Book Review: You Suck, A Love Story, by Christopher Moore, Though Funny, Isn’t His Best

As it happens, that review would be based on a previous review of a book by Moore which I thought was incredible, and titled, Lamb or The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Best Friend. That book was truly sensational and written as a new gospel of Jesus’ life from the perspective of his childhood best friend who was there for those thirty or so years during which Jesus otherwise disappears. That book is fascinating, funny, well-researched and simply a great read.

You Suck, though amusing, was not the best. It took place in San Francisco and provided numerous scenes with rather detailed setting locations so that if you’re familiar with the city (and as I live here, I am) then it’s very enjoyable.

So the story is about a guy who is turned into a vampire by his girlfriend of a few months who was only recently turned into a vampire by a man who had been undead for centuries. Yes, that’s right, it’s a story about love and vampires. As this couple learns how to be successful vampires, they must contend with the elder vampire, the old crew they used to roll with that hunts vampires, their new minion, and then all the people that inadvertently get turned into vampires as this debacle goes down.

It’s light, quick-moving, amusing, and enjoyable and if you’re looking for something to be mindless with and chuckle at at the same time – and especially if you have a penchant for all things vampire, but aren’t too hardcore and serious about it – then this could be the book for you. No matter your penchants I highly recommend Lamb and do think that Christopher Moore is a very good and creative author.

Have you read any of his books? What did you think?

Get your very own copy of You Suck: A Love Story

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Book Review: Sex and War, by Potts and Hayden, is a Fascinating Look at the Biological Bases of War

I have to thank the BenBella Book Publishers for cluing me into this gem of a book. Generally, when we think of gems we think small. Think big. This is a big book. But if I was going to lay out the case for why men are inherently violent at a basic biological level, how empowering women is the solution to world peace, and how we can overcome our genetic predisposition towards outgroup violence, then I would probably need a fair amount of pages too.

Malcolm Potts, an obstetrician and research biologist, and the journalist Thomas Hayden, take up the remarkable challenge of setting out to show the average person, who is not particularly well-versed in the biological bases of behavior, the genetic code, chimpanzee behavior or a million fascinating and germane examples throughout history, how and why men are violent and how we can overcome our natural predispositions. The solution: become aware of them and empower women.

Rather than do this book an injustice by attempting to summarize its intelligent and very well-argued points, I will liken it to Guns, Germs and Steel, the wonderful work by Jared Diamond that set out to demonstrate how the world’s power structure is based on where people started and therefore what technology and weapons they had access to and what diseases they were immune to. In the same way, this book describes the state of our world based on fascinating and uncontrollable factors and has an epic task at hand.

I must admit that the author’s disapproval of President Bush and his actions did shine through as a prominent motif, and though I generally don’t appreciate political opinions intervening in works such as these, if I were writing a book during the presidency of a man who had created so many apt examples then I could hardly deny myself the luxury of using them. If you removed these examples it would actually do the book and the argument an injustice and I believe that their inclusion truly was not politically motivated. That, however, doesn’t necessitate the footnotes of stupid Bush quotes (which were at least funny).

In short, an excellent book and a must read for anyone who loves to see the complex interplay of so many fascinating factors in this world and their results.

Get your very own copy of Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World

Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size is a Life-Changing Experience about Weight, Food and Life

Anyone who wants to change his or her life for the better and do him/herself a huge favor should read Dr. Linda Bacon’s book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.

This book is counter-culture and earth-shattering in scope and quality. Bacon, a revered researcher of weight and related issues, single-handedly takes on the misguided and erroneous notions that pervade our society about weight loss, dieting and health. This book is well-researched and excellently cited – two huge criteria for me when reading anything of this nature – and actually breaks down and explains why and how America has been made to believe that fat kills and weight is ugly.

Well fat doesn’t kill and big is just as beautiful as anything else. We’ve been lied to by health professionals, researchers, our government and nearly everybody else.

What makes this woman – who apparently few people agree with – right, you ask? That I can hardly tell you in this brief post. I can only beseech you to go on Amazon.com or wherever you prefer to order your books and buy this one. It will change your life.

It you’re fat, it will be the beginning of a whole new life of feeling good without dieting and hating your body. If you’re thin, it will make you understand an oppressed segment of our population and hopefully it will also change your relationship with food and your weight for the better. I’m not a big guy but I will never understand food or weight the same again – and I mean that in a good way.

Click HERE to buy this book now and change your life (those of you familiar with my book reviews will know that I don’t ever attach links for a book to be purchased, but this one is too important not to).

The Late Michael Crichton’s Next, Though Politically Charged, Is Not His Best

I think that Michael Crichton is a spectacular writer. Not only are his stories compelling, his plots engaging and his writing enjoyable, but his ability to incite something entirely different in his reader is remarkable. Why? Because he often writes about topics that are (or should be) important issues of public discourse.

Crichton does not merely pick some outrageous sci-fi notion and run with it to the ends of the earth. He writes science fiction that is well-researched and of practical public interest. He then crafts a story that pushes the boundaries of “what if” while demonstrating the numerous issues that surround the topic at hand, whether nanotechnology, biological experimentation or global warming – one of the largest thorns in his side.

He was an outspoken public critic of complacency and constantly sought to shake up the status-quo. When unethical or damaging tactics were allowed to plague an institute of government, a scientific research facility, or the media, he seized upon them and exposed them in the best way he knew how – creative science fiction grounded in reality.

Next was Crichton’s jab at genetic technology and gene experimentation. This well-researched book ended with a series of recommendations for how American politics, government and people should proceed in regards to these issues. The book itself was fascinating for the issues it exposed but for some reason this time I just couldn’t grab hold of the slightly over the top sci-fi elements.

I certainly feel more educated about genetic research and the state of affairs of politics and science than I did before – thanks to his grounding these books in facts – but the sci-fi elements themselves were just not for me this time. I won’t stop reading Crichton’s books, though, but sadly we won’t be seeing any more of them (that aren’t published posthumously).

Here’s to you, Mr. Crichton. Thanks!

Get your copy of Next today.

Topical Tuesday: Anger Strikes an Unpublished Writer, Prompting the Rest of Us to Say, Who Hasn’t Been There?

The following are my thoughts on the post that can be found on Absolute Write’s forum, “Rejection and Dejection,” and that I’ve posted at the end of this entry.
It’s Cold Out Here
The accusation he makes this whiner makes is that the publishing industry is a waste of time, that its agents are morons who don’t understand his genius (though you’ll notice a dozen typos in his few paragraphs) and that no one is concerned with anything but money and pandering to the hot genre’s crowds.
Now, do I understand the sentiments behind his bitching? Sure – who hasn’t had a tough day in the world of writing. It’s a rough industry to break into, has tight and finicky rules, and a lot of weird, accepted behaviors. Agents can ignore their signed clients; personally addressed letters often go unanswered; and numerous publishers can’t even be contacted without an agent. What’s more, most people don’t want to represent you if you haven’t already been published, making breaking into the industry incredibly difficult. But, hey, people do it all the time.
Money, money, money, money – MONEY!
The publishing industry is a business – everything about it. This guy is pissed that people care about money, but publishers and agents spend all their time doing doing their jobs. If they’re not in it for the money, what are they in it for? Should their children starve so that this guy and every other shmoe can have representation?
Look, it may be frustrating that he can’t get published but to think that it’s only about money – or that all the agents are stupid – is a pretty ridiculous accusation. Yes, agents and publishers may like to represent works that are part of hot genres but every agent’s site says his/her interests and they’re definitely out there for every genre. Quite, frankly, if enough agents (say, 50-100) want nothing to do with you and give you no real feedback, it’s probably not a sign that the industry sucks but rather, that you do. Either you’re querying the wrong people or you should take the hint and write something else, write a different way or just don’t write….at least not to be published.
What He Can Do
If you think your work is so great and you want other people to read it so bad and you think that the industry is corrupt, guess what! You have options! That’s right, get some copies of your book printed yourself. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re published, but at least you’re not part of a mechanism you hate. Pass them out or sell them on the internet. I’m sure you’ll sell a few. Maybe it will go so well that you can requery agents and get it picked up. Perhaps they needed proof of its potential success. Though they may know their industry (presumably, despite this guy’s accusation), everybody makes mistakes.
And, hey, if you try your hardest with dozens and dozens of letters and every other means at your disposal and still can’t get published or represented by an agent, does that necessarily mean your book sucks and you don’t deserve to be a published author? No, not really, but it does mean that you might want to rethink what you’re doing or writing. Maybe it’s not as good as you think, because if you were the next J.K. Rowling, don’t you think somebody, around rejection 19, would pick you up?
So to this guy: I feel you buddy, but you know what – it’s not the publishing industry. It’s life. You’ve got to learn to keep your head up and push through the good times and the bad. Sometimes a lot of people won’t like the product you’re offering. Welcome to a free market. Life can be filled with rejection and unfairness and be a place where people like money. Go figure. So suck it up, take a breather and try again later. And if that’s the way you really feel then I’m glad you finally think you’re free.
What do you think about these complaints? Do you think I’m being too harsh? To read other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To check out Chandler’s thoughts on this post, click HERE.
This guy’s letter
I’ve had it with this B.S.

This is a stupid industry and I’m tired of wasting my time with it. I’m not going to send any more carefully crafted queries to mind-numbed morons totally incapable of understanding my thoughts. The same brainless poli-sci, english, and lit majors that looked at me blankly in my university days when they’d discover I was studying physics. A vacuous gaze followed by an imbecilic chuckle and a comment along the lines of, “I can’t talk to you.” If only I’d have known those idiots who wouldn’t talk to me then, would be running the industry that somehow sucked me in I could have avoided wasting the last decade.

I guess that jokes on me, and maybe I’d feel different if someone had actually had the balls to read something besides a f-ing query letter. But from the comfort of my home I can just feel their eyes glazing over as soon as they see a word with more than three syllables or an idea that doesn’t involve a cop, a lawyer, or a disgruntled housewife. Those who moan glowingly about their deep understanding of the written word yet don’t seem interested in anything that doesn’t involve vampires, the paranormal, or women’s lib. The world is a big place full of wonder and fantastical ideas and they’ve reduced it to a single cart-full of dung. Aristotle knew what that meant 2500 years ago.

Finito, over and out, tired of trying to bring something beautiful into a world run only by money and people who’s sole expertise begins and ends with counting it. There are better ways to waste my life than a shelf of miscarriages and a head full of impotent ideas.

Free at last!

Topical Tuesday: How Historical Should Historical Fiction Be?

I’m going to have to preface this with the qualification that I’m a historian by training, specializing in Judaism, Christianity and comparative religion. This makes me, for all intents and purposes, a little biased when it comes to my opinions on the necessary degree of historicity of historical fiction.

The Benefits of Historical Fiction

But this doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. It actually means I love historical fiction, because I think, when done well, historical fiction can provide a flavor and understanding of a time and place that is missed amidst facts and theories and trying to understand the whys of history. Historical fiction allows us to imagine dimensions of historical circumstances not previously thought about by creating characters with personalities and lives that before were only a series of dates and events.

Moreover, by including a complex story in a finite amount of space the disconnected facts can more easily be visualized as a multitude of simultaneously occurring factors and motivations that coalesced in that which we consider to be the relevant moments. That reflects history better than many history classes can. Though this is often the goal of historians – to properly blend the whys and hows in order to arrive at the historical circumstances in question – historical fiction allows far more people to achieve this outcome and see the beauty of the events as the historian might wish for them to be seen.

Good Historical Fiction

There are some television shows right now that I think do a particularly great job: Mad Men and The Tudors, to name but two (The Tudors is a complicated issue though). One book that I found to be particularly well done historical fiction was The Last Jew. Another excellent one was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore, written as a lost gospel and the parts of Jesus’ life that are entirely absent in the Bible. Truly excellent stuff.

How Historical It Should Be

That said, I expect an incredibly high level of competence and understanding on the part of the author before s/he undertakes a project of historical fiction. A veritable expert s/he must be. I think it’s fine to invent people that don’t exist and conversations that didn’t happen amongst people that did, and to create new events so long as they don’t distort history. It’s a difficult line to walk.

I think that the characters who were real should reflect all current and respected scholarship on the personality of that character, though interpretive liberties are obviously acceptable so long as the character does not become someone else. If, in the Tudors, Henry VIII were portrayed as a courteous, non-self-centered, timid fellow, I would be pretty put off. Historical fiction should seek to better explain and bolster what we do know and our understanding of the people or era under discussion – as well as to entertain of course. Changing known historical events, which isn’t to say embellishing, is unacceptable.

I also think that all historical fiction should come with an explanation by the author of what’s being done: the goal, what’s being changed and what liberties taken, what’s not, why these decisions were made, and anything the reader should know to be able to differentiate between history and historical fiction. There’s nothing I hate more (hyperbole) than someone with a poor knowledge of history (or religion) reading historical fiction and then thinking that what they read is all true and having no way to differentiate the true from the invented. Case in point, The DaVinci Code.

First of all, horrible book – so bad I wanted to rip my own head off. Worse still, that a friend of mine thought he understood the fine points of Christian theology and the truth behind Christianity and the Church after reading this book. Yes, we are told up front that places and works of art are being described as they are, but I don’t think that helped everyone. Even if it was a sufficient explanation, the book itself sucked: three page chapters with suspense that turns out to be nothing at the end of every one. I thought I was reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps again.

But that’s more than enough from me for now. What do you think about historical fiction? What’s important to you and how historical should it be? What are your favorite works of historical fiction and why?

Check out Chandler’s different take on the matter HERE.

To read some other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To read Fun with the Bible, click HERE.

Topical Tuesday: If I Could Have Been the Author of Any Book it Would Have Been…

Slaughterhouse 5!

First, I jumped at the Bible. Oh to have written the Bible. But hey, I’m one guy in one place and that was written by dozens and dozens over the course of 1000 years so for the sake of keeping it a fascinating text, I let my dream of writing the Bible go.

My next reaction upon pondering this question was to look at my bookshelves and pick out something that I saw there. I love my book shelves. However, upon moving to San Francisco, I left them behind. I packed up hundreds and hundreds of books and stored them in my mother’s basement. With me came about two dozen.

I don’t really wish that I’d written any of the books I have here (other than maybe The Divine Comedy), and so I had to start thinking again from scratch. Of course, there are so many classics that I could have picked but what would my reasoning have been?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could have made a fine selection. Mark Twain was brilliant. The book was sensational, influential, historically relevant, etc. But somehow I decided that I wanted something else. At first I was toying with sci-fi: The Hobbit, Dune. I really like the idea of creating a whole different world and think that it’s very difficult. I would love to move people’s imaginations that way. Stephen King’s epic The Dark Tower could have been excellent but Chandler and I did say 1 book.

Thus, I settled on Slaughterhouse 5. There are a couple of reasons. Personally, I’ve read the book about a dozen times. It reads so quickly and never ceases to amaze me. You can take so much away from this book. There are great one liners that stay with you – i.e., So it goes. There are hilarious quips about life’s odd situations. Billy, for instance, has a huge penis, and says, you never know who’s going to have one.

What’s more, the book has amazing historical relevance (related to the Crusades and WWII), an incredible message about war that it doesn’t just tell you but makes you feel, and makes you think 6000 times about the structure of the universe and time and other such things. I use the image of the Rocky Mountains from the beginning of time until the end of time all the time to convey various points about the nature of time. That and the attitude of the Trafalmadorians about life just make it an absolutely incredible book, with no extra words to spare.

So, thanks a lot Kurt Vonnegut for doing it first. Though I may not get your much deserved acclaim for this incredible masterpiece, I can certainly say that your book has inspired me on a personal level and for my writing. If I could publish – nay, write – anything comparable to the things you achieve inside that book I’ll be a very happy man.

What’s your favorite book? What book do you wish you’d written? If they’re different why? Did you like Slaughterhouse 5?

Enjoy your own copies of Slaughterhouse-Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Divine Comedy and many other great books.

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