Category Archives: Books

Shout-out to Mrs. Pung!

As you might have guessed by now, I’m a bit of a writer. However, this is not something I just picked up out of the blue. I’ve been writing for years, a fact I was reminded of recently by my third grade teacher, Mrs. Pung. On a recent trip home to Minnesota, my mom told me she’d had lunch with Mrs. Pung not long ago, and Mrs. Pung had given her a copy of a book I wrote…in the second grade. 30 pages long, with illustrations, about a girl who has AIDS that goes inside her body to cure her illness.  What do you know? I was a sci-fi fan even then.

Now, I remember how I got the idea for the story (a combination of the Magic School Bus and running around the play palace at Discovery Zone), and I remember writing the book, but I had completely forgotten that I had given a copy to anyone. As if saving it wasn’t amazing enough, my mom told me that Mrs. Pung has been using it as a teaching aid in her classes. That’s since 1993. Almost 20 years ago. I’m truly astonished and very flattered.

So, in honor of Mrs. Pung, and so all of you can enjoy the silliness of my second-grade self, here it is: The Cure to AIDS. Thanks Mrs. Pung!

Also, note the fact that, though twenty years have passed, my illustration style hasn’t improved in the slightest. If anything, it’s gotten worse 🙂

The Joy of Hatemas

Personally, I LOOOOOVE the holidays (all five Os of it). Sit me down in the middle of a mall with a cup of coffee and an IPod full of yuletide tunes and I’m in heaven. However, I know that many people don’t share my love of the crazy Christmas season. For some, it’s the most woeful time of the year. Especially if everyone around them is walking around in a candy cane scented cloud of good cheer.

But never fear, my grinchy friends! I’ve got a list of angry, explosions-and-anger fueled diversions that are still holiday-appropriate. Add them to your holiday arsenal and whip them out when your elfy-type friends and loved ones (such as yours truly) gambol in your general direction with a glass of wassail and a brightly sugared snowman cookie and chirp, “Let’s do something CHRISTMASSY!”

Note: If the above image just sent shivers of disgust down your spine and made you want to hurl glass ornaments against your garage door, then you’re definitely in the right place.

MOVIES
The Ref (1994)

Denis Leary plays a cat burglar who gets trapped in a sleep Connecticut town after a botched Christmas Eve robbery. With the police closing in, he takes a middle-aged couple with marital problems (Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis) as hostages. But as their bickering and bitching continues regardless of the life-threatening situation, you start to wonder who the real victim is, especially once the rest of the family shows up for Christmas dinner. Also starring Christine Baranski and Glynis Johns.

 

 

 

 

 

This is probably the most blatantly Christmas-themed of the films I offer to you, but with Leary’s snide comments (not to mention filthy mouth), the fact that it’s Christmas only makes the bitterness that much richer and more enjoyable, not to mention frickin’ hilarious.

Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis stars as the iconic John McClane, a New York City cop on vacation in LA as he tries to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter. However, the Christmas party at his wife’ company is hijacked by a group of terrorists (or so it seems…) led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). With all the employees taken as hostages, it’s up to John McClane to save Christmas…er, I mean, everyone’s lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, do you really need any more reason to watch this movie? It’s a classic, holiday or otherwise, and if you haven’t see it yet–for shame!

Psycho (1960)

A secretary (Vivien Leigh) hopes to gain a better life by stealing a large sum of money from her employer and leaving town. On her way to her long time and somewhat illicit lover, she stops for the night at the Bates Motel, run by unassuming hotelier Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Hilarity ensues!

And by hilarity, I mean murder, cover-up, investigation, more murder, and so on.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s weird but true–Psycho is technically a Christmas movie! Maybe the best kind of Christmas movie for some of you, as no one learns a valuable lesson and there is not a flake of snow to be found (it’s primarily set in Phoenix, after all). The slate at the beginning of the film puts the first day of the story in the beginning of December, and if you look carefully during a few scenes, you can spy Christmas decorations. Take that, girlfriend-looking-to-cuddle-up-with-a-heartwarming-Christmas-tale! No Rudolph for you this year!

BOOK
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

This collection of six short stories depict a darker, more unusual side of the holiday season. The range in form, from straight narrative, to a holiday play review, to one of those family update Christmas letters you might receive with a picture of a smiling family. My favorite is “Dinah, the Christmas Whore”, mostly because it’s based on a real life occurrence (at least, it’s written to make you believe it is). It’s also the most sentimental story in the bunch, so if you’re looking for something harder, I would suggest “Christmas Means Giving,” which is a beautiful, biting piece of satire on consumption and one-upsmanship.

 

 

 

Holidays on Ice a small book, only 134 pages and about half the size of a standard paperback, but if I had to do it over again I would buy the audio version, read by Sederis himself. The stories are written as if they should read aloud anyway–more specifically, read aloud with Sedaris’s endearing deadpan delivery.

Besides, reading is a solitary activity, and holiday resentment just isn’t the same if you can’t share it with the people you love via audio transmission.

GAME
Angry Birds Seasons

You play as a group of birds (or a murder of crow…birds…if you want to be excessively irate and don’t mind pushing definitions just a bit). Several green pigs stole your eggs and hid them being a series of rickety structures and ill-placed rocks. Retrieve them by hurling your feathery squadron at the questionable strongholds.

The Holiday version of Angry Birds (entitled “Seasons Greedings,” in case you weren’t sufficiently irritated yet) functions like a 25 Days of Christmas calendar, with 25 levels for you to play as you count down to Christmas Day and the end of your torment. Play one level a day for extended catharsis, or play all at once to really blow off some steam.

As a nice bonus, if you acquire Angry Birds Seasons to expunge your Christmas rage, you will also have access to other holiday editions as well, such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Just in case your hatred is the kind of gift that gives regardless of the season.

Merry Hatemas, Every One!

Most Unusual Comic-Based Diversion Ever

Ever wondered how you’re going to die? Well, get ready to…think about it now.

Machine of Death: A Collection of  Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die
Publication Date: October 13th 2010
Genre: Short Stories–Science Fiction
Page Count: roughly 300
Purchase Price: $18
Available At: machineofdeath.net

For all of my fellow sci-fi nerds out there, this is the kind of book you wish you had thought of first. The inspiration came from Ryan North via a T-Rex (North is the author of the web-based Dinosaur Comics). The premise is simple: what if there was a machine that told you how you were going to die? It doesn’t give you any details, it just prints out one word or phrase, like HEART ATTACK or CANCER or SPAGHETTI, and that’s it.

As you can probably guess, the opportunity for irony is huge. For example, if you get PLANE CRASH, you can stop flying for the rest of your life, but then one day a plane crashes into your house.  Check and mate, Life.

You’re already thinking about possible scenarios, aren’t you? A lot of people did. The reader response was so great that North and his collaborators Matthew Bennardo and David Malki ! (not a typo) began taking story submissions. Hence–book.

The stories are written by people with all levels of experience, but I didn’t catch a single one lying down on the job. Granted, there were some I liked better than others based on content or style, but I could tell that each one was written in a fit of inspiration and excitement, even the depressing ones. This passion, combined with a decent job of  post-fervor editing, makes the final product exciting, interesting, and often very moving.

Even though all the stories are well worth your time, my defining factor of great science fiction is whether or not I’m haunted by it, constantly returning to the story in my mind and discovering new things long after I finished the book. This effect is best acheived when the story is both ironically humorous and ominously creepy. Based on this criteria, my personal favorites are “Torn Apart and Devoured By Lions,” “Vegetables,” and “Loss of Blood.”  “Lions” fits the humorous/creepy criteria perfectly, while the others fall more exclusively into the creepy zone.

Also, “HIV from Needle of Machine of Death” is so clever I can’t not give it honorable mention. And I do keep thinking about it, so in a way it’s haunting too. It’s a friendly ghost I guess.

This book is not just a collection of stories about people dying in tragic or ironic ways. It’s about how people (individuals and society both) live and survive under the weight of this knowledge. For a book with such silly origins, it throws the context of our existence into surprisingly sharp relief. Death is inevitable. You can welcome that fact or chose to ignore it, but it’s gonna be there no matter which path you chose. Yes, it’s a downer, but it’s also a reason to relax. If the destination is  the same regardless, you should make extra sure you appreciate the journey. And that includes your manner of death. It is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.