Thursday, December 13, 2012

amber ii

The Great Book of Amber is a FAT book, boy. 10 books; 1258 pages. As I speculated in my earlier review of the first five books in this tome, the second five books were also episodic in nature and focused around a different character than the first five.

I found this map online. Looks French but I couldn't trace its origins.

Roger Zelazny did a good job on the second group of books as well, weaving another complex and character driven epic about good vs. evil, with an original take that both leaned on the first five stories and departed from them as well. Zelazny has produced two, compelling and exciting stories from the same Amber universe, without any warming-over of the storylines. Nicely done.

Some of the larger mysteries from the first five-book tale, were explained in the second, but not all of the explanations were great. Some mysteries are better left as a mystery, in my opinion. I'm not saying that Zelazny's explanations of some of the larger forces in Amber are quite as bad as the Midi-chlorians, but the fact that it reminds me of George Lucas's less-than-excellent explanation of the Force, should give you an idea how I felt when reading the last five books of Amber at certain points.

Zelazny took a break between the first and last five books of about 7 years; the last five were written between 1985 and 1991. In between, he wrote the Changeling Saga, which consisted of two books. Zelazny won a bunch of awards for his writing,--Hugos, Nebulas, etc.--and he wrote a lot of science fiction and fantasy stuff, so there is a lot out there to read, from 7 short stories based in the Amber universe, to posthumous publications of some of his earlier, unpublished works. According to Wikipedia, Zelazny died in 1995.

The Chronicles of Amber currently ranks 28th on the list. But don't listen to them, listen to me.

Read this book.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

feile na marbh

The fire of autumn,
Raging against lapis skies,
Drains to brown under ashen mist
-- And dies.

The trees slough their reptile skins,
Leaving only tatters and bits.
Clinging; twisting in desperate throes
-- Then fly.

Only the bones remain,
Stripped bare to rub and crack.
Consecrated offerings for Samhain,
Scoured by gray winds.

Quiet now but for the rustle
Of dead skin and broken bone.
Frost and Decay worry and wrestle,
Devour the remains and spit the seeds.

The pines stand in vigil silence
Aside their sleeping brothers,
Brandishing green standards of defiance;
Sentinels in forlorn fields of bone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

ebook library?

Lovers of traditional bound books go on about the look, feel, even the aroma of books. The very physicality of them is both pleasing and comforting to traditionalists. But the difference between books and eBooks goes beyond their look, feel and reader interface.

Image: Ed Stein, Rocky Mountain News. Used without permission.

Once a text is unbound, its clearly easier to search, modify, transport, quote, reference, and store; which all seems great for consumer side buy-in. And the buy-in has been tremendous. In early March this year, a Harris Poll found that nearly three in ten Americans (28%) uses an eReader such as the iPad, Kindle or Nook. Up from about 15% the summer before. Yeah, roughly double in about 6 months.

In her recent article for Library Journal, Andromeda Yelton brought up some interesting points about the differences between ebooks and analog, or paper books. you see, right off the bat, I avoided saying 'real' books At issue are the electronic strings attached to these digital texts--strings that lead back to the seller, the publisher, the library... and beyond that, who knows, maybe even the government. She states: "In fact, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, the government does not even need a warrant to seize data in the cloud." I just type it, I didn't independently check to see if its true

One of the article's Yelton cites is Alexandra Alter's Wall Street Journal piece; "Your E-Book Is Reading You" That just sounds creepy, but try this on for size. In the first paragraph, Alter drops this one on us, just to get our attention:

"Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second [Hunger Games Trilogy] book in the series: "Because sometimes things happen to people and they're not equipped to deal with them."

How does Amazon or Barnes and Noble know these things?

Because your Kindle or Nook told them. But you've already agreed to let them.* I'm pretty sure my books aren't talking to anyone

Non-fiction gets read a little at a time, whereas fiction books are read straight through. Didn't like a book and gave up on it? They know that too, and where you stopped. And don't highlight or bookmark anything if it may embarrass you, 'cause they're keeping track of that too. what if I was doing research? are they copying marginal notes people make? ugh

Interesting, right? But maybe more important is the lack of library in the ebook equation. That's library as an idea I'm talking about now. Library as a repository of ideas, a storehouse of knowledge. I know what you're thinking, electronic data is easier to keep, maintain, access, search, add meta-data to, sure, I hear you, but that's not what's going on with ebooks right now. They just sit out there in the cloud, and libraries--public or private--just have access to them.

According to Amazon, the Kindle 3 holds about 4 gig, which translates to about 3500 books, but if you start getting close to 1000, the performance starts to suffer. Sounds like a lot, but I've owned more books than that in my life, and I'm sure my public library is holding something like 100,000 volumes; and none of them is an ebook.

Barbara Fister who writes the Library Babel Fish blog on Inside Higher Ed, explains the problem with not having your data on hand this way: "materials that were publicly available in a pre-web state tended to evade notice; web access is wonderful, but it exposes things." And exposure makes folks nervous, and nervous folks tend to block access. When libraries had all of their material sitting on the shelves, your access, as a patron of the library, was limited only to the operating hours of the library building. I know: its so... analog. And the internet is always open, right?

Wrong. In fact, Fister's titled her blog entry: "The Library Vanishes - Again."

Relying on the internet, the Cloud, or some other off-site-and-out-of-your-control server farm to store your data is not what public libraries are traditionally built on. Preservation of data is also a hallmark of public library service. And how do you preserve data that you don't physically have?

In a blog post last Monday at the newly formed Digital Public Library of America, Carly Boxer summarizes the issue this way: "what happens if our desire to access digital records outlives the financial viability of the company storing them?" In fact, her piece is driven by fears which arose in the wake of superstorm Sandy, citing this horrifying example: the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology in New York, which stores digital artworks, was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and much of their digital archive was damaged and is now undergoing an emergency preservation and restoration process.

Its a little clunky, and definitely old-fashioned, but the way libraries have traditionally stored and preserved hard copies helped to defend against this type of threat. But library buildings are like any other building and they can also be flooded, burned, and knocked down, but the beauty in the system is redundancy. Lots of little libraries have similar holdings, and if one library is damaged, many, if not all of the materials reside elsewhere. That, and it takes a lot longer for a book to reach a point when it can't be read any longer. Not so with digital files. Anyone still have their resume from 1995 stored on a floppy disk?

The bottom line is: we're stuck with books; at least some of them. Even if old, out-of-print materials are scanned and digitized, any book or other printed document that has any historic interest or value will still need to be preserved. Its just the way we do.

So I am just a hold out? An older guy who still remembers the look and feel of books from my younger days? A sentimentalist? Yeah, I guess so. And I understand that I (along with folks like me) am not going to stop the influx of eReaders and other digital text advances. Frankly, I don't want to. I just think the jury is out on how we're storing, distributing, and using these technologies. Libraries, thankfully, have our interests at heart, and are helping to lead the charge.

I want to get lost in a book. I love how a good story take us away from where we are, and help us to see things in new and interesting ways. And I don't think John Green is alone in saying: “A novel is a conversation between a reader and a writer.” That's certainly the way I feel about it too, and I'm not ready to have some big tech company or publisher eavesdropping on that conversation, taking notes, and using that information to sell me things.

Feels like a need a shower. that's still private, right?

Update: Check out this chart which provides some info on who's keeping track of your eReading habits and how, thanks to Cindy Cohn and Parker Higgins over at Electronic Frontier Foundation.

* Section 4(a) of the Nook Terms of Use: "Privacy. You agree that we may use, collect and share information in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Without limitation, we will collect, use and/or disclose information regarding you and your use of your NOOK and the Service in order to: (i) provide the Service to you; (ii) permit you to engage in activities that you initiate through the Service, such as purchasing Digital Content and reviewing products; and (iii) analyze, operate, support, maintain and improve your NOOK or the Service. We reserve the right to make changes to our Privacy Policy at any time" 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

amber i

The Great Book of Amber includes all ten books, in one giant volume and I've just pounded through the first five. I heard some good things about this book from my brother-in-law and his wife, and I bought a copy for one of my kids last year or the year before for Christmas, and it got no traction. SO... its up to me.

The Chronicles of Amber--as these stories are also collectively known--were written by Roger Zelazny between 1970 and 1991. The fifth book, The Courts of Chaos, which I just finished came out in 1978, so that must have been a long haul for those fans who read this series as it came out. I say that because the first five books are really a continuation of the same story, each book being an episode in the larger tale. I don't know if that will be the case for the second group of books, but it does seem as if I've begun another related story now in the sixth book: The Trumps of Doom.

My first impression was that I was getting into another Narnia-type epic, but it soon became clear that this isn't Narnia. Nor is it The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or any of a number of other fantasy stories. Its more of a combination of fantasy and science fiction, and its targeted, it seems to me, at an older audience than Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. There is drinking and smoking on a level with TLOTR but it also includes sex, at least in the abstract, so it probably isn't something you'd want to read to your toddler. It does seem free of foul language however.

So, thus far, Amber is told from the first person POV, by a character that takes a little while to introduce. Zelazny takes his time sketching this protagonist, and eventually he kind of grows on you. It takes a while however, because the main protagonist doesn't tell us everything he knows and is thinking, and when he does tell us, he is sometimes wrong in his assumptions abput what is going on in the larger story. Zelazny uses this technique very effectively to spin a yarn that soon becomes very complex and its clear that a lot of thought and preparation went into this series.

I'm looking forward to what the second half of this tome has to offer.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Wakefield is the first I've read of Andrei Codrescu, that burbling-voiced poet of NPR fame, who can turn a phrase and help you to look at life from a new angle, 33.3-degrees away from where you are used to.  Codrescu has a thoughtful and well read (seeming) view of life, and he brings his deep thought and his poetry to Wakefield, in a way that most reminds me of Tom Robbins.

Codrescu is also the founder of "The Exquisite Corpse", and taught literature and poetry at Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore, and Louisiana State University where he was MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English. I understand that he is now retired from professorizing and just does the writing and his NPR gig.

Wakefield is a study of the modern, successful, single man in America. Codrescu's Wakefield seems to float through America--he's almost awash in it, as he moves from place to place, following his job as a speaker. Wakefield seems to think about roots, about anchoring himself somehow, making human connections, but it just seems incompatible with his personality. He seems to know that he might be better for it, but just can bring himself to think about anyone as much as he thinks about himself. But in examining Wakefield, or maybe watching Wakefield examine himself, Codrescu gives us a look at what it is to be a wealthy, single and unattached man, floating about like a bit of fluff.

 Codrescu's language is fun to read; and its clear why he is such a force on the radio, from little bits like: "Zamyatin laughs his smoky laugh that sounds like marbles in a tin box." to pure poetry in prose form, as in this riff on a desert Indian casino:

"No one is alive here; he is surrounded by ghosts. Does it matter to anyone that eagles were once sacred? Or even that they once certified real value on gold dollars? Now they are plaster, money is dust, the Indians are smoke, and pain floats about touching maimed bodies, squeezing as hard as it can, without effect. People scream in pantomime, holding whiskey and pretending to drink, laying down fake money, shaking cups full of confetti; their corpses are carried out and more are brought in by tall, thin shadows."

That's pretty awesome. did you read it with a romanian accent?

Wakefield's relationship to the Devil, see him peeking at us on the cover? may be his most powerful connection, with the possible exception of his one friend, Zamyatin. The Devil seems, indeed, to be Wakefield's own, personal demon. And his deal with the Devil, a deal with himself. What else would we expect from so inwardly looking a man.

Read this book.

Friday, November 16, 2012

rome tales

I read Rome Tales because it looked like fun and seemed appropriate with my wife in Italy for two weeks. Actually, I think I bought this for my wife, but she didn't seem interested, so it sat around for a while and I pulled it out to read while she was gone.

In a nutshell: good idea, poor execution.

The stories were translated by Hugh Shankland, and the book was edited by Helen Constantine. My biggest problem was with the translation. Some things just don't translate well, that's a given. There are concepts and idioms in other languages that don't have a clear translation in English. I get that. Its my opinion however, that a translator job is to find a way to translate things that allow the reader to both understand the concept, and also (and here's where the problem is in my view) make sure to leave the bubble unbroken.

The 'bubble' I'm talking about is that bubble of believe, of inside-ness, that one experiences when reading a story. I want to believe that I'm reading an Italian story, even though I know my Italian isn't good enough to read it in the original. Just don't burst my bubble. You can't drop a English word-bomb like higgledy-piggledy, or whatever, into an Italian story and expect your readers to swallow without choking. sorry, I didn't actually take notes on these stupidisms

That said, some of the stories were interesting. I especially like the diary entries of Ennio Flaiano on Via Veneto (Fogli di Via Veneto), and he ghost story "The Beautiful Hand" (La bella mano) by Giorgio Vigolo.

Don't bother. Learn Italian. then teach me

Sunday, November 4, 2012

sour apples

This is not the kind of book I normally read, but this copy of Sour Apples came to me through an interesting connection. My office had a booth at this year's New England Library Association conference in Sturbridge, Mass, and just across the aisle from us was a booth for Sisters in Crime New England, who had a number of their authors there during the conference, signing books and doing give-aways.

During a slow point, a woman from the Sisters in Crime came over to say hello and ask about the new public library we had designed for Granby, Mass. The woman was Sheila Connolly, the author of Sour Apples, and she told me that some of her stories were based in a fictional Massachusetts town, called Granford, modeled on Granby.

Connolly knew a lot about Granby from her research, and was very interested to hear about the library design. We also talked about some of the other buildings in town, including the buildings owned by the Historical Society.

On the last day of the conference, she gave us a copy of her book, telling us it was one of those set in Granby's fictional counterpart.

Sour Apples is a murder mystery set in a small town, where things like murder don't seem to be possible. Meg Corey is somewhat new in town, and has taken over her family's recently restored apple orchard, and is making a go of it as a farmer. When Meg hears that a local dairy farmer was found dead next to a partially milked cow, some things just don't add up, so she decides to look into it herself, with some help from her beau, Seth, one of the local selectmen.

The mystery unfolds bit-by-bit as Meg digs into it, and even though the local police think she's on a wild goose chase, she sticks with it, and helps to uncover the truth.

This book was fun to read, and not just because it was fun to pick out the places in town I've seen or been to. Connolly has an easy-to-read writing style, which I'm guessing may be fueled by coffee. (Meg loves coffee, she must have made two pots a day for a week!) There are even recipes in the back, including something called Apple Custard Cake. I bet it goes great with coffee

Thanks to Sheila Connolly for this book! It was nice to meet you, and make sure you come to the grand opening of the new library.


So I found the original Scorpion from 25 years ago, using my library's inter-library loan system. This one was written in the mid 80s, by a much younger looking Andrew Kaplan. The short story: the franchise appears to be built on pretty solid ground.

Scorpion had a lot of things that I hoped that it would: origin story--including where the name Scorpion comes from--how the Scorpion grew up, and how he ended up where he is. Also, a pretty damn good intrigue story.

I was also happy to find that going back and reading the original story after I've read two of the modern 'sequels' was no problem at all; each of the novels stands on its own pretty well.

There seem to be some slight differences between the modern stories and the original, not least of which are the dates associated with the characters. If our guy was in his 30s twenty-five years ago,  he'd be pretty close to 60 now--he isn't. Other things are more subtle. In the original book he seems to be referred to as 'the' Scorpion; I believe he's just Scorpion now.

Like with a lot of stories in this genre, the bad guys are over-the-top-evil, and the women are so fine you want to weep. There must be a big box of these characters that authors can shake them out of and into their stories, like dried herbs into a nice novel sauce. ah, well

Its fun, fast and entertaining, and doesn't need to be read in order!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

our kind of traitor

Nice job John le Carré! Our Kind of Traitor was a refreshing twist on the spy novel. Le Carré has really put together a tightly knit, and intriguingly told spy novel, written from the POV of layman like you and me.

Young, Oxford academic, Perry Makepiece and his potential fiance, Gail Perkins decide to take the sun in Antigua for some couple-time and tennis and run into a shady but personable Russian called Dima by his friends. It quickly becomes obvious to Perry and Gail that their new friend Dima is not only shady, but extremely wealthy, driven, persistent and growingly determined to draw the young couple way outside their comfort zone.

Through the innocent eyes of Perry and Gail, le Carré paints a complex and frankly depressing portrait of security services in England, and by extension, most other developed nations. Our young couple has become drawn, even enamored--almost against their collective wills--with Dima, his strange and dysfunctional family, the British agents they approach for help, and the whole cloak-and-dagger experience of being caught up in something larger than themselves.

Le Carré* caught my eye again after the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie adaptation recently. I may have read this, or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, when I was a teen. And then just a few years ago I read his Single & Single, which was okay, but cooled me on him for a while.

Read this book.

* John le Carré is the pen name for David John Moore Cornwell

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

carte blanche

Carte Blanche is Jeffery Deaver's shot at James Bond. The 007 franchise* apparently worked out a deal with Deaver to write this new Bond novel, and they apparently hold the copyright, according to the frontmatter in the paperback I read. So come on, lets celebrate Bond Day** with a smashing new book. What, what?

Deaver is no slouch when it comes to action novels, and he's written his fair share of intrigue (he's probably best known for his Lincoln Rhyme series), but I don't really think of him as spy novel guy. I haven't read a lot of his books, but a few and I've usually liked them, so I was happy to give him a go at 007 to see how he did. All-in-all: not bad.

James Bond has got to be a difficult character to take on as a writer when folks know the character so well from the Fleming books, (its been nearly 60 years after Ian Fleming's first novel: Casino Royale) and especially the movies. The movies did change Bond's character somewhat as the times changed, and one could say that this new novel is just another step in that long path for James Bond. Some of the later movies are based on bond short stories Fleming wrote, including Quantum of Solace, which surprised me given its modern sounding title.*** According to Slate; "There have been 23 official Bond novels written since Fleming's death, produced by five different authors." Who knew?

Carte Blanche is fast moving, and well paced. Bond's personality and inner thoughts punctuate the text, and there are some subtleties such as what he drinks, and how he thinks about the tasks at hand, that stray from the super-confident character of the earlier movies, but I'm not sure how different this is from the Fleming novels: its been years since I read one. Bond does seems both modernized, and softened in this novel.

There were also a few softballs where Bond escaped by the skin of his teeth, and Deaver didn't really work it out for us, and he made use of the tragic-cliffhanging-chapter-end quite a bit. So, a little rough around the edges; maybe a little lazy, even. Will Deaver get the chance to write another one? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

One last thing: product placements in novels? I hope not, but that's what it looked like to me. ick

Okay, second last thing: Jeffery Deaver is American, right, not British. I'm not sure how many of those other post-Fleming writers were British, but I'm guessing it was like... all of them.

* Ian Fleming Publications LTD

** October 5, 2012 was 'Global James Bond Day' or the 50th anniversary of the film franchise.

*** quantum (noun) - a required or allowed amount, esp. an amount of money legally payable in damages.
-a share or portion : each man has only a quantum of compassion. oops

Thursday, October 11, 2012

faerie wars

Faerie Wars was a fast read, clearly designed for the fantasy loving YA crowd, but who doesn't love a little bit of that! This story had it all--in addition to faeries--action, deceit, war, multiverse, magic, hi tech, murder, demons, shot guns, brimstone, and teen crushes. What else do you need? I think I read this in three days. no big deal, you say, but it normally takes me weeks to read a book

I must be on some kind of a jag--a bender even*--but seems like every book I've picked up since Updike has been written by a Brit. Herbie Brennan seems to know his way around a YA novel however, and this Faerie Wars series looks like it has 5 books thus far. Next on the list is The Purple Emperor.

Henry Atherton seems like a regular kid in his mid-teens. But the stresses of a less than perfect home life and middle class boredom quickly melt away as he comes across a misdirected faerie in the garden of a crotchety retiree he works for in his neighborhood. Pretty soon, the faerie is more than it seems, and so is the retiree, and Henry is up to his neck in the kind of excitement you don't normally run across in a small village in Britain. here ends my gushing, back-of-the-book review blurb

Brennan has constructed a story based on a pretty bulletproof structure, but the writing is light and easy to read, and the dialog is punctuated with some pretty sophisticated humor, including a fair amount of British sarcasm. It was also nice that this story wrapped up without a cliffhanger. Don't get me wrong, it looks like there is plenty of material for additional books, and enough storyline to carry on into other volumes, but the plot did cinch nicely at the end.

* this phrase is most properly articulated in a Snagglepuss accent

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

scorpion winter

I'm pretty sure this is the third in the Scorpion series by Andrew Kaplan. I started with the second one a few month ago: Scorpion Betrayal. I guess there is an original, called Scorpion, but I haven't seen it, and my library doesn't have it.* I'll have to find it though, because this one was good, but not as good as the second one, so I'm guessing that the pattern works backward to awesome at the first one. va bene cosi?

Scorpion is a pretty kick-ass (and don't-bother-taking-names) kind of guy. What's nice is that his heart is in the right place, but unlike similar characters, like Steve Berry's Cotton Malone, Scorpion isn't the reluctant hero necessarily. If there is some ass kicking that needs to be done, or even a little private justice, Scorpion does what he thinks needs to be done. This makes Scorpion harder, and a little rougher around the edges; more similar to Lee Child's Jack Reacher.

Kaplan tells a good story, but this one didn't wrap up as cleanly as it could have. There was a bit of an info dump at the end, that helped to fill in some of the backstory. There had to be a better way to incorporate this information, or maybe just leave it out. Word is that the next in the series will be Scorpion Deception.

* Scorpion is copyrighted in 1987, 25 years ago. That's probably why I can't find it. Maybe it didn't make a splash then, or maybe it did and my library just weeded it years ago. Maybe the Scorpion revival is a personal celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the author's favorites.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

wrong reflection

The Wrong Reflection, by ex-pat, Gillian Bradshaw is a science fiction novel that starts out like a strange, missing persons case and eventually turns into a semi-hard sci fi tromp through the halls of corporate Britain. Bradshaw has obviously been in the UK for a while, as her English sounds more British than American, but the story was solid, fun to read, and quite mysterious, which kept me reading.

Bradshaw sets our improbable and completely unknown--even to himself--hero against some pretty unsavory corporate characters, who would just as soon pin our man down to make a buck as to scrape a bit of nasty off their shoes. Gagging corporate greed along with a taste of prejudice round out the dark side of this story, and make a good balance for the unknown hero and his just-as-unlikely group of friends: the pretty young woman who saved him after the accident that caused his amnesia, and a handsome young art student who serves as his nurse during his convalescence.

Overall, the characters were a little canned feeling. We've all met these characters a thousand times in other stories. The main protagonist is probably the exception to this, he was pretty well drawn, especially after it came to light what his real identity was, and that was fun. And some of the character names were a downright adolescent. I was so, like... for real? like, no way, that is so, like... uncool.

I got this book at the used book sale at my library. I wouldn't say no to another book for a dollar from Gillian Bradshaw, but I'm not sure I would pay full price. Bradshaw has written a bunch of books tho, so maybe I picked a lemon.

Friday, September 28, 2012

in one person

This is my third (only!) John Irving novel. I have two others sitting at home* that I'll get to at some point, but I read The Hotel New Hampshire a couple of years ago, and The World According to Garp back the college days.What I liked about both of those is what Irving didn't say in his writing, as much as what he did say. That didn't seem as tangible in this novel, but that isn't a fault. The writing here is more casual and jumped around in time in order to tell the story the way his narrator would.

In One Person is told in the first person, and it traces the narrator's life story, from a small, private high school in '50s Vermont, to the present day. Irving writes the story from the protagonist's point of view, and it appears that he uses the writing style that he has assigned to this character, who is a writer. I get this impression because, as usual, Irving has done a wonderful job of fleshing out his characters, so that after just a few chapters, I felt as if I knew them, if only through the stories told to me by a good friend, about his own family. The narrator tells his story in a kind of free association style one might use to tell a story at a party.

Irving is still writing about dysfunctional families, and while this family isn't nearly as dysfunctional as the families in Garp or Hotel New Hampshire, they certainly have their challenges. This story is focused on the narrator, and what it was like growing up as a bisexual man in Vermont in the '50s, in New York during the sexual revolution in the '60s and the rise of the Gay Rights movement in the '70s,  and the AIDS epidemic in the '80s.

As usual, Irving doesn't shy away from tricky, complex and often times marginalized human relationships in his story-telling. In fact they intrigue him, and he examines them so closely that we as readers can't fail to find common ground and a shared humanity with his characters. In One Person is touching, funny, outrageous, incredible, and fun to read.

Read this book.

* The Cider House Rules & A Widow for One Year

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

nothings sacred

Has anyone noticed a bug on Blogger with apostrophes? Its seems to be fine in the body of the text, but not so good in titles; titles of entries, titles of comments, even abbreviated text that shows up in widgets like recent comments. So that's why the title of this post doesn't have an apostrophe in it. and its not capitalized either, but that's a style choice, baby The title of the book is actually Nothing's Sacred, by Lewis Black.

I'm sure you've seen Black, going off on some politician on stage at a comedy club, or in one of his TV specials or appearances. He's the guy with glasses, graying brown hair who looks like he's about to have a stroke if he doesn't calm down. Lewis Black gets excited; with the pointing, and the grimacing, and the teeth gritting. This angst comes through in his writing as well; a review quote on the back cover summed it up: Jon Stewart said Black could even yell in his writing. Its true, you can almost hear him spitting with disdain and incredulity as you read.

What was surprising about the book was the autobiographical structure. I was expecting a book of Black's humor--which I got--but learning about how he grew up, and what made him the man he is was interesting as well as funny.

I read the paperback version which I understand is slightly different from the hardcover in that it contains 'bonus material.' In the new introduction to the introduction, Black seems to be at a loss for what else to write about, and says as much, giving me the impression that the whole book was a bit of a mystery to him. I have this impression that someone (a publicist, an agent, whomever) suggested that he write a book and Black said, Sure! and then didn't know where to start. I guess what I'm saying is: Maybe the memoir theme was a surprise to Black as well.

As anecdotal humor is Lewis Black's forte, his use of an anecdotal chapter is the structure that supports his book. Each chapter is just a few pages long, in which Black relates an anecdote or an observation about the world, especially this country, our politicians, his school masters, his family or the people he grew up with. I laughed both with and at Lewis Black from the time he was old enough to masturbate, until now. in fact, I get the impression he hasn't given up on the self-love

Black may have cobbled this together, like the script to an extra-long HBO special, but it reads funny from beginning to end. I bet the audiobook is even funnier. Black has written three books; you can check them out on his site.

Thanks to Steve for the book loan!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I said I wasn't going to do it. I told myself over and over: don't read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series until all the books are published. But I broke down and read A Game of Thrones. Now I'm stuck with everyone else, waiting for the 6th and 7th (reportedly the last two) to be published. According to rumor and based on what Martin has said, the last two could be huge, and may (based on publishing history) be broken into two or more volumes each. Then again, Martin may find that he just can't get it all jammed in there, and have to write some more. sigh

After the dryness of the few most recent books I've read,* I really needed a fun, page-turner, and I got it with A Game of Thrones. Thrones is written from a wandering POV of the many different characters that drive the plot. This story has a richness in the subtle sub-plots, intrigues, politics, wars, history and vague fantastic hints, but is at its base, a character driven narrative.

And the characters are abundant! Each chapter is named for a character and they move the story forward from their unique view of what is happening around them. Innocent, high-minded, sneaking, noble, craven, honorable, infighting, self-aggrandizing, naive, damaged, driven,and just plain nuts are some of the points of view we're treated to as readers, and Martin holds it together very tightly. This was a very fast read for a long(ish) book.**

I haven't seen the HBO series, but I hear tell that it follows along with the book pretty well. There are obviously other books in the saga, and I'm not sure if the television show incorporates storylines from the other books or not.

This story was fun, well written, engaging, lush with detail, with a tangy funk that reminds me that I'm definitely not reading Tolkien. So yeah, I'll go out and get the others, but maybe not right away, and maybe, just maybe, Martin will catch up to me before I find myself going crazy, waiting for the next installment like so many others.

Read this book.

* Really! Scroll down if you haven't checked in in a while. The last bunch of books has been a dryyyy run, baby.

** 808 pages, and another dozen or so pages of appendix listing the various family trees that spawned the many characters in the story.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

to the moon

From the Earth to the Moon* is Jules Verne's 1865 novel about America's attempt to send a projectile to the moon. This book isn't as large as some of the other Verne books I've read, and frankly, not as good.

Verne takes the reader on a wonderful journey, spoiler warning it just doesn't go to the moon. "What?" you exclaim, "How can a story called From the Earth to the Moon, not actually include the moon, pray tell?" Yeah, good question.

Jules Verne instead, takes us on a tour of the American Spirit. This travelogue is not a fanciful trip around the world in a balloon, or under the sea with a monomaniacal U-boat captain, but a tour through what Verne believes sets American apart from the rest of the world: its ability to never take no for an answer, and its tireless pursuit of technological excellence. Verne states numerous times, that no nation on earth could overcome the technological and engineering challenges of sending a projectile to the moon, and describes in detail how the Americans do it. Its a flag-waving, back-slapping, kiss-on-the-mouth to American ingenuity and resolve... in 1865!

In fact, the USSR was the first to flyby the moon, on January 2, 1959, with Luna 1. The US didn't accomplish that goal until about two months later with Pioneer 4. The USSR was also first to impact a man-made probe on the moon with Luna 2, in September of the same year. The first lander and orbiter, also USSR with Luna 9 & 10, respectively, in 1966. The US and USSR then trade landers, orbiters, flybys, return probes and impacts until Apollo 8 orbits the moon on a manned mission on December 21, 1968, and then lands a manned mission** on the moon 7 months later, with Apollo 11, on July 16, 1969

For those of you counting, Verne predicted this achievement, and wrote about it rather convincingly, 103 years ahead of time.

This book will tweak your patriotism or your love for America, and scratch that classic, hard-SciFi itch you have, but beyond that, myeh.

* French title: De la Terre à la Lune
** Rest easy in the deepest of the deep; Neil Alden Armstrong

Sunday, August 26, 2012

listmania ii

Maybe Eco has a kind of obsessive-compulsiveness? Or maybe he just enjoys lists for lists' sake. Two of the examples used in his essay were excerpts of his own writing, in which he made use of lists to deliver a message he says, is unlike any other type of communication. Umberto Eco delights in a list's ability to capture the perceived infinity of ideas, and the calming, orderly effect of reading them. Indeed, Eco offers prayers in the form of lists of the saints as an example of this power lists can have.

If the perceived infinite can calm, it can also disorient, and this perhaps is the power some lists have, that most intrigues Eco. The Italian title for this book, in fact, is probably more accurately translated for me as 'The Vertigo of Infinity' or 'The Giddiness of the Infinite.'*

From the first chapter of the Italian version:

"Però con questo libro non si va solo alla scoperta di una forma letteraria di rado analizzata, ma si mostra anche come le arti figurative siano capaci di suggerire elenchi infiniti, anche quando la rappresentazione sembra severamente limitata dalla cornice del quadro. Così il lettore troverà in queste pagine una lista di immagini che ci fanno sentire la vertigine dell’illimitato."

And my translation: with a little help from the google

This book not only examines a literary form rarely analyzed, but also shows how the arts are able to suggest infinite lists, even when the representation seems severely limited by the frame of the picture. Thus the reader will find in these pages a list of images that make us feel the vertigo of the unlimited. 

An example of the 'suggestion of the infinite' Eco uses is the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci chose to portray la Gioconda not in some closed room, but in front of a window or perhaps on a balcony, and the landscape suggests a background that goes on and on. I read only recently that the background on the Mona Lisa may have indeed been larger and has been cut down over time. Compare to the recent restoration of 'La Gioconda' by the Museo Nacional del Prado. This copy of the Mona Lisa has been attributed to da Vinci's atelier, and it looks like it may have been painted in parallel to the original, side-by-side , and nearly strok-by-stroke, but hasn't suffered the same loss over the years. And this image actually shows a window frame, or outlines of columns and sill of a balcony or galleria, which may have been present on the original. wild tangent complete

The book itself is lush with beautiful images and text culled from the greatest works in the last few thousand years, beautifully printed and bound by Rizzoli. The Infinity of Lists may be a little obsessive, and little too rich with examples, but as a companion book to an exhibit, I suppose that makes sense. I have few more Umberto Eco novels on my shelf, but I think they'll stay there for a while while I rest my brain.

* Translation of The Infinity of Lists is by Alastair McEwen. Altho, the Bibliographical References of Translations in the backmatter, includes a note about the translations of the various texts used as examples throughout the book by a person named Alta L. Price.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

listopia i

Umberto Eco is one deep-thinking, renaissance man. The Infinity of Lists* is both thought provoking in its depth, and mind numbing in its detail. It's almost obsessive in its inclusion of examples of lists--both written and visual. At the halfway point, I have the distinct impression that one can find lists as an organizing tool for information and thought almost anywhere. Man's need to sort, categorize and list things is so ingrained that we take list-making for granted, and assimilate the information contained in them automatically.

And that's exactly what Eco is pointing out in this richly illustrated and exampled essay. Eco, in fact, has created a list of the different types of lists we use to organize and display information. He's categorizing the categorizers and their categories. One could almost say that this essay is a catalog of categorizing,  categorizers, and their categories. In taking apart, or deconstructing these tools we've developed, he's helping us to understand the underlying mechanics in them; to see them for what they are.

Many of the written examples include excerpts from things I've read, and I was surprised to see the lists contained in them. I don't recall reading such long lists buried in those works, with a few possible exceptions... Jules Verne, I'm lookin' at you.

Eco put this book together as a companion to an exhibit of the same name he helped to organized at the Musée du Louvre, in 2009.

The English translation was done by Alastair McEwen.

More to come! when I finally pound through this book

* Italian title: Vertigine della lista

Friday, August 10, 2012

word origins


I love etymology, but I'm not too sure that extends to Word Origins* by Anatoly Liberman. Now, a quickie peruse roun' the internet tells me that Anatoly Liberman is not, as I suspected, an English dude, but!, ah the plot thickens my dears, he is, in fact, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia. Okay, okay, I thought I was going crazy there for a bit, because I had the distinct impression that Liberman is an English language fan-boy, big time, but he wasn't speaking American English. His name, and maybe the Oxford Press made me think 'British', but this guys lives and teaches in Minnesota.

Here's a little taste:

"A search for words somehow connected with the word whose origin was being investigated lost its character of a ramble among look-alikes, and a surprising realization came that look-alikes are deceptive"

'Of a ramble,' brother?

Word Origins is a love letter to the English language from a life-long enthusiast. Liberman is quietly amusing and entertaining throughout while he carefully traipses over some rather boring etymological ground, namely; how etymology is done correctly--and how it isn't.

Word Origins traces the history of etymology through the ages, touching on the major advancements -- and setbacks -- in etymological studies. All the while, giving examples of how words and roots can be traced and connected via their 'cognates' in English and in other languages; with examples that have stood the test of time, and those that have proved to be somewhat less than correct wrong.

A very interesting section on 'folk-etymology' and its impact on the language illuminated a lot of  mistakes that have made it into pop culture and haven't ever made it out. Like where the f-word comes from. spoiler: unknown. not some trumped-up acronym for adulterers in the stocks.

Where else are you going to hear gems like this:  Ju-piter is actually a compound word consisting of an old version of god (dieu-) pronounced dyew- as in soldier, and a variant of the word pater, from which we get father. So Jupiter is literally, the father of the gods. 

The problem, my dear man and here's where I address the 'open-letter' portion of my blog to the author himself, like I'm some kind of big ass New York Times editor, and he may actually read this, is that the stories are a bit rambling, and the thoughts slightly disconnected. Many of your passages read like experiments in free association, which can be a little hard to follow. You skip from examples of correct etymologies, to stories of incorrect etymologies, and I don't discover this until you finally tell me, "...myeh, but that was wrong." I'm paraphrasing

So a little slow, but interesting if you love it. It took me a month or so to pound through this one, and I ended up reading three other books at the same time.  and I wouldn't recommend that unless you're Sybil by-the-way.

* Full title: Word Origins ... and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I remember the late, great astronomer, Carl Sagan from his Cosmos television series based on his book of the same name.* Sagan did for astronomy then, what scientists haven't really able to do successfully for a hundred years or so: bring science to the public in a compelling and accessible way.

Contact also reached the public in a way that many other science writer's work rarely does, in the form of a big budget movie. Contact starred Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey and was re-imagined for the screen by Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan.**

In other words, the book isn't the same as the movie; its substantially different. I'm not sure if its condescending to say how surprised I am that this sci fi novel is as good as it is, written by a man who presumably doesn't have any special training as a writer, or if its okay to feel that way because I'm encouraged to continue my own amateur writing.

Sagan doesn't just tell the story of humankind's first contact with an alien species, but hypothesizes what the actual processes that may take place on earth to deal with such a re-defining event. His experience work with the international science community and the nations that support them--or in some cases forestall them--allows him to build a powerful sub-plot revolving around international cooperation. Another vein that runs through the story is how policy is influenced by powerful religious groups in the face of what could be seen as a difficult development for many religious traditions to assimilate: discovery that there are other civilizations, which may or may not have similar belief systems--contact with which could potentially challenge long standing religious tenets.

There is a lot going on in this story, and Sagan does a masterful job of walking the line in tricky spots, and tying up loose ends like a pro. I really enjoyed this one, but I don't think I'll be reading three books at the same time for a while.

Read this one. Its better than the movie. But you knew that.

* Carl Sagan's book, Cosmos, was recently included in the Library of Congress' Books That Shaped America exhibit, which kicks off their 'Celebration of the Book' event, which will continue over the next few years.

** Druyan and Sagan met while she was the creative director of the NASA Voyager Interstellar Record Project. You remember the gold records strapped to the sides of the Voyager spacecraft right? Who could forget? The thing almost killed us all!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

home grown bookmarker

As I'm sure you know, I'm a fan of bookmarks. SO much so, that I've dabbled in making them myself a little bit. In most cases, this means hand drawn, one or two color jobs on card stock, but in this case I made a bookmark for a specific task. The office lending library.

I work in an office where we design library buildings as a large part of our business, and what better way to embrace the democracy of free libraries, then to start your own. We have even discussed ways to open it to the public, as micro libraries become more and more popular.

The way our library works is: you bring in a book or books that you think others might enjoy, jot your name in them and stick them on the shelf. When they've been there for a while without a lot of action, take them home and replace them with some others. I had the idea to add another layer (and convenience) to the process by adding my own bookmark. Not only does it remind the reader whose book it is, it also can help them to remember how long they've had it. you can see in this case, no one wanted to borrow my alan guth book. no date.*

Easy-peasy, right? This marker was created using a graphics program, and then a series of the them were printed on card stock, and then annotated by hand and hand stamped with a couple of my handmade vinyl stamps. These stamps are cut from vinyl erasers. The red one is a personal logo of my Irish-Italian household I like to call the Four-leaf Pepper Pub. The second is another personal logo I use for marking my books; it represents the full moon over snowy mountains and pines.

Want to borrow a book?

* Inflationary Universe was great by-the-way. Its a little out of date now, but the basics of how the early, hot universe expanded really quickly, then cooled and slowed, is still included in most of the universe models.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012



I guess you could say I'm on an epic poem kick, although, given the frequency of how often I've actually read an epic poem, perhaps 'kick' is the wrong word. I've got a penchant; a leaning for epic poetry.

One of the things that attracts me to this old stuff is just how old it is! The Gilgamesh stories go back nearly 5000 years! The written copies we have of this story are about 4000 years old. Yes, actual original manuscripts (in the form of clay tablets) in the original language (cuneiform Akkadian).

What's the oldest extant bible we have?* Any bibles in the original Aramaic? Nothing is lost to time** and the more we study and discover the more we can learn about these stories and the people that wrote them. In a word: epicahistoreiffic!

This, The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George, bridges the gap between scholarly and pop culture reading. There is a great introduction of some fifty pages, that helps to set the stage for the epic; it's context in history, myth, religion, and politics. It also helps to trace some of the traditions represented in the epic forward into today's religions and traditions.

In addition, there are also translations of other, older but smaller Gilgamesh stories which were used by Sin-liqe-unninni, the poet of the standard  version of the epic, as source material. These older stories, many written in Sumerian, were used to infill gaps in this translation of the standard Babylonian version, written in Akkadian, where pieces are lost.

What is called 'the standard version' written by Sin-liqe-unninni between 1100 and 1300 BCE, also has its forebears in other, older versions seen in fragments dating the epic back another 500 years or so. The original Gilgamesh stories from which the epic is compiled, date to the Sumerian tablets which are as old as 2000 to 2100 BCE. that is wicked old, dude.

There is a more current translation out that wasn't available at my library and I'm curious to see if it includes new discoveries since this translation from 1999.

Get yourself some Gilgamesh; it's an amazing story. If you haven't got time to read it you should at least read some of the info in the links I've provided. The history is amazing.

Read this book.

* looks to me like 350 CE, or so.
** because the original stories were oral, for hundreds of years prior to cuneifrom writing records, of course information was lost, altered and modified from its original. The point I'm making is that nothing is lost from the time this work was put to clay tablets, due to re-writing, translating, and glossing through the centuries.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

da vinci's ghost

Toby Lester, you crazy mixed-up history geek, what were you thinking, taking on Leonardo in a 200 page* book?

Interesting, yes. Did I learn new things? Yes. Has my image of da Vinci changed a little after reading? Yes, yes, yes. But come on; 200 pages? I felt like the story was just getting started.

The story arc, too, was a little herky-jerky. The big idea is that Leonardo was not the first, but the last (and greatest) in a long line of folks, who put Vitruvius's concept of a perfectly proportioned man fitted into both a circle and a square, in picture form. This is a big deal because Vitruvius's work was essentially forgotten for something like 1500 years, and it was only when men started to think about proportion, in art and architecture, in a serious way again during the Renaissance, did men rediscover Vitrivius again.

Only, there weren't that many people--well, maybe that's unfair--there weren't a ton of people that preceded da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and really only a couple cited in the book that were actually trying to create an illustration of what Vitruvius said in his Roman Era book on architecture. The others were expressing ideas of perfect proportion as a representation of God's design of both man and the universe in his own image. Basically, the two ideas have very similar results, approached from slightly different directions.

Lester's thesis is sound, no complaints there. I may have just been caught up in some hype after hearing him discuss his book on the radio. I was expecting more and I'm a little disappointed that I didn't get it.

Da Vinci's Ghost is carefully researched and amply illustrated but may have been improved with a more linear timeline. Lester's writing is easy, and his enthusiasm is palpable throughout. He also showed me da Vinci as a man who (at least in his early career) was so distracted, that he almost seems to suffer from a kind of ADHD.** It's not an image I enjoyed, and I couldn't help wondering, if Lester had given himself another hundred pages or so, if this might have resolved itself more.

* This book is more like 275 pages, but there is, like, 70 pages of backmatter. Oh, and 15 pages of preface, and a dozen pages of prologue. Aaand, like 40 pages of epilogue. Okay, I'm done.

** After writing this, I did a search for ADHD for a link, and thought: what the heck, maybe he did have it and put that in the search. Sure enough, a variety of internetty sources (albeit, wishy-washy sources) also ask this same question.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

as night follows day

As Night Follows Day, is by french writer Pierre Moinot. I read the English translation by Jody Gladding, with Elizabeth Deshays. The French title was Le matin vient et aussi la nuit.

According to the book jacket, Moinot was born in 1920 and has been busy in a variety of fields his whole life; from literature, to politics, to military service. His first collection of short stories were published with help from his friend Albert Camus. He has won a number of literary prizes, and was inducted into the Académie Française in 1982. Good on you, Pierre Moinot.

ANFD is 200+ pages of prose poetry; a love poem written to the past. An ode to simple rural life in France, its simple pleasures, its sense of community, and its ties to nature. Moinot uses stunningly beautiful language in the mouths and minds of his characters to describe their village, its people, animals, houses, gardens and flowers. To provide some contrast to this gush-fest, Moinot gives his pretty little village a problem to deal with: a cold-blooded double murder. yeah, chew on that!

Each of the chapters is written from the point of view of one of the characters, so we get to look inside the thoughts of these varied, but cut-from-the-same-cloth villagers. Many share that powerful sense of community and love of nature, and close, supportive ties to their neighbors, but their personalities overlay these similarities in surprisingly different ways, and through them we hear stories of love, life, regret, longing, wealth, poverty, marriage, stress, pain, strength, innocence, youth, and what it is to grow old.

In the end, the murder mystery is actually a surprising small--even tiny--part of the story.

Its a painting. A song. A diary entry from the not-so-distant past. But not, on the whole, especially compelling as a novel. Lovely, yes, without question.

Save this one for dreamy lazing on the beach, or on a quiet picnic in the country, and pining for Europe's pastoral past.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

paladin of souls

This book is apparently a sequel to another by Lois McMaster Bujold called The Curse of Chalion. I didn't know that when I bought it*, but after reading I did feel that it had a good backstory. I hope I didn't read all of the spoilers from the first book as backstory in this one. There may even be another one in this story line...trilogy? Lets check... sure enough, the third is called The Hallowed Hunt.

McMaster Bujold has been at it for a while; she has a bunch of books listed in the front matter of the book I just finished, Paladin of Souls. Paladin follows the story of Ista, a seemingly typical reluctant hero archetype, who pretty quickly steps out of the norm and does a great job carrying this story with a well rounded out character. Each of the main and supporting characters are pretty well fleshed out. McMaster Bujold seems to be very good at that, as well as careful plotting, backstory development, and she is capable of some very fine surprises.

As with many stories that take place in another realm, the character and place names can get a little heavy, but by about halfway through I stopped wishing for a glossary and just got on with it. When I finished, I still thought that it would have been a good idea, and a map would have been helpful too. Thankfully you can now find both of those things here and here. I'll parrot McMaster Bujold's warning however: looking at the map and especially the glossary can be spoiler dangers. I told you

This story is not a Lord of the Rings wannabe, thankfully, and if anything, it reminded me a little of The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. I wouldn't say that its similar, but if you liked the Nix books, this would be right up your alley. Some of the things that are similar: strong female hero figure and some spirit-world-type action.

A real treat was the lack of any pasted-on-label good guys and bad guys. McMaster Bujold has painted a picture of a very realistic world where the politics of different nations, kingdoms, or whatever, are very similar to our own. Leaders, soldiers, and common men do much the same things. The bad guys in this story just seemed to make more of the wrong choices than the good guys on the whole, and that's what tips the scale.

Well that, and you know... some hellfire and devil worship, doesn't exactly encourage a lot of invitations to the barbeque. Nah, I'm just kidding. There wasn't a barbeque.

Read it! attend me, rapscallion!

* I bought this book used form the library book sale.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

sacré bleu

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy D'Art  is the latest by Christopher Moore of Lamb fame. Moore is up there with Tom Robbins as a favorite comedy writer of mine. They both have streak of raw insanity running through their prose, and while their particular forms of off-kilter-ness are different, they each bring a unique perspective to their writing.

The hardcover comes with a half-jacket that modestly covers la petite femme bleu to the shoulders. i'm sure it said something on it.

I saw this pretty, little hard cover sitting at the quick picks table at the library and snapped in up with greedy, ventripotent--one could even say pleonastic--glee! The last Christopher Moore I read was Fool, which I enjoyed, so I was excited to see this one at the library. But when I say pretty, I really mean pretty. The case is obviously decorated with this beautiful illustration by Aly Fell*, partially covered by a half jacket; the endpapers depict a groovy old tourist map of Paris; the pages are deckle edged; and the entire book is printed in blue! Its crazy, right! Its a love note to book lovers. designed by Jamie Lynn Kerner.

This is a story about blue, and about artists. Specifically: Impressionists in Paris in the 1890s. Sacré Bleu follows the story of a young artist named Lucien Lessard, as he tries to make his way in the art world, make a name for himself, and make his family proud. Lessard is no one, but the artists he knows, learns from, talks with, even takes lessons with, are the giants of Impressionism... you know, sort of.

In the backmatter, Moore has a little essay on what is real and what isn't in this story. Obviously, the names and the places and the world events are mostly true, but he has clearly taken some liberties with some of the finer details with these famous painters--who are no longer around to defend themselves. What this story is really about is their muse. What inspired them; drove them to create some of the most exciting and daring art the world had ever seen, and in some cases, even drove them mad.

This was different from the other two Moore books I've read, in that it isn't a retelling of a well known story, but is a sort of historical-ish, fictiony thing. Not quite as funny as the other two, but very entertaining from beginning to end and some serious belly laughs throughout.  To good, really to simply label as comedy. Its funny, yes, but first, its a good story. Speculative-Historical-Fiction? Go get some.

You can read a sample of Sacré Bleu here on Christorpher Moore's site if you're interested.

* An interesting side bit about Alastair (Aly) Fell and the illustration he did for the cover; it seems that he recreated an old-timey Absinthe poster featuring La Fée Verte in 2010, which he then modified for the book illustration. More here.