Monthly Archives: October 2013

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach


OK, I promise I will stop listening to Mary Roach books in the car and then telling you about them. But I had to mention this one, because it’s the only time I have ever blushed furiously while driving in my car by myself with the windows up. There are chapters of this book so embarrassing that you think you should be listening with a black bar over your eyes. There are others so cringe-worthy that you will actually physically squirm. At one point, the author actually talks her husband into participating in a study where they have ultrasound pictures taken of them while they have sex. If this wasn’t bad enough in itself, he makes small talk with the doctor, and she takes notes WHILE THEY DO THE DEED. (And that wasn’t even the chapter where I cringed the hardest – that one involved rods being inserted into a man’s penis, which made me cross my legs in sympathy and shudder even though I don’t HAVE a penis.) Go get it, read or listen to it, and enjoy – right now. But not when anyone else could be listening, unless you have a high threshold for embarrassment.

Incidentally, I started Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife this week, and I have to say, Mary Roach has finally written a book I probably won’t finish. This might be due to the reader (who has, quite possibly, the most irritating voice on the planet), but is probably also due to the fact that I am just not that interested in reincarnation research, weighing souls, or spiritualism, which she has covered so far. Hopefully it’ll pick up with some real science instead of the psuedoquackery.

Kraken by China Mieville


Holy squid, I finally finished Kraken. I have been working on this book through 3 renewals (that’s 9 weeks, people) and last night I turned the final page. My exact thought after finishing was “I know I have been complaining about how hard this book was but now I’m sorry I’m done.”

It is impossible to really describe this book. On the surface, it’s the story of a cephalod expert at London’s Natural History Museum named Billy, whose only claim to fame is that he preserved a giant squid and now leads tours to show it off. When the squid inexplicably vanishes, Billy (and you, dear reader) discover that London has a secret, supernatural underbelly that many do not even suspect, and that the stolen kraken may just bring about Armageddon. There are countless people who could have stolen the squid, and for all sorts of dangerous reasons – and Billy needs a crash course in who’s who in the supernatural world before he can even begin to comprehend what trouble he is in.

This book is fascinating. The characters you meet range from clueless mortal Billy to Wati, the Union Boss of the Underworld, who makes sure that familiars, golems and what-have-you are treated fairly by their wizard masters. There is Dane, who was an assassin for the Church of God Kraken (a squid cult) but has now been excommunicated for helping Billy, who the church sees as a possible prophet. There is a secret police division that deals exclusively with cults and supernatural critters (the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit), and a collection of the most frightening magical thugs you will ever encounter in any book ever. You will love each and every one of the good guys (the book is worth reading just to get to know Constable Collingswood of the aforementioned FSRC), and fear the bad guys – when you can tell the difference, which admittedly sometimes you can’t.

Word of warning – this book is hard to read. I had to have a dictionary and the Internet handy every minute, because Mieville’s vocabulary is extremely difficult. The dictionary can handle the merely big complicated words, but you’ll need the Internet to identify the origins of some of the religions and critters you encounter. You’ll also need the Urban Dictionary to decipher the London slang, and brush up on your Latin for the words he seems to have made up out of several different roots put together in no particular order. More than once I Googled a word or phrase and got no results other than message boards full of people saying “I’m reading Kraken and I can’t find this word anywhere. . .”*

But don’t let that stop you. After a certain point, it’s okay to just give up and gloss over the hard words, because the context helps you figure out enough to follow along (or rather, get dragged along). The pure adrenaline rush of adventure is so worth it.

I’d give you some read-alikes, but frankly, I have never read anything quite like this book. MAYBE The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov? It has that same sort of all-hell-breaks-loose feel, with characters that are familiar because they are based on historical/mythological/supernatural standards. If you like YA, I suppose it is vaguely similar to Michael Scott’s Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series for that idea that there are many worlds out there, and some people can exist in more than one.

*Incidentally, if anyone can figure out what the phrase “caned a cigarette” means, I would be immensely grateful.

It Looked Different on the Model by Laurie Notaro


OK, so maybe I only thought this book was funny because she mocks people from Eugene, OR, but I listened to the whole audiobook anyway, despite it being one of those self-deprecating humor books where the author tells you everything that is wrong with her/him and somehow makes this funny rather than pathetic, but only just. The book was totally worth it if only for the chapter where she describes the adventures of “Ambien Laurie” – a character who is adamantly NOT the author, but nonetheless amuses all of the author’s friends while ruining her reputation and damaging her marriage.

Authors with a similar tone (“there’s something wrong with me and I’m going to make you laugh about it even while you are horrified”): Nora Ephron,  Jen Lancaster, Jenny Lawson, Edward Ugel, Augusten Burroughs, Henry Alford, David Sedaris.