Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Books and Books

Here are some more books that I've read recently. End of enthralling introduction!

His Majesty's Dragon (followed by Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, and Victory of Eagles) by Naomi Novik
My mom recommended these to me and I'm pretty crazy about them. I just don't know why not everybody understands how good they must be. I had this conversation more than once:
other person: "So are you reading anything good right now?"
me: "Well, I'm reading these books about the Napoleonic Wars . . . except there are dragons!"
other person: [puzzled stare]

I don't know why it always ended this way. There were the Napoleonic Wars, right? With Napoleon! Versus everyone! Mostly England. And these happen to be novels about those wars, except in an alternate reality in which there be dragons. The author is clearly a huge nerd, about both dragons and the Napoleonic Wars--and if you want something done right, have it done by a huge nerd. The best parts of the books are when Regency-era British manners collide with, well, dragons. Hilarity ensues. And then when military history collides with dragons, adventure ensues! These books are fantastic.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
I knew this book was incredibly popular, and I'd heard it was really funny. I was therefore disappointed to find out that it was really, really, really, really repetitive. It takes the text of Pride and Prejudice and intersperses it every few sentences with references to zombies and fighting zombies. What frustrated me was that he uses the same words to refer to zombies and fighting zombies over and over. (Mostly I got sick of him talking about Elizabeth and her sisters training in and using "the deadly arts." Five times a page it seemed like--"the deadly arts." "The deadly arts.") I read about fifty pages and gave up.

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson
This one was OK. Craig Ferguson is a funny guy, and this is a funny book, although more an "amused smile" than "laugh-out-loud" type of funny. It's also a quick read. On the con side, I wouldn't have cared at all if I didn't already know who Craig Ferguson is and like him quite a bit. Also, there are times when it seems like an exercise in mentioning all the friends he's ever had, just so all his friends can read the book and be glad that they're mentioned. Like I said, it was OK.

Persepolis 2 by Marjan Satrapi
I wrote in the last Books and Books about how, small time investment considered, Persepolis was good enough to justify reading it. The same is not true of Persepolis 2. The second volume shows the protagonist to be even more self-centered, common-sense-deprived, and unlikeable than the first, and neither the story nor the artwork are interesting enough to make up for that. A waste of time.

Three Cups of Tea "by" Greg Mortenson and by David Oliver Relin
I wanted to like this book. It's the story of a man, Greg Mortenson, who through sheer willpower started an organization that builds schools in particularly poverty-striken areas of Pakistan. Who doesn't root for that? Unfortunately, I thought the writing style of the book made it a total drag. (Note: although Mortenson is credited as the author, he in no way wrote this book. I don't understand why a biography has been packaged as an autobiography, but oh well.) For quite a bit of the book, I just felt like I was wading through unending word slurry, trying to fight through to get to the interesting parts. I did manage to finish it, but I had to make myself do it. I'm very happy to know who this guy is and all the good he's done, but I would much rather have read it in 15-page Vanity-Fair-article format.

Lois on the Loose by Lois Pryce
I work with a guy who's a motorcycle enthusiast, and he recommended this one. It's about an Englishwoman who quits her office job to travel by motorcycle from Anchorage, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, which I think we can all agree is hardcore. She's very funny, and it was nice to vicariously travel through so many countries in North and South America alone on the open road, because that's pretty much the opposite of anything I would ever, ever be willing to do. Well done, Lois.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
I saw the movie High Fidelity several years ago and didn't care for it. At all, really. (I'm only about half as mystified by the appeal of John Cusack as I am by that of Nicholas Cage, but that's still pretty darn mystified.) The book was easily better--it's set in England and therefore full of English people (and abrasive English people are easier to take than abrasive American people); and it's funnier (I remember laughing exactly once at the movie; I laughed a fair bit at the book). The biggest strike against the book is that it started to get a bit tedious near the end--there are only so many internal monologues about a guy's fundamental loser-ness that I need to read. But up until then, it was pretty all right. I doubt I'll read it again, but I'd be willing to read another book by the same author.

The Spellman Files (followed by Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans) by Lisa Lutz
Along with those dragon books from the top of the page these are the other books on this list that I fell in love with. I read all three of them in about two and a half days, and my only regret is that there aren't dozens of them so I could still be reading them. Basic premise: there's this family of private detectives. They're wacky. Bonuses: the author frequently uses not only humorous lists (by the second book, she adds appendices just to store lists and more lists) but also humorous footnotes.


They're my single favorite literary device.

Oh, I'm still doing bonuses: there's a love interest in the Mr. Darcy mold. In fact, he's my favorite love interest in the Mr. Darcy mold of any of the books I've read and yes, I'm including Mr. Darcy. (Digression/confession: I've never really understood the appeal of Mr. Darcy. It's easy in the miniseries because he's Colin Firth and Colin Firth is Colin Firth. And it's great when he rescues Elizabeth's sister and therefore her whole family from disgrace, but up until then what's the appeal? Even Elizabeth doesn't like him until she visits his sweet house and is all, "Oh, I could get used to this." So . . . I don't get it.)

My feelings about Mr. Darcy aside, these books are hilarious. No, they're hilarious.If you like books and/or things that are funny, you should definitely read them.
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Six Boxes of Tea I Ordered from Twinings Today

1. Lemon Twist (As the Tea of the Month, it's on sale.)

2. China Oolong (Oolong! OOlOng! Oooooooooooooo! Long!)

3. Prince of Wales ("[A] pure China black tea sourced from regions including the Yunnan province and other southern regions of China. This blend is light in color and has a smooth and mild taste, with a well-rounded character." Sounds delicious!)

4. African Rooibos (Pronouned "roy-boss." I make sure to roll the R, though, making it the second-most-fun to pronounce of the teas [Hint: Oolong].)

5. English Afternoon (I know I don't have to, but I'll probably make a point of drinking it between noon and 4 PM anyway.)

6. Ceylon Orange Pekoe (After English Afternoon, I still wasn't up to the minimum order amount. Despite my reservations about getting two fruit-themed teas, it beat out Lapsang Souchong--"an adventurous tea with a unique smoke flavor and a dark rich color"--because I'm not confident I'm adventurous enough for the Lapsang Souchong yet. Maybe if I really like the "flavor of smokiness" in the English Afternoon tea.)

Total price (including over $8 for UPS ground shipping): $25.41. I think even with shipping, that's less than I would have paid at the grocery store for my next six boxes of tea. (And the grocery store won't provide me with oolong, let alone rooibos.)
Click here to read more . . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Ahoy there, fellows and fellettes!

I have not exactly been blogging up a storm recently; I realize that. I mostly blame my computer. It's got a virus, and I know I should just call up somebody at Microsoft and politely ask them to kill the virus, kill it dead, but I know from experience that said task is going to eat up a couple hours of my life and I've been putting it off. My computer time is thus curtailed to my 15-minute breaks at work (and I often like to use five of those minutes to go next door to Walgreens, where the candy bars live) and the unpredictable amounts of time that I can use Neal's computer when he isn't using it (and he needs it to do, you know, actual work). Overall, this has been good for me. I was spending way too much time reading the internet (there's always more to read!). Alas, the blog has suffered. So now, whilst Neal is reading a book, I will tell you about how much I love tea.

I realized I had been remiss in announcing my new love to the world when I talked to my mom this week and it was the first she'd heard of it. When your own mom doesn't know something integral about your life, you know you've messed up.

Perhaps "integral" sounds like I'm overstating things, but let me explain: I am not a coffee-drinker. If I wanted something warm to drink in the morning (or anytime), I had no recourse but to drink some hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is fine, and all, but A) you can't drink more than a mug or maybe two without starting to feel a little gross and B) you feel a little ridiculous ordering it at coffee shops and C) even when you do order it at a coffee shop, you can't be sure it's going to taste good at all--it might be bitter or, worse, it might clearly be a three-cent packet of powder that they dump into hot water and charge you like they did something fancy. Oh, and D) it doesn't give you the energy boost that coffee-drinkers get, rather just a little bit of a sugar rush.

Now let me make clear: I still don't like cold tea. Iced tea still tastes to me, as it always has, like water with a little dirt in it. Sweetening it only makes it grosser. What I like is hot black tea, with copious amounts of milk and honey. (I've tried green tea a couple times with poor results. There are enough kinds of green tea that I haven't written it off, but I'm a little wary.)

I'm a big fan of Twinings brand tea. I have my internet BFF, ashpags, to thank for this, because she mentioned Lady Grey and I had to go out and try it. I wasn't a big fan the first two times I tried it, and then all of a sudden I was crazy about it. (It's weird--this exact pattern has repeated itself for most of the teas I've tried. The third time really is a charm?) (Weirder: apparently I could be making Lady Grey cookies?) (Oh man, just looking at the Twinings website makes me all giddy about all the different teas I want to try. Oolong?! What a great name!! I want it!!!)

I think it's a big part of the appeal that I enjoy making, not just drinking, the tea. That's why I bought an electric kettle from the other day. I had tried boiling the water with a regular kettle, but it's a pain and takes a surprisingly long time. The microwave, of course, only takes a couple of minutes, but it heats up the cup along with the water, which is not entirely pleasant. I got the kettle last night (as I complained on Facebook, I didn't realize UPS had delivered the kettle until I looked up its status online. I guess the UPS man didn't feel like ringing the doorbell when he left it, a good eight hours earlier) and I'm a big, big fan. The directions on teabags always say to put the boiling water over the tea instead of immersing the tea in boiling water (as happens with the microwave). I was unconvinced it made any difference until I used the electric kettle, but the tea actually does taste and look better this way. Weird! I guess it's like in science class, where it's super-important whether you pour the acid into the water or the water into the acid (I no longer remember which is desirable--oops).

So (going back to the "integral" thing) now I drink tea a lot--I make some in a travel mug to take it to work in the mornings, I drink a couple big mugfuls on a Sunday morning to watch football pregame shows (no longer applicable until September or so, but I did really enjoy it), and I make decaf in the evenings when I'm cold and want something to drink while I read. (Also, I'm now dependent enough on the caffeine that if I go a day or two without it, I get a headache. I should feel weirded out by this, but instead it just makes me feel like I've got solidarity with all the other grownups, since it seems like most of them feel that way about coffee). In conclusion, good times. Good tea times.
Click here to read more . . .

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Post Super Bowl Thoughts

1. The main reason I'm posting this is to bump my very wrong prediction off the top the page. Oops on that one.

2. I know it's a cliche, but I think the Saints wanted it more. I also think the Colts were complacent, assuming they would win.

3. My vote is that the worst decision the Colts made was not trying to do anything at the end of the first half. They got it back with almost two minutes to go on their own one yard line, then ran it up the middle three times. Sure, the first time you should probably run, just to get out of your own end zone, but you have Peyton Manning, who's a two-minute-drill-type guy. They had to punt it away and New Orleans got it back in time to make a field goal. If they had just tried, the Colts really could have gotten a touchdown before halftime, and it would have been 17-3 instead of 10-6. Even 13-3 would have been a huge improvement.

4. My other vote is that the best decision the Saints made was the surprise onside kick to begin the second half. I thought it was interesting when the Saints won the coin toss at the beginning of the game and decided to receive the ball right away rather than to defer. After the onside kick, I became pretty sure that Sean Payton knew he was going to start the second half that way all along. The Saints were aggressive; the Colts were passive. And there you go.

5. After the first quarter, even when the Colts were leading, I never felt like they were winning. They just didn't have the momentum.

6. Drew Brees's baby is adorable.

edited to add:
Click here to read more . . .

Happy Super Bowl, Everyone!

Yes, a Merry Super Bowl Day to you all! Let's gather 'round the glowing box and sing our favorite Super Bowl carols! And eat chips!

(My favorite Super Bowl chips are BBQ Pringles.)

Like last year, I'm going to make a pick and, I'm afraid, like last year I will choose the favorite. I hate to be so boring. It's just that the Colts are better.

I don't think it's impossible that the Saints will win. There are factors in their favor, I suppose. The Colts' best defensive guy, Dwight Freeney, is injured. He'll probably play, but he won't be at 100%. Then there's . . . um . . . lots of people want the Saints to win. Did you know that no New Orleans team has ever won a major championship of any kind, ever? It would be nice if they got that monkey of their back, let alone the Saints-specific being terrible for almost all of their 42-year history. And the Colts have other weaknesses--their run game is practically non-existent, and their coach probably isn't as good as the Saints' coach.

But the Colts are better. Drew Brees is good, but Peyton Manning is better. The Saints' receivers are good, but the Colts' are better. The Colts never lost a game they tried to win; the Saints did. The Colts have looked pretty darn good in both of their previous playoff games; the Saints haven't.

I like this Super Bowl matchup because I have no objections to either of these teams. They've both been very, very good, looking like Super Bowl contenders all season, and they both seem to be made up of a lot of decent dudes. (I'm still so happy every time I realize I don't have to listen to hours of Brett Favre praise in Super Bowl pre-game coverage, I could almost tear up.) So I'm not going to be disappointed unless it's a lame, lopsided game. Unfortunately, since the last two have been good, we're due for a snoozer. That plays into my pick of:

Colts 27, Saints 17
Click here to read more . . .

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friends: Season Eight

In general:
This is the bounceback season. Whereas Season Seven was not as good as Season Six was not as good as Season Five, Eight actually improved on the one that preceded it. Adding a baby to rejuvenate a show is a hoary and deservedly mu
ch-mocked cliche, but in this case it worked. Rachel's pregnancy gave the show a real shot in the arm--it's not just that it allowed for Big Event episodes (like the season finale where she gives birth), but that it provided new material on a week-to-week basis. When you've already cranked out 170 episodes, that's an important contribution.

Now, it's not like this season is heyday-good. There are problems. Phoebe is
nasty to the point where you have to start wondering, "Why on earth would they hang out with her?" (And oh, sweet heavens, the episode where she wants Ross to get her Sting tickets is bad. Not even "Rooooosssss can!" saves that garbage.) Monica repeatedly acts like she needs professional help. And medication. It seems like Chandler goes whole episodes without making any jokes that aren't about how pathetic/effeminate/even more pathetic he is.

Ross has his ups and downs. Which is good, because it's been a few seasons since Ross had any ups. Even though this season features at one occassion where Ross's actions should have been reported to the police (the episode where he breaks into his ex-girlfriend's apartment to try to get his pink shirt back), it also features moments of emotional honesty with him the likes of which we hadn't seen since the first season. He gets bothered that he's having another kid outside of a stable family situation--he should be bothered by that, so it's good that he is. He hates that he misses out on important pregnancy milestones and that he's not there fore Rachel when she needs help--and he should feel that way, so we appreciate that he does. Even though he has a long being-a-lousy-boyfriend arc while he dates Mona, the re-emergence of his caring, good-dad tendencies means this evens out to a pretty OK season for him.

Of course, the major revelation of this season is Joey. Joey coul
d have depth?! Why yes. Yes he could.

Little things that drive me crazy:
When Phoebe has the hots for her sister's fiance/ex-fiance, Sean Penn. Not because of the sister angle, but because Sean Penn is really gross.

Rachel has a line in "The One with the Rumor" where she says that she and Ross dated for two years. No, they didn't. Their relationship was spread over two different seasons, but they broke up on their first anniversary. C'mon, writers.

A smaller continuity mistake: Monica claims (in the episode wh
ere Ross gives a key to his apartment to Mona, only to discover it was his only key) that Ross never gave her or anyone else a spare key. Then why did we see people get into his apartment when he wasn't there? Several times? (Just off the top of my head: when Rachel went over there to get margarita supplies and overheard a phone message from Emily; when Monica used his apartment as a second place to make Thanksgiving food and saw everybody else playing with Phoebe's contraband dog from Ross's window; and when Phoebe and Rachel snuck in to test Ross's unagi.)

What in the world is this costume?
That drives me crazy that whole episode.

Brad Pitt does an awful, AWFUL job in the Thanksgiving episode. Worst celebrity guest star ever? Discuss.

Little things that are reminders that this season started airing in the fall of 2001:
Messages like "I [heart] NY" and "FDNY" on the board on Joey's door

Different FDNY shirts on multiple cast members

An American flag shows up on Joey's wall; a huge one hangs on the back wall of Central Perk for a few episodes (and gets replaced by a big Uncle Sam painting)

Little thing that's weird:
There are two episodes in this season that I don't know what their names are because the DVD case and the DVD menu don't agree. Is it "The One Where Rachel Tells . . . " or "The One Where Rachel Tells Ross"? Is it "The One with the Creepy Holiday Card" or "The One with Ross's Step Forward"? How can it even be a question? I'm so confused.

Little things I love
How it makes perfect sense that Rachel move in with Ross so they can share baby-related experiences and responsibilities . . . and it also makes perfect sense that Ross's girlfriend would find the situation ludicrous.

Phoebe's claim that she's a big fan of the Green Bay . . . Mermen.

Joey's ideas for Mona's Halloween costume: bikini model, slutty nurse, sexy cheerleader, Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre--no wait, slutty Leatherface.

Joey reassures Rachel that she's not bad with kids; they just get a little crazy on Halloween. And Christmas, and their birthdays, and during the summer, and any time they're hungry or sleepy.

Angry pregnant Rachel, who Ross supposes will give birth to a child that's half-human, half pure evil.

I feel like I should be driven crazy by how contrived Joey's not-really-a-proposal is (the ring Ross's mom has given him in hopes he'll give it to Rachel falls out of Ross's unattended jacket; Joey finds it, kneels down to pick it up, and turns to show it to Rachel; Rachel assumes he's proposing and says yes), but it's all set in motion so neatly that I actually like it quite a bit.

  • Ross, congratulating Monica and Chandler on their wedding: "I'm so happy for you guys. And you are both so lucky! I mean, you both said the right names . . . and nobody was drunk . . . and nobody was gay . . . [starts to weep] And on your first try!"
  • Monica: "We're a team! We're in this together!" Chandler: "I fear a jury will see things the same way!"
  • Phoebe suggests baby names: "If it's a girl, Phoebe. If it's a boy, Phoebo."
  • Rachel's OB-GYN: "I know it's really not my place, but please don't name your child Phoebo."
  • Ross: "Joey hasn't had this much trouble getting out words since we saw him in Macbeth."
  • Chandler: "I'm not great at the advice. . . . Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?"
  • Rachel, desperate to think of a work problem to discuss with Joey: "It's about my boss. . . . and my baby. . . . . My boss wants to buy my baby!"
  • Rachel, after Joey confronts her boss: "I'm gonna lose my job! What am I going to do?" Chandler: "You could sell your baby."

Let's talk about Joey:
I'm still surprised by how well the writers and actors accomplished the Joey Falls in Love with Rachel storyline. Matt LeBlanc is no great shakes as an actor; let's just all agree on that. And Joey often had little going for him as a character.

The writers could never seem to decide from season to season (or episode to episode) just how stupid Joey should be. There are times when they give him clever jokes or accomplish something fairly impressive (in the latter case, I'm mostly just thinking of the Season Five scene where he engineering a way for Chandler and Monica to kiss at midnight without giving away their Secret Love). But then there are the times when he doesn't know what fairly common words mean, or when he doesn't know what air quotes are. He ranges from "the dim side of average" to "Wait, shouldn't this guy be living in a group home of some sort?" Unfathomably Stupid Joey provides easy jokes. Ha ha, he ate something off the floor! Ha ha, Chandler had to teach him what an answering machine is! Ha ha, his friends call him an idiot to his face!

Clearly, Joey can be more than Stupid Slutty Guy. And the other side of the idiotic-manchild coin is that there's an innocence and sweetness to Joey that the other characters can't pull off. One thing I haven't figured out about Joey is whether it was
coincidental or necessary that he fell in love with Rachel while she was pregnant. Would it have been plausible to us, the audience, for him to fall in love with her if she had just been in her normal circumstances? On the one hand, maybe they just happened to come up with the two plot ideas around the same time. On the other hand, it might be that Rachel's increased vulnerability (at least in Joey's eyes) helped to draw out protectiveness and more emotional involvement in Joey. And of course, Rachel being pregnant with Ross's child (and not just Ross's ex-girlfriend) increases the drama inherent in Joey's attraction, making the whole plot higher-stakes. I suppose my final assessment is that sure, they could have had Joey fall in love with a single, carefree Rachel, but it wouldn't have been nearly as sympathetic or engaging.

Without Season Eight of Friends, there never would have been a Joey. I know that doesn't sound like a compliment, but I do mean it as one. This season made Joey (and Matt LeBlanc) seem like he could carry the dramatic load of a series when need be, because he carried one of the best storylines in the later half of this series.

Top four episodes:

"The One with the Stripper"
or: "The One Where Rachel's Dad Finds Out"

"The One with the Birthing Video"
or: "The One Where Rachel Moves In" or: "The One Where Joey Breaks the Dog"

"The One Where Joey Tells Rachel"
or: "The One with Monica's Soulmate"

including the classic:
"The One Where Rachel Has a Baby"
Click here to read more . . .

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Books and Books!

Something very exciting happened at work this week: one of the librarians handed out sheets for everybody to make "Staff Picks," which will be displayed at my library this summer. I get to have an "expert" opinion!

I'm writing this post to serves three purposes. 1: get my thoughts in order about what I've read recently to brainstorm about what I want to staff-pick 2: review what I've read so those of you that are interested can investigate or steer clear (I talked to two of my friends on the phone last night and started to talk about books, but got distracted before I mentioned more than one) 3: solicit more book recommendations from you, in case there's something you think I need to read before I need to submit my picks at the end of this month. Let me know in the comments!

So here are the books I've read since roughly the beginning of 2010 (unless I'm forgetting something):

Laughing Gas by P. G. Wodehouse
Of course it's funny and involves English upper-class twits, because it's P. G. Wodehouse. It also makes fun of Hollywood and, oh, is a body-switching story (a la Freaky Friday, but not with ladies, because why would Wodehouse write from the perspective of ladies?). A light read; I liked it pretty well.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
This is one of those books where, once I started, I had to keep reading--I had to find out what was going to happen; yet I can't assert with confidence that I actually enjoyed it. It's certainly different from any other book I've read (although not mind-bogglingly so) and, at first, it's super-interesting. However, it steadily runs out of steam. The beginning is engrossing, but by the end, it's hard to tell what the point is anymore. And it just ends because it ends. Do I recommend it? 51% yes, 49% no. And definitely no if you don't like dark stuff because it is, after all, about a teenage girl who gets raped and murdered. So there's that.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I'm a little surer that I like this one. The protagonist isn't as likeable, and I felt that it went one last plot-twist too far near the end, but I also feel like I learned a lot about Afghanistan from an Afghan perspective. I'm glad I read it and might even read it again.

The Kid by Dan Savage
I don't think I've mentioned in this space how much I like Dan Savage, because I feel that many of my readers would not. He's a snarky, gay, sex-advice columnist. Some people read his columns because people with weird, kinky problems write to him (as opposed to, say, "Ann Landers"), but I like him because I think he gives really good advice. He's the only advice columnist I've read who will straight up tell people to dump their scumbag girl- or boyfriends, because sometimes that's clearly the right answer. ("Ann Landers" and Ann Landers, when she was alive, would frustrate me with their constant "try counseling!" Sometimes you should get counseling. Sometimes you should just dump the scumbag.) Anyway, Dan wrote a book many years ago about how he and his boyfriend adopted a baby. It's funny and interesting (I learned a lot about open adoption) and I enjoyed it--although I knew going in that I liked Dan Savage's writing, so it wasn't a big gamble for me.

The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons
I am perfectly indifferent to the NBA. No, that isn't true--I'm actually very slightly hostile toward it, and have never been a fan. But again, I already knew I liked the writing style of the author of this book, so I checked it out anyway. I made it through the first several chapters, before it got pretty technical, and even though I didn't have much of an NBA knowledge base, it still made me laugh. What can I say? Bill Simmons is funny.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
OK, I'm only including this for completeness' sake. I read a good review of it, and it's about Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII, so it's in my wheelhouse, and I therefore checked it out. If it weren't so new, it wouldn't be as in demand and I could re-check it and only then would I have been able to finish it. I had two weeks to work on it but didn't get around to reading more than the first couple of chapters; it's sort of interesting but not deeply so. The writing style is kind of original but also kind of confusing and . . . I dunno. I wanted to like it more than I did. Maybe I'll return to it someday.

Persepolis by Marjan Satrapi
This is a graphic novel that got turned into a movie, apparently. It's about a girl growing up in Iran in the late 70s and early 80s--that is, when crazy stuff started to go down. It reminded me of The Kite Runner in that it's an inside, personal perspective of a country I usually only see in outside, hostile, geo-political terms, so that was good. (The moral of the story is also the same: it's BAD NEWS when religious fundamentalists take over your country.) But it's definitely more simplistic than The Kite Runner (and the illustrations, while charming, are also simplistic--you basically have to tell characters apart based on context) and, since it's about a self-centered teenage girl, not always very sympathetic. Still, I think I'll seek out the sequel, because it was easily worth the investment of the short time it took to read.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
I always meant to write up a review of the movie for this blog, since I saw it over Christmas break. But then, Christmas break was an uncongenial time for blogging, so there you go. I liked the movie more than I thought I would. Sandra Bullock was very sassy. And I heard that the book was better and had more hardcore football stuff in it. It turned out that both were true. This, too, was a super quick read and well worth the small time/effort it took. There are three or four chapters that focus on football history and strategy instead of the heartwarming rags-to-riches Michael Oher story, but if you aren't interested in the pure football parts, you could easily skip those chapters. I was surprised to find out the movie didn't really add any sappy parts--the sappy parts really happened in real life, changing them in my mind from "cheesy" to "genuinely touching." I really liked this book.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Now, this! This was a book, man! It's the first of a series (followed by A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows) and that series ate my life for a week or two. It's a fantasy series; it's a bit influenced by the Wars of the Roses (there are knights, dynastic struggles, crazy families, etc.) but there are also dragons and zombies. Dragons and zombies. The first installment is the best one, but once you're involved with characters, you can't stop. (I got Neal to start reading them and I think he'd agree.) There are two problems: first, by the fourth book I was starting to get kind of annoyed. Martin apparently started off claiming it was going to be a trilogy, but then he changed his mind to a seven-parter. But it seems by book four that he's just stretching things out to stretch them out. My second-favorite charcter (and I'm not going to go into specifics, in case anybody reading this takes my very emphatic recommendation and reads the books) just keeps having these ever-more pointless side-track adventures that, in some cases, just don't seem to fit her character at all. The second problem is that Martin hasn't gotten around to releasing the fifth book. There's a letter at the end of the fourth one saying that, hopefully, the next installment will be released the following year. The letter is dated July, 2005. So . . . I have little hope that I'll get to find out what happens to these characters I'm so invested in anytime in the foreseeable future. (He'll still have to write two more after #5!) But even with those concerns, I still wholeheartedly recommend these books. I love them.

And here's one final dis-recommendationn (I really thought I'd have more of those in this list--weird): The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry
I like Stephen Fry, but I got about 30 pages into this book before I put it back where I found it. It was aggressively obnoxious and mean-spirited. All thumbs down. All thumbs that exist.
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