn't entirely sure about this novel at first, as something about the writing seemed a little too stilted to me. But it won me over pretty quickly, and I think ultimately the style actually kind of fits with the mythic feel of the whole thing. It's very interesting mythology, too, as is the setting of 1920s Mexico, which I can't recall ever encountering in fiction before. And I came to be quite fond of the protagonist, who manages simultaneously to feel like a very real, ordinary person, but also like she absolutely belongs in the heroic role she finds herself having to play. At the end, I was sorry enough to have to say farewell to her that I find myself really hoping that we might eventually see a sequel for her.

Rating:: 4/5

4labfs39
Jul 9, 1:44pm

>3 bragan: Sounds unusual. How did you choose this novel?

5bragan
Jul 9, 6:40pm

>4 labfs39: It was a possible selection for the Book of the Month Club, and the mythological themes immediately appealed to me, so I decided to give it a shot. Well, eventually, anyway. It took me quite a while to get around to reading it after I bought it. But I'm glad I finally did! Of course, I like unusual. :)

I keep thinking I should quit the Book of the Month Club, because I really don't need the temptation to add still more stuff to Mt. TBR every month, but I have gotten some pretty good stuff from them. (As well as a few things that weren't, but you can't win 'em all.)

6wandering_star
Jul 10, 1:54am

>3 bragan: I just read Mexican Gothic, which is horror rather than fantasy but sounds like it shares similar themes - I enjoyed it enough that I'll look out for this one.

7bragan
Editado: Jul 10, 2:02am

>6 wandering_star: I already have a copy of Mexican Gothic, and based on my feelings about this one, I'm looking forward to reading it.

8bragan
Jul 10, 3:53am

60. The Way Through the Woods by Una McCormack



A Doctor Who novel, featuring the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and some creepy woods that everyone in the town next to them instinctively avoids, except for the people who periodically enter and disappear.

I don't know that I'd call it an outstanding Who novel, but it's certainly a decent one, of the sort one could fairly easily imagine working as an episode of the show. The character voices are good, especially the Doctor's, although I do wish we'd seen a bit more of him, as he's essentially sidelined for much of the story. And the woods, and the weird things that happens to time inside them, are interesting, as is the explanation we eventually get for why they're so weird. I was a bit less satisfied with the ending, though, which features a sort of time-travel fix it that the show usually avoids (and probably for fairly good reason).

Rating: 3.5/5

9bragan
Jul 10, 6:16am

61. Flashback to 1971 by Bernard Bradforsand-Tyler



I got this little book as a gift from my mother for a certain landmark birthday that's coming up in a few days. It's part of a whole line of self-published books featuring different years, clearly intended solely for the purpose of giving to people as a birthday or anniversary gift, featuring some facts and figures and very short write-ups of what the big current events were at the time (mostly in the US and the UK), with a bunch of black-and-white photos. It's very slim and cheaply produced, apparently mostly by pulling stuff off of the internet, and it certainly isn't going to win any literary awards. I suspect that whatever my mom paid for it, it was probably a bit more than it's worth. And yet, it actually was kind of cool to take this tiny little look back at the year I first arrived on this crazy ol' planet and to contemplate both how much and how little things have changed.

The inclusion of advertisements from the time was a particularly fun touch, and I appreciate that, for the ones too small for those of us with eyeballs that have been around since 1971 to read easily, the (almost always entertainingly terrible) text was also reproduced below the pictures in a larger font. I'm not sure how it makes me feel to see these ads for bits of technology that were just what everybody needed at the time and have since become obsolete (Fotomat booths! electric typewriters! giant reel-to-reel tape recorders!). I do know how the couple of deeply sexist ads made me feel though. How wonderful to know that if you join the Women's Army Corps they won't actually make you cut your hair, and that, in fact, they regard it as a girl's "patriotic duty to stay looking trim and attractive." The world I was born into, ladies and gentlemen!

Rating: slightly to my surprise, I'm giving this a 3/5

10bragan
Editado: Jul 15, 10:46am

62. The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian



This is book 10 in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. It's also the basis for the 2003 movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (hence the picture of Russell Crowe on the cover of my copy). I did see the movie when it came out, but I can't say how faithful an adaptation it was, as I remember almost nothing of the plot, although I do remember liking it well enough.

I have slightly more mixed feelings about the novel, but I'm starting to think that my reactions to the books in this series may say a lot more about my mood while reading them than about the books themselves. I think I remarked on the previous book, Treason's Harbour, that it seemed like a shining example of O'Brian's complete inability (or perhaps unconcern) with any kind of reasonable pacing, but I found it a very pleasant read, anyway. But, then, I read it on some nice, pleasant days. With this one, I spent the first 200 pages or so just feeling incredibly impatient and annoyed with the lack of anything interesting happening, but I enjoyed the second half much, much better. Is that because there were more interesting incidents in the back half, and a few amusing instances of Stephen Manurin being entertainingly Stephen Maturin-ish to keep me engaged? Maybe. Or maybe it's just because I was less sleep-deprived and stressed while reading that than I was in the beginning. It's hard to say, really, but I am nevertheless making a note to myself not to pick one of these up again while I'm in the middle of working extra night shifts.

Mind you, I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the very ending, which was interesting, but rather startlingly abrupt. Eh, well. Let's just say that, overall, this one gave me a better reading experience than I initially thought it was going to, but not quite as good a one as I might hope for.

Rating: I think that last sentence translates to a 3.5/5.

11labfs39
Jul 15, 7:25am

>10 bragan: I too find my mood greatly influences my reading experience. That's why planned reads rarely work for me. Wrong book at wrong time.

12bragan
Jul 15, 10:45am

>11 labfs39: It's very often true for me, and I generally try to pick books I think will fit my current circumstances, but I don't always judge well. And I do think probably some kinds of books are just a lot more sensitive to my mood than others.

13bragan
Jul 17, 10:19am

63. The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell



In the wake of some unspecified but clearly human-caused calamity, a group of animals meets to vote on the fate of the remaining humans. Should they let them live, or kill and eat them all?

I'm really not quite sure how I feel about this one, overall. I do like the tone and the writing style. There's a sort of dry, cynical whimsy to it that doesn't seem terribly easy to pull off. The story itself is less compelling, though. And its success as a satire, for me at least, is pretty mixed. There are a few moments where the author comes out with a good, sharp insight. But a lot of the time I just found myself thinking that, well, he's clearly mocking somebody here, but it's not always entirely clear who. Maybe it's everybody, which can be a valid choice, but, I dunno, I kept expecting something a little more pointed, with a little more bite.

Rating: a slightly generous 3.5/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

14RidgewayGirl
Jul 17, 11:39am

Have you read Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton? It's a similar scenario, but I thought it was executed brilliantly.

15bragan
Jul 17, 12:08pm

>14 RidgewayGirl: I haven't, but I do already have it on the TBR shelves! I'll have to try to get to it sooner rather than later, maybe. It does look appealing.

16bragan
Editado: Jul 20, 7:21pm

64. The Magic of Terry Pratchett by Marc Burrows



A biography of the prolific, successful, brilliant, beloved, and all-around-amazing Sir Terry Pratchett, author of, among other things, the long-running series of Discworld novels.

It's very much a biography of Pratchett's public life and career; his personal life is really only touched on when it's relevant to those subjects, which seems entirely appropriate to me. And Marc Burrows does a good job with his subject. His writing is clear and readable, and he pays a bit of homage to Pratchett by including humorous footnotes which are, I'm pleased to note, actually funny, and which help to keep things interesting even in the middle sections which are mostly about publishing deals and such. I also appreciate the way he handles a particular trait of Pratchett's that makes the biographer's job noticeably more difficult. Namely that, master of narrative that he was, he consistently and unrepentantly edited his personal anecdotes to make for the best possible stories. Burrows is always careful to note when Pratchett's account of something doesn't match up with the actual timeline of events, for instance, but he does it without judgment and in a way that still lets us enjoy the anecdotes as Pratchett told them, leaving it up to the readers which version of events we'd prefer to take away with us.

He also offers up some decent, if of necessity not terribly in-depth, commentary on Pratchett's work, and while he clearly is a great fan, he's not a mindlessly uncritical one. Indeed, he's quite interested in the ways in which Pratchett's work matured over time.

Ultimately, while I don't think this is at all a must-read for Pratchett fans -- there probably isn't a whole lot in here that anyone who's paid much attention doesn't already know -- I found it a worthwhile one, nonetheless. It's also made me think I really should get back to re-reading the Discworld books, even if my TBR shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes still patiently waiting to be read the first time. And it's also made me miss him all over again, of course. GNU Terry Pratchett.

Rating 4/5

17raton-liseur
Jul 24, 12:32pm

I'm happy I found your new thread. What a rich and diverse reading!
Gods of Jade of Shadows caught my attention. We have lives in Mexico for a few years and I always like a good book about this country. But it is not translated in French for the moment, and I'm not sure I am willing to read it in English, but I'll keep my eyes open for when it happens.

18bragan
Jul 24, 6:54pm

>17 raton-liseur: Hello! Glad to see you, and happy you're happy to be here! :)

I feel like the writing in Gods of Jade and Shadow, while good, probably isn't super challenging for someone reading it in a second language. But then, I'm not up to reading anything at all in a second language, myself, so I sympathize with not feeling comfortable with it. I'll hope it gets translated for you!

19bragan
Jul 24, 7:03pm

65. The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler



I'd read a couple of volumes from this Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series (which started up in 2015), and I liked both of them so much that I'm now working on going back through the rest of the series. Very slowly, given my massive reading backlog, but at least I finally got to the 2016 collection.

The series overall tends very much towards the more "literary" end of the SF spectrum, but this installment, in particular, seems to feature a lot of works that are perhaps slightly experimental, or abstract, or even a little surreal, and certainly on stories that require thought and careful reading to be effective.

As is usual for anthologies, some of these pieces worked better for me than others. I don't think any of them quite knocked my socks off the way the most impressive of stories can, but the best of them are very good, and even the ones that missed the target a little for me did so in genuinely interesting ways.

Rating: 4/5

20raton-liseur
Jul 25, 5:42am

>18 bragan: Thanks for the warm welcome back!
I guess I could read Gods of Jade and Shadow in English, you're right, but it takes me more time to read in English, and I have already so many books I'd like to read in English that I don't feel like adding one. So I'll be patient (or wait for a time I'll be more enclined to read it in English!). Mexican Gothic has been translated in French, so I hope Gods of Jade and Shadow will follow.

21bragan
Jul 25, 11:58am

>20 raton-liseur: Ah, yes, the old "so many books, so little time" issue. I know it well!

22bragan
Jul 25, 12:15pm

66. Dandy and Beano: Famous Faces from the Comics



A friend of mine lent me a few collections of British Beano comics, I think possibly because he felt my not having read any was a gap in my education. This was the first of them, sort of. It's actually a sampler of comics from several publications, ranging mostly from the 1950s through the 1980s, with a few older ones thrown in as well, showcasing a variety of hapless, high-spirited, or bratty characters. I suspect it's intended more as a nostalgia hit for those already familiar with this stuff than as a first introduction, though.

I can't say I found any of it to be a giant laugh-fest -- at most, it got a few quiet snorts out of me -- but there is a little bit of quaint charm to it all. Or to a lot of it, anyway. And I was interested to discover that the British version of Dennis the Menace is very different from the one I was familiar with. Theirs is a lot more menacing-looking than ours!

Rating: 3/5

23avaland
Jul 27, 9:21am

>2 bragan: Nice review. My oldest daughter was in kindergarten here in New Hampshire and the whole class was eagerly watching the launch (while I was home doing the same).

>9 bragan: Loved your review! The ads would be interesting. So many things were not considered appropriate to be advertised (like "feminine products". Everything goes now. And I'm fairly certain we have at least two manual typewriters and one electric down in the basement. And I have a Panasonic portable radio sitting here in front of me, from about '71 or 72, it doesn't seem to pick up stations, but I like looking at it.

>19 bragan: Hmm. Interesting. I've moved away from a lot of SF, but your review of this anthology tempts me. I tend to like the very kind of stories you describe as part of this anthology.

24bragan
Jul 27, 1:11pm

>23 avaland: I wasn't able to watch the launch as it happened, but, boy did I see it over and over and over again on the news afterward. It's seared so strongly into my memory.

I remember teaching myself to type on my mother's manual typewriter -- to this day, I'm pretty sure I still hit all the keys on my computer keyboard much harder than I actually need to because of that! -- and a little later getting a typewriter of my own as a Christmas present. Nerdy little kid that I was, I loved it. I find an impule in myself, now, to think, "I wonder what ever happened to them?" but, of course, the answer is almost certainly that they ended up in a landfill somewhere by the 90s.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy is a series I'd definitely recommend if that sounds like the kind of SF you're still interested in. Maybe start with the first volume, from 2015? I was really quite impressed by it.

25bragan
Editado: Jul 28, 8:45pm

67. Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs: The Question of Alien Minds by David McFarland



This short (a little over 200 pages, not counting the end matter) book looks at how philosophers who think about this sort of thing have approached questions about the mental workings of non-human animals and (to a lesser extent and a bit more hypothetically) artificial intelligences. Can a robot even be said to have a mind at all? Is a dog who yelps at an injured paw really experiencing pain the same way humans do? That sort of thing.

It'd been some time since I'd read one of these philosophy-of-mind books, and going back to it now, I find I may have become a bit weary of the topic. Not that these questions aren't interesting. Indeed, I think minds are some of the most fascinating things in the universe, and probably not entirely just because I happen to be one myself and am not immune to narcissism. But I don't know. So much of it just seems to be what Sherlock Holmes called theorizing in advance of the facts. Because I really do think a lot of this stuff is more a matter for scientists than philosophers, or at least requires a lot more scientific knowledge to be able to philosophize about very usefully, and we just really don't have the scientific tools we need for it yet.

But if we're going to delve into this stuff anyway, is this a good book on the subject? Well, my feelings about that are a bit mixed, too. The first two chapters, in which McFarland spends a lot of time imagining some example robots that act kind of like animals seem to me really strange and unnecessary and not very useful at all to whatever point he's trying to make. Which is an annoying way to start off. After that, though, the rest of the book is more of an overview (albeit not, I think, a completely unbiased one) of different schools of thought and different takes that modern philosophers have on this stuff. It seems to be intended as something of an introduction to the topic, and I think McFarland does at least kind of try to be a little less jargony and dense than you usually get in this kind of writing, but that's saying very, very little, and my eyes did glaze over completely at least once.

Much of the time, I really just wanted to argue with McFarland, or the people he was talking about, or both. Sometimes it involved literal shouting at the page. There was a lot of me yelling stuff like, "Excuse me, but dogs aren't actually aliens, despite your subtitle, but share a common evolutionary ancestor with humans, and their brain functioning is in many respects much the same as ours, probably especially when it comes to very basic things like perception of and response to pain, so don't you think that just maybe the most parsimonious conclusion is that they can be said to feel pain in essentially the same way we do? Does this consideration really not deserve more than a brief, dismissive shrug-off in the epilogue?!" Or "Oh, you did not just seriously appeal to Searle's Chinese Room analogy and then airily wave aside all the objections to it without even bothering to discuss them? You come back here, sir! You come back here right now, and you face up to all the reasons why that's a really stupid argument!" (Spolier: he did not come back and do that. The coward.)

But, you know, allowing one the opportunity to yell at philosophers may actually be a large part of the appeal of this kind of thing, even if they can't hear you doing so. And McFarland does seem to be primarily interested in getting the reader to think about the topic and decide which approaches they find the most convincing, so arguably he's actually achieving his goals pretty well.

Rating: 3.5/5. Although I can't remotely decide whether that's being generous or not.

26wandering_star
Jul 29, 5:24pm

It sounds as if you enjoyed reading it anyway!

27bragan
Jul 29, 6:06pm

>26 wandering_star: In that very particular kind of way that involves a lot of yelling, I kind of did. :)

28baswood
Jul 31, 7:26pm

so what did the dog think of it

29bragan
Ago 1, 1:03am

>28 baswood: I'm pretty sure the proper philosophical conclusion is "we don't know." :)

30bragan
Ago 1, 7:43pm

68. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey



Three astronauts have been selected for the first crewed mission to Mars. Well, they might be going to Mars. The idea is that first they will do a simulated version of the trip, complete with full-length stints in rather cramped spaceships, while they and their families are observed to see how well they handle it.

I must admit, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Despite having seen it described as a "psychological novel," I was somehow expecting a more compelling sort of narrative, a little bit more plot. Indeed, such plot as there was didn't exactly work for me, as there's an ambiguous but important aspect to things that I just couldn't really accept at all.

But even the stuff that doesn't work on a plot level does work beautifully on a thematic one. Ultimately, this isn't a novel about training to go to Mars, but rather one about all the ways in which people try to shape their own selves into who they think they should be, and about the faces we present to each other. The Mars simulation idea is a wonderful metaphor for that, and Howrey approaches it in some complicated, insightful ways I don't think I've ever seen done before.

Rating: 4/5

31bragan
Editado: Ago 2, 9:00pm

69. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 6: Who Run the World? Squirrels by Ryan North and Erica Henderson



The sixth collection of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics, featuring Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl. This one mostly consists of a multi-part story which begins with Doreen getting a mentor/patron who builds her a new flying squirrel suit, which turns out to be less awesome than it sounds and just leads to her having to fight an army of mind-controlled animals. I wouldn't call it my favorite Squirrel Girl storyline so far, but it was fun, as usual, with a particularly entertaining ending.

There's also one standalone story in which Doreen and her roommate Nancy take off on vacation, leaving their friends Koi Boy, Chipmunk Hunk, and Brain Drain to defend the city. It was nice to see these characters getting to do some stuff on their own, and the plot was cute, plus I can never, ever, ever get enough of Brain Drain, the nihilistic villain-turned-somewhat-confused-hero brain-in-a-jar-on-a-robot-body, so I found this one rather delightful.

Also, a few issues in, there was a request in the letters column from someone pointing out that the little "secret" notes and amusing commentary at the bottom of most of the pages are very, very hard to read for those of us with aging, bifocal-clad eyes, and come the next issue they actually fixed this. It's a very small change, but OMG, it's now a million times easier to read. No more horrible eyestrain! Much as I love Squirrel Girl, it's the writer of that letter who is the real hero here. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kristin Boldon of Minneapolis, MN. I will be grateful to you forever, or at least for as long as I keep reading these comics.

Rating: 4/5

32stretch
Ago 2, 9:59pm

>30 bragan: Yep, that would not be what I expect from the synopsis, but it sounds very intriguing.

33bragan
Ago 3, 2:05am

>30 bragan: It was definitely worth reading, even if the setup worked for me much, much better on a thematic level than a literal one.

34rhian_of_oz
Ago 3, 10:31am

>30 bragan: I'm intrigued, onto the wishlist it goes!

35bragan
Ago 3, 6:22pm

>34 rhian_of_oz: Well, I hope you find it worth reading, too, if and when you get to it!

36lisapeet
Ago 3, 7:19pm

>30 bragan: I just realized I have this, but with a totally different cover (mine's a galley, so maybe it was a preliminary design, or else they've reissued it). Anyway, bumping that up the pile a bit—now I remember why I picked it up in the first place.

37bragan
Ago 3, 11:42pm

>36 lisapeet: Hey, it's always nice when a book looks interesting and you realize you already have it!

38bragan
Ago 8, 11:51pm

70. A Promised Land by Barack Obama



I'll be honest: my first reaction to this book was a tiny little bit of, "What have I gotten myself into?" The thing is over 700 pages long, and I didn't realize until I started it that it's actually only the first part of Obama's presidential memoir. (Presumably he's still working on part 2.) Which, fair enough, maybe, as it does have a lot to cover. But it seemed like he was going to cover it very, very slowly: 200 pages in, and he was only just finally getting the the election, and I was starting to find it a bit tedious.

Fortunately, once we got off the road to the White House and into the office itself, the tedium fell away, and the rest of the book actually went more quickly than I would have expected. It's a good overview of most of Obama's first term, delivered in his usual thoughtful, measured way, and it was very interesting to see what the world looked like from his perspective, and to get a glimpse into his thought processes when dealing with everything from the financial crisis to the SEAL team strike on bin Laden.

And it is at least nice to see that Obama has apparently managed to hang onto at least some amount of idealism and hope, despite, you know... everything. I'm not sure it's making me feel much less cynical at the moment, but, still. It's nice.

Rating: 4/5

39bragan
Ago 9, 7:04pm

71. If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura



A short, odd little fable about a man who is told he's about to die, but is then provided an opportunity to make a deal with the devil: he can buy himself another day of life, but for each day he buys, something else will be removed from the world. What might it mean, though, to live in a world without phones, or movies, or clocks, or cats? What do those things mean, specifically, to him? And is it worth the price?

These are entertaining and interesting questions. The ultimate answer we get to them, I think, risks verging onto the corny, but there's enough weird, low-key, thought-provoking charm here to make it work.

Rating: 4/5

40labfs39
Ago 9, 8:47pm

I like these last two reviews, bragan. Both of these much-talked-of books have been on my radar. You provide a nice reminder that despite a slow start or corny ending, they are worth reading.

41bragan
Ago 9, 11:38pm

>40 labfs39: I found them both to be so, anyway, yep!

42BLBera
Ago 10, 9:02am

I've been looking at the Obama book as well, but have been a bit daunted by the heft. It sounds like it is a long-term read.

The Wanderers and the Kawamura also caught my eye. Some interesting reading here.

43bragan
Ago 10, 11:36am

>42 BLBera: Once I got through those first 200 pages or so, it really did go a lot faster for me, but it definitely is hefty! I mean, I genuinely found it a little difficult to carry it around. :)

44AnnieMod
Ago 10, 11:44am

>38 bragan: I got this one the week it came out and I still had not mustered the will to actually get to reading it :) I know I will and as I was not yer Stateside during his first years, a lot of what sounds tired and "oh we know that" for Americans will be probably news to me... so we will see.

45bragan
Ago 10, 12:28pm

>44 AnnieMod: It took me a while to muster the will, too. Especially as there for a while I just Could Not Deal with any more discussion of politics.

And I do think even the stuff that I knew about was kind of interesting, and there was a lot of "Oh, right, I completely forgot about that!", too.

46bragan
Ago 12, 11:28pm

72. Santa Fe Noir edited by Ariel Gore



Akashic books has this whole sprawling line of noir anthologies set in different regions. My introduction to it was with USA Noir, a sort of best-of collection, which I enjoyed. I went on to read the New Jersey one, that state being the one I grew up in, but I found myself much less impressed by that one. (Predictably, I suppose, in hindsight. I mean, stories do get picked out for "best of" compilations for a reason.) Still, I kept thinking that I'd really like to see them do one featuring my adopted home state of New Mexico, as there are surely all kinds of interestingly noir-ish possibilities lurking here in the desert. So when they came out with this one, I was pleased, even if I was sorry to see they'd limited it to Santa Fe, a city I don't have nearly as much personal familiarity with as some other parts of the state.

Sadly, I have to say that overall I didn't like this even quite as much as the New Jersey one. The best of the stories are decent enough, but scarcely very memorable, with, perhaps, the sole exception of the final piece: the weird, disturbing, vaguely science-fictional "Me and Say Dog" by James Reich. Several of them struck me as examples of a writer's ambition out-stripping their writing ability a bit. Others, perhaps, were just not really to my taste. A lot of them feature a mystical streak, of one variety or another, which I suppose is appropriate for Santa Fe, but mostly doesn't do very much for me.

I almost feel bad being that negative about it, though. It's an anthology that feels like it's really trying to be something special. I do appreciate the fact that the editor has clearly made a point to showcase stories from people, and about characters, from a wide variety of backgrounds, including a lot of emphasis on Native American experiences. She also wrote a really good introduction. But, I dunno, probably the introduction shouldn't be better than most of the actual stories.

Rating: I'm going to give it a 3/5, mostly on the strength of the few best stories. That maybe feels a bit high for my mostly meh reaction, but then, I also feel like I'm not being very objective about it, overall.

47bragan
Ago 14, 12:56pm

73. I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel



A small book of short essays about reading and being a bookish person, including pieces about such things as organizing one's bookshelves, reading the acknowledgements, recommending books to others, and the time the author spent living directly next door to a public library. It's all pleasant enough, I suppose; it's genuinely hard for me not to find the ramblings of fellow book nerds at least mildly pleasant. It's all very, very slight, though, and there's a certain hard-to-articulate feeling of glibness about it all that I don't exactly love. Bogel also does that thing where, despite an essay early on celebrating the wide variety of readers and reading experiences, she often lapses into talking about her own bookish habits as if they were universal among book-lovers. I think I have to forgive her that a bit, though, as I'm pretty sure we're all guilty of it at one time or another.

My immediate impression of this volume, really, was of something that might make a decent stocking stuffer for avid readers. Having finished it, I'd say the stocking stuffer vibe feels pretty accurate: a cute enough little thing, but not exactly substantial.

Rating: 3.5/5

48rocketjk
Ago 14, 2:10pm

>38 bragan: et. al. . . . I enjoyed the Obama memoir, as well. As were you, I was grateful that he more or less powered through his early political career until he landed in the White House, and found the reading relatively easy going (because it was interesting, not because it was simplisitic) thereafter. I had to execute a forced march through the book, as it was a monthly reading group selection and the first half of that month I was away on a camping trip. I would have preferred a more leisurely reading pace, but still enjoyed the experience.

49bragan
Ago 14, 5:32pm

>48 rocketjk: I also pushed through that book faster than I normally might have, because I realized I was going to have places to go soon that I didn't want to lug it to, partially because it was big and heavy and unwieldy, and partially because I did not want to invite political commentary from bystanders on my choice of reading material. But I think in my case that might actually have been a net positive, as it kept me more focused on it than I might otherwise have been.

50labfs39
Ago 14, 10:29pm

>46 bragan: >47 bragan: Sorry you had two mehs in a row. But maybe you've gotten them out of the way and can now go on to a streak of excellent reads.

51lisapeet
Ago 15, 9:16am

>47 bragan: I used to like those kinds of books about reading, or being a reader, but I find myself having a lot less patience for them now. Maybe I've gotten spoiled living in NYC or working in the industry, or having access to online communities like this over the past 20 years, but that "Look, I'm a reader!" signaling has gotten a bit tired for me. I think at least part of it is the subtext that being a reader is superior to not being one, which is fine if that's how you feel in your heart of hearts, but setting up that dichotomy is... I don't know, divisive and a bit snobbish, feels like. Maybe that's what I have less patience for.

52BLBera
Ago 15, 10:17am

>47 bragan: I had a similar reaction to I'd Rather Be Reading. There are so many better books about the reading life out there. I loved both of Susan Hill's books, Jacob's Room Is Full of Books and Howard's End Is on the Landing.

53bragan
Ago 15, 11:50am

>50 labfs39: As meh books go, I'd Rather Be Reading was at least a quick, good-hearted sort of meh, so it could be a lot worse! And I am already well into my next book and enjoying it much better.

>51 lisapeet: You're not the first person I've seen having that kind of reaction to this sort of thing. The snarky comment that "liking books is not a personality" comes to mind. But, I dunno, for my part, I think you can do a lot worse than to build some part of your personality around the things you genuinely love.

You know, there's been too much in my life I've had to fight the impulse to hide or downplay my love for lest others judge me for it, a fight I still often lose. (Ah, the legacy of being a giant geeky nerd girl growing up in the 70s and 80s when such things were really not at all acceptable.) It's nice to actually be into something that's at least generally considered respectable enough that you're allowed to celebrate it, even in front of people who don't share the enthusiasm.

I've also spent way too much of my life feeling snubbed or inferior in the presence of other people displaying or talking up their own enthusiasms. When they're going on and on about sports or fashion or whatever, some part of my brain is too easily convinced that it's all about judging me for not being into that stuff, somehow, and rubbing my nose in my inferior outsider status. Which for a long time made me hostile and judgy towards people who were into those things. I like to feel I've gotten over that with maturity and effort, though, and can now just let people revel in the things that make them feel happy and good about themselves and recognize that it's not about me at all. I also recognize that if people see me enjoying books and feel like that's a judgment on them for not being the kind of person who enjoys books enough (as some of them do seem to, judging by their weird need to come up to me uninvited and stutter out something about how they, too, would read if they only had the time), well, hey, that's not about me, either.

All of which isn't to say that people don't advertise "look at this thing I'm into" as a way to make themselves feel like cool (or smart or creative or whatever) people who are into cool (or smart or creative or whatever) things. But I think probably all of us do that about something, in some fashion. I mean, of course we think the things we like are awesome things, at least until someone comes along to make us feel bad about them, and we have the impulse to show that to the world. And of course we all like to latch onto things that make us feel good about ourselves, if only as a way to counterbalance our insecurities in other areas. As long as it's sincere and you're not actually being a dick to people about it (e.g. genuinely putting people down as inferior or trying to shame them for not reading or generally being deliberately obnoxious), where's the problem? Maybe only in the eye of the beholder.

Ahem. Right, sorry, that was much more of a ranty ramble than your comment actually deserved. Because there's no doubt people can and do get snobbish and jerky and overly self-congratulatory about such things -- probably especially in the NYC book industry world! -- and I don't blame anyone for losing patience with that and just wanting to back away from readerly navel-gazing entirely. But, still. Fluffy little essays about the joy of loving books are sometimes just fluffy little essays about the joy of loving books, and enjoying being a reader is really sometimes just enjoying being a reader.

(Yes, this... may be something I've been thinking about a bit too much lately. Can you tell?:))

>52 BLBera: Yeah, I honestly think I probably would have liked that one more if I hadn't already read a bunch of much better books on the same themes.

I haven't read those two, but maybe they should make it onto my wishlist.

54bragan
Ago 15, 8:04pm

74. The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans



Riley lives in TropeTown, the place where all the stock characters hang out when they're not currently being used by authors to create stories. He's a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, an exceedingly rare variation on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. (In fact, he's the only one there at the moment.) And he's just been ordered into therapy for talking back to an author for trying to write him into a stupid situation. From there, he develops a crush on a fellow Pixie, is frequently interrupted by being written into a (fairly terrible, if you ask me) YA novel, and discovers that the Manic Pixie trope is in danger of being retired entirely.

This is one of those books I feel like I enjoyed more than I quite ought to, somehow. When I started it, I was hoping for some weird and wacky meta-ness, and maybe a bit of sharp satire on the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl concept. As it turns out, the meta-ness is mildly clever and amusing, but not quite the wildly and brilliantly inventive thing I might have wished for, and the commentary on the trope is mostly fairly shallow, with a brief descent or two into over-earnestness. The plot ultimately turns out to be pretty thin, too, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the whole thing does get a bit too silly, making it not nearly as satisfying in the end as it should have been.

And yet. And yet, it was also warm and fun and cute, and apparently very much the sort of thing my slightly stressed-out brain was in the mood for just now, and I think I was smiling at least a little bit through a lot of it. Yeah, yeah, embarrassing as it is, I suppose you could maybe say that despite myself it won me over with its quirky, quirky ways and its vivacious lust for life, or something. Not completely, in the end. But maybe just enough.

Rating: Somehow, I'm giving this a 4/5.

55lisapeet
Ago 16, 11:45pm

>53 bragan: I think I came off a little crankier than I meant to be about bookish books. I am 100% for celebrating the stuff we geek out on and hold dear, whether it's books or cooking or hiking or Dungeons & Dragons… anyone want to talk to me about fountain pens for a couple of hours? We all need to find our clans and enjoy them. And actually I do think liking books is a personality, at least as much as anything else is. But I guess I really prefer books about how and why we read—including books on book design, collecting, history, criticism, deep dives into discipline—rather than books about the fact that we read. And I get really irked when books or, probably more often, essays about a love of reading shade into the idea that reading is superior to not reading. I'm not coming up with any hard examples now that I think of it, but there's a certain tone, that whole 1950s highbrow/middlebrow/lowbrow culture class thing, that makes me antsy.

Eh, I've probably gotten too many of those stocking stuffers you mention over the course of a bookish lifetime…

56bragan
Ago 17, 10:15am

>55 lisapeet: Actually, I think I came off crankier than I meant to! Or at least insecurely defensive or something. Well, to be honest, what I did was externalize an internal debate that started off the other day with a little voice in my head whispering, "Maybe you shouldn't wear that t-shirt proclaiming your love of books in public, no matter how much you like it, because might make all those people who are weirdly guilty about not reading feel bad and be annoyed at you." I hate that voice, and wanted to yell at it, and it came out in your direction instead, somehow. Yeah, it's been that kind of a week for me. Yeesh.

For my own part, I love books that happily celebrate a love of reading and give me a little dose of that "yes, these are my people!" feeling, and I may well often just not be paying much attention to any implication that people who read are superior that might be lurking in the background. Although I do look askance at the way that readers like to pass around readerly-ego-boosting articles, like the one from a while back about how research might suggest that people who read novels are more empathetic, and let themselves get smug and self-congratulatory about it.

What does also really bug me, when it pops up in these kinds of books or essays, though, is when there's an implication (or outright statement) that readers who read certain kinds of highbrow things are superior to readers who read whatever the author dismisses as "trash," usually without even bothering to sample it. But that feels a bit more personal to me, as someone who believes in reading pretty much everything. And I think a lot of those folks take exactly the kind of tone you're talking about.

57bragan
Ago 22, 7:05pm

75. Animal Wrongs by Stephen Spotte



Early in the 16th century, a defense lawyer and his prosecutorial opponent (who also happens to be a demon) take on three cases involving animals: one against rats who have been charged with eating grain stores, one against a pig who killed a baby, and one against a man accused of being a werewolf.

These trials of animals were apparently a real historical thing, although I have to say even after reading an entire novel in which people go on and on and on explaining it all at great length, I can still barely wrap my brain around how the hell anybody thought that made any sense at all. Really, the whole thing is utterly absurd.

Showcasing that absurdity seems to be very much the point of the novel, but I'm afraid that even as someone who enjoys an occasional foray into the absurd, I just could not get into it. It doesn't help, I suppose, that, despite a bunch of deliberate anachronisms, the satire is five centuries short of topical, and to the extent that it's doing anything that is relevant to our current world, it doesn't seem especially sharp or profound. Maybe if I were someone capable of taking religion at all seriously in the first pace, this glimpse at one of its more ridiculous manifestations would feel more meaningful to me, I don't know. And maybe if I'd read it in a better, more patient mood, I would have gotten more out of it. I mean, there were a few moments I actually found mildly humorous. But mostly, I just found it tedious, with its long passages in which the characters repeat the same points over and over and over again. That's probably realistic for a courtroom scene, but it didn't make for a particularly engaging read.

Rating: 2/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers novel.)

58bragan
Ago 23, 3:00pm

76. Doctor Who: The Official Doctionary by Justin Richards



I think I expected this, more or less, to be a geeky guide to various creatures and bits of technology and such in the Doctor Who universe. Turns out it's something a bit weirder, funnier, and less "useful" than that, though, because the entire thing is presented as if it's been written by the Doctor himself. (The Eleventh Doctor, to be precise, since he was the current one when it came out.) And if you're a fan of Doctor Who, you know difficult it is to get a simple explanation of anything from the Doctor.

As an example, the entry for the first word, "asteroid" is: "It's like this big rock thing floating in space. Well, not that big -- I mean, not planet-sized big. More sort of small-big really. And actually, 'floating' isn't right because you sort of do that in water or liquid and space is, well, space. Space is pretty much full of floaty rock things, except it's called space because it's so empty." Yes, the whole thing is more or less like that. It's fun, and I do love the way I can basically hear it all in Matt Smith's voice. Not all the entries are nearly that amusing, though, and the gimmick does wear a bit thin by the time you get to the end. Still, it's cute. And comes with lots of pictures, too.

Rating: 3.5/5

59AnnieMod
Ago 23, 3:43pm

>58 bragan: "and the gimmick does wear a bit thin by the time you get to the end."

So does a regular dictionary if you read a few pages end to end :) Just saying.

60bragan
Ago 23, 6:34pm

>59 AnnieMod: Good point! Although this one is much shorter than most dictionaries. Even with all the pictures. :)

61bragan
Ago 27, 5:30pm

77. Iorich by Steven Brust



Book number 12 (by publication order) in Steven Brust's fantasy series centering on Vlad Taltos, former a crime boss and assassin and current wanted man. This time, Vlad returns to his home city, even though people are trying to kill him there, in order to help out a friend who's been arrested on trumped-up charges for political reasons.

As usual, it's all very light and readable, with flashes of humor and a protagonist who balances competence with appealing fallibility. But the plot of this one just didn't do much for me. It's interesting enough in theory, I guess, and I did enjoy getting a glimpse of how the legal process works in this world -- I've often thought the world-building is possibly the best aspect of these books, and this is a decent example of that -- but in execution, the story kind of left me cold. Most of it just consists of conversations in which people are deliberately not saying things to each other, followed by Vlad making hard-to-follow leaps of logic about what they're not saying. Maybe none of that's actually unusual in this series, but I think it's taken a bit too far here, in ways that made it harder than it should have been for me to understand and care about what was going on.

Rating: 3/5, although I did consider giving it another half star just due to the worldbuilding stuff and my general feelings of good-will towards the series.

62bragan
Ago 27, 9:45pm

78. The Beano Annual 2003



A friend lent me a few of these compilation of British comics, so I am now able to fill in a gap in my knowledge of international culture, or something like that. The first one I read was a sampling of comics going back many decades, and, while it was amusing in places, was honestly more interesting to me as a quaint sort of curiosity than anything. This one, however, I found more enjoyable in its own right, although the individual comics vary a lot. Some were genuinely quite funny, others were just... kind of dumb. Most were somewhere in-between: mildly amusing or cute, but not anything that made me laugh out loud. I think I could easily imagine myself being into them as a kid the way I was into the Sunday funnies here, though, if I'd grown up on the other side of the Pond.

Rating: 3.5/5

63bragan
Editado: Ago 30, 4:48am

79. Who's A Good Boy?: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 4 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor



This fourth collection of text versions of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast features episodes from the 2015-2016 season of the show, plus a transcript of the live show, "The Investigators."

I will admit that by the time these episodes aired, I'd lost a bit of the extreme enthusiasm I initially felt for the show, but as I believe I said in my review of the previous collection, even past-its-peak Night Vale is still good stuff, and there's certainly a nice amount of the show's trademark humor, weirdness, and moments of odd existentialist profundity to be found here. And, heck, the fact that I didn't exactly remember these episodes as well as some of the earlier ones possibly just made returning to them more interesting.

There are several ongoing storylines through this run of episodes. There's the trial of Hiram McDaniels, the literal five-headed dragon, a plot that I do kind of feel dragged out a little too long. More peripherally, there's the integration of folks from the now very down-on-its-luck neighboring town of Desert Bluffs, which allowed for some low-key but unambiguous political commentary. And then there's the biggest one: an invasion carried out by sinister unmoving strangers and an adorable Satanic beagle puppy. I think the setup for that was maybe a bit too slow, but the eerie strangers were quite effectively creepy and horror-inducing, and the season-ending conclusion does, I think, put a clever twist on the usual deliberately anti-climactic "and then things just get solved somehow while we listen to the weather" Night Vale formula.

Anyway, even if not perfect, the whole thing was fun enough, and definitely worth revisiting.

Rating: 4/5

64AlisonY
Sep 3, 7:25am

I'm too behind to comment on individual reviews, but I enjoyed catching up on your thread.

65bragan
Sep 3, 10:05am

>64 AlisonY: Thanks, glad you've enjoyed! *waves at you*

66bragan
Sep 3, 9:20pm

80. Talk on the Wild Side: Why Language Can't be Tamed by Lane Greene



A look at various ways in which people try to control or "tame" language (especially English) by imposing unnatural and artificial rules on it, attempting to stop it from changing, or reducing it to one Only Right Way of speaking, and why such attempts are generally both wrong-headed and useless. Along the way, the author takes some entertaining shots at self-appointed grammar experts who don't actually know what they're talking about, looks at how politicians use language to try to manipulate people (although often not as well as we might fear), explains the difficulties of computer translation, and samples some artificially invented languages, among other things.

There's not actually a whole lot here that was new to me, but Lane is good enough at coming up with interesting examples and vivid, useful metaphors that it still managed to feel fairly fresh. And there's a lot to be said, I think, for the clear and careful way in which he avoids a simplistic blanket condemnation of anyone who smacks of linguistic prescriptivism, but instead takes a nuanced approach, one that has little time for people who make false claims about how language works or unrealistic ones about how it should work while firmly embracing those who offer good, informed advice about formal writing.

Rating: 4/5

67bragan
Sep 7, 2:42pm

81. Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined by Stephen Fry



Stephen Fry's followup to his earlier Mythos. This one, as the title suggests, focuses on the mortal (or semi-mortal) heroes of Greek mythology, including Perseus, Heracles (aka Hercules), Bellerophon, Orpheus, Jason, Atalanta, Oedipus, and Theseus, retelling their stories in a casual style, with lots of informative footnotes.

I didn't find this one quite as satisfying as the delightful first volume, although whether that's due to Fry's writing here or to the fact that I don't find the heroes as inherently interesting as the gods, I'm not sure. I will say that the breezy, somewhat tongue-in-cheek dialog he gives the characters works well as a method for humanizing some of them, but does others few favors. Perseus, in particular, just ends up being kind of annoying.

Still, it was overall a fun, entertaining, and -- given that I'd forgotten the details of some of these myths and probably read sanitized versions of others -- educational read. And it definitely does remind me that there are reasons why these tales are still being told after so many thousands of years: they're just really cool and interesting stories, and it's surprisingly easy to get caught up in them even now.

Rating: 4/5

68bragan
Sep 7, 4:04pm

82. The Dandy Annual 2004



The third and final of a batch of British comics collections a friend lent me in order to expand my humorous horizons. I found the Beano annual from the year before an interesting mix of stuff that was genuinely funny and stuff that just seemed kind of of dumb. This one, though, really didn't have much of either. There were a couple of jokes I found mildly amusing, but nothing that came close to making me laugh out loud. But there was nothing that had me wanting to roll my eyes, either. Of course, at my age I'm hardly the target audience, and once again I'm pretty sure I'd have found more entertainment value in it all in my youth, based on my memories of reading the American funny pages (a lot of the contents of which are no longer nearly as funny to me, either).

In any case, it has been interesting, at least, to take a look at these. If nothing else, I think I now understand a few references from the other side of the Pond that might have previously flown over my head, if only by virtue of having found out who Desperate Dan is.

Rating: This one gets an apologetic 2.5/5 from me for being comparatively bland, although I can't help feeling I should maybe tack on another half star for hypothetical kid-me's presumable opinion.

69bragan
Sep 10, 8:00pm

83. Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg



A collection of short stories on the theme of love (mostly romantic, but with a bit of familial love scattered in there, too) by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who is best known as the creator and executive producer of Bojack Horseman. And if you've watched Bojack, you might, perhaps, have a hint of the flavor of these: weird and funny and painful and whimsical, with a sharp core of something unexpectedly truthful to them. Some of them are traditional short stories of varying levels of realism, from an ordinary, average failed workplace romance to the surreal experiences of a scientist who enters a dimensional portal to Opposite Land. Others are odd little snippets in the form of things like a "missed connections" ad or rules for playing the game Taboo, which sounds like it might be a bit gimmicky but works wonderfully well in Bob-Waksberg's capable hands.

As with any short story collection, I liked some of these better than others, but my least favorite ones were merely reasonably good, while the best of them were absolutely fantastic. And it leaned more towards the latter than the former, overall, too, making the collection as a whole something of a joy to read.

Rating: 4.5/5

70RidgewayGirl
Sep 11, 2:22pm

>69 bragan: I liked this collection, but found that my enthusiasm went from extreme to very mild by the time I'd finished it. A lot of the stories aimed for the same emotional note and so it felt a little repetitive.

71bragan
Editado: Sep 11, 7:38pm

>70 RidgewayGirl: I think the emotional note that most of them were aiming for was one I really, really liked, so I could probably have enjoyed at least a few more of them, myself. :)

72bragan
Sep 13, 1:25pm

84. Paranormality: Why We Believe the Impossible by Richard Wiseman



An exploration of supposedly supernatural phenomena from mind-reading to prophetic dreams to ghosts, by someone who is way more fascinated by the psychology of why we seemingly experience these phenomena than in postulating otherworldly explanations for them. Most of what's in here wasn't particularly new to me, but some of the examples and specific details were, and overall I found it an interesting, entertaining read, anyway. Wiseman's writing is breezy, friendly, and laced with humor. It's also a pleasantly interactive experience, as he includes some little tests and exercises and such for the reader and offers light-hearted but genuine advice for things like how to make a table move at a seance or how to induce an out of body experience. (The book is, sadly, slightly less interactive now than it was ten years ago when it was published, though, as it includes a bunch of links and QR codes intended to take you to videos containing supplemental material like interviews and demonstrations of psychic readings, which no longer work. Well, I didn't try the QR codes, but the links provided with them just take you to the front page of Wiseman's Wordpress site now, not to the relevant material. One of the hazards of tying an ephemeral medium to a more permanent one. Fortunately, none of them seem remotely essential, anyway.)

Wiseman does, along the way, talk about some rather dark things, such as the brief history of Jonestown in a section on cults, but overall it's a nice demonstration of the fact that skepticism and science can be just as fun and full of wonder and fascination as any tale of the supernatural, and it teaches readers some interesting stuff about human psychology along the way. You could do a lot worse as an introduction to to this sort of deeper thinking about the paranormal.

Rating: 4/5

73bragan
Ayer, 6:36pm

85. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi



Man, it's kind of hard to even know how to talk about this book, especially without getting too far into spoiler territory, but I'll try. It starts out as the story of Sarah, a teenager attending a fancy performing arts high school in the 1980s, and her relationship with a classmate David, as catalyzed by their teacher, a pretentious former Broadway actor with some honestly kind of disturbing ideas about appropriate acting exercises for teens. This story is very well-written, but something about it did feel a bit off to me. A bit over-dramatic, a bit hard to fully believe in. Something like that.

Then, halfway through, the novel switches to a new POV that maybe puts a lot of things that felt not-quite-right in the first half into a new perspective and makes them seem forgivable, or even clever. Unfortunately, though, the voice accompanying that new POV was rather irritating to me, and ultimately I didn't find it a whole lot more convincing. In the end, I'm left with the feeling of an author trying to pull off something really bold and ambitious and interesting, which I admire in theory but which, for me at least, didn't entirely work.

Rating: 3/5