Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

You can learn a lot about our species by reading this book, but if you need proof that humans are idiots, look no further than the changing of the seasons. People wander about dumbstruck, as if this had never happened before! This week it got warm, because it is spring. And yet it seemed to blow people's minds. "Isn't it amazing," my daughter asked. "Did you see the buds on the trees?" I explained to her that the arrival of spring was not amazing to me, but rather a predictable and inevitable outcome of earth's travels around the sun, and that the buds appeared to be similar to last year's that arrived at more or less the same time. But she just laughed me off. My neighbor Margaret declared - I shit you not - that the sunny day was "literally a miracle." No, Margaret. A miracle would be if you got your Christmas lights down before February or learned how to appropriately use the word "literally." This is just nature.

My son came into my house beaming on Saturday, saying "Spring is here! Do you know what that means?" I began taking guesses. Extra yardwork? The return of mosquitoes? Time to file my taxes? People letting their dogs off leash? Excessive puddles? Migratory birds shitting on my lawn? Creeping charlie? The NHL playoffs? Skateboarders infesting public parks? Stupid people being amazed by natural phenomena? Shockingly, all my guesses were incorrect. "The Gardens are open!," he exclaimed. By this he means the local botanical gardens, in all their pre-blossoming splendor. Sigh.

Where the hell did you all get the idea that old people love botanical gardens? I believe this to be some kind of organized ageist conspiracy. Every time I am there, the whole place is full of geriatrics getting carted around by people who think they get double credit for spending time with grandpa and also doing something unbearably boring. If you think it is tiresome now, do you anticipate that at some point you are going to suddenly love going there? Hell no, Larry. You know how tedious it is. Why don't you drop the facade and just take me to the bar?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Allow me to say a few more words about pickles. My neighbor Margaret took a break from dressing up her schnauzer the other day to share a few words over the fence. I was doing yardwork, of course, and she was apparently waiting for leprechauns or fairies to do hers, but I refrained from pointing out the disheveled appearance of her lawn. Perhaps the arrival of spring made me a bit soft, but I decided to take the chance to make a peace offering in the form of a jar of homemade pickles. The darker (and larger) part of my heart wanted to slip her my famous Mouthburners made with fatalii peppers, but against my better judgment I gave her some perfect garlic dills. She took one bite and said - I shit you not - "Mmmm... Crunchy. Did you use Picklecrisp?"

Did I use Picklecrisp? Are you fucking kidding me? Do I look like the kind of person who would use Picklecrisp? In case you were born in a cave and raised by wolves or hipsters, you do not need calcium chloride, or alum for that matter, to make crunchy pickles. You just need to do your homework and take a little time and care. You have to choose the right cucumbers, of course, and not keep them around too long. Make sure to snip off the flower ends promptly, and give them an ice bath for a day or so. Pack them snugly, screw the lid on firmly, but not overtight, and for the love of god, don't process them too long. No chemicals. If you get the details right, the result is heavenly.

And that is why this book is so good. The details are just right. The plot is complex, but everything fits. The bad guys aren't just bad - they are bad for a reason. Even the minor characters have backstories, and they all fit in. Everyone's actions match their motivations, and those are revealed with patience and craft, likely a perfectly fermented pickle. And we all know that there are few things in life better than that. Bravo, señor Zafón. Si pudiera escribir como usted, no tendría que escribir este blog necio.

And one more thing. It isn't always necessary for your pickles to be extra crunchy. If you are brining sour pickles, it's ok if they have a little give to them. Sweet pickles, of course, are an abomination, so if that is what you are after, you should stop reading my blog right now before I completely lose my shit.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

To call me a superhero may be overstating the case slightly, but I think I did my good deed for the world yesterday. It all started as I was walking out the library with a stack of new books to read. I had made a point of ignoring all my friendly librarian's suggestions because I fear she has a secret agenda (she offers too many romantic novels and self-help books), and I was feeling pretty good. But as I walked out, I observed three young hoodlums seemingly about to engage in fistacuffs! More specifically, it appeared that two of them were about to give the business to the third one, who seemed frail and malnourished, likely because he had spent all his food money on tattoos and piercings. Don't get me wrong - I respect all people's right to self-expression, but hey, you've got to eat!

What happened next must have been influenced in some way by having just read this book. Perhaps it had implanted the idea in my subconscious that ordinary people can have extraordinary powers. Or maybe reading about such blatant villainy triggered my inner justice warrior. But whatever the reason, I knew in that moment that I was not going to let this stand.

When I was younger, this would have been an easy task. I was never a fighter, but I could be imposing when I wanted to. I used to dabble in the martial arts, and I was not without skills. I once attained a brown belt in karate, and I could catch flies with chopsticks (ok, that part isn't true, but I watched The Karate Kid twice, so pretty much the same). It has been a few decades, of course, and I worried that I might be rusty, but this time I would have the advantage of surprise, as the young gentlemen in question didn't even seem to notice my presence.

I took a deep breath in, and I centered my energy. I approached the two aggressors from the side, and I assumed a shiko dachi stance. I was preparing to strike, but unfortunately, my legs had not been in that position in many years and were not ready to cooperate. Before I could unleash a vicious kansetu geri that would have likely destroyed his ACL, I experienced a hamstring cramp like none I have ever had before. I thought perhaps they had an accomplice who had struck me from behind, but as I fell to the ground, I was unquestionably alone.

Still, the move turned out to be quite effective. The young men were distracted from their quarrel and soon all three were helping me to my feet. While none was willing to massage my hamstring, once they had me seated on a bench, they appeared to forget their differences. After a couple of minutes, I thought they were initiating hand-to-hand combat, but it turned out to be a complex "handshake" involving a number of body parts and some simian grunts. It was so elaborate and violent that I briefly questioned whether or not I had read the original situation correctly or if they may have in fact been just greeting each other. But I discarded that notion as implausible and had no choice but to acknowledge that I had truly saved the day. I appreciate your gratitude and ask that you please send pickles in lieu of flowers or thank you cards.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Come on people - what's the big deal with vacations? You put all your shit in a suitcase, endure a day of misery and airport food, then unpack and do the exact same things you do at home in a different place. My family dragged me along on their spring break trip, and it was ridiculous. You are supposed to take a vacation from something, like Fortnite (Jackson) or talking about yourself (looking at you, Gerry). Or, at least immerse yourself in the local culture. But my family adamantly refused to let me swim with sharks or enter a wet t-shirt contest, so that was that. Plus, Jackson didn't tell me until we were on our way home that you can use Twitter on phones (It was MADE for phones, he says, but I'm not that stupid), so I couldn't even commiserate with my new blogger friends. But what the hell - I can read almost as well in a beach chair as in my la-z-boy, so that's what I did.

In the lobby of the hotel was a shelf labeled "Beach Reads," and it was generally an insult to both beaches and reading. A half-done coloring book (not even staying within the lines!) was about the most intriguing prospect, until I noticed a slim Agatha Christie mystery tucked away in the corner. I have read a few Christie books and generally enjoyed them, but I never read one featuring Miss Marple, as this one did. It seemed unfair, though, to jump into the middle of a series, so I noted the name of the first Miss Marple mystery from inside the jacket and asked the concierge if they happened to have that book. I don't think he ever read a book in his life, because without a second thought, he was offering me a coupon for 2-for-1 3-liter margaritas at the beachside bar. I mean - why would such a coupon even exist? I understand if you are going to have a fun giant drink with your whole family, but how many people do you need to drink 6 liters of margarita? And if you do drink a 3-liter margarita, do you really think it is the lack of a coupon that will stop you from ordering another? I wish I had thought to ask how much one 3-liter margarita costs, but at least I got directions to a book store.

My son was not too happy about taking me to the book store, and he was less happy when they didn't have the book. Luckily, there was one other book store in town. Unluckily, it also did not have the book. But believe it or not, there are libraries even in shitty tourist towns, and sure enough, Murder at the Vicarage was waiting for me there. Of course, not being a resident, I was not allowed to check the book out. But I was happy to sit there for the afternoon and have Lawrence pick me up later. He was not so happy about it, saying it was "just like me" and storming out of the otherwise unpopulated library. The librarian seemed pleased though - I'm not sure they get too much business there. If you are a librarian, and you are reading this, thank you for your service.

And it was worth it! Usually when I read a book written before I was born, I find that the language has become tired with age, and even the classics have a pace that rivals me lumbering toward the bathroom on taco night. But Christie is so clever, the turns and deceptions so quick, it rivals anything coming out these days in the mystery genre. I read the whole thing in one sitting, went back to the hotel, played nice with the family for the rest of the week and worked on my bitchin' beach tan, which ended up with me resembling a small strawberry ice cream in a wafer cone.