Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work

I’d intended to get this up and ready for Towel Day last week — but, obviously, I failed. Schemes once again, Gang aft a-gley. It’s pretty fitting, really that this is late.

Don't PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Third Edition)

by Neil Gaiman; Additional Material by David K. Dickson & MJ Simpson
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (related)

Hardcover, 207 pg.
Titan Books, 2003
Read: May 22 – 23, 2019

          
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it’s the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it’s the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.

It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered ‘borrowing’ a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn’t have that kind of money).

He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. “Somebody,” he thought, “somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.

Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don’t Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 — I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams’ work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote — and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but “that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker’s book.” The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.

This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it “has been updated and expanded twice.” The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when “MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text.” If you ask me, Gaiman’s name should be in the smaller print and Simpson’s should be the tall letters on the cover — but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it — there’s little of the original book that I recognize (I’m going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson’s version of the book is just as good as the original, it’s just not the original.

This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but it’s certainly not a biography of Adams — maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man’s lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.

Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion — talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we’re talking about — books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects — Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.

It’s told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark — some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It’s not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) — there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it’s never not told with affection for the man or his work.

Don’t Panic is a must for die-hard fans — and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it’ll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do — but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, “I improved on Gaiman’s final draft.”

I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

—–

5 Stars

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Robot, Take the Wheel by Jason Torchinsky

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Spotlight Tour for Robot, Take the Wheel by Jason Torchinsky. I jumped at the chance when asked if I’d participate in this because: 1. Content I didn’t have to work for at all; 2. It looks like a fun book that I’d like to help get eyeballs on; 3. How often to I get asked to do anything with a non-fiction book?; and 4. Check out the cover — that’s just awesome.

Read the post, enter the giveaway — or don’t wait for fortune to smile on you, go buy the thing!

Book Details:

Book Title: Robot, Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving by Jason Torchinsky
Publisher: Apollo Publishers
Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Release date: May 7, 2019
Format: Ebook/Hardcover
Length: 207 pages
Content Rating: PG (this book is accessible to everyone)

Book Blurb:

From the witty senior editor of Jalopnik, Gizmodo Media’s acclaimed website devoted to cars, technology, and more, comes a revealing, savvy, and humorous look at self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars sound fantastical and futuristic and yet they’ll soon be on every street in America. Whether it’s Tesla’s Autopilot, Google’s Waymo, Mercedes’s Distronic, or Uber’s 24,000 modified Volvos, companies across industries and throughout the world are developing autonomous cars. Even Apple, not to be outdone, is rumored to be creating its own technology too.

In Robot, Take the Wheel, Jason Torchinsky explores the state of the automotive industry. Through wit and wisdom, he explains why autonomous cars are being made and what the future of automated cars is. Torchinsky encourages us to consider autonomous cars as an entirely new machine, something beyond cars as we understand them today. He considers how we’ll get along with these robots that will take over our cars’ jobs, what they will look like, what sorts of jobs they may do, what we can expect of them, how they should act, ethically, how we can have fun with them, and how we can make sure there’s still a place for those of us who love to drive with manual or automatic transmission.

This unique and highly readable volume is brimming with industry insider information and destined to be a conversation starter. It’s a must-have for car lovers, technology geeks, and everyone who wants to know what’s on the road ahead.

Purchase Links for Robot, Take the Wheel:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound ~ Book Depository

About Jason Torchinsky:

Jason TorchinskyJASON TORCHINSKY is senior editor of Jalopnik, a website devoted to news and opinions about all things automotive. As a writer and artist, he is known for his articles, artworks, talks, and videos about cars, technology, and culture. He has raced cars, wrecked cars, and driven possibly one of the most dangerous cars ever made with the King of Cars on the Emmy-winning Jay Leno’s Garage. He lives in North Carolina.

Connect with the author: Twitter

GIVEAWAY:

Win a print copy of Robot, Take the Wheel (5 winners / open to USA only)
(ends May 31, 2019)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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(if the Rafflecopter script isn’t working, just click here — it’s not as pretty, but it works)

Pub Day Repost: No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is a very foine booke that surpässes the original while showing full respect to the umlaut

I’ve tweaked and retweaked this to the point that I can’t read it any more. Hope it’s mostly coherent.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #2

eARC, 352 pg.
Del Rey, 2019
Read: March 9 – 12, 2019

As much as I loved 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy — and talked about it everywhere and repeatedly — I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to pick up the sequel. There’s no way it would be as good, the humor would be a little stale, and the whole approach wouldn’t seem as novel. Still, I knew curiosity would get the better of me — and it’d still have its moments. Also, I’m not at the point where I can live in a world with a Kevin Hearne book in print that I haven’t read.

I was so, so wrong. Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?”

So this book happens in different corner of the kingdom than Farm Boy did. The Skylar is a choice piece of the land that is home to two diminutive races — halflings and gnomes. Gnomes want to live in their nice little homes, tinker with their little projects and inventions, and wear brightly colored cardigans (well, there was one gnome who wanted to wear a black cardigan, but let’s leave that aside for now). The halflings have found their government hijacked by criminals and those particular halflings are waging a war of sorts on the gnomes, driving them from their homes for unknown reasons. Driven by desperation, two of these displaced gnomes are part of our questing party here. A halfling — committed to (some may say obsessed with) the law that is being ignored by his people is another member of the party.

These three join themselves to an ovitaur named Agape — an ovitaur is like a faun, but is humanoid with sheep characteristics (feet, legs, ears, etc). She’s the last of a long family line serving as teh guardians of a rare treasure, and needs guidance. A gryphon, named Gerd, outcast from his people has been accompanying the halfling for some time, but is devoted to protecting Agape now. The last member of the party is a dwarf named Båggi Biins. Båggi is on his Meadschpringå — a time when young dwarves leave their homes to purge the violence from themselves so they can return to their homes to pursue an ascetic life of creativity. He joins the others certain that journeying with them, protecting them along their way will provide all the outlet required to use his violence in a noble cause.

Their quest? To go to the Great Library, where the founding documents of the gnomeric and halfling civilizations are located — which should prove invaluable to re-establish the peace and help the two societies get along. Agape should find resources to direct her in her guardianship, and hopefully provide Gerd with the proof that he broke no laws of the gryphons.

The fact that most people on Pell consider the Great Library to be a myth shouldn’t be taken as an argument against this quest. What better place than a possibly mythical library to provide the answers they seek?

While these characters are on their quest, working for peace — the king and his advisor are trying to solve the problems between the halflings and gnomes in a more direct approach. We also see (briefly in most cases) other characters from Farm Boy. We see just enough to know how things are going for them some months later — and on the whole, it’s just as you’d hoped/expected it to be for them. It is not essential to have read the previous volume to get 95% of this book. It’s safe to hand this one off to family, friends and coworkers who are wondering what you’re cackling about without making them do homework first.

Along the way, these characters meet a cult of cabbage worshipers, who have the ability to read prophecies in the vegetables; some very frightening mermaids (that look nothing like anything anyone expects); a very Tom Bombadil-esque character (and a few other Tolkien-inspired jokes). As in Farm Boy, the authors manage to use these ideas as sources of comedy and to propel the plot along in meaningful ways. Similarly, they use racial and personal characteristics of the characters to play with, play against and mock genre standards. But almost none of the characters are mere jokes, they’re well-developed characters that happen to be able to comedic. This is not an easy balance to achieve — and Hearne and Dawson are almost flawless on this front.

For example, gryphons are convinced that they perceive greater nuance and details in colors, sounds, tastes and the like and adjust their pronunciation of words via capital letters, umlauts and extra syllables. Gerd’s dialogue is littered with these. It starts off as a joke that just won’t stop, and instead of it getting tired or annoying (which I assumed it would), it becomes just part of the way that Gerd talks. His own particular dialect, that occasionally will strike you as amusing — maybe even just funny occasionally. I wouldn’t say it’s because the authors show restraint with it, employing it just when needed to keep it funny. Quite the reverse, they seemingly take the approach of drowning you in the joke, figuring that it’ll be funny often enough to justify it.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to skip chapter titles. Doing so with The Tales of Pell would be a mistake. The titles are long, fitting, and insanely goofy. The only thing better are the chapter epigraphs I imagine the drafts going back and forth between the authors, each trying to top the other with the next chapter title/epigraph. And generally succeeding.

These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy — as is right, because they are funny. But as anyone who’s read other works by Dawson and Hearne know, they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss — and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

In case I haven’t made it clear here, Dawson and Hearne knocked it out of the park here. I thought Kill the Farm Boy was outstanding, and No Country for Old Gnomes surpassed it on every front. I don’t expect that the third volume of The Tales of Pell will continue this trend — but I’m more than open to being proven wrong next year. But for 2019? I’m just going to revel in the goodness — the laughs, the pathos, the excitement — brought by this adventure and the wonderful cast of characters. Get your hands on this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I really appreciate it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is a very foine booke that surpässes the original while showing full respect to the umlaut

I’ve tweaked and retweaked this to the point that I can’t read it any more. Hope it’s mostly coherent.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #2

eARC, 352 pg.
Del Rey, 2019

Read: March 9 – 12, 2019


As much as I loved 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy — and talked about it everywhere and repeatedly — I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to pick up the sequel. There’s no way it would be as good, the humor would be a little stale, and the whole approach wouldn’t seem as novel. Still, I knew curiosity would get the better of me — and it’d still have its moments. Also, I’m not at the point where I can live in a world with a Kevin Hearne book in print that I haven’t read.

I was so, so wrong. Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?”

So this book happens in different corner of the kingdom than Farm Boy did. The Skylar is a choice piece of the land that is home to two diminutive races — halflings and gnomes. Gnomes want to live in their nice little homes, tinker with their little projects and inventions, and wear brightly colored cardigans (well, there was one gnome who wanted to wear a black cardigan, but let’s leave that aside for now). The halflings have found their government hijacked by criminals and those particular halflings are waging a war of sorts on the gnomes, driving them from their homes for unknown reasons. Driven by desperation, two of these displaced gnomes are part of our questing party here. A halfling — committed to (some may say obsessed with) the law that is being ignored by his people is another member of the party.

These three join themselves to an ovitaur named Agape — an ovitaur is like a faun, but is humanoid with sheep characteristics (feet, legs, ears, etc). She’s the last of a long family line serving as teh guardians of a rare treasure, and needs guidance. A gryphon, named Gerd, outcast from his people has been accompanying the halfling for some time, but is devoted to protecting Agape now. The last member of the party is a dwarf named Båggi Biins. Båggi is on his Meadschpringå — a time when young dwarves leave their homes to purge the violence from themselves so they can return to their homes to pursue an ascetic life of creativity. He joins the others certain that journeying with them, protecting them along their way will provide all the outlet required to use his violence in a noble cause.

Their quest? To go to the Great Library, where the founding documents of the gnomeric and halfling civilizations are located — which should prove invaluable to re-establish the peace and help the two societies get along. Agape should find resources to direct her in her guardianship, and hopefully provide Gerd with the proof that he broke no laws of the gryphons.

The fact that most people on Pell consider the Great Library to be a myth shouldn’t be taken as an argument against this quest. What better place than a possibly mythical library to provide the answers they seek?

While these characters are on their quest, working for peace — the king and his advisor are trying to solve the problems between the halflings and gnomes in a more direct approach. We also see (briefly in most cases) other characters from Farm Boy. We see just enough to know how things are going for them some months later — and on the whole, it’s just as you’d hoped/expected it to be for them. It is not essential to have read the previous volume to get 95% of this book. It’s safe to hand this one off to family, friends and coworkers who are wondering what you’re cackling about without making them do homework first.

Along the way, these characters meet a cult of cabbage worshipers, who have the ability to read prophecies in the vegetables; some very frightening mermaids (that look nothing like anything anyone expects); a very Tom Bombadil-esque character (and a few other Tolkien-inspired jokes). As in Farm Boy, the authors manage to use these ideas as sources of comedy and to propel the plot along in meaningful ways. Similarly, they use racial and personal characteristics of the characters to play with, play against and mock genre standards. But almost none of the characters are mere jokes, they’re well-developed characters that happen to be able to comedic. This is not an easy balance to achieve — and Hearne and Dawson are almost flawless on this front.

For example, gryphons are convinced that they perceive greater nuance and details in colors, sounds, tastes and the like and adjust their pronunciation of words via capital letters, umlauts and extra syllables. Gerd’s dialogue is littered with these. It starts off as a joke that just won’t stop, and instead of it getting tired or annoying (which I assumed it would), it becomes just part of the way that Gerd talks. His own particular dialect, that occasionally will strike you as amusing — maybe even just funny occasionally. I wouldn’t say it’s because the authors show restraint with it, employing it just when needed to keep it funny. Quite the reverse, they seemingly take the approach of drowning you in the joke, figuring that it’ll be funny often enough to justify it.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to skip chapter titles. Doing so with The Tales of Pell would be a mistake. The titles are long, fitting, and insanely goofy. The only thing better are the chapter epigraphs I imagine the drafts going back and forth between the authors, each trying to top the other with the next chapter title/epigraph. And generally succeeding.

These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy — as is right, because they are funny. But as anyone who’s read other works by Dawson and Hearne know, they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss — and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

In case I haven’t made it clear here, Dawson and Hearne knocked it out of the park here. I thought Kill the Farm Boy was outstanding, and No Country for Old Gnomes surpassed it on every front. I don’t expect that the third volume of The Tales of Pell will continue this trend — but I’m more than open to being proven wrong next year. But for 2019? I’m just going to revel in the goodness — the laughs, the pathos, the excitement — brought by this adventure and the wonderful cast of characters. Get your hands on this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I really appreciate it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

My Favorite 2018 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to — but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2016-17 combined (he reports with only a hint of defensiveness). These are the best of the bunch.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave Barry

My original post
So, I figured given the tile and subject that this would be a heavier Dave Barry read, with probably more tears than you anticipate from his books — something along the lines of Marley & Me. I was (thankfully) wrong. It’s sort of self-helpy. It’s a little overly sentimental. I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too).

5 Stars

 The War Outside My Window The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

by Janet E. Croon, ed.

My original post
LeRoy Wiley Gresham was 12 when he started keeping a diary. LIttle did he know at that point that he was about to witness the American Civil War (and all the desolation it would bring to Georgia) and that he was dying (he really didn’t figure that out until the very end). Instead you get an almost day-by-day look at his life — what he does, reads, hears about (re: the War) and feels. It’s history in the raw. You have never read anything like this — it will appeal to the armchair historian in you (particularly if you’ve ever dabbled in being a Civil War buff); it’ll appeal to want an idea what everyday life was like 150 years ago; there’s a medical case study, too — this combination of themes is impossible to find anywhere else. This won’t be the easiest read you come across this year (whatever year it is that you come across it), but it’ll be one of the most compelling.

5 Stars

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

My original post
I, for one, have never thought that much about my relation to time, my relation to clocks/watches, etc. I know they govern our lives, to an extent that’s troublesome. But where did that come from, how did we get hooked on these things, this concept? These are brief studies/historical looks/contemporary observations — and I’m not selling it too well here (trying to keep it brief). It’s entertainingly written, informative, and thought-provoking. Garfield says this about it:

This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to beat it. . . The book has but two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

He fulfills his intended goals, making this well worth the read.

4 Stars

Everything is NormalEverything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid

by Sergey Grechishkin

My original post
If you grew up in the 80s or earlier, you were fascinated by Soviet Russia. Period. They were our great potential enemy, and we knew almost nothing about them. And even what we did “know” wasn’t based on all that much. Well, Sergey Grechishkin’s book fixes that (and will help you remember just how much you used to be intrigued by “Evil Empire”). He tells how he grew up in Soviet Russia — just a typical kid in a typical family trying to get by. He tells this story with humor — subtle and overt. It’s a deceptively easy and fun read about some really dark circumstances.

4 Stars

Planet FunnyPlanet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

My original post
Half of this book is fantastic. The other half is … okay. It’ll make you laugh if nothing else. That might not be a good thing, if you take his point to heart. We’ve gotten to the point now in society that laughter beats honesty, jokes beat insight, and irony is more valued than thoughtful analysis. How did we get here, what does it mean, what do we do about it? The true value of the book may be what it makes you think about after you’re done.

3.5 Stars

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

My original post
This is an enjoyable, amusing, call to re-examine your priorities and goals. It’s not about ceasing to care about everything (not giving a f^ck), but about being careful what you care about (giving the right f*cks). Manson’s more impressed with himself than he should be, but he’s a clear and clever writer displaying a lot of common sense. Get the audiobook (I almost never say that) — the narration is worth a star by itself (maybe more).

4 Stars

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott

My original post
If you read only one book off this list, it should probably be the next one. But if you pick this one, you’ll be happier. This is a collection of correspondence to pop musicians/lyricists picking apart the lyrics, quibbling over the concepts, and generally missing the point. Then we get to read the responses from the musician/act — some play with the joke, some beat it. Sometimes the Philpott portion of the exchange is better, frequently they’re the straight man to someone else. Even if you don’t know the song being discussed, there’s enough to enjoy. Probably one of my Top 3 of the year.

5 Stars

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

My original post
My favorite US Senator tackles the questions of division in our country — and political divisions aren’t the most important, or even the root of the problem. Which is good, because while he might be my favorite, I’m not sure I’d agree with his political solutions. But his examination of the problems we all can see, we all can sense and we all end up exacerbating — and many of his solutions — will ring true. And even when you disagree with him, you’ll appreciate the effort and insight.

5 Stars

Honorable Mention:

Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to AmericaThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

by Steven Pinker

I started this at a bad time, just didn’t have the time to devote to it (and the library had a serious list waiting for it, so I couldn’t renew it. But what little I did read, I thoroughly enjoyed and profited from — am very sure it’d have made this post if I could’ve gotten through it. I need to make a point of returning to it.

Pub Day Repost: Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry: America’s Funniest Human Tries to Learn a Few New Tricks from an Old Dog

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave BarryeARC, 208 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Read: July 19, 2018

Before I say anything else, Barry has set up an Instagram page (well, probably not him, actually — he states in the book he doesn’t understand Instagram) for his dog, Lucy. You should absolutely check it out and then come back to read what I have to say about the book. Dog Pictures > my blog. Pretty near always.

With that out of the way . . . Dave Barry has been a dog person for most of his life, one of the many reasons I like him. I distinctly, and fondly, remember columns and/or references to Earnest and Zippy (the emergency backup dog) years ago. Those two make a brief appearance in this book, but they aren’t the focus. The focus (if you can’t tell from the title) is his dog, Lucy. At the time of writing, Barry and Lucy are the same age — 70 (or 7 times 10 in her case), which means that both of them have many fewer days ahead of them than behind — which sounds awfully morbid for Dave Barry to talk about, but he does so frequently and purposefully.

As they’re at similar stages in life, Barry notices a huge difference between the two — Lucy is far happier and seemingly better adjusted than he is. So he sets out to try to learn a few lessons about life from her, which he passes on to his readers. Things like Pay Attention to the People You Love; Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Things; and Don’t Stop Having Fun. None of these, Barry knows, are original or ground-breaking — they’re pretty much common sense. Yet, they’re the kind of common sense things that he (like many/most humans) doesn’t actually do a great job at.

The result is a mixture of a Self-Help book and a Humor book — humor about himself, his life, as well as dogs. Sometimes the swing between the two genres can be jarring, but that’s pretty rare. For the most part, he moves easily between the two, taking the readers along with him on this ride. I can’t tell you how many times I went from grinning, chuckling or laughing out loud to getting misty-eyed within a couple of pages. It seems that Barry has learned a little bit about writing over the decades.

I’ve loved Barry’s humor longer than either of us would probably care to admit. One of his strengths is finding a way to take an old joke, or at least a joke everyone’s made before — like, say, I dunno, dogs sniffing each other’s hind-quarters — and make it feel fresh and new. More importantly, funny. He’s also able to make jumps from premise to punchline that no one expects. There is, for example, a Hugh Hefner joke where one doesn’t even come close to belonging — and it works perfectly. Even knowing that, you won’t see it coming until you’re snickering at it.

As for the heart-felt material? It works pretty well, too. I don’t think anyone will walk away from this book thinking “Wow! That was insightful. I never would have thought of it on my own!” Nor do I think Barry was trying for it. But, readers will appreciate the reminders to live like Lucy (or their own dog), and the way Barry phrases things might add some freshness to the concept. Which is all anyone can really ask.

I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. The ratio of Attempted Joke to Funny Joke is pretty high, I’m not sure if I can think of a higher one in his ouvre. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too). Couple that with me being a sucker for a Dog Book — even if it is a semi-Self Help book — and I can’t help but give it 5 Stars. This is a winner, no matter what.

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for this post — which is my honest opinion and pleasure to give — thanks to both for this.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook) by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur: A close-up look at the Cartoonist and His Creation

I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to get this header to look decent — and I give up. It’s just going to look awkward given the length of the title.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook)Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip

by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 9 min.
ListenUp Production, 2014
Read: September 25 – 27, 2018
Nevin Martell, like just about everyone who ever read him, is a Calvin and Hobbes fan — what’s more, he discovered the strip at the right age and was able to appreciate it as only a child can — without being self-conscious about reading a comic strip and with devotion. Years later, when trying to write something more meaningful to him than another book about a pop star, he decides to write about that strip and its reclusive creator.

The reclusive part of that sentence is the key — Watterson had (and has) pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as your typical person is concerned. A few select friends, business acquaintances and family members can get in touch with him, but no one else can. This isn’t crippling to a book about his comic strips or himself, but it sure hampers it (especially because those people who can get in touch with him are just about as reticent as he is to talk about him or his work). Unencumbered by access to Watterson himself, and his perspective on his life and career was like, what his influences were, what made him make the creative decisions, etc. Martell dove into research — things written about and by Watterson, archives of his previous work (when and where available) and interviews with colleagues, editors and the like.

In the kind of detail only a scholar or a fan can appreciate, Martell describes Watteron’s childhood, college, and pre-Calvin and Hobbes career; then he discusses that comic strip — major themes — and its publishing history; Watterson’s battle to keep control of the strip, its merchandising/licensing; then he describes Watterson’s retirement. As much of that as he can, which isn’t much. Following that, Martell focuses on things like the impact of Watterson on the industry, his relationships with other cartoonists and is influence on those who followed.

I wish he’d given us more (and maybe he gave us all he could, but I don’t think so) from Watterson’s contemporaries/those he influenced in the field of comics (or related fields — he spoke with a novelist and Dave Barry, too). Martell spoke to many and gave us a lot of what he was told — but I’d have appreciated more coming from professionals about Watterson’s strengths, technique, stories — whatever. Sure, it might have gotten a little redundant, but something tells me that it wouldn’t have been too bad. These were my favorite parts of the book, and I could’ve listened to another hour of them easily.

I’m not convinced that I was ever as invested in Martell’s journey as he seemed to think his readers would (should?) be — and I’m okay with that. I know I tend to overshare here a tad myself — so I understand the impulse. Or maybe I’m just callous, and everyone else got into it.

As far as Arthur’s work narrating — there’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a work of fiction where he can play with characters, pacing, and whatnot. It’s a straightforward text and he does a capable job of reading it in a straightforward manner. I did have to remind myself a couple of times that I was listening to someone Martell’s words rather than listening to him — which I guess is a good thing.

It was a pleasant book, nothing too challenging — and it reinvigorated an impulse to go read a collection or two of Watterson again on my part (and some of Larson’s The Far Side, too — I’m sure there’s an interesting book to be written there, too). It’s not a must-read, but it’ll scratch an itch for those who have an interest in the subject.

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3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge