Finally – the stuff that went beyond the generic, the meh and the just plain bad. Here’s the stuff I enjoyed, minus a thing or two that kept them from being truly next level.
Getting Things Done – David Allen
Maybe it’s the OCD in me (undiagnosed), but I love a good organizational system. And I like getting shit done, particularly mindwork. It’s a dry subject, and the whole business kung-fu thing is anathema to me, but I don’t think Allen’s the tech bro kind of dude. He’s just obsessed with being organized. I need a bit of chaos in my life, and I know trying to control life leads to frustration, so I’m not all the way on board, but still, this system helped me quite a bit. It helped me get on top of my shit anyway.
Face It – Debbie Harry
So, I love Debbie Harry. In the Eighties, she and Winona Ryder were my first real celebrity crushes. So to find out that yeah, maybe she’s a bit of a woo-woo weirdo, but that she’s still pretty well awesome, and every bit as dripping with art and sensuality as my pre-pubescent self had a kind of psychic sense she’d be… well, hell. That’s just straight fantasy right there.
The Princess Diaries – Carrie Fisher
The actual diaries here were important. I’m not such a Star Wars fan that I actually care about the salacious details of a relationship between Fisher and Harrison Ford. The diaries themselves show a young girl who can’t seem to help herself but is somehow self-aware of that fact, if a little unfair. Sylvia Plath meets Princess Leia, sort of.
SexRx – Lauren Streicher
Scientific and not really meant for me as the audience, but hey, there’s relevancy and it was informative. I enjoyed it.
Good Sex – Jessica Graham
The idea of merging mindfulness and sex is pretty basic, I assume, but it’s the focus on connection and sex positivity here that I appreciate. I’m not into BDSM, which is something that seems to play heavily into this. I mean, I understand the concept of trust and power dynamics, and really appreciate the trust aspect, but I’ve never been one to want control over others, and as a long-time punk rock fan, submission isn’t part of my dynamic. I’m more oppositional defiant disorder-oriented. To me, that kind of absolute trust is best achieved on even footing; pain is not pleasure to me, and power dynamics hold nothing sensual for me. If that’s your thing, enjoy. I won’t yuck your yum; it’s just not mine.
If Chins Could Kill: Confessions Of A B-Movie Actor – Bruce Campbell
I grew up on Bruce and co. Evil Dead is still a masterpiece, up to and including Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Hearing the stories about a bunch of kids, like kids I would have hung out with as a kid, busting their humps, however unprofessionally, and somehow making it, is always a good read to me. Plus, he’s funny.
Welcome To Night Vale – Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor
I adore Night Vale. It can get a bit repetitive at times, but I appreciate the tie-ins to the podcast. The only thing I found is that it was a bit heavy-handed in that regard. These little flourishes of Night Vale history or culture were cute at first, but grew a bit over the top by the end. Otherwise, solid book.
Dancing Barefoot – Wil Wheaton
Short, but impactful stories by our favourite ensign.
The Art Of Non-Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
I appreciate Guillebeau’s non-slimy approach, and as a fellow travel lover, I love his stories. I do think it’s not enough to simply set foot in a country. If you don’t do something there, it’s not enough to ride the train through. However much I appreciate Guillebeau’s ideas, there’s always something that feels a little too whitebread and safe, like a punk rock manifesto written by a Christian camp counselor.
Hammered – Elizabeth Bear
At first, the dysfunction between swapping first to third person and all over the map on the timeline hurt a little to read, but hell, this is a good story regardless. The ending is a bit abrupt, like you’re only halfway through the book, but hey, it’s a series, and Bear is one of the most underrated sci-fi authors I’ve read.
Ice Cream & Sadness – the Cyanide & Happiness guys
What’s not to love? Absurdist cartoons with unnecessary violence and juvenile humour? If you can’t dig that, well, I feel for you, son.
Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way – Bruce Campbell
I mean, it’s a semi-fictional story about Bruce Campbell infecting the A-list with a B-movie virus, taken through a tour of the “process”. What’s not to like?
It Devours – Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor
A strong follow-up to the first book, with the same problems. Too many sidebars that were cute at first, but then start to drag the flow of the story. Still, well done.
Just A Geek – Wil Wheaton
A longer version of Dancing Barefoot, but the tenderness of the memories, in which coming to terms with the past (which seems to be Wil’s entire genre at this point), bleed through. It’s an interesting look in the mind of a child star who was never quite the child star the rest of them were; more interested in GURPS than girls, in comics than condoms, in superheroes instead of super-heroin. Plus, he’s not a bad dude, and “don’t be a dick” is never bad advice.
The $100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau
Another Guillebeau book on a similar topic, this time with more of a focus on greatness from small beginnings. Again, there’s something staid about the execution, like a positivity seminar in a high school gym, but hey, the message is good.
Pawn Of Prophecy – David Eddings
I mentioned the other day that this was my favourite fantasy series as a kid; it holds up well, and the first book does a nice job sucking you right in. It’s not groundbreaking, necessarily, but it’s unique enough to make you want to explore this world in its entirety.
The Regiment – Farley Mowat
If ever I write a war epic, I’m coming back to this for reference. The juxtaposition of absurdity, heroism and horror, brought as only Farley Mowat’s deft hand can, is well worth the read. It’s still a history book, and so a little dull at points, but otherwise, you truly feel the muck and the mountains of trudging through war-torn Italy. Solid read.
The Adventures Of Captain Hatteras – Jules Verne
Weirdly, the book of Verne’s I enjoyed the most (thusfar) is the one I’d never heard of. Hatteras’ maniacal, obsessive push forward, even in the face of impossibility, rendering him truly lost at then end, well, that’s something special. I love an unhappy ending, and this was a good one, even if it doesn’t make any sense to have a volcano at the North Pole.
The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your House – Jeffrey Cranor, Joseph Fink
About the same as the other Night Vale books, but I think I may have judged this one a bit unfairly. I think I got caught in the hype a bit, which is something I try not to do. Aim high, but expect nothing, that’s my rule. Nothing ever lives up to the hype, and if you buy in, you’re guaranteed to be disappointed. If you lose the expectations, you can enjoy it for what it is, and I think that was my issue here. After hearing repeatedly how it was the “best ever”, it… wasn’t. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either, and fell from great to good on the disappointment of my unjustified expectations. But don’t worry, the same thing happened to me with Captain America: The First Avenger, and look how that turned out. Cap’s my favourite.
Yours, Cruelly – Elvira
I lied earlier when I said Winona Ryder and Debbie Harry were my only Eighties crushes. If Elvira came on at any point, my eyes were locked to the screen, and you know damn well why (hey, I was eight – you can’t expect enlightenment). Still, it wasn’t just the wonderfully low cut outfit (or the glory it barely contained), but she was actually funny. She seemed fun, and this book does nothing to dispel that thought. She seems a profoundly wonderful human being who had to put up with a lot solely because of her looks, taken advantage of even as she promoted a sex positive outlook. It’s impossible not to love her, or to wonder how it is that someone like this truly lived this life, but hey, anything can happen. Isn’t life grand?
The Happiness Of Pursuit – Chris Guillebeau
Again, good idea. Again, like a D.A.R.E. presentation on the joy of the process of creation and achievement. A little pizazz, please?
Gregor And The Curse Of The Warmbloods – Suzanne Collins
For a kid’s book, this certainly doesn’t pull punches. Lost legs, plagues, death. I really appreciate that. Don’t talk down to kids; they will be smarter if you elevate the conversation and don’t hide shit.
Worldwired – Elizabeth Bear
The finale of the Jenny Casey series. Listen, if you can read Elizabeth Bear and you like sci-fi, do so. Very forward thinking stuff.
Hunter Of Worlds – C.J. Cherryh
The unique nature of the book, where three people (aliens) are mind-linked against their will and have to navigate the unfamiliar honour system of a race of aliens far more powerful than their own? The only knock is the sheer amount of language created for the aliens. It’s overbearing at time, and can make it a bit hard to follow when you have to keep checking the glossary.
Uncertainty: Turning Fear And Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance – Jonathan Fields
The very concept of leaning into uncertainty is actually a wonderful metaphor for the act of creation, coming out of amorphous ideas and through increasingly intense fear about execution. Fields kind of nails it here, though it leans hard into tech, and not as much into art.
Permanent Record – Edward Snowden
Listen, I know the guy’s a Russian asset. I’m not sure he was then, however, but he’s been living in Putin’s shadow for some time now, and well, a guy like Putin? Given the leverage he has over Snowden? It would be nothing short of divine if he managed not to be turned. Anyway, beyond a bit of a martyr complex, he’s not wrong about the nature of mass surveillance and data collection. It’s absolutely abhorrent, and this is a concept that all citizens should understand fully, before we elect a single individual into power that could even remotely use this against us in a grab for power and glory.
Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
There’s some incredibly and surprisingly progressive stuff in this, the original feminist screed. I wasn’t sure how far someone in this age would take it, but hey, her husband was a known anarchist, so I guess progressive is as progressive does back then. The only off-putting thing was the stance against sex positivity; the ongoing battle between women being allowed to dress how they want, finding empowerment in embracing their feminine figure, and presenting themselves as more serious and chaste, to avoid being objectified unfairly, raged even then. I fall in the former camp, because I don’t believe in restrictions, and if someone can’t take someone seriously because of a miniskirt, well, that’s on the asshole to enlighten himself, not the woman.
Target: 1200 words
Written: 432 words, poetry: Feathers Falling