Review Books Archive

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Micro book review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombie edition

If you like Pride and Prejudice and you like zombies and you like ridiculous mash-up concepts, this book is a no-brainer (to the disappointment of all you zombie readers out there, I’m sure). However, if one of those points leaves a sour taste in your mouth, you may wanna look elsewhere to satisfy your taste for avant-garde literary desecration (and, of course, brains).

4 out of 5 brains 

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Book Review: “Cooking for Dogs” by Marjorie Walsh

At my job, I encounter a lot of very stupid books. There are a lot of very stupid people, you see, and they like to read very stupid books. And then those get donated to my non-profit and I sort through them and judge the anonymous people who donated them, usually harshly. It grants me the rare opportunity to feel superior to people who likely make more money than I ever have or will. Like the guy who took the time to leave a half-garbled sentence in my seller feedback when I had to cancel his order of “The Preppy Handbook” or some shit, due to Amazon being glitchy? Yeah, I still make fun of that dude in my head sometimes. And I make fun of you when you drop off thirty Danielle Steele novels at my donation bins, too. It’s a perk of being in the book donation world: I get to examine your marginalia, the titles you read, the boarding passes you leave in the middle of shitty airport books. I get to peek into your life and decide whether or not you’re a good person. What’s that? You just donated five Rachael Ray cookbooks?

Oh, hi. I think less of you.

But I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a more loathsome book than the one that I’m about to describe. Published by Random House in 2007, penned by the illustrious Marjorie Walsh, who runs “an elite dog resort in the UK catering to a handful of pampered pooches, with… specially-developed meals,” we have the one and only “Cooking for Dogs: Tempting Recipes for Your Best Friend to Enjoy.” Seriously. That’s the title. It only goes downhill from here.

Full disclosure: it’s a cookbook, and I haven’t read the recipes beyond their titles. I’m not judging the book on the basis of its recipes. I’m judging it on the basis of it having been written. Also, the introduction. And then I’ll probably pick some of the recipes to highlight for the purposes of pointing out how ludicrous the whole thing is. And then I’ll say “Fuck” a few times and conclude. Or maybe I’ll just conclude with “Fuck.” Hard to say. Let’s get going.

Here is Marjorie in the intro:

When I looked at the nutritional information on commercial pet food and saw by-products, fillers and derivatives I decided that I didn’t want to feed that to my dogs. I wouldn’t eat these things, so why should our dogs?

BECAUSE THEY’RE FUCKING DOGS AND THEY EAT THEIR OWN SHIT AND MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT THAT BEFORE YOU TRY TO WINE AND DINE THEM INTO SUBMISSION? THEY EAT THEIR OWN SHIT, THEY EAT VOMIT, THEY EAT TRASH!! THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT MONSANTO, HONEY!

I’ll try to ease up on the all-caps. Pressing forward:

I started out by just making extra food when cooking the family’s meals, so that our dogs ate what we ate. Because I wanted to get it right, I did a lot of research and invested in some nutritional software. The end result is happy, healthy dogs with coats like velvet, plenty of energy, and hardly any pooping.

Hardly any pooping. Great. Instead of pooping, they just beg all the time because they’re being treated to fucking lamb with lentils (actual recipe) and salmon stroganoff (also an actual recipe), because some idiot with way too much time and money is pushing a book that encourages feeding dogs people food. But hey, no shitting! No more cleaning up shit! Sure, you have to spend 20 minutes prepping and 55 minutes cooking Scruffy’s avocado and chicken casserole, but no poop! Who’s walking who, now, motherfuckers?

MAS!

…[T]he experts don’t really know what makes the perfect dog food. Breeders and vets will have their favorite foods, too. So, how do you know?

PICK ME PICK ME! I bet if you feed them people food they’ll like that best of all! Yay! Where the fuck is my medal?

Dogs are like humans:

No, they’re not.

all different.

Soda cans are like humans: all different. Grains of sand are like humans: all different. Giant green dildos are like humans: all different.

For larger dogs it is much kinder to put their feed bowl in a stand adjusted for their height so that they are not stooping to eat their food.

Because who would subject a dog to the indignity of stooping for his meal? Now, maid? Cook Scruffy some tuna polenta, it’s his birthday.

From here, the introduction becomes slightly less patently offensive. Walsh assures us that dogs need plenty of calcium, and that the ideal meal “should consist of 25% protein, 30% fat, and 45% carbohydrates.” “Hold on a second,” you might be thinking. “Didn’t she admit in the second paragraph that there’s a wide range of opinion when it comes to what to feed your dog, and that every dog is different? Like humans?” Well yeah, sure, you pedant. But that was a whole page ago, and Walsh has a deadline to meet, books to sell. This is the right formula for all of the iddy-biddy, special snowflake dogs on the planet. Or you know. Close enough.

(I should note here that the second page of the particular copy I have is highlighted in pink and underlined in ink, suggesting that the previous owner has read this introduction at least twice, each time with an eye toward studying its hidden wisdom. This is deeply depressing on a number of levels, but I don’t feel like crying right now, so let’s keep going, if we could.)

So, armed with this information you can actually share your evening meal with your pet, remembering to add calcium to their portion. Dogs also need fat for energy so their meat should not be too lean, and don’t get too hung up on calories. Just be guided by your pet.

That this advice, “Don’t get too hung up on calories. Just be guided by your pet” comes in the context of a discussion about SHARING YOUR FUCKING MEALS WITH IT is troubling. I can just imagine Walsh’s husband Craig getting home from work on a Wednesday evening. “What do you want for dinner, Marjorie?”

“I’m quite not sure quite, Craig.” (She’s British: they say “quite” a lot.) “What does Scruffy want?”

“Scruffy wants beef and black bean stew, love,” Craig replies.

“Maid?” Marjorie calls.

And, scene.

I hope the maid steals their jewelry is what I’m saying.

No, what I’m really saying is that somehow a book was written that advised pet owners to take their nutritional cues from dogs. You’re counting calories? How silly, my dog isn’t counting them! Why don’t you listen to your dog more? Maybe you’d have more friends.

How easy is it? Well just cook extra, either from one of these recipes or from your own evening meal. Divide into portions and either refrigerate or freeze the excess for later use so you have ready-made meals on hand when you have run out of dog food.

In sum, fuck starving people everywhere. You have the opportunity to feed your dog salmon, and you should take it. You thought those leftovers would be tasty for lunch tomorrow? Think about how much your dog will love them right now!

Just add some crushed up eggshells. For calcium. Oh, also, here’s a bunch of stupid recipes. KTHXBAI. <3 Marjorie

Overall reading experience: 1/10. Would not recommend.

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Mini Book Review

Read this right now: The Antagonist by Lynn Coady.

I can’t remember the last time I was this blown away, this crumpled, this inside-out over finishing a book. Coady’s last novel, Mean Boy, in 2006, maybe.

The Antagonist is about hockey, the Maritimes, pent-up masculine rage, fathers and sons, douchey guys in university, violence, loneliness — a coming-of-age novel that is somehow both quintessentially Canadian and placelessly universal.

I don’t have time to write a longer review, but here is what other critics are saying:

Globe and Mail: “One could open a review of Lynn Coady’s new novel, this week long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, by saying it’s about a hockey enforcer. Certainly her protagonist, given the recent deaths of three real-world hockey “hit men,” arrives with a macabre, if accidental, timeliness. But The Antagonist is a full-bodied work of fiction, and to say it’s about an enforcer is like saying The Catcher in the Rye is about a prep-school student – true, but absurdly reductive, especially since this is a novel that is all about how it feels to be categorized, dismissed, reduced by the very people who should know you best.”

National Post: “Watching Rank come to terms with his past is one of the novel’s great pleasures. What begin as harassing, mocking emails to his former friend — veiled threats, wisecracks about Adam’s weight — soon evolve, almost unintentionally, into a traditional memoir, as the reader learns more about Rank’s troubled childhood (he’s the adopted son of an overbearing father and a mother who died in his youth), his university career (he earns a hockey scholarship but quits when the coach wants him to intentionally injure opposing players) and, eventually, what he’s become”

Rabble.ca: “The book is the anti-buddy film, the anti-villain, the anti-hockey novel we all quite possibly could use. I say quite possibly because I’m puzzled by the fact that the water cooler rep of this book is “the hockey book” despite how hard Coady has worked to make this possibly the most unique take on what it is to be a man raging against a man and trying to use mind over matter.”

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The definitive top fives of 2011: Books!

Until starting grad school in September, I read A LOT of books for fun. Since then, I’ve read a lot of books to try not to fail. I write down all the books I read each year in a truly hideous Eiffel-tower-themed purple journal. These five were the best.

1. Big Girls Don’t Cry – Rebecca Traister. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is the anti-Game Change. Traister looks at women in the 2008 election in a no-bullshit, non-sensationalist way. A key finding: progressive guys can still be totally sexist assholes.

2.The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman.  A linked short story collection about various folks working at a failing newspaper in Rome. Great stuff. Elegant. Deeply sad.

3. Swamplandia! – Karen Russell. I have raved about this book to anyone who will listen. It’s just awesome. And dark. And swampy.

4. The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai. A book I did not expect to like, but very much did. About a librarian in a small town and an odd little boy. See? Sounds kind of twee, but definitely isn’t.

5. Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music  - Edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz. Ellen Willis was the first popular music critic for the New Yorker in the late 60s and early 70s,hired when she was only twenty-six. This collection complies her best music writing, and holy moly, is it ever good.

Honorable Mentions: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (only got around to it this year, liked it a lot); The Game by Ken Dryden (best hockey book, probably best sports book of all time); The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; Revolution by Deb Olin Unferth

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The Year is Over

So, it’s 2012 in a bit, and as 2011 winds down, we figured we’d do you the disservice of providing some links to some of the better stuff we’ve put out this year. Everyone does it, I know. We’re not trying to blaze trails here, we’re just trying to toot our own horns. We did some terrific shit! It’s just a shame that back when we actually tried, no one paid attention.

Without further ado:

The list is long, but if you’re new here, those are some of the things we’re proud of in this website’s brief existence. We’ll be back next year with more. We hope you’ll stick around.

Much love & respek,

~The editors

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Learn something new every day (or: leaf-cutter ants love to toss salads)

Just came across these delightful passage while continuing to slog through Dawkins’s The Ancestor’s Tale at lunch today. Thought I’d share (starting with the second full paragraph — transcript below):

(Transcript:)

Several groups of ants have independently evolved the habit of keeping domestic ‘dairy’ animals in the form of aphids. Unlike other symbiotic insects that live inside ants’ nests and don’t benefit the ants, the aphids are pastured out in the open, sucking sap from plants as they normally do. As with mammalian cattle, aphids have a high throughput of food, taking only a small amount of nutriment from each morsel. The residue that emerges from the rear end of an aphid is sugar-water ‘honeydew’—only slightly less nutritious than the plant sap that goes in at the front. Any honeydew not eaten by ants rains down from trees infested with aphids, and is plausibly thought to be the origin of ‘manna in the Book of Exodus. It should not be surprising that ants gather it up, for the same reason as the followers of Moses did. But some ants have gone further and corralled aphids, giving them protection in exchange for being allowed to ‘milk’ the aphids, tickling their rear ends to make them secrete honeydew which the ant eats directly from the aphid’s anus.

At least some aphid species have evolved in response to their domestic existence. They have lost some of the normal aphid defensive responses and, according to one intriguing suggestion, some have modified their rear end to resemble the face of an ant. Ants are in the habit of passing liquid food to one another, mouth to mouth, and the suggestion is that individual aphids that evolved this rear-end face-mimicry facilitated being ‘milked’ and therefore gained protection by ants from predators.

Ahh, so many jokes, so little time. Okay, just one: If that’s where manna came from, I shudder to learn the true origins of the burning bush!

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Book of the Moment: Updated

Currently listening to an audio version of Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect – awesomely narrated by Rip Torn, incidentally — and I’ve gotta say, even without Rip’s amazingly raw and quavery voice, my awe at Vonnegut’s ability to distill even the most awful atrocities down to their putrid, beautiful essence has increased yet again. His first essay (not including the intro) about surviving the firebombing of Dresden is so horrifically compelling at times, I had to actively remind myself that I was still driving along a major thoroughfare — so easily was I sucked into the telling.

More to come tomorrow — including excerpts from a posthumously delivered commencement speech that I rank right up there with David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College Speech. Damn, dude could deliver lines. (Vonnegut, I mean — but obviously DFW, too.)

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UPDATED 11/4/11: Finally found a transcript of the aforementioned speech, which Vonnegut wrote just two weeks before his death and which subsequently had to be delivered by his son Mark as part of a series of events held to honour his father in his home city.

I won’t steal anyone’s thunder by quoting the entire thing (it’s rather long), but a few good chunks wouldn’t go amiss…

Kurt Vonnegut at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, April 27, 2007

Listen, I studied Anthropology at the University of Chicago after the Second World War, the last one we ever won. And the physical anthropologists, who had studied human skulls going back thousands of years, said we were only supposed to live for thirty-five years or so because that’s how long our teeth lasted without modern dentistry. Weren’t those the good old days? Thirty-five years and we were out of here! Talk about intelligent design! Now all the Baby Boomers who can afford dentistry and health insurance—poor bastards—are going to live to be a hundred. Maybe we should outlaw dentistry. And maybe doctors should quit curing pneumonia, which used to be called “the old people’s friend.”

[...]

And there is certainly nothing new about a tragically and ferociously divided United States of America. And especially here in my native state of Indiana. When I was a kid here, this state had within its borders the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and the site of the last lynching of an African-American citizen north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Marion, I think. But it also had and still has in Terre Haute, which now boasts a state-of-the-art lethal injection facility, the birthplace and home of the labor leader Eugene Debs. He lived from 1855 to 1926 and led a nation-wide strike against the railroads. He went to prison for a while because he opposed our entry into World War I. And he ran for president several times on the Socialist Party ticket, saying things like this: “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. And while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Debs pretty much stole that from Jesus Christ, but it is so hard to be original. Tell me about it.

[...]

But seriously, my fellow Hoosiers, there’s good news and bad news tonight. This is the best of times and the worst of times. So what else is new? The bad news is that the Martians have landed in Manhattan and have checked in at the Waldorf Astoria. The good news is that they only eat homeless people of all colors, and they pee gasoline.

Am I religious? I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves Our Lady of Perpetual Consternation. We are as celibate as fifty percent of the heterosexual Roman Catholic clergy. Actually, and when I hold up my right hand like this, it means I’m not kidding, that I give my word of honor that what I’m about to say is true. So actually, I am Honorary President of the American Humanists Society, having succeeded the late great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, in that utterly functionless capacity. We humanists behave as well as we can, without any expectations of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community. We don’t fear death, and neither should you. You know what Socrates said about death, in Greek of course? “Death is just one more night.”

[...]

Does this old poop have any advice for young people in times of such awful trouble? Well, I’m sure you know that our country is the only so-called advanced nation that still has a death penalty and torture chambers. I mean, why screw around? But listen, if anyone here should wind up on a gurney in a lethal injection facility, maybe the one in Terre Haute, here is what your last words should be: “This will certainly teach me a lesson.” If Jesus were alive today, we would kill him with lethal injection. I call that progress. We would have to kill him for the same reason he was killed the first time: His ideas are just too liberal.

My advice to writers just starting out? Don’t use semi-colons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college.

[...]

And I think maybe we might be wise to stop bad-mouthing Communism so much. Not because we think it’s a bad idea but because our grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now in hock up to their eyeballs to the communist Chinese! And the Chinese communists also have a big and superbly equipped army, something we don’t have. We’re too cheap! We just want to nuke everybody.

[...]

You want to know something the great French writer Jean-Paul Sartre said one time? He said it in French of course: “Hell is other people.” He refused to accept a Nobel Prize. I could never be that rude. I was raised right by our African-American cook, whose name was Ida Young. During the Great Depression, African-American citizens were heard to say this, along with a lot of other stuff of course: “Things are so bad, white folks got to raise their own kids.”

[...]

The very best thing in life you can be is a teacher, provided you are in love with what you teach and that your classes consist of eighteen students or fewer. Classes of eighteen students or fewer are a family, and feel and act like one.

[...]

I consider anybody who borrows a book instead of buying it, or lends one, a twerp. When I was a student at Shortridge High School a million years ago, a twerp was defined as a guy who put a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the backseats of taxi cabs. But I hasten to say, should some impressionable young person here today, at loose ends or from a dysfunctional family, resolve to take a shot at being a real twerp tomorrow, that there are no longer buttons on the backseats of taxi cabs. Times change.

I asked Mark a while back what life was all about since I didn’t have a clue. He said, “Dad, we’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” Whatever it is. Whatever it is! Not bad. That one could be a keeper. And how should we behave during this apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another certainly, but we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog if you don’t already have one. I myself just got a dog. It’s a new cross-breed. It’s half French poodle and half Chinese shitzu. It’s a “shit poo.” And I thank you for your attention. And I am outta here.

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Small Tragedies

Example Number One:

Discovering a first edition (and first printing) of Philip Roth’s ‘American Pastoral,’ Googling the value, noting that it is selling for $200 to $300, and having to discard it due to water damage.

Keep your books dry, people.

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This literally made me gag this morning

I’ve read/listened to a lot of Stephen King in my day (I suppose it’s still my day, but no matter), but even while half-squinting my way through the near-masochistic exercise that is Gerald’s Game, never once did I have anything but purely passive, mental reactions to King’s unsurpassed horror-show imagery. Okay, maybe my lips and eyebrows occasionally betrayed me as I unconsciously toggled between looks of disgust and disbelief, but from the chin down, I was a rock. However, this morning on my drive to work, I finally heard a passage from the seventh book in his Dark Tower septology that made me physically gag.

The odd thing is, by any reasonable standard, the material isn’t even that stomach churning — moderately gross, sure, but King has written dozens lines of equal or grosser value in nearly every one of his novels, including this one. Nonetheless, some combination of context, voice acting, and/or my own early morning physiology made this passage the one that slid down my craw and came right back up again, gag reflex in tow.

So tell me, is this your standard “ya had to be there” moment, or is there something about King’s simple, almost sparse prose and devious use of adjectives that gets under your skin, too?

The graphic-ness in question (first paragraph supplied for context):

The ball-thing the gunslinger had given him was now stowed away in the back bedroom, humming softly to itself. He’d put it in the wastebasket, as he had been told, and covered it with fresh tissue from the box on the washstand, also as he had been told. Nobody had told him he might take the cast-away tissues, but he hadn’t been able to resist their soupy, delicious smell. And it had worked for the best, hadn’t it? Yar! For instead of asking him all manner of questions he couldn’t have answered, they’d laughed at him and let him go. He wished he could climb the mountain and play with the bumbler again, so he did, but the white-haired old hume named Ted had told him to go away, far and far, once his errand was done. And if he heard shooting, Haylis was to hide until it was over. And he would — oh yes, nair doot. Hadn’t he done what Roland o’ Gilead had asked of him? The first of the humming balls was now in Feveral, one of the dorms, two more were in Damli House, where the Breakers worked and the off-duty guards slept, and the last was in Master’s House… where he’d almost been caught! Haylis didn’t know what the humming balls did, nor wanted to know. He would go away, possibly with his friend, Garma, if he could find her.

If shooting started, they would hide in a deep hole, and he would share his tissues with her. Some had nothing on them but bits of shaving soap, but there were wet snots and big boogies in some of the others, he could smell their enticing aroma even now. He would save the biggest of the latter, the one with the jellied blood in it, for Garma, and she might let him pokey-poke. Haylis walked faster, smiling at the prospect of going pokey-poke with Garma.

[Let it soak in a little.]

Almost tame, right? And yet those two words — jellied blood – have put me off donut holes for a month, I dare say. Anybody with me?

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Sometimes a Great Notion (Or, On Permanent Marks)

I started re-reading my favorite novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, again over the weekend. I found a copy when I was going through books on Friday, and since my own had long since been lost to whoever I lent it out to in Portland, I figured I would keep the tattered one I came across (I couldn’t sell it anyway; but, in all honesty, I’ve taken home around a hundred books I could’ve sold, and I’m just making excuses here). Ken Kesey’s meandering stream-of-consciousness prose and richly etched characters (as well as me knowing where everything is going, plot-wise, even if the details are a bit fuzzy) drew me right back in. I’m already worried about Joby’s inevitable death, about Lee and Hank butting heads, about Viv and Draeger in the bar at the end of the story, rolling their eyes at the obstinacy of the anti-heroes, even if they can’t help but admire them a little bit.

It’s a book that inspired me to move 3,000 miles across the country once; to spend three years in Oregon — three years of rain, volcanic mountains, rocky coastlines, unemployment, bad credit, and struggle. Three years on a bicycle, in a shitty 1984 Subaru, in houses with no heat. Gardens, lovers, deadlines missed, friends made and departed. All the wonderful nothing you can put into wanderlust turned semi-permanent (no matter how tenuous). It’s easily the book that had the greatest impact on my life so far, and reading it again is both a lovely stroll down memory lane and an exercise in retrospective self-doubt. Of course (turning the page) I see what I was thinking, but what the hell (turning it again) was I thinking?

Before I left Portland, I walked to my local tattoo parlor one day and asked, “How much would it cost to get some text done on my arm?” The man behind the counter, younger than me, said it was something like $35 an inch, depending on the size, and (me being somewhat flush at the time, relatively speaking) I sat down in his chair and told him to put “never give an inch” in Courier New on my arm. Down the vain, towards my left palm. Never give an inch. It would be there forever.

Will had already gotten the same tattoo, except on his foot in a drunken haze in Missoula, Montana (during which roadtrip I stayed at our mutual flophouse and broke my fifth metatarsal playing softball)… but this was years later when I got myself tattooed. And I wound up thinking that my gesture was different from his. It was different from Henry Stamper’s, too, when he nailed the slogan above his eldest son’s crib in lieu of a religious plaque. Will and Henry wielding “Never give an inch” were somehow more defiant than me. My wielding it was simply a grim acknowledgement of what had gotten me to where I was in the first place: about to drive alone across the country a failure, tired, beat down, in a shitty Subaru with an alternator on the fritz and an axle quite literally about to fall out of place. Wouldn’t that be fun descending the Rockies? Isn’t that what karma delivers when you don’t give an inch? The Rocky Mountains?

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