Author: Ian

THIS IS A BOOK BY DEMETRI MARTIN (2011)

Demetri Martin’s wordplay-filled humor translates ridiculously well to book form, as this collection of drawings and short humor shows.  His best pieces expose absurd situations with exaggeratedly forthright reactions (a man obsessed with speaking into a megaphone, a Rashomon-esque recount of a bee sting that includes inanimate objects) while the least successful ones run with simple concepts far longer than necessary, such as the list of bugle performances that all include reveille or the protagonists’ hospital where male action heroes get treated for superficial wounds.  Fortunately the hilarious far outweighs the lame, making this book a damned funny read.

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Why I Use a Different Pen When I’m at My Day Job

Those who know me best know that I’ve been using the same blue medium-sized Bic pens since high school, even though Bic redesigned this particular model six or so years ago.  (When I saw that the originals were getting harder to find I bought eight boxes of them from a reseller in South Korea and I’ve been using them ever since.  Don’t ask me what I’m going to do when I run out, because I’m honest to God not sure.)

From a practical standpoint, I prefer writing in blue because it forms a clearer contrast against black printed text, especially when I’m revising a draft by hand.  I also like that the cap on these pens comes off without sticking and that Continue reading »

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1988)

An aging butler in 1950s Britain goes on a road trip and reflects on the glory days of the British aristocracy that turn out to be not so glorious.  This novel works so incredibly because of its narrator, who speaks in a voice that’s both dignified and easy to read, reeking of unreliability and dry humor as he encounters the common folk.  Greater stakes, however, lie in its backstory of what democracy really means and how an entire working class could trade their independence for service to the upper classes—who are prone to more than a few shortcomings.

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Why Setting Your Own Deadlines is So Damned Hard

I think a lot about deadlines, and how they force us to prioritize how we structure our time.

For example, after I moved into my new place the good folks over at Comcast saw fit to send me a bill with a July 27th due date:

 

Also, six pages? Really?

 

There was nothing wrong with this per se, aside from Comcast sending it a week after the July 2nd billing date so neatly printed in the corner, which means that by the time the bill got to me and I finally opened it, I had about a week and a half left before it was due.  Simple, right?
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Election, by Tom Perrotta (1998)

A high school presidential election pits a goody two-shoes overachiever against a clueless jock and his rebellious younger sister, with one teacher viewing the race as a microcosm of who gets ahead in life and why.  Election shows how much these contests seem to matter in the moment but afterwards feel trite—it explores rivalries based on jealousy, social class, love, popularity, and the glory of the spotlight.  The novel’s rapid switches between narrators (often in mid-scene) are among the most effective I’ve ever read, and keep the novel constantly moving.  Read this even if you’ve seen the movie.

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Update: Anti-Email Checking Challenge!

So back in March I wrote about how checking my e-mail too often was getting in the way of my productivity, both by sucking WAY too much time away from other things and by causing a loss of focus that pulled me away from where I was, kind of like Shelly Duvall does to Jack Nicholson in this scene from The Shining.

Losing my focus led to EVEN MORE time lost because losing my focus made my mind cloudier, which not only made it more difficult to work, but also made that same amount of work take longer.  (There’s some other stuff in the post too, but that’s the basic gist.)
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Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

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“I Put in My Headphones and I’m Gone” – One Man’s Perspective on the Day Job Life

A few weeks ago I met a guy who worked in a large corporate office.  I don’t remember his name, and I’ve changed a few biographical details here to protect his anonymity, but I’m writing about him today because he was able to describe his job in one of the most perceptive ways I’d ever heard.

This guy—Mel, I’ll call him—had been working for the same company for ten or so years, and looked to be in his early fifties.  Before that he’d worked in restaurants, owned a business, managed a ski lodge, and even been a private investigator.  Now, though, he had a family, and lived Continue reading »

Sinbad’s Seven Voyages and Other Stories From the Arabian Nights, retold by Gladys Davidson (1974)

Things I learned from reading/rereading these four stories:

  1. In the original tale, Aladdin, far from being a purehearted street rat, is an “idle, careless” boy who through the adventure of the lamp becomes a responsible, skilled adult man.
  2. The forty thieves dismember Ali Baba’s greedy brother into four separate pieces so that the local cobbler has to sew him back together, which is badass.
  3. The Sinbad stories are kind of repetitive, and made me want to watch the Ray Harryhausen films.
  4. Like in all good stories, servant girls are always more clever than their masters.
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Why I Left My Work-From-Home Day Job

For those of you who missed last’s week’s Life Update, I totally got a new Day Job to replace my old Secret Work-From-Home one, so what follows will make way more sense if you check that out first.  (TLDR Version: My new job’s in an office doing a writing/editing-type activity, the conditions make it ideal for keeping up with my novel, this blog, and other creative projects, and to lessen my commute I moved to a new apartment a mere 3.6 miles from the new job.)

Now that we’re all on the same page, some of you might be wondering Continue reading »

The Best of McSweeney’s, Edited by Dave Eggers & Jordan Bass

This 600-page tome from the McSweeney’s journal packs a hard punch—not just because of how much they’ve crammed inside, but because the writing is straight-up good.  There’s a comics section, a play starring three cavemen, an account of a NASCAR weekend by a man who knows nothing about racing, a list of facts about Spokane, Washington, two stories based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks, and a scattering of 20-minute fiction.  Extra points go to the fine design: the dustjacket folds out into a poster and the bonus materials include a box of postcards and colorful booklets.

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