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Brief Book Reviews 1

Here are some abbreviated book reviews. (The brevity neither reflects on the quality but simply on my inclination to write a thorough review at the time). See also: my index of book reviews which I recently started.

cover-dog-small What Philosophy Can Tell You about Your Dog. By Steven D. Hales. A fun and erudite anthology of essays about pets by philosophy teachers. The essays vary in quality, but all are provocative and raise philosophical issues about animals. I’m guessing it was used for class readings in a philosophy class, but intellectually-minded pet owners would find it an enjoyable read as well. Note that there is a “sequel”  What Philosophy Can Tell You about Your Cat. which probably are just essays on additional related topics.  Note: I plan to write an essay titled, “Can dogs appreciate Beethoven?”
cover-hair There’s a Hair in My Dirt by Gary Larson. Mischievous and macabre children’s book told by a father worm to his family. The beautifully illustrated images are hilarious, and the story elegantly debunks a prettified view of nature. My 7 year old nephew loved the book, and so did an 11 year old niece who understand what the book was really about. As an adult I could enjoy it on many levels as well.
cover-99ways-reduced 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden depicts how the same short scene could be told using comic book form in 99 different ways. A creative exercise, and it really gets you thinking about the different ways comic book artists convey narrative. Scott McCloud would approve.
cover-nasty-book-resized Nasty  Book  by Barry Yourgrau contains more surreal short stories which are geared for younger (male) readers with a definite Charles Addams humor.  I raved about another Yourgrau collection, Man Jumps Out of an Airplane which were stylistically elegant and compressed and intended for adult readers. Nasty Book (and its sequel Nasty Book 2) have that same unexpected surreal humor, but with more conventional stock characters (delivering pizzas to vampires, etc) and conventional narrative. I don’t fault Yourgrau for trying to tone down the compression of his prose pieces; he instinctively knows the psyche of the impatient 12 year old reader.
image The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the revised 2nd edition of her book about promotion. I’m only midway through, but the book is comprehensive in suggesting lots of ways to promote your book (and by book, I think she means “literary work”). Those in  publishing world know her as the “woman who runs that weekly  book promotion mailing list” (which I highly recommend).  I suspect that Ms. Howard-Johnson hasn’t really covered how to promote ebooks too thoroughly (wait for the next edition!), and some  the specific tips could easily expire or be no longer valid in this fast-moving market,  but there are so many tips here that it’s still worth reading and savoring. BTW, one of her novels has been on my To Read list forever.
cover-big-book Big Book of Hell by Matt Groening gathers some large panel comic strips he did in the 1980s (i.e., before Groening became an institution). Occasionally the humor is off, but the juvenile minimalist jokes provide lots of premonitions of later works such as the Simpsons.
image Small Key Opens Big Doors (50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories) is an amazing read for the Peace Corps volunteer or just the international reader. By the way, my essay The Art of Losing Things appears in it.
cover-best-books John T. Gillespie edits a series of  indispensable book guides for librarians and parents.  Each volume is about 1000 pages and consists of an annotated list of books for that age group divided into about 50 different categories (Biological sciences, Plays, Fiction: Contemporary Lives and Problems).  Each annotation is only a sentence or two, and unfortunately he limits the selections to those which seem to be in print, but still this is a useful guide for students and adults.  The most recent edition of each volume costs about 60+ dollars, but the previous edition sells for 2 dollars or less –- and has most of the same content! Content for each volume overlaps, and many of the titles sound similar (though they may specify an age range or grade level).  This reference guide is a great starting point for exploring rare and out-of-print books on Amazon and Half.com My only regret is that the book doesn’t list award winners or attempt to single out notable works in each genre.  I would have loved to see a hand-picked collection of fave titles; that would be a read! (Allison Lurie comes close with her literary criticism about children’s lit: see Don’t Tell the Grown Ups, and Boys and Girls Forever: Children’s Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter).
adventures Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman is a fat book detailing lots of practical experiences working for Hollywood in the 1980s. Please appreciate the fact that the practical tips are mostly obsolete. The book  is useful mainly for entertainment value (it’s hilarious) and detailing the everchanging relationship between director and actor and writer.  This book is hailed as a classic by screenwriters (and perhaps it is), but it’s less useful than illustrative of the various quandaries which writers find themselves in.
image Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python by Al Sweigart is a creative commons guide to programming which is intended for the younger reader. This highly readable book explains things well, gives good learning examples and helps the reader develop several games ranging from easy to hard. After about page 300, the author introduces you to Pygame, which by then seems like a breeze.  You can read the entire book for free online or download the free PDF.
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