Discworld 25: The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
This is an especially vivid Pratchett novel - you can practically see every character marching around in your head, pontificating and cracking jokes as they navigate the twisty passages of Ankh-Morpork. All of Pratchett's characters are generally well-realized, but usually his protagonists are given far more development and attention than his antagonists. Not so in this book. The two main villains here are hugely entertaining - a brilliant cross between hard-boiled gangsters and an Abbot-and-Costello vaudeville act, with endearing flourishes, and they are given plenty of room to strut their stuff. They're so much fun you almost find yourself rooting for them by the end of the book, despite their blatantly despicable behavior.
With this book, even more than Pratchett's others, I had to stop and wonder every now and then at how much entertainment I was deriving from a work of humorous, seemingly uncomplicated, fiction. It's not a blazing philosophical manifesto, or a brilliant exploration of a scientific frontier, or cunning work of investigative journalism. There's no convenient way to justify reading it. But it is a fun, funny story that's fantastically well executed, and having read it for the second time now, I'm convinced that I will eventually return to it a third time, and maybe even a fourth.
Nine out of ten fine marble carvings up.
The Darwin Awards, by Wendy Northcutt
Most of these stories I'd already heard just from being a long-time denizen of the internet, but there were some that were new to me. I had to take this book in small pieces, because story after story of people behaving like morons is funny for only a limited time, then it becomes bland, and then it gets depressing. The inclusion of "urban legends" alongside the verified stories is an interesting enhancement, and I was pleased to find that the tales I'd read online that had been passed around as "verified truth" - though never with any documentation - were just as unsubstantiated to the authors of this book, and even more obviously implausible to my jaded adult self.
Despite reading it in pieces, it was still a chore to finish. The authors tried to keep it fresh by organizing the stories into rough themes and throwing in amateurish editorials, but somewhere around the story of the young woman who jumped off half-dome with a defective parachute and plummeted like a stone to her gory death in front of her boyfriend's eyes and a gathered crowd of tourists, I lost my taste for it.
Four out of ten exposed wiring panels up.
Discworld 19: Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett
This was a fun police procedural, and I returned to it because I'd completely forgotten the plot after so many years. I'd also forgotten what a fun read it was. This is the one where Nobby learns about his family tree, and we are treated to a much elongated version of his name, which is something like - and don't fault me for getting it wrong since I'm quoting from memory - "Lt. Crpl. Cecil Wormsborough St. John 'Nobby' DeNobbs."
I remember using that name as my email alias back in the 90's, but it still wasn't long enough so I tacked a few things on, and came up with "Lt. Crpl. Cecil Wormsborough St. John 'Nobby' DeNobbs Esq. And His Ragtime Band." Somehow that address and the associated name got thrown into a list of "celebrity email addresses" and passed around from website to dusty website, and over the next decade I got five or six emails from people who asked, incredulously, if that was my real name, or if I could help them get directly in touch with Sir Terry Pratchett.
This was a breezy read. The mustache-twirling high-society conspirators are about as sophisticated and threatening as the ones you'd see in the average Saturday-morning cartoon - The Gummi Bears perhaps - but Vimes is thoroughly Vimesey, and Colon is very Colonesque. And Nobby is ... well, ... he is.
Seven out of ten magic scrolls up.
New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer, by Bill Maher
Bill Maher is, to myself and my left-leaning social circles, equal parts alarming firebrand and national treasure. He's an outspoken critic of conservative and religious attempts to legislate morality, and he uses comedy as a gateway and weapon to enliven his panel discussions. Sometimes he comes down on the wrong side of an issue, but he also shows a refreshing willingness to admit when he's wrong and publicly change his opinion.
That said, this book is not a good demonstration of his appeal.
It's an endless clockwork procession of topical political jokes, most of which have not aged well, interspersed with sex jokes, and references to current events that have long since lost their currency. Without a panel to derail him or an audience to force him to pace himself, Bill's tone here is a bit too consistently sanctimonious to be enjoyed for the comedy.
He's gathered a second collection, "The New New Rules", that I read sometime last year and found to be more palatable, but still not enough to recommend.
Three out of ten flag lapel-pins up.