Friday, January 9, 2009

Global Warming my ass! (More book reviews)

Two inches of snow and below zero (C) weather for two days.

In Madrid!

As promised, more book reviews. Next update will be a little thing about life in Madrid and why you shouldn't give money to beggars. Even as a Paladin. (Not that I'm a Paladin, but I try hard.)

I have to admit, I get a guilty pleasure from going to Amazon and reading negative reviews of books I don't love. "The Wheel of Time" reviews have provided me with countless hours of laughter.

"Have you ever wondered how many stripes should be on the dublet of an important dignatary from Illian? How many shawl twitches are appropriate when Aes Sedai negotiate momentous agreements? What kind of stool the general of an Aes Sedai army sits on, and how stable said stool might be? Well buckle up for a wild ride, amigo, because you're going to learn all that (and more!) by the time you've tediously slogged to the conclusion of this book.

Part of what really makes Mr. Jordan's worlds so unique are the wonderful characters which populate them. I like nothing more than to scratch my head in befuddlement as yet another Aes Sedai is reintroduced into the plot whom I can no longer recall. It gives me an excuse to page to the back of the book and open up the 'Robert Jordan Appendix of Useless and Irrelevent Characters' which is always such a joy. I've created my own drinking game based on this called, [...]
For anyone who wants to play along the rules are simple:

1.) Is the character you're looking up totally irrelevent? Take a drink.
2.) Do you have reason to suspect said character will remain totally irrelevent? Take a drink.
3.) Does the character twitch her shawl? Take two drinks.
4.) Is she looking "cross-eyed" at someone? Take a drink.
5.) Do you know the exact design of the embroidery on the fringe of her shawl? Of course you do - take a drink. For your own sanity, consider taking another."

This morning I had to go read some of the "Twilight" reviews and was happy to see there are many people who feel the same surging of bile in the back of their throat as I do.

While Christmas shopping this year I happened to find myself in Spencer's and they have a ton of great stuff. I desperatly wanted to buy a t-shirt emblazoned with "I eat pu*** like a fat kid eats chocolate cake." Actually, I wanted to buy three of them. One for me and one each for Lena and Stefan. I cannot fathom why I did not. One of the things that caught my eye, and I did buy, was "My horizontal life. A collection of one night stands" by Chelsea Handler.

While not a great book, it is an easy read and perfect to hold your attention while waiting for a plane to take off or sitting in a dentist's office. It's not x-rated but it delivers on what's promised. While not brilliantly written it is funny in some places, sad in others, pathetic in still more. Recommended for those who need a break from the heavy stuff.

Finally, on to the good stuff.

I'm going to have to kill George R. R. Martin soon. I don't think I'll be alone in that feeling if he continues to pretend that he is the late Robert Jordan.

In an airport somewhere (they all blur together these days) I saw GEORGE R. R. MARTIN's name blazing across the top of a book. A man in armor with a long white sword is standing next to a motorcycle and the title is "Inside Straight." Ah, a new Wildcards novel.

Dear Mr. Martin,

You bastard! When is the next book from "A Song of Ice and Fire" going to be out? We've only been waiting a decade now.

Love and kisses

(Still not gay.)

Wait, on closer inspection it turns out he just edited "Inside Straight" and wrote one chapter. Still, even one second away from working on the book we're all waiting for is one second too long.

Let's talk about "A Song of Ice and Fire" series first. If you haven't read them, you're reaaallllly missing out. It starts with "A Game of Thrones." My mom is a voracious, if slow reader. She'll read about ten pages a day on a book she likes. She doesn't like fantasy at all. I begged her to read the first ten pages of the book. If she didn't like it, nothing lost.

She finished 807 pages in a week and grabbed the next one.

While working at the high school, one of the teachers I really liked came in on Friday and was looking for something to read.

"Cindy, try this book. Skip the awful prologue and read the first chapter, 'Bran.' It's ten pages. You won't be sorry."

I found it odd I didn't hear from her on Monday. Or on Tuesday. Usually people I recommend the book too can't wait to tell me how much they love it. I finally spotted her on Thursday.

"I guess you didn't like the book?"

Laughter. "What are you talking about? I finished the first two already and I'm here looking for the third."


She grabs my arm. "I couldn't believe it when they killed..."

"I know!"

And you won't believe it either.

Back to "Inside Straight."

I've read some wildcard novels before and found them about as good as "My Horizontal Life." A good read but nothing spectacular. This one was different. It was excellent.

Usually the wildcard novels are a series of short stories about different people hit by the wildcard virus which changes your body. Sometimes your head turns into that of a fly, sometimes you get super strength, flight and invulnerability.

(Have I ever mentioned I'm a mutant? I have a power that no one I have ever known has seen or heard of. When I yawn, sometimes, dozens of drops of water shoot out of my tongue and fly about two feet out of my mouth.


"Whoa" Wendy says and moves her book away from me.

"Sorry, did I just water you?"

She shows me the book and her arm with a couple dozen tiny water spots in a neat circle.

"Sorry about that.")

"Inside Straight" starts out with 10 unknown heroes competing on a reality show (I don't think I would make it very far unless one of the challenges was to put out a very small fire, and then well, any man could do that...) called "American Hero." This is entertaining enough, but the direction the book goes from there is fascinating. It is also a complete novel written by many people, not a collection of short stories. While not a masterpiece of fiction, I found it an excellent read and easily the best of the wildcard novels. Wendy read it as fast as I did as soon as I was done. Highly recommended.

Next is "The Best American Travel Writing" edited by Anthony Bourdain.

I had no idea there was such a market for writing of this kind. Essentially everything is in the same style as what I have been writing about on this website. I always thought only novels were published in such form, but, no. It was quite an education for me to see snippets of life in other countries without being actual guides to go and get food and lodging with phone numbers and directions. Something I do not excel at writing.

While the book has some boring stories and boring writers, a good portion of it is excellent. The man describing his life and driving in China was laugh out loud funny.

"After years of long queues, Chinese people have learned to be ruthless about cutting in line, an instinct that is disastrous in traffic jams. Toll booths are hazardous for the same reason. A 2004 World Health Organization report found that China, while having only 3 percent of the world's vehicles, accounted for 21 percent of it's traffic fatalities."

Or the guy going on his first hawking expedition in Pakistan.

"At the wheel is Sheikh Mohammed, a commercial real estate developer in Prada shades and rippling white robes who is picking up the tab for this year's Pakistan trip as a gift to his friends. And what a gift it is. Our expedition's camp employs a small army: dozens of cooks, launderers, mechanics and marksmen. Nobody keeps precise track of what this trip costs-not even Sheikh Mohammed. I don't ask but he's been known to shrug and say, "I stop counting after a million and a half."

To go hawking. In a country that lets other people build their schools since the government is too busy testing their nuclear weapons to be bothered with schools and fresh water.

Or the guy touring Africa when he ends up in Bahai. His guide tells him -

"Be careful of looking at Zaghawa women. The men will harm you if you approach their women. If you kill a woman, you will pay at least one hundred camels. A man, you will pay countless camels. Understand?

"Where would we get the camels?"

"Please, just try not to kill anyone."


I loved it.

I felt like I had found a home.

In the same vein, also from The Beautiful Wendy was "Traveler's Tales, The Best Travel Writing." Which I haven't finished but is also ripe with humor and tragedy.

The chapter about a boy's life at sea with his father who sells everything and sails the open ocean with his kids and girlfriend reminded me a great deal of my friend Mizu's blog.

There's also vastly educational articles like the one about why American Indians hate Mount Rushmore. They equate it to putting up an enormous statue of Hitler in the middle of Jerusalem. They call the founding fathers the founding terrorists. An educational and interesting read.

Much laughter is to be found in Jennifer Wells visit to Zimbabwe.

"I have a theory, supported by a great deal of data, that Western women lose twenty to thirty IQ points in the presence of a beautiful African man with dreadlocks. When the dreads are accompanied by good teeth, she can lose up to forty points. Depending on how smart she is to begin with, this can be a real problem."

Later, dancing at a club.

"'Is Zimbabwe your country?'

'Yes, mon.'

'Then why are you speaking in a Jamaican accent?'

'I'm Rastafarian, this is how we speak. My name is Kudakwashe-it means God's Will.'"

Later still...

"'Why don't you come to my house, mon, I want to show you my art.'

So here's a guy speaking in a fake accent, who doesn't know his spiritual guru was Ethiopian, and wants to show me his 'art.' I'm no fool. I know 'art' equals penis. I know this guy is a player, and is only hitting on me because I'm a wealthy foreigner. But I can't seem to wipe this stupid grin off my face.

Munya returns with the beers. Munya is a sweet man who always has a smile on his face. But he shot this guy a look of pure hatred. The Rasta scurried away.

'I know that guy, he's always hitting on white women.'

'Oh, you know Kudakwashe?'

Munya bursts out laughing. 'His name's not Kudakwashe, it's Brian! What's wrong with you white girls? You're all so smart and educated, but you fall for the Rasta game every time."

Or the travel writer who has documented so many places he finally decides to take his parents and friend "Bilby" on a cruise and write about that. He does so with horror and humor.

"Casino girls? Yes and by the second week of the cruise, they'd opened up to Bilby and me, upping our relationship beyond the dealer/gambler level to something like annoyed familiarity.

Bilby: 'Cynthia, I have a question about the rules. What would happen if all the cards caught fire simultaneously.?'

Me: 'Cynthia, I'm going to put this empty coin bucket on my head now, and I'll tip you two dollars if you say I look like an organ grinder's monkey.'

And Grinder. She was not an object of great beauty, or any beauty, especially when tucked into the floral yellow culottes the dealers wore on informal nights. She was from Bristol, fiercely working class, a sneerer, and probably a barroom brawler.

'Give me your chips. You're cashing in. We're not keeping the casino open just for you. Go on, off with yuhs before someone else comes in.'"

At the end of the journey he's actually fallen in love with it. He asks a crewmember where he can find the personnel departement.

"'I'm going to apply for a job,' I said. 'Captain. Stand on the bridge and go, 'Watch out for that whale!' There's an island. Hard astern.' I could do that.'

'It's not that easy,' Mike said, no humor, all business.

'Well,' I said, 'How about bread maker?'

'You could probobly do that.'"

The author is currently working on a memoir titled "Behind the Iron Skirt: Puzzling adventures with Russia girls.

I will be buying it.

That's all for today. I was going to leave you with a Rick Astley video link but now I find out that doing so is now a fad called "Rickrolling" somebody. I actually like Rick Astley and hate fads with dumb names, so I'll leave that part out.


  1. Great post. I had a few LOLs.

  2. J-noob,

    I'm not sure what the term is for the saliva spitting out of your mouth when you yawn, but I can do that on command. Weird.