75 Books 66-70: Colfer, McGinniss, Hancock, and Jillette

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66. Artemis Fowl 5: The Lost Colony – Eoin Colfer

I loved this one — there’s a new character called N°1 who I like even more than Artemis.  N°1 is a demon.  Imagine a world ruled by Tim Curry in Legend and then imagine a really dorky, kinda sweet misfit teenage demon who just can’t seem to hit puberty.  There are parallel stories of Artemis learning how to time travel and N°1 escaping the demon realm, discovering that he’s a warlock, and trying not to get killed.  But it’s really less about the story and more about how adorable N°1 is. A

67. The Rogue – Joe McGinniss

You really have to admire McGinniss, I have no idea how he survived the research and release of this book.  Palin released her rabid legions on the poor guy because he rented one of the only available houses in Wasilla when researching this book.  And that house happened to be right next door to Palin, and somehow living next door to someone you’re researching makes you a stalker.  Palin is a childish bully, a middle school mean girl, and McGinniss shows that clearly and calmly.  The best part of the book has little to do with Palin herself, however.  McGinniss knows Alaska in an intuitive way, I feel like I’ve lived there now.  You really get a sense of what living in Wasilla is like, and it’s both not as bad as you think it would be and very depressing.  A+

For surviving the onslaught of Palin hate, McGinniss really deserves:

68. Artemis Fowl 6: The Time Paradox – Eoin Colfer

This may be my least favorite of the series so far.  I’m not a big fan of time travel stories, especially when the story becomes about how it all makes sense because things couldn’t have happened the way they did if people hadn’t gone back in time.  I mean, it’s fine, but I just don’t particularly dig on it.  The best part of the book was seeing older Artemis, who is a better person now, interacting with young Artemis, who is a bit of a sociopath. B-

69. The Humanist Approach to Happiness – Jen Hancock

I did a very long review of this earlier, but the summation of it is that I disagree strongly with her perspective on sex and relationships.  To quote myself:

But when she says things like women who hate their dads transfer that hate to all men; and people who dated can’t really be friends and shouldn’t contact one another for at least a year; and, no matter what they say, women who say they’re OK with a solely sexual relationship are really just looking for an emotional relationship, whether they know it or not; and people who watch porn lose sense of reality and it’s a catalyst for bizarre violent activity and it’s addictive… when she says things like that, it is all I can do not to punch the screen.

There’s some good stuff in the book about embracing who you are and being a dork, but I really can’t say I recommend it.  There’s just something so gallingly sexist about her belief that women can’t have sex for its own sake or that a woman’s relationship with a man is based on her relationship with her father that the rest of the book just loses any worth for me.  D

70. God, No! – Penn Jillette

This book is basically a collection of personal stories loosely connected to the idea of a different, more humanist ten commandments.  Most of the stories are funny, but a few are really touching, particularly when he’s talking about his family.  I think the anecdote that most stuck with me was when he was talking with his friend and his sister about the Unabomber being turned in by his brother.  They were discussing what it would take for you to turn in your sibling and his sister said she wouldn’t do it, not ever, no matter what Penn had done, even if he was going to destroy the entire planet, she trusted Penn.  The book, in the end, isn’t really a book about atheism so much as it is a book about Penn’s life and personal beliefs and how they impacted him.  Go into it looking for stories about Penn Jillette, and you’ll enjoy it, but don’t go in expected anything like a Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens book.  A-

75 Books 61-65: Dawkins, Colfer, and Dillman

A real actual photo of Richard Dawkins. I know, right?

61. Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys – Don Dillman

I had to read this for grad school. If you have a major need to understand the intricacies of how to create a survey, this is the book for you. Actually, it was fairly readable and not nearly as dry as one might expect such a book to be. There was no unnecessarily obtuse language, which has so far been quite rare in PhD World. A

62. Artemis Fowl 2: The Arctic Incident – Eoin Colfer

Like Harry Potter, the first book of this series is brilliant and the following books are slightly less transcendent, but still quite good. The difficulty of these books is that Artemis’ defining characteristic is that he’s a schemer, a not very nice guy, a baby Hans Gruber. And unlike Harry Potter, he is exceptional. So you have the double problem of how do you maintain an interest in a character who is constantly become more good and how do you keep his genius believable but still have obstacles. This book manages pretty well, but it also gets rid of so much character motivation and conflict at the end that you sense the series has to change drastically for it to work. A-

63. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

I enjoyed this book, but I can’t help but compare it to God is Not Great by Hitchens, and this is just not nearly as brilliant as that. It should be said that the two books have different primary arguments; The God Delusion is primarily about why belief in God is incorrect while God is Not Great is primarily about why belief in God is harmful. It’s a very good book, there was just nothing in it that I didn’t already know and Dawkins really reaches his heights when talking about science, not philosophy. A-

64. Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code – Eoin Colfer

This book opens strongly but weakens as it goes. Colfer is good at having many wildly divergent stories come together perfectly for the end, something like Ocean’s 11. But part of that trick is withholding information to prevent the reader from being able to fully guess what is going on — unlike a mystery, where it’s possible to reach the conclusion on your own, it’s very action-adventure in making sure the end is a reveal. Sometimes that feels forced, and I felt like it did in this book especially. It’s difficult to write very smart characters who seem omniscient and then not have them explain how they’re two steps ahead of everyone. It’s lazy writing. B

65. Artemis fowl 4: The Opal Deception – Eoin Colfer

Artemis loses his memories at the end of the previous book which allows Colfer to make him more of a bad guy again, rather than a reluctant hero. It’s fun to watch him transform back into Hans Gruber, but the tone of this book is very different from the original. The series becomes less about outsmarting and unraveling and more about just action-adventure, relationships, and Artemis’ inner-life. B+

(The amazing photo is from this: http://digitaljournal.com/article/267416)

75 Books 56-60: George, Dawkins, Conley and Colfer

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56. Dragon Spear – Jessica Day George

This is the final book in this series.  The story follows the discovery of a land where dragon’s have enslaved humans and Creel leads the “good” dragons to rescue the humans and reform the “bad” dragons.  This book was just as entertaining as the earlier ones but lacked a little bit of the funness.  B

57.  The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins

I have never actually read a Dawkins book all the way through until now.  Crazy, I know.  I always found his prose less engaging than Hitchens’, but it turns out the reason I wasn’t drawn towards it was because I was reading the wrong thing.  When Dawkins talks about evolution he is absolutely fascinating.  Much of the science in the book seems intuitive to me, probably because I was raised in a world where the science was well established, but there were many interesting examples and Dawkins does a great job of making relatively dry concepts fun and interesting. A

58.  The Ancestors Tale – Richard Dawkins

So, I went on a Dawkins thing and thought I’d follow up the previous book with another of his.  I think this is a book that shows how creative someone can be in the sciences without seeming totally pretentious.  There were a few times that it was a bit much, really anything written first-person from a living thing, but otherwise it was really compelling.  I can see why The Selfish Gene is considered his classic work, but this is very good as well.  It’s really kind of mind-blowing to spend the book thinking that, in a not insignificant way, I’m related to sponges and mushrooms and moss and jellyfish. A

59.  Toward a Rhetoric of Insult – Thomas Conley

I read this book primarily in preparation for my speech at Dragon*Con.  It is about the history and rhetorical uses of insults.  It’s actually quite good and I incorporated a decent amount of it into my speech, much more than I expected to be able to.  Some of the most interesting things he pointed out were the ways insults were important to cultures and to how people interacted.  I really recommend this book if you’re at all interested in the tone debate or if you’d like to read a few good HL Mencken quotes.  A

60. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer

OMG.  This is like my new Harry Potter.  The author describes it as “Die Hard with fairies” and that is totally what it is, except the main character is the 13 year old version of Hans Gruber.  Yes, in my mind, Artemis is a tiny Alan Rickman.  It’s BRILLIANT.  I am so sad that I only have discovered it now.  But it’s OK, because it’s good to know that there’s always something new to discover. A+