I Just Want My Pants Back

img_5912Book: I Just Want My Pants Back by David J. Rosen

Date Read: September 1 to 9, 2020

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

An interesting prompt from the Unread Shelf Project had me browsing my shelves to find a book that I forgot where or why I got it. Strangely, I remember the acquisition of nearly all of the 250+ books on my list—it came down to a choice between 4 books! I simply could not choose myself, so I send the list off to a friend, who chose the book with the funniest title.

Unfortunately for those intrigued mostly by the title, the pants only form a small part of the plot, with the line coming early on, in the sixth of 19 chapters. Over the course of the book, the pants become a bit of a metaphor for the stage of life where the protagonist, Jason, finds himself. Jason is a slacker who is slowly working out what it means to grow up. He is introspective enough to know that he seems to be lagging behind as many of his friends take steps into the “next level” of adulthood—relationships, weddings, “real jobs.” Although he can recognize that he should have some kind of plan for the future, he does not really make any efforts. Much of the book centers on his drinking, drug use, and other partying, which eventually turns into a downward spiral.

While it did come through on the humor that the title suggests, much of this fell flat for me. Jason is portrayed as a nice guy, but he’s honestly not really that likable. He does as little as possible to get by, living paycheck to paycheck, but then spends any money he has to binge on drugs and alcohol. He doesn’t seem to take anything in his life seriously: his job, his bills, or his friends, even after being asked to officiate at their wedding. Maybe I never partied quite hard enough to relate. Nothing came as a surprise when things start to fall apart for him, and I didn’t really have much sympathy for his situation. There is a little redemption for Jason at the end, but it almost feels like too little, too late.

I will give some credit to the author on the writing, as it was good enough to keep me reading a story that I was not all that excited about. Extra points for this, because there were a few lines in the first couple chapters that actually had me cringing—one particular when Jason “grabbed a slice and crammed it into [his] eat hole.” Despite this, there was a quality to the writing that pulled me through to the end. And while I am not fully convinced that Jason has redeemed himself to me as a character, at least I found out what happened to the pants.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Pants are overrated. 2 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for September

  • Books Read: 2
  • Books Acquired: 2
  • Total Unread Books: 263

Good Omens

Book: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date Read: August 3 to 24, 2020

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Another month complete for 2020’s Unread Shelf Project! August was the month for buddy reading, and I did the best I could: my buddy, who chose the book, also finished it the day that I started it. I suppose I should have known better than to buddy read something with someone who aims for 100+ pages per day. For us, it was more so an easy way to choose our next book rather than an opportunity to read and discuss—although we did manage to get a bit of that in. My reading buddy is the only person that I know personally who has “to read” list longer than mine, so I suppose this one was good for both of us. We even got the cats in on this one, with her boy Rahl reading alongside Boris!

Where to begin? This is a book that I very much enjoyed, and definitely will be putting on my shelf to revisit one day. Oddly enough, these are often the very books that I have the hardest time articulating my feelings on. Good Omens was full of moments hilarity, but also included some poignant social commentary. Although originally published 30 years ago, much of the themes have held up over the years—perhaps this is more of a sad reflection on the state of the world than a compliment to the book. I especially liked the accusations of the aliens that humans could be charged with being “a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism.” And of course, on a day-to-day basis I cannot be sure that the apocalypse won’t be brought on by bureaucratic incompetence.

Continuing on perhaps a deeper level of the book, I also really enjoyed the discussion of good and evil as opposing sides. While it is certainly not a black and white issue, I think the point of the contrast is important—early in the book Crowley puts it well when he says that heaven and hell are merely “sides in the great cosmic chess game.” The truth behind real good and evil comes from within humanity.

I have always had a fascination with religion as a construct, although I do not specifically align myself to any particular set of beliefs. I know some of many religions, although am admittedly most familiar with the tenets of Christianity. I appreciated the inclusion of true bits of religion, along with some humorous twists. I thought the inclusion of the horsemen of the apocalypse as semi-human characters was interesting, especially the replacement of Pestilence with Pollution after too many advances in medicine.

Overall, I was very much impressed with the writing here. I have read a few works by Gaiman, but am not at all familiar with Pratchett. Having some experience with one of the authors’ writing, I thought it would be obvious which parts seemed “different,” but it was so seamless that I would never suspect that this was a co-authored book. The edition that I have includes some information on the writing process, which sounds like the authors mostly were having some fun and being silly most of the time. I suppose this is an appropriate place to comment on the humor, which I must admit sometimes evaded me. It is not too surprising that, as an American reader, I would feel like I do not quite get all of the jokes—however there is something that I appreciate about what I consider the British style of humor.

Boris’s Thoughts: “This is all a bit ridiculous, don’t you think? Obviously cats would have a much larger role in the end of time. 2 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for August

  • Books Read: 1
  • Books Acquired: 4
  • Total Unread Books: 263

Notes from a Public Typewriter

img_4522Book: Notes from a Public Typewriter by Michael Gustafson

Date Read: March 30 to April 1, 2020

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

A few years ago, a group of Michigan independent bookstores came together for a project that I immediately fell in love with: the Michigan Booksellers tote, which featured a map of the state on one side and a list of bookstores on the other. The tote could be used for a 10% discount on books on your first visit to each of the stores, and seemed like a fun adventure. I am not sure if I was more excited for the excuse to travel to see each of the stores, or the excuse to add more books to my collection. Along the way, I decided that in addition to picking up any books I might be looking for at the time, I would also buy a staff recommended book from each of the stores as a sort of souvenir of my bookish traveling.

Along this journey, I stopped in the Literati bookstore in Ann Arbor at the beginning of March when I was there for work. As luck would have it, rather than a staff selected book, this bookstore had a book of its own! A fun and unique feature of Literati is the public typewriter in its basement. Over the years, the owners of the bookstore (Michael and Hilary Gustafson) have collected the notes left by their community, many of which were compiled to create this endearing book. The public notes are divided into several sections introduced by the storeowner, which serve to tell the story of the bookstore and the community that it serves.

I am so happy that I found it when I did. As I said, I bought this in early March, and then read it right at the end of the month—a little more than 2 weeks in to the quarantine in my state. This book highlights the unique connections that we have to those in our community, even when we do not know the individuals directly. I could not help but feel a little spark of magic and connectedness in a time when I really needed to experience that.

I’m sure some of this was influenced by the fact that Ann Arbor holds a bit of nostalgia for me. I grew up not far from there, and spent a fair amount of time in the city when I was in high school and college. The city is full of interesting sights, and a trip there was never complete with a stop at my favorite Borders Books. In his narrative pieces, Gustafson talks about the now defunct Borders, mentioning that Literati repurposed some of their original shelving. Although I was only there for a short time, I fell a little bit in love with Literati when I visited, and this book will hold a lovely piece of that on my shelves at home.

Boris’s Thoughts: “You feel good? I feel good. 4 paws.”

I Could Pee On This

img_3692Book: I Could Pee On This by Francesco Marciuliano

Date Read: March 23, 2020

In honor of my first post for the month being on April Fools’ Day, I decided to mix things up a bit with a novelty book rather than a children’s book. For the remainder of the month I will be featuring a children’s series, so I thought it would be fitting to start a little differently.

This book of cat-penned poems was given to me by my Secret Santa, along with a pair of socks featuring Boris’s face. It’s so nice when your Secret Santa truly gets you.

As I said above, this is a novelty book. It is the kind of thing you keep around for a quick laugh, but generally would not plan to read straight through. The book is separated into a few sections, each with a different theme for the poems. This is not high quality poetry; after all, how much can you expect from a cat? Most of them are silly, with an appropriate amount of cat-attitude. A few are a little difficult to get through, despite being short in length. I can roll with stupid humor, but sometimes it just does not click for me. And then, of course, there are a few that are spot on hilarious and made the whole book worth reading.

I submit for your review, a selection from this collection:

I could lie by your side for the rest of our lives

I think I’ll walk away right now

I could let you pet me for a hundred years

I think we need some time apart

I could be kissed a thousand thousand times

I think I’m needed somewhere else

I could sit on your lap forever

I said I could sit on your lap forever

Don’t you even think about trying to get up

Well, you should have gone to the bathroom beforehand

Because forever is a very, very long time

Minka’s Thoughts: “I’m confused. Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?”

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

img_3594Book: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Date Read: March 1 to March 18, 2020

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

For March, the Unread Shelf Project challenged everyone to read the book that has been on your shelf the longest. Technically, I did the same last month, when I chose a book that was gifted to me, but also at the “bottom of my pile.” I suppose now is a perfect time to give that a little more context. I joined Goodreads some time in 2010, but only listed books that I had recently read. On January 1, 2o11, I decided to add my list of books to read, which was already quite hefty at that point in time. I added them all to my online to read list within the next couple days, in approximate alphabetical order. This is the bottom of my stack. I no longer have any idea what order I actually obtained these in, so I do not prioritize further. I try to make a point to choose at least a few books specifically from that group every year. There are currently 45 books still remaining from those that I initially added.

When I browsed through the list, I decided on Maya Angelou for a few different reasons. It seemed appropriate for the time of year, as we are transitioning from Black History Month to Women’s’ History Month. Maya Angelou is an author that I know immediately by name, but one that I had never read up to this point. I also have a peculiar and nostalgic back-story to go along with my particular copy: I quite literally found it in an abandoned building. For several years, my primary friend group consisted of a few photographers and other interesting characters that spent a good amount of our free time in urban exploration. We all lived near Detroit, and visited many sites around the city that were no longer in use: churches, schools, apartments, hotels, hospitals, and of course, the well known Michigan Central Station. While we had a fairly strict policy of making as little impact as possible, we did collect a few treasures along the way (no breaking in, no vandalism, and nothing else that could be considered destructive of the spaces). However, the number of unused and forgotten books found inside the old Cass Tech High School hurt my soul, and I had to give at least a few of them a new home. My soul still aches to think of all that remained inside that school when it was torn down in July 2011.

I know this seems a long introduction with little connection to the book that I am supposed to be writing about. However, something about my memories of that time fit too perfectly with my feelings reading this book, and I could not let the opportunity to share my story pass by. While the overall story of Maya Angelou’s early life is intriguing, this book is about her the journey. Born in California, Maya and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in rural Arkansas. They were raised there, then brought to St. Louis to live with their mother, returned to Arkansas, and eventually returned again to their mother’s care in California. While the places are not essential, the experiences in each of these locations shaped her character and spirit. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a memoir told in snippets; each chapter captures a memory or a moment in time. While any one of these moments might not seem significant in the grand scheme, each is an important piece of the puzzle that has shaped the life of this woman. The story is told beautifully from the perspective of a child, but tempered with honesty and perspective gained from reflecting as an adult. Angelou’s language is vivid, but not graphic, as she tackles her experiences of discrimination, violence, rape, and others.

Boris’s Thoughts: “So… where is this bird? I’m confused. 2 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for March

  • Books Read: 5 (plus 1 started)
  • Books Acquired: 3
  • Total Unread Books: 260

Meet the Cats

With the new addition to the Books On My Cat family this year, I thought it would be nice to share a little more here about us. If you’ve been around for a bit, you may have seen the about section, which will soon be updated to coincide with this post! Since you may already know about Boris’s love for books and cheese-flavored snacks, I will try to stick to new information, as well as some more background on our new little girl.

Boris was born in May 2015, but came into my life in November 2015. He originally belonged to the coworker of one of my housemates. The family had a young child and a new baby, and quickly became concerned about the “rough play” the kitten would engage in with the kids. There was also concern about his “constant growling,” although after some investigation we realized they were talking about purring! The family was talking about taking him to a shelter, but instead my friend said that she would find him a home, and that we would foster him in the meantime. He was intended to stay with us for two days, but when it was time to take him to his new home, it was discovered that he absolutely hated being in the car: he cried constantly for the first 30 minutes of a 5 hour drive, before the car was turned around and he was brought back to our apartment. The plan was to search for another suitable home, but at the insistence of our third housemate, and the insistence of Boris, he stayed.

Originally, Boris was intended to be “our” collective cat. We had a rotation of chores related to his care, and all initially vied for his attention. Boris had other ideas. Although we all viewed him as our sweet and lovable boy, very early on into his stay, he began to show clear preference for me. He would happily spend time with any of us, especially if there were snacks to be stolen, but when the snacks were away my lap was the preference, and my feet were clearly the best to sleep on each night. After others had they affections repeatedly rebuffed, most of his care fell to me. The only thing that remained for others to do was to feed him in the morning, as I had the latest work start and he would typically start pestering for food much earlier. Despite the fact that I was not the person to feed him through the week, I was always the one that he woke in the morning when he was ready to eat, clearly marking me as “his person.” We all stayed in the house together for another 3 years, but when I bought a house and moved out, Boris came with me.

One more thing I feel I have to comment on is Boris’s size. You may have guessed this from photos of him with the books, but just to make clear: Yes, Boris is huge. When we first got him at 6 months old, we assumed the family must have been a little off about his age, since he appeared to be nearly full-grown. But then he just kept getting bigger. While his penchant for snack stealing and tricking others into thinking he had not yet been fed was a contributing factor, even at 23 pounds he did not appear to be a particularly fat cat. Perhaps a little fat, but much more noticeably: tall, long, large. Our vet affectionately refers to him as “the puma.”

The new addition to the Books On My Cat family, Minka, is a sassy little calico around the same age as Boris was when I first met him. I know less about her origin: my dad owns a scrap yard, where he found her in mid-July 2019. We do not know for sure where she came from, or when she was born, only that when she was found, she appeared to be too young to be away from her mother. Mother was searched for, but did not return, and no other kittens were found nearby. Our assumption was that she was either abandoned, or perhaps her mother had been hit by a car on one of the busy roads nearby. My dad quickly began to care for her. For several weeks, he brought her back and forth between home to work each day. When my mother insisted that they were not going to be keeping a cat at home, Minka moved into the office building at his scrap yard. The office is not in use as an office, but more of a storage space, with many places for her to climb, explore, and hide.

Minka lived there for several months, visited daily by my dad, brother, and Axel the dog, who soon became her favorite playmate. She seemed mostly happy, but was very attached to anyone who would come to visit her. After some time, my dad decided that it was time for her to have a proper home, where she could get some attention more than an hour or so per day. I was reluctant to take in another cat—Boris is quite independent, and is also a bit of a scaredy-cat. I worried that he would not do well with another cat in the house. After setting up a contingency plan (a potential home in case things did not work our between the cats), I decided to bring Minka home on a trial basis.

Since moving in with us at the end of December, the cats have started to become adjusted to each other. They are not quite friends, but we seem to have passed the point of fights and are moving toward friendly. Minka has also started to show a bit more of her personality. She is very affectionate, and wants to be as close to people as she can. She loves to sit on my lap or feet, and the two have started taking turns with one in each place. She is interested in any food that I may be eating, but is not quite the scavenger that Boris can be. Her favorite thing in the world is to play with her big brother’s tail! Our little girl is still a kitten, so she has a lot to learn from her big brother. He is definitely annoyed with her, but is starting to come around. I am looking forward to seeing this little girl grow up!

Because of Winn-Dixie

img_2719Book: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Date Read: December 2 to 9, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I was prompted to finally get this book off my to read list by two things. I happened to be sitting in on a Fifth Grade class when they started to read this as a group, and was at least a little intrigued. It happened to work out that this also fit into the December prompt for the Unread Shelf Project, which suggested reading the shortest book on your shelf. Until this, I had avoided reading this one for quite some time, as I had been told that it was sad. Considering that I knew this was a book about a dog, I made some assumptions about why it might be sad, and decided to pass—who really needs to read another book where the dog dies at the end? Well, spoiler alert: that’s not what happens. In fact, we actually get a happy ending! Of course, I did not know that going in. Perhaps the surprise of a happier than expected ending biased me some in favor of the book, but I am glad that I finally decided to pick up this quite popular children’s novel.

Our main character, Opal, has recently moved with her father, the Preacher, to a new town. Being new, she is unsure of her place in the town, and seems a bit withdrawn and certainly lonely. Enter Winn-Dixie, the stray dog she claims as her own after he has wreaked havoc in the produce section of the local grocery store. Opal’s father has taught her to help the less fortunate, and this dog certainly fits the bill: he is skinny, gangly, and generally appears to be in rough condition. Winn-Dixie quickly wins over Opal, her father, and then a large number of people throughout the town. With the help of the dog, Opal starts to meet and open up to various people around the town.

One of the things that I found interesting in Opal’s journey is that the lesson she learns through Winn-Dixie about opening up to others and not judging based on looks, is something that she already knew—sort of. Opal has a soft spot for the outsiders, which I suppose goes along well with her taking in a rough looking dog. Opal was quick to befriend Otis at the pet shop, despite being told that he had been in jail. She quickly accepted the woman whom the other children referred to as a witch. While she is willing to let these people into her world, she is quick to judge many of the others around her, especially other children and the people who belong to her father’s church.

This is a great middle and upper elementary novel, and works really well for classroom discussions. I imagine that is not a major revelation to anyone. There is good reason that this book is often taught in school. There can be a lot to unpack here, in Opal’s relationships to the town, to her father, and the catalyst for growing up a bit she finds when she brings home Winn-Dixie.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A book about a dog? Really? 1 paw.”

Fortunately, the Milk

img_3501Book: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Date Read: December 14, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was a semi-random purchase as a Christmas gift for my cousin’s son. When my family was a bit smaller than it is now, I started the tradition of buying books for the kids that came for my family’s Christmas Eve celebration. It was easy at first. When I started this, there were three; we are now up to 12. I suppose there are worse things than being known as the family member to count on for a new book, but it has become increasingly difficult to find books that the kids will enjoy, and to try to remember which ones I have already given each of them! I usually go to my cousins for ideas for their kids, but both my cousin and I were stumped on this one. He loves adventure, but can be picky. He likes graphic novels, but has read most of the popular ones. I had a few ideas, but nothing I was too excited about, so I decided to browse a bit at the store. I ended up stumbling upon this one which I think was a perfect fit: a sort of adventure, but also a lot of goofiness; not quite a graphic novel, but definitely a nice balance of pictures interwoven into the story.

One day, while Mum is away, Dad is forced to run to the corner store to get some milk for breakfast. When he takes longer than expected, the children are suspicious about where he has been, but fortunately the milk was there to save him on his wild and wacky journey back home. It all starts with a strange noise as he steps out from the corner store, and then there is no stopping this ridiculous and fun tale from unwinding. There is something here to please everyone: aliens, time travel, dinosaurs, pirates, human sacrifice, hot air balloons… all seemingly random, but strung together into the perfect narrative to entertain young and old.

Based on reading level, I think this probably works best as an independent read for mid to upper elementary children. It is novel length, but not really separated out into chapters. There are many pictures incorporated throughout the text, along with interesting text blocking to make everything flow nicely. I can see the interest level on this extending a bit younger, but could see it being a bit difficult as a read aloud book. The length is certainly too much for a typical bedtime story, but without chapters, it’s not quite as easy to break it up for multiple reading sessions.

Boris’s thoughts: “You were supposed to take the picture before you wrapped it and put it in the Christmas bag.”

Invisible Monsters

img_3435

Book: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Date Read: February 6 to 16, 2020

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

The February prompt for The Unread Shelf Project was a book that was gifted to you. This book was gifted to me quite some time ago—I’m going to guess some time around my 25th birthday, back in 2011. My friend Kirsten and I had a tradition of celebrating our birthdays very late with the exchange of books as gifts. It was included in the first chunk of books that I added onto my official to read list on Goodreads; the 50ish books that I consider the true bottom of my to read pile. I digress. I suppose my point is that this certainly fits the bill for the purpose of this project, as it not only meets the prompt but also has been waiting for me for quite some time (sorry, Kirsten).

I had a little bit of a Chuck Palahniuk kick back around that time, which I remember talking about with my friend; I am sure part of the reason that she decided on this particular book as a gift, although I am not sure that she had read it. I read Fight Club, Choke, and then Haunted, all in fairly short succession. While I enjoyed them all, I needed a break from the madness. There is something about Palahniuk’s work that leaves me a little mentally exhausted. Invisible Monsters was no exception to that—I quickly found myself totally engrossed in this book. The writing and style are intriguing, but the story itself is like a train wreck where you cannot help but gape at the disaster.

One of the reviews printed in the first few pages of the book describes it as a “twisted soap opera,” and I feel that really hits the nail on the head. Although generally moving forward in time, the story is told non-sequentially, with many flashbacks that help each bit of this crazy puzzle fit together. The plot twists and turns, while somehow still moving forward at the hurtling speed of a runaway train. There is commentary along the way about the nature of existence, although I feel like it is up to the reader to decide how deeply this should be taken: maybe we are simply dealing with the insane ramblings of the drug-addled troupe, or perhaps there is something more there, in the need to break free from expectations and the possibilities brought forth from utter disaster and chaos.

At several points during my reading, I wondered at how the story was progressing and the direction it seemed to aim. The first chapter gives some not-at-all-subtle foreshadowing of what is to come, and while it all seemed to fit perfectly with the narrative, I felt myself feeling increasingly dissatisfied with how I expected things to turn out. No doubt that the book was entertaining, but the ending I anticipated seemed a sort of anticlimax in that it wrapped things up just a bit too neatly. I should have known better. There were a few additional twists waiting at the end, after the rest of the story and caught up to the opening paragraphs. The conclusion feels perfect, but also leaves a funny taste in my mouth, to be quite honest: an unusual combination of dark humor and philosophical thought.

Boris’s thoughts: “This is all too weird for me. 1 paw.”

Unread Shelf Progress for February

  • Books Read: 2
  • Books Acquired: 1
  • Total Unread Books: 263

The October Country

img_2499Book: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Date Read: October 19 to December 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I read The October Country a few months back as a sort of reward for myself— if you have been following along, you may recall that in October I was challenged to read a book that scares me, and chose the lowest rated book on my to read shelf, which I had been putting off for quite some time. (I wrote about that here, if you’re interested.) I planned on reading this one next, as a sort of carrot for myself: finish the book I was less excited about so that I could move on to one that I was excited to read. Coincidentally, this was also a good fit for the November Unread Shelf challenge, a book from your favorite genre. I have a tough time defining a favorite genre, but I think this was a good fit for that.

This collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury turned out to be that perfect reward. Although it took me longer than I had hoped to finish, it was well worth the time spent. The October Country is introduced as a sort propensity for darkness that exists within us. A place that is not inherently evil, but perhaps a little creepy with the potential for wickedness. Despite an overwhelming sense of spookiness, I would not classify anything in this book as outright horror.

Rather than go for an upfront scare, these stories leave one with a feeling of uneasiness. Many of the endings are at least a tad ambiguous, leaving the level of horror up to the imagination of the reader. Some ease in with some creepiness, but end with a sense of sadness—a man left with a shattered self, an average person born into a family of immortals, a glimmer of hope with a grave consequence.

One story that particularly stood out to me was The Next in Line, which I am positive relates to the fact that I have visited the location of the story in the recent past. I have very clear memories of walking through the cemetery, and looking down the spiral staircase into the crypt. The Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato looks very different now than the room described in the story, but having seen them for myself, the thought of being haunted by the faces encountered there is by no means a stretch of the imagination.

Boris’s thoughts: “It’s always all about the spooky with you, isn’t it? 3 paws.”

Book: The October Country by Ray Bradbury