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review 2017-04-24 11:35
The Best of the Raconteurs
The Best of the Raconteurs - John Lawrence,Tim Heald,Sheridan Morley

I'm calling this finished, even though technically I haven't read it cover to cover.  In part because it's really not meant to be read cover to cover, but dipped into now and again more or less randomly and in part because it's making me itch to see it squatting on my Currently Reading list.

 

The Best of the Raconteurs is a rather large collection of anecdotes, bits from speeches and other odds and ends - some seem almost to be snippets of conversation - collected from an incredibly varied cast of wits including Nora Ephron, William Churchill, Oscar Wilde, and David Niven, to touch upon just a very few.

 

The quality of the entries is all over the place; as some of them aren't more than a paragraph, while others are 2 or 3 pages long, odds were always long that every entry was going to be a winner.  Nora Ephron's entry had me laughing out loud, while Ogden Nash's poem charmed me until the very end, where it promptly made my hair stand on end (which is exactly the effect Nash would have wanted).  Those that fell flat were the definition of unmemorable.  

 

Generally, a good collection, if you like anecdotes, and very likely to have something for everyone.

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review 2017-04-18 05:55
Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons
Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons - Dan Crowe

Several modern day writers answer the question, if you could go back in time and talk to any famous writer, who would it be? by imagining how such interviews would go.

 

Some are straight-forward, some are really very clever, like the Samuel Johnson/Boswell interview imagined by David Mitchell, or Rebecca Miller's take on how an interview would go with the Marquis de Sade.  Some of them aren't even authors; Douglas Coupland interviews Andy Warhol, who he imagines finds heaven very dull.

 

I bought this because I saw Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the list and he's just about the only author I'd travel back in time to talk to, if I could.  Ian Rankin did the honours, but I was rather disappointed with his efforts, to be frank.  Very little came out of the exercise except perhaps a wicked hangover for Rankin if he was lucky, a court-ordered psych eval if he wasn't (fictitiously speaking, of course).

 

The weirdest by far was Joyce Carol Oates' disturbing and intensive extended grilling of Robert Frost.  I think it's fair to say, fictional imaginings or not, she does not like Robert Frost!  At the end of it, she is careful to remind readers it's a work of fiction, "though based opon (limited, selected) historical research", and then points the reader in the direction of Meyer's biography of Frost.  I'm betting there's a story to tell there somewhere.

 

It's an amusing collection of what-ifs, some of which, like with all such things, are better than others.  

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review 2017-04-09 04:36
The Animal Review: The Genius, Mediocrity and Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature
The Animal Review: An Objective Critique Of The Genius, Mediocrity, And Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature - Steve Nash,Jacob Lentz

This book is hilarious.  The authors choose 28 animals, classify them under Land, Sea, Air and Other (for those that occupy more than one) and grade them on arbitrary criteria.  Some factual information is thrown in, but mostly it's just one joke after another.  As I read it, a pattern began to emerge: the deadlier an animal is, or the more capable it is of ruining a person's day, the higher the grade it received.

 

I'd have rated it higher, but for one thing.  They note at the beginning that any science included is real, but the writing style blurs the line between what is a scientific fact and what is just their hyperbolic humour.  Some poor undereducated person out there is going to pick this up someday and read the first paragraph about Great White Sharks where the authors claim death by shark is the single largest cause of death in the world, and believe it.  Then they're going to go on Facebook, repeat it, claiming 'it's true! I read it in a book!', other undereducated people are going to believe them and it's going to snowball, ultimately ending badly for Great White Sharks, who are already having a rough go of it as it is.  More importantly, I think this book would appeal to kids a lot and it's appropriate for middle school aged kids, but some of these "facts" are likely to confuse and possibly leave the kids believing things about the animals that were meant only in fun.

 

Still, it's a hilarious little book (the authors positively do not like Australia) and I'm happy I was able to finally get ahold of it.

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review 2017-03-16 05:38
Jeeves and the Impending Doom
Jeeves and the Impending Doom and Other Stories - P.G. Wodehouse

This is one of the little Pocket Penguin editions that contains two of Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves short stories.  Bertie and Jeeves is a little bit hit-and-miss with me; some of them come off hilariously but some feel like they go too far in relying on outright stupidity for the comedy.

 

Both of these stories veered towards the latter; they were both amusing, with Jeeves, as always, coming out on top.  In Jeeves and the Impending Doom he gets a bit of revenge on Bertie too.  

 

Jeeves and the Song of Songs was the winner for best dialogue; the exchange between Bertie and Aunt Dahlia made me chuckle.

 

Wodehouse is pretty much always on my TBR in some form or another because he can always be counted on for excellent and lighthearted writing.  

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review 2017-03-14 22:24
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris

This is my first exposure to David Sedaris' writing, and I doubt it'll be my last, but this is also the first time I've ever dinged a rating for content.

 

The writing is incredibly good and hysterically funny.  I listened to the audio and Sedaris does his own narration - as he should, because I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off half as well.

 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is a collection of essays, mostly biographical with embellishments for comic effect.  They were all good, but even when they were laugh out loud hysterical, they were also oftentimes gritty and confronting.  There is not a topic he doesn't address upfront and without relying on innuendo.

 

I don't typically have a hard time with that; but what I do rebel against is animals being hurt or killed and/or casual references made to it in my reading.  And while Sedaris doesn't hate animals, (in the first essay he professes to be an animal lover) he is very casual about animal death and cruelty.  One particular reminiscence about capturing sea turtles I just had to skip past completely.  

 

Everything else was pretty flawless; at the end, he reads a small collection of short fictional narratives he created for use in forensics competitions (= fancy name for 'debate team').  These were very gritty, very angry, and difficult to listen to, although they were really good.  Hypocrisy was a strong theme running through these.

 

So while I enjoyed all his essays about traveling, life abroad, growing up, etc., I was not at all comfortable with the casual, easy way he had with telling stories involving bad ends for the animals.  There was a distinct lack of compassion or regret in these essays and their casual matter-of-factness made me uncomfortable about the author as a person.  So I dinged my rating by a star.

 

If you have a thicker skin than I do (admittedly, this is most people), and enjoy edgier humour, definitely give this a look if you haven't already.   

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