Thursday, April 10, 2014

BooksFirst- March 2014

Books Bought

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas by John Scalzi
The Hammer of Witches by Shana Miwalski

Books Read

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry
The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English by Bill Walsh
Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas by John Scalzi


Last year Dave Barry came through DC promoting his first novel in a long time Insane City which I kind of faint-praised in my review. So I was a bit reluctant to shell out hard cash when he came through DC again this year pushing his latest collection of essays You Can Date Boys When You Are Forty. Boy, was I wrong. This book was literally laugh out loud funny. I would just chuckle constantly as I read it. In addition to the titular essay about the travails or raising a teenaged daughter, he talks about growing old and life in general.

I'm really not sure what makes him so funny but a lot of it is his dead pan observations of actual life. He just manages to get straight to the heart of any topic in a way that is instantly recognizable.

Bill Walsh is a professional editor at the Washington Post who has a monthly online chat where he regularly refers to his books. Liking the chat, I went and bought his best reviewed book, The Elephants of Style. The allusion to the Strunk and White classic is deliberate and indicative of his irreverent style.

Unfortunately, when all is said and done, it's still a book about nitpicky grammar debates. Walsh leans towards the descriptivist camp rather than prescriptionist (neither word which passes muster with spell-check) which is the way I lean as well. On most topics, he lays out what the dispute is, what the various sides assert and then gives the side he comes down on.His advice is always sound and logical but it's still arbitrary.

At the end of the book he just outright starts padding. There is a certain random cotton candyesqueness to his musings. It's a fun read but not solid enough to serve as a reference book.

In the past couple of decades, two styles of books have been winning Hugos, heavy tomes and light-hearted romps. Redshirts is definitely the latter. Borrowing heavily from the tropes of television science fiction, the novel is about a young ensign on a military style exploratory space ship NOT named the Enterprise who becomes concerned about the high casualty rates for landing parties. It seems anyone other than the headstrong captain, the stoic science officer or the folksy medical doctor is doomed. And while not always meeting a fatal end, the eastern European accented navigation officer always seems a little too close to the center of the action.

At this point, it could have become farce along the lines of Galaxy Quest, but instead it becomes very intriguing metafiction. And while there is a little patchouli whiff of dorm room existentialism in the philosophy, it does become an interesting treatise on the nature of reality and fiction. It has a little of the self-awareness of Jasper Fforde novels but not quite as much cutesy cloyingness. It is a slight breezy read, but well worth the effort.

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