Thursday, November 30, 2006

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You is one of those books where several lonely eccentric people wandering adrift through life, find each other. They are transformed into better people when their loneliness is replaced by relationships and a purpose in life. The central character is Margaret Hughes, an older woman with lots of money, a tragic past and a sprawling house in Seattle. She decides to rent out a room to a young lady and then another and before you know it, she has a house full of wonderful people. Seriously, this is a well-written, touching book. The word broken in the title works on several levels. There is a large cast of lovable characters. It's an interesting story with several plot lines working simultaneously.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Raymond Chandler was a huge star in the world of noir. His books and screenplays rose above a sea of pulp and continue to attract readers today. "Playback" was a screenplay he worked on for years, tweaking and re-tooling it several times. Partly due to film studio politics, and largely due to Chandler’s curmudgeonly behavior, “Playback” never made its way to the silver screen. Instead, it sat moldering in a studio vault until a few years ago, when Ted Benoit and Francois Ayroles turned it into this graphic novel.

"Playback" was not Chandler’s best, but it’s still recognizable as his work. The artists have done an interesting thing here in producing graphic work that closely resembles that of Chandler’s era. It makes heavy use of bold lines and shies away from half-tones. The result is a fun and witty read from a master of the genre to which the graphic novel owes so much. Without noir, there’s a good chance the comic book wouldn’t have caught on, and the later graphic novels wouldn’t have come about at all. The influence of noir can often be seen in the style of a huge portion of graphic novels as well, in the form of witty, fast-paced dialogue, questionable heroes, and general grittiness.

Sure, there are better graphic novels than "Playback," but few are so grounded in the format’s roots. This is also a book that might find an audience in those who don’t normally read graphic novels.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Pride of Baghdad

Back when the Iraq war was in its “shock and awe” stage, the evening news was flooded with stories of humans in all the widely varied situations war tends to stick people in. One event that was nearly lost in all the commotion didn’t involve people at all, though. An American bomb inadvertently freed four lions from the Baghdad zoo. Writer Brian K. Vaughan uses their story as a jumping-off point for a graphic novel that’s possibly one of the most poignant and reflective of the many books, graphic or otherwise, the current war has inspired.

Vaughan himself is an oddity among graphic novelists. Well known for his award-winning work on “Y: The Last Man,” “Runaways,” and “Ex Machina,” Vaughan only rarely illustrates his own writing. For this project he’s teamed up with relative newcomer Niko Henrichon, who possesses a particular talent for rendering expression in animals.

This book toys with ideas of freedom granted by foreign bombs, and the often uncomfortable and insecure nature of freedom itself. Most of the escaped lions were born in the wild, but years of captivity and relative comfort have left them ill-prepared for the war-torn city into which they’re thrust. While there are mature themes in the book, this may be one of a very few graphic novels that finds an audience in readers who typically stick to more conventional fiction.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher

Those who have taken classes in philosophy will find the material in this book familiar. Philosophers, comfortably detached from the nuances of real life, come up with what they call “thought experiments” to discuss with one another. Some of the experiments contained in this book include the question of whether it is wrong to inflict pain on someone who won’t remember it and therefore won’t fear it? And what if everything we know has been a deceit; can we still make rational sense of the world?

Many people might find questions like these an utterly stupid waste of time. There is a point to all this, though. By discussing these limited, ascetic scenarios, we can get more easily to the heart of issues that bother us. It breaks matters down into their component parts.

This is a fun book that will likely appeal to those interested in philosophy or debate.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural

H.P. Lovecraft has become almost a cult classic in the literary world. He still doesn’t enjoy the success or acclaim of better-known horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe or Bram Stoker. Yet there is still an audience for Lovecraft now, 70 years after his death. Part of the reason is that he was an astute reader of his chosen genre. Lovecraft’s insightful essays on what makes a good horror story have now spawned several collections of short stories, including this one.

This book includes stories by Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Washington Irving and others. It’s fun and varied reading from authors who may be better known for their more mainstream works.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What Car Dealers Don’t Want You to Know, by Mark Eskeldson

While there are a lot of people who like cars, very few would be likely to place talking to car dealers high on their list of fun ways to spend a weekend. There’s a good reason for this: The automobile sales industry as a whole has an absolutely deplorable reputation. High-pressure sales tactics, murky pricing structures and general sticker-shock make visiting a dealer’s lot about as enjoyable as eating the upholstery of your old ride.

This book goes a long way toward taking some of the pain out of the experience. It discusses topics like how to haggle, things to look for, and why you should never hesitate to walk out on salespeople if they get too pushy. It also makes the very important point that there are honest car dealers out there, and lots of resources available to help you out. Paired with other information you can find at the library -- like Consumer Reports magazines, Better Business Bureau Web searches, and price guides that indicate what the dealer likely paid for the car in question – this book can be a boon to prospective buyers.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mindless Eating

Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating is more than a diet book--it's also a psychology book. Wansink is a Ph.D. who runs a food lab, and there his research groups do tests, trying to find out why we eat the way we do. There are numerous psychological factors that contribute to our eating habits, including visual cues, environmental causes, and eating styles taught to us by our parents. Wansink's goal is to make the reader aware of these factors, and then to help the reader identify and correct the ones that affect the reader's personal overeating style. It's really eye-opening, and the information is incredibly useful. For example, now I know the difference between true hunger and a psychological craving, and Wansink has given me tools to handle each situation. Very interesting stuff.