The Library of Babel: February 2003

This page contains the archived copies of book log entries for February of 2003.

Current Book Log

Return to Archive Index

February 23, 2003

Paws to Consider by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson. Subtitled "Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family," this is basically a guidebook. I'm always sort of hesitant to put guidebooks and that sort of thing on this book log, because they're not really the sort of thing you read straight through for fun. We got this out of the library because, now that we have a house, we're planning to get pets. Were we not going to be pet shopping in the relatively near future, we wouldn't've picked it up, and anyone reading this who isn't looking for a dog is unlikely to want to read this book.

Then again, there's something wonderfully entertaining about well written and sensible advice books. And this book is certainly good on that front:

There are always a few rare breeds in popularity. Proceed with caution! Many of these up-and-coming breeds are hunting or guard dogs. Do you really want a dog around who was created to-- and whose parents loved to-- kill bears? Do you have a bear problem? Black bear in your basement? Grizzlies in your garage?

If you do not have a bear problem then you do not need this breed.

Or, from the description of the bloodhound (a breed that will forever be associated with Christopher Guest's character in Best In Show):

If your Bloody is watching you eat, and manufacturing drool accordingly, a single shake of his magnificent head can plaster drool on the ceiling, whip it into your cereal bowl, and fling it across your forehead. When you stand up to grab a towel, be careful not to slip in the pool by his feet... A better tracking animal you will not find, but unless you are pursuing escaped felons, consider another breed.

Ultimately, this book is aimed at people who are planning to buy a purebred dog of one variety or another, while I'm a big believer in the all-American mixed-breed dog (having had a half-Collie, half-Lab who couldn't've been a better dog), so the specific advice is more entertaining than directly useful. Still, the general advice ("Basically, the ancestors of the dog were 35-40-45-pound wolves with pointed noses, erect ears, short coats, and long tails. The farther you get from that general model either in size or shape, the more problems you are likely to discover.") is excellent and sensible, and the book also boasts a great collection of cute dog photos, if you go in for that sort of thing. It more than makes up for the nauseatingly cutesy title.

| Permanent Link

February 21, 2003

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor? by Douglas Morgan. The cover proclaims this to be a collection of "unexpurgated sea chanties, edited and annotated" by the author of Tiger Cruise, and sure enough, that's what it is. I bought it because I liked the first book, because I sort-of know the editor, and because my misspent youth playing college rugby has left me with a decent stock of unexpurgated drinking songs, and I figured I might recognize a few of these.

If you count variant verses, something like half a dozen of these were in the WRFC repertoire, in one form or another, often with the nautical references removed. What that proves, I'm not sure, but I did get a kick out of reading this. And some of the annotations are very educational.

| Permanent Link

February 20, 2003

This Shape We're In by Jonathan Lethem. In addition to being a candidate for Kate's "How Do You Pronounce That Again?" con panel (I would pronounce the first syllable to rhyme with "Seth," but I've heard it said like "teeth"), Lethem is one of the kings of the "What the hell was that?!?!?" story. He's written some brilliant and straightforward pieces-- Motherless Brooklyn deserves all its accolades, and "Vanilla Dunk" is the best science fiction story about basketball ever written-- but he's also got some deeply incomprehensible books out there, Amnesia Moon being the best example. This Shape We're In doesn't scale the same dizzying heights of obscurity, but it's pretty damn weird all the same.

The book concerns the activities of Henry Farbur, a cretinous drunk of an Everyman who lives in the bizarre world inside a Shape of somewhat indeterminate biological form-- Henry and his wife have a burrow in the bowels, while there's a cathedral in the left lung, and so on. The purpose of the shape is a subject for much speculation among the inhabitants-- religions have sprung up asserting that it's a bomb shelter, or a generation starship, or something else entirely.

There's some snappy writing here, as Henry and his stooge Balkan embark on a quest to find the third eye, with Henry abusing everyone he encounters verbally and otherwise. The final revelation of the purpose of the Shape and the red phones from Central Command was unexpected and clever, which counts for something, but I'm still not entirely sure what the point of the whole thing was.

At $9.00 for 55 pages worth of story (this is barely a novella, let alone a novel), this is probably only for Lethem completists. In which company I probably belong, plus I enjoy McSweeney's (which took time off from being all Eggers, all the time to publish this book. Printed in Iceland, no less...), and I liked the dealer who was selling these at Boskone. But if you want to see Lethem at his best, get either Motherless Brooklyn or The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye (short stories), and come back for this another time.

| Permanent Link

February 17, 2003

Ruler of Naught by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge. This is the second book in the Exordium series, and I've been reading it off and on since about an hour after I finished The Phoenix in Flight. Of course, in that same time period, I've also been fixing up our house, teaching a new class, watching a lot of televised basketball, moving into a new house, and generally not having a whole lot of time to read. This book suffered somewhat from the fact that I wasn't really able to give it my full attention.

Which is only one of several reasons why I have a hard time writing about it for the book log. The biggest problem, really, is that it's a very plot-driven book, and moreover, it's a plot-driven book that I enjoyed a good deal. Which is a Good Thing, don't get me wrong, but it means that I'm hesitant to post a spoiler-laden review, lest it ruin someone else's enjoyment of the plot.

So, in the end, I'll post only a few sparse comments: It's a fun plot, with lots of twisty intrigue and straightforward heroism (though I'm still not sure where the mystical sub-plot is headed), and the authors have definitely done a very good job of thinking through the implications of their nifty SF technology (see Kate's comments for an example). They've created a pretty cool universe for these, and I definitely want to know what happens next.

The books continue to have the absolute worst fake curse words I've ever seen, but other than that, they're great.

| Permanent Link

February 12, 2003

Right to Die by Jeremiah Healy. It's been a slow month, reading-wise, what with the move, and renovations to the house, and my actual day job, and everything else. Somewhere in the middle of that, though, we managed to sneak in a run to the Book Barn, where I picked up eight or ten of Healy's books.This isn't the next in the series after So Like Sleep, but it's as close as they had.

This is a book that dares to ask the question: "What would Looking for Rachel Wallace be like if it featured actual human beings?"

OK, that's not entirely fair to either book, but it's what I thought a few pages into the main plot. John Francis Cuddy is hired to investigate threatening notes sent to a controversial and cantankerous female author. In this case, the author is Maisy Andrus, a noted advocate of the "right to die" for the terminally ill, who killed her own husband some years earlier in Spain.

The plot bears some similarities to that of Parker's book, but it's much more complex, and the characters are more conflicted. Well, Andrus isn't-- she's as convinced of the absolute rightness of her cause as Spenser's Rachel Wallace was, but Healy's a good enough writer that he gives her opponents some humanity as well.

The really strange thing about this book, though, is how little detective work there is in it. Cuddy does a little poking around, but he fails to uncover much of anything, and makes exactly zero progress toward figuring out who's sending the notes. And almost equal time is given to a subplot about Cuddy training to run in the Boston Marathon.

Which is not to say that it wasn't an interesting book. It's a reasonably engaging read, and a worthy entry in the series so far. It's just not really much of a private-eye novel at all.

| Permanent Link

As I'm not as ambitious or conscientious as Kate is, this isn't using any weblogging software at the moment-- I don't figure it will be updated regularly enough to require automatic archiving and the like.

The comment feature is provided by YACCS, and is dead simple to install. If you're looking to add comments to a weblog, it's a good way to go.

Obligatory silly little counter:

Begun: 7 August, 2001