Comfort Reading

Just about everyone in my house has been sick for the last couple of weeks. There's been so much sneezing and coughing going on that I've been waiting for a police citation for disturbing the peace. I find that when we're sick we tend to look for books that are easy to absorb and don't require a lot of soul searching. No Nietzsche, no collected letters of Winston Churchill, no thick scientific tomes about the importance of the disynaptic inhibitory postsynaptic potentials and certainly an absolute minimum of books written by an eighteenth century Russian poet. Instead we tend to gravitate towards books we know and love, or at least books by authors we know and love.

Before we talk about some of those books, lets spend a minute discussing a book that violated some of our stringent comfort requirements; An Incomplete History of the Funerary Violin by Rohan Kriwaczek. Despite its somewhat daunting title this was an interesting and fun read, filled with weird little facts and stories about the practitioners of this lost art. I particularly liked the one about the fellow with the false nose who used it to perform tricks for royalty and the young man who turned out to be a woman. I asked my local library to buy this book but ended up feeling somewhat guilty because it's filed in the nonfiction section, in musical history despite the fact that it is almost certainly a hoax. But what a hoax it is, filled with music and illustrations and tales of the Great Funerary Purge. It's well worth a look.

Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer is a charming little book about a resourceful girl who knows exactly what to do when a nasty fairy tries to scare her off a cliff. She applies the knowledge she gained from listening to stories her father read her and cries out "I don't believe in fairies." After several tries the fairy assaulting her drops dead but unfortunately so do several other fairies, including the tooth fairy and some others who only want to make the world a better place. Clemency knows she needs to do the right thing so she and a hobgoblin set out on a quest to repair the damage she's done. Written by JT Petty, this is a lovely read with a terrific heroine. Don't forget to read the prologue, as it's quite funny. You can read an excerpt here.

I picked up a copy of The Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child the other day. My oldest son had been asking about the tunnels beneath New York City so I got it for him along with Reliquary, which takes place in those very same tunnels. The Relic is a kind of classic horror story where characters are confined to a geographical location while a monster/ghost/serial killer starts picking them off one by one. This book happens to take place in the Museum of Natural History in New York City as an important exhibition is about to be staged. In the best Jaws "there's a shark in the water and you must get the tourists out of here" style there is a race to capture the killer before the exhibition brings in thousands of visitors. Published in 1995 the science (DNA, gene sequencing of the killer/possible creature) is dated, which somehow makes the whole thing that much more endearing. The book was made into a film that did fairly well; you can read a chapter here. (Why is it chapter twenty? I have no idea. Maybe someone thinks that's where the story starts?)

I got a copy of The Absolute Sandman Volume 1 for Christmas. This book is astonishing. It's huge: do you remember how P.G. Wodehouse said one of his anthologies was just the right size to stun a burglar? This book could wipe out an entire platoon of burglars. There's something about the quality of the paper and the binding and the size of the book that makes me feel as though I'm in some magician's study poring through old and forbidden books when I read it. That atmosphere works really nicely for the stories, especially the first issue where there really is an ancient book of power, the Magdalene Grimoire. Never read Sandman and always wished you could? You can download issue number one in pdf format here and keep it forever.

One-Sentence Review

Once again our "one-sentence" review comes from our favorite gossip columnist, Paul Muolo, author of What We're Hearing. He reviews Cat Power - 'The Greatest' (music CD) and says, "Ms. Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) delivers the goods on this folkie-soul LP. Take one part Lucinda Williams, one part Nora Jones and one-part Vodka Martini and you get the idea." Have you got a one-sentence review? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at