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

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And Drink I Did: One Man’s Story of Growing Through Recovery by Jay Keefe: An underdeveloped, but powerful memoir of addiction and recovery

And Drink I DidAnd Drink I Did: One Man’s Story of Growing Through Recovery

by Jay Keefe


Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
2018

Read: March 2 – 5, 2019

This is one of those books that’s pretty well summed up by the title and subtitle. There’s not a lot more to say, really. But I’ll flesh it out a little — the first two chapters are primarily focused on his pre-alcohol life to gain some insight into his alcoholism. He begins by saying that he doesn’t know why he’s an alcoholic, he doesn’t know what made him one — moreover, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he is an alcoholic. That doesn’t stop him from thinking and writing about his childhood — not in an effort to justify or explain away his alcoholism, but to understand it. He explains some early emotional experiences, as part of this — and even his earliest memories of OCD.

This might be the closest I’ve gotten to understanding the compulsion’s sensation:

I didn’t feel right or complete until I had done specific tasks.

Even after I did them, there was still a lingering sense that something was off. When people ask me to describe it, the best I can do is to say it’s like an itch that can’t be scratched- kind of like when the top of your mouth tickles, and you use your tongue to scratch it, but it doesn’t really help because your tongue just isn’t the right instrument to scratch an itch.

It’s like that.

Kind of.

Then he explained his initial drinking experiences and how alcohol made him feel. It reminded me of a similar passage in Mose Kasher’s memoir of addiction.

I always felt a void and had no idea how to fill it.

Alcohol filled that void perfectly.

It took me out of myself.

I could relax. . . .

Alcohol quelled the OCD too.

I didn’t clean when I was drunk.

It didn’t bother me that things weren’t in their place.

I didn’t sweat the small stuff, so to speak.

And I knew I wasn’t sweating it. That was the beauty of it.

It’s so easy for people — especially for non-addicts — to pin drugs and alcohol use and abuse to people who are partying or having a good time and can’t stop. For Kasher, it was about feeling normal; for Keefe it’s about quieting the OCD, about not having the self-doubt and insecurities that plagued him. It’s about self-medicating. Addiction’s never more understandable to me than when I hear someone talking like that — who wouldn’t want that experience? Forget about feeling good, just getting to neutral — no problems.

Anyway, from there Keefe spends a few chapters talking about his experiences drinking — at one point he says that other addicts’ war stories never impressed him, and initially you get the feeling that’s hypocritical because he talks a lot about some of the stupid or out of control things he did while drinking. But he never glorified the experience, he never celebrates what happened — it’s just a list of things he did. Like reciting the tasks (largely routine) at work you completed one week. More than once I found myself wondering how Keefe is still living — and he probably did, too, while writing it.

He then talks about his early days of recovery — his early 12-Step days and when it started to work for him, and how that changed his life. How being sober didn’t fix all of his problems, and how he still has impulse control issues and what he’s done to minimize the problems that causes him. Then he discusses his current circumstances, with a few years of sobriety behind him — how he’s doing, what he’s doing with himself, and that he’s still an alcoholic, living in fear of stumbling.

Those last couple of chapters, in particular are really powerful.

I’m a little of two minds about this book — you can see from what I’ve quoted how this book reads. Paragraphs that are 1 or 2 sentences long (there are some that are a little longer), some aren’t even complete sentences. The book largely reads like a very detailed outline — at best like a good first draft. Also, the timeline’s a little fuzzy and his knack for not using names all the time when talking about his life doesn’t help keep things clear.

None of that keeps the book from making an impact. It’s moving, it’s powerful, and you have a very real sense of what he went through. So Keefe’s not Tobias Wolff or Frank McCourt — who cares? The book accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish, is insightful, touching and inspiring. That’s good enough for me.

—–

3 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey: A great Intro to the Canons of Dort and a valuable tool for study

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of DortSaving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

by W. Robert Godfrey


eARC, 265 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019

Read: February 3 – 10, 2019


I’m halfway inclined to just copy and paste the Table of Contents here and say, “If you want to know about any of this, here’s where you start.” Slap a nice little graphic with some stars on it, and we’re done. But I’m not that lazy. This is a historically-based study of the Synod of Dort’s major product — the Canons of Dort (although it does look at some other concerns), the defense of the Reformed doctrines in answer to the challenges of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants that took up and furthered his cause following his death. The Canons gave us the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism” and are often misunderstood because of that and as mischaracterized as those points themselves. If this book only helps people stop doing that, it’d be well worth the effort (it won’t, but it’s pretty to think so) — but it’s so much more.

There are four parts to this book — any one of which can be read independently from the others. I’m not sure why you would do that, but they’re self-contained enough that you don’t have to.

Part I focuses on the historical and theological context for the calling of the Synod, those who attended and the topics it would address. Godfrey is a Church Historian and former History professor, this is his bread and butter, and you can tell that from these chapters. You also get the impression that he could’ve written a book about the same length as this one just on the historical matters without breaking a sweat. This isn’t the best part of the book, but it gets things off to a great start.

Part II is a “Pastoral” translation of the Canons prepared by Godfrey for this book. I’m not familiar enough with other translations to really have much to say about this. I’ve read others, but I don’t have them committed to memory. Besides, I don’t know Latin well enough to evaluate the translation. But I can say that this was a clear translation, it didn’t read like something written in Latin for experts, but something written to help me and other Christians to wade through some weighty topics. As the problems caused by the Remonstrants were in the churches more than in the academy, the language matched that.

The heart of the book is in Part III, An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Godfrey beings with some observations about the Canons as a whole — how they’re structured before he dives in to the Canons themselves. In addition to the errors of the Remonstrants, the Canons address other issues related to the doctrines involved, providing a resource for believers for generations not just an answer to their contemporary problems. The pastoral focus of the Canons — and Godfrey — is evident throughout the Exposition, he’s frequently talking about comfort, encouragement, and assurance. It’s not just an explanation and defense of the Reformation and Protestant teaching, it’s an aid and comfort to believers.

It may come as a surprise to see what Godfrey points out as a result of compromise, and the reasoning behind those things that needed no compromise. The behind-the-scenes portions of the book are as interesting as the exposition (giving an indication to those of us who didn’t sit under Godfrey’s Church History lectures that we really missed out on something). Godfrey also points out how the Canons weren’t as successful in some ways as they wanted to be — not as a failure, just that some of their goals were out of reach of the assembly.

Some of this section gets repetitive — because each Head of Doctrine is complete in itself, capable of standing alone — so similar points are covered repeatedly. Godfrey’s exposition both points that out and is written to keep the repetition from being dull, but instead an indication of the importance of the various points. This section is so helpful that I really can’t do justice — my copy is full of highlighted lines/paragraphs. I will be returning to it often, I know that. Concise, clear, insightful — everything you want in this kind of study.

The remainder of the book is Appendices. There’s an outline of the Canons, an explanation for the pattern of each head of doctrine (very similar to the same idea in the Exposition) and a handy guide to the relation of the positive articles to the rejection of errors. The last appendix is a new translation of the Synod’s provisional position on the Sabbath, giving some insight into the relation of the Synod’s stance to that of British Puritanism. The largest, and probably most helpful (and maybe controversial) is an extended look at Arminius and his overall project. Godfrey takes a position that argues against some recent scholarship (as I understand) and insists that he wasn’t a moderate Reformed churchman, but someone seeking to overturn segments of the church’s teaching and introduce serious Pelagian error.

In this anniversary year, I know this will not be the only book about the Synod released (I have another pre-ordered, and am sure I’ll pick up others) — but I can’t imagine that it won’t be one of the better. It is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral — this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you’d do well to study it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

In Their Own Words by David B. Calhoun: Not exactly what I expected, but a profitable read

In Their Own WordsIn Their Own Words: The Testimonies of Luther, Calvin, Knox and Bunyan

by David B. Calhoun


Paperback, 232 pg.
Banner of Truth, 2018
Read: January 13 – 27, 2018

I liked this book — don’t get me wrong. I’d even recommend it heartily to people. But I have some issues with it.

Let’s look at the book blurb, shall we?

           Hundreds of biographies have been written of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and John Bunyan. But there is something unique to be gained by listening to these men tell their stories in their own words.

Right there? I’m sold — great idea for a book. What’s more, this is from Banner of Truth — this kind of thing is in their wheelhouse. Who wouldn’t want to read this kind of thing?

           Here, in In Their Own Words, is a collection of testimonial statements drawn from the writings of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Bunyan. We see men who candidly confessed their sins and boldly testified to the grace, mercy, and goodness of God to them. Their testimonies illustrate the great truth stated by Paul that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:20-21).

The key word there, is “statements.” I had visions of extended portions of the works of these men. Which seemed odd to me at least in Calvin’s case, as he’s notorious for not talking about his life (as is seen in this book, I should add). But still, that’s what it sounded like to me. But by and large we’re talking a sentence or two of quotation to be followed by Calhoun discussing more about his subject on whatever topic/time period he’s looking at. Sometimes we get a paragraph — sometimes a couple consecutive paragraphs. Sometimes it’s less than a sentence. Really there’s a lot more David Calhoun than I expected. I don’t have a detailed analysis, but I’m pretty sure that the text is 55-65% Calhoun (and a few biographers he quotes), with the remainder by the subjects.

This doesn’t diminish the work by Calhoun — it’s no easy feat finding these snippets and then assembling them into a coherent narrative. But still …

My other issue is the inclusion of Bunyan. He doesn’t fit thematically, or even historically. Also, despite really trying — repeatedly for almost two decades — I can’t muster up that much enthusiasm for him. This is a personal flaw of mine, I realize. But that’s that.

Now, the content of the book? It’s really good — linking these mini-biographies (50-60 pages per subject) to biographical remarks is a great idea, and adds a perspective you don’t normally see. Calhoun is able to focus on the parts of their lives that they cared more about, rather than whatever the prevailing interests of scholars are.

We get good, concise views of their lives, with a lot of flavor of the subjects — their concerns, their thoughts, even some of their personality. A good investment of time — I learned some things, I found some inspiration in some of the words — and relished Calhoun showing the Providential care shown to each of these men.

Read this, think about it — just don’t go in expecting to get saturated by the words of these figures and you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

Death Valley Superstars by Duke Haney: Cautionary Tales about Hollywood

Death Valley SuperstarsDeath Valley Superstars: Occasionally Fatal Adventures in Filmland

by Duke Haney
Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Delancey Street Press, 2018
Read: January 2 – 16, 2019

Duke Haney, actor, screenplay writer, novelist, essayist, has delivered a well-written collection of sixteen essays revolving around some of those impacted by, affected by, corrupted(?) by, shaped by Fame — that fleeting authority and celebrity bestowed by a chosen few in the Hollywood system that has captured the American imagination and attention since the 1900s.

The quality of the writing throughout was pretty consistent, as was the voice, etc., etc. But my own interest varied widely from piece to piece. I think that’s largely on me, not Haney. But then again, maybe Haney shouldn’t have picked topics that have been done to death. I’m not sure that the universe needs another essay/reflection/biography/anything about Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, or Jim Morrison. It certainly doesn’t need any further effort to celebrate Hugh Hefner.

On the other hand, the pieces about Sean Flynn (son of Errol), William Desmond Taylor, Christopher Jones, and other people that I’d never heard of were fascinating. I learned something, I was introduced to people I’d missed out on. They weren’t slightly different takes on worn-out ideas about legends that have had dozens of books written about them.

Better yet were the pieces that were about his life — encountering Elizabeth Taylor as a youth, working on various films, his nude scenes, his crush on (and seen in retrospect, stalking) of a noted actress, the encounter with the lady on the bus talking about the video store they both frequented, even the part of the Jim Morrison essay about his quest to hire a psychic (it shouldn’t be that hard in L.A.) to do a séance in a hotel room Morrison lived in. He’s really his best — and most entertaining — subject (although when the subject of an essay is someone else, Haney tends to talk about himself too much). He doesn’t come across as someone trying to gloss over mistakes, missteps, or embarrassing moves — in fact, he seems to revel in them. These are honest (seeming), frequently funny and charming.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who will invert my rankings, or dispute them all together. And they’d likely be right to do so (I doubt they’d convince me, but you never know). Most collections I read are pretty uneven. This isn’t the case with Death Valley Superstars, I think the quality is consistent — it’s just my own reaction to the chapters that are varied. I’d wager the same will be true for other readers.

If nothing else, I think the above summary rundown demonstrates the variety of pieces in this collection — and I didn’t make mention of all of them. One thing that is fairly consistent is the takeaway from the collection as a whole — fame is fleeting, but its effect on the lives of the famous (and those near them) is long-lasting, and rarely pleasant or beneficial. Really, the whole book can be seen as a collection of cautionary tales with a persistent message — stay away from Hollywood.

I didn’t love this book, but I really liked parts of it, and am glad I read it. I can easily see many readers wondering what was wrong with me, however, and eating this thing up.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which is seen above.

—–

3 Stars

✔ An essay collection.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Prepping for Success by Anmol Singh

Today we’re promoting Prepping for Success by Anmol Singh. Along with this spotlight post, he’s given me four guest posts that’ll be headed your way. I don’t think anyone would take me seriously if I gave my take on this book, if anyone’s going to convince you to read this book, it’s going to be Singh himself, so I’m going to let him — come back for his posts, will ya?

Book Details:

Book Title: Prepping For Success: 10 Keys for Making it in Life by Anmol Singh
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
Release date: December 21, 2018
Format: Paperback/Hardcover
Length: 124 pages

Book Blurb:

Prepping for success is a guided journey that equips you with the principles you need in order to take advantage of your innate inner talents to achieve true success.

The 10 keys allow you to not just understand yourself, but they also teach you how to express your best self to others. This enables you to be the best version of yourself.

This book is an inspirational, light-hearted guide to help you put your plans into action. It offers an understandable and relatable step by step approach to discovering yourself and achieving your own personal true success.

In a world where there are so many choices and distractions, this book is dedicated to helping you find a balance through it all.

Are you ready to begin your Journey towards true success?

About Anmol Singh:

Anmol SinghAnmol made his name as a High paid consultant in the Trading and Investing Industry. He launched LiveTraders in 2015 which is now voted the #1 Trading Education Firm for three years in a row. He has coached and Trained over 1000+ Traders and Investors. Some of whom have now gone on to run their Own Hedge funds.

He is considered the leading expert in the Trading Psychology space having helped thousands of traders all over the world dealing with Psychological and Behavioural issues that arise when high stakes on are on the line. He brings a unique view on Sucess and shows how the same concepts that he has used to Help Million dollar traders are applicable to our day to day lives, irrespective of the industry or career they are in. This is not a business book and this sure isn’t a trading book. This book is about achieving Success in Each and EVERY area of your Life.

Currently, he remains an avid Stock Market and Forex trader and spends his day working with Students of his Trading firm Livetraders and continues to Financially back them. He also involved with other Entrepreneurial Ventures and Franchise Stores in Addition to Maintaining a Real Estate Portfolio.

Anmol Singh’s Social Media:

Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ LinkedIn ~ StockTwits

Purchase Links for Prepping For Success: 10 Keys for Making it in Life:

Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble

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.