Archive for the 'book' Category



Years ago, Jan taught me the adage “There’s no movie that can’t be improved by adding ninjas to it–even movies that already have ninjas.” After reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I can’t help but wonder if the same can’t be said of literature and zombies. Not that Austen’s original work had any zombies in it to begin with. (Well, maybe Mr. Collins…) In addition to dramatically upping the zombie quotient of the original P&J, this book also inserts some eyebrow-raising humor that may very well have shocked Austen’s first readers. For example:

She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him. “Your balls, Mr. Darcy?” He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, “They belong to you, Miss Bennet.”

If you can get past the idea that the Bennet sisters studied “the deadly arts” of zombie slaying with Shaolin masters in China (maybe reading this just-published prequel can put your mind at ease on that topic), the juxtaposition of seeing them bound by social mores and scenes in which they eviscerate the undead makes for a fun read.



Life update

Remembering: To say “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit” as soon as I woke up on 1 March.

Reading: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. This book is about naked mole rats, so even though it’s by an author whose other work I find fairly unimpressive, I was pretty sure I’d love this one before I even cracked the cover. In this tale, one naked mole rat who likes to wear clothes is criticized by other naked mole rats who think that clothes are weird and that everyone should be naked. In the end, they all agree that it’s okay to have different perspectives on clothing. The best part is that the book doesn’t fall back onto a trite ending in which everyone is wearing clothes. There are still plenty of naked naked mole rats around!

Watching: All of Red Dwarf (the original version, not the let’s-cut-some-material-to-make-room-for-more-special-effects version that came out a few years ago) from start to finish. I love this show.

Resisting: An urge to call people who annoy me “smeghead.”

Speaking of smegheads: I’ve noticed that whenever I send an e-mail to my senators and congressional representative, the only one who requires a “prove you’re not spam” test on the submission form is the one Republican in the bunch. I wonder if this party-line divide is true elsewhere or just in my district.

Not caring about: The Olympics. In short, the Olympics are now nothing more than a huge expression of nationalism and competitions that are more between technologies than between skilled humans. How many millions of dollars go into, say, getting the strap attachment on a helmet just so in order to cut down on wind drag by 0.00000005 percent? It just seems like such a waste of money and effort to me.

Chuckling: About this joke: “Two cats decided to have a swimming contest across the English Channel. One was an English cat called One Two Three. The other was a French cat called Un Deux Trois. One Two Three cat won the race. Un Deux Trois cat sank. “


Life update

Reading: Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Edward Humes. This book is about the 2005 decision by the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to force biology classes to teach about intelligent design and how this decision tore apart a small community and eventually led to a civil lawsuit. I loved this book. It is meticulously researched, mostly even-handed (though it’s clear where the author’s sympathies lie), and engagingly written. Not once did I feel like I was slogging through these 400 pages. While reading this I found myself repeatedly shocked that people could stoop to name-calling, hate-mongering, and fear-fostering supposedly in the name of religious belief. The thought that occurred to me is that such belief must rest on shaky ground indeed for people to feel so threatened by any challenge to them.

Watching: Lost in Austen. Once I convinced myself to suspend my disbelief about some points (e.g., a woman who gets transported from 21st-century London to the world of Pride and Prejudice still has her makeup fully intact every morning when she wakes up in early-19th-century England?), I found this movie to be lots of fun. At first I thought it was going to follow formula: “Oh, she’s messed up something that’s supposed to happen in the book, and now she has to fix it.” But I was pleasantly surprised to see the mess-ups pile on top of each other and get so unwieldy that it seems impossible for her to fix them. Now that’s a challenge! And if you want to know how it all turns out, you’ll have to watch it yourself.

Eating: Homemade spinach pakora. Even Sylvia likes them, which surprises me to no end. She calls them “chewies.”


Lucky again

Back in October I won a contest over on Largehearted Boy’s amazing music and literature blog. (Pop over there and take a quick look at it. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?) The prize package arrived recently and contained a whole bevy of stuff that’s sure to please any little kid (and any parents who seek fun, intelligent, and creative fare for their kids), including the new book (yes, you heard me correctly) by They Might Be Giants, called Kids Go!, along with their latest CD, Here Comes Science. (The timing for this arrival in our couldn’t be better, because Sylvia is currently obsessed with “doing science.”) There’s also For the Kids III, which we somehow managed to miss until now. Considering how much like its two predecessors, I’m sure this one will be a hit with my family, too.

Last week another prize box arrived in the mail, this one from Jen at Fashionably Late to the Party. For about three weeks starting in mid-November she ran a contest in which commenters won entries for a random drawing for what she described as “a box of random stuff.” (Her posts are always interesting, and I usually have something to say there anyway. So entering this contest actually required no extraordinary effort on my part.)

And random it was. The box contained some awesome salt-and-pepper shakers (which are so awesome that I think they deserve an entire blog post all to themselves some time), lots of cookies and snacks from Japan, a giant prescription bottle full of beads, and all sorts of odds and ends. My favorite item, though, was this one:



Life update

Reading: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. For the past year or so, I’ve been part of a book group. We are far from hoity-toity in our selections: in the summer, anyone interested in leading a discussion proposes one or more books, then we vote on what we feel like reading. We meet only every other months during the school year, so the reading load isn’t heavy volume-wise. I am enjoying the opportunity to sit around and talk books with grownups every once in a while, and I also appreciate being prodded to read things that have long been on my to-read list (e.g., The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and introduced to things that would not have caught my eye otherwise–such as Water for Elephants.

This was an entertaining read–not particularly deep, with a fairly compelling narrative that kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next. On a scale from 1 to 100, I would have given it a rating of 85 . . . except . . . near the end of the book, the author does something that I think constitutes unfair treatment of the reader, and for that the rating gets bumped down to 65. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say this: it’s a tomato surprise.

Watching: The Mighty Boosh. Oh my dog, this show is hilarious. (And, like most BBC series, is doesn’t go on forever and actually ends while it’s still strong. When, oh when, will American television ever learn this lesson?*) The first season is awesome, and the second season not quite as good, but in the third (and final) season the brilliance returns.

Here is one of my favorite moments (this one’s from the first season):


“Charlie was racked with guilt. He’d killed fifty Inuits–no one needs that.”

Getting into the holiday spirit: With one of my favorite Christmas songs ever, “Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues. Because really, if such lyrics as “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last” don’t put you in the holiday mood, nothing will.**

*I am very much one of those people in the “Heroes should have ended after the first season” camp.

**Well,  Barenaked for the Holidays, by the Barenaked Ladies, would probably succeed. It’s a truly awesome holiday album. If you don’t own it yet, you should.


Monkey Magic

Ever since I was a kid, I have adored the tale of Monkey. I grew up reading Arthur Waley’s translation, which was simply called Monkey (many more recent other translations use the title Journey to the West). Buried in my basement is another translation of this tale, along with Mark Salzman’s contemporary retelling, The Laughing Sutra. I’ve also introduced Sylvia to this story through Ed Young’s Monkey King. She, Jan, and I even have Monkey King t-shirts (and sometimes she insists we all wear them together–very geeky, I know, but awfully cute). This is what they look like:


I heard about this television version only a few months ago. If I’d been able to watch it when I was a kid, I think I would have been in heaven.


Apparently, Neil Gaiman’s recent trip to China involved some research about this story, so I’m guessing that his next project is either a retelling of this tale or something that includes the character Monkey. I’m a tiny bit nervous that he’ll do something to screw up something dear to me; knowing how he writes and his fondness for old stories, though, my hunch is that the result will be pretty neat.


Life update

Geeking out: With “The DM of the Ring,” the Lord of the Rings trilogy imagined as a D&D campaign.

Reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. Finally. What an amazing book. He’s one of those writers who can make interesting the sort of information that is usually quite dull to read. Some of his turns of phrase are just amazing.

Frolicking: Through the City Museum of St. Louis, which is quite possibly the coolest place I have ever visited. Seriously. It’s sort of a cross between a four-story walk-through, interactive art installation and a playground (in the literal sense–monkey bars, slides, ball pits, and all) for grownups. It’s very difficult to describe. Here’s one picture I took of the outside area:


Yes, you can climb through/over/under all those tubes/ladders/tunnels, even into that gutted airplane over there. And yes, you are at times four stories up. (While Jan was wriggling through a wire-coil tunnel near the apex of the structure, his wallet fell out of his pocket when he was upside down. Fortunately, it landed on a table three stories below him, and a very kind person there cleaned up the debris field of credit cards and IDs and waited for Jan to get down there.)

We happened to visit this place while visiting my parents (who live in the Illinois part of the St. Louis area) for a few days. But if I didn’t have family in the area, I would actually consider a trip out there anyway. This place alone merits a trip to St. Louis–it is that cool.


Life update

Wow. It seems just yesterday that we returned from our vacation and I wrote the last big post here. Much has happened since then: a new school year has begun, the leaves are starting to turn (the dogwoods are already red; they get their leaves first in the spring and lose them first in the fall), and life continues its unfolding.

A few highlights:

Reading: Do-Over!: In which a forty-eight-year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments, by Robin Hemley. The first half of this book (with its tales of interactions with little kids) is much funnier–and just generally better–than the second half (which deals with his adolescence and young adulthood), but the entire book is worth reading. I think we all have our own “I wish I could do this over” moments, and it’s reassuring so know that some of life’s most embarrassing moments have an element of universality. And laughing out loud while reading a book–I can’t remember the last time I did that. This one was a fun read.

Watching: Watchmen, which I loved. Was it as good as the book? No, of course not. The book was written to take advantage of the genre, and it’s impossible to translate it perfectly to a screen. That said, this film was clearly a labor a love on the part of the filmmakers, true fans of the book, and is the best realization possible.

Also watching: Ponyo. We are huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki in this house, as evidenced by Jan’s Halloween costume from last year and Sylvia’s plan to dress as Kiki this year. (She already has a plan for next year’s costumes, too: “Daddy will be the big Totoro, Mommy will be the medium Totoro, and I will be the little Totoro!”) Ponyo isn’t his best work, but we still loved it.

Winning: A contest, run by Barbara Bretton, who’s both an author and a knitter. The prize: two skeins of Elann’s Silken Kydd (their version of Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze) and a lovely totebag with Barbara’s logos. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with this yarn, but I think I want to cast on soon, since it’s toasty stuff and I’d love to have something ready for this winter. Thanks, Barbara!

Meeting: Deborah! She was my downstream pal in the last Secret Pal swap I did, two years ago. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and a few days ago we actually got to meet in person! She lives in New York and came to Philadelphia last weekend to run the half marathon (which she totally rocked), and Jan, Sylvia, and I met her and her boyfriend for lunch afterward in Chinatown at our favorite restaurant, New Harmony Vegetarian. We had a great time, and I hope we can get together like this again. She’s planning to run in Philly again next fall, so I’m sure I’ll see her then!

Eating: Peaceable Imperatrix has accomplished the impossible: she’s helped me find a way to like kale. Amazing! I have tried many preparations of this vegetable and really wanted to like it (leafy greens! good for you!) but had not succeeded until yesterday. PI posted a couple of weeks ago about making kale chips, and I thought I’d give them a try. So I picked up some kale at the local growers’ market and chipified them yesterday afternoon. They were delicious (though a bit salty–I have to remember to tone that down next time)! The best part: Sylvia loved them, too. It didn’t hurt, I’m sure, that I introduced them to her as “Jenny Greenteeth Chips.” (She is currently obsessed with Jenny Greenteeth. And pirates.)


Life update

Watching: Bride and Prejudice. Aside from the woefully miscast (as in: he can’t act to save his life, at least not in this role) actor who played Darcy, this was a fun film. Austen meets Bollywood! (With a bit of postcolonial social commentary, even!) What’s not to like? And wow, Sayid can dance!

Reading:The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and I was originally motivated to read it by the prospect to joining a local Meetup group that’s working its way through the Booker Prizer winners in reverse chronological order. (Scheduling issues will likely prevent me from participating in this group, but I may continue with the reading list on my own.) This is clearly a great book, in its scope, language, themes. It’s very well written, and it had no trouble keeping my interest–I wanted to know what would happen next. But I’m not sure if I like this book. I had a hard time relating to any of the main characters–not because of differences in our life experiences but because I didn’t find any of them likeable.

Traveling: To New York last weekend, to see my brother (who lives in the West Village). We spent most of the day at the very awesome American Museum of Natural History, and I have to admit that some of my favorite parts were the old-school exhibits (even though the scholar and anthropologist in me cringes a bit to see them). Truly, no other museum’s dinosaurs can hold a candle to those at the AMNH (no, not even yours, Smithsonian).

Eating: Cream puffs at Beard Papa’s. (Yes, they are worth the hype.)

Knitting: A shawl. Yes, me–the person who is allergic to lace knitting. I am knitting this one with sportweight yarn, though, and the pattern is simple enough that I haven’t yet cried or tried to claw out my eyes in frustration. So that’s all good.

Laughing my head off: At this blog. Cute Overload has some good moments, but this blog is pure gold nearly every time.

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