C4 Recommends: Fall 2011

[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things, and a few others. Follow it here. The recommenders (Aaron, Sean, Eric, and Nico) are denoted by first initial.]


Billy’s Balloon – From the twisted mind of Don Hertzfeldt who brought you Rejected, the heartwarming story of a boy and his balloon. [E]

The Guard – Surprisingly hilarious movie about an Irish Cop working with (sort of) the FBI. [E]

Official Ojai Valley Taxidermy TV Commercial - Is this for real. Nope, Chuck Testa. Actually yeah, it’s real.  [S]

Homeland – The new Showtime series puts a new spin on the Manchurian Candidate story of an American soldier turned sleeper agent by questioning the sanity of not just the soldier, but the CIA analyst, played by Claire Danes, who insists he’s a walking time bomb. It’s not fun by any means, but it’s compulsive viewing nonetheless. [A]

The Walking Dead webisodes – AMC’s Walking Dead series started good then sorta fell off. But these 6 short (free) webisodes have got me excited for the second season. [S]


The Pod F.  Tompkast – Every episode of comedian Paul F. Tompkins’s podcast features the host’s improvised, meandering (in a good way) monologues, a skit from Tompkins’s live variety show at Largo in Los Angeles, a chat with fellow-comedian Jen Kirkman, and a new installment of the long-running, impression-fueled radio drama, “The Great Undiscovered Project”, all of it hilarious. Season two just started this month, but new listeners will want to stream all of season to fill the excruciating month-long gap between new episodes. [A]

Stuff to Blow Your Mind –  Semi-weekly podcast episodes cast a wide net of nerdery. Start with the Tyrannosaurus Sex installment (#49) and go from there. [S]

The Fantasy Football Guys – A podcast made by two regular dudes, who know their football and are pretty funny to boot. This is my first choice in fantasy football podcasts (second is Fantasy Freakin Football). [N]

Games - Most recent Radiolab about games of all kinds, inventing the rules and breaking them. [E]

The NPR Music iPhone app – Most everything NPR does about music, in one handy place. The killer feature is the ability to stream full albums of new, unreleased music, from a great selection curated by NPR. You can also find most of this content at their website. [N]

Yuck: Deluxe Edition, by Yuck – I missed this album when it was first released in February, but after seeing the band live I’m an ardent fan. Skipping the awful synth-splashed 80s revival that’s infected much contemporary music, the lads and lass of Yuck instead take 90s indie rock stalwarts like Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, and Dinosaur Jr. as inspiration. The songs on Yuck are too catchy to be melancholy, but too dark to be happy, which makes it exactly my kind of record. [A]


Partners – New Yorker profile from a couple of months back about Clarence Thomas, who holds the record for consecutive cases without asking a single question in argument. [E]

Flip Flop Fly Ball, by Craig Robinson – Awesome book full of infographics on all kinds of obscure and quirky baseball stats, most nontraditional. Check out the accompanying blog here. [S]

Cake vs. Pie – From the previously C4 Recommended Hyperbole and a Half, this post settles the age old question “What’s better, cake or pie?” using science, even charts and graphs. [E]


Bookshelf Porn – Blog featuring pictures of bookshelves. Usually large, unique ones, and often complimented with spiral staircases. [S]

Kim Jon Il Looking at Things – Exactly as the title describes, this blog has pictures of Kim Jong Il looking at things. [S]

Daily Dose of Imagery- One of my favorite photography blogs. [N]


Swipe Four – iPhone game sort of like Boggle crossed with TextTwist. Free in-browser version here. [S]

Gemcraft – A ridiculously addictive tower defense flash game. Free. [N]

One Chance – Clever freebie flash game. Your actions can save or end the world, and you only get one try—unless you clear your cookies cache. [S]


Microwave nachos – Seriously, they’re easy and good. Cheese, chips, and whatever else you like (I go for onions, peppers and baked beans). Takes about ten minutes, start to finish. [N]

REVIEW: Show Up, Look Good

Author: Mark Wisniewski

2011, Gival Press

Filed Under: Literary.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

At first when I started reading Show Up, Look Good, I wanted to compare it to Bright Lights, Big City, the Jay McInerney tour de force from the 1980’s, partly because of the similarity of the cadence of the titles but also because of the hip sensibility and the dark sense of humor common to both; both stories take place in New York City, as well – glamorous Manhattan, specifically.  But once I got further into the story I started to think of the protagonist, Michelle, a girl in her mid-thirties from Kankakee, Illinois, come to “make it” in New York, in terms of Holden Caulfield, the runaway of The Catcher in the Rye.  Both characters have a personal sense of honor and both see through phonies.

Even Michelle’s language sometimes sounds like Holden’s:  “…but what really killed me about this whole ‘Have you read so-and-so’ game,” she tells the reader while describing the so-called literary workshops of a pretentious roommate she has in the Village, “…if everyone there read every book they said they’d read, none of them could have written a word.”  Things were always “killing” Holden, too, with their absurdity or hypocrisy. (“Sensitive.  That killed me.  That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat,” Holden observes about a prep school classmate ).  Elsewhere Michelle makes the similar Holden-like observation:

…it killed me how many times in my thirty-four years I’d gotten along with people but kept cruising toward being alone.

But all this searching for somebody to whom to compare Wisniewski’s work amounts to a reviewer’s way of introducing him to readers.  Who is he “like,” and will readers be warned or welcomed by the comparison?   The blurbs compare his work to Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Elmore Leonard, Ruth McKenney (My Sister Eileen).  One even does compare Michelle’s picaresque adventures in New York to Holden Caulfield’s.   In the end, though, we might just as well take Wisniewski on his own terms because the story and characters don’t necessarily fall into these neat comparisons.
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REVIEW: Reamde

[This globe-trotting technothriller is a C4 Great Read. Find it and other C4 Great Reads on our Great Reads shelf at Powell's.]

Author: Neal Stephenson

2011, William Morrow

Filed under: Literary, Thriller

Get this book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

A few weeks after Reamde came out, there was a bit of a kerfuffle about the ebook edition being full of typos. This is not surprising. The paper version has more than its share of typos, too. Not an overwhelming amount, perhaps two dozen mistakes over a thousand pages. But more than you see in most professionally published books.

I can entirely understand these errors. Reamde runs a thousand pages, roughly 400,000 words, and it was published just three years after Stephenson’s last novel. In addition, it’s a globe-trotting thriller, steeped in real-world facts and places, technology and tactics. And it has its own built-from-the-ground-up online virtual world.

It took me three weeks just to read this thing, let alone proofread it. I can’t even imagine editing or writing it. So a few mistakes are certainly forgivable. But they tell of Stephenson’s attitude toward writing, which has emphasized, in the past decade, length above all, moreso than ensuring the highest sentence-to-sentence quality possible.

This is not to say that Reamde feels rushed or shoddily produced. On the contrary, it’s very very good—entertaining, immersive, thrilling, fun, educational and full of great characters. But it’s not Stephenson’s best work. His best, in my mind, is still Snow Crash, the revolutionary information-disease cyberpunk epic that made his name. Snow Crash is also a hefty read at well over 100,000 words—I’d guess 150K—but it’s less than half the size of Reamde, and it shows a different Stephenson than the one from 2011.
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REVIEW: Jacob T. Marley

Author: R. William Bennett

2011, Shadow Mountain

Filed Under: Literary, Historical.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 5

I’ve been reading a bunch of Halloweenish books lately (you’ll notice werewolves and cemeteries in my upcoming reviews), and while Bennett’s retelling of A Christmas Carol does feature ghosts, it’s (somewhat obviously) a full-on Christmas story, probably even more so than its inspiration.

The story begins just a little before the events of Dickens’s classic. Marley is alive and a ruthless business man. He forsook any sort of interpersonal relationship for the almighty buck. He takes on a young financial prodigy as a partner (Scrooge audaciously refuses to apprentice), teaches him all he knows about being ruthless, then dies with only Scrooge begrudgingly by his side, waiting with impatience to sieze his mentor’s assets. But just before dying, Marley has an ephiphany, and he regrets his avaricious life.

Because of this final moment, Marley finds forgiveness in the afterlife. He does penance by wandering the world as a shade, dragging heavy, chest-laden chains that rattle behind him. Marley blames himself for Scrooge being and even crueler, more miserly dick, so he petitions the spirits of the afterlife to allow him to help Scrooge. If he fails, Marley will have to continue to drag his chains–and Scrooge’s–for eternity. From there the book is a faithful retelling of A Christmas Carol, written from the perspective of Marley, who, Bennett tells us, was always there, just invisible to Dickens’s protagonist.

Despite it occurring on a Christian holiday, I’ve always read A Christmas Carol as largely, like much of Dickens’s work, more about social contract and free will than any sort of lesson in piety. But Marley, and through him this book, seems more concerned with Scrooge’s eternal salvation. Scrooge’s redemption as Dickens wrote it was not a Christian repentance. He reforms his ways for the betterment of man, and finds personal reward in that offering. Bennett’s tale offers more of a trickle-down morality scheme, a golden-rule, pay-it-forward kind of thing. In the end, of course, the resulting message is the same: as Abe Lincoln once put it, “Be excellent to each other–and party on, dudes.”
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 10/11/11

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]


Wire to Wire, by Scott Sparling. Reviewed by Anonymous (HTMLgiant).

Here’s an excellent example of how to write a concise book review. In three paragraphs whoever wrote this review for HTMLgiant fully convinced me I want to read this book (put out by Tin House, which has a knack for finding good writing). In a nutshell, he calls it “a smart and beautiful book about losers—aimless, glue sniffing, speed freak, train hopping, mostly rural, accidentally homicidal losers.” If, like for me, this kind of book isn’t your usual cup of tea, take 30 seconds to read this review and see if you are similarly persuaded.

Get the book.


The Stranger’s Child, by Alan Hollinghurst. Reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post).

I really like sprawling books that manage to intricately and subtly insert cause-and-effect relationships across long spans of time. See Jeffery Eugenides’s Middlesex. This book looks to do just that. A surreptitious poem sets things in motion for 100 years in the future. And Hollinghurst succeeds in “preserving the dramatic unities of place, time and action. He effortlessly juggles several points of view (including a 6-year-old’s), slowly revealing people’s true characters while keeping the reader guessing.” If Michael Dirda bemoans a book not being listed for the Man Booker (which Hollinghirst already has won, for The Line of Beauty), odds are it’s a very good book.

Get the book.


The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy. Reviewed by Susan Carpenter (Los Angeles Times).

Not sure how I feel about Meloy writing for the YA set. I really liked Liars and Saints (and her last book was likable enough), so if she can keep up that kind of quality while aiming for a younger audience, then I suppose that’s a good thing. After all, Markus Zusak wrote an excellent World War II young adult book just a few years back. But this has me scratching my head a bit:

A gem of historical fiction for the middle-school set, Meloy’s children’s debut is a pitch-perfect melding of postwar intrigue and ancient medicinal arts told from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl.

Hmm. The story, as Carpenter goes on to describe, does sound interesting, with an international cast of young characters playing out a microcosmic analogue of the events surrounding WWII. I’m going to hang back on this one a bit to see how it’s received, but I think I’ll probably end up reading it.

Get the book.


Briefly: A little more Michael Dirda: Arabian Sands. A little more Eugenides: The Marriage Plot. And Nico already brought it up, but this looks good: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.

Bonus Book Trailer: A well made one for once.

Book Radar: October 2011

[This feature is a brief monthly summary of interesting books coming out this month. Follow it here. Click the pictures or the title links to find these books at Powell's.]

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (out 10/25)

When this book came out in Japan, more than two years ago, its plot was a closely guarded secret and it sold a million copies in a month. Here and now in the West, details have necessarily leaked out, and they bring a familiar Murakamian bizarreness: a young woman commits several murders in a parallel world, and a struggling writer agrees to rewrite a manuscript by a teenager, only to find out it doesn’t exist. I’m just finishing a 1000-page novel now, and I’m not too eager to start another one, but this looks pretty good (same goes for Parallel Stories).

Voyage of the Rose City, by John Moynihan (out now)

I spent a formative year of my early 20s working on tall ships in various capacities and locales, and I vividly remember what Dwight Garner, in this review of Rose City, calls a “kind of squirming wanderlust,” the force that sent John Moynihan, the comfortably wealthy son of a senator, on a 4-month trip in the merchant marines. Moynihan never meant this memoir to get published, which could free it from the contrived feeling you get reading about the adventures of journalists who just went looking for material, but that honesty might also rob it of the polish given a work created for public view.
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reviews in haiku: September 2011

Welcome to autumn. Here’re some bite-sized reviews.


Ready Player One

big old dork opus

nerd stuff flows like Mountain Dew

but it’s not that great


Victory Chimp

chimpanzee blow jobs!

this book is really insane

audiobook rocks


Wildflower Hill

grandma’s boring farm

more like Forgettable Hill

story good, write bad



excellent poems

space and time seemingly cease

topical and smart


The Book of Life

prose: simple, direct

longer than most short stories

great complexity


The Earth Chronicles Expeditions

Bible aliens?

paunchy Indiana Jones?

pretend it’s fiction


The Thin Man

great gumshoe noir

tons of style, also booze

Asta is the dog


The Keeper of Lost Causes

Danish crime novel

features hapless detective

Laarson wannabe


The Revisionists

muted time travel

just the right splash of sci-fi

excellent thriller


REVIEW: The Art of Fielding

Author: Chad Harbach

2011, Little, Brown and Company

Filed Under: Literary.

Get the book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 4
Depth..... 7

For fifty pages, I was hooked. Henry Skrimshander is a small-town kid with an almost supernatural sense for playing shortstop. He’s discovered at what might have been the last game of his career and recruited to play for Westish College, a small D III school in Wisconsin. Under the guidance of Mike Schwartz, the Westish teammate who discovered him, Henry rises into the ranks of the nation’s best college players. His future seems bright and assured.

Then we’re introduced to Guert Affenlight, the President of Westish College. He’s an interesting guy, but his story doesn’t really have as much to do with Henry as Henry’s roommate, Owen, and there’s Guert’s daughter, Pella, who’s fleeing a failed marriage. Also, Schwartz is having some problems figuring out his life after graduation.

The writing is solid throughout, the characters are convincing and likable enough that I never felt totally dissatisfied, but I often found myself pushing through chapters wondering when all of this was going to get back to Henry, because (surprise) his bright future might not be such a sure thing after all. Unfortunately, Henry’s perspective and his trials on the diamond occupy less space as the novel progresses, and the work as a whole suffers for it.

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REVIEW: The Outlaw Album

Author: Daniel Woodrell

2011, Little, Brown and Company

Filed Under: Short Stories, Literary.

Get the book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 6

A pervasive sadness oozes from this collection of semi-linked short stories. This book is a short, grim affair with most of its stories centered around poverty and violence, and most of its characters lacking education or, often, perspective. All this, bolstered by Woodrell’s sharp, atmospheric prose, makes for a very strong collection.
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Spam Slam: The Best C4 Comment Spam, Summer 2011

[On occasion some of the spam we get is too good not to share. So this column is where we do just that. Follow it here.]

We get a fair amount of spam in our comments. Most of it is banal, trying to sell SEO services with awkward, Google-translated text. But we get occasional gems. Here are the 10 best so far, presented in no particular order and without further comment. For many (see the “dingo skin” entries) your guess is as good as any as to what they are translating and why. Read them out loud as poetry, it makes the whole thing even better.

Enjoy! (Heads up, the last one is PG-13.)


Summer 2011 Spam Slam

10. They kill roosters For those silly feather cheap hair extensions?! Genuinely?!

9.The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list

8.Lifes not all beer and skittles

7.I cannot consider we should be working in loincloths made of dingo skin, as good as were excited to routine. Just after we understand it may be well calculating, will probably be fine.

6.ssssssssssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfdssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfdssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfdssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfd ssssssfsdfsdfsdfd

5.Spammers are such assholes, I ponder if anybody ever clicks on their hyperlinks?

4. Please help me. Two days ago I was working 3rd shift at work and a dude came up to my register to pay his food ticket and he went into his pants pocket and brought out a $1 bill and said, “This is all I have in my wallet. I do not have the remaining cash to pay you.” Then he did the most amazing thing. He instsantly turned the dollar bill into a visa card. OMG I went home and got on google and found the magic trick video BUT I ain’t paying twenty nine dollars to know the secret. Can you figure the illusion out?

3. What an incredible green area rug! It could be an ideal surprise for my personal pal’s forthcoming (Hallow’s eve) special birthday. We appreciate you all the fantastic tips that you share.

2. I really don’t feel we should be dressed in loincloths made of dingo skin, quite as good as we’ve been from a position to discover. The second we understand is usually genuinely worth understanding, it astounding.

1. I was feeling my encounter obtaining comfortable as I imagined how his wang had moved further inside me than any 1 actually did before. And this guy had a entire body and a wang bigger than any man I’ve experienced prior to. The evil within my body created me do issues, which can trigger an huge really like affair in that extremely moment. I tried to talk to him whilst teasing him with my attractive african ass. I could see that he experimented with to steal a glance at my lovely black booty. After I found the proper time, I by no means hesitated to offer him a flirty and lustful looks.