01 February 2013

Culture Desk: Book Reviews

Although people rarely ask me about what I'm reading, I do like to go on about it nonetheless.  Polished off some good ones lately, mostly on my sofa or in bed but sometimes when I'm driving around parking lots looking for a place to park.  So on this cool winter's morn, rather than bore you with the details of my daily ablutions / herb garden / herniated disc / son's croquet tournament / dreams of country living, etc., here are some, uh, reviews.  Of like, books.

Harry Potter and the Bored Housewife
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.  After graduating Hogwash with crushing debt levels into the softest job market for wizards in 50 years, Harry meets a disenchanted hausfrau working at a coffee shop and takes a break from his ridiculous quests to delve into the delights of the real world.  But when the sheriff's deputy is murdered on trumped-up charges and the pirates of the Caribbean are apoplectic, only one young mage can save the end of the world from the triumph of good over evil.

While not a fan of the first three in this series, this one had me bedazzled.  However I'm only giving it three and a half stars out of a possible five thumbs up, because two of the sex scenes kinda dragged.

Oxygen: History of a Molecule
In this engaging if dumbed-down tale of the untold story of one of the greatest molecules underpinning the development of modern civilization – I mean, what would we breathe without it? – Martin J. Finnucane, professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Pfincterville, lovingly relates the long untold and extraordinarily fantastic yarn of oxygen, which is like 80% of everything, but is so often the subject of misunderstanding if not outright animosity.  Present at the very origins of our universe, o the tales oxygen could tell if only we could invent the instrument to decode its catlike purr.  The book is grippingly presented in eminently unreadable prose which in places throws syntax entirely to the winds and adopts a style that mimics the structure of the oxygen molecule itself, with words and phrases orbiting a central nucleus like electrons at quantum speeds and with apparent randomness.  I enjoyed it; others may prefer to wait for the movie.

Otherwise not to pick (on) nit(wit)s but this book could have used an index and also I would have liked some background on protons and neutrons which are really the key to everything oxygen does, but was disappointed to read that Professor Finnucane will treat these topics in a sequel.  That's fine I understand the need to sell books but hey this is how they always do it, they get you hooked in the first one and then you have to buy all the sequels and in the end you've studied the whole thing completely and still have more questions than answers.

Seven Come Eleven is Sonny Kirby's first novel and it is, I am ethically obliged to point out, a patchwork of facile gleanings from the notebook of a mental incontinent, edited and repackaged as the ol' novel within a novel by the aspiring screenwriter who gets caught up in some sort of plot led by a poorly drawn revolutionary that Kirby has apparently modeled on Corbin Bernsen's imitation of Aunt Esther haranguing a Sasquatch. Still the work bears further scrutiny, and, if only for his fluffy pedagogical flourishes and imperial command of the English grammars, Kirby is sure to remain among the up and coming artists reviewed in publications like this, by schnooks like me.

Revolution Delayed by Mortimer Stokes is a historical what-if novel premised on the counterfactual that in 1775 the British take a much more conciliatory approach to the colonies (specifically, adopting the Duke of Grafton's proposal that most of the taxes the Americans regarded as oppressive be immediately repealed) and there is no Revolutionary War.  Of course eventually the revolution comes anyway, but not until 1834, which meant the Civil War had to be postponed and the US timeline was completely thrown off, the Spanish-American War never happened and to this day there is still no TV show called The Sopranos (although Stokes only takes the timeline up to the non-emergence of I Love Lucy, leaving plenty of room for a sequel).

The McCarthy Hearings is a compilation of tweets by an African grey that sat on Demi Moore's trailer throughout the filming of St. Elmo's Fire. Although the tweets mainly dish on the romantic entanglements among cast and crew, the best moments come during its wry David Sedaris-like digressions on lost innocence. Many of the actual words in the book come from the bird's handler, as this was before Twitterer and though the bird could enunciate a number of salty phrases in multiple languages, as often as not it was literally tweeting. 

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