I’ve Read 1,000 Books

Last night  – Sunday, 10/12/14 – included a landmark moment for me: I added the 1,000th title to my list of books that I’ve read.

I’ve kept this list since 1989 – starting with a list on paper in a school notebook while in Junior High.

Of course, I’ve read well over a thousand books, probably more than two thousand books, really, but I’ve placed some stipulations on the entries. Here’s the history of my list…

When I was in 8th grade, I decided I should keep a list of every book I’d read. This would help me keep track of series I might wish to read, and it would allow me to avoid duplicates. And it would be fun – oh, so much fun to maintain a list!

I began by listing all the books I had recently read. Then I added in books I had read in years past. For example, my teacher had read the whole class The Secret of NIMH back in fifth grade, so I added that. I decided to count books that were read to me, and even books that I had listened to via audio cassette (and, later, CD). I also decided that I had to read the entire book in order for it to count – not just big chunks of it as in the case of several reference books I owned and school books I carried around during the year. The only exceptions I made were that I could skip the Acknowledgements, Endnotes, and Index sections of a book, if I so chose. Essentially, I had to read all the parts that were meant to be read by the general reader – and thus it now pains me greatly to give up on a book I’ve started (but, yeah, sometimes I gotta cut my losses), and I purposely read portions of a book I sometimes don’t even want to, just so I can add the book to my list (an obsession that plays a part in my book, which, by the way, is on my list).

I also listed the number of pages each book had. Of course, sometimes a book has a varying number of pages depending on the edition, or if it’s hardcover or paperback, but I just went with the number of pages in the edition I read. Naturally, this meant counting some pages that were entirely blank, and often times it meant including an index, but I figured this was balanced out by reading the pages that often weren’t part of the numbering (e.g., the Roman numeraled pages that begin many books, or the photographic plate pages inside some books).

At first, I divided my list into two sections: Fiction and Nonfiction. I’ve since cut this up into five sections: Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Juvenile Fiction, Juvenile Nonfiction, and Poetry.

My initial list included several hundred books, dating back to when I was 5 years old (in 1980).

But then I realized something: Some of the books were almost too easy – easier than some non-books that were much longer. For example, at that time (1989), my sister owned several Dr. Seuss books, and many board books. Those board books often had only a single word on each page, and a grand total of only 6 pages. Some had fewer words in them than this sentence. I had read them all, many times. But it hardly seemed fair to count them. Conversely, I had read several booklets that were 32 (or more) pages long. Should I count them?

So I made three executive decisions:

First, no book shall be counted unless it has at least 32 pages. (I later upped this to 40.)

Second, no book shall be counted if it is geared toward babies or little kids. So, the Captain Underpants books (for the 8-12 crowd) are just fine, but PD Eastman’s excellent Are You My Mother? Sorry…it’s too simple to count.

Third, nothing shall be added to the list unless it is considered a book. So, booklets, pamphlets, brochures, magazines (even lengthy National Geographics), blogs, and newspapers were all out.

This of course, greatly diminished the number of entries on my list. In fact, I pared down the list only about 80 books on it, with a quarter of those being from 1989 alone. It was then that I made a goal of bringing my total up to 100. No problem. I accomplished that by the end of 1990 (it helped that I retroactively added in books that I had forgotten about previously).

So then I thought: Hey, let’s aim for 1,000! 

Just for fun, here are some stats about the 1,000 books…

*The year in which I read the most books was 2012 (75 books). The year with the fewest entries is 1980 (2 books). I’ve read an average of 29 books per year, including this year.

*Alphabetically, the first book on the list is “A” is for Alibi (by Sue Grafton), and the last book is Zoo: The Modern Ark (by Jack Page).

*I’ve read 35 books with titles beginning with a number. If these are included alphabetically, then the first book on the list is The 3rd and Possibly the Best 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, by Robert Bryne.

*I’ve read more books with titles beginning with the letter S than any other letter (102 books), followed by A (69), then B (64). The least-represented letter is X (4 books), followed by Q and Z, tied at 5 books each. Interestingly (to me, at least), in 2012, I read at least one book for each letter of the alphabet.

*I’ve read three books titled, simply, Mars, making it the most popular title on the list.

*I’ve read 17 books with titles that begin with the word “How,” 3 with “Who,” 5 with “What,” 3 with “Where,” 4 with “When,” and 18 with “Why.”

*The shrotest titled book on the list is C D B ! The longest titled book is Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.

*Some books were read in a single day, but the record for longest time to read a book is held by the book Human (at least five years).

*The list consists of 73.8% nonfiction, 25.9% fiction, and 0.3% poetry. Among the nonfiction books, History is probably the most well-represented topic, accounting for at least 75 books on the list, not including biographies

*There are four books on the list with forty pages, tying them as the shortest. The longest book on the list is the New World Translation of The Holy Bible, clocking in at 1,660 pages. The only other books on the list with more than 1,000 pages are The Count of Monte Cristo (1,104 pages) and The Lord of the Rings (1,232 pages). There are 19 books on the list with more than 600 pages.

*The books on my list average just over 230 pages, with an exact total of 230,132 pages.

*Most of the books on the list I’ve only read once, but I’ve read at least 79 of them twice or more. The book I’ve read most often is My Book of Bible Stories, which I used to listen to via audio cassette every night when going to bed. Once, I even made a goal of reading the book once a week for a month, so I’d conservatively estimate I’ve read it 100 times. At one time, I had the book memorized.

*I’ve listened to 75 of the books via audio recording.

*51 of the books are on the list because they were assigned to me in a class, stretching all the way back to a couple of Boxcar Children books my teacher read to the class in first grade – over 30 years ago! – up to Horror, which I just finished for a senior undergrad class at Hamline two weeks ago (and which happens to be book #999 on my list).

*Ron Roy has authored more books on my list than any other person (30 books). The only other authors with 8 or more books on my list are: Beverly Cleary, Arthur Conan Doyle, David Feldman, Dav Pilkey, J.K. Rowling, Brian K. Vaughan, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

*The 1,000th book I added is Insects, a book my daughter bought for me assuming I’d like it (I did! – Thanks, Isla!).

I was going to list and discus my favorite books, and maybe even my least favorites…but I think I’ll save that for another post.

I’ve attached the Excel file with the master list, and with secondary lists breaking down the master list by topic, first letter of title, and year read. Download it and have a look, if you’d like: Books I’ve Read.

Now that I’m done reading, I think I’ll take up a new hobby. Maybe needlework.

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Don’t Buy Stuff for My Kids

Okay, everyone, I get it: You want to let my kids know that you love/like/tolerate them, and since it’s Christmas/it’s Easter/it’s Halloween/it’s their birthday/you haven’t seen them in a while/you just won the lottery, you figured you’d buy them a gift.

…And this gift takes on the form of a tangible item. And not a disposable tangible item, like a bag of M&Ms or a bottle of bubbles…no, a permanent, tangible item.

Let me tell you the story of the big ball.

Back in March of 2008, my wife, my son, and I were invited to a mini-party at a local arcade along with some relatives. One family member kindly bought Owen a large bouncy ball. Very large. Like, 18 inches in diameter. This was very kind of her, especially since she hadn’t seen Owen in months, and she knew he liked balls.

But guess what?

Exactly one week later, we were moving out of our house and into an apartment and, unbeknownst to my kindly relative, I had been frantically trying to get rid of stuff in anticipation of moving somewhere with no yard, no garage, and half the square footage. It’s true: I had sold our desk. I sold our dining room table. I gave my brother-in-law several tools. I took a trunkload of clothes to the goodwill. And I even planned to get rid of one large shelf by simply leaving it in the house on the day we exited for the last time. So I told my wife, essentially, that while I appreciated the gesture of the new ball, it simply wasn’t welcome in our new residence. As it took up over one square foot of floor space, I didn’t see how we’d have room for it in our <900 square foot apartment.

So Owen owned that ball for about five days.

And I still feel bad about it.

I’m sentimental. I’m a pack rat. I loathe discarding anything that has any value. And yet, I want to leave a light carbon footprint. Despite having three kids, and a cat, I honestly don’t want a five bedroom house on five acres with a built-in pool and three-car garage that some Americans clearly think is necessary.

So, please, don’t add to the stuff we have in our cozy, charming (“cozy” and “charming” are nice ways of saying “a little smaller than is ideal”) home.

Let me tell you some stuff about our kids…

Owen owns board games that he has never played. He and Isla both have coloring books that they’ve never touched. And they have so many crayons that I could take one away from them every day for a year…and at the end of the year they’d still have more crayons than they could use.

Isla has so many pieces of sidewalk chalk that when she leaves them outside, I don’t put them away. I let them get rained on until they are reduced to a pile of crusty ashes that get washed away by the rain.

Isla also has a lot of dolls. Not as in one-doll-for-every-crayon lot of dolls, but still, a lot of dolls. And I feel like every new doll diminishes the specialness of her existing dolls. When she only had two or three, that was cute – like those were her dolls and she’d keep them through the years. But now there are so many…I don’t even know where they all came from, and with each one, she simply plays with the others that much less.

And while I’m a big fan of books, I’ve repeatedly had to remove duplicates and undesirable texts from their shelves. When Owen was a wee tot, he had three shelves, each about a foot wide, filled with books. Now he has five such shelves. His sister has a 2-foot wide shelf in her room, and in the play room, there are three more feet of book shelves.

The kids have so many dress-up clothes that the bin we keep them in is bulging at the seems. We keep a suitcase of additional dress-up clothes out on our porch. The porch, meanwhile, has become a tertiary closet for their spare toys, and I barely have enough room to step into the porch to retrieve the mail.

And here’s the biggest problem: While Owen doesn’t need any more toys, Isla and Emmett most assuredly don’t need any more toys because they are already receiving the hand-me-downs from their older sibling(s). And don’t tell me that they need their own stuff, because I can assure you that Isla has no qualms – doesn’t even think twice – about playing with toys that were once the sole property of her older brother. Emmett, meanwhile, appears to show no disdain for rattles that were not just removed from their blister packaging within the last day.

Here, maybe some images will help drive the point home. Oh, and before you look at any of these, keep in mind that none of these photos are from their bedrooms, the garage, the yard, the attic, or the aforementioned porch (all of which house copious toys):

Basement 1Let’s start in the basement. Here are two bins – each two feet in diameter – that are filled with toys. There’s just no place else to put these toys.

Basement 2But if I zoom out a little, you can see the bins themselves are insufficient for our surplus-storage area. Look: There’s a box filled with more toys. And a rocking horse. And a bag filled with some Star Wars toy Owen played with for about 10 days. And a foosball table. Yeah, I know, it’s completely shocking that we don’t have another place in the house to store a toy that takes up 6-freakin’-square feet of space…but there you have it. I won’t even show you the large robots, push-cart, or sit-n-spin thing that also take up too much room down in the basement. Just trust me…they’re there.

Toy PileHere’s a toy bin in the kids’ toy room. What’s that, you say? You can’t see the bin? Oh, it’s there – see it? – on the bottom, under an avalanche of toys. The mountain of toys here is so high, that it nearly blocks the mirror hanging on the wall that the kids are supposed to be able to look into when putting on dress-up clothes. When I’ve asked Isla what we should do about it, she suggested raising the mirror.

Art Cabinet

This dining room cabinet is home to our kids’ art supplies.

Art Cabinet 2…Except, if I back up just a little, you’ll see the supplies have now spilled over into the adjacent cabinet.

FrozenAnd here is their DVD cabinet. There are a lot of great movies on this shelf (and Frozen is on there, too), but it’s overflowing. There used to be just two stacks, but now there are four. Those DVDs on the bottom are precariously sitting on the very edge; they often fall when we open the cabinet. Oh – and this isn’t all the DVDs, there’s also a three-ring binder with pages of more DVDs.

Emmett's Toy BinAnd not to be outdone by his older siblings, here’s Emmett’s basket of toys. Notice the basket is filled to overflow; there are even baby toys sitting next to the basket.

Emmett's Drawer…in fact, it’s overflowing so much, that we have to store some of his toys in a drawer in the dining room. This photo shows the drawer open only about halfway, as it is so full the toys block the drawer from opening any farther.

So what to do about all this? Part of me just wants to tell people to just buy my kids experiences (like tickets to a museum) or clothes, but if my kids are anything like me (and I think they are), then I’m sure when they receive tickets to a museum or clothes, they probably just think, “great, this is something my parents would get me anyway.” And they’re right: if no one buys my kids socks, I’ll definitely be sure to buy some for them. And I know that part of the fun of giving kids gifts is seeing their reaction, so buying an experience just leads to delayed reactions. And buying them nothing offers no reaction at all.

So, no, I don’t have a solution. I’m just here drowning in stuff.

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Three Years Here

This week marks the 3-year mark in our current residence. As I’ve done semi-annually since we moved in, I will hereby provide an update on improvements we made to our home in the past six months.

By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the blog post detailing what we did during the six months prior to these most recent six months.




-Refinished the floor.


Yeah, I’m a little sad about this, but we really didn’t make any improvements in her room during the past six months. But we came really close. For one thing, I obught the quarter-round needed to complete the trim. I painted it, too. But at the moment, it’s still sitting in the garage, so I can’t really count this as an improvement yet. Isla’s room still lacks a doorknob, too. I took in the original doorknob to have it refurbished. So…any day now her room will have a doorknob, but right now nothing.


-Replaced smoke alarm


-Installed face cloth holder.


-Replaced one miniblind with honeycomb blind.


-Replaced smoke alarm

-Replaced three miniblinds with honeycomb blinds.

Okay, if you’ve been to my house, you might know that we have four windows in our living room, so admittedly, it’s kind of weird that I only replaced three of the four. But here’s how that happened:

First, I accidentally broke one of the crappy old miniblinds about two weeks before Emmett was due to tbe born. So, for a few days, we had no treatment on that window. Jennifer said something like, “I don’t want to be giving birth in the living room with the window wide open like this,” so I went to the store and purchased the style of honeycomb blind we now have.

Second, a couple of month later, Menard’s was having a sale on window treatments, so I stopped in to buy the other three. But they only had two. So that’s that.


















-Removed gazebo.

Yep, the big thing is finally gone. Now I only own two buildings instead of three.

-Removed the lower portion of our deck.

-Installed planter against deck.

Okay here’s what it looked like in mid-June with the Gazebo and half the deck gone:

Planter 1

Notice how it’s just one big muddy area, the planter I used to have abutted to the lower deck is now dismantled, and the remaining deck is being propped up by retaining wall bricks.

Here we are a couple of weeks later:

Planter 2

Now the deck is being held up properly, with treated-wood beams. I’ve also leveled the ground in front of the deck somewhat and I began installing treated planks on the right side of the deck. This was to form the back side of the planter.

Planter 3

Now you see the planter is starting to take shape. All the planks are installed, and here you can see I am installing the first level of bricks. It’s important to tamp down the ground before placing the bricks in place. No need to waste money on a fancy tamper when there’s a perfectly good 3-and-a-half year old available.

Planter 4
Here’s a close-up of the planks. Notice Isla figured they made a good canvas and penciled in some artwork and her name.

Planter 5Here’s some more progress. Now you can see two rows of bricks are in place, and the third row has begun. Meanwhile, Isla supervises. 

Planter 6

Here’s the finished project. Six rows of bricks. Lanscaping fabric installed, and then a thick layer of mulch.

-Weeded, installed landscaping fabric and mulch to one planter on south side of house.

-Installed brick walkway leading from workshop to driveway.

-Weeded behind garage, installed landscaping fabric, retaining beams, and rocks.

This was a big job, but it was also a lot of fun. Owen and I went behind the garage one morning and hacked, pulled, and hedge-trimmed our way through. Some of the weeds were taller than me, and the resulting brush filled five large yard bags. I forgot to take a before photo, but here’s an after…

Behind Garage

Owen enjoys the fact that he can now cut through this way on his way to his friends’ houses.



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Naming the Baby, Legally

After much back-and-forth between my wife and me, it appears we have finally settled on a name for Emmett. And…drum roll, please…it’s the exact same name we gave him the night he was born.

At the moment, his name isn’t legally registered anywhere. Sure, we’ve blogged about his name, and my medical insurance provider even sent us an “official” wallet card with his name on it. But he doesn’t have a birth certificate yet. There’s no rush, really. I don’t really need to “prove” that he exists until early next year, when it’s income tax time and Emmett becomes yet another of Daddy’s Little Tax Write-Offs. Until then, well, who cares whether the government knows he exists or not? It’s probably better that they don’t know he exists, actually, becuase then there’s less chance that they’ll draft him into a war for liberty oil.

Our first child, Owen, was born at a hospital, and one of the staff members there took care of the birth certificate paperwork. She simply asked me what his name was going to be. I spelled it for her, and then she completed all the other paperwork.

Kid number two, however, was born at home. I asked one of the midwifes if she took care of the birth certificate stuff, and she said something like, “I can, if you’d like me to, or you can just call the county at 651-blah blah blah, and they’ll send you the papers to fill out.” I’m such a nerd that I actually thought it would be fun to fill out the papers, so I called and got them myself. I planned to blog about the paperwork, but I forgot. Luckily, unprotected sex has granted me another opportunity!

I received nine pages from the Minnesota Department of Health. Some of the papers provide the instructions, one is for entering the birth certificate information, another two are for creating a birth record, another is a birth attendant’s affidavit, and two are for ordering my own copy/copies of the certificate.

One of the instruction sheets stipulates that “You may give your baby any name you choose,” and it even points out that you can bestow the new bundle of joy with mom’s last name, dad’s last name, a combination of the two, or something completely different. So we could name our baby Emmett Skywalker if we wanted to. But thankfully, a family-wide poll yielded only a single vote in favor of this option.

The instructions then clarify that, really, you can’t give the baby any name you want. First, you are limited to 50 characters per name. So Emmett-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is perfectly acceptable, but Emmett-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-antidisestablishmentarianism? I’m sorry, but that’s going too far.

Also, parents are limited in the characters they use. All 26 letters of the alphabet are acceptable, but you can’t use numbers. This is why we aren’t going with “Emm3tt”. You can’t use accented characters, either, so you can’t name your kid Øwen, and certainly not Çéñö! I think this is a bit weird, I know people with such diacritics in their name, and I wonder if those are really on their birth certificate or not…? The instructions are quick to point out that “names can be pronounced as wished,” so we could spell it “Guflerken-werken” and then just pronounce it “Emmett.” This harkens back to my original idea before we had kids, when I proposed that, whatever name we choose, we just slap a silent J at the beginning so that we all have names that start with the same letter. Thus, we’d have Jowen, Jisla, and Jemmett.

The only punctuation you can use in a name are the apostrophe and the hyphen. So, while Emmett! is a clear violation of state law, E’m-m-e-t’t is perfectly fine.

The instructions also call for only a first, middle, and last. But, again, with a 50 character limit, you’re free to saddle a child a big clusterfuck of a name (like the British royal family sometimes does), as long as you don’t tip to 50-letter scale. So, Emmett Bo Bemmett Banana Fannah Fo Femmett would be totally fine for a first name. The middle name, obviously, would then proceed with Fe Fi Fo Memmett – Emmett.

Another interesting sheet calls for the baby’s race/ethnicity. This form makes it easy for white folk, because “white” is listed first. And if you check white, that’s all you need to check…they don’t ask any further questions, like if we’re Italian, or Swedish, or French, or whatever else counts as white these days.

Other ethnicities require a bit more teasing out. For example, if you check “Asian,” they next want to know which subcatergory you belong to. They provide a few boxes, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hmong, and Vietnamese, but then they have a box that says “Other” and a blank line asking you to specify. I wonder if the person who created this form just listed off all the Asians he could think of and then just made an “other” box when he got stuck. Same thing for Black – there are subcatergories for Somali, Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Nigerian. But appearantly Ugandans, Tanzanians, Rwandans, and Gabonese are just gonna have to break down and write out their ethnicity.

Either way, no problems here!

There’s another page that requests “Characteristics of Labor,” and there’s – no kidding – a box that says “none.” I checked that one, because clearly my wife’s labor had no characteristics.

Then there’s a page that says “Place of this birth,” and gives the options of hospital, mother’s residence, or other. What’s funny about this, though, is that the next page says that “the hospital will print a verification copy of the birth record for you to review and make corrections.” Really? It will? Which hospital? And will it really be the hospital, or someone who works there? And does this apply even if the baby was born at “mother’s residence”? or “other”? Should I wait until a hospital prints this verification form? And why can’t I just review the original form itself, since it’s right here in my hands?

Anyway…I’m off to get this thing notarized.

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Three Books, Two-and-two-twelfths Recommendations

In the past couple of weeks, I have finished reading three books. Let me tell you about them…

The first one I completed was Earth: The Operator’s Manual, by Richard Alley. This book discusses the history of humans’ energy harnessing and consumption as well as the resultant climate change. That’s what got me into the book, at least. But the book really pulled me in with the first few chapters, which aaaaaaexplains how humans evolved along with the consumption of fuel. In fact, one idea that I ofund fascinating was that, by cooking our food (which requires releasing greenhouse gases), our ancestors’ bodies required less energy to digest their food. Alley points out that other mammals use a huge portion of their bodies’ energy just to digest food. But since we cook most of ours, the hard part is done before it even enters our mouths. This frees us up to expend our calories on other things…like thinking.

Throughout the book, Alley notes how our use of power has been a good thing. And when it has turned sinister, such as when we almost depleted all of our trees when we primarily burned wood for fuel, we turned to alternative energies, such as oil.

Alley actually paints a very positive picture of humanity’s future, despite his air-tight and easily understandable case that humans are causing global climate change. Alley cites as an example the story of how residents in Edinborough used to just dump their waste out onto the street. In fact, the city smelled so bad that people were forced to burn paper to cover up the smell of feces in their homes and taverns. Eventually, people decided they needed to change the way they did “business” in order to make their town a better place. We can do the same today – a lot easier than I though possible.

Alley’s book was so good that I was not too interested in starting the next book on my shelf, Timothy Ferris’ The Science of Liberty. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book: was it a political book? A history book? Did it mostly talk about science, or democracy? The answer was yes.

the-science-of-liberty[1]In this sweeping book, Ferris covers so much about science and history that I often had to reread paragraphs just because I wanted to make sure I got everything out of his words. Ferris discusses how the rise of Enlightenment values (such as liberty, equality, and democracy) gave way to a flourishing of science, and how that was only possible in such civilizations. Ferris talks about the close interplay of science with Enlighenment individuals, such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. Ferris also delves into the inevitable questions that arise with such a topic. For example: If science only flourishes in democracies, why did Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Chinese mainland dominate scientific achievements for a while? And, What so special about science – isn’t it true that there are many ways of “knowing” and scientific findings are only the result of the (usually white men) who uncover them?

Harris also explores the difference between economic freedom (such as China has) and personal freedom (such as China does not have). He draws in interesting diagram of how to think about various political ideologies – it’s not a line between conservative and liberal, he says (by the way, this made a lot of sense to me; the idea that there’s more a “diamond” including progressive and totalitarian ideologies). He points out how the nation with the greatest amounts of liberty have led the way in scientific triumphs and in quality of living – starting first in the Italian city-states, moving on to the Netherlands, then to England and France (well, on-and-off in France), Scandinavia, the United States, and finally, all over. Harris talks candidly about the flaws and failings of some scientists, the stupidity of applying post-modernism to science, the enormous stupidity of North Korea, and how, in the end, liberal democracies win the day. And by “liberal,” by the way, he doesn’t necessarily mean “Democrat Party,” he means, “allowing personal freedoms.” This was an awesome, comprehensive tome. I checked it out from the library, but I’d like to own a copy.

The third book I finished recently was one that I’ve been reading to Owen. It’s a compilation of short stories and, I kid you not, the title is Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out. This insanely titled book (which now sets a new record for me for longest-titled book I’ve ever read) begins with an introduction by Lemony Snicket and then twelve short stories and a crossword puzzle. Noisy

And here’s the funny thing: over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about a very good book that just happened to suffer from a very bad introduction. Click here to read that post. But here, I finally found the opposite: this less-than-mediocre book has quite possibly the best introduction I have ever read. Owen didn’t even want to read it, he wanted to skip it and get right to the first story. But I told him we should give it a try, even though introduction are often boring. Turns out, Snicket’s intro was so hilarious, I had to stop reading several times to wipe away the tears of laughter. Owen even copied down some of the intro to bring to school and share with his friends. And, for days afterward, Owen I were quoting from it, to hilarious effect. For example, when he came home from school the next day, I asked him if he disocvered any talking paper weights (okay, you had to be there).

The gist of Snicket’s top-notch intro is to inform the reader that, while there are many tedious stories out there, the stuff that follows in this book is nothing of the sort. But there’s where the book faltered.

The frist two short stories, though not outstanding, were certainly not tedious. Owen and I enjoyed both “A Small Country” and “Lars Farf.” Meanwhile, “Each Sold Separately” (which consists almost entirely of advertising slogans) was too forced and went right over Owen’s head (he was born long after most of these ad campaigns were retired), and “Spoony-E” was a pointless graphic comic wherein to friends decided to fight some bad guys, then engage in said fight. That’s all. There’s nothing to it, and the only thing that saved both it and “Each Sold Separately” from being tedious was their short length.

The same can’t be said for some of the other stories, unfortunately. “Monster,” “Sunbird” (written by Neil Gaiman, whose book American Gods I quit midway through due to its excessive tediousness), and “Grimble” all exemplify tedious. “Grimble,” in fact, is the worst story in the book. A boy is left at home unexpectedly while his parents venture to Peru. They leave him notes around the house, and he finds them and goes about his week. Each day of hte week is accounted for, complete with the contents and preparations for each meal – precisely the kind of tediousness Snicket lampooned in the introduction. Owen and I considered abandoning all three stories (and a couple others) out of sheer boredom, but pushed through for completists’ sake. The book’s title also promised a “story we couldn’t quite finish, so maybe you oculd help us out,” but I saw nothing of the kind. Presumably it was an initial marketing contest that has since expired, which renders the title partially incorrect. Oh – I shold mention that my favorite story was “The ACES Phone.” This poiniant tale of a cell phone that guides humans to dogs in distress was well-written and fun to read. I am considering adding it to my very short short story story collection. I recommend it.”The Contests of Cowlick” was decent as well.

Bottom lines:

Earth: The Operator’s Manual – A

The Science of Liberty – A

Noisy Outlaws – C (but read the introduction and “The ACES Phone”)


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