Audiobook: Bookish People

by Susan Coll
Read by Alexa Morden
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. There is also mention of suicide. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

A co-worker – the current Children’s Coordinator at the bookstore – turned me on to this one, saying: It’s super accurate, including down to the vacuum cleaner that won’t work. That was enough for me.

The basic plot: it’s one week at an independent bookstore in Washington, DC (not Politics and Prose, though) where everything seems to go wrong. The owner, Sophie, is having second and third thoughts about running a bookstore and just wants to hide away in the hidden room behind the sports section (I think?). Clemi, the event coordinator, has booked Raymond Chaucer, a notorious poet who is basically known because his wife killed herself. Clemi, however, thinks Chaucer is her real father. In between all that is a lot of rain, some pretty weird and funny customers, and a vacuum cleaner that just won’t work.

it’s particularly silly and fluffy; there’s really not much depth or growth here But the author must have some experience with working at a bookstore; there was a lot of insider baseball from Shelf Awareness (which is more like an industry newsletter, not a blog) to receiving and stocking books (though they order a LOT of books) to those weird customers who show up at author events. In fact, it was the author event, where one attendee just started rambling about spotted owls, that had me howling in laughter. I know those people; I have had those people at events I have run.

The narrator was particularly delightful and engaging, doing voices (I particularly liked her voice for Summer), and basically keeping me engrossed in an increasingly silly plot.

So, not a deep or moving book, but it was good for a few laughs, which I enjoyed.

Cranky Chicken

by Katherine Battersby
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Content: To be honest, this is more of an early chapter book than a graphic novel. Think of it one step up from Elephant and Piggie. It’s in the Beginning Chapter book section (grades 1-2) of the bookstore.

Cranky Chicken is cranky. That’s just how it is. And then one day, she inadvertently kicks a leaf off a worm, and suddenly Cranky has a friend (which she’s not sure she wants): Speedy the Worm. From there, the book is a hilarious exploration of them getting to know each other and becoming friends.

Oh my goodness, this was so funny. I haven’t laughed this hard at a book this simple since Elephant & Piggie. Cranky Chicken is supposed to be cranky, but really he’s just charming and funny. I enjoyed Speedy’s optimism — it was just the right amount — and their adventures together. The drawings are simple but evocative and funny.

I know humor is subjective, but I found this one just delightful.

Audiobook: Broken (in the best possible way)

by Jenny Lawson
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

In this series of short, sometimes thoughtful, often very funny, essays, Lawson reflects on life, mental illness, writing, and well, just about everything.

Honestly, this isn’t the first book of hers I’ve listened to, an I have to say that it’s really the best way to experience them. (Granted, I’ve not read them, so I can’t definitively say.) I love listening to Lawson — who is really a great narrator — spin her stories, making me laugh. She is a personable writer and a narrator, and does much to just bring you in as a listener into her little world.

I definitely recommend the audio book for this one, if only for the last little bit when she talks about recording the book during quarantining for COVID (since her immune system is shot, she took the quarantine seriously) and it was a nice way to wrap the book up.

She’s crazy, yes. But in the best possible way. I loved this.

A Wealth of Pigeons

by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing and pictures of bums. It’s in the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

I saw a poster at the store for this book, and thought to myself: “Huh. So, Steve Martin is doing cartoons now.” And yep, I was right. He is! He has collaborated with New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. Collaborated is the right word — sometimes Martin would send ideas to Bliss to illustrate, and sometimes Bliss would send illustrations to Martin to caption. Either way, what they have come up with is an utterly enjoyable collection of small comics that just delighted me.

Not all of them are hilarious — some of them did make me laugh out loud, but most just made me smile — but it’s just the utter charm of the book that won me over. There are dog jokes and cat jokes and Woodstock jokes and Bliss and Martin poking fun at themselves.

And there’s not much else to say. It’s delightful, and is the perfect thing to pick up at the end of this very long and often horrible year.

Carpe Jugulum

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth–“
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd SistersWitches AbroadLords and LadiesMaskerade
Content: There’s a few jokes about sex and a bit of violence. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it.

We’re back in Lancre, and Magrat has just had a baby. They’re doing a naming ceremony, and her husband, King Verence, has decided that it would be “modern” and “diplomatic” to invite the residents of the next kingdom over, Uberwald. Which would have been a really great idea, except they’re vampires. Or rather: Vampyres, because they’re modern and sophisticated.

Thus starts a romp as Grany Weatherwax (who thought she didn’t get invited to the naming) goes into hiding as the vampyres take over, and it’s up to Nanny Ogg, Agnes, and Magrat (with some help from an Om preacher, Mighty Oats — go read Small Gods before this, because there are Easter eggs) to get rid of the infestation.

The thing I love most about Terry Pratchett’s books are the little things. Like a character named Igor, who limps and has a lisp and keeps complaining about the new vampires, saying “the old mathter did it better”. Or the page or two of thinly veiled penis jokes in the middle of a vampire fight that had me laughing out loud. Or the fact that the vampire castle is called Don’tgonearthe Castle. Or the Nac Mac Feegle (!), who show up (in an early iteration; they speak mostly gibberish and Nanny has to translate at one point. I like them better in Wee Free Men, but it was still delightful to see them). I think this is one of the better witch books: I liked how all the witches from Granny to Agnes got to play a role, and use their strengths to help.

It’s truly a delight, and a fitting end to the adult witch books. Now to dive into some more parts of Discworld!

Round Ireland with a Fridge

by Tony Hawks
First sentence: “I’m not, by nature, a betting man.”
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Content: It’s sweary, both in English and Iris, and there’s a ton of drinking. It’d be in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore if we had it.

A while back, I happened to be watching vlogbrothers, and John recommended this one, and I thought to myself “That is the sort of book I need to get me through some dull winter days.”

I was right.

The basic premise is this: Tony got super drunk one night and his friend bet him 100 pounds that Tony couldn’t hitchhike the circumference of Ireland carrying a fridge. (There are Reasons this got bet, but that’s really unimportant.) Tony, for whatever reason that I can’t remember now, decided that it was a good bet to try and accomplish. So, he set out to Ireland, picked himself up a small, white, minifridge and a dolly, and started hitchhiking.

The boon came from when someone (again, I’m not sure who) got him in contact with the Gerry Ryan Show, which was broadcast throughout Ireland on the radio. They were all so mystified by why Tony would do this, so Gerry decided to put out calls to help Tony out. I’m pretty sure without that support, this would have been an entirely different book.

As it is, it’s a delightful (if often stupid) read about a delightful (if often stupid) trip. Tony met lots and lots of people, had a good sense of humor about it all, and in the end realized that humanity (at least humanity 22 years ago) isn’t all that bad. It’s a ridiculous book about a ridiculous endeavor.

Which is to say: I really enjoyed it. Tony had me laughing out loud at parts, and it’s a truly delightful book to tell people about (“No seriously: the fridge went surfing!”). It does have a nice travel element to it, though it’s less about the landscape of Ireland and more about the people Tony meets. At any rate, it was a delightful romp to the Emerald Isle in the middle of a cold winter.

Maskerade

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The wind howled.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd SistersWitches Abroad, Lords and Ladies
Content: There’s some reference to sex, because that’s just who Nanny Ogg is. And some creative swearing. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it.

Ah, I have come to adore Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Sure, some of the witches books are better than others (my personal favorite is still Witches Abroad), but I do adore the combination of Granny and Nanny taking on the world.

In this one, they head to Ankh-Morpork to tackle the opera. It seems that one of Lancre’s own, Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita X. Nitt) has moved to the big city to try and make her fortune, and has fallen in with the opera. That has a Ghost who seems to not only be haunting the opera house, but is murdering members of the cast and crew.

So, if this sounds vaguely like Phantom of the Opera, you’re probably right. Except — like a few of the other ones in the witches series — Pratchett takes the familiar bones of the story and overlays a funny and clever and insightful story with Granny and Nanny being their amazing selves. There’s a mystery in this one that they manage to solve (with some hilarious asides about being in the book publishing business), before getting Agnes to come back to Lancre and take up her True Calling as a witch.

Not my favorite of the series, but definitely fun! (I thought this was the last of them, but it turns out that there’s one more to go before I hit the Tiffany Aching series.)

Audio book: Hollow Kingdom

by Kira Jane Buxton
Read by Robert Petkoff
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: Oh, it’s foul. So much swearing. And pretty gross sometimes, too. It’s in the adult fiction section. Don’t give it to those who are faint-hearted.

There is no getting around it: this book is not for everyone. It’s just not. It swears more than a sailor and there are moment with the “zombies” that are just plain gross. That said, this is the most unique book I’ve read in a long long time, one that just nails the habits of animals and the way the natural world works and comes with a moral: GET OFF YOUR SCREENS HUMANS AND INTERACT WITH NATURE.

That said, our main narrator is S. T. (short for S**t Turd), a domesticated crow that, when his owner succumbs to the disease that has zombified humanity, takes off with his trusty Bloodhound sidekick, Dennis, to figure out how to function in the natural world. There are octopus oracles, cats with delusions of grandeur (are they delusions, really), a murder of stuck-up college crows, an adventure bald eagle, and lots and lots of close scrapes, near misses, and triumphs. And, on top of that, it’s so very funny. (At least I found it so. Even if you don’t read it, go find the first chapter narrated by Genghis Cat — it’s about four chapters in — and read that. Just that. It’s okay if you don’t read anything else. It’s sheer humor perfection.) I’m super picky about humor too, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing out loud as much as I did.

It’s probably mostly in part because this book is sheer perfection on audio. The reader is PERFECT, nailing what I imagine all the animals would sound like, from S. T. and Genghis Cat to Winnie the Poodle and the other animals we encounter throughout the book. There are some thoughtful moments along the way, as well, and I’m serious about the moral: get off the screens and go connect with other people. IN REAL LIFE. It’s what might save us from the zombie apocalypse, in the end.

Audio book: My Life as a Goddess

by Guy Branum
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There was a bunch of swearing, including many f-bombs, and frank talk about sex. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I have, in fact, mentioned my weakness for celebrity memoirs, especially if I can listen to it on audio. They just hit my happy button. And I’ve just found out that I enjoy them, even if I don’t know who the celebrity is! (As in this case.) I found out about thins one through Pop Culture Happy Hour when it was recommended by my favorite crank, Glen Wheldon. (Who actually has a reference in this book…) Anyway. This is basically Guy’s story about how he went from the boring farm town in the Sacramento Valley (I really enjoyed his diversions about agriculture!) to being a stand-up comic and a comedy writer. It was quite hilarious, but also introspective and touching. I think one of the things I like best about these kind of books is hearing someone else’s story, learning how they got to where they are today. Branum didn’t have an easy life; he was often ostracized as a child (not to mention his sister, who was really only alluded to) and his parents — especially his father — cut him off when he came out. He made a wrong turn going to law school, and I liked knowing that other people make wrong turns and turn out okay. I also thought his rant about the cultural biases against clubs (I may never listen to Shape of You by Ed Sheeran the same way again. Or Bohemian Rhapsody).

I loved every moment listening to Guy tell his story (the best bits where when he cracked himself up). A delightful book.

Dying to Meet You

by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
First sentence: “By turning this page and the pages that follow, you hereby release the compilers of this correspondence from all liability related to thoughts, ruminations, hallucinations, and dreams (good or bad) of or pertaining to ghosts, friendly or otherwise.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: So, this is a weird one: the narrator’s an older man and there’s a bit of a love story, but the skill level is beginning chapter plus it’s full of illustrations. My professor has this as a middle school-level book, and the vocabulary level is a bit high, but I’d be tempted to put it in the Beginning Chapter books (Grades 1-3) section of the bookstore.

I’ll say this up front: the best part of this book is the names. Celebrated children’s author I.B. Grumply is looking for a house to rent so he can finish the latest book in his best-selling series. He rents 43 Old Cemetary Road, which is, unfortunately, haunted by the ghost of a librarian and unpublished writer, Olive C. Spence. It also comes with a kid,  Seymour Hope, whose parents (awful as they are) have up and left him. The basic plot is this: I. B. Grumply wants peace and quiet, doesn’t believe there’s a ghost, and rages at Seymour until his convinces Grumply that the ghost is real (and cooks a mean dinner) and then they set about purchasing the house so they can all live happily ever after.

So, this was one of the books in the mystery unit for school, and I have to disagree: there is NO mystery here. It’s a ghost story, plain and simple. And it works as a ghost story. I liked the humor — the names are the best — but otherwise, this one was entirely forgettable.