Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Review of Books for 2009

Despite its title and look, this is not a book blog—or rather, it isn't a blog dedicated only to books. In my humble opinion, reading is just one facet of my remarkable intelligence. I have a life outside of books—like bitching, waiting for the UPS guy to deliver "stuff", and planting cash crops of radishes on my future burial plot to help pay for it—and I write about those things too. This duality offends many dedicated book bloggers (none of whom are on my sidebar), and the snoots shun me. I don't mind a bit of shunning here and there, but the notion of burning at the stake for The Great Pretender of Book Reviewing bothers me.

During 2009, I read 72 books, and I have 3 in progress. Of the 72, I reviewed 25 that I opined would be of interest to my general readers. Books that are different, something new, something borrowed, something blue. DISCLAIMER: Please remember that these are my opinions; your results may vary.


The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Young Adult

Innovative writing (Death is the narrator), a story that takes place inside Hitler's Germany, and unforgettable characters like Liesel Meminger and her best friend Rudy Steiner made this book unforgettable. As I wrote in my review, "Despite foreshadowing by Death, I was a wreck by book's end."

The quote I used also bears repeating. Death tells us, shortly after the Allies have bombed a place named Köln where five hundred were killed:

Five hundred souls.
I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I'd throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.
This book haunts me still.


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne, Young Adult

I cannot for the life of me understand the popularity of this book, other than the supposed tear-jerker anti-climax. Bruno, the nine-year-old "protaga-nist," is a self-absorbed brat and just about as dumb as they come.

In a praise blurb, New York magazine says, “A book that tells a very bad story, gently.” Wrong, New York magazine. There is no way to tell a story as horrific as the Holocaust gently, especially when Bruno uses numbskull puns throughout the book: "The Fury" for the Fuhrer and "Out-With" for Auschwitz.

As I said in my review, "I do not take negative reviews lightly, and they are never a snap decision. I gave this book a lot of thought over several days, a lot of time writing and rewriting and, in the final analysis, I recommend it to no one . . .  it is a disgrace to the Holocaust."

OTHER GOOD BOOKS THIS YEAR (In no particular order.)

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Her second book of long short stories, I thought it was better than her first collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which won a Pulitzer.

Collected Stories; Sanctuary; Absalom! Absalom!, William Faulkner. I like the guy—what can I say?

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote.

“Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.”
So begins the story “Children on Their Birthdays,” and I dare any reader to put it down after an opening sentence like this one. Unfortunately, Capote only published twenty stories during his early career, but every  one is a gem.

A couple of fun ones:

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Another Young Adult book, it is a sci-fi thriller with a strong female lead. The story and action does not stop, making it almost impossible to put down. Wandering Coyote has read the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, and she assures me that the pace is even faster and the story superb.

The Lovers, John Connolly. The eighth installment in the Charlie Parker series, his books are getting darker and playing up the supernatural angle. And John, in person, is such a funny, likeable guy. I guess you can't tell a book by its author, a statement which makes absolutely no sense at all.

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You can read the full reviews of these books by clicking on or around the wormy apple on the sidebar. Coming up next is a review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road—one of those books I have to think about before I review it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Housekeeping, Not

About this time every once in a while, I do computer house cleaning. The goal is to rid the machine of old and useless files, which is just about all of them. I never get the job done, though, because I always end up . . . farting around instead.

Like yesterday, I decided that a new blog template would be nice for the New Year. I don’t know where the idea came from—probably my automatic procrastinator—so I started surfing template sites. And a few more, and a few more after that, until two hours totally disappeared, never to be regained. I must have looked at 37,874 templates, exactly two of which I really liked. But they both had black backgrounds with print that was difficult to read, so I nixed the whole idea. It's not the medium, I told me, it's the message.

Next on my mental farting around list was a trip to that evil place, Microsoft—the company that owns my computer. My computer is growing elderly, I worry about the hard disk, and I would like a nifty new notebook like the one St Jude got for Christmas. So I went to Microhard to do a software test with Windows 7.

Sorry Charlie, but little of my software will work with their newest piece of crap. I wasn’t aware that Microhard’s nerds have a sense of humor: Word 2003 and Excel 2003 will work with 7 "with modifications." Yeah, right. There used to be a time when new versions of Windows were backward compatible. No more, not even with their own Office products. The problem is, I’ve built Excel worksheets with VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), but 7 has a new VBA. Martha found that out at work when her programmed worksheets wouldn’t work with Vista, the temporary moneymaking piece of crap.

I’m willing to bet that if I had games, music, movies, Book Face, Tweety, and all the other stuff that works on my cell phone (don’t get me started), all of it would work seamlessly with Windows 7.

So another hour or more wasted looking at dozens of helpless help files, never to be regained. I was tired and dejected and pissed, but I did manage to do a bit of hard disk clean up: I deleted all of Martha’s Spider Solitaire games, which she saves by accident.

Microhard now has an additional 256 KB to download bug fixes to its six-year-old XP system.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Christmas Wish

To us, this song is the meaning of Christmas.

Peace & Goodwill To All

From Martha and . . . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Resolutions, Part 2

In my aptly named post, Resolutions, Part 1, I promised there would be a second part—that’s the main reason for putting a “1” after the word “Part.” I heard all the groans, and don’t think that I didn’t; I have excellent cyber hearing. At least I’m being kind by sneaking in Part 2 while you’re all busy with Christmas preparations.

Lettuce review Part 1 then, where I stated my major resolution:

1. I will reduce stress.

Okay, that’s enough review, so here are the rest of my New Year’s resolutions for 2010:

2. I will reduce stress. On the surface, this appears to be somewhat similar to number 1. The difference is I resolve to not listen, read, or watch ANYTHING that has to do with politicians.

3. I will reduce stress. Another similarity, except that I resolve to cease my attempt to reconcile the Nobel Prize for Peace and the “surge.” Sending 35,000 men and women to search thousands of caves and patrol the sand dunes is like sending 10 guys to fight a Santa Ana-caused wildfire in Southern California.

4. I will reduce stress. Are you starting to notice a pattern here? I resolve to ignore the plight of the poor banks, the poor health insurance companies, and any large corporation that has out-sourced its operations to China at the cost of American jobs.

If it sounds like I’m sticking my head in the sand for the coming year, I suppose I am. All of the things I’ve mentioned make my blood boileth over, which is not conducive to my longevity. Lung disease has me on the ropes as it is, and getting all upset over people and situations I can do nothing about is counter-productive. With that in mind,

5. I will continue to blog.

6. I will be here next year to resolute for 2011.

7. I will religiously change my socks once a week, whether or not they need changing. When I say “religiously,” I don’t mean with incense and holy water and a pulpit . . .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Should She Tell?

When you live with a woman for over thirty-five years, you have a tendency to pick up on her moods. Anger is simple, especially (and mostly) when I am the target. So is happiness and sadness. Sex is a crapshoot, meaning yes, no, or let me get back to you on that sometime next week.

The easiest mood for me to notice, however, is when something is bothering her. I not only see it, but I can also feel it—bummer electrons, I think they call them. Martha, by nature, is not a worrier; she takes things as they come, deals with them, and then moves on. For the past month or so, though, she’s been bothered.

But try to get anything out of her when I ask, “What’s the matter, honey?” “Nothing,” she replies, which is the most aggravating non-answer in the world. I learned a long time ago not to push her because it makes her angry. So she stews in her own juices, while I sit around with my one tooth in my head and worry.

Don’t you worry because all of this is leading somewhere; you all know me and my problem with verbosity.

During December, Martha has had several use-or-lose vacation days. She scheduled an appointment with her female gynecologist for a “wellness check,” which led to some testing—blood work, bone density, an ultrasound of her pelvic bone, and yesterday, the thrill of them all: a mammogram (she once used the analogy of having her boobs slammed in the car door), as well as an ultrasound of the same.

So last night at the supper table, I finally found out what Martha has been brooding about: a lump she found in her right breast. The doctor who reviewed the mammogram and ordered the ultrasound met with her to assure her that it is no more than a drainable cyst.

I’m super thrilled for her, but I’m also pissed off.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I asked.

“I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Don’t you think that I’ve been worried already, knowing that something was wrong, but all I get is evasiveness and mumbling? I thought we were in this together, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health?”

Martha apologized, and I felt lower than a worm’s belly button for getting angry, and then I grabbed her and hugged her as hard as I could.

So now, I have a couple questions for you, my dear readers:

Was I a self-centered horse’s ass putting my own worry above her's?

Most of all, should couples share their medical concerns and suspicions with their partners?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Resolutions, Part 1

I have decided, in my finite wisdom, to do my New Year's resolutions in two parts. This first part is about books and my top-priority resolution:

1. I will reduce stress.

Is reading stressful, you ask? Yes, if I do more than read for pleasure and get involved in book Challenges and setting goals.

For the last two years, I have participated in the 50 Book Challenge on LibraryThing. It’s no big thing to read 50 in a year when I have little else to do, but I still ask myself the nagging question, “Will I make it to 50 by December 31? Will I, huh, will I?” Stupid, I know, but I cause me stress. So, for 2010, I am not going to participate in any annual-number-of-books-read Challenges.

It’s amazing how many different Challenges there are in book-blogging land, and I’m going to do three easy ones—two of which I committed to in 2009.

This Challenge is sponsored by Jennie at Biblio File, and I have to read ONE book about China by September 1, 2010. Very doable since I have the ONE book waiting to be read.

This is a great Challenge from my friend Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea. This isn't a reading Challenge, but rather a give-away Challenge. That is, I've committed to passing on twenty books that I'll read in 2010 to other people—family, friends, library sales, women's shelters, nursing homes—even previously-owned bookstores.

This Challenge is fairly self-explanatory [cough, cough]. I'm signing up for the "Inquisitive" level, which means I commit to reading THREE books during 2010 over a wide range of genres. Too bad I just finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but I have more in my reading pile.

If you're interested in any of these Challenges, click on the picture for more information and sign-up. The links will then be moved to the sidebar.

So, for 2010, I'll reduce some stress by reading the l-o-n-g books I'm anxious to dig into. The Sound and the Fury is my next Faulkner, and I have several Library of America books to read—the latter of which are 800 to 1,100 pages each. I'll pepper them, of course, with mysteries and anything I find interesting in the book blogs (which is usually quite a few).

I'll tackle the rest of my resolutions in a couple days, so feel free to amuse yourselves until then.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


WANTED: Dead or alive. Cell phone spammer who has texted me four times so far this week. Well boo-fucking-hoo, fella: go ahead and freeze my assets at a credit union that does not exist, and please do it at the North Pole in your underpants. You are the scum that rises to the top of the scum; I know all about scum because I used to cook. Reward for anyone who brings him in partially dead so I can finish him off myself. Inquire within.

WANTED: Cell phone provider that does not speak with forked tongue. I have complained twice to have text messaging turned off, and both times my helpful customer care representatives (Muffy and Puffy) have assured me they flipped the switches. Or maybe it was switched the flippers. In any event, I was bare-eared lied to. Inquire within.

WANTED: Cell phone that does absolutely nothing other than VOICE calls—the kind where one person talks while the other one listens, and then the other one talks while the one person listens. I realize that may be old-fashioned, but how much sense does it make to text message someone when you’re holding a fucking TELEPHONE in your hand? I do not need the following “features” on a mobile telephone: the weather (I can tell that by looking up), games, CNN or the BBC, music, sporting events, the stock market, movies like Lord of the Rings in THX Dolby surround sound, emails, or an itty-bitty keyboard with 400 tiny keys. And did I mention text messaging? Inquire within.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Love All Year Round

Santa says, "Piss on the commercialism!"

Everybody sing, "A lemming we will go ..."

I'm not against the religious meaning of December 25 (whether or not I subscibe to it), but I definitely detest the pressure and the guilt retailers put on the masses.

Think about this. Would Ma and Pa Ingalls have driven their wagon all the way to the Walmart in Mankato to buy Cheap Chinese Crap—using their Chase Bank Platinum Card at 19.8% (since Charles never had two nickels to rub together) —for Mary, Half-Pint, and Carrie? Nope. The girls got home-made and hand-made gifts, gifts made with love, and they were thrilled because they didn't watch the in-your-face advertising on TV.

Our friend Stinkypaw has the right idea with her Blogger gift exchange. Fourteen of her blog friends (she calls them Blends) are exchanging small, home-made gifts. Leave it to a lady named Stinky to come up with such a nice idea.

I also like what Fay has to say:

"It's not that I hate gifts, baking, entertaining, etc. It's just that I'd rather spread it out throughout the year. The giant flashing Santa on my neighbor's roof - that I could live without." [Italics mine]

Sorry, Fay. Just throw a brick or something through my bedroom window and I'll have Martha get out of bed, go out to the garage, and turn Santa off for you.

By the way. Our house didn't win the holiday lighting contest again this year.

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Health-wise, I'm feeling a bit better after spending most of the weekend in bed. I'm still taking it very slow, though, and I'll be around to your blogs tomorrow.