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Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 2 – Books

I don’t like to call myself an intellectual, but in 2015 I easily read more books than I watched episodes of Tiny House Hunters. Here are some of the most interesting of them, from any year.

22693282Down Don’t Bother Me
by Jason Miller
Full disclosure: I designed and built Jason Miller’s web site, but that doesn’t have anything to do with why his book’s on this list. I have plenty of friends and clients whose work I don’t pretend to like. Down Don’t Bother Me is on here because it’s as enjoyable a crime novel as you’re going to find this year, by an author with a true voice and an equally true sense of place. One hopes that Slim can manage to find trouble all over rural southern Illinois the way Miss Marple managed to find corpses littering rural England so we can have more of these books.



557743Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945
by Leo Marks
This is the book I was reading on a bus in Brooklyn in 2001 the morning I saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center. A decade and a half later, I finally finished it, in a year when we again need what it offers: a testament to the necessity of intelligence and creativity when faced with dire situations that seem as if they need them the least, and to the necessity of determined compassion when it’s hardest to give.

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Stuff I Liked in 2014, pt. 2 – Books

Looking over my Goodreads page, I was shocked to learn that the number of books I read this year precipitously dropped 70% compared to 2013. But that seems like a fair trade-off for gaining 11 levels in online Boggle. Since I never manage to read new books, here are the most interesting ones from any year that I finished in 2014.

 
The James Bond Dossier by Kingsley AmisThe James Bond Dossier
by Kingsley Amis

I don’t have many opportunities to call things “jaunty,” so I’ll call this book a jaunty defense of Ian Fleming’s work, the kind you’d hear passionately laid out from one fanboy to another after several beers’ worth of debate in an alternate universe where all fanboys are Kingsley Amis, Stephen Fry, and Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes. Like any good fanboy defense, and there aren’t any, Kingsley’s repeatedly turns into a mitigation, admitting to and excusing some of the worst qualities of Fleming’s work. This becomes a tad unbearable when Amis tries to mount a defense for, say, casual racism. But the rest of the time his lengthy essay is astute and harmless and a good time for anyone who’s read all of the original Bond books and wants some light critique of them, i.e. no one (barring me and some pasty men who died when Roger Moore still had human skin).

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The Peanuts 3D Movie Should be Allowed to Exist (For Now)

There’s little in my life that more influential to me or beloved by me than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (see here, here, or here), so the news of a new 3D-styled (and 3D-projected) Peanuts movie had my finger hovering over the trigger of the doomsday device. Thanks only to my restraint, the first trailer debuted today, and it’s… not bad!

The Snoopy/Woodstock stuff is adorable, and the World War I flying ace sequence captures the right tone. 1Though it of course can’t compete with the classic scenes of Snoopy behind enemy lines in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. The closing movie-theater bit wrongly turns Charlie Brown into a stereotypical buffoon — we can argue whether Chuck’s a schlemiel or a schlimazel (or their Lutheran equivalents), but he’s not a klutz. I’m hoping that sequence was a rush job to fill out the trailer in time for Christmas release. We have to wait until Christmas next year to find out.

 

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1. Though it of course can’t compete with the classic scenes of Snoopy behind enemy lines in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.

Stuff I’ve Read: Feb.-Mar. 2014

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The James Bond DossierThe James Bond Dossier
by Kingsley Amis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t have many opportunities to call things “jaunty,” so I’ll call this book a jaunty defense of Ian Fleming’s work, the kind you’d hear passionately laid out from one fanboy to another after several beers’ worth of debate in an alternate universe where all fanboys are Kingsley Amis, Stephen Fry, and Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes. Like any good fanboy defense, and there aren’t any, Kingsley’s repeatedly turns into a mitigation, admitting to and excusing some of the worst qualities of Fleming’s work. This becomes a tad unbearable when Amis tries to mount a defense for, say, casual racism. But the rest of the time his lengthy essay is astute and harmless and a good time for anyone who’s read all of the original Bond books and wants some light critique of them, i.e. no one. (Barring me and some pasty men who died when Roger Moore still had human skin.)

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Stuff I’ve Read: Dec. 2013-Jan. 2014

The Complete SethnutsTo regularly keep up with what I’m reading, please follow me on Goodreads.

Colony Earth by Richard E. MooneyColony Earth
by Richard E. Mooney

To enthusiasts of crackpot literature there is little worse than a Me Too. Me Toos come into existence when a crackpot book crosses over into the mainstream, causing an even more cracked pot (or worse, even less) to roll out a similar theory. In this case the former is Erich Von Däniken’s 1968 bestseller positing that aliens visited ancient humans, Chariots of the Gods?, which Colony Earth me-toos so enthusiastically that it name checks Von D on the cover.

If you write a Me Too you’re already one strike down, so you need to be sure not to break any other cardinal rules of crackpot literature. Definitely don’t, within the first 75 pages, let on to your readers that you’re way more ignorant than any of them, including any hamsters that might happen to scoot across opened copies. That means not claiming that prehistoric humans possessed total recall because of the striking realism of their cave paintings nor noting that a comet colliding with earth wouldn’t do any real damage because a comet is just a “ball of snow.” But if you slip up on that first rule, just keep cool and be extra sure not to reveal that you’re a racist nitwit who claims there to be three species of humans — Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid — who “safely interbreed.”

Richard E. Mooney, won’t you please go now?

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2013: A Year in Media Absorption, pt. 3 – Books

I very rarely read new books, because I can’t afford to buy them, and the throngs senior-citizen library groupies have them checked out for months. So here are the 10 1ish best books from any year that I read in 2013.

The Player of Games by Iain M. BanksThe Player of Games
by Iain M. Banks

The great irony of speculative fiction about futuristic societies is that it dates itself way before the future actually gets here. Technology outruns imagination, or at least outmaneuvers it, making an author’s visions of tomorrow seem quaint before he’s even dead. Which makes it so impressive that I had to keep reminding myself that The Player of Games was written 25 years ago, before most people had ever used a mobile phone or anything resembling email or the Internet, and when cloud-based computing, digital imaging, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology were all dreams. All of those and their offspring play crucial roles in Banks’s novel, yet his versions never seem like archaic extrapolations of 1980s technology. If the publisher had changed the date on the The Player of Games’s copyright page to 2013, I would’ve believed that Banks had conceived it this year. That’s an amazing testament to his vision and his skill, in a story that’s a flat-out blast to read. It was my first dip into the Culture series, and knowing that eight more novels are waiting out there for me is like having found a pile of unopened Christmas presents.

The Bloom County Library, Vol. 4: 1986-1987The Bloom County Library, Vol. 4: 1986-1987
by Berkeley Breathed

The very first strip in this collection reminded me of Berkeley Breathed’s most brilliant idea in Bloom County: that Opus, Milo, Steve, and all the others are actors performing in a scripted production, like a sitcom that that we view through the windows of the panels, but that those actors are playing themselves living their real lives in the world of Bloom County, which only exists for our benefit.

Alas, this also made me realize that I subconsciously stole that idea whole cloth for a pilot I wrote in 2010. It’s flattery, Berke.

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