Thursday, December 30, 2010


In the interest of keeping house leading into the new year, I am just noting for posterity's sake the other books I've been reading this fall. They're all worthy of discussion in their own ways; for this post, suffice it to say that the first two have been integral to a fiction project I'm working on, and the other two are written by guys who are my inspirations, my gurus, and the worst possible influences on me as a writer -- particularly ol' Tom, as he makes me envy his prose so much that I inevitably attempt to emulate it. (At least Kurt can be a non-Hemingway model of concise, compact, direct writing.)

The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989, by Frederick Taylor

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, by Tom Robbins

Look at the Birdie, by Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Practical Demonkeeping, by Christopher Moore

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Christopher Moore is known for making people laugh. I've read several of his books in years past, but for this one, I decided to go back to where it all began: his very first published novel, Practical Demonkeeping.

Some people say you shouldn't judge a book by anything outside of its covers; that is, if it is to be compared to other texts, it should be done solely on the basis of its contents without any reference to its time of publication, its chronological relation to other books, and so on. Others argue that a book cannot be fully understood without looking at where it falls in an author's milieu.

Now I'm not saying people are debating such topics on Christopher Moore's books. (For all I know, though, they are.) But I will say that if one is familiar with Moore's work, and one reads this book, one will note some interesting tidbits. For one, Moore causes laughter at a regular pace right from the start. Perhaps he's developed the knack, like a good cask-aged beer develops flavor, but it's all there from the get-go. He's also good at weaving together a location, the people in it, and ensuring that everyone he's bothered to introduce plays a significant role by the end.

Perhaps Moore isn't as outrageous in Demonkeeping as he can be in other books. Perhaps the characters aren't as deep, and maybe they don't develop quite as much as they do in other books. But it's a glimpse into his origins, and heck, I enjoyed reading it.

1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry, by Andrew Bridgeford

Click here to buy the book!

A word I can't pronounce? A year that wasn't in my lifetime? Thoughts of middle school history class! Shudder!

Now hold on just a gosh-darn minute. I'll admit many (though not all) of my history teachers played a part in such reactions to historical references. The number one flaw in my experience of "social studies" courses was simple: the teachers and the textbooks FAILED TO MAKE THIS HISTORY RELEVANT TO MY LIFE.

If history were no longer relevant, we wouldn't study it. So clearly, all that junk about peoples and rulers and wars had some point. Bridgeford's book puts Point Number One in three-inch digits atop the front page: 1066, one of the only years I (and probably most of you) were forced to memorize in school.

Need a refresher? 1066: the year that a group of warriors from France, often simply (and somewhat erroneously) referred to as Normans, invaded the island of Great Britain and defeated the English king's forces at the Battle of Hastings. Big whoop. But from this battle, and the shift in British power that ensued, was born the language I'm using to type, that you know how to read, and that now dominates the commerce, politics, and technology of the world.

So a pretty big deal. And we all learn about (or ought to learn about) it in school. So what's left for Bridgeford to contribute?

Well, there's this piece of cloth, you see, called the Bayeux Tapestry. Someone made it a lot of years ago to illustrate and commemorate the Battle of Hastings, and the events that conspired to cause it. Everyone thought they understood this woven storybook, and used it to help illustrate history. Then Mr. Bridgeford comes along, sees things very differently, and unveils what subversive tales he reads into the tapestry.

If you're not already hooked (I am, and I already read the book!), I should mention that this book is not just a historian blabbering on for 300 pages. Bridgeford illuminates a tale of political intrigue, romantic scandal, noble heroics, and manipulative backstabbing that you couldn't make up if you tried. He does so with the novelist's flair, the art critic's keen eye, and the historian's desire for truth.

I refuse to go into the details, because that's what reading the book is for. But this is one of the best books I've read, and easily the best history I've read. If we'd been assigned this book in high school... well, my classmates and I would have spent more time studying than singing Doobie Brothers songs in the back row. (Which we did.)