Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Week's Book: Fool

I'm a bit late in posting this entry, I know. I've needed a bit of rest over the past couple days so I'm around to it now. The next one should come soon enough. For those unfamiliar with the phrase "non-RYM", refer to the link I posted in my first Book a Week post here. These are copypasted from my account on that exquisite site.

May 13-19: Fool by Christopher Moore

Comedy (2009 - 311 pp.) 

Fool tells the story of King Lear, from the fool's perspective, with patchwork references to other Shakespeare plays and with some very creative artistic license. There is also a nice big helping of, as Christopher Moore's fool (Pocket) describes it, "bonking." The book is a fun, quick read, with enough wit to be at least a little intellectual but far more buffoonery. The ratio works well. 

There is enough quasi-mashed-together-medieval to make things work, much in the same way fiction has been done in the past. Think of something like The Sword in the Stone, which shamelessly blends circa 1500 French imagery with a character like Merlin. Moore does this sort of thing but in such a self-aware way it is impossible not to laugh along with him. Then there are the more observational jokes, like Pocket's bells making him particularly ill-suited to stealth. Identification with the characters happens more in the way of constantly enjoying being let in on Pocket's outlandish jokes than through anything particularly emotionally moving, but I would not have wanted to cry for anyone anyway. 

Much as with Lamb*, which I read last summer and also recommend, Fool has the kind of humour that can really appeal to the religious. Seeing people with Three Stooges-level intellects attempt to practise any kind of faith turns into a frenzy of poorly hidden sins and doctrinal flip-flopping (see page 16 for a great paragraph on this in the middle of the page). The mechanics of the royal court are easily spoofed - Regan asking for an execution in return for her non-existent virginity being taken is a good example - with Lear coming off as less of a tragic figure and more of a nincompoop. Amazingly, not all of the characters in this book qualify for that distinction. I'll leave which ones do not as a surprise. 

As an interesting aside, from my March 16 entry on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces: "I learned a couple words from this book, specifically 'coxcomb' and 'eruct'. Not sure what I'll do with them, but I always like a little extra vocabulary in the quiver." The word "coxcomb" appears more times in Fool than in any other piece of writing I have ever read, and I knew exactly what it meant every time. That, plus the word "quiver" in the preceding passage, really makes me think there is some clairvoyance going on. Or a complete coincidence, you be the judge. 

Thanks to a non-RYM friend for the recommendation, and for recommending Lamb last summer. Thanks to the same friend for lending me Fool

*Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff is a fictional account of Jesus Christ's life as according to his best friend who did not appear in the Bible. It is exactly as funny as it sounds, which means extremely. 

Ease of Reading: 9 
Educational Content: 2

Sunday, May 13, 2012

This Week's Book: The Dilbert Principle

About time I read something side-splittingly funny for Book a Week. Seriousness is only good in moderation, as it were. This was a fun one.

May 6-12: The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams

Humour (1996 - 336 pp.) 

The Dilbert Principle, that the most incompetent employees are moved into management positions in order for them to be taken out of the productive flow, is the inspiration for this book. Much of the book consists of old Dilbert comics and emails Scott Adams has received from disgruntled corporate employees sharing their stories. The rest is drawn from Adams's experiences at Pacific Bell, hilarious analogies, and Adams's musings about the working world. Each chapter is about a different aspect of business that you probably were not aware was so funny until you read Dilbert. 

While certain buzzwords and trends are different now from what they were in 1996, the The Dilbert Principle is still very on point. Management has not changed incredibly since then, and many of the botched initiatives the book mentions are things that could just as easily happen today. Whether it is a task force to manage other task forces, delegating justification for an assignment to an employee who was openly opposed to that assignment, or the harsh reality of cubicle life, there are continuing trends in business that make much of Dilbert just as fresh today. 

How educational The Dilbert Principle is depends entirely on your view of modern business. If you feel cynical about it, or perhaps had your free pop revoked, you will certainly find some sympathetic tales. If your job environment is rosier, you may be a little perturbed with some of the more complaining-oriented parts of the book. Every section at least got a smile out of me, with many having me doubling over in laughter. 

Also, Catbert is adorable. As someone who loves cats and loves human resources (I am just that monstrous), he is a furry little guy I can like no matter how horribly he treats the employees. Terrible, I know. 

Ease of Reading: 10 
Educational Content: 3 


On a separate note, here is my favourite early Dilbert comic. It neither appears in the book nor even mentions business, but I think it is a telling commentary of human interaction. Much like The Dilbert Principle, it is still fresh today. 

Draw whatever conclusion you will. I know mine.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This Week's Book: The Hunger Games

I have a tradition of choosing tougher books for less crazy weeks and easier book for crazier weeks. This week is pretty crazy...

April 29-May 5: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Young Adult (2008 - 374 pp.) 

I had never heard of this book until the movie came out, which I suppose is the greatest endorsement I can give a movie I have not seen. There has been so much hype I had to figure out why, and this book did not have that Twilight feeling even if there seemed to be considerable overlap in the readership. 

Anything I could say about this book plot-wise would be a spoiler, and Book a Week is not about spoiling books. If anything, I would hope people want to read these books more after I get done with my pedantic analyses. 

I can leave you with a few things. The book flows well and reads very quickly. The concept of pitting people against each other in a fatal game show has not really been done since The Running Man, which came out well before most of this book's fans were born, so that was fun. In less of a flattering light, The Hunger Games has its share of dangling modifiers, sentence fragment, and general grammatical issues ("try and", etc.). On a more content-based note, is not completely clear why the Hunger Games are occurring, how the cameras are propelled through the arena, or the circumstances surrounding some of the deaths. The ratio of deus ex machinae to chapters is also kind of startling. Well... I was entertained. 

As for the naming conventions, I am not Cinna the conspirator, I am Cinna the poet! 

Ease of Reading: 10 
Educational Content: 1