The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (11 August)

I read this series of books for the first time in my senior year of high school (about five and a half years ago), after meeting a person who carried a towel around with him and asking him just why that was. He explained it was a Hitchhiker’s Guide thing, to which I said, approximately, “A who in the what now?” Well. I promptly purchased the full five-book trilogy (um, yes) and devoured it within a couple weeks. Maybe just one. Maybe it was a few days. I don’t remember, but it was rather quickly.

When I mentioned to my friend Nick (not the towel-carrier, in case that’s not clear) a few weeks ago that I was going to re-read them, he warned me that they wouldn’t hold up well to a second reading. I doubted him, but he was mostly right, at least with this first one. We’ll see how the rest go, I suppose.

For those still going, “A who in the what now?”, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a British humor novel about travelling the galaxy. Sort of. The story starts off with our main protagonist, Arthur Dent, finding out that his house is going to be demolished by the local planning commission to make room for a bypass. He is understandably displeased, and has a lie-down in front the bulldozers to protect his house, at least until his friend Ford Prefect shows up to lead him off to the pub and inform him that the world is going to end in about twenty minutes. Then the Earth is vaporized. Meanwhile, we meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Imperial Galactic Government, who, at the unveiling of a fancy new spaceship that he then steals. Then Ford and Arthur have a series of improbable adventures, having managed to hitch a ride on the spaceship that eliminated the Earth, and eventually meet up with Zaphod and have more improbable adventures.

There’s not much of a plot, and the humor really depends on its unexpectedness, which is where the book falls apart on a second read. It’s still funny, but not nearly as much so as it was five years ago. Alas.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

See also:
Book Nut

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi (23 July — 25 July)

So, remember when I said that I’d never experienced a story/cover mismatch that bothered me? Well, now I have, and this is it. The Android’s Dream cover looks like this, and there are absolutely no androids in the novel! I was expecting androids, people.

But that’s not to say that this wasn’t an excellent book, because it was. And it was a good way to break up the Harry Potter hullabaloo, even if it’s really just jumping from one obsession to another (I love the Scalzi). And while it wasn’t about androids, it was about sheep, which is apparently another Philip K. Dick reference I need to go learn about.

Anyway. This is one of those books where the first lines just really set the tone for the story, so here they are: “Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.”

Yes, really. And he does succeed, though perhaps not in the way he thought he would, and it falls to the State Department of Earth to rectify the slight against the Nidu race, one of their closest allies. Oh, dear. To do so, the Earth’s government must find and procure one sheep of the Android’s Dream variety (with electric blue wool, of course) for the Nidu ruler’s coronation ceremony, which cannot happen without such a sheep. Unfortunately, someone out there knows this and has been killing all such sheep. But then Harris Creek and his truly intelligent computer (which has the brain of Harris’s long-dead best friend, no, really) find the last remaining sheep, which is good, but Creek and the sheep are being well followed by some people who would like to see the sheep gone. So they go on a cruise. Really. And there’s more, but then you’d just get confused and not read this book, and I strongly advise against that.

This book is really funny and packed with pop-culture references of awesome and is in that spectrum of weird where, sure, this story could totally happen, maybe. I call it perfect light reading for these oddly cold summer days.

Rating: 8/10

Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi (18 May — 19 May)

I think I’ve mentioned before that I rather like John Scalzi’s work, from his Old Man’s War series to his wonderful blog. So when I saw this book, his first (but not first published) novel, for 25 cents at a street fair, well, I couldn’t help but purchase it. And Zoe’s Tale, for another quarter. If only the rest of his work had been there too!

Anyway. Agent to the Stars is fun and fluffy. Tom Stein is an agent to a variety of Hollywood “stars” — one real star, a few decent actors, and a bunch of riff-raff. After landing his star, Michelle Beck, a $12 million contract for some crap movie, Stein gets a meeting with the boss, all by his lonesome. His assistant isn’t even allowed in! This is because boss dude Carl wants Tom to represent a new client… a blob alien called Joshua. Joshua and his blob-alien kin have travelled to Earth to make friends and have decided that since American entertainment rules the world, why not get an American entertainment agent to represent their interests? Of course.

The plot is a liiiiittle ridiculous, but it’s throughly entertaining if you don’t think about it too hard. Which is as it should be. 🙂 I hope that my hypothetical first novel is (hypothetically) as awesome as Scalzi’s was.

Rating: 8/10

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris (30 April — 7 May)

I had this collection of Sedaris essays as my car audiobook for those long drives to and from my music ensembles, and I thought it worked pretty well. Stopping in the middle of a story left me confused, but when I could listen to a whole story at once I was highly entertained.

Most of the stories in this collection are ruminations on Sedaris’s life, both now and as a kid growing up in North Carolina. I felt a little awkward hearing Sedaris talk about playing strip poker and being beaten up by bullies and his brother training the dog to eat poo, but I thoroughly enjoyed his more humorous stories. In particular, I listened to his essay on Christmas in the Netherlands by myself and then immediately replayed it for Scott to hear. It was good.

That story and another were taped as Sedaris read them in front of an audience, but most of them were just Sedaris talking into a microphone, and you could really hear the difference. The man has a stage presence, but he seems to forget to use it without an audience! I wonder if the stories read differently without Sedaris talking.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, by Laurie Notaro (2 May — 4 May)

I saw this book in a library display along with several other collected essay books. It was really the title (and its subtitle, Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal) that sold me. Flaming tantrums of death? I’m in!

On the whole, I thought the collection was pretty good. There are some super-funny stories, like the one in which Notaro gets flipped off by hippies and decides to turn around and tailgate them in her Prius. There are some super-affecting stories, like the one in which her beloved dog suddenly falls ill. Most are entertaining; a couple of them fell flat for me.

But seriously, Laurie Notaro, you need to get yourself a better editor. I get that the stories are meant to be conversational in tone, but the beauty of writing is that you can take those tongue-tied, baffling moments and fix them to be understandable. There were so many misplaced modifiers and commas in weird places and just generally unintelligible sentences that I lost all sense of the story more than a few times.

I also felt a bit put off by Notaro’s attitudes in general, but that’s probably more about me than about her. She’s the kind of person who would bother to get laser hair removal; I am not. She’s a huge germophobe; I follow the 90-second rule. I couldn’t really get a few of the stories because of this, but I’m sure there are others out there who would totally understand her.

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Fool, by Christopher Moore (26 March − 3 April)

I’ve loved me some Christopher Moore since reading Lamb some crazy-long time ago (a few years?), and then Fluke and Island of the Sequined Love Nun and the others… and this new book does not disappoint!

Fool tells the story of King Lear’s fool. Yes, that King Lear. Now, I’ve never actually read the play, but I’m going to take a wild guess that this book is only very very loosely based on it. Especially since the witches from Macbeth show up. You know how it is.

But anyway, if you’re like me and don’t know the story, there’s a king called Lear and he’s kind of an idiot and he splits up his kingdom based on how much each of his daughters loves him. Two lie their arses off and get a fair bit of land; one tells the truth and is banished for her trouble. So then politics and intrigue happen because obviously someone is unhappy.

And in this version, the fool, called Pocket, is behind it all, with the help of some enchantments from the aforementioned witches. Hoorah. And, being a fool, he tells his story with lots of bawdiness and also vulgarity. And, the book being based on Shakespeare, there is also some crazy English borrowed liberally from King Lear and other plays that is conveniently footnoted for the modern reader. And there’s a ghost. And a raven. It’s awesome, is what I’m saying.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde (10 March — 13 March)

I can’t help it. I love Jasper Fforde and his novels. And now I have to wait several months until his next book comes out! Oh no!

The Fourth Bear is the second in Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, in which nursery rhyme characters are real(-ish) and subject to actual laws. Our main participants this time are Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Gingerbreadman, who has escaped from jail and is again on a murderous rampage. DCI Jack Spratt and his sergeant Mary Mary are not on the case, as they’ve been sidelined after letting Red Riding Hood and her grandmother get eaten by the wolf. Oops.

Instead, they’re on the hunt for the missing Goldilocks, a journalist with an eye lately for cucumber news who was last seen in a baby bear’s bed. The trail leads, well, everywhere. Giant multinational corporation (no, not Goliath), porridge smuggling, explosions, closet-heterosexual member of Parliament, Agent Danvers (Danvers!)… it’s all there, and mostly makes sense. Oh, also, Jack buys a car from Dorian Gray. That’s smart.

I liked the story, here, but it was a little back-loaded answers-wise. Things just keep spiralling out of control until all of a sudden, poof! The answer! Convenient! But the writing is fun enough that I will forgive it. A quote I put up on Twitter when I started out: “He was seven foot three, and she was six foot two. It was a match made perhaps not in heaven but certainly nearer the ceiling.” Strangely, that’s 140 characters exactly.

One other thing I didn’t like about the story is that there’s a point where everything is going wrong and it’s looking bad for Jack and then he’s like, “But wait! This is just a plot contrivance! I will convince those involved in this situation to just, ah, ignore it, and then I can go back to detecting!” I get that in this weird Fforde universe, the characters know they’re in a book. But generally, they’re meant not to let everyone else know that, so this is just lazy. Ah well.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Wales)