Fiction: “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good OmensGood Omens is a story about the End Times.

Did I know I was going to be reading a book about the End Times approximately a year before the End Times actually showed up? Nope! But here we are.

Good Omens stars an angel (Aziraphale) and a demon (Crowley, formerly Crawley; and yes, he was the serpent in the Garden of Eden, good guess) that have forged a friendship in spite of their alignment. Eleven years prior to the beginning of this book, Crowley had been tasked with planting the Antichrist in the family of an American ambassador, setting the gears in motion towards Armageddon.

Crowley, in spite of being firmly on the side of Hell and Satan, etc., does not want Armageddon to happen. He likes what the humans have done to Earth – the alcohol, the music — and the fact that with modernization, the tempting of souls has become super easy.

Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up for themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse. Over the years Crowley had found it increasingly difficult to to find anything demonic to do which showed up against the natural background of generalized nastiness. There had been times, over the past millennium, when he’d felt like sending a message back Below saying, Look, we may as well give up right now, we might as well shut down Dis and Pandemonium and everywhere and move up here, there’s nothing we can do to them that they don’t do themselves and they do things we’ve never even thought of, often involving electrodes. They’ve got what we lack. They’ve got imagination. And electricity, of course. [p. 43]

Wow – rereading that paragraph after having watched all of The Good Place is really striking now.

Anyway. Crowley doesn’t want Armageddon to happen because he’s comfortable. He lets Aziraphale know that Armageddon has been put into motion, but Aziraphale doesn’t want to go against the Holy Plan. Luckily, Crowley is excellent at tempting people (including angels), and manages to convince Aziraphale that they should both spend the next eleven years helping to bring up the child – Crowley, in the guise of a nanny, will “try” and tempt him over to the side of Darkness and Hell, and Aziraphale will counter Crowley’s lessons with his own, of goodness and light.

And it worked!

Except there was a mix-up at the hospital, and the Antichrist was not actually given to the American Ambassador.

The Antichrist – Adam Young – grows up in Tadfield, and is overall a nice, normal boy. On his eleventh birthday, he and his playmates – known as the Them – are hanging out in the woods, like they normally do, and just as Adam says he wants a dog for his birthday, a stray dog comes bounding out of a thicket. The dog doesn’t have an owner, so Adam keeps him, and names him Dog.

What Adam doesn’t know, is that Dog is actually a hellhound. The hellhound was supposed to be named something terrifying; it would give a tenor to the Armageddon. But being named Dog … the hound is very confused.

Aziraphale and Crowley realize that the Ambassador’s son is not the Antichrist when a hellhound doesn’t show up at the son’s eleventh birthday party. So now they’re on the hunt for where the actual Antichrist ended up, and they each (yet separately) enlist the help of their covert aids, the Witchfinder Army, led by Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell. Shadwell sends his best man – and his only man -, Witchfinder Private Pulsifer, who happens to be a descendant of Witchfinder Major Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer. The olde Witchfinder Pulsifer had been the one to bring about the death of Agnes Nutter.

The subtitle to Good Omens is The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Agnes had managed to predict pretty much everything leading up to Armageddon, and some other, non-related prophecy stuff. Her descendants, the Devices, have dedicated their lives to trying to stay one step ahead of Armageddon. And now, the week of Adam Young’s birthday, and the week Armageddon begins, the last descendant of Agnes, a young witch named Anathema Device, is living in Tadfield.

I really, really liked this book. I also really enjoyed the adaptation on Amazon Prime, starring David Tennant as Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale. (Plus Jon Hamm as Gabriel! Michael McKean as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell! And others!) What I really liked about the book is twofold (and honestly, both of them are probably attributable to Terry Pratchett and not Neil Gaiman):

(1) For a book that clocks in at just shy of 500 pages, the plot zipped along.

(2) The humor is excellent.

Now, here’s where I feel I have to be upfront and tell all of y’all that I have tried to get through American Gods I think three times, and the farthest I’ve gotten is maybe Part I. I … I don’t know what it is. I like the concept of American Gods; but to me, the plot dragged and there wasn’t a lot of personality to the characters. (Don’t hold me to that – it’s been a while since I’ve tried to get through it, and it may just have been fatigue. You know me, I’ll try to finish it again … sometime … before I die. Maybe.)

So the humor bit – I think that’s the key element that was missing from American Gods. I feel like AG may have had a lot of ironical humor, as opposed to … funny humor? I don’t know, I’m in the middle of a pandemic, my brain isn’t great anymore. But between Crowley and Aziraphale’s drunk conversation about the end of the world(*), the footnotes(**), and just … the little touches that bring characters to life without being stodgy or … or whatever, I don’t know, I just know I liked it and thought it was better.

(*) Crowley is trying to tell Aziraphale that bringing about Armageddon would destroy a lot of innocent bystanders – namely, members of the animal kingdom, including dolphins.

Crowley pulled himself together. “The point is. The point is. Their brains.”

He reached for a bottle.

“What about their brains?” said the angel.

“Big brains. That’s my point. Size of. Size of. Size of damn big brains. And then there’s the whales. Brain city, take it from me. Whole damn sea full of brains.”

“Kraken,” said Aziraphale, staring moodily into his glass.

Crowley gave him the long cool look of someone who has just had a girder dropped in front of his train of thought.


“Great big bugger,” said Aziraphale. “Sleepeth beneath the thunders of the upper deep. Under loads of huge and unnumbered polypol — polipo — bloody great seaweeds, you know. Supposed to rise to the surface right at the end, when the sea boils.”



“There you are, then,” said Crowley, sitting back. “Whole sea bubbling, poor old dolphins so much seafood gumbo, no one giving a damn.” [p. 62]

(**) Then there’s this discussion regarding the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, which I think illustrates what I like about Good Omens so much – it has character points, it’s a digression that leads into the plot, involves footnotes, and just a touch of absurdist humor.

How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

In order to arrive at an answer, the following facts must be taken into consideration:

Firstly, angels simply don’t dance. It’s one of the distinguishing characteristics that mark an angel. They may listen appreciatively to the Music of the Spheres, but they don’t feel the urge to get down and boogie to it. So, none.

At least, nearly none. Aziraphale had learned to gavotte in a discreet gentlemen’s club in Portland Place, in the late 1880s, and while he had initially taken to it like a duck to merchant banking, after a while he had become quite good at it, and was quite put out when, some decades later, the gavotte went out of style for good.

So providing the dance was a gavotte, and providing that he had a suitable partner (also able, for the sake of argument, both to gavotte, and to dance it on the head of a pin), the answer is a straightforward one.

Then again, you might just as well ask how many demons can dance on the head of a pin. They’re of the same original stock, after all. And at least they dance*.

And if you put it that way, the answer is, quite a lot actually, providing they abandon their physical bodies, which is a picnic for a demon. Demons aren’t bound by physics. If you take the long view, the universe is just something small and round, like those water-filled balls which produce a miniature snowstorm when you shake them.**

*Although it’s not what you and I would call dancing. Not good dancing anyway. A demon moves like a white band on “Soul Train.”

**Although, unless the ineffable plan is a lot more ineffable than it’s given credit for, it does not have a giant plastic snowman at the bottom. [p. 303-304]

Finally, the Guster Reading Challenge song for Good Omens has to be “Jesus and Mary” off of Easy Wonderful (another song I don’t think I’ve listened to). Why? Because Good Omens is clearly “a book that features angels or a rapture/biblical end times.”

Check and mate, Guster.

Grade for Good Omens: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam” by Chris Ewan

Good Thief's Guide AmsterdamOh, good – I did not take notes on this book before returning it to the library! All I did was take a single picture of a quote I wanted to talk about, but that won’t make sense without context, Alaina! This is … this is going to be great. Awesome.

So hey, this was a book I read! I actually grabbed The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris first, and then when I got home from the library and checked the Goodreads I learned that Paris was actually the second title in the series, so I had to return Paris so I could check out Amsterdam because I cannot do something out of order.

Seriously, I’m going to have to crib from a handful of Goodreads reviews and maybe the Wikipedia page, because I remember the premise, but neither the plot nor characters’ names. Excellent reviewing, Alaina! Thank goodness this isn’t your real job!

The narrator of our tale is Charlie Howard. He is a writer of suspense novels, starring a cat burglar. Oh, Charlie is also a “reformed” cat burglar, and by “reformed” I mean “can’t really come back to England because he’s wanted by Scotland Yard maybe.” He is in Amsterdam, attempting to finish up his next novel, and he has phone conversations with his editor, Victoria, who is back in London and apparently believes that Charlie looks like his author dust jacket photo. I remember this, because that phrase is not only in the summary on the back of the book, but also in dialogue.

One night, Charlie gets an email through his publishing website that is cryptic, but asking for Charlie to pull a job. Because yes, Charlie is still actively burgling when he gets a job inspiring enough. He’s like Poirot, but instead of solving crimes, he only commits the crimes that intrigue him. He meets some dude in a café, and the dude asks Charlie to steal two monkey figurines for a tidy sum of 20,000 Euros. Charlie declines, because his gut tells him something’s fishy about this whole deal.

However, Charlie changes his mind and accepts the job. Why does he change his mind? Because if he didn’t, there’d be no plot. Charlie finds the monkeys and is about to deliver them to the person who hired him when two dudes run up the person who hired him and then Charlie finds the person who hired him beaten nearly to death in his apartment.

(There’s more there, and I know I’m doing a bad job explaining this, but it’s been a while and I’m mad that I didn’t take good notes, knowing I’d be writing the review months later. Ugh.)

So then Charlie gets framed for the attempted murder. And there are additional people searching for the monkeys. It’s like The Maltese Falcon, a bit, but kind of comic about it.

The one quote I thought about enough that I took a picture of the page (I was at the gym, I think) is the following brief excerpt of a conversation between Charlie and his lawyer:

“Is there more?”

I just looked at him.

“Very well, you don’t have to tell me. You don’t look or sound like a killer – any fool can see that. But not answering their questions, that could create problems.”

“Can’t I take the fifth, or something like it?”

“Of course you can. But you have to ask yourself how that will help your cause. Your aim is to convince them you didn’t slay the American, surely.” [p. 76]

Uh … Charlie isn’t American. And the crime occurred in Amsterdam. So … the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution wouldn’t be something that Charlie could use.

(Looking through the Goodreads reviews of this book, I’m struck by a) the number of reviews that complained about the lack of copy-editing, and also b) the fact that this Fifth Amendment reference is the only one I really caught? I’m usually really good at that type of shit, I must have been off my game. But I’m assuming that this reference is also a product of lesser editing, because, dudes – the Fifth Amendment is not a universal thing.)

Okay. Y’know, for not remembering a lot of this, I think I did okay. Overall, I enjoyed the book; it was a quick read, Charlie is a bit of fun and entertaining enough to move the story along, and didn’t catch any serious problems with the writing. The ending feels like the ending of a Poirot novel, so, if you don’t like monologuing or scenarios where the detective details the entire plot to a sitting company of rogues, you may be disappointed in the book.

But at some point I’ll re-check-out The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris, and I’ll make sure to take better notes at that time.

Grade for The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam: 2.5 stars

Essays: “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” by David Rakoff

don't get too comfortableI’ve previously reviewed David Rakoff’s first collection of essays, Fraud. I’ve read Don’t Get Too Comfortable before as well, prior to the inception of That’s What She Read. I can’t remember what prompted me to pick this collection off of my bookshelf (mainly because I read this book back in August and I’m really ashamed, y’all, but then I remember that I don’t have deadlines for this because it’s my own thing, available on the interwebs for free, so suck it, Shame), but I’m happy my impulse paid off.

Like FraudDon’t Get Too Comfortable is a collection of humorous essays that have been published previously elsewhere, namely GQ and Harper’s Bazaar. The subtitle gives the reader a hint of the subject matter: “The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems.” I was wondering if this book was the origin of the phrase “first world problems,” but according to Wikipedia, it’s … not. So. Oh well.

The topics of Mr. Rakoff’s essays range from the day he took his citizenship test – Mr. Rakoff was a Canadian who earned dual citizenship after 9/11 – to his love of crafting, and a treatise on Log Cabin Republicans, a class of politico that I think may have become extinct? Do we even have those anymore?

He’s not lying when he subtitled his book to refer to First World Problems. Everything in this book is a First World Problem. As poignant as he is about gaining his dual residency, Mr. Rakoff came to New York on a work visa and lived as such for twenty-two years. He was of Canadian origin. There was no “extreme vetting” for his class, because he was white.

His job writing essays for highbrow magazines sent him on numerous … adventures, I guess, is the word? He wrote a piece as an observer on a Latin America Playboy television program. He wrote an essay about his experience on one of the last flights of the Concorde, and the class of people who were able to ride on the Concorde. There’s an excursion he goes on with a Wildman of Central Park, who teaches his students how to scavenge the foliage for edible plant life. These are not exposés on the horrors imposed on humanity by other humans.

(This all sounds very cynical. I think the tone I’m using to review this book is much different from the tone I would have used in August, right after I finished reading it. Back in August, I probably would have said that his saga on becoming an American citizen was quaint and inspired – now, all I can see is that he was the “right” kind of immigrant, and even though he outright admits that his story is not one of struggle, it feels disingenuous to me to even talk about a white Canadian’s immigration experience, however humorously the subject is presented.)

(I had just written this long parenthetical about how, for my birthday, I would like a time machine to go back four months so I can fucking fix something, but then I remembered that time machines only move an individual back in time, not the entire world, and I can’t exactly bring the entire population of the United States back with me so they can tell their friends about ~the future~ to help ensure a different outcome, plus what happens when we run into our past selves? Anyway, my brain hurt from the paradox so I’m going to shut up now.)

One of the essays I’d like to mention is his take on the quest for perfection in everything, entitled “What Is The Sound Of One Hand Shopping?”


one hand clapping


(Oh god, I have two digressions now. Okay. #1: “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, first aired twenty years ago on March 10. Fuck offffff. That’s — I am not that old. [[if you’re curious as to how that tidbit came out of apparently nowhere, I must remind you that in “The Dark Age,” Willow gets mad at Xander and Cordelia for fighting and she has this great rant that ends with “if you two aren’t with me a hundred and ten percent, then get the hell out of my library!” So — good quote.]]

Secondly: the “one hand clapping” .gif up there is one of my favorite visual jokes of all time, and that led my brain to want to mention my first favorite hand-related joke, which is, of course, this old chestnut from The Great Muppet Caper:

Kermit: Now, if we want to get Miss Piggy out of jail, we’re going to have to catch those thieves red-handed. Yes, Beauregard?
Beauregard: What color are their hands now?

AND THEN I remembered that, two Trivia Nights ago, Friend Brad was telling me a story about a shoplifter or … y’know, I can’t honestly remember what the premise was, but anyway, he said something about “catching them red-handed.” And like Pavlov’s Dog, I proudly and immediately shouted, “WHAT COLOR WERE THEIR HANDS THEN?!” I mean, I have never been lucky enough to use this punchline in everyday conversation, so the entire experience was awesome.

But Friend Brad either decided to ignore my outburst — which, in his defense, would be a valid defense strategy; I am a pretty weird person, and ignoring my weird outbursts is probably a good mechanism to have — or, he didn’t think the joke was funny enough to warrant a response, which would be wrong. This is a great joke.

And then I started to wonder if he’d ever even seen The Great Muppet Caper, and I’m sorry, if he’s going to razz me about fucking Shawshank every time he sees me but hasn’t seen The Great Muppet Caper? Fuck offffff.)

Where was I? Oh right – “What’s The Sound Of One Hand Shopping?”

As I said, this essay is about the cult of seeking perfection. Y’know, the people who spend ungodly amounts of money on items that are supposed to be pure, or authentic, or … or whatever. I don’t know. I don’t understand that concept. I am widely known as The Oldest Millennial Alive, because I have a Samsung Galaxy 4 (it still works! I am not the President of the United States, so I don’t require more security!) and a 4th generation iPod Nano, purchased in 2009, which still works, and why would I replace something that isn’t broken? So the idea of spending more in order to demonstrate greatness is just lost on me.

Surely when we’ve reached the point where we’re fetishizing sodium chloride and water, and subjecting both to the kind of scrutiny we used to reserve for selecting an oncologist, it’s time to admit that the relentless questing for that next undetectable gradation of perfection has stopped being about the thing itself and crossed over into a realm of narcissism so overwhelming as to make the act of masturbation look selfless. [p. 24]

One essay that spoke to me was “Martha, My Dear,” wherein Mr. Rakoff discusses his deep love for crafting, amidst the tale of his visit to the craft supply closet at Martha Stewart Living. I also enjoy crafting: from crocheting scarves and stuffed animals (and lately, a whole mess of baby blankets and other stuff for expecting friends and acquaintances), to cross-stitching profanity-laden quotes from Deadwood and then turning those quotes into a pillow —

Cocksucker pillow

— and now my latest project: making maternity shirts for a friend of mine because, dear everyone: GEEKS GET PREGNANT TOO, and geeks who enjoy wearing geeky t-shirts want to continue to wear geeky t-shirts while pregnant, but does every goddamned shirt have to point out that the wearer is pregnant?!

Here’s a smattering. I am so incensed on her behalf, I’m actually considering teaching myself to use a sewing machine and not just adjusting previously-made geek shirts. (Another thing I should do: figure out how long and involved the process is to register a trade name before someone else steals my/our idea…)

I make stuff because I can’t not make stuff. [p. 120]


The last essay I want to mention, I’m going to get to in a kind of roundabout way. I was first introduced to Mr. Rakoff with his appearance on The Daily Show back in … holy shit, 2006. Oh my god. Jon Stewart interviewed him at the release of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, and after watching it, I knew I had to read this book as soon as possible.

(I encourage everyone to take six minutes out of their day to watch the video at the above link, if only to see how young Jon Stewart was back then. Oh, Jon. My Forever-Pretend-Boyfriend. Have I told you lately how much I miss you, Jon? Please come back I miss you.)

Anyways. I bought the book, read it, devoured it, and loved it. And then — okay, I can’t remember if I was lending it to Uncle Jean (who I used to work with), or if I had just — no, I couldn’t have been leaving it in Brad’s mailbox, because this was while Brad was still manager, so I would have just left it on his desk … I must have lent the book to someone else prior to then lending it and Fraud to Brad, but the point of this part of the story is, I distinctly remember talking to Uncle Jean about the book, and about this one essay, entitled “Beat Me, Daddy”, which is the essay Mr. Rakoff refers to in his interview with Jon Stewart.

“Beat Me, Daddy”, for those who have elected to not watch the video, is an essay about the Log Cabin Republicans of yore – gay Republicans who just wanted lower taxes, but the Grand Ol’ Party wasn’t really welcoming or accepting back then? Wow, those were the days!

Mr. Rakoff speaks with Patrick Guerriero, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, who tells Mr. Rakoff,

“I have a lot of strikes against me […] I’m a Catholic from the archdiocese of Boston, from a Democratic family, and I’m a Red Sox fan. I’ve chosen to stay in institutions I care about.” [p. 157-158]

But as Mr. Rakoff points out,

It’s all well and good to stay in the institutions you care about, but wouldn’t it be nice to feel that the institution, in turn, cared about you, or at least wasn’t hell-bent on your eradication or, failing that, the legislating away of your rights? [p. 158]


Now, here’s the selling point on this essay: this is the part of the story Mr. Rakoff spoke of during his Daily Show interview, and it’s also the section I distinctly remember reading aloud, in its entirety (which I will quote below) to Uncle Jean, in Footwear backstock, within hearing distance of customers.

Man, that was a different time. Now you can’t even talk to your fellow sales reps on the sales floor.

ANYWAY. Mr. Rakoff also spoke with Robert Knight, “director of the conservative advocacy group the Culture and Family Institute” [p. 162]. Mr. Knight is firmly against the Log Cabin Republicans:

“The Log Cabin agenda to promote homosexuality is utterly at odds with the GOP’s self-styled image as a pro-family, pro-marriage party.” [p. 163]

Now, it is not my job to disagree with the GOP’s self-styled image as a pro-family, pro-marriage, homophobic, Puritan party that disapproves of sexual misconduct and poor technological security, while also promoting itself as a protector of children and the innocent, and above all, highlights honesty and respect for women as two of the most important poles within its “big tent.” Additionally, I am well aware that Democrats have proven themselves to be dangerous hypocrites along some of these same lines.

[[Excuse me while I go take the longest, cleansing-est shower of my life. Yick.]]

It is my job, however, to recount exactly what Mr. Knight said about anal sex, AIDS, and vaginas. Please remember: I read the following paragraphs ALOUD within hearing distance of ACTUAL CUSTOMERS at a very large retail store, and I was NOT FIRED.  \o/

“Sodomy is their rallying cry,” [Knight] says.

Well, it sure is someone’s rallying cry. A lot of our hour-long conversation is taken up with talking about anal sex. I have never spoken so much about anal sex in my life.

[…] But if Knight displays an obsession with the mechanics of sodomy — simultaneously mesmerized and sickened by the tumescent, pistoning images of it that must loop through his head on a near-constant basis — he is notably impervious to an image he conjures when I submit as how HIV is transmissible through normative, upstanding, God-sanctioned heterosexual congress as well.

“Not as easily,” he says. “The vagina is designed to accommodate a penis. It can take a lot of punishment.” [p. 164]

An old white dude explained that straight dudes don’t get AIDS because the vagina can take a lot of punishment. That happened. IN PRINT.

To Mr. Knight, I say:



colbert mic drop

But seriously, read the book if you get a chance – it’s a great collection of essays.

Grade for Don’t Get Too Comfortable: 5 stars

Humor: “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh

HyperboleYou guys, today’s a great day. We are exactly one month away from my birthday; I managed to prove someone wrong literally by quoting their own words back to them; and I spent my tax refunds and purchased a new laptop, whom I promptly named Dana.

I do still have Sydney, my Dell that I’ve had since 2008 — or was it 2007? I can’t remember. It’s been a while, I know that much. Sydney’s screen went dark in 2011, and has been hooked up to a monitor ever since. So instead of a laptop, she’s more like a very thin desktop. I also haven’t updated iTunes on Sydney since probably the same time, but that was out of pure cussedness than anything else. Sydney’s still running iTunes 10, and I’m pretty sure iTunes was sentient enough to be pissed off about it, because the “Do you want to download the latest version of iTunes?” message was getting darker and more pointed the more I ignored it.

(Downloading iTunes 12 onto Dana was really weird – like, where are my playlists? They’re on a tab? They’re not on the side anymore? What the hell?)

[Alaina finally copies her iTunes library from her portable hard drive into Dana the New Laptop and opens iTunes for the first time]




But I’m not shutting Sydney down or anything; she may still be running XP, but I’ve had a lot of great times with her. [Ed. AND ALSO NOW I HAVE TO TRANSCRIBE MY GYM PLAYLIST ALL FUCKING OVER AGAIN.] I mean, I rewatched all of the Strong Bad emails on her a couple of years ago; watching all of Breaking Bad crouched in my desk chair because, again, she had Netflix and this was pre-Blu-Ray-Player-With-Streaming-Capabilities; I think I read all of Cleolinda’s Secret Life of Dolls on Sydney, back when I was in my LiveJournal days.

And then one blog I’d occasionally stumble over to was Hyperbole and a Half. You may be wondering what the heck Hyperbole and a Half is; well, if you’ve seen this image–


— then you’ve also seen a portion of Hyperbole and a Half.

Allie Brosh began blogging in 2009, and her claim to fame were illustrations of events made in MS Paint (or similar). The pictures were on the crudely-drawn side, but only due to the limits of technology. But those drawings perfectly encapsulated the energy underneath Ms. Brosh’s stories.

You may have read some of her stories yourself; This is Why I’ll Never Be An Adult, for instance, resonates with me to this day (it’s also the story where the above image comes from). Or The God of Cake, which speaks to me on a level that is pure diabetes. My favorite story that was not included with the book is Seven Games You Can Play With a Brick. Tell me you wouldn’t want to gather a bunch of your enemies around for a rousing game of “Duck, Duck, Brick.” Look me in the eye and tell me that that doesn’t sound fun to you.

Oh, and The Alot! I almost forgot about that one!

So yes, in 2011, Ms. Brosh was commissioned to turn her blog into a book. She was going to take some of her most widely-read stories, create some new ones, and put them all onto paper. But between 2011 and 2013, Ms. Brosh went through a terrible depressive period; I do not know whether Ms. Brosh suffered from depression all her life and it was those years that were the worst, or if it was a sudden-onset-type thing. While I have had depressive moments in my life, I have never been diagnosed with depression or any other type of mental disease, and so a) I can empathize, but I cannot say I’ve had similar experiences as Ms. Brosh or anyone else who suffers from depression, and b) I don’t know the correct words to use, so if “mental disease” is incorrect, please let me know, I want to remain an ally for this community.

So anyway, Ms. Brosh’s depression took over her life for a couple of years. And the standout pieces on both her blog and in the book are Depression: Parts 1 and 2. She tells her story of how depression affects her, how far she had to suffer, but also, the turning point. For someone who hasn’t had a lot of first-hand experience with depression, this really helped me to understand what depression does; it doesn’t just make you feel bad, it makes you feel nothing. It controls your brain so that you do not feel anything. And in spite of all the heavy feelings and discussion on what depression is, she still brings her humor into it, and her amazing illustrations. They’re really an excellent read on their own.

Depression: Parts 1 and 2 were republished in the book, along with The God of Cake, This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult, and The Party. The majority of the book is new stories, and oh my god, they remain as funny as everything else. I think the one that made me cry tears of laughter on my lunch break was the first story, “Warning Signs,” wherein she finds a letter she had written to her 25-year-old self when she was 10. At the end of the letter, her 10-year-old self and written, “write back.” This opens up a discussion as to how a ten-year-old may understand time travel, and also, the adult Ms. Brosh takes a moment to write letters to herself at various ages.

I finished the book in two days. If anyone (local) wants to borrow it, let me know. I loved this book. And between reading this, Strong Bad Emails coming back, and They Fight Crime! coming back online, it was a sweet hint of nostalgia for me as well.

Grade for Hyperbole and a Half: 6 stars


And that concludes 2015! A recap post should go up shortly, but I’m also compiling my Oscar!Watch recap and predictions over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, so … who knows. But at least I can write and watch TV at the same time, thanks to the new mobility Dana can provide?

Who am I kidding, y’all don’t care about my schedule. Shit will be up when it’s up. Probably right after I find out WHAT THE FUCK WHY DIDN’T ALL OF MY MUSIC TRANSFER OVER GODDAMMIT

Fiction: “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore

Dirty JobI’m not sure why I grabbed this one next – I think it’s because I had just put the sequel to this book on my Christmas list, and it made me remember that it’s been a very long time since I read this. That, or it was near Halloween and this seemed appropriate at the time. I’m not really sure.

Anyway. A Dirty Job takes place in San Francisco, and we meet Charlie Asher on the best and worst day of his life. His wife, Rachel, has just given birth, and in the time it takes Charlie to rush home and grab her favorite Sarah MacLachlan CD and get back to the hospital, she’s sadly passed away. But just before she crashes, there’s a tall black man wearing mint green standing at the end of her bed.

“What are you doing here?”

The man in mint green turned, startled. “You can see me?” He gestured to his chocolate-brown tie, and Charlie was reminded, just for a second, of those thin mints they put on the pillow in nicer hotels.

“Of course I can see you. What are you doing here?”

Charlie moved to Rachel’s bedside, putting himself between the stranger and his family. Baby Sophie seemed fascinated by the tall black man.

“This is not good,” said Mint Green. [p. 8]

Rachel dies shortly thereafter. During the shivah, Charlie goes downstairs from his apartment building into the secondhand store he operates, and notices that a bunch of stuff in his shop are glowing red, as if lit from the inside by a red LED light. He writes it off to exhaustion and grief, but the lights don’t fade with time.

Two weeks later he happens to be near a guy when the guy gets run over by a bus, and the guy’s umbrella starts glowing red at the same time. Freaked, Charlie runs home and doesn’t tell anyone about it. Meanwhile, a book addressed to Charlie at the pawn shop’s address arrives, and his assistant, Lily, who is obsessed with all things goth, opens it and keeps it instead.

And that’s how Charlie doesn’t realize he’s become a Death Merchant until almost too late.

Essentially, he and Minty Fresh – the tall black guy from the hospital – and a few other dealers in secondhand estate items are tasked with finding the souls of the dead and making sure they get passed on to the right people. When Rachel was in the hospital, Minty Fresh got the word that she was dying, and at her death her soul was trapped in the Sarah McLachlan CD. During the time of a soul retrieval, the Death Merchant is practically invisible, allowing them to go into houses and take the glowing items right out from under the family’s noses.

Charlie eventually learns that he is a Death Merchant, and he does very well at managing the balance – after all, he still has his normal thrift store to run, as well as raise a child without a mother. But something has shifted beneath the streets of San Francisco, and the Morrigan – Celtic war goddesses, here used as soldiers of Orcus, the Roman god of the underworld. If the Morrigan get hold of human souls, they become stronger. And they want to become strong enough to turn the above-world into Hell.

Now, this all sounds very, very dark. And you’re probably wondering, “what in the world happened to Christopher Moore, the same guy who made Jesus so funny, to turn so dark?” Look, trust me – the book is funny. Charlie Asher revels in his beta-maledom so much that he practically writes a manifesto.

Plus, existentialist jokes!

“Why isn’t that kid in school?” [Officer] Rivera asked.

“She’s special,” Charlie said. “You know, homeschooled.”

“That what makes her so cheerful?”

“She’s studying the Existentialists this month. Asked for a study day last week to kill an Arab on the beach.” [p. 70]

Maybe it’s only funny to me. But look, you go read The Stranger by Albert Camus in its original French (L’Étranger) and then read that; it becomes way funnier.

There are also two cops, Rivera and Cavuto, who keep stumbling across the Death Merchant shenanigans and the explanations Charlie comes up with are just … so perfect.

Plus, this book contains one of my favorite quotes in the history of everything:

Cavuto threw his arms in the air. “Well, sweet Tidy Bowl Jesus skipping on the blue toilet water, we wouldn’t want it to get fucking weird, would we?” [p. 256]

I’m going to make a sampler out of that; mark my words.

And while a comic romp through the Underworld and Death Merchants is extremely funny in Mr. Moore’s hands, I do want to point out that there are a number of poignant moments in this novel. Charlie is a Death Merchant; therefore, he comes in contact with people dying as part of his now-normal course of action. There is an amazing chapter where he gets to the house of a dying woman earlier than anticipated, and she can actually see him and converse with him. Her family think she’s having a morphine-induced hallucination and let her enjoy it, but Charlie knows she can see him. He stays with her until the very end, and Jesus, I’m tearing up thinking about it now. It’s just so sweet and respectful of what happens to people when a loved one dies, and it’s an important moment to take in the midst of all the fighting for the ruler of the Underworld.

*sniff* ANYWAY. The last thing that happens in this book that I want to discuss is how Mr. Moore expands one of his universes. A book published prior to Lamb and this novel was Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. That book is the story of Jody, a woman who gets turned into a vampire against her will and her struggle with the change, all the while falling in love with a grocer. The cops Rivera and Cavuto are in that book, as well as the Emperor of San Francisco and his two soldier dogs, Lazarus and Bummer. The cops and the Emperor all feature in A Dirty Job, and Jody makes a cameo in it as well. Bloodsucking Fiends continues with You Suck and Bite Me, which come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve read Bite Me. Oh god, do I even own Bite Me? I’d run and go check, but I’m not currently at my house. Dammit!

Well, what I’m trying to say is that, because of my need for completion and chronological order when given the opportunity for chronological order, I’ll probably read the Bloodsucking Fiends trilogy before picking up the sequel to A Dirty Job, entitled Secondhand Souls.

And since I didn’t get that one for Christmas, that timeline works out very well for me.

Grade for A Dirty Job: 4 stars

Fiction: “Naked Pictures of Famous People” by Jon Stewart

Whilnaked pictures of famous peoplee it has been very hard recognizing that I have to say goodbye to Hannibal this summer, there was one television addiction of mine that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get over. And that is Jon Stewart’s retirement from The Daily Show.

Look, I managed to finish this book before his last show, but I’m kind of glad that I’ve fallen behind on reviews again because I was a mess after the episode. Basically, when Stephen Colbert came out and thanked him, I was a goner. Tears just ran down my face and would not let up for at least an hour.

You guys, you don’t even know. I have been watching The Daily Show for just about Jon’s entire tenure. I can barely remember watching his first post-9/11 show and yes, bawling then, but for different reasons. He … he really was my Walter Cronkite. I was one of those people who got their news from The Daily Show, and yes, I know that he always proclaimed himself to be nothing more than a mere comedian, but … he was so much more than a mouthpiece. In his later years, when tragedies seemed to occur more and more frequently, he would show the human underneath the suit.

I could go on – and will, when I finally finish reading The Daily Show and Philosophy (I’m like, twenty pages away from the end. It’s ridiculous. But I also can’t remember where I put it. I have a scary feeling that it’s on my kitchen table, which is currently buried with a whole bunch of detritus…. whoops…). Basically, Jon Stewart and his tenure of The Daily Show helped me get in touch with national politics and to see the way our government and media are run, and how absolutely fuckwitted backwards the whole system is.

But anyway.

Let’s go back in time to when Jon Stewart was best-known as Adam Sandler’s lawyer friend in Big Daddy. He hadn’t quite given up on his acting … not dream, but “direction his agent was pushing him in.” And in-between The Faculty and landing The Daily Show, Jon sat down and had a collection of short, humorous essays published. Even in 1998, he was adept at skewering celebrity culture and had a knack for shining a light on the dark side of politics.

Take, for example, “Breakfast at Kennedy’s,” wherein our narrator is a young Jewish school chum of Johnny F. Kennedy. JFK brings the unnamed narrator back to the Hyannis compound for summer break, which is actually code for “slave labor.” The narrator at one point stumbles into the basement where all of the not-politically-correct offspring of the Kennedy family are kept. There are also the transcripts of Gerald Ford’s presidential recordings, because he didn’t realize Nixon had left them on (“Lack of Power: The Ford Tapes”).

But mostly, Jon lets famous people have it (hence, the title). I wonder if he revisited his essay “The Recipe” when he was first tapped to host the Oscars. “Martha Stewart’s Vagina” takes a classic Martha Stewart-sounding recipe for decoration and applies it to … well, to the vagina. Make of it what you will. “Five Under Five” skewers the traditional “Thirty Under Thirty” articles People and US Weekly would put out, only this time, it’s about toddlers who are sure to shake the world up when they come of age.

Some of the essays are a trifle dated at this point: “A Very Hanson Christmas, 1996-1999” probably aged the worst out of all of them. Also, “Vincent and Theo on AOL,” wherein Vincent Van Gogh writes to his brother Theo via the ancient medium of the AOL chatroom is virtually (heh) unrecognizable in this day and age.

I think the essay that most shows Jon’s dark side to humor, however, is “Pen Pals.” This essay imagines a very one-sided pen-pal relationship between Princess Diana and Mother Theresa. It just … it stings, a little bit.

After reading Naked Pictures of Famous People, I’m curious if Jon will return to his humor-writing roots. I know he and his wife are going to run an animal sanctuary in his beloved New Jersey (if the man has to have a flaw, it’s got to be his love for New Jersey), and I truly don’t expect to see him on television again any time soon, unless it’s to help his brethren (Colbert, Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, John Oliver, et. al) out for something. I almost don’t expect to see him at the Emmys next week. NOT THAT I’M GOING TO WATCH THE EMMYS I KNOW BETTER THAN THAT



… ahem.

ANYWAY. I would be very interested in reading a new collection of essays by Jon. I would be interested in reading a list of Jon’s favorite Bruce Springsteen songs.

Basically, I’m still sad that he’s retired – not that I blame him the least; I’m still surprised he didn’t throw a shoe at the camera in frustration with the world and our country at some point in the last year. I just don’t want him to go away.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to Jon Stewart just yet.

Grade for Naked Pictures of Famous People: 3 stars

Fiction: “Lamb” by Christopher Moore

lambBefore I get into this, I just want to say: Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is the 200th book I have reviewed for this site. This is what I’ve been planning on since about oh, this time last year. One night, I got curious as to how many books I’ve read since the inception of That’s What She Read, and spent about an hour counting and going through my records (because yes, I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again before the year’s out, I have records), and then figured out how many I had to go until I hit an important-sounding number, and then planned the books I was going to read (allowing for some flexibility) until I hit the big 200, because I wanted that review to be for a very special book.

But before I get into that very special book, let me just say this: when I started this thing about five years ago, I never – never – thought I’d stick with it this long. I get distracted very easily, and the idea of keeping myself to some sort of schedule is kind of panic-inducing (and clearly I’ve done so well with that aspect of it, seeing as how I finished reading this in March), but ANYWAY (drink!) –

I just wanted to say thank you. I don’t know who you are, dear readers – I’m sure I know some of you; I’m sure one of you is probably my mom. But even to those who come to this site by Googling rare search terms like, “bill bryson williamsburg admission“, “russell edgington vs emperor palpatine,” or “picasso enjoying the fine weather in the south of france“, I really appreciate your visits.

(Sidenote: Quite a few of you want to know if Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was fiction or non-fiction, which worries me, to be honest. But not as much as the large multitude of people who are trying to read Decadent online for free. GUYS. YOU DON’T WANT TO READ DECADENT, I PROMISE YOU THAT. (Unless you’ve been dared by one of your best friends because she thinks it’s funny when you read/watch bad things, which yes, it is, BUT STILL IF YOU HAVEN’T READ DECADENT PLEASE DO NOT START NOW) I guess what I’m saying is, guys: vampires don’t really exist. Even I know that, and I can recite “Bad Blood.”)

So thank you. Thank you for being here since the beginning, or by finding me randomly on the internet.  And if you’ve returned a couple of times, thanks for that too.

One more thing before I get into the book. With the addendum of “Christ’s Childhood Pal,” I would hope one would realize this book is probably going to tell a story about Jesus Christ. One would be right if one assumes that. Now look, I am not religious whatsoever. In fact, all of my biblical knowledge comes from this book, my own personal Rifftrax editions of The Ten Commandments, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. If it’s not in those three movies, chances are I don’t know anything about it. So just my loving this book doesn’t mean I’m going to become all religious all of a sudden. Also, I’m going to refer to Jesus Christ as Biff does in the book – as Joshua.

And now – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Basically, what Lamb does, is take the missing section of Joshua’s life and gives it substance. The Bible discusses the birth of Christ, and then skips ahead to the teachings of and persecution of Christ. But from birth to thirty is completely glossed over. Stuff had to happen! Even Christ had to go through an awkward teenage-dom; everyone does.

So Christopher Moore gave Joshua a best pal – Levi who is called Biff, which

… comes from our slang word for a smack upside the head, something that my mother said I required at least daily from an early age. [p. 9]

The book is written in a sort of framed way; Raziel, the Stupidest Angel (which I will read eventually), resurrects Biff to get him to write his own gospel.

“A Gospel, after all this time? Who?”

“Levi who is called Biff.”

Raziel dropped his rag and stood. “This has to be a mistake.”

“It comes directly from the Son.”

“There’s a reason Biff isn’t mentioned in the other books, you know? He’s a total –”

“Don’t say it.”

“But he’s such an asshole.” [p. 2]

Biff’s Gospel tells us how the two of them grew up together in Nazareth. Biff and Josh apprenticed together with Biff’s father, and Josh experimented with his powers. Josh grew up knowing he was the Son of God, because his mother Mary would tell him so. Josh’s specialty was bringing lizards back to life after his little brother would squish them. One day, Josh is feeling particularly despondent about not knowing exactly what his purpose in life is, when Raziel the angel visits them – thirteen years too late. Raziel tells Josh to seek out the Three Wise Men, for they will guide him on his journey to enlightenment.

Biff tells Josh he’s going with him, basically because Josh is unable to lie to keep himself safe:

“If a stranger comes up to you on the road to Antioch and asks you how much money you are carrying, what do you tell him?”

“That will depend on how much I am carrying.”

“No it won’t. You haven’t enough for a crust of bread. You are a poor beggar.”

“But that’s not true.”

“Exactly.” [p. 100]

So Josh and Biff go to meet Balthasar, the first wise man. Balthasar teaches Josh tenets of Buddhism and also what happens when you keep a demon tied to your soul in exchange for immortality. After a few years, they then travel to Mongolia and learn about Taoism from Gaspar and a yeti. Finally, they travel to India to learn about the Divine Spark — or, as Biff calls it at one point, “Sparky the Wonder Spirit” — from Melchior, who also teaches them about Hinduism.

Basically, Lamb shows how the religion of Christianity can be traced to have roots in three older Eastern religions while building on some tenets of Judaism. As someone who doesn’t even pretend to be a scholar (No, Indy, I never did in fact go to Sunday School), I appreciated the journey.

But the best part about this book? It’s fucking hilarious.

I mean, there are all the parts where Biff misquotes the Bible:

“Well, it is written, two out of three ain’t bad.”

“Where is that written?”

“Dalmatians 9:7, I think.” [p. 36]

“Yes, Josh, for it is written: ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to be a fish and his friends eat for a week.'”

“That is not written. Where is that written?”

“Amphibians five-seven.”

“There’s no friggin’ Amphibians in the Bible.”

“Plague of frogs. Ha! Gotcha!” [p. 293]

There’s the fact that Biff is my hero in that he invented sarcasm:

“It’s from the Greek, sarkasmos. To bite the lips. It means that you aren’t really saying what you mean, but people will get your point. I invented it, Bartholomew named it.”

“Well, if the village idiot named it, I’m sure it’s a good thing.”

“There you go, you got it.”

“Got what?”


“No, I meant it.”

“Sure you did.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“Irony, I think.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

“So you’re being ironic now, right?”

“No, I really don’t know.”

“Maybe you should ask the idiot.”

“Now you’ve got it.” [p. 50-51]

That leads directly into a scene in Kabul where Josh, Biff, and their concubine friend Joy are searching for a blinded guard:

Once in Kabul, Joy led the search for the blinded guard by asking every blind beggar that we passed in the marketplace. “Have you seen a blind bowman who arrived by camel caravan a little more than a week ago?”

[…] Joshua had wanted to point out the flaw in Joy’s method, while I, on the other hand, wanted to savor her doofuscosity as passive revenge for having been poisoned. […]

“You see,” I explained to Joshua, “what Joy is doing is ironic, yet that’s not her intent. That’s the difference between irony and sarcasm. Irony can be spontaneous, while sarcasm requires volition. You have to create sarcasm.” [p. 163-164]

As adolescents for the majority of the novel, the boys are in turns infatuated and astounded by the fairer sex. As Josh must abstain from knowing a woman’s touch, he lives vicariously through Biff’s … misadventures.

“[Sex isn’t] an abomination if it’s with a woman,” Josh added.

“It’s not?”

“Nope. Sheep, goats, pretty much any animal – it’s an abomination. But with a woman, it’s something totally different.”

“What about a woman and a goat, what’s that?” asked John.

“That’s five shekels in Damascus,” I said. “Six if you want to help.” [p. 91]

Josh’s curiousity is so strong, he … well, forces is entirely too strong a word … not even encourages … basically, he gives Biff permission to have sex with prostitutes before going to see the wise men, just so Josh can observe through a curtain the goings-on to try and understand human nature.

The other harlots let loose with an exaltation of ululation as we led my harlot away. (You know ululation as the sound an ambulance makes. That I get an erection every time one passes the hotel would seem morbid if you didn’t know this story of how Biff Hires a Harlot.) [p. 114]

And when Josh and Biff meet the Yeti:

“It’s a yeti,” said Gaspar from behind me, obviously having been roused from his trance. “An abominable snowman.”

“This is what happens when you fuck a sheep?!” I exclaimed. [p. 242]

While Josh is learning about the Divine Spark in India, Biff takes up with a prostitute and learns about the Kama Sutra. The friends spend their evenings reading from the Bhagavad Gita and Kama Sutra, respectively.

Here’s my favorite passage from the Kama Sutra, as told by Biff:

The Kama Sutra sayeth:

When a man applies wax from the carnuba bean to a woman’s yoni and buffs it with a lint-free cloth or a papyrus towel until a mirror shine is achieved, then it is called “Readying the Mongoose for a Trade-in.” [p. 294]

Josh has his moments as well. Are you having a bad day? Imagine a young Jesus, experiencing his first caffeine high following his first cappuccino, practically slapping the sickness out of poor in Jerusalem:

“Healed that guy. Healed her. Stopped her suffering. Healed him. Comforted him. Ooo, that guy was just stinky. Healed her. Whoops, missed. Healed. Healed. Comforted. Calmed.” [p. 127]

And let’s not forget Josh’s protest of the Hindu caste system:

And a hundred scrawny Untouchables stood there, eyes as big as saucers, just staring at me while Joshua moved among them, healing their wounds, sicknesses, and insanities, without any of them suspecting what was happening. […] He’d also taken to poking one of them in the arm with his finger anytime anyone said the word “Untouchable.” Later he told me that he just hated passing up the opportunity for palpable irony. [p. 271]

And even when Josh returns home to Nazareth, the fun doesn’t stop there. I mean, the fun will stop there, but eventually. He has to find his apostles first. And some of the apostles, boy … they are dumb.

“Master, you’re walking on the water,” said Peter.

“I just ate,” Joshua said. “You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?” [p. 390]

Josh tells Peter it’s not a miracle, that anyone can do it, and convinces Peter to attempt to walk on water.

“Trust your faith, Peter,” I yelled. “If you doubt you won’t be able to do it.”

Then Peter stepped with both feet onto the surface of the water, and for a split second he stood there. And we were all amazed. “Hey, I’m –” Then he sank like a stone. He came up sputtering. We were all doubled over giggling, and even Joshua had sunk up to his ankles, he was laughing so hard.

“I can’t believe you fell for that,” said Joshua. He ran across the water and helped us pull Peter into the boat. “Peter, you’re as dumb as a box of rocks. But what amazing faith you have. I’m going to build my church on this box of rocks.” [p. 391]

My most favoritest part in this entire book — look, I could quote it for you, but I’d be here all night, and I want you to experience it for yourself. Go find a copy of Lamb, and flip to around page 372 (I’m not sure if the page numbers translate between editions), and you have to read the first draft of the Sermon on the Mount. You have to. It is required reading. Look, you probably have a Books-A-Million or a Barnes and Noble somewhere near you; bring a friend to distract the clerks so they won’t hassle you for reading a book in the bookstore without paying for it first. It will be worth it. If I die, I want two people to act out the Sermon on the Mount speech at my funeral, because I want to go out like the weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit – laughing.

In his deepest crises of faith, Joshua turns to his father. And while we never hear the words of God except through Josh’s mouth, I’d like to think that this god also has a sense of humor:

“All men are evil, that’s what I was talking to my father about.”

“What did he say?”

“Fuck ’em.”



“At least he answered you.”

“I got the feeling that he thinks it’s my problem now.”

“Makes you wonder why he didn’t burn that on one of the tablets. “HERE, MOSES, HERE’S THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AND HERE’S AN EXTRA ONE THAT SAYS FUCK ‘EM.”

“He doesn’t sound like that.”

“FOR EMERGENCIES.” [p. 254-255]

Look, you guys, I could read this book aloud to anyone who wanted to listen to me. It is my absolute favoritest book, and in my opinion, you do not have to be religious or anything to enjoy this story. It’s the story of two bros – AND YOU ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT BROS – who go on an epic journey, and one turns out to be the Son of God.

Oh, spoiler alert – don’t go into this hoping for a different outcome. Crucifixion and betrayal still happens in the end, and after getting to know the human side of Christ, it makes it all the more heartwrenching. But there is a happy ending (of sorts) for Biff, at least.


Read the book if you want to find out, what do I look like, a library?

Grade for Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal: 6 stars

Fiction: “The Gun Seller” by Hugh Laurie

Gun SellerThe Gun Seller was one of the first novels I ever reviewed for this blog, way back when in the winter of – holy shit, 2009?! I’ve been doing this for five years? No one told me I’ve been doing this for five years.

This is the part where I’d normally say something like “I’ve done a lot of growing up since this site’s inception,” or, “Looking back, I was quite the neophyte at this whole reviewing thing,” but let’s be real: in many cases, I am still the same person I was five years ago. I still routinely have to bribe myself with ice cream as a reward for cleaning the bathroom, I still have problems waking up in the morning, and I still have not learned a damned thing when it comes to being a reviewer of books. I still enter into every single one of these reviews the same way Indiana Jones follows the Ark of the Covenant into Cairo: I’m basically making this up as I go.

Back in 2009, when I read this book for the first time, I loved it. And then I spent nearly the entirety of that first review talking about how much I loved Hugh Laurie and used only a single paragraph (or maybe two, tops) to discuss the plot of the book. Then I lent my copy of the book to my at-the-time supervisor, as she also loved to read. And I never saw it again. (Thank god I never lent her my copy of Gilligan’s Wake; I would have cried.)

Flash-forward to earlier this year, when I found a copy at Bull Moose, my local store of awesome (primarily a music store, some branches now sell books). The only thing that would have been even more amazing than finding copy would have been if I had found my original copy, but sadly, it was not meant to be. (But imagine the movie that would be – a book who missed its owner so much it managed to find its way back to her … through her local bookstore.) But regardless, a copy of The Gun Seller had found its way back into my personal library.

I finally cracked it open about a month ago – because yes, I am again a month and three reviews behind. HAVE I MENTIONED I HAVE HAD NO GROWTH IN FIVE YEARS. This will be my attempt to do the book justice, as well as an introduction to this book for those of you who weren’t around this here site five years ago.

The narrator is Thomas Lang, an ex-British-military type, who has now joined the ranks of freelancedom. We meet Lang in the middle of a mission, ostensibly – he is trying to extricate himself from the hold of a particularly burly assassin. He manages to break free and prevent a murder from happening, but the next day gets called into the Ministry of Defense. See, there was a report that Lang was actually the assassin, hired to off one Alexander Woolf, an American tycoon.

Lang remembers being approached by a shadowy type in Amsterdam, who asked him to assassinate Woolf for a large sum of money. Lang also remembers turning the offer down flat. For our narrator is one who operates solely on the side of ‘good,’ and won’t take wetworks jobs, no matter how well in cigarettes and Scotch the job will keep him. Lang eventually figures out someone framed him – approached him in Amsterdam to make it look like he took the job, then when Lang tried to stop the attack on the very individual he was supposed to assassinate, it looked even worse. What really throws the whole situation into overdrive is that, at first sight, Lang fell in love with Woolf’s daughter, Sarah.

Lang tries to figure out who framed him and why, and stumbles into a plot that reaches as far across the Atlantic as New York City, and as far south as Casablanca. The framing of Lang, the assassination attempt on Woolf – they’ve all been put in place in a grandiose endeavor to sell a new weapon: the frontrunner of today’s drone.

(Keep in mind, this book was written in the late 1990s.)

He tries to get himself out of this plot, but instead, is forced to join a terrorist group in an effort to “save Sarah.”  (Spoiler alert: Sarah doesn’t really need saving. But when you cross James Bond with Philip Marlowe, you have to know the first femme you meet is going to end up on the fatale side of things.)

Here’s what I love about this book: Hugh Laurie has an amazing way with words. Amazing. I know in my first review of this book, I wrote about how I just wanted to be friends with Hugh Laurie, because he seemed like a really cool dude – someone you could hang in the pub and have a pint with. But now I want to be friends with Hugh Laurie because he is an amazing writer.

While I love that Hugh Laurie is currently touring the world with his Copper Bottom Band, I kind of want him to write a sequel to The Gun Seller. Because my earlier, five-years-ago point still stands: while I feel I learned a lot more about Thomas Lang this time around, and truly appreciated his ability to mask his innermost thoughts under an impressive veil of sarcasm, I really want to spend more time with him as a character; hang around in a pub and have a pint with Lang, not just Laurie.

Here are some examples of Thomas Lang’s personality:

But I’ve always prided myself on the froidness of my sang … [p. 44]

Another Diplomat was parked behind us, with whatever the collective noun for Carls is inside it. A neck of Carls, maybe. [p. 156]

(Lang is always figuring out creative ways to describe people. See my previous review and how he names one of his bodyguards (a.k.a., one of the Carls) Sunglasses and the other No Sunglasses.)

“Who pulls the trigger?”

Solomon had to wait for an answer.

In fact he had to wait for every answer, because I was on a skating-rink, skating, and he wasn’t. It took me roughly thirty seconds to complete a circuit and drop off a reply, so I had lots of scope to be irritating. Not that I need lots of scope, you understand. Give me just an eency-weency bit of scope, and I’ll madden you to death. [p. 228]

There’s a really interesting section around page 150 or so, where the Americans are working damned hard to convince Lang to join up with their team, and it speaks about democracy and what it is and what it’s really made up of, and I’d quote the whole thing here but it would be a lot of extra typing, and I feel I did that already last week at my real job where I transcribed a bunch of invoices into an Excel spreadsheet because, as far as I know, there’s no way to email a .pdf of an image to oneself and then parse the information into Excel without actually retyping it all.  (If there is, please, for the love of god, don’t tell me – I really don’t want to know at this point.) Basically you should read the book and enjoy that section, but I’ll give you at least one paragraph (I should clarify, this is from the perspective of the American character):

“The people don’t read books. The people don’t care a piece of blue shit about philosophy. All the people care about, all they want from their government, is a wage that keeps getting higher and higher. Year in, year out, they want that wage going up. It ever stops, they get themselves a new government. That’s what the people want. It’s all they’ve ever wanted. That, my friend, is democracy.” [p. 162]

Before I really get into Hugh Laurie and his Way With Words, let’s play the All About Alaina game for a second:

“Anything wrong with ringing my headmaster?” I said. “Or an ex-girlfriend?” I mean, that all seemed too dull, I supposed.

Woolf shook his head.

“Not at all,” he said. “I did all of that.”

That was a shock. A real shock. I still get hot flushes about having cheated in Chemistry O-Level and scoring an A when experienced teachers had anticipated an F. I know one day it’s going to come out. I just know it. [p. 83]

Seriously, I never cheated on an exam, but for some reason I have the guiltiest personality. For instance, I was at work and a coworker was looking for me while I was refilling my glass of water, and when my cubicle-mate told me, my first instinct was to say, “What did I do?” I can’t imagine the guilt Lang feels about a cheated exam.

Here’s one of the techniques one of the Americans uses in trying to convince Lang to help them sell their drone copter:

“If you are making a new mousetrap, then, as you say, you advertise it as a new mousetrap. If, on the other hand,” he held out his other hand, to show me what another hand looked like, “you are trying to sell a snake trap, then your first task is to demonstrate why snakes are bad things. Why they need to be trapped. Do you follow me? Then, much, much later, you come along with your product.” [p. 171]


Finally, if you need some more proof that Hugh Laurie is a master wordsmith, I’d like to share the following three quotes:

There’s an undeniable pleasure in stepping into an open-top sports car driven by a beautiful woman. It feels like you’re climbing into a metaphor. [p. 133]

Okay, that one was just funny.

It was dark outside, cold and dark, and it was trying to rain in a feeble, oh-I-can’t-really-be-bothered-with-this sort of a way. [p. 217]

Admit it; you know exactly how it’s raining in that moment.

And finally:

People talk about nightfall, or night falling, or dusk falling, and it’s never seemed right to me. Perhaps they once meant befalling. As in night befalls. As in night happens. Perhaps they, whoever they were, thought of a falling sun. That might be it, except that that ought to give us dayfall. Day fell on Rupert the Bear. And we know, if we’ve ever read a book that day doesn’t fall or rise. It breaks. In books, day breaks, and night falls.

In life, night rises from the ground. The day hangs on for as long as it can, bright and eager, absolutely and positively the last guest to leave the party, while the ground darkens, oozing night around your ankles, swallowing for ever that dropped contact lens, making you miss that low catch in the gully on the last ball of the last over. [p. 279]

Grade for The Gun Seller: 5 stars

Fiction: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I’m writing this in the midst of playing an epic game of “Sophie’s Choice” with my TiVo and FXX over the Every Simpsons Ever marathon. Basically, my percentage has been hovering at 99% for the past 24 hours, and — hold up, is Thelma and Louise on my list of Movies Alaina’s Never Seen? Anyway, basically, I’ve been watching as many episodes as I can, both live and recorded, because all that I ever wanted is a big ol’ kick to the nostalgia feels.


Holy shit, I never put Thelma and Louise on my list.  (Must be because the only people who ever teased me about never seeing movies were dudes.)

empire doth strike

ANYWAY, the other night Erica and I did our Tweetversation for The Empire Striketh Back, and now I’m trying to write the review while perfecting my Homer Simpson impersonation. What I’m saying is, if a lot of Simpsons references make it into this review, then I apologize for nothing.

So let’s start off with the things I really liked about this version, and then I’ll get into the fight we had.

I’m actually going to start with the afterword, because as I was reading it, I honestly thought I was being Punk’d. Back when we read Verily, a New Hope, I had three critiques: 1) I felt that Mr. Doescher over-used the Chorus; 2) he used the word sans too much to make the lines scan properly; and while 3) wasn’t really a criticism, I did mention the fact that everyone in Verily, a New Hope spoke in iambic pentameter and no one spoke in prose.

God bless Mr. Doescher, but he tackled all three. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who discussed the Chorus, and in this book, he used the Chorus very smartly, and instead made the characters let the audience know what just happened (as an example, he reminded us of how Gertrude informed Hamlet of Ophelia’s drowning).

Erica and I both agreed that his iambic pentameter flowed better in this book – not that it didn’t flow in the first book, but I didn’t see any use of sans in this volume.

And in this book, Boba Fett speaks in prose:

Shakespeare often used prose to separate the lower classes from the elite – kings spoke in iambic pentameter while porters and gravediggers spoke in prose. In writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I did not want to be accused of being lazy about writing iambic pentameter, but with this book it was time to introduce some prose. Who better to speak in base prose than the basest of bounty hunters? [p. 167]

Seems legit.

So if Boba Fett speaks in prose, and everyone else speaks in iambic pentameter … how does Yoda speak?


O, great warrior!
A great warrior you seek!
Wars not make one great.

And my favorite line, in all the world:

Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no “try.”

The other thing I absolutely loved wholeheartedly was the following line, after the Wampa runs off with Luke:

Alas, is this th’adventure I am due,
To die upon a vicious monster’s whim?
I am attackèd by this awful beast!
O fate most wretched — shall I be his feast?
[Exit, pursued by a wampa.]

EXIT, PURSUED BY A WAMPA. OH MY GOD. First of all, one of the most famous stage directions in Shakespearean history is “Exeunt, pursued by a bear.” To bring that into Star Wars was brilliant. But then there’s the added bonus that the original line was from The Winter’s Tale.  THE WINTER’S TALE, CARL! BECAUSE THIS SCENE TAKES PLACE ON HOTH! OH MY GOD, this line was just perfect on all levels.

My last favorite line also leads me into the fight Erica and I had on twitter. I was very very pleased that there were no extra words added to Han Solo’ classic line, “I know.” This lead to this:

I just scanned through some of Leia’s speeches, and I do not know how that impression came from either the text or the movie. In her conversations with Han, she is trying to declare that she doesn’t have feelings for him because he’s beneath her, or a scruffy nerf herder, or that she’d rather kiss a Wookiee. In her monologues, she admits that she has feelings for him, but she can’t voice her feelings aloud because they’re in the middle of fighting a war and she can’t take the time to focus on her love life because it’s not the appropriate time to do so.

Leia is not a damsel. In fact, the damsel that needed rescuing from the big monster villain on Hoth was Luke from the Wampa. In this book/episode, Leia and the entire rebel army have to escape Hoth after being attacked by the Empire. When they get to Cloud City, they get captured by Darth Vader and Han gets carbon-frozen for Boba Fett, but Leia rescues herself with the help of Lando Calrissian. But it’s not like Lando has to break her out of a prison cell or something.

(And if you want to talk about Episode IV: A New Hope, I would like to remind you that Leia was the character that took over the half-assed rescue mission and actually got them out of Vader’s starship.)

As I said on twitter, it may look like Leia’s being wishy-washy in her emotions, but that is a trope of Shakespearean romances, not Leia’s character. If you go back to the classic Benedick and Beatrice, they will have moments of fighting and banter, and then as soon as they split up, they have to have those monologues and soliloquies where they explain to the audience that their feelings are conflicted. Remember, Shakespearean actors were playing to the balcony, and facial expressions didn’t carry to the balcony, so words had to do the job.

So when it comes to The Jedi Doth Return, please, I ask you: please re-watch the original trilogy first.  I feel that many of the disagreements we’ve had over these books have stemmed from the fact that you have watched them, but a very long time ago, and the things Mr. Doescher is adding to the characters and the plot overall enhance the original, but can confuse someone who may be unfamiliar with the plot. I’m not asking you to change your opinion of Leia and Han, but I think you may find that in the original movie, the romance is used smartly and not “injected where it shouldn’t be.” Even if you feel that the romance isn’t necessary to the plot, at least you’ll see that Leia is not, nor ever will be, a damsel in distress.

Okay. In the writing of this review, I have watched at least six episodes of The Simpsons, and my percentage is down to 97%. I have some errands to run, but I’ll leave everyone with this: I really enjoyed The Empire Striketh Back, and I felt that Mr. Doescher’s interpretation of the text and application of Shakespearean tropes was excellent. I can’t wait to finish this series.

Grade for The Empire Striketh Back6 stars


The Collaborators!: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

It’s that time of year again! Erica and I are Collaborating on our first sequel: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher.

empire doth strike

This is the first time we have read the next book in a series — we’ve read the first book in a series before, but if y’all remember, I was very clear about not continuing that particular series.  This will be interesting for a couple of reasons: namely, does Erica look for the same things in sequels and series that I do?

For instance, I read a lot of series; mystery novels especially.  Between Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, Gregor Demarkian … holy crap, hold up. If I ever get off my ass and start writing a mystery series, I am naming my character the most innocuous name ever.  Like, Emily Jones.  Or Sarah Thompson. Bob Miller.  Plain and simple. I never really realized before now how unique and special-snowflake those names are.

(Fun Fact!: When Ian Fleming was writing his first spy novel, he couldn’t decide on a name for his main character. He ended up picking a name from the author of a book on birdwatching, because he felt the name was the most boring name he’d ever seen. That name? James Bond.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) When I decide to continue with a series, ultimately, it comes down enjoyment and consistency. Did I enjoy the characters enough in the first book to make me want to read more about them? Because remember: the plots will change from book to book, but the characters remain constant. You may not enjoy the plot from book to book, but I find that the relationship I’ve built with the characters gives me the motivation to continue (see the J.D. Robb series – I really felt uncomfortable with parts of Witness in Death, but my enjoyment of the relationship between Eve and Roarke was enough to keep me going to read Judgment in Death).

Obviously, I enjoyed William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – it was a new interpretation of an old story, showing us different facets of some very well-known icons of pop culture.  Plus, R2-D2 speaks! In English, even! What’s not to love? So continuing with this series was a no-brainer.

Now we come to consistency – do the elements of the characters remain true enough in new circumstances that my enjoyment doesn’t diminish? My enjoyment of Eve and Roarke, Kinsey Millhone, and Holmes and Russell does not diminish as I continue through their series – their qualities remain constant, so I get to see how they react in different situations.

(Note: I include neither Patricia Cornwell nor Laurel K. Hamilton’s series in this discussion, as my ‘enjoyment’ of those series [such as it is] is based on inconsistency and disapproval of the characters. I hate-read them, basically.)

Going back to the Shakespeare Star Wars series – do I feel that there’s enough consistency? Again, duh. It also helps that I know a little of what to expect – having seen the movies, now I have additional things to look forward to. For instance: the banter between Han and Leia is one of my favorite things about The Empire Strikes Back. If there are no references or shades of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing in this book, I am going to be severely disappointed.

Lando Calrissian’s betrayal (probably) has overtones of Othello (a of all, because Othello deals with betrayal, not because of the moor thing. But b of all, I say “probably” because … I’ve never read Othello. Or seen it performed. Basically, all I know about Othello is from this video and this series of gifs.)

And don’t get me started on how excited I am to learn what the hell Yoda sounds like in iambic pentameter.

So I’m greatly looking forward to reading this. Because yes, I believe that I’m going to enjoy this as much as the first book in the series, but also because I’m curious what Erica’s looking for in this next chapter, so to speak – and whether or not we both get what we’re looking for.