Okay, okay. Let’s start off with something silly.
It looks like a Dr. Seuss book, right? It even rhymes like a Dr. Seuss book. And it features the cuddliest Old One you’ll ever see. Don’t you want to cuddle with Cthulhu? He looks pensive, though. Like he’s not quite sure who woke him up. Is he supposed to devour mankind? But he’s not hungry yet. It’s much too early in the day for busloads of screaming children. They can give you the worst sort of indigestion.
But yes, this is H. P. Lovecraft’s seminal The Call of Cthulhu, marvelously and giddily drawn and reworked by R. J. Ivankovic as a Dr. Seuss book. And yeah, we spent a good part of last week telling adorable little moppets that it a) doesn’t end well for mankind, and b) it will drive them insane. It was confusing. All they wanted was a book about unicorns . . .
Just imagine where Theodore Geisel’s career might have gone if instead of falling into a fugue state from the rhythmic chug-a-chug of a steamship’s engine and writing And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, he had, instead, spent all of that passage back from Europe staring out at the endless expanse of water and mulling over the futility of human existence. We’d have ended up with the Arthur Gordon’s Existential Ennui (The Centennial Edition, of course).
[Ed. note: Some of these jokes are for Mark. It’s best to nod along like you knew that Lovecraft riffed on Poe, who wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, which came out in 1838, which was just about a hundred years before Dr. Seuss’s first kids’ book, And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, came out.]
Anyway, slightly less depressing and more earnestly insightful is Brian Rea’s Death Wins a Goldfish. Death is a bit of a workaholic, and eventually HR tells him he has to take some of those banked vacation days or he’s going to lose them. Grudgingly, Death takes some time off, whereupon he quickly discovers that he’s not very good at relaxing. “I should try to grow as a person,” he tells himself, “Find some hobbies. Maybe get a dog . . . ?”
Rea’s artwork renders Death’s journey of self-discovery as a marvelous testament to trying new things and meeting new people. It’s obviously not meant to be taken seriously, but underneath the lemon meringue pastels and coral and peach jewel tones is a surprisingly heartfelt exploration of the value of living life by, uh, living.
And speaking of surprising narratives, Mark Miodownik would like to take you on an adventure with liquid. We do, after all, live on a blue marble the surface of which is 70% water. In Liquid Rules, Miodownik explores the myriads of ways in which liquids have been instrumental in shaping the course of human history. From tea to ink to whatever it is that makes air conditioning work, Miodownik examines the history and the science with a delightfully engaging narrative voice.
And speaking of engaging voices, Rachel Hollis is back with Girl, Stop Apologizing. Hollis exploded last year with Girl, Wash Your Face, a phenomenal rallying cry for women to claim their own narratives. Now, with Girl, Stop Apologizing, Hollis wants us all to, well, stop apologizing. Own our passions. Delight in our dreams. Forge new paths because we want them. Amen.
And speaking overcoming obstacles, how can Tiny T. Rex give his friend Pointy a hug when he has such little arms? Well, the answer isn’t practice or math or cucumber juice, but rather persistence and a big heart. With Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck have made one of those timeless kids’ books that will make you go ‘aw’ and then complain about dust in the air.
And speaking of enjoyable reads, Elizabeth Bear returns to space opera this week with Ancestral Night. Okay, bear with us a second. So, we have a scrappy crew of space scavengers, one of whom gets infected with a “not-quite-parasitic alien device” that gives her insight into how the universe works. Naturally, the interstellar government (the Synarche) wants her, as do many space pirates, represented by the quintessentially good-looking and yet utterly ruthless Captain Farweather. Fleeing for their lives, our scrappy band discovers a giant alien space ship hidden at the bottom of a black hole at the center of the universe.
You got all that? Because the next line in the marketing copy is our favorite bit. “At that point, things get complicated.” We could probably point to M. John Harrison and Iain M. Banks as comparables, but at this point in her career, we’re going to just say: “It’s an Elizabeth Bear novel; it’s never going to go where you think it will.”
And speaking of thrilling rides, Peter Heller’s The River is ostensibly a coming-of-age / evocation of wilderness novel, but things spiral out of control rather quickly. Wynn and Jack are two college buddies who head north during summer vacation to do some rafting in Canada, and what starts as a idyllic trip through some marvelous country turns into something else entirely when the lads are threatened by both plunging temperatures and an out-of-control wildfire. Throw in a bit of unpredictable human element, and presto! A gripping thriller that you’re going to stay up all night to finish.
And speaking of gripping thrillers, out this week is the first volume of Chelsea Cain’s and Kate Niemczyk’s Man-Eaters, a graphic novel about flesh-eating wild monsters, meaning twelve-year old adolescent girls. Now, Maude might not be a monster, but she isn’t sure, and when her dad (who is a local detective) gets caught up in an investigation about some strange attacks, Maude goes all Nancy Drew Girl Detective and Kolchak the Night Stalker on the case.
Lisa See is back this week with The Island of Sea Women, which is set on the Korean island of Jeju, where women are tasked with diving and providing for their families. These women, who are known as haenyeo, are part of a long matriarchal legacy that may soon be lost, and See’s novel follows two divers across the bulk of the tumultuous twentieth century. Part cultural anthropology, part gripping historical narrative, The Island of Sea Women is an enthralling and heartbreaking novel that preserves a vibrant cultural heritage.
And speaking of preservation, how are you all doing with the decluttering? Tough, isn’t it? Well, Gretchen Rubin has some ideas. Rubin, who tackled the pursuit of happiness previously with The Happiness Project, is back with Outer Order, Inner Calm. Rubin argues that you don’t have to throw all your stuff away; you merely have to make some order out of it. Because, as she notes, when we have our sh*t together, we tend to have our sh*t together. [Ed note: I’m not sure she puts it quite like that.]
It’s not about fitting who you are into someone else’s box, Rubin argues, it’s about making a box that works for who you are. Right? You may like stuff—some of us do—and getting rid of all that stuff isn’t the path to happiness, it’s the path to soul-crushing anxiety. So, maybe, the trick is figuring out what you want and how to make that structure work for you.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But if we had it all figured out, Rubin wouldn’t have written this book. Ergo, there’s probably something here that might be helpful.
And with that, we’re out for this week. Make some room on your shelves for new books, and then come in and get a few. The weather is turning. You might as well treat yourself.
Overheard At The Store »»
NADIA: Hello, welcome to the bookstore.
QUINCY: Good afternoon. Are you the proprietor of this fine establishment?
NADIA: As much as you’re going to get today. What can I do for you?
QUINCY: My name is Xavier B. Quincy, Esquire. I work for the Lipton Honoraria Foundation, and I have been tasked with some minor taxonomical validation.
NADIA: Have you now? That sounds . . . rewarding.
QUINCY: Oh, it is. It certainly is.
NADIA: Well, I can help you out with that. We’re not interested in buying any of your products.
QUINCY: What? Oh, no, no. I’m not selling anything. I’m merely validating.
QUINCY: Oh, my dear girl, you have the wrong impression. I’m not here to harangue into purchasing a product you and I both know you have no use for. Nor am I here to extort some manner of licensing fee from you in exchange for data integrity or uninterrupted package management. No. No. Nothing so dreary and brutish as that. My job is to investigate linguistic liveliness and modern masticating of the—shall we say—lingua franca of the modern age.
NADIA: Ah, shop-talk, so to speak.
QUINCY: So to speak.
NADIA: And this data that you collect . . . it’s anonymous, right?
QUINCY: Assuredly. I am merely collating data sets and providing statistical analyses.
NADIA: Okay. Yeah, I guess. What questions do you have?
QUINCY: Oh, splendid. Let’s see. Let me find my list. Ah, yes. Here we go. Now, would you qualify a group of baboons as a ‘troop’ for a ‘flange’?
NADIA: A what?
QUINCY: Baboons. Members of the genus Papio. Old World monkeys.
NADIA: No, no. I know what baboons are. Why would you call a group of them a ‘flange’?
QUINCY: I’m sorry. I’m merely collecting usage data. I’m not allowed to comment on the material under consideration.
QUINCY: I can’t offer commentary on the questions. That would influence the dataset. You understand, of course. Without pure data, what do we have?
NADIA: Uh, sure. . . . Can I call a friend? Use a lifeline or whatever?
QUINCY: Oh, absolutely. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to witness testimonial negotiations about linguistic familiarity.
NADIA: Hey, furry bookends! I’ve got a customer with some questions.
PODGE: What? What? Are we doing the quiz from the newspaper again?
HODGE: Oh, yes! How can we be of assistance?
QUINCY: Gracious. What—what are these?
QUINCY: Yes. Yes. I see. I see. Mustelidae. Fascinating.
HODGE: That’s Lutrinae, thank you very much.
QUINCY: Yes, of course. Of course. And you two know something about books?
NADIA: Oh, you have no idea.
QUINCY: Well, this is *harrumph* unusual, but I suppose . . .
NADIA: Hey, boys. Here’s a riddle: what do you call a group baboons? ‘Flange’ or ‘troop’?
PODGE: ‘Cause it’s funnier. Besides apes are a troop.
HODGE: No, no. Apes are a shrewdness.
PODGE: There’s nothing shrewd about a bunch of apes. If any group is a ‘gang,’ it should be apes.
HODGE: No, it’s buffalo that are a ‘gang.’
NADIA: I thought it was a ‘herd’ of buffalo.
PODGE: I’ve heard of buffalo.
QUINCY: Oh, my. Hang on. I need to write—
NADIA: I see what you did there, Podge.
PODGE: I’ve heard of caribou too.
NADIA: It was funny the first—
HODGE: And this is the problem with taxonomies. At some point, there is a failing of imagination.
QUINCY: Yes! Exactly. Oh, I like this one. He understands the crisis of my profession.
HODGE: And what profession is that, good sir?
QUINCY: I work for the Lipton Honoraria Foundation.
HODGE: Oh, impressive!
PODGE: I’ve heard of impalas and kangaroos and walruses too.
NADIA: No, really, Podge, you should—
PODGE: Walrusussessess. So many ’s’s.
QUINCY: I—I’m trying to validate a number of taxonomical representations of animal groupings via statistical analysis of modern-era usage data.
HODGE: Fascinating. So you want to know which of the historical taxonomies are still relevant in this century’s linguistic patois. So to speak.
PODGE: Did you know a group of woodpeckers is a ‘fall’?
NADIA: I did not.
QUINCY: Oh, one moment. I have to make notes. What about—what about cats?
HODGE: There are no cats here.
PODGE: Not in this store.
NADIA: Isn’t that a ‘litter’?
PODGE: Only if they are kittens.
QUINCY: Yes. That is correct.
NADIA: So, bigger cats are called . . . ?
PODGE: It depends.
NADIA: Depends on what?
PODGE: How big they are.
HODGE: And how wild.
QUINCY: Slow down. I have to make notes!
PODGE: Generally, cats gather in a chowder.
HODGE: No, a clowder.
NADIA: That doesn’t make any sense. What is a clowder?
HODGE: A group of cats.
NADIA: No, I—
PODGE: Unless they are wild, in which case they’re a ‘destruction.’
NADIA: Well, uh, okay. Yeah, I guess I agree with that.
QUINCY: Oh, oh. This is so great. Marvelous. Marvelous. Apes. Baboons. Buffalos. Cats. Yes. Yes.
PODGE: Now, if you go bigger, then you’re talking about cheetahs. And that’s a ‘coalition.’
HODGE: No. That’s not correct.
QUINCY: No? What—why not?
HODGE: You cannot gather cheetahs in a group. It’s impossible.
PODGE: They gather all the time!
PODGE: When they’re, uh, coaliding.
HODGE: That is not a thing.
PODGE: It is a thing. “Hey, Buckie. You want to team up on that antelope over there?” “Sure, Spots, that sounds good. You want the head or the tail?” “Tail is fine, Buckie.” See? Coaliding.
HODGE: They don’t work that way.
PODGE: Oh, so now you’re an expert on cheetah social nuances?
HODGE: I am making no such claim. I’m merely pointing out that cheetahs do not work in groups.
PODGE: It’s not a work group. It’s a coalition. That’s why—honestly, do you see what I have to work with?
QUINCY: Ah, yes. And speaking of working together, how do you two refer to yourselves?
NADIA: Oh, they’re an annoyance.
HODGE: Actually—actually, we’re a romp.
PODGE: No, we’re a raft.
HODGE: No, Podge. That’s only when we’re in the water. On land, we’re a romp.
NADIA: See what I mean? Annoyance.