Posted by Brother Bob on 26 August, 2019 at 4:52 pm. 4 comments already!


I know, writers are supposed to give you their suggested summer reading lists early in the summer to give you ideas for what to read on your vacation. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for that, so now I’m finally sending you some thoughts on the books I read while the Family Bob vacationed in the Pacific Northwest back in July

Ready Player One

When I first saw promos for the movie Ready Player One (RPO), the concept looked fun – a virtual reality world founded in 80s pop culture, seemingly focusing on the music and video games. Sounds good! We waited for the movie to come to DVD to watch it, and I’m glad we did. With so many terrible reviews we had managed our expectations to be disappointed in the film. Amazingly, we enjoyed most of the movie, and when the movie fell apart in the last 15 minutes, with an ending that seemed like it was written by a twelve year old, we knew what was coming. Decent film, and what I call the “worth watching once” movie – when it’s over you have no desire to watch it again, but you don’t get that post-Russel Brand film feeling of “Wow – my life is now 90 minutes shorter.” That was the case with this movie, but then I read the book. And I wanted to watch the movie again, but not for a good reason.

A few months ago I was chatting with one of the other parents at a birthday party where Little Bob was roaming, and the subject of the movie came up. This guy informed me that it was based on a book, and that the book was way better, with tons of differences. For example, instead of the first challenge involving some video auto race it actually involved a Dungeons and Dragons reference. Holy crud; in terms of piquing my interest, my buddy just rolled a 20 on 3d6 + 2! So of course I put the book on reserve at the library and read it on vacation. And wow, what a difference!

I’m going to throw in some minor spoilers here, but hopefully nothing that ruins the reader experience. If you want to read the book and be completely surprised (save for the D&D reference), skip to the next section until you’ve had a chance to read, but like I said the spoilers are minor. I’ll just leave you at this point with that knowing the book will make you hate the movie.

First off, I’m not going to give an in depth review. Finding a good review was surprisingly difficult, though. As I had to go through several pages of DuckDuckGo searches to get past all of The Mary Sue and Vox-esque reviews that lecture us that the book was horrible too (for all of the usual SJW whiny reasons). I finally found a good review from Ars Techinca’s Sam Machkovech that breaks down how the movie sucked out everything that was great from the movie. The characters, and more importantly, how they bond are changed in just subtle enough ways to kill the development and believability of their alliance. Settings are changed. The master plan executed at the end to win the game is also modified significantly. Another element I liked about the book was the consistency of its pop culture selections – it pretty much stuck with video games, as well as music and shows/movies that would appear to geeks, as opposed to the stuff the cool kids would have experienced in that era. There are no references to sports. The movie references ignore horror, sports, or action. Instead of Stallone, Arnold, Gibson, or Willis, we get Ferris and Holy Grail. The music avoids rap and (with a few small exceptions), heavy metal. There’s also some pretty significant Rush referencing (the band, not Limbaugh!) in the book.

After reading the book I wanted to watch the movie again, just to better understand how it ruined the book. To wrap this up, it did; the movie is as terrible as the book is great, and let’s all hope that someday somebody makes an actual movie adaptation of the book, as opposed to what Hollywood gave us.

The Falling Torch

When I’m on vacation I also like to read random sci-fi books that I’d never normally pick up. An easy way to do this has always been to grab one of the Star Wars books. Most of them are extremely mediocre (which of course, means infinitely better than Episodes VII or VII), and once in a while you find a great one, such as Matt Stover’s “Shatterpoint”, that does a great job of fleshing out Samuel Jackson’s Mace Windu character that the prequels so miserably failed to do.

Anyway, a trip to Portland’s famous Powell’s Used Books gave the perfect opportunity. We got there around lunch time, and thankfully it was on Friday. The reason I say this is that over the entrance was a sign for upcoming events that proudly announced its Saturday “Drag Queen Story Hour”. I’m just grateful that I didn’t have to sit Little Bob down to answer questions and have to have the way-too-soon conversation explaining to him… negligent parenting. As we were wandering through the store I found exactly what I was looking for – a tall carousel of old school sci-fi paperbacks! After perusing the rack I settled on 1959’s Algis Budry’s book, The Falling Torch. It turned out to be perfect – a not great but good book. Clocking in at 158 pages, it’s also perfect vacation length.

The basic storyline opens with an Earth in exile government many galaxies away talking about returning to Earth to possibly retake the planet from the aliens that had conquered several decades earlier. The now elderly leaders meet in a setting that sounds a lot like 1950s Earth. One surprise (given the book’s short length) was that the first 40 pages of the book were dedicated to this council locked in debate, ending with one council member making idle chit chat with the sitting President’s lackluster young adult son, Michael Wireman. But it set the tone of the book. Fast forward a few years, and Wireman is now part of the advance force that is looking to find some rebels who had never left Earth to join forces. We learn that the Rebels are a pretty rag tag force with some equally unfit leaders. We also learn that the aliens aren’t some green things from outer space, but humanoids who look pretty similar to humans. And life under the Invaders isn’t horrible, but lacks basic freedom. We see Wireman’s transformation as he gets to see both sides up close and makes his decision as to what course of action to take. Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that it doesn’t go down the way you’d expect a story like this to flow. And in the end, it was perfect for vacation reading.

I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself 

The final leg of our trip had us staying with friends in Seattle, and my body’s refusal to adjust to West Coast time on this trip led to some insomnia that resulted in my finishing my two books way earlier than expected. So I looked in my friends’ house for the first book I could find – a book by a comedienne they had recently seen live, Jen Kirkman. Having never heard of her I knew nothing about her – perfect, random light reading to end the trip!

For the most part, the book was a good read. She talks about dating, and more specifically, her divorce. She dated some when she was younger, and got married in her early 30s to a guy who quickly became apparent wasn’t the right guy for her. She didn’t trash her ex-husband though, so much as realize she made a mistake. For that matter, I look back on the woman I was dating in my early 30s who wanted to marry me, and thank God I didn’t. She wasn’t a bad person either, but only visiting this planet. You’d have to know me personally to appreciate the magnitude of this statement, but she’s the one woman who makes me look completely normal by comparison.

Some of the best parts of the book were Kirkman ripping on their marriage counselor, a person she basically described as someone who has a vested financial interest in prolonging unhappy marriages. The rebound fling she haves with a young Hipster also shows some brilliant storytelling. Her Feminist also came out in her writing, and for the most part it worked. She groused about how female comedians get treated differently than men without throwing predictable leftist pabulum (eg: 70 cents on the dollar, etc), but instead giving good anecdotal evidence of what she personally experienced.

Kirkman also complained about people pressuring her to get remarried and having kids, when she’s decided that she absolutely does not want children. I’m 100% behind her on this, as since Little Bob came into my life I’ve rewritten an old commercial slogan from decades ago – “Screw The Peace Corps. Parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Being a dad has been more rewarding than anything else in my life, and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said it hasn’t been challenging. I’m saying this because the last thing I want to see is a kid go through life with a parent who does not want to be a parent. Good on her for being honest with herself and living her life.

She also scorns the dating scene, and a chapter where she gives basically a liveblog of spending her New Year’s Eve alone is the only place where (up to this point what I assumed were) her Leftist politics leaked out. At the end of her NYE she sniffed:

I shut off the TV and let the glow of my Christmas tree light the room. I smile wondering how many angry homophobes are out there tonight watching Anderson Cooper giggle and talk about his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, with Kathy Griffin.

I can answer that question – zero. Only somebody who’s a sphincter muscle would willingly watch CNN on New Year’s Eve. Conservatives (who I’m assuming she’s generalizing as homophobes) spend their New Years’ with their husbands/wives & boy/girlfriends. The single ones are out with their friends. And I can guarantee that unless there’s a paycheck involved, no Conservative spends 12/31 alone writing what reads like a diary entry for an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady.

What I found most interesting is how the book closed, on two very positive notes. You’ll occasionally hear Conservatives say that “Successful Leftists need to preach what they practice”, meaning that they work hard, get married & have families, as opposed to the lives of social isolation and government dependence that they canonize.

First she talks about getting to meet and have a conversation with her idol and role model, Joan Rivers. Both worked their butts off to achieve their success, and Joan offered Jen words of encouragement. And good for her – imagine using hard work and determination instead of cries of victimhood to advance one’s career, heresy among The Radical Left that’s taken over today’s Democratic Party.

Jen was going to close out with her story about Rivers, but she added one last chapter because of a change in her life – she started dating somebody. To make a long story short, she met a guy from overseas who is in the US on a comedy tour. This relationship is destined to be temporary, as given where each of them are in their careers it would be really difficult for either of them to relocate for the other. Ultimately she doesn’t think that the relationship can survive the distance, but for now she’s enjoying having someone in her life. Yep, hard work and working on fulfilling relationships – it’s amazing how living by Conservative principles can improve one’s life!

And for the record, I have no idea what her overall political views are nor do I care. Reading the book cost me nothing, and even if it turns out she’s some Kathy-Griifin-esque hateful America-phobic harpy, I don’t care. I haven’t googled her for any stories about her, nor have I looked for any of her social media feeds. Reading this book was the equivalent of a good summer fling, and I’m glad I did it. Added bonus, it doesn’t burn when I pee afterward! Thank you thank you, I’ll be here all week! Be sure to tip your bartenders and servers!

Boys in the Boat

I have a general rule for vacation reading – I refuse to read anything that might make me smarter or a better human being in any way. Remember that vacation insomnia I mentioned? I anticipated finishing the Kirkman book on the flight home and mailing it back to our friends – the book was autographed so keeping it wasn’t an option. My worst night of sleeplessness happened to hit on my last night, so I managed to finish this book as well. Now I found myself at the airport without anything to read on the flight home. I’d already done my requisite Fantasy Football reading and didn’t feel like doing any blogging, so I needed to buy something at the airport book store. The magazine selection was hot garbage, so I went through the overpriced books, and one caught my eye. A few years ago I was chatting with my brother and uncle and both highly recommended Boys in the Boat.

The book follows The University of Washington rowing team that would go on to participate in the 1936 Olympics, basically starting with the beginning of their journey as the Freshman rowing team at UW. In the telling of the team’s story, the book also gives some great insight into Depression era life and what the Pacific Northwest was like back then. I’ll give one spoiler – the streets weren’t littered with human feces and needles, and the smell of pot wasn’t everywhere.

I can’t give a complete review, as when we got on the plane I was only able to read a bit before the previous week’s lack of sleep caught up and the only mental capacity I had was to play a brainless Bubble Shooter game on my phone. I’m in the middle of reading it now, and I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

So there are four good books of very different flavors depending on your mood. Please drop any good books that you read in the comment section below!

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Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog

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