Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #172: God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette

CA-penn-jilletteBilled as a re-interpretation of The Ten Commandments, God, No! is in reality a collection of stories with the loosest of associations to said commandments. Even the title (and subtitle) are misleading. It’s not all about his (and your possible) atheism. God, No! is Jillette using his creation of “The Penn Commandments” as an excuse to rattle off stories about his own life, some of which are more related to his atheism than others.

There’s one about his repeated attempts to have sex, and more importantly finish said sex, underwater in scuba gear. Another discusses the positives and negatives of Sigfried & Roy. And in nearly all of them, Jillette is more juvenile than I expected; I should’ve known, given I don’t think there’s an episode ofPenn & Teller’s: Bullshit! (he loves his exclamation points, apparently) without naked tits, but I took that as just a sign of his having a healthy obsession with that particular body part, not unlike most men.

With that in mind, it’s almost like an atheism-tinged Tough Shit. Kevin Smith and Penn Jillette are both fat, loud, and a teeny bit immature. Both of their memoirs have a unifying “theme” that’s just there in a weak effort to tie together a smattering of dissimilar stories. And both are precisely what you’d expect from the person writing them; if you find them funny, rather than grating, in real life, you’ll enjoy their books. It’s exactly as simple as that.

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Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #171: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

11612-marblesEllen Forney puts her entire self, unfiltered, into Marbles. Please excuse the cliche sentiment, but reading it brings you as close to understanding her hurricane of thoughts as you can get without actually being her. So, graded as insight into the mind of a woman saddled with bipolar disorder,Marbles receives the highest mark I can give.

Yet when graded based upon other factors, namely my personal enjoyment, it rates a bit lower. As I believe I’ve discussed in past reviews, real mental illness is the furthest thing from glamorous. Forney herself tries to hold onto that misconception to sugar coat things, but she quickly realizes that membership card she imagines getting is more a crushing weight on her head and chest than a muse.

The blurbs, which I should know to ignore by now, play up, among other things, Forney’s ability to find humor in her dire situation, but in hindsight they read as an attempt by the writers of said blurbs to trick people into reading a much more raw and serious look into living with bipolar disorder. Forney does try her best to find the silver-lining in certain moments (see the above picture), but you can tell it’s a defense mechanism more than anything. In other words, Marblesisn’t nearly as playful as its blurbs, or its cover (pictured below), would have you believe.

marbles As a result, it can be pretty hard to read at times. At least moreso than I expected. And since I rate books almost entirely based upon personal enjoyment, I have to dock Marbles a couple points for that. It may seem petty, but I need to remain consistent. If you want an honest depiction of what it’s like to be bipolar, you can’t do much better than Marbles; on the other hand, though, if you want an enjoyable read, you probably can do better.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #170: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

tumblr_lusgh4XSgk1qhl1c8o1_1280Pratchett’s an author I more or less gave up on. Like with Gaiman, it wasn’t worth suffering the status quo of disappointment in case of that rare anomaly or two. Funny that both got my hopes up with the same book, AKA Good Omens, which the two of them co-wrote. With how perfectly Pratchett and Gaiman complete (and better) one another, I dare say I would advocate for Gaiman divorcing Amanda Palmer and marrying Pratchett. Neither has even approached a book of Good Omens caliber in their respective solo careers, and with their increasing age, and Pratchett’s mental deterioration, it’s doubtful either ever will. Gaiman, though, has come closest; The Graveyard Book is, admittedly, fantastic, yet it still can’t break into the same lofty stratosphere Good Omens resides in for me. The best Pratchett has to offer outside of Good Omens, on the other hand, is… I don’t know, the mildly-amusing, middle-of-the-road Hogfather? Can you see, then, why I was quicker to abandon him than his cohort, Gaiman?

With authors of their (supposed) caliber, however, it’s nigh on impossible to ever give up on them cold turkey like that. There’ll always be that nagging thought that maybe you simply haven’t found the right book yet. Every author has his or her share of misfires; Stephen King wrote the likes of The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Colorado Kid, and Doctor Sleep, so why can’t I allow a similarly prolific author such as Pratchett more time, more books to win me over to his side? This is the attitude that convinced me to read Small Gods, held by nearly all of his fans to be one of his best. As per usual, Pratchett, known largely (primarily, you could argue) for his humor, fails to make me laugh or even to smile. In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that if I’m reading or watching something meant to humor me, and it fails entirely, it’s game over. Being funny doesn’t even necessarily have to be its main pursuit; if it makes repeated stabs at humor that leave me stone-faced, my patience for it will’ve been exhausted pretty quickly.

Even if I were feeling especially forgiving, I couldn’t credit him for much else. A god’s existence relying upon belief is something I’ve seen multiple times before, in American Gods, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and probably in another book or two I just can’t happen to remember at the moment. Nor is skewering religion satirically something I’m not familiar with; Pratchett himself did it better, I feel, in Good Omens, and it wasn’t even as big a part of that work as it was of Small Gods. When you’re preaching to the choir, as Pratchett is here, seeing as I’m an agnostic who finds many aspects of religion, namely organized religion questionable and, yes, laughable, you’d think it’d take very little to get me to nod along. Quite the contrary. I’ve heard so much said about religion by this point in my life that my standards are higher. I’ve seen this all before, and it was funnier and more biting then than it is here. That leaves me with the characters, all of which I find unlikable, and the plot, which has never been Pratchett’s strong-suit, in my opinion.

So, all tolled, there’s not a thing I single positive I could key in on here. This isn’t necessarily because it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read, because it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a worse sin to be forgettable, which Small Gods, and almost all I’ve read of Pratchett’s body of work, is. It’s just another book of his that left me desperately in want of a laugh, or anything memorable for that matter. That all having been said, this doesn’t represent Pratchett’s last chance for me; I still have Unseen Academicals to read, and Lords and Ladies, if it ever gets down the line to me (it’s been “in transit” to the person above me in the hold queue for days). And my expectations are so astronomically low by this point that one of them could easily surprise me. If neither does, though, I think that’ll be it, that I’ll officially be done trying with Pratchett. I guess we’ll see.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #169: Wednesdays at the Tower by Jessica Day George

Wednesdays at the TowerIn Wednesdays at the Tower, the castle’s origins are explained. Personally, I preferred not knowing the story behind the castle. You know, since as I said in my last review, that air of mystery, of being partially lost in translation, was the one and only appeal Tuesdays at the Castle had for me.

As far as I’m concerned, George could’ve held off on telling readers what made the castle what it is at least until a third book. Then again, perhaps all she wanted was an excuse to throw a cute, crowd-pleasing baby griffin in there, to deny Celie the help of others, with few exceptions, in raising him, thus making what would probably have been a smooth upbringing otherwise and making it stress filled.

The castle wants Celie to keep this griffin to herself… and a few select others. Anyone else it shuts out, and I mean that literally; Celie even thinks of telling her parents and doors don’t just close, they disappear. What could be the explanation?

Hm, griffins are all around Castle Glower. Do you think it could have something to do with its past? No, don’t speak such poppycock. It can’t be that simple. Nope, wait, it is. Through this griffin appearing (seemingly) at random, all your questions are answered. I say “your questions,” since there are a couple I had that George’ll probably leave unanswered. Put simply, I’d like the backstory to the backstory, but I doubt it’s forthcoming.

Which is most likely for the best; I wouldn’t want to go against my better judgment once more and read another book in this series, and I know I would if there were a third. So, in a way, I’m glad George (presumably) ended it here in the second book. She got the letdown out of the way before anticipation had built my hopes for the resolution up very high at all. Thanks to that, these two books of hers will be some of this year’s forgettable footnotes, rather than stand-out disappointments like, say, You Suck and Bite Me by Christopher Moore, which took a promising introduction in Bloodsucking Fiends and pile-drived it, leaving it so thoroughly concussed that it, and Moore apparently, no longer knew what it was. So, yeah, I’m thankful that George at least managed to inadvertently avoid that.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #168: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Tuesdays-at-the-Castle-by-Jessica-Day-GeorgeA castle with a life, and mind, of its own? Sign me up, I said. Having completed it, I can now say that basically all Tuesdays at the Castle had (of note) was that one good idea. George, it seems, couldn’t quite come up with a story to match the creativity of the idea at its core.

It’s been weeks since I read it, and the ever-changing castle and the oddly human motivations behind those changes are all that have continued to stick with me all this time later. It, I feel, was the only character of particular interest.

Besides it, there’s Princess Celie, dumbly soldiering on with a map of a castle that’s adding and removing rooms daily, King and Queen Glower, absent (and presumed dead) for most of the book, and Celie’s two brothers, one presumed dead along with his parents and the other forced to assume the throne before his parents have even been confirmed dead.

Nobody else made much of an impression on me. I remember there was a foreigner who tries to use the King and Queen’s absence as an in to the throne; however, the deck is always too stacked against him, the castle coming to the Glowers aid at every pivotal moment, that I never saw him as a threat in the least.

All that kept me reading, then, was the unpredictability of the castle itself. Yes, it helped serve the powers of good, working to help them keep those powers, as I mentioned above, except it didn’t often do so in the most straightforward fashion. There was a language barrier between the castle and its residents, if you will, and it was up to Celie and her brother to figure out the castle’s true intents.

Since, initially, when it could probably have spit this foreigner right back out, quite literally, it appears to hold its ground and show no signs of disapproval. It takes a while before Celie is able to see that the tower is in their favor after all, and that there is hope for her parents (and brother) still.

Not that I was surprised to hear her parents maybe weren’t suddenly murdered; that seemed a smidge too dark for George’s intended age group. I just enjoyed puzzling out the castle’s seemingly roundabout ways along with Celie. Enough, in fact, to continue on to the sequel, Wednesdays in the Tower, hoping George could build a worthwhile story around that castle of hers on her second try. In all honesty, I should’ve just kept to Tuesdays at the Castle.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #167: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

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Take two after an accidental key press wiped out my review seconds after I’d finished it. As I was saying the first time, Justin Halpern isn’t halfway near as fun as he seems to think he is. He’ll forever be riding the coattails of his father, whose popularity this book helped me understand.

Though when he stops the funny guy act and gets real, talking about the love of his life Amanda, it’s like he’s a different writer altogether. This is a guy I can relate to and enjoy spending the duration of a book with. He’s like me, but a slightly newer and better model.

If he can find a girl like Amanda, who’s to say I can’t as well? I’ve been down on the chances of me ever finding someone as of late, so I Suck at Girls gave me the hope I so desperately needed. I just wish there was more of that and less of Halpern’s unsuccessful stabs at comedy. Leave that to your father, Halpern.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #166: The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 3: 1955-1956 by Charles M. Schulz

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To anyone who’s paying attention, I did skip a volume. I placed an interlibrary loan request for volume two as well, but it couldn’t be fulfilled. Not too surprising, considering the luck I have in similar situations.

  • Until my sister bought me The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I wasn’t able to read every story in the series due to the library’s only collection being incomplete.
  • The Pitt Book Center had The Gunslinger, and every other book in the series… besides its sequel, The Drawing of the Three.
  • The local libraries, oddly enough, have books one and three in Christopher Moore’s vampire trilogy (Bloodsucking Fiends and Bite Me), but not book two.
  • When I placed a hold request for all six parts of The Green Mile, I got them all at the same time… minus one.
  • The local libraries have the first two volumes of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but no more after them.
  • No branch of the Carnegie Library had a copy of the first Dark Tower graphic novel, The Gunslinger Born, but the Butler library, whose selection of graphic novels is slim and hidden upstairs with the non-fiction, does.

This may or may not have something to do with why I so rarely read series. I should’ve known, with as many volumes as The Complete Peanuts is up to, that this was inevitable. Doesn’t make it any less disappointing, especially given buying a copy is currently out of the question, given what each volume runs you ($20+). I’m sure I’ll find a way to read it eventually, but I can hardly stand reading things out of sequence, and only did it this time because that’s how badly I wanted my Peanuts fix. Continue reading