May 27, 2006

Steve's 2006 Book Reviews

(As a bonus for coming here, the title links to the worst reviews at Amazon; always good for a laugh or two.)

The Know It All, by A.J. Jacobs

This guy actually read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica and lived to write about it. The memoir is at turns funny and insightful, but tends to be annoying and self-indulgent much of the time as well. But since Jacobs is a bit OCD like me, I enjoyed the book in the end and would recommend it to certain friends, but not all.

Most memorable part: I learned Opossums have 13 nipples.
4 out of 5
"Eats, Shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss
I found this book a bit disappointing after reading all the hype it had received. It was a'ight, I suppose, but Ms. Truss is a bit of a mess I'm afraid. I did get answers for a couple punctuaion questions I've always had (like, when I ask a question in a parenthetical, how do I continue the sentence?) which made the book worth it to me. However, some of her "answers" totally frustrated me; how to type possessives of names ending in s? Apparently there is no hard and fast rule other than Jesus is always Jesus'. Sigh. You can read it in a few hours and you'll learn a few things, but her haranguing gets a bit too tiresome, even for a jerk like me.

Most memorable part: The author's extreme Pavlovian hatred for people who mix up "it's" and "its." EdHill, would you like my copy?
2.5 out of 5

The Days are Just Packed, by Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes was the 2nd greatest comic of my lifetime (behind The Farside). I haven't read a comics page since Watterson hung up his pen at the end of 1995. Well, except for Apartment 3G. Anyway, this book is phenomenal and necessary to all funny people's libraries, as are all of the Calvin books. (By the way, Calvin was in the running as a name for Damian.)

I always loved the snowman strips like this one. And I like when random people try to pull this stuff off in real life like this guy.

Most memorable part: Calvin's outward contempt for Mrs. Wormwood.
UPDATE: This site is fantastic and since haloscan deletes comments after a while, I wanted to save it for posterity in the post. Calvin rules.
5 out of 5

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

A non-fiction book that chronicles the author's travels to various plaques, monuments, and old houses that are directly and tangentially related to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Gee, ya think the guy who writes a blog that chronicles my travels to various highpoints, trees, and old houses would like this book? I don't even have to tell you; I loved it. The author, Sarah Vowell, is witty and has the ability to tie things together in a fascinating way that I've always enjoyed. Kind of like James Burke's "Connections" series on PBS (and books). For instance, the Oneida Community in upstate New York began as a kooky Christian sex cult wherein the older men deflowered the young girls as a matter of routine. Garfield's assassin, Charles Guiteau, lived there for five years - during which the Oneida Community came to be known as "The OC." Well, some guy (Robert Towner) left The OC in a huff because he wasn't getting his pick of the young virgins, so he packed up and moved west - to Orange County, CA. There, he organized the city council and built the Santa Ana courthouse - the very courthouse where the lawyer character on FOX's "The OC" tries cases. I told you... Fascinating.

Abraham Lincoln's son witnessed all three murders in the book. He was also responsible for an Artic expedition's resorting to cannibalism due to lack of foresight and funding. I could go on, but I won't. I learned about many things like Frank Lloyd Wright's mentor's hatred for neoclassical design and hence the Lincoln Memorial (which had a segregated dedication ceremony in the early 1900's) and about those people who toil daily in period costumes at little-visited historical sites. Of course, my MuseumQuest idea that EdHill and I have only just begun came to mind just about every turn of the page. That, and my marriage.

My marriage? Yes - you see, Vowell has a habit of dragging along family and friends to places like Garfield's mausoleum, the old jail in the Caribbean where some Lincoln conspirators suffered, and a random statue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They all join her, I imagine, because she's funny and recognizes that these people don't necessarily wish to go to such places sympathizes with them. I can relate - and so can Hoang. In one particular exchange, whereupon Vowell dragged her friend Bennett to a random house in Washington DC. Bennett (a la Hoang) plays along and notes the plaque (denoting the site where WH Seward was attacked the night Lincoln was shot) and merely shakes his head in disappointment. Been there, done that. Vowell even goes so far as to take her companions out to nice meals to make up for their suffering. Been there and done that too.

Somehow, it all works - and works well. The books makes some comparisons to our present day political landscape and especially the similarities between McKinley and Bush Jr. "Imperialism by God" and all that. That stuff will certainly fall flat for conservative readers but what the heck, it makes sense to me. Speaking of McKinley, Vowell missed a golden connection when discussing the night of his death in Buffalo. As you surely read in my New York highpoint report, Theodore Roosevelt was hanging out on the mountaintop when the word came that he was to be sworn in as President. Vowell thinks about making the hike herself but wimps out and instead opts for a shorter mountain with good views of the summit. But... McKinley? Highpointing? Um, hello Sarah, ever hear about Mt. McKinley in Alaska (Alaska's, the US's, and North America's highest point) and how there has been controversy over it's name (Alaska and we highpointers refer to it as "Denali") due to McKinley's genocidal Native American policies, among other things. I'll write her a letter.

Most memorable part: There are others in this world like me.
5 out of 5

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