Garrett (garote) wrote,
Garrett
garote

June reading (oops we skipped a month)

I Am America And So Can You, by Stephen Colbert (and his staff writers)

I was underwhelmed with this book ... but to me, Colbert's breed of comedy - and his comedy persona - doesn't work in long-form, and this book is just proof of that. The Stephen Colbert of the TV show is a creation purpose-built to satirize the media and make topical commentary. Like chewing gum, you gnaw on each episode for a little while and then throw it away, never to be seen again, which is okay because there's always another to look forward to. This book is basically a piece of chewing gum the size of a boxcar. It's way too much gum, and after a little bit of chewing your sense of taste gets all wonky and you forget why you liked gum in the first place.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh. There is, of course, some great political commentary marbled into this work, and every now and then Colbert succeeds in coaxing the most minor of laughs out of me. And it's great to listen to while gardening or doing laundry. Now that's what I call damning with faint praise!!

Five out of ten mismatched earlobes up.

The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Comedic Take, by the BBC, based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle

This was pretty entertaining and forgettable, except for a throwaway audio gag about two-thirds through it involving a "lamb in a bag" that had me laughing so hard I had to stop the recording and fall over for a while, then rewind a good two minutes or so to find my place again.

I'll Mature When I'm Dead, by Dave Barry

This is an anthology of some of Dave Barry's editorials with a vague adulthood and parenting theme.

The audio version is excellent for a long car trip, especially on unfamiliar roads that are nevertheless boring. The content is amusing and easily digestible, and you don't suffer much for getting distracted and missing the occasional paragraph.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

Oh my god, this is a fantastic novel.

If I didn't already have a clear favorite (Diamond Age) I would say this is Stephenson's best work. It's a self-aware combination of Cyberpunk and parody, with enough wildcards and bizarre scenery and moments of adorable character development to keep you thoroughly entertained all the way to the last page. It has also aged remarkably well for a Cyberpunk novel - somehow still feeling innovative after a decade and a half. One can't quite say the same about Neuromancer, for example, which is built around some ideas that seem quaint or even inane in our wireless, touchscreened present.

But you don't need to come to Snow Crash for its science fiction merits. Read it for the characters. They are a riot! Amazon proclaims this book is "One of Time magazine's 100 all-time best English-language novels," and I am almost inclined to pitch in a voice of agreement, but ... that's a pretty big honor, putting it in competition with enduring works like Great Expectations and Treasure Island. Snow Crash is a damn good novel and you really shouldn't miss out on it, but it does end a bit sloppily, leaving you hungry for a sequel that has never materialized, or a film adaptation that has been almost pre-spoiled by The Matrix and a variety of explorative anime works like Serial Experiments Lain, Perfect Blue, Summer Wars, and Ghost In The Shell.

Nevertheless, the book is so much fun - and such an enjoyable world to be in - that upon finishing it, you'll be tempted to just turn from the last page to the first and read the whole thing right over again. It's really that much fun.

Nine out of ten electronic pizza boxes up.

Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry A. Coyne

I can usually conjure something interesting to say about any book I read, or start reading. I can at least explain why it didn't hold my interest, or make some snide joke about why it sucked.

The most I can say about this one is, it's well-meaning but presented without flair. Jerry has made a piece-by-piece, well-mannered, tick-all-the-checkboxes procession through historical and semi-recent scientific evidence establishing the fact of evolution, pulling in strong case-studies, and supporting scaffolding from various physical sciences such as geology, physics, biology, paleontology, anthropology, genetics, and so on.

The problem I had with this book is, none of it was new to me. It would have been nice to see Jerry wander afield a little bit, like the way Richard Dawkins in The Ancestor's Tale uses a story about the speciation of grasshoppers as the basis for a very interesting discussion about the meaning of "race" to humans, and follows the branches of the discussion to reach recommendations of other works, including The Red Queen and Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation.

Why Evolution Is True contains no such zestful wanderings. But, perhaps it doesn't really need to contain them. I think my own perspective is too warped to judge this book fairly, so I'm going to avoid giving it a rating.

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