I'm a big fan of Mary Roach's books, so I obviously had to pre-order Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. This won't be a long review. Basically, if you liked her earlier books, you'll like this one. It's not as good as Bonk or Stiff. It's better than Spook.
She's not quite as hands-on with her subject matter in this book, although she does go to prison to learn about
The approach is a bit scatter-shot. I was expecting the topics to linearly traverse the canal itself. Instead, the first half of the book jumps back and forth between mouth and stomach, with a jump to the
end for the latter half. Not a huge problem, but I did find myself occasionally wondering if we were ever going to pass the pyloric sphincter, as it were.
Let me close with one of my favorite things about eBooks. When you pre-order an eBook, it just shows up on your device on the release date. It's awesome!
Here's the deal, the book has two sections. The first section is Debbie talking about the latter part of her life, namely getting married for the third time, buying a hotel in Vegas, and attempting to find a home for her vast collection of Hollywood costumes. The second section is simply Debbie going through each and every one of her movies, telling you a little about each and the folks involved.
I did get a chance to visit Debbie's hotel while she owned it. (I was attending Comdex. Debbie's hotel was on the walk from the Strip to the Convention Center.) We didn't spend much time. We tried their breakfast buffet, which was awful. We dumped a couple bucks into a kinda neat video blackjack machine that actually had seats for multiple players. But, other than that, there wasn't much
there there. Despite that, I have often wondered what the deal was with it. Why did she buy it? Why did it fail?
If you, too, have wondered this, you'll get some value out of the first section of the book. But it's also a sad tale and Debbie often seems clueless as to her own culpability in it all. (Sometimes you just want to shout at her "Get a financial advisor already!")
The second section is a nice breezy read. Some of it you've likely heard before. Some will surely be new. Which actors had huge genitalia? Which actress was being orally serviced by two men when Debbie walked in on her? All that and more!
That said, much of it gets old after a few iterations. Each movie takes the form of:
Here's what the movie was about. I worked with X, Y, and Z. X and Y were wonderful and we remain great friends. Z was problematic and here's why. (Optionally, Z later apologized and we remain great friends.)
The whole section feels tacked on, as if she got to the end of the first section and realized she didn't have enough for a full book.
Despite all that, it's still plenty readable. Debbie's writing style is very plain, but I don't mean that in a bad way. Sure, this isn't sophisticated writing, but it's also easy to ingest in huge gulps. It's sad in places, funny in others, and entertaining throughout.
(I should note that Debbie has an earlier autobiography that, if the few reviews I've read are any indication, is a much more developed and cohesive work.)
So, I was reading an article about books that contain spoilers for their own plots, and
The Sparrow was mentioned. The story is that earth receives radio signals from a nearby star and Jesuits decide to send a mission to it while the rest of the world natters around discussing and then dismissing the idea. And then things go wrong.
The way the story line works is to split it and bounce between events leading up to the climax and the events following the climax. As the former nears, the latter distances itself in time while revealing more. Well, Jesuits in Space and a weird plot structure? I'll give that a try!
So, is it any good? Well sorta kinda...
I'll be honest, lots of folks simply love this book and a few folks really hate it. Then there's a segment into which I fall who found it an okay read, with an interesting premise and methodology dragged down by some pretty hefty flaws. Let's look at the flaws first!
A major fault is the enormous amount of time spent establishing unrealistically likable characters. Fully half the book is dedicated to it, and yet none of the characters have any real flaws. Yeah, okay, one is too logical (until later, when emotion is needed to propel the plot). Another is mired in a sense of machismo which serves to draw out the events following the climax. I liked them all. How could I not? They're all very nice, but they weren't very interesting.
Oddly, given the number of pages devoted to it, the author eventually devolved to large blocks of exposition to fill in backstories. It's weird. This exposition starts in the form of well done character dialogue, but then it's as if the author simply tires of the effort and resorts to the aforementioned narrative blocks. (I was not at all surprised to learn, upon reading the author notes at the end, that the near-saintly Anne was a Mary Sue.)
Of course, the point of all this build-up is to make you sad when horrible things happen to these folks. Alas, while lots of folks die, it really isn't all that horrible. I mean, yeah, it's horrible, but not horrible-horrible. Plus, the two big reveals at the end aren't really a surprise. One is plainly obvious, the other heavily hinted at.
There's a parochial morality to it. It's not a book from the 50s (published in the late 90s), yet it seems to exude a stilted morality, including far too much time trying to justify celibacy. And, honestly, are folks still amazed and confused by the concept of relativistic time dilation in 2060?
Other flaws include, frankly, piss-poor sci-fi featuring the world's most inept attempt at first contact. Their plan?
Fuck it, let's just land somewhere! There are other groaners as well, and they're crucial to the plot. So it's painful in places.
Okay, so enough with the flaws. Is there anything to like? Well, sure...
While the characters are lacking in depth, they're still charming. The dialogue between them is fun, if unrealistically sincere. While it was plainly obvious I was being set up to like these folks in order to provoke an emotional reaction later, it was still fun to read about them.
The alien society is well thought out, which isn't surprising as the author is an anthropologist. The big reveal at the end doesn't come as a total surprise, but it's still an interesting idea.
The overall quality of the writing is high, despite the thin characterization, and the short-cuts taken regarding them. It's an enjoyable read. Well, the ending isn't exactly enjoyable, still...
And the overall schtick of the split plot is handled well. It drags a bit in places, but not enough to seriously hinder my reading. While I was able to anticipate the big reveal at the end, it didn't spoil the reading, although it obviously blunted the impact.
So, is that it? No, wait, I haven't talked about the religious aspect!
The Religious Aspect
The basic idea here is that people like to attribute good things to God, but then are all confused when bad things happen. How do we reconcile this?
There's a series of Calvin and Hobbes strips that actually deal with this same issue, just in a smaller way. In the strips, Calvin finds a raccoon that has fallen from the nest. He brings it home hoping his mom can save it, but, alas, it dies. It ends with Calvin pondering the purpose of putting the bird on this earth, only to let it die. Calvin's conclusion?
It's either mean or it's arbitrary, and either way I've got the heebie-jeebies.
But Calvin is missing a third possibility. In addition to God either being an asshole sadist (mean) or non-existent (arbitrary), there could be a vast plan we can neither see nor understand in which it does make sense. Which is basically the author's view, through the lens of her conversion to Judaism. She throws good things at her characters, which they assign to God's grace, then she fucks with them, leaving them to ponder why.
How you react to that will depend highly on your own religious views. Being an atheist, my response is that, lacking any evidence, I'll go with
arbitrary. Other folks will likely view it differently.
Oddly, the characters in the book seem scared of considering the
arbitrary possibility and I can't figure out why. The same is true in the real world. Many folks just can't conceive of there not being a God. Meanwhile, it seems obvious to me. I had hoped that this book might have worked for me as a bridge to understanding. It didn't. The lone atheist in the book is really an apatheist who takes no part at all in any theological discussions.
So, while I don't have a problem with the author's conclusions, I am disappointed that the atheist option is more or less dismissed out of hand. (Or denigrated, in at least one instance.)
So, a friend of mine, who is an excellent writer, was in this wee collection of time travel stories. And I bought a copy and read it and then didn't write a review in a timely manner. Then she pestered me about it, so here is it, a bit late...
Out of Time is a small-ish collection of five time travel stories. It's cheap, at 99 cents, and 100% of sales proceeds are donated to Doctors Without Borders, so, y'know, just go buy it, eh?
Oh, wait, you want to know if it's any good. Well, yeah, it really is.
The first three stories are good and solid. They didn't blow me away, but they were all fun and enjoyable to read. If that was all there was, my 99 cents would still have been well spent. The fifth and last story was one of the genre of the whip-smart looping plotline. And it's a good un at it, a really fun read.
But it's the fourth story that stands out. Now, bear in mind that this is the one my friend wrote, so I'm probably a bit biased. That said, it's a really powerful and moving tale. It's not a high-tech sort of time travel tale. It's about regret. It made me sad, even a little teary-eyed. (Just teary-eyed, no actual tears were shed.) It stands out in that the time travelling is just an enabler of the story, not really the story itself. It's really good, easily worth the whole 99 cents all on its own.
For no apparent reason, I've recently picked up a bunch of releases that consist of cover versions. So let's have some quick reviews.
But, before I start, let's talk a little about covers. What I want in a cover is a new spin on an old tune. Note-for-note remakes don't do much for me. Unfortunately, most of these tracks suffer in this way. So, these aren't glowing reviews. That's okay, they can't all be winners!
I'm always a little surprised to learn that Shonen Knife are still recording. I'm also always surprised that they never sound any older. Here, they cover a selection of Ramones classics. There's no real spin on these songs. They sound like the Ramones, only with female Japanese vocals. (Meaning the voice is Japanese. The songs are sung in English.) If that works for you, then you're good to go. If not, you'll be let down. It's something to which I'll listen occasionally, but not regularly.
This is just one track, provided free to backers of their Kickstarter album. It's a revved-up version of the classic. Very listenable, although not as wild as the Plasmatics' cover. I like it, although it could be even more Dollyrotten.
So, we were having a conversation on Facebook about all-girl bands, which included Cheap Chick, an all-girl Cheap Trick tribute band. I know of them because the drummer for Betty Blowtorch plays in Cheap Chick. Looking for tracks by them led to this album packed with covers of hard rock/metal/punk tunes by all-girl tribute bands.
The album itself sounds a little tepid. About half the covers sound like decent bands covering classics, only with female vocals. The other half fares better. In other words, they just sound fuller, crunchier, louder. None break new ground with the songs. Still, if you liked the originals, you'll likely enjoy at least half the tracks here. But the novelty of the band members being female won't make this a regular player.
Interestingly, the band most represented was AC/DC, with three different tribute bands in evidence.
The last album is for a good cause. Former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlop had a stroke. Because we live in a third-world country, he needs help with medical expenses. Paul, Tommy, and Chris got together and recorded some tracks for a benefit album. (Well, Paul and Tommy got together. Chris provided his own track.)
They actually pressed a limited number on vinyl and auctioned them off. (The first one pressed went for a cool ten grand.) Now the album is available as an MP3 release. (And, apparently, in non-limited-edition vinyl later next month.)
So, is it any good? Well, here's the thing, these are all cover versions. So if you were hoping for new Westerberg songs, this ain't it. If you love it when the Mats play oddball covers, then you'll likely love this release. But, if you're like me, and you don't really enjoy covers done by the Mats, then this ain't gonna thrill you much.
Still, you should buy it, for Slim.
Last one of this meme...
...for awhile, at least.
Didja know that HulaGirlPorn.com redirects to this blog? It's true!
To this day, I have no idea why
Hula Girl isn't a popular genre of porn.
I have oatmeal for breakfast, every fucking morning.
Well, with the occasional omelette on a weekend.
No, seriously, what do you do when a Supreme Court Justice is obviously insane?
And, if you're one of those morons who thinks Scalia's judicial philosophy is just neato, ask yourself this: Was Dred Scott correctly decided?