Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Beast gets funny...and a little annoying, too

Who Stole the Funny?: A Novel of Hollywood
Robby Benson

Hey there, folks, my second review has been published over at Pajiba, this time on Robby Benson's Who Stole the Funny?

If Benson's name rings a bell, you might be a loser like me and remember him as the voice of the Beast from the Disney "masterpiece." (I mentally quibbled about the quotes there; I hesitate to call any Disney film a masterpiece, but I do love that movie. Sigh. I need to watch it again.) Or you might remember him from a bunch of other stuff he did; his IMDB profile is quite lengthy.

At any rate, you may click here to read my review in full; of course, be sure to check out all the other great reviews on the site. As before, I'll provide my "In a nutshell" commentary and rating system.

In a nutshell: Light and fluffy, Who Stole the Funny? highlights all that Hollywood seems to offer...and makes you glad that you aren't there too.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3.5 out of 6 stars

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The only relationship advice you'll ever need

Men Like Bars, Women Don't Have a Penis
Iron Balz

Upon first learning the concept behind Men Like Bars, Women Don't Have a Penis, I was immediately curious to see exactly what kind of information "Iron Balz" would relay to their readers. I too feel that self-help books (such as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, The Rules, and He's Just Not that Into You, all of which are spoofed by the writers) make money by telling the lonely masses obvious shit about relationships. And yet, people still read this garbage! Do you really need a book to tell you when a man isn't interested in you???

Iron Balz (visit their website here) seem to feel the same way, hence Men Like Bars, Women Don't Have a Penis. In fact, I was hooked upon reading the opening of this short, humorous take on relationship advice, as Iron Balz (the pen name of Matt and John, two brothers) immediately proclaim:

If I was going to write a book for women about how to know when a guy is not into them, it would be one page, with one sentence that reads:

He does not try to fuck you.

Hear, hear. From that gleaming insight grew Men Like Bars, Women Don't Have a Penis. I expected it to be full of more of the same self-evident truths like the above, but I was surprised to actually find some helpful information within its pages. For example, I soon learned the difference between "strange versus romance," and while I probably won't implement any of their advice (much to my husband's chagrin, I'm sure, but I won't let him read Men Like Bars for this very reason), I had a great time reading it.

One of my favorite gems is this diet advice:

Here is the only piece of dieting advice you need: 1) Wake up earlier than usually [sic] and exercise for 20 minutes. 2) Do push-ups, sit-ups, run, power walk, anything other than shoveling bacon in your face. 3) Do not eat anything containing a lot of fats and sugars, and eat slightly less than you do currently.

If you cannot do this then you are not disciplined enough to lose weight, and need to accept the fact that you are always going to be fat. There is no need to waste money on bullshit dieting products. It is nothing to be ashamed of. There are many drunken rugby players that will be willing to have sex with you.

Politically correct? Absolutely not, but quite hilarious nonetheless.

As the authors state at the beginning, this self-published book did not go through a legitimate editing process, so some grammatical and spelling errors have slipped through the cracks. It is a shame that this is so, since it is this aspect of the book that prevents it from being a greater success. If Iron Balz were to clean up some of the mechanics of Men Like Bars, Women Don't Have a Penis, they'd have a sure-fire hit on their hands. (Hence the rating below; I'd have rated it more highly were it not for the grammatical and spelling errors, which wounded the cold little heart of this poor, beleaguered English teacher.)

In a nutshell: You may not need their advice, but you'll definitely get a laugh out of Men Like Bars. Be warned, though, that this book is not politically correct: it's raunchy, it's (at times) sexist -- and it's pretty damned funny.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Samedi the Deafness
Jesse Ball

My first review has been published over at Pajiba, one of my favorite sites ever (hence my squee of joy).

The review in question is for Jesse Ball's Samedi the Deafness, so head on over there to read it. Be sure to check out not only my review, but also the dozens of others that appear on the site.

As for Samedi, I'll simply post my "nutshell review" and rating scale here, since Pajiba is a little above such juvenalia. I also refrained from making any ball jokes, but it was really difficult.

In a nutshell: Samedi is quirky but ultimately unfulfilling; Ball should have given us more -- or less. (See!? More ball? Not snickering at the obvious ball joke is so hard!)

(Gah! See!? Ball? Hard?)


Bibliolatry Scale: 4 out of 6 stars

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Parents, a word of advice: Don't die and leave your kids to crazy Aunt Ruth

The Girl Next Door
Jack Ketchum

I am not a person easily disturbed. Halloween is my favorite time of year, and I love nothing more than watching a scary movie simply to scare the living hell out of myself. I pride myself on being able to handle the goriest of scenes with a snicker – unless, of course, the gore involves an eyeball. Even I have my line in the sand.

So when I heard Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door was “really really disturbing,” I was interested, but certainly not daunted. I mean, gimme a break. Dude’s practically got ketchup for a last name. How twisted could he be?

Apparently, very.

The Girl Next Door is the story of two young girls who, having recently been orphaned, have come to live with their Aunt Ruth and her three sons. Although at first glance they appear as normal as any other family in this small town (not that that’s saying much), there is plenty of foreshadowing to indicate otherwise. These boys are just plain weird.

At first, Meg and her sister manage well enough, but it’s clear from the start they don’t fit in well with Ruth and her brood. Over time, however, their relationship disintegrates, devolving from a patronizing tolerance to out-right abuse, all of which is witnessed by David, their next-door neighbor and our narrator.

David, retelling this story as an adult, has never fully recovered from the events of the novel, and he explains at the novel's onset that he will finally bring their sins to light. And what sins they are. What Ruth and her family do to those two young girls is truly stomach-churning; worse still is the fact that Ketchum based his tale on a true story, the murder of Sylvia Likens.

Like Stephen King (who appears to be a fan of our featured author), Ketchum’s strength lies in his ability to tell a good tale; also like King, Ketchum’s prose is simple and not without its flaws. Furthermore, Ketchum is none too subtle at planting information that will become all-too-relevant as the story develops. It’s almost as though he’s marked each important area with a nice red flag, as if to say, “This is gonna be really important, kids; just you wait until you see how these twisted fucks apply this little scenario to their cousin.” It's a forgivable sin, though, since we’re prepared for the worst from the first chapter; still, it would be better if the groundwork had been a little better hidden so that it wasn’t so easy to see where it was all leading.

Flaws aside, The Girl Next Door is a fascinating, disturbing story that almost made me physically ill. Almost. I’m no goddamn poontang.

there are no words

Finally, I learned while writing this review that the film will be out soon. You may visit the website here, if you're interested.

In a nutshell: Squeamish readers and mothers beware; this one might be too much for you.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4.5 out of 6 stars

Monday, September 10, 2007

Well I'll be damned -- it really IS that good

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini

For quite awhile now, the name Khaled Hosseini has been on the lips of readers everywhere; even non-readers have fallen prey to the siren that is The Kite Runner. I thought I had escaped unscathed, but now that his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, has been released (again to much acclaim), it seems Hosseini is a force that cannot be ignored. Tired of being one of the few remaining people who hasn’t read The Kite Runner, I decided to rectify the problem, duly dubious that something so celebrated could be any good.

With such doubt firmly entrenched in my mind, I began this book fully expecting to hate it. In fact, I wanted to hate it, wanting instead to separate myself from the masses clamoring Khaled Hosseini’s greatness to anyone and everyone who would listen. I thought, I am better than the mewling hoards. I am educated. I read "quality literature." I am not a sheep. I will not like The Kite Runner.

baa, baa

I could immediately see why The Kite Runner has attracted both readers and non-readers alike; Hosseini spins a complex, intelligent tale while keeping his prose simple and readable, and I was able to read half the book in a single sitting without becoming bored and resorting to procrastinating on the Internet. Furthermore, his story involves several elements that resonate well on a subconscious level: archetypal figures, a comforting parallelism that nicely rounds out the second half of the novel, and even a little hero quest worthy of Campbell. It's difficult not to like something that combines intelligence and simplicity, modernity and tradition.

For those who don’t yet know the story, The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, who, as a boy growing up in Afghanistan, commits a shameful deed out of a desperate need to gain his father's love and attention. What follows is, of sorts, a tale of heroic redemption: after war breaks out, father and son leave their country and eventually arrive in America, where Amir grows as an individual and improves his relationship with his father. And yet, despite America's bringing father and son closer together, Amir still has not reconciled himself with his past; it is only upon returning to Afghanistan that he can possibly redeem both himself and those he loves.

To this tale of the modern hero, a hero flawed and craven, a character who almost doesn't even want to be redeemed, is added the most important character of them all: Afghanistan. I don’t enjoy books that rely on great amounts of description, but I never felt The Kite Runner’s description to be overbearing. And yet, after reading the book, I feel as though there must have been a lot of it, for Hosseini's Afghanistan remains clearly etched in my mind. Like most Americans, I only know of the Middle East what I see on tv, a pastiche of desolate streets, decimated buildings, and bedraggled children, but Hosseini shows us an Afghanistan beautiful and full of promise before it was destroyed by fighting.

To be fair, The Kite Runner isn't entirely perfect. There is a tendency toward the sentence fragment which seemed a little overused after awhile. Then again, perhaps I am being pedantic. It's been known to happen. Also, a few scenes were slightly predictable, but I do point out foreshadowing for a living. These things pale in comparison to the power of the work as a whole, and I really can't quibble over such minor flaws.

In a nutshell: If you haven't read it yet, allow me to echo the multitude of people who have already said to me, "You haven't read The Kite Runner yet?? Ohmygod, you SO have to read it! It is SO AMAZING. I like totally cried."

I, for one, did NOT cry. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5 out of 6 stars

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Not the best by one of the best

Life Before Man>
Margaret Atwood

I’ve commented before that Margaret Atwood can do no wrong in my book. I haven’t read all of what she’s written, but even her mediocre stuff is better than most other writer’s best. She’s one of the few writers whose work I will read without questioning, without reading reviews, or even without perusing the back jacket. If it’s Atwood, it’s in.

So before purchasing Life Before Man, I had only to check that I hadn’t already read it. Nope: this one was new to me, even though it was published 1979. The novel centers on three characters: Elizabeth and her husband Nate, and Nate’s lover Lesje (pronounced Le - sha). Elizabeth and Nate seem to have an open marriage, each both frequently taking lovers but staying together for the children.

As the novel opens, Elizabeth’s latest lover, Chris, has committed suicide, sending Elizabeth into a deep depression, recalling memories of her mother and sister who both suffered from mental illness. Elizabeth, however, is not so weak as to give in to despair, and her controlling nature compels her to manipulate both her husband and his lovers even though she can barely control her own life.

Life Before Man, then, follows these three characters around for a period of a few years: Elizabeth tries to make sense of her life following her lover’s suicide; Nate tries to pry himself from Elizabeth’s domination; and Lesje just wants to be loved.

My biggest problem with the book is that every character was unsympathetic. Elizabeth is a manipulative busybody who would do well to get a divorce and move on with her life. Nate is a spineless douche who seems like the biggest loser alive; why are so many women interested in him? He doesn’t even have a job. Ugh. And Lesje is so weak and flimsy, ugh on her too. She allows Nate to walk all over her and is at the mercy of Elizabeth’s machinations. When she finally takes a decisive action on her own, she does it in a sneaky way that leaves little to be admired.

That said, Atwood’s writing is always admirable and her insights noteworthy, even if Life Before Man is not the best example of Atwood’s keen mind. However, it does bear repeating that Atwood on a bad day is better than many writers at their best.

In a nutshell: A must for Atwood fans; those needing an introduction to this grand writer had better look elsewhere first, though.

Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Possibly outrageous but definitely boring

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead
Max Brooks

I like books, right? And everyone knows how I just luurve zombies. So if you add the two together, I’ll like the result, right?


Quite simply, I didn’t “get” this book. It’s labeled as humor; Publishers Weekly calls it an “outrageous parody of a survival guide.” Well it is a parody, but outrageous? I suppose I could see that one, if I had to, but this book isn’t funny, unless you count the existence of zombies as a joke, which I most assuredly do NOT.

If you do count the existence of zombies as a joke, then I suppose this book is funny. Otherwise, you’re out of luck, since you won’t find any other joke within these pages. This book has also been described as “exhaustively comprehensive,” and it is. If there were to be a zombie attack, you’ll need this guide. But therein lies the problem: you'll never need it. Why does a "joke guide" for a totally impossible situation take itself so seriously? Where's the fun? The joke?

Seriously, there are no jokes. Instead, there are almost 200 pages dedicated to manifold scenarios; weapons are outlined and the pros and cons of each are discussed. In detail. So are possible escape methods (a dirt bike is surprisingly preferable to the car). But again, these things are described in detail. Serious detail. Serious as in not funny. As in this shit might actually happen. A bigger problem is that Brooks manages to make what should be an exciting topic dull and boring. That’s a pretty big deal.

I could go on, but I’m getting bored just writing this review. Yikes.

In a nutshell: meh

Bibliolatry Scale: 1 out of 6 stars

Monday, September 03, 2007

Summer Review

My summer is officially over. With that, here's a review of everything I read during June, July, and August. I set a few challenges for myself. I failed a few challenges for myself. Oh well. I read a lot. That's all that matters.

With that, I give you my summer in review (please note that the two starred entries refer to books I was, for whatever reason, unable to complete):

1. unSpun
2. Jude the Obscure
3. State of Fear
4. The Butterfly Revolution
5. Blood Meridian
6. Cosmicomics
7. On the Road*
8. New British Poetry
9. The Book of Nightmares
10. Grendel
11. The Ghost Writer
12. The Fortress of Solitude
13. The Collector

1. Here, Bullet
2. Eeeee Eee Eeee
3. Northanger Abbey
4. Everything's Eventual
5. Year of Wonders
6. Light of Day
7. The Man in the High Castle
8. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
9. Philosophy in the Boudoir*
10. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
11. Ubik
12. Hell Hath No Fury

1. Klepto
2. Sharp Objects
3. Come Closer
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin
5. Bag of Bones
6. More Than Human
7. The Voice at 3:00 A.M.

Only seven books in August??? Seven??? That's bullshit!! Damn. I shoulda done better. So, in sum: I attempted to read 32 books this summer, and I completed 30. I guess that's okay. As for my challenges, there were three:


The purpose of this challenge was to read all those purchased but unread books that remain on my bookshelves. This is a challenge I set for myself at some point once a year. I always fail.

STATUS OF CHALLENGE: FAILURE, as always. While I did knock a few down, I didn't read enough unloved books. Not to mention the fact that I was repeatedly unable to resist the siren call of, causing more books to arrive at my door.


The purpose of this challenge was to read all the poetry I could handle this summer.

STATUS OF CHALLENGE: MEDIOCRE. I read four books of poetry: New British Poetry, The Book of Nightmares, Here, Bullet, and The Voice at 3:00 A.M.. More were purchased but not yet encountered. I could have done better with this one, but since it represents my most successful challenge of the summer, I suppose I should be happy.


The purpose of this challenge was to read more classics of the Gothic genre.

STATUS OF CHALLENGE: FAILURE. With the exception of Northanger Abbey, I completed zero additional Gothic classics this summer, even though I purchased nearly them all. Wow I'm good.

Okay, so the challenges didn't really work for me this summer. Better luck next year!