Saturday, October 28, 2006

Comedy Central: The Essential Guide to Comedy

Stand-up comics are really good at making us laugh. The best of them make us forget that what they do is a profession and, like any profession, has a huge body of knowledge attached to it. What makes a joke work, for example? And why do people still talk about vaudeville? This guide offers a good mix of the history of the comic, as well as fun, if subjective, guides to “classic” material like Lenny Bruce routines and early Bill Cosby records.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This graphic novel by artist Craig Thompson was recently pulled from the shelves of a library in Missouri for objectionable content. Yes, there are some drawings of naked people, but they’re tastefully done. Probably what had readers more up in arms was the writer’s recollections of his devoutly Christian background, and the doubts that drew him away from that world. It should be said, however, that this is no polemic. Religion serves primarily as a backdrop before which the character experiences the trials adolescence and the giddiness of first love. It’s a good book that deserves to be taken on its own terms.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Brainiac / Prisoner of Trebekistan

Jeopardy! fans rejoiced this past September when two books on the popular TV show were published at the same time. Well, this Jeopardy! fan rejoiced, at least. Brainiac, the first title, was written by the powerhouse 74-time champ, Ken Jennings, and Prisoner of Trebekistan was penned by five-time champ and multiple tournament participant Bob Harris. Indeed, the books complement each other. Jennings's book is a mix of his experiences on the show and anecdotes on the wild world of trivia buffs. His journey from anonymous computer programmer to famous know-it-all is fascinating, and it's interspersed with facts about college quiz bowls, radio trivia contests, and pub trivia (you know, those Playmaker things you get at Damon's on rib night). Harris's book is more of a biography, but it has special meaning to Clevelanders, as Harris is from Mentor, Ohio. He equates his losses on the show to those of the Browns and Indians, and in typical Cleveland fashion, he kept coming back for more. Overall, I found both of these titles highly enjoyable, and as a potential Jeopardy! contestant, I'll keep them in my reference library.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Strange Candy

Popular horror and fantasy author Laurell K. Hamilton, creator of the Anita Blake and Merry Gentry series, has just come out with this new collection of short stories. In the past few years, there's been controversy among Hamilton's fans; her books have become relationship-focused, when they were originally more action-oriented. Basically, instead of killing vampires, the main character dates them now. Some enjoy this change, but some wish that Hamilton would go back to her old style. These stories, written before Hamilton was a big name in publishing, are firmly in that old style, and they did not disappoint me (I've been reading the Anita Blake series since I was thirteen years old). I think fans old and new alike will enjoy the fantastic adventures here, and even fantasy lovers who have never heard of Hamilton will be captivated by these tales.

The Blue Girl

In author Charles de Lint’s world, fairies are not the cuddly little imps portrayed by Walt Disney. Yes, some might be cute, but our values are wholly irrelevant to them. In this novel, for example, a clique of fairies amuses itself by doing things like throwing people off buildings and conspiring to have peoples’ souls stolen. Fun, sure, but not exactly something to laugh about over a beer at the neighborhood bar. It’s not that these fairies are evil, mind, it’s just that we humans play by very different rules. Imogene, a high-school girl, finds herself dealing with these fairy games while already struggling to cope with the more mundane realities of adolescence. While most of de Lint’s novels are shelved in the adult section, this one is found in the teen room. It’s a fun read, and definitely interesting, though it does at times it does stray into the "hip to be square" preachiness that authors of young-adult books so often seem to be fond of.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe

Judy Fong Bate's novel is a glimpse into the life of a young Chinese girl, Su-Jen, who is brought to Ontario, Canada from China for a better life and more opportunties. It is a story about sacrifice and the intricate and delicate lives of this Chinese family. Torn between her duty to love and respect her family, yet harboring the weight of her family's terrible secret, Su-Jen finally finds balance and learns the value of forgiveness. With beautiful imagery and woven Chinese dialect, Midnight at the Dragon Cafe is a wonderful (and surpisingly fast) read, and one that I will definitely add to my home book collection.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Haunted Ohio III

This time of year, it’s hard to resist a good ghost story. Author Chris Woodyard has cataloged an impressive number of Ohio tales in this series. The third book includes an entry on the “green ghost,” said to haunt a house on Cannon Street here in Twinsburg.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

This short novel by Shirley Jackson (of short story The Lottery fame) is a perfect read for Halloween. A mysterious poisoning has killed all members of a family save two sisters and their uncle Julian, who survives but is much damaged by the event. The younger girl was 12 when she lost her parents and other siblings. We meet her now 6 years later, as the story is told from her point of view. All is very strange at their house where they live in nearly complete isolation, until cousin Charles comes to check on them. Things will never be the same. Creepy, fascinating, brilliant.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger's first novel is a story about Henry, a librarian, who suffers from chronodisplasia - a genetic disorder that invariably makes him travel through time. Henry is unable to control his disorder and will disappear, leaving every stitch of clothing in a pile, and end up in another time in his life. At first glance, it seems that this book is merely science fiction. However, Sci-Fi fans will be sorely disappointed because time travel is not the main theme. Time Traveler's Wife is a love story, told in two-part first person perspective, about the lives of Henry and Claire. Claire has known Henry since he appeared from the future during her childhood; Henry's first meeting with Claire isn't until his 20's. Their lives are uniquely intertwined through time. The bizarre, yet strangely believable story, is one that is a must read. It is one of my personal favorites!