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Friday, December 14, 2018

Book Review: Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major, and Kelly Bastow (Illustrator)

Oh my god this book is so FRIGGIN cute! It's a graphic novel about a large cat named Steve who walks on his hind legs and lives in an apartment and works in a call center, and his tiny naked man pet named Manfried. (It's like having a cat named Kittycat.) You can see the jokes from the front cover where Manfried walks on Steve's computer keyboard and Steve shoves him off.

The storyline isn't terribly deep or complicated. Steve doesn't do much or have much to offer, except that he really loves his man (some of his coworkers make fun of his love for his man.) He takes care of a neighbor's man for a few days when she's out of town and the two mans don't get along. (Funnily, in this world, there are no women, all the pets are men. And when the men are "kittens," they're not actually baby humans, they're just younger adult men. Some unusual choices but just go with it. Don't overthink it. It's adorable.) Then Manfried runs away! Oh no! What will Steve do!?

My husband also read and loved this book. But halfway through he did need me to reassure him that the book would have a happy ending. It doesn't go exactly where you're expecting. And the ending is even better than I thought it would be. What a delightfully absurd world that Ms. Major has come up with! Loved it.

I checked this book out of the library.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Book Review: Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown

In high school, I went to a summer program called Governor's School, at the University of Tennessee at Martin. There is nothing to do in Martin, Tennessee. I brought $100 for 4 weeks. I spent $20 of it on Tetris. I got very good at Tetris very fast, so I didn't have to spend a whole lot on the game, luckily. Lately my husband keeps trying to get me to try different video games with him, but I don't like most of them. Yes, when I was a preteen, I could spend all day playing Atari, but I just can't do that anymore. Except with Tetris.

I think it's the puzzle aspect of it. And I've always been very good at physical relationships--like those tests where you are presented with a variety of shapes and have to figure out which ones you could fold into a cube. I don't know why, but my brain does work that way. I'm good at packing when we move, at figuring out at a glance really close to how many books fit on a shelf, that sort of thing. And so this game that's all about shapes, shifting them into 4 aspects to get them to fit, and planning several steps down the road, really works with my mental strengths.

This is a fascinating graphic novel history of the invention and development of Tetris. Unlike other computer or programming origin stories, this one doesn't involve any Ivy League dropouts in a garage. The inventor lived in Soviet Russia and worked as a programmer. This is a game he came up with just for friends and colleagues that he thought would be fun. Thus ended his thought on the game. His co-worker suggested that it was salable and that he should contact the proper Soviet authorities about selling it. He wouldn't ever get a dime, but since he just wanted to spread the fun, that was fine with him.

So the Soviets dive into this project and reach out to various Western companies, floundering around in a very foreign project, of selling something fun for profit. And since they'd never done anything like this before and refused to ask for help, they did screw up. They thought they only sold tabletop computer rights to one guy, and he thought he had all rights. And he sold off the rights for the stand-up console games, for cartridge games, and handheld games. Rights he didn't have.

Anyway, I will skip over the legal and contractual details. Eventually it was wildly successful. And the Soviet Union fell. And the founders were able to move to California and work in American programming and gaming, although never with anywhere near the success of Tetris. At the end there's a very shocking event with one founder (the guy who said you should sell it, not the programmer.) The graphic format lent itself better than I would have thought to this story. I wasn't sure if a story about a computer game could be interesting in any format, but it especially doesn't seem like a particularly graphic story. But Mr. Brown is just brilliant at this and it works really well. I'd recommend this most highly to any junior high or high school boys who are getting less interested in books and more interested in games. Like most graphic novels, it can be read in just a couple of hours, and hopefully can span those interests and bring some kids back to books. For the rest of us, it's just a really interesting history, told in a novel way.

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Book Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I already had my eye on this book when it won the Pulitzer Prize. That really made me sit up and pay attention as humorous books (or movies) never win prestigious prizes! So I suggested it for my book club. It was my very first time ever hosting book club, and in my new bookclub, the host gets to pick the book. You can make a short list and get feedback, which I did, since I'm still new.

Arthur Less is a middle-aged gay man living in San Francisco, when he gets a wedding invitation for his ex-boyfriend's wedding. He is a novelist with a middling amount of success who spent his twenties as the paramour/muse/houseboy to an older prestigious poet. Then his thirties and forties were spent floundering and getting his feet back under him after that relationship ran its course. He eventually started a relationship with the son of a frenemy who he knew was completely wrong for him, which made it easier: no future, guaranteed. But when the younger man eventually pushed for more and broke it off, Arthur found himself at loose ends. And then, a scant year later, he's getting married?

Well. That is the worst. Arthur can't go. And he can't not go. Something catches his eye on his desk--an invitation. Not of the wedding variety, but a professional invite to be a speaker abroad. He grasps at it. And searching, finds others. He cobbles together a many-months-long trip abroad to Germany, Paris, Japan, Morocco, and India. Yes, he's going to turn 50 and he's alone and his successful novel was years behind him, but he's going to keep moving. Now he has a great excuse for skipping the wedding, and he can run away from his problems. Right? That always works out, doesn't it?

But he can't get Freddy out of his mind. (Or his head out of his ass.) He's selfish, superficial, solipsistic, but I found him endearing. He's earnest and wishes he could do things different and he is trying to change up his life and his future. He's somewhat blind to what he needs to do, but aren't we all? And I loved the twist towards the end when I figured out there was a narrator and it wasn't third-person, and then to figure out who that narrator was! It was a great twist.

So Arthur travels the world, and in the end, love wins. And you'll laugh a bunch. What more can you want from a book?

I bought this book at Watchung Booksellers, an independent bookstore.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper

Years ago, my husband Jordan read and loved Homer's Odyssey, Gwen Cooper's memoir about living with her cat, Homer the Blind Wonder-Cat. So when I saw this novel by the same author, again about a cat, in a Buy 2-Get 1 Free sale, I picked it up. I was looking for a distracting novel that wasn't overly sad, wasn't about a romantic relationship, and wasn't enormous. This fit the bill along with a high Goodreads rating, which made it an easy decision.

And in a way it is about a romantic relationship, as Sarah is most definitely in love with New York City. She moved to the city the minute she graduated from high school at 17 to live with her best friend, Anise, who she'd met at a Lower East Side vintage store called Love Saves the Day. Anise joins a rock and roll band and becomes very successful, while Sarah marries young, has a daughter, Laura, and quickly gets divorced. Sarah sets aside her own rock and roll dreams and instead finagles opening a record store which allows her to be around the music she loves, and have a flexible schedule and be her own boss, so she can be a great single mom.

But this back story isn't revealed right away. We start out with an older Sarah living alone in a run-down apartment, with her cat Prudence. Prudence is mostly our narrator (I wish she could have been our 100% narrator but I see how that would have been quite tricky in a few places.) Sarah found her as a soaking wet kitten in an empty lot, and say the Beatles song "Hey Prudence" to get her to come out. Sarah works as a typist in a legal office, Anise still comes over a fair amount, and while her life is small and quiet, she's fairly happy. Except that her daughter Laura is difficult with her. Something happened in their past that was brutal and scarring and changed their relationship forever. Laura does come over to visit monthly, but it's very obviously reluctant and resentful, and neither woman is able to bring themselves to discuss the hurt feelings and the past.

And then Sarah dies. And it's too late. She stated in her will very clearly that she wanted Laura to take Prudence, so the tabby cat moves to the Upper West Side with Laura and her husband Josh in their high-rise apartment, and she tries to sort out what's happened and if she's okay with this new living arrangement. And she spends a lot of time remembering Sarah, waiting for Sarah to return, and nestling in Sarah's things in the spare room.

Prudence is kind of oblivious to what's going on with her humans, except as it impacts her, but eventually she does break down Laura's barriers, and we readers also get to know more of what's happening in the human lives (the chapters occasionally switch to be Laura-, and later Sarah-focused, third-person). This story is so imbued with New York that it literally couldn't take place anywhere else. The horrible thing in the past isn't an everyday thing, not experienced by many people, but I think everyone can relate to it (and it's based in history--Ms. Cooper includes details in the endnotes about the real event.) And more likely, everyone can relate to the emotional aftermath. And the silence that can descend. A silence, a refusal to discuss an event that becomes almost A Law in a relationship, and can feel inviolable.

I don't know if I've ever read a book before that deals with the so-common situation of a person dying without having resolved everything in their relationships, and how the survivors might be able to come to resolution themselves down the road. That's a really important topic that more books should tackle. And how animals can not only provide comfort, but can even bring us emotional health. And yes, I read this mostly with my cat Turkey snuggled up against my leg.

I bought this book at a Barnes & Noble.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Book Review: I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller

I love Friends. I watched the first episode live when it debuted, and the characters were just a couple of years older than me, so I took it as a primer about how to live and work and love in my 20s. I followed these 6 characters religiously, even eventually moving to New York myself, and I have watched the reruns dozens and dozens of times.

As a pop culture nut, this book was a no-brainer for me. I guess I wish it had had more trivia and done more of a deep dive into episodes and more minor plotlines, but it does a very good job with what it does--look at Friends in the bigger picture--why is was such a big hit, what it spoke to at that time, why it has endured, if it deserves to have endured, and what is its legacy. It does get into the weed on some topics such as the casting (which is one reason I thought it would be a deeper dive into the show itself on a granular level) and I wasn't as interested in the various contract negotiations, although those did impact the plots as a couple of times they thought a season might be the end, and then it turned out not to be.

I know, there have been issues with how white the cast is, and how it's rather homophobic, and Ms. Miller addresses those thoroughly. It was a show of its time, and it's too bad it wasn't more ground-breaking and forward-thinking in those areas, but it is what it is.

And what it is now for me and millions of people, is comfort food. You don't have to pay attention. You know how it's going to end (in fact you might be able to quote it.) But it's so well-acted, well-written, and relatable, that it doesn't get boring or stale. I have suggested it to young 20-somethings today as a look at what's in store, from bad jobs to bad relationships to being broke to parental issues to difficult decisions. Those parts are universal. And you will always have your Friends by your side to see you through.

I bought this book at Newtown Bookshop, an independent bookstore.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

My Month in Review: November

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell *
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell *
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell *
Carnegie Hill: A Novel by Jonathan Vatner
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden (audio) *
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (audio) *
I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest
Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth (audio)
Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller *
Honestly, We Meant Well by Grant Ginder

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman (audio) *
The Dharma of the Princess Bride: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of Our Time Can Teach Us about Buddhism and Relationships by Ethan Nichtern
The Pennypackers Go on Vacation by Lisa Doan

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Brightest Sun by Adrienne Benson
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

I bought these three books at a WNBA event at Towne Book Center outside of Philadelphia. The third book wasn't part of the event--it was a book I'd gotten several influential recommendations for and picked up there.

A Sentimental Education by Joyce Carol Oates was sent to me by my sister-in-law! She loves JCO, and thanks to her I have now read one JCO and acquired another one, but this is great because even though short stories aren't my usual thing, given my reading requirements for work, short stories are a great way for me to read an outside book when I might need to put it down for several days.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann I bought at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.

I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller I bought at Newtown Bookshop in Newtown, PA. It's one of my accounts and I was there for work, and I've been eyeing this book for months and finally I couldn't resist anymore.