Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dangerous Book For Dogs-- Rex and Sparky

I ended up buying this book--at full price--because once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. Every page I flipped to made me laugh out loud. Literally. (And not the fake "literally," like when people are like, "I ate so much I was literally stuffed." No: in actual, literal fact, each page made me laugh out loud, right there in the store.)

Plus, I was on vacation. "It will have sentimental value," I reason sometimes in these situations. "I'll remember I got it on vacation."

Be that as it may, there is no need to wait for a sentimental reason to pick up a copy of The Dangerous Book for Dogs. It's just hilarious. Selected snippets that led to my public LOL'ing:

* examples of typically inane dog park statements from history (e.g., "467, Gupta Empire, Northern India: 'Have you heard about this new number, zero? Totally weird. It's not positive and it's not negative, so what the heck is it?'"; "1065, Norman Kingdom, France: 'You think we should conquer England next year? I kinda do. I dunno. My dad thinks we should.'")

* advice for dogs regarding peanut butter and pills ("How do you know if your peanut butter has a pill inside of it? Take this simple test. Is your owner giving you peanut butter? If the answer is yes, then the chances are good that there is a pill in it.")

As it turns out, the book was not really written by dogs named Rex and Sparky. It was written by some geniuses over at The Onion. The Onion newspaper itself does not shy away from hard-hitting pet-news coverage. See for example the landmark story Nation's Dog Owners Demand To Know Who's A Good Boy, and the troubling headline, "War on String May Be Unwinnable, Says Cat General". Unfortunately there is no story to go with the string headline, but there is a picture of a cat general. I'm almost sure it was Photoshopped.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Big Machine-- Victor LaValle

"Who is Victor LaValle?" asks the back of this book. "Well, that's a good question," I thought when I saw it. And then I saw that the likes of Mos Def, Kevin Brockmeier, and Amy Bloom were quoted beneath the question, attempting to answer it. Now: this is a crazy and awesome mix of folks, and I was hooked as soon as I saw it. And though almost all of their answers posit that Victor LaValle is a combination of various OTHER people I may or may not have heard of, I will go ahead and think of him as a combo of these three.

This genre-bender is interesting and suspenseful. Its lack of allegiance to any single genre keeps the reader guessing--anything in the world might happen next! No predicting this sucker. By turns surprising and thoughtful and dark, the book is hilarious throughout. I really enjoyed the writing, too. This was a good read.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Year of the Flood--Margaret Atwood

OK, so apparently the back story of The Year of the Flood sounds eerily like the back story of Oryx and Crake because Flood is Oryx's successor. And here I thought the world was just running out of back stories.

Had I known, I might have re-read Oryx before reading this one. Flood stands alone just fine, though, and reads like a guilty pleasure. It isn't a sequel to Oryx and Crake; I suppose it is the same story from a different perspective. Some characters are in both books. So, read the previous book or jump right into the Flood, it's up to you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao--Junot Diaz

The first thing I have to say about this book is that I was halfway through it before I realized it was called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, not The Brief AND Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." There was no "and." There was not even a comma. Why? What was the author trying to convey? Why subtly remove my "and," or my comma? I finished this book a couple weeks ago, but still the question haunted me. Until about thirty seconds ago.

Thirty seconds ago, the most basic possible Wikipedia research informed me that "[t]he title is a nod to Hemingway's short story 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'." So, that answers that question. Obviously it raises the same question about Hemingway's title, but that is not a haunting question. Hemingway's "and"-less, comma-less title is very snappy. And, he's Hemmingway. (<--And AND comma.)

The second thing I have to say is that obviously this book is good. The Pulitzer Prize people think so. The National Book Critics Circle Award people think so. New York and Time magazines think so. A million people think so, and it is unremarkable that I am among them.

The third and final thing I have to say about this book is that if you do not speak any Spanish, get yourself a Spanish-English dictionary. A--most importantly--unexpurgated Spanish-English dictionary. Keep a little vocabulary list and by the end of the book you will be able to make all manner of impolite conversation in Spanish.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Narrow Dog to Indian River--Terry Darlington

Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington. A travel memoir in which a septuagenarian English couple takes their skinny dog and their skinny boat down the broad American Atlantic coast. The male of the species establishes a narrative tone and really just...hammers away at that the whole time. The book was printed in blue ink, and the narrative voice is supremely irritating. I didn't finish it and I wouldn't recommend it. Nancy Pearl gave it two librarians up, though, so the book does have some excellent supporters.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Another in my mini-motif of England after the war. (Other elements of the motif: my grandmother; The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.) I want to have a literary society like the one in this book, where at each meeting someone talks about a great book they have read, and tries to entice others to read it. Only I'd like to have that society without also having a German occupation of my island.
I'm late to this bandwagon, but I really liked this quirky book and would recommend it widely.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reaching the Animal Mind--Karen Pryor

I am hogging the library's copy of this book by renewing it constantly. It has lit a fire under me, so that I am:

(1) Cleaning up my dog's understanding of the cues I only half-assedly taught him. For the uninitiated, here's the breakdown: Teaching hilarious tricks with the clicker: fun and awesome. Putting the tricks under precise stimulus control: meh...
And this lack of stimulus control (i.e., my laziness) is why my dog looks like a crazed junkie trying to score his next click when I bring out the clicker. We go along ok for a while, but once he gets one thing "wrong" he goes "OMG, WHAT!!!" and throws everything he's got at me. Unfortunately this is pretty hilarious too, as he hops around looking for anything that he might get rewarded for pulling or pushing, climbing under or sitting on top of, holding in his mouth while he rolls over, etc. He tries anything I have ever taught him TO do, but not bothered to teach him WHEN to do. He remembers things that I have forgotten, that we haven't done in a year or more, and he's creative in applying and combining them. But while I'm laughing and admiring his smarts, he's so excited that he's freaking out a little. So that's not very nice of me.

(2) Training Uh-Oh Chicken to dance.

Plus (3) Writing myself a lengthy little document clarifying all my questions about clicker training.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I Capture The Castle--Dodie Smith

I'm reading this with Amy, though I shot ahead of her and am almost done. (A re-read for me, so I'm allowed.) I want to rattle this book at the author of the Twilight series and say "LISTEN, lady: THIS is how you do a book about coming of age and first love and all that crap. Clean up the writing, give it some wit, and for god's sake DON'T HARP. THAT will engage your readers." Ahem.
Between myself and Meyers though, only one of us has multi-million dollar book and film contracts and an entire youth subculture devoted to our works. So maybe she knows what she's doing.

But I I Capture the Castle is still way, way better. I wish for a 13-year-old daughter to spring fully formed from the woodwork in my house, just so the two of us could read this book together. (This hypothetical child could read Twilight too if she wanted, of course. I would be quietly puking in the wastebasket in another room.)