Friday, September 27, 2013

Books, Books and Comic Books

Here are the latest books I've read:

NON-FICTION

  • Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
    • This was a fascinating book about food and how some of it is manufactured to create "bliss points" and the ideal "mouthfeel".
      • Cheetos are designed to melt as soon as they touch your tongue in a taste of salt and flavoring but your brain apparently never quite registers them as food. So you keep eating them.
      • From my own experience, take Oreos for example. Thinking of them as a snack they really don't don't do anything for me. (My favorite cookie is chocolate chip.) But once I eat just one Oreo I can't get enough of them. And I don't even LIKE them that much!
      • My favorite factoid was that "fruit juice concentrate" is made from mainly grapes and pears from which the peels, fibrous bits and water is removed. That leaves only the fruit sugar. Thus, when a label says it contains "fruit juice concentrate" it sounds good but it really just means more sugar has been added.
  • Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed and Why It Still Matters by Roger G. Charles and Andrew Gumbel
    • Very interesting book about the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City for which two men were deemed responsible. The authors' research indicates that a larger conspiracy was responsible but that once McVeigh took credit the investigators dropped other leads. This means that, if true, a whole bunch of other people got away with the crime.
  • Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman
    • I enjoy books about religions and how they came to be. Scientology has the added dimension of a highly visible celebrity component which makes the whole thing kind of gossipy.
  • Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall
    • This was a fun little book. The author presents stories and research about various sleep maladies like night terrors, nightmares, and sleepwalking. 
    • People have killed while sleepwalking. Is it murder?
    • Because of sleep cycles West Coast teams have better odds of winning Monday Night Football than East Coast teams.
  • The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins
    • The evolutionary biologist explains how events earlier civilizations thought was magic (and developed myths to explain them) had scientific explanations.
    • Why are there day and night? What causes earthquakes and tsunamis? What is stuff made of? Who was the first man or woman? (Spoiler: no one.) Ultimately scientific method answered these questions.
    • I love science and I am not a believer of any creation myths so this book, which was beautifully illustrated by artist Dave McKean, was right up my alley.
  • Foundation: The History of England From its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
    • I adore British history!
    • This is only the first volume of the author's history. I have read and studied the Tudor era so I know quite a bit about Henry VIII, James I and Elizabeth I. I am not as knowledgeable about the earlier kings of England. The War of the Roses, the Hundred Years War and so on are harder for me to retain the details. Too many Henrys and Richards! And I can never keep track of all the dukes.
    • In between the history chapters are shorter chapters about the lives of the common people which adds a nice dimension to the story of England.
    • The next volume about the Tudor dynasty comes out soon and I am looking forward to it.
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
    • I really got a lot out of this book. We all have habits good and bad, things we do almost unthinkingly because they are so set in our brains.
      • The author's example is about backing out of the driveway. When we first learn to drive we are overwhelmed with all the information we need to process: start the vehicle, adjust seat and mirrors, look in all the mirrors, engage the gas pedal, etc...
      • But experienced drivers just hop in the car and we rarely need to THINK about the procedures we follow to back out the driveway because the whole process has now become habitual.
      • When you first learn to do something your brain needs to work harder. Once you have done it enough times you have developed pathways in your brain so it doesn't need to work hard anymore. That's why it can be so difficult to break habits: your brain wants to take the easy way out and resort to its old set ways!
  •  Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick
    • This was recommended by Lady Chardonnay and I really liked it. I went through it pretty quickly so I still need to go through it a second time and make a list of the books I somehow missed in my youth.
    • I hadn't even heard of some of these books! During the years when we were supposed to be reading books for book report purposes I was in 7th and 8th grades (I don't recall having to do extra-curricular book reports for any of my high school classes because I think we all read the same book.). I was attending a Catholic school at that point so I am not sure how that might have affected our choice of books on the shelves in our class! 
    • But I know that the library at Sonoma Valley High was pretty good. I checked out books all the time.
    • I went through a phase where I read every available book by Paul Zindel (probably most famous for The Pigman) and there were a bunch of books about the "dark side" of teenage life: Go Ask Alice (drug use), Mr. & Mrs. BoJo Jones (pregnancy), Lisa Bright and Dark (mental illness) and so forth.
    • Ah, the 1970s!
  • The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans by Ned Sublette
    • The author gets a fellowship at Tulane University in New Orleans for the academic year 2004-2005 and is thus living there in the year before Hurricane Katrina hits.
    • It is a memoir about how he and his wife settled in the city but also takes several long trips into the local history, especially the music scene. So many jazz greats were from New Orleans and today several rap stars hail from the city too.
    • One such musician is a man named Buddy Bolden (also known as King Bolden) who played the cornet in the late 1890s and early 1900s. He had some sort of mental troubles (possibly schizophrenia) and he was admitted to an insane asylum in 1907 where he eventually died in 1931. He was a huge influence on the music form that ultimately became jazz.
      • I grew up in New Orleans and its suburbs and I had never even heard of this guy (no known recordings of him exist)! But I just purchased Hugh Laurie's two jazz albums and one of the songs is called "Buddy Bolden's Blues". It sounded familiar to another song on my iPod and it turns out I have another version of that song by Jellyroll Morton from the "Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" CD set I own. I just figured it was about some fictional character. You learn something new every day!
    • In any case, what with the violence and drug dealing in the neighborhood the author and his wife eventually leave earlier than planned. And then the hurricane came.
  • The Revolution was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall
    • This book focuses on the following shows: The Sopranos, Oz, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.
    • The preface starts off talking about the earlier dramas who broke new ground in their time like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and St. Elsewhere. But these newer shows, especially those from HBO's foray into the original drama programming arena, changed the way we looked at the main characters or heroes.
    • I have only seen three of these shows (Buffy, Lost and Mad Men). We didn't have HBO until about 5 or 6 years ago so I missed those earlier dramas. (Now I watch True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Girls, Veep, and Game of Thrones. We have access to the entire HBO library but I just haven't had the time or interest to go back and watch any of them. Maybe someday. Or not.)
    • I have to admit that I skipped the chapter on Friday Night Lights. I'm sure it was a fine show and a fine chapter but I just had no interest in it.
  • Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn
    • Along with British history, I like books about mass killers. I am always fascinated by how people like Manson get these devoted followers. (I don't get it though.)
    • Having read Helter Skelter I knew much of the gist of this book but it adds more about Manson's background and brings everything up to date.
  • Seven American Deaths and Disasters by Kenneth Goldsmith
    • This isn't a book written in the normal sense. Rather Goldsmith edits and presents transcriptions of the audio from radio and television broadcasts that occurred during seven events in America: the assassinations of both JFK and RFK, The Challenger shuttle explosion, the Columbine shootings, the fall of the Twin Towers, the murder of John Lennon and the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett (they died the same day).
    • It's really interesting to see that things in the news world haven't changed much. A lot of the reporting is wrong and speculative just like that of breaking events on CNN or Fox news today.
FICTION
  • The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
    • A rare young adult fantasy book that is self-contained in one book!
    • I enjoyed it while I read and liked it but I find it isn't having much "sticking power" in my mind.
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
    • An odd bookstore, even odder customers, a mystical code and the possible secret to eternal life: what's not to enjoy?!
    • A fun book that might make a good movie as so much of it seems visual.
  • The Touch by Colleen McCullough
    • The last book I read by this author was one I DESPISED. But I had bought it eons ago and figured I might as well take a stab at it. It was okay but I am so over Colleen McCullough at this point.
  • Garden of Lies by Eileen Goudge
    • A woman has a baby girl fathered by her lover rather than her husband. Due to a hospital fire she's able to switch her daughter with another baby girl who looks more like the child she might have had with her husband. Then the story follows the two girls from there. This was pretty interesting (despite all the crazy coincidences that make stories like this possible) and has a sequel (which I'm reading now).
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Long Way Home Volume 1
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, No Future for You, Volume 2
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Wolves at the Gate, Volume 3
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Time of Your Life, Volume 4
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Predators and Prey, Volume 5
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Retreat, Volume 6
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twilight, Volume 7
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Last Gleaming, Volume 8
    • These are compilations of 6 comic book issues each of the so-called "Eighth Season" of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer".
    • Thank goodness for the library. This is the way to read these kind of things.
    • I had to read them all to conclude the storyline but I am not compelled enough to start Season Nine.
  • Angel After the Fall, Volume 1
  • Angel: First Night, Volume 2
  • Angel: After the Fall, Volume 3
  • Angel: After the Fall, Volume 4
  • Angel: Aftermath, Volume 5
  • Angel: Last Angel in Hell, Volume 6
    • These are the compilations of 6 comic book issues each of the "Sixth Season" of "Angel". 
    • Similar to the Buffy comics, this was enough and I am done with them all. Comics just aren't the same as TV in this case.

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