The Big Over-Easy

the+big+over+easyThe Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde

Humpty Dumpty was pushed.

Or maybe not. But the mystery of how, exactly, Humpty Dumpty came to be splattered on the bottom of that wall, and who, if anyone is responsible, is at the heart of this whodunnit from Jasper Fforde.

The Big Over Easy takes place in the same universe as the Thursday Next books, a connection which becomes clear in The Well of Lost Plots, but rather than involving tales of classic literature, this case, in the Nursery Crimes division, takes place in the world of public domain poems. Jack Spratt—whose first wife died of health complications after only eating fat—is called in to investigate the Humpty Dumpty case, with his new assistant, Mary Mary. William Winkie, whose usually up at night, is the main witness. And Humpty Dumpty lives in a crowded boarding house run by Mrs. Hubbard.

I’ve mentioned before that Fforde’s books are the type of crazy, crowded, books, with almost too many conceits going on, that they could easily become terrible, too wrapped up in their idea to be any good. But he is such a talented writer that that never happens. The world of Nursery Crimes is convoluted, to be sure, and I had to be on my toes to keep track of what was happening here. But even while fully committed to its premise, and the character we should expect of the nursery characters, The Big Over Easy also works as a proper whodunnit, a suspenseful mystery in its own right, with twists and turns that might make you need to read the book twice, but make perfect sense within the world.

The Big Over Easy is somewhat easier to follow than the Thursday Next series, even though it’s in the same world. Being fully in the Nursery Crimes city, without having to jump around to different stories, or different times, the book makes far more sense immediately upon reading, without having to keep notes like one does when first introduced to Thursday’s world.  Personally, I prefer the Thursday Next novels, with their craziness, a momentum that feels it’s always rushing forward, and the fun of trying to keep track of all the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. But these are still a blast to read, and probably a good option for anyone who enjoyed the cleverness of Thursday Next but got lost and wants to ease their way in.

And, really, anyone who likes books and nerdy sci-fi and Douglass Adams or Terry Pratchett is going to enjoy Jasper Fforde. He’s a great writer, his books are clever, and they’re littered with enough allusions, call-backs, in-jokes, and obscure references to make anyone in the know feel very smug.  He should be the first choice of nerdy English lit hipsters everywhere.

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9 Times the Republican Platform Forgot Donald Trump Is Their Nominee

  1. This platform is optimistic because the American people are optimistic.” (Preamble)
  2. People living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing and suffering.” (Preamble)
  3. “Our most urgent task as a Party is to restore the American people’s faith in their government by electing a president who will enforce duly enacted laws, honor constitutional limits on executive authority, and return credibility to the Oval Office.” (Pg. 10)
  4. We pledge to protect the voting rights of every citizen.” (Pg. 16)
  5. [T]he next president must not sow the seeds of division and distrust…” (Pg. 39)
  6. The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet.” (Pg. 41)
  7. As a nation, we honor the sacrifice of our fallen service members….As a party, we seek to honor their sacrifice and comfort their families.” (Pg. 45)
  8. We affirm our party’s tradition of world leadership established by President Eisenhower….It embraces American exceptionalism and rejects the false prophets of decline and diminution.” (Pg. 46)
  9. A Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility.” (Pg. 46)

What If

what ifWhat If?, Randall Munroe

If you’re on the internet at all, I assume you’re familiar with national treasure Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd.  It is one of the most consistently excellent sites on all of the global internets.  Before creating a job for himself being professionally funny online, Munroe worked as a robotocist for NASA, so he’s also pretty smart and seems to know some things about science and math.  That’s where this book comes in.

This is one of the most useful reference books a person can own.  There are numerous books, encyclopedias, websites and people that can give you the facts you might need about the Revolutionary War, conversion from ounces to litres, information about Newton’s Laws, or any other number of things.  But I’m fairly certain this is the only book that will tell you how quickly you could drain all of the earth’s oceans if there was a drain placed at the deepest spot, and also what Mars would look like if the glass_peopledrain was a portal that placed all of the water over the Curiosity rover.  Or what would happen if a glass of water became literally half empty.  Or, my favorite, what would happen if you built a wall out of the periodic table of the elements.

(Short answer:

  • You could stack the first two rows without much trouble.
  • The third row would burn you with fire.
  • The fourth row would kill you with toxic smoke.
  • The fifth row would do all that stuff PLUS give you a mild dose of radiation.
  • The sixth row would explode violently, destroying the building in a cloud of radioactive, poisonous fire and dust.
  • Do not build the seventh row.)

This book is also probably the best argument for why it is important to learn advanced math.  No one believes their teachers when they say they’ll use this in the future, but calculus, trigonometry, and differential equations do have real world applications.  And if you don’t learn them you have to write in to an internet cartoonist to find out if it’s possible to build a jetpack using machine guns, instead of being able to run the numbers yourself.

So, if you don’t have the knowledge yourself to find out whether you could drop a steak from high enough that would be cooked enough from heat during re-entry to eat, or the time to figure it out, I suggest you get this book.  I don’t know where else you can find that absolutely necessary information.

 

 

 

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

LambLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore

This book was first recommended to me by a very good friend.  While I trust his book recommendations implicitly, I was still a bit hesitant about this particular book.  I hadn’t read anything by Christopher Moore before, but did know of books like The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove and Bite Me: A Love Story, which didn’t exactly sound like stories about the Son of God, you know?  Plus my to-be-read bookshelf is getting pretty full.  I was always going to read it, I just wasn’t sure exactly when.  Then I was up at an event for work and the table next to mine was run by the New Hampshire Bible Society.  The Director of the NH Bible Society is a nice guy, but horrible at outreach events.  He spent the entire time reading-including Lamb, which it turns out he was rereading.  I was a bit surprised to see it turn up at this event, but it did give me the kick I needed to finally check it out.

I’m sorry I delayed for even a second, and I should have known better than to sit on a recommendation from my friend.  Lamb is an absolutely fantastic and hilarious book.  I’m truly amazed by it.  It walks what is a very fine line, managing to be satirical and irreverent without being sacrilegious.  Written from the perspective of a previously unknown 13th disciple, Levi called Biff, Lamb primarily focuses on the lost years, Jesus’ life as a child and before he began his professional ministry, although the book does cover the other gospel years at the end.  The book is amazingly well researched.  Another review I read said that the book did its best when it was entirely made up by Moore, and strained itself a bit when it got to the end and had to follow the Bible.  I disagree, and enjoyed the book throughout.  Also, while Moore filled in a lot on his own, this ignores the fact that his description of Jesus’ childhood years is not entirely from his imagination.  He pulls from the non-canonical Gospels, and an extensive amount of research on what life was like in the Roman colonies about 2000 years ago.

Lamb is a hilarious book in its own right, and even funnier if you know enough about Christianity and the Bible to get all of the allusions–Moore recommends reading the Bible first to get all of the jokes, and if you can’t get a hold of one, just finding someone going door to door who can explain it to you.  I also thought it did a fantastic job of portraying a more human side of Jesus, who after all is believed to be fully human and fully God.  I also read this right after Silence, so Lamb’s alternative of what happened to Judas was a welcome counterpoint, although it’s merely a footnote in this book.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys humor, and anyone interested in Christianity and religious type novels.  Again, I’m sorry I waited at all to read it.  It really is an excellent novel, a lighter treatment of serious subjects, provides a new (although not entirely different) perspective on Jesus ministry, and a fantastically fun read.  It’s now one of my favorite books, and I expect it will make it into my regular rereading rotation as well.

One Summer: America, 1927

One Summer: America, 1927  by Bill Bryson

There are a handful of writers who can write anything at all and I will eagerly and happily devour it.  Kurt Vonnegut , Sarah Vowell, Margaret Atwood, and Bill Bryson are among them.  So of course I was very excited to read One Summer: America, 1927 about (sort of), all of the events of, well, the summer of 1927 in the United States of America.

The book has gotten mixed reviews from others.  The Guardian, in an overall positive review, said the book “seems curiously slight…. rather like reading a highly amusing encyclopedia,” and I would tend to agree there.  The book jumps around between different stories and threads including, but not limited to, Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic and the many failed attempts by others, Babe Ruth’s record setting summer, Sacco and Vanzetti and the many other anarchist attacks at the time, Henry Ford and all of his Henry Ford-ness, Mt. Rushmore, prohibition and Al Capone, and one of the worst floods in US History.  Other than that they all happened at more or less the same time, there’s no real reason that all of these things should be written about together.  Two items in particular, Alvin Kelley’s flagpole sitting record, and a notorious murder case, seem particularly shoehorned in.  They exist in the book because they existed in 1927, but other than showing that the US has always become obsessed with random crimes, even before Nancy Grace, they hardly seem of interest now.

A few points in the book particularly caught my attention, though.  For one thing it discusses Fordlandia, one of the most amusingly bizarre and ill thought out projects that has ever been attempted.  Henry Ford decided to make his own utopia in the middle of Brazil which would provide him with a rubber plantation (vertical integration!) and where he would import his own unique ideas of how people should live healthy and productive lives.  He decided that he could will this into existence without learning anything Brazil, rubber, city planning, transportation of goods, or, how people actually worked.  I fell it’s a good cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that a Great Man’s Will can accomplish anything.

Another benefit of this book is that the United States as a whole could probably use a lot more historical memory.  Even though I was aware of Sacco and Vanzetti, and that there were many fascist and communist groups popping up the world around in the 1920s, I wasn’t aware the extent of terrorist attacks within the United States.  Small bombings, threats, attempted assassinations of even local politicians–this was, if not uncommon, at least not unusual in the United States at this time.  Given current events, and how much we seem to want to be terrified and feel we’re at a unique existential threat to our way of life, it was rather clarifying.  This is hardly the most dangerous time in our history, and we could have conceivably devolved into the fascism that arose in Europe.  I find it handy to keep track of all of the different scares we’ve had in our nation’s short history.

And one piece that was entirely new knowledge to me concerned prohibition, Al Capone, and Mabel Walker Willebrandt.    Never heard of her?  Neither has anyone.  But she’s actually the person who took down Al Capone by pioneering the use of tax law to catch criminals.  I’m not sure I’d agree with her work too much, given she was responsible for finding ways to enforce prohibition, but she’s still a quite interesting person.  She broke barriers for women and given that she was the one most responsible for not only catching, but stopping, some of the most notorious gangsters ever, I think she should get a bit more play.  Anyone want to write a script about prohibition or the roaring 20s?  Because forget Rex Banner, we need to feature Mabel Willebrandt.

The great thing about One Summer, though, is that there are enough digressions, tangents, side avenues, and, true, dead ends, that anyone who is mildly interested in thinking about things will find something to catch their attention or cause them to approach an bit of information in a new way.  Some of those things might be wrong (there were a few errors that have been noted by others), but overall there will be enough new correct trivia to either make you think, or at least make you better at Pub Trivia night.  Those of us who enjoy Bryon’s “highly amusing encyclopedias”, and I enjoyed A Short History of Nearly Everything quite a bit, will probably skip happily through One Summer  as well.  If you are the type who gets easily frustrated at pointless stories, though, this one might not be for you.

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

  I must admit, it feels a little silly to write a review for Hyperbole and a Half, since if you’re online you’re probably familiar with Brosh’s fantastic weblog/comics.  And it’s not as if the world is lacking for reviews of this book.  But I have to write reviews of all the books I’ve read this year as a bit of mental discipline, and so write them I shall!  I am a woman of my word, even if no one but me knows I have made this pledge.  Also, I’ve been stuck on this review for several months and it’s led to a bit of a backlog.  So, allons-y!

Hyperbole and a Half is brilliant and hilarious and you should go and read it immediately.  That’s really all you need to know, but I suppose I”ll flesh this out a bit.  Her stories, illustrated with comics done in MS Paint, are funny and insightful and capture eternal truths about childhood, procrastination and dogs, but are so crazy that they barely seem like they can be true.  It’s difficult to explain why they are so funny–they just are.  To paraphrase something said before about John Hodgman, Brosh’s words and pictures are funnier than they have any right to be.

 

The book overall was a big hit with my family.  I had gotten it for my brother, for Christmas, and it quickly made it’s way around the family.  I read half of it there, but my brother selfishly wanted to keep his present, and so I had to purchase an entirely new copy when I got back.  My husband thought this was a poor investment since I read it so quickly, but it is almost infinitely re-readable.  Plus, it’s necessarily to have the book on hand to share the best stories with others, so they’ll know to buy the book, too.

In addition to the humorous–which seems an understatement–stories, are intensely personal stories about depression and anxiety.  Others online, including those who suffer from depression, have repeatedly said that Brosh’s accounts are some of the most accurate descriptions of depression they’ve ever seen.  I don’t suffer from depression, and fortunate in my mental health, so I can’t speak to that.  I can say, though, that more than almost anything else I’ve seen, this comic made me feel like I could understand what depression actually was.  It was a truly eye-opening account.

The fact is, Allie Brosh is an incredibly gifted storyteller and communicator, and one of the funniest people on the planet.  This review, and every other you’ll find online, are just ways to pad out the only review you really need, what I started out with: Hyperbole and a Half is brilliant and hilarious.  You should go read it.  Immediately.