Tag Archives: Books

Is there something wrong with me?

Feeling like I’m from another planet is something I’ve experienced repeatedly ever since I was a kid. Especially when I see people upset about something and I can’t understand what it is they’re upset about. I’ll spend more time than I probably should analyzing whatever it is to try and figure out what the issue is and I always end up confused.

Take, for example, the reaction to a new cover for Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Penguin Books is re-releasing the title as part of their Penguin Modern Classics range of books aimed at adults — it being one of the first kids books to be released in that line — and as such they came up with a new cover that they felt “highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life”. 

It didn’t go over well with fans of the book. On Penguin’s Facebook page the reaction was mostly negative with several folks saying they won’t be buying it. So what has everyone’s panties in a bunch? Here’s the cover:

charliechoc

So, yeah, it’s pretty creepy looking and I’m not entirely sure how it represents what the book is about, but I’m not sure it deserves comments like this:

I’m not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that “adult” meant “inappropriately sexualized”?

Inappropriately sexualized? Really? The kid looks a little China doll zombie-ish, but I don’t see anything particularly sexualized about it. OK, there’s a bit of a JonBenét Ramsey vibe to her, I’ll give you that.

OMG It looks like a cover of Lolita, and it’s the cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory??NONONONONO

Again, not seeing it. If anything it looks like a badly cropped shot of a couple of mannequins from a 1950’s J.C. Penney sale ad.

The inescapable, sexualised, subtext of this cover really does need to be reconsidered by the publishers. I struggle to understand how the executive decision was reached to choose this image. Bad mistake Penguin.

Again with claims that it’s sexualized. Is it the hair? The feather boa? What is it that’s saying SEX to these people?

This looks more like a cover for Valley of the Dahls.

OK, that one was funny.

Clearly a lot of people are seeing something in this cover that I am not. As someone who literally does judge books by their covers I completely agree that it’s a bad choice, but mainly because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. It turns out, according to the BBC, there’s a good reason for that:

The image is taken from a French magazine shoot by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, for a 2008 fashion article entitled Mommie Dearest.

Yeah, I can see that. It definitely looks like something from Mommie Dearest, which is a completely different sort of story than Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.

So I’m left to ponder: Is there something wrong with me that I’m not outraged by this supposedly hyper-sexualized image of a zombie girl?

Creeped out a bit? Sure. She’s got a death stare on her that’d fit in any horror movie. Not seeing the “sexy” in it though.

SEB Review: “Lovely Assistant”


Back at the tail end of March I was contacted by Geoph Essex about a novel he had written that he wanted me to read. It was titled Lovely Assistant with a subtitle of Magic, Mystery, Mayhem, and the lighter side of Death. I’m only just getting around to writing a review now because 1) it’s pretty damned big at 489 pages and 2) I tend to read in fits and starts.

So here’s the short version: I love it and I think you should all go buy it and read it and enjoy it.

The longer review is harder to do because it’s the sort of story that’s best gone into without knowing a lot about it. It doesn’t help that trying to describe it is like trying to describe what yellow tastes like or what green sounds like. Here’s the general description of the book from Amazon’s listing for it:

Jenny Ng missed her last appointment, was hit by a car, and was hired by a magician on the same day. And those aren’t even remotely the strangest things that happened to her this summer. Jenny’s a typical New Yorker, too jaded too early, struggling to get by in the big city. Of course, the typical New Yorker rarely has to deal with very large and sardonic horses, magic swords, severed limbs, and mirror images that refuse to cooperate with all that reflecting business. But Jenny learns to cope. With the help of a clever conjurer, a few feckless friends, and enough Grim Reapers to fill out a football league, it’s up to Jenny to learn the finer points of Life and Death…and save the world while she’s at it.

It sounds really weird, which it is, but it’s also an enjoyably fun tale told with an eye for the colorful metaphor. Here’s part of the opening paragraph from Chapter 20 which contains no spoilers whatsoever, but gives you a good idea of the style of storytelling you’ll find within:

Arguments over which day any given deity may have taken a breather after a week of creative entrepreneurialism may orbit close to the center of the most divisive issues to ever plague humankind and pad the salaries of theologians, but the fact remains that Sunday is a definitive day of rest for the city of New York as whole, if not for individual New Yorkers themselves. By fiat or trend, businesses shorten their hours, subways trim their schedules, restaurants close earlier, and a colorless malaise envelopes the city, slowing things down and putting the City that Never Sleeps into the moral food coma that inevitably follows the gluttonous feast of Saturday’s nightlife. The air itself seems paler, thinner–ponderous and meaningless at the same time, like a snail trying to decide what to wear to the office Christmas party before her husband finally makes his way from the bedroom to the bathroom sixteen hours later to remind her that she neither wears clothes nor works in an office, let alone celebrates the birth of a hairless hominid who lived in a desert two thousand years earlier.

The prose reminds one of Douglas Adam’s writing, but it never comes across as an attempt at imitation of such. If the above sounds interesting to you at all then go buy this book. I’m not much of a literary expert, but I know what I like. It is often funny, frequently poignant, and damned enjoyable. The highest praise I can give it is that I was bummed when I finally reached the last period and realized there was no more to read. It’s a goddamned good book and I enjoyed it immensely. If you’re anything like me then you will too.

A pic of a microphone.

And now, the 6th Stupid Evil Bastard Podcast.

A pic of a microphone.

Blah blah blah...

No musical intro this time, but we kept it under an hour and a half and we cover a whole bunch of stuff ranging from alcoholic drinks, Rick Perry, why progressives should vote for Obama, and the tension between brick and mortar stores and online retailers. Plus tangents! So many tangents as is our habit to do. We may not be the most entertaining or informative podcast, but we’re certainly one of the widest in variation of topics.

As always you can listen to it in the player below or download it by clicking here. We’re also open to hearing any comments/criticisms/witticisms in the comments. Let us know what you think.

Play

SEB Reviews: “God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.” by Penn Jillette.

[amazon_link id="145161036X" target="_blank" ]God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales[/amazon_link] [amazon_image id="145161036X" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales[/amazon_image]
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Written by: Penn Jillette
Price: [amazon_link id="145161036X" target="_blank" ]$13.58[/amazon_link]
Rating: 4/5

Let me say right up front that I’m a long-time fan of Penn & Teller as a magic act and Penn and Teller separately as skeptics and atheists. So when I was asked by the folks at Simon & Schuster if I would like an advanced copy of Penn’s new book I accepted it without question.

Sitting down to read it I didn’t really have a good clue as to what it would be about beyond what small promotional bits were on the cover. One of which says the following:

Not only can the man rant, he can write. From the larger, louder half of the world-famous magic duo Penn & Teller comes a scathingly funny reinterpretation of The Ten Commandments. They are The Penn Commandments, and they reveal one outrageous and opinionated atheist’s experience in the world. In this rollicking yet honest account of a godless existence, Penn takes readers on a roller coaster of exploration and flips conventional religious wisdom on its ear to reveal that doubt, skepticism, and wonder — all signs of a general feeling of disbelief — are to be celebrated and cherished, rather than suppressed. And he tells some pretty damn funny stories along the way. From performing blockbuster shows on the Vegas Strip to the adventures of fatherhood, from an on-going dialogue with proselytizers of the Christian Right to the joys of sex while scuba diving, Jillette’s self-created Decalogue invites his reader on a journey of discovery that is equal parts wise and wisecracking.

That set up a base expectation for a book filled with arguments for Penn’s alternatives to the Ten Commandments, but that’s not quite how it plays out. Each chapter opens with one of the commandments followed by a small blurb about or related to it and then “One Atheist’s Suggestion” as an alternative. Immediately after that Penn presents us with a few stories from his life that are at least somewhat related to the suggestion he provided at the start of the chapter. These are not necessarily presented as arguments for or against his suggestions or the commandments themselves and how some of them tie in with the particular chapter isn’t always clear, or at least it wasn’t to me. In fact, the majority of arguments in favor of atheism in the book took place in the introduction and the afterword.  Needless to say, this was a little confusing at first.

But that’s not to say that it’s a bad book, because it’s a great book so long as you don’t let the ad copy set up expectations that the book doesn’t seem to aspire to. What the book really seems to me to be is a look into the thinking and philosophy of the man named Penn Jillette. Being a fan I’ve learned various things about him over the years, but it was the very broad and vague kind of knowledge that you have of any celebrity that you pay much attention to. I wouldn’t dare claim to know him in any depth and certainly not the way I know close friends. This book, however, helped turn him from just a celebrity I know some stuff about into more of a real person that I could hang out with if we happened to bump into each other someplace. And not just hang out in a oh-my-I’m-a-big-fan kind of way, but as a couple of guys just hanging out and shooting the shit about whatever topic was at hand.

A good example is his anecdote on why he doesn’t participate in the Santa Claus myth with his kids found in Chapter 5. He starts off admitting that he and his wife lie to their children all the time about everything from the operating hours of Disneyland (it’s always closed except when they were already planning on taking the kids there) to the fact that what they tell the kids is ice cream is really frozen yogurt, but they won’t lie to them about Santa Claus. The anecdote is long and it strikes off onto a couple of tangents and never really gets around to explaining the why of their decision not to participate in the myth. What it does do is get into the day his mother died and how Penn lied to his parents to keep his father out of a nursing home and the rituals they’ve developed as an alternative to Christmas as a result of those events that really brings into focus Penn Jillette’s humanity. If you aren’t a bit choked up at the end of that story then you probably don’t have a heart.

In the end I feel I have at least a slightly better understanding of both his political and religious outlook as well as just what sort of person he is. Not every anecdote is successful — I’m not entirely sure I needed to read about the time he accidentally fried his cock in a ex-girlfriend’s hair dryer — but most of them are at least amusing if not always enlightening. If you weren’t an atheist before reading the book there’s nothing in it that’ll result in you suddenly deciding to abandon your God-belief, but you will have an insight into how at least one atheist lives his life. If you’re a fan then it’s pretty much a must-read if for no other reason than to read about some of the crazy shit he’s done over the years. Like the time he tried to get the TSA to arrest him by dropping his trousers during a pat down or the time on Politically Incorrect that he made some hard-core conservative Christian lady look like a maniac on national TV by quietly uttering a stunningly blasphemous phrase to her during a commercial break.

TL;DR: It was a quick and entertaining read and I highly recommend it.

Gather round kids! It’s Tea Party Story Time!

Here’s what passes for satire with the Tea Bagger Party crowd as written by failed Republican candidate for Washington’s third district, David Hendrick:

Pic of the cover for The Liberal Clause

They're coming to ruin your Christmas! Aiiiieeeeee!

The Liberal Clause takes place in the small town of Camas, WA where, for as long as anyone can remember, the children have been given the special responsibility of electing the Great Elf Council that serves at the North Pole. This year, however, the ballots go missing. Suspiciously, nasty ol’ Elf Peloosi discovers a box she claims are the missing ballots under a shelf in the back of a union warehouse. The elves are so glad the ballots have been recovered that they don’t bother to question the fact that there are more ballots returned than were cast! This is all reported in local newspaper, The Christmas Times, above a picture of Hendrick himself with the subtitle “Camas man’s rant goes viral”.

The elves’ relief dissipates quickly as it becomes clear something fishy is going on. After the Liberal Party of Elves takes over the Great Council Santa Claus suddenly goes missing and the elf people are told he is being replaced.

via Read The Tea Party Children’s Book About How Obama Stole Christmas. No, Really.

That’s right, it’s a Christmas story about President Obama as the evil Liberal Clause and his cabal of Socialist elves and their scheme to ruin Christmas by forcing all manner of stupid Liberal policies on everyone. Just as you’d expect, it hits on all of the Tea Partier’s favorite talking points such as Obama’s birth certificate, his use of teleprompters, being forced into evil labor unions, the bailouts, Al Gore and global climate change, Obama’s former preacher Reverend Wright, the changing of “Christmas” to “Holidays”, the campaign against obesity, and so on.

The book is filled with really bad illustrations — I especially liked the one with Obama standing next to Josef Stalin just in case anyone reading it isn’t bright enough to pick up on the Evil Commie theme he’s pushing — and the text is about as puerile as you can get. Here’s a small sample:

Shortly after these words left Sneed’s mouth, a man dressed in Santa’s suit stepped onto the stage and strutted to the mike. In front of him, a group of elves ran out holding up a TV screen with words on it. This was the first time the elves had seen a teleprompter at the North Pole. Santa Claus had always spoken from the heart.

The skinny imposter began to read.

“My fellow citizens of the North Pole,” he stated with a hint of arrogance in his voice, “I am here to pull Christmas back from the brink of destruction. My name is Barry, but you can call me Liberal Claus.”

“Are you even from the North Pole?” an elf questioned from the crowd.

Liberal Claus scowled at this elf with pure evil in his eyes. For a moment all of the elves stood in disbelief waiting for a response, but the response would never come.

In the end it comes down to one brave girl who, after finding out the truth about Liberal Clause’s evil plans from “Ox News”, rallies the other children to form a Tea Party. They defeat the the evil Liberals by unplugging Liberal Clause’s teleprompter — without which he is apparently powerless — and then dumping all the free candy they got into the local lake.

I suppose in a way it is pretty funny in a stuffed-shirt inflated sense of self-importance way, but it’s also disheartening to think that for many Tea Partiers the falsehoods presented in this story are Gospel truths. It’s also a creepy kind of child indoctrination following in the grand Christian tradition of “gettin’ ‘em while they’re young.”

Though Hendrick is hardly the first TPer to put out propaganda for kids. He was beaten to the punch by the Tea Party Coloring Book:

Calling it a “wonderful book of The Tea Party for Kids,” a St. Louis-based publisher has sold “many thousands” of its Tea Party Coloring Book for Kids! The book, complete with “puzzles, mazes and connect the dots,” promises to teach kids about “Liberty, Faith, Freedom and so much more!” “We’re not really making a political statement,” publisher Wayne Bell told CBS News, though the book contains a good deal of far-right rhetoric. For example, it warns that government-run healthcare “cannot be the only choice,” and that “[w]hen taxes are too high, the high tax takes away jobs and freedom.” “In 1773 we had a Tea Party and this led to freedom from high taxes,” the book explains to kids. “Today we are having another Tea Party and this will lead to freedom from high taxes again!” (Nevermind that tax rates in 2009 were actually the lowest since 1950).

I suppose I should at least be happy that Hendricks story doesn’t end with the kids taking up arms and killing all the Liberals and then mounting their (the Liberals) stuffed heads on the wall. Actually, I’m a little surprised that’s not how it ended.

After 100 years, Mark Twain’s autobiography will finally be published.

As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain and I already own a number of biographies and collections of his writings. One of the things he wrote that I’ve been looking forward to reading for, literally, decades is his own autobiography. The reason I haven’t read it already is because Mark Twain left instructions that it wasn’t to be published until 100 years after his death:

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

Bist of his autobiography have appeared in other books, including some that billed themselves as being autobiographies, but more than half of the original material has never been published in book form. People who have seen the writings already, which was possible if you were willing to make the trip to the Berkeley Bancroft research library, say that Twain had a lot to say that is surprisingly vitriolic:

“He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He’s also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there.”

In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances and one of his landladies.

Oh yes, I’m looking forward to that. No word yet on when to expect it to hit store shelves, but I’ll definitely be picking it up once it does.

Latest Hitchhiker’s Guide sequel, “And Another Thing…” by Eoin Colfer, hits shelves next week.

It’s been a little over a year since I wrote about my surprise that a new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel was going to be released and my trepidation on whether it would be worth reading. The new book is being written by Eoin Colfer who is apparently well known for the Artemis Fowl series of novels. I’ve never read anything by the man myself and the idea of someone taking over for Adams worried me even if he was personally asked by Adam’s widow to take on the project.

Now the book is due on on October 12th, just in time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the publishing of the first novel by Adams, and they have an official website for the book and everything. I have to admit that my feelings as I expressed them a year ago haven’t changed much, but I was heartened somewhat by the following YouTube video by Colfer in which he talks about writing And Another Thing…:

My optimism is buoyed by his statement that had Adam’s wife not liked the book he wouldn’t have released it at all. It also seems clear that he has felt the weight of the expectation his book carries and tried to be true to the spirit of the original series. I was also impressed with how he asserts that this is not him attempting to do Douglas Adams, but rather a book by Eoin Colfer that is set in the H2G2 universe. If it succeeds or fails it’ll be his doing and not because he was trying to write like someone he is not.

I’ll probably wait to see what the initial reviews are before I decide if I’m going to pick it up or not. I really want to like the book, but I’m very picky about my authors. Here’s hoping it’s a success and fits in well with what has come before.

Amazon gives me another reason not to buy a Kindle. (#Blogathon)

It’s a bit old news by now, but perhaps some of you haven’t heard about it. About a week ago the folks at Amazon had a problem with a couple of George Orwell’s novels they were selling in e-book form. News reports vary with some saying the publisher changed it’s mind about letting them be published in that format and others that Amazon had mistakenly assumed they had the rights to do so, but either way they were asked to stop. Amazon immediately removed said novels from their online store and then went a step further and deleted already sold copies from owner’s Kindle devices with no warning they were going to do so. Needless to say this once again spawned a debate over whether or not we actually “own” digital media:

It’s a provocative question explored in an article Thursday by the WSJ’s Geoffrey Fowler. The issue came up last week when Amazon.com reached into customers’ Kindle e-readers and deleted some e-books written — ironically — by George Orwell. Amazon, which returned the cost of the e-books, said it made the move when it realized that the publisher didn’t have the proper rights to sell the books in the U.S.

The move annoyed some consumers. “I love my Kindle, but if they can take back a book after I buy it, that bothers me,” said one. Amazon later promised to change its system and “not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” according to a spokesman.

Regardless, according to Fowler, the incident raises some difficult questions about what it means to “own” books in the digital age. Some experts are saying that these matters might best be remedied by passing new laws that clearly define digital ownership.

“What this incident shows is that the law gives radically more control to the company than the system ought to,” says Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig.

It’s bad enough that the books all have DRM on them and there are unspecified limits on how many times you’re allowed to download them to your devices be they your Kindle or your iPhone or PC. Said limits vary from publisher to publisher and book to book and there’s no way to found out what the limits are for a particular book before you buy it because Amazon won’t tell you, but when they also have the ability and right to reach into your collection and remove books you’ve already purchased, well, that’s just beyond the pale. Sure they gave everyone a refund, but this sort of thing would never happen with a paper book and when you’re done reading it you can sell it or give it to a friend.

DRM sucks and it only punishes the legitimate consumers. So long as the Kindle makes use of it I won’t be buying one. No matter how many times Jeff Bezos apologizes.

Eric Maisel on the word “Atheist.”

A small quote from the first chapter of Maisel’s book The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods.

The word “atheist” is a larger, friendlier, and more glorious word than you might imagine. It stands for a conviction about the non-existence of gods but it also vibrates at other wavelengths. It is about a solidarity with nature and with the universe: we are not afraid of this universe in which we live, we do not create dragons and devils with which to scare ourselves, we are not frightened that a vacuum is empty or that we begin dying as soon as we are born. We are exactly, precisely, and wholly natural. We are human beings, with enough fascinating attributes to make even the most incurious among us stand up and take notice. To say “human being” is to say plenty: it is all of that plenty that the word “atheist” connotes.

I haven’t picked up the book yet—it’s on my wish list—but it’s been getting some positive press on other atheist blogs I read so I’ll probably pick it up soon to check it out. The first chapter is available to read at the link I provided above if you’re curious.