Medallion Status

By John Hodgman

Medallion_StatusI’ve been listening to a lot of the Judge John Hodgman podcast at work, since it is very soothing. Two funny, smart hosts (Judge John Hodgman and Bailiff Jesse Thorn) adjudicate cases of very little significance. In one of my recent favorites, a husband “sues” his wife to prevent her from getting a worm-based compost bin in their apartment, and it is hilarious, hilariously gross, and charming. In this episode, as per usual, Hodgman charmingly gets at the base issue and finds a solution that leaves both parties extremely pleased, and it is so refreshing.

While mired halfway through Smoke, I put a hold on Medallion Status, figuring it would be the perfect fluffy palette cleanser. And I was 100% correct! While I know Hodgman best from his guest appearances as the deranged billionaire on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, he is most generally well known as the PC in the old Apple ads. He is the first to acknowledge that was the height of his fame, too. With the ads came more regular roles on television shows, and a gold medallion status on his airline of choice.

In Medallion Status, he reflects surprisingly poignantly on the weirdness, seductiveness, and elusiveness of even relatively minor fame. It is also so consistently funny; I was giggling out loud every few minutes in what I’m sure was a very annoying manner. His writing is so deceptively simple that over and over again I would be caught off guard with just how funny it was.

Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results

By Josh Gondelman

Nice_TryWhile I’m talking about funny, kind white men, I also have to recommend Josh Gondelman and his collection of personal stories, Nice Try. He is an incredibly funny comedian – his standup album “Physical Whisper” is one of my favorites – and is frequently referred to as the nicest guy in comedy (thus the title of his book). And he is super nice! His comedy is self-deprecating, but also wildly relatable, about trying your best to navigate increasingly complicated life while feeling like you might be missing some key tools.

The book collects stories his written for other publications and additional personal stories. In one chapter, he talks about struggling with his growing awareness of how problematic the NFL is, both physically and socially, with how love for the game was an important way to bond with his family (this also led him to co-create #agoodgame, tying points scored to donations). In another he talks about adopting a dog that may or may not have been stolen from its original owner, and figuring out what to do about that, with the same amount of maturity and savvy as any of the rest of us (i.e., none). It’s all very funny in a way that is laughing with, not at, all of us about how ridiculous life can be sometimes.

My Planet by Mary Roach

myplanetMy Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places
written by Mary Roach
read by Angela Dawe
2013

I’ve loved (and been grossed out by) every book that I’ve read by Mary Roach… except this one. This is quite the departure from the other books since it’s actually a compilation of short anecdotes that she wrote for a regular column in Reader’s Digest. They’re often cute and funny but I didn’t find any of them particularly interesting and by their very nature, they were fairly repetitive when in a collection rather than a serial: her husband Ed gets introduced at the beginning of at least half of them. They’re essentially a cheery little sitcom of a life, with many of the traditional sitcom tropes including both mocking and perpetuating 1950s stereotypes of married life. And I just don’t care for sitcoms.

To summarize: it’s well written for its intended audience, but that audience isn’t really me.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

PrinceOleomargarineThe Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine
by Mark Twain and Philip Stead
illustrated by Erin Stead
2017

I saw this at a library book sale and it was a Mark Twain story that I had never heard of before and had beautiful illustrations so I bought it and then the sale was over so I sat down on one of the library benches and I read it and it is sweet and sharp and funny and pleasing. It also reminded me of The Princess Bride in the way it pulls back from the story periodically to remind the reader that it is a story and that the people telling the story have their own story happening.

And: I need to reiterate this: the illustrations are beautiful and make excellent use of white space.

So while this is a children’s story, it’s also an adult story, and even the children’s fairy tale section has some rather pointed aspects as one would expect from Mark Twain. Plus, the history of the actual book is incorporated into the background of the story in a way to intentionally blur the lines between reality and fiction.

But the history of the book is that Mark Twain wrote down extensive but incomplete notes for this story, and those notes were only relatively recently identified within his his archive, at which point the rights to co-author, finish, and publish the story were licensed out.

Anyway, this is very cute and I definitely recommend it, but I am sufficiently out of touch with children these days that I have no idea what the intended age range for it is.

Love for the Cold-Blooded by Alex Gabriel

coldbloodedLove for the Cold-Blooded: Or: The Part-Time Evil Minion’s Guide to Accidentally Dating a Superhero
by Alex Gabriel
2014

This is such an amazingly delightful and hilarious book! I highly recommend it! It had me chortling to myself. It also had so many scenes that I would have expected to hit my second-hand-embarrassment squick but instead sailed right past it with a derogatory look of: don’t expect these characters to be embarrassed by anything they do or allow anyone else to be embarrassed on their behalf. They are just fine with rolling with the situations.

And as a warning to Anna: it does have graphic sex scenes, that are not only graphic but also involve significant character development and plot progression so they can’t just be skipped.

This is the world of superheroes at it’s best: the superhero world of Saturday morning cartoons where the good guys win but the bad guys get away and no one is ever permanently harmed. The drama is high, the philosophy is pointed, and the aesthetics are amazing.

It also reminds me a bit of The Rest of Us Just Live Here since Pat, our main character who does the occasional part-time duty as a minion to whatever supervillain is currently making a bid for world domination, is mostly a college student who loves his major and has a pretty decent part-time job. He’s just so irrepressible and he loves his mom and dad and his sisters and his studies to be an urban developer and even being a minion is often annoying but sometimes fun and just part of life.

And Nicholas Andersen is the Tony Stark / Bruce Wayne of this world: the billionaire philanthropist tech-genius with awkward social skills who starts out thinking that Pat is the prostitute he requested sent up. (And Pat isn’t about to say “no” to sex with a hot guy who apparently wants to have sex with him.) And then life happens and it is all so ludicrously delightful and I love it!

stillwatersStill Waters
by Alex Gabriel
2015

As soon as I finished “Love for the Cold Blooded” I went to check out the author’s page for more. Sadly, there’s not much else and nothing in the last three years, but this novella is still really good.

It packs a fascinating amount of world-building around a very character-driven fantasy plot. Anyone who has read a lot of urban fantasy knows that it comes in a wide range of styles: from dark/gritty/game-of-thrones-esque to light/fluffy/romcom-esque. Are werewolves vicious slavering creatures going on murderous rampages or are they people who turn into puppies? In this story, they are both! Because the background premise is that there are rips that will occasionally allow people from one world to pass into a different world.

Drakjan, going by Julian, is one such individual. The world he’s from is a dark and dangerous fantasy world in which vicious creatures fight and kill and the world he’s now in is a softer fantasy world in which those same fantasy creatures share borders and have council meetings and are shocked when one of their own is murdered!

One of the great things about this book is Drakjan’s perspective because the whole world is so foreign to him even after  he’s settled in to the periphery of life in the new world, giving up the joy of killing for the pleasure of peace. But he’s still very much an outsider looking in, not quite understanding how (or even why) to fit in with the rest of the society.

The plot happens when someone else comes through another rip. (Two someones actually: a love-interest and a plot-point.) The plot is extremely straight forward but the characters and the world building are amazing and it’s just as well that the plot doesn’t get in the way of that. I would love to read more but it’s also self-contained as is.

Hey Ladies!

By Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss

Hey_LadiesAfter all my recent disappointments, I decided to go with a book with zero male voices at all. Hey Ladies! started as a randomly occurring column on the late, lamented Toast.

It was one of my favorites – just a series of emails from the most vapid group of friends trying to plan outrageous outings – but it was also a bit controversial on The Toast, with some commenters feeling like it was too broadly satirizing women in general and tipping over into anti-feminism. For the book, which borrows and expands from the original columns, the authors wrote a forward in which they explicitly write:

We’re not making fun of you or your friends or women in general. We’re making fun of ourselves, and how mass emails to big groups seem to bring out the “OMG SO EXCITED!!!!!!!!!” in all of us.

I have to admit that I was skeptical, because while I always looked forward to a Hey Ladies! column, it was definitely a sharply-pointed satire of a certain class of women. And the beginning of the book was exactly the same seven truly appalling women (and one audience-proxy who mostly doesn’t respond) that entertained me so much before.

But, damn me if by only a quarter through the book, I started getting twinges of sympathy for each character: Nicole who is always mooching off her friends, but is clearly scrabbling to maintain the lifestyle that lets her keep her friends; Ali who railroads everyone into her preferred decisions, but is also just trying to a decision made; Caitlin who is on the edge of success as a social media influencer but also really does honestly want to help everyone around her; etc.

I mean, good satire lures you into some introspection on how you view yourself and others, right?

Homeschool Sex Machine

By Matthew Pierce

Book Cover: Homeschool Sex MachineI don’t even remember what internet rabbit hole led me to Matthew Pierce’s blog, but the entries I read were funny enough that I decided it was worth $2.99 to get them compiled in his kindle book. The author was primarily homeschooled up to 10th grade, and he describes the experience, and that niche community, hilariously and self-deprecatingly. I kept expecting some anger or bitterness, but he writes respectfully, if briefly, about his religiously conservative parents, and ultimately affectionately about his upbringing.

I got a little grumpy about it, actually, and ended up having to face some personal bias against religious conservatism that I would have preferred to ignore in myself. Personal issues aside, though, it was a really interesting and entertaining look a childhood much, much different from my own. He has a sequel about attending a Christian college, which I look forward to reading just as soon as I work up some acceptance for Christian colleges.

In case this review has not already made my religious lack clear, I have tested as being damned to an inner circle of Dantes’ Hell. Rebecca found an online quiz that tells you where you belong in the 9 circles, and it was all fun and games as every other member of my family headed off to limbo to hang out with famous philosophers, and then I was consigned to burn in sepulchers with all the other heretics.

—Anna

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell – The City of Dis!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repending Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful) Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Moderate
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very High
Level 7 (Violent) High
Level 8 – The Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Moderate
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Moderate

Take the Dante’s Inferno Hell Test

Darths & Droids

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 7.16.08 PMDarths & Droids
by The Comic Irregulars (Andrew Coker, Andrew Shellshear, David Karlov, David McLeish, David Morgan-Mar, Steven Irrgang, Ian Boreham and Loki Patrick)
and, of course, Lucas Films
2007 – present (and ongoing)

So, I’m currently reading book 3 of this series, while the authors are still regularly updating book 6. And, with the soon-to-be released Star Wars episode 7, I’m sure hoping the authors continue to write a book 7.

Because this is a graphic novel parody re-telling of the Star Wars movies and it is hilarious!

I actually blasted my way through Books 1 and 2 and am now laughing my way through Episode 3, even as I also go back to Episodes 1 and 2 to laugh at that over Anna’s shoulder as she reads it.

The great thing about this is that it doesn’t actually deviate from the plot (as best as I can tell, although I admittedly don’t really remember the movies all that well) – it uses screen captures for the illustrations. The parody aspect comes with the fact that it’s told as the adventures of a Dungeons & Dragons style role playing game and has the dialogue of the players, both in and out of character, overlaying the events. And let me tell you: all the things that make no sense in the movies, suddenly make all sorts of perfect (and perfectly hilarious) sense when you see the motivations of the players making the decisions.

I have no real interest in role playing games, but this almost tempts me to try because it’s so funny, except that then I remember that I find them kind of tedious. It doesn’t matter, though: this makes it look fun and awesome! And the author’s comments below each page are also hilarious bits of commentary either on making that particular update or on the joys/frustrations of role playing games.

Plus, I had not thought it possible to be absolutely charmed by Jar Jar Binks, but apparently I can be. And I really want to tell you all about the hilarious things that happen (Shmi! Sally! “Summon bigger fish”!) but once I started, there’d be no end and you really just need to go start reading it yourself.

Go forth and read Darths & Droids: here!

I’m also going to include a couple of other somewhat related links, which are well worth exploring too:

DM of the Rings: Darths & Droids was originally inspired by DM of the Rings, another webcomic parody with the same premise of role playing gamers being the Lord of the Rings characters. It’s also hilarious, although I think Darths & Droids does it even better, in part at least because the Star Wars movies are active/ludicrous enough to support going through it scene by scene, while DM of the Rings necessarily skips over large sections.

Star Wars: Before The Force Awakens (original Korean: “스타워즈: 깨어난 포스 그 이전의 이야기”) by Hong Jacga is actually a fully licensed and approved addition to Star Wars that is also a free online webcomic being regularly updated. It’s also beautifully illustrated and adds scenes of Luke Skywalker’s early life even as it retells much of the story of the original trilogy.