The best thing about commuting on the train to downtown Seattle and back every day is that it leaves me a lot of extra time to read. I can usually get through about a book a week. I have plenty of books to read thanks to my friend Kerry. She has a massive amount of in-store credit at a used book store in Bellingham and she’s not afraid to use it. She gets me books all the time, all I need to do is supply her with a shopping list. Any books I don’t want to keep I’ll give them back to her and she’ll trade ‘em in for even more store credit. It is quite the system.
Here is the low-down on some of the books I’ve read recently. I wrap up each section with an MJV Recommendation. Let me guide you through your book reading journey. I’m also going to wrap up this section with a recommendation. I recommend you follow my recommendations.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Over Memorial Day weekend I had a gig with The Bushwick Book Club Seattle at Northwest Folklife Festival. I had to write a song inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh to perform at the show. It was billed as a kids show and the last thing the Bushwick executive director told me before I went on stage was not to swear. Half way through the first verse of my song I screwed up and said “shit!” I felt pretty bad about it. After the show, fellow Bushwick artist Wes Weddell consoled me. “It’s OK, Mike. It’s not like you’ve never sworn at a kids show before.” Tru dat.
Winnie-the-Pooh is pretty decent read, though I thought it would be better than it was. Each chapter is a separate story. I wish they intertwined a bit more. Winnie-the-Pooh seemed overly narcissistic at times, demanding that stories be told about him (big turnoff). Tigger did not make an appearance (huge bummer), but I’m told he shows up later on in the series. The illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard are awesome, much better than Disney’s crappy version of Pooh (Ha! See what I did there?!).
The story where Pooh, Piglet , Owl and Rabbit develop and execute a plot to kidnap a baby kangaroo in an effort to extort the Kangaroo family to leave the forest is insane! The biggest surprise of the book was that Christopher Robin carried a gun around with him. I don’t think that would fly in children’s books these days. No sir-eee-bob.
MJV Recommendation: Go ahead and read it if you feel like it. Read it to your kids if you have some. Maybe they’ll like it, maybe they won’t, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about kids.
The Running Man by Stephen King
The Running Man my favorite movie of all time. I’ve easily seen it over a hundred times, no joke. I even watched it this past Sunday afternoon, see:
Sunday matinee. It’s time to start running! YESSSSSS! A video posted by Mike Votava (@mikevotava) on
Once I hand carved a stamp of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face as it appears on the The Running Man movie poster and on book cover, see:
The Running Man is also one of my favorite books —definitely top five. I read it at least once a year. It’s always my go to book while waiting for new books to arrive. I’ve owned the same paperback copy since high school. My Mom gave it to me for my birthday one year (Thanks Mom!). It is still in pretty god shape.
There are some similarities between the movie and the book — takes place in the future, a man is running for his life on a television game show, Ben Richards is the name of the main character, at one point in the story an executive offers Ben Richards a job — and that’s about it. The book is a lot less silly and a lot more intense. Stephen King really nailed this one.
MJV Recommendation: Read the book right away! And then go watch the movie! And don’t stop watching the movie until you have seen it a hundred times. Then you can be in my very exclusive The Running Man 100 Club. And then watch the movie some more!
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
First off, the paperback copy that Kerry gave me is gross. It smells bad and it is full of rusty stains. It was almost bad enough for me to not want to read it (or touch it). Eventually I got over the rancid condition and took the book for a spin. Halfway through the cover fell off. I taped it back together. The back cover is currently hanging on by just a thread. I’m leaving it that way on purpose so whoever owns the copy of this book next will get to enjoy a similar experience that I had of taping the book back together. To explain the situation I left a little note on the back inside cover for the next owner. Books are fun!
Player Piano takes place in the future after a third world war. An upper class group of smarty pants engineers built all these fancy machines that can efficiently make high quality stuff without the need of human involvement. This essentially wipes out the country’s regular work force. Anyone who’s not an engineer has to either join the Army, or become janitors, or homeless, or homeless janitors. The situation causes a lot of tension between the engineers and the regular Joes. The main character is an engineer, one of the best if not the best in the country. He starts to question the way society is working and his role in it all, and then all hell breaks loose. Well, not that much hell gets broken loose. The book could have used more of that.
Like a lot of Vonnegut’s writing, Player Piano is riddled with social commentary. One thing is for sure, Kurt Vonnegut really hates robots, God, machines, religion, and war. And I don’t think he is too fond of women either.
My overall impression of Player Piano is I thought it was OK. I may have quit it if I wasn’t already a Vonnegut fan. The writing isn’t nearly as good as it is in his other novels. It took a while to get through, some parts were super boring. It would be better if it were about fifty pages or so shorter.
MJV Recommendation: If you’re not a Vonnegut fan, pass.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
This book is quite a bit different than the typical David Sedaris memoir/essay style. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunks is a collection of short stories where animals that behave like humans are the main characters. It is a very small book with an adorable cover, the combination was very appealing, made me want to read it more. But then I actually started reading it which made me want to read it less. The animals were all very cruel and they just sort of bickered at one another and were very mean and selfish (just like people). I found it to be too depressing so I quit.
The story that did me in was called The Motherless Bear. It was about a bear that is stricken with grief over the recent death of her mother. As any bear would, the bear has a really hard time dealing with it. She sort of uses the tragic loss of her Mom to mope through the rest of life, constantly (and knowingly) using it as an excuse to not interact with society in any sort of productive way. All of her relationships suffer because of it. Friends and acquaintances all start to resent her. She ends up very alone, yet still always on the lookout for someone who can throw some hard to come by sympathy her way.
Near the end of the story the bear encounters another bear. This new bear is the main attraction in a circus where he is forced to dance around like a dummy against his will for the entertainment of stupd people with money. The bear is locked up so it can’t go anywhere and is badly abused. All of his teeth had been hammered out of his head by his evil trainer.
It’s night time after the “dancing bear show” has long been over when the motherless bear strikes up a conversation with the circus bear. She starts talking about how bad her life is and how terrible it is to have lost her mother in hopes that her sob story will fetch her the attention she desires. It doesn’t work. The circus bear is all like, “Waa waaa, you lost your Mom. Big deal. Get over it. At least you’ve got all your teeth!” Then the evil trainer smashes a rock over the head of the motherless bear. She gets knocked the fuck out. When she awakes she finds herself in chains. All her teeth are smashed out. The old circus bear is lying dead in front of her with a slit his throat. Now she is the new dancing bear in the circus. The end.
The moral of the story is… umm, I’m not exactly sure. I just thought it was a horrible tale all the way around. And the illustration added to the horribleness. Just look:
Yuk. I have a serious thing about depictions of bloody teeth being smashed. I hated this story and I hate that illustration. I did not continue with the book. It is now in my give it away pile.
MJV Recommendation: Do not read unless you suffer from a lack of hatred in your life.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Now this is what I’m talking about! Unlike Squirrel Seeking Chipmunk, Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim IS the typical David Sedaris memoir/essay style book. It’s awesome and super funny, a great read.
MJV Recommendation: Read it and laugh a lot. Don’t be afraid to read it on the bus and laugh out loud. Chances are the other riders are probably crazier than you might appear to be.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
This book was not on my original “books to get list” but Kerry bought it for me anyways. She must have been trying to send me a message. I guess it’s time for MJV to stop moping around and get things together.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most helpful books I have ever read and probably ever will read. But don’t just take my word for it. At the beginning in the acknowledgments section you will notice that The 7 Habits is highly endorsed by not one but TWO NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Fran Tarkentan and Roger Staubach.
Side Note #1: Notice the catch that happens around the 40 second mark of that Staubach video. Receiver Butch Johnson dives, catches the ball, rolls over to land on his back and in doing so sets the ball down on the ground. It sure looks cool but by today’s NFL rules that would not have been a catch. He doesn’t maintain full possession of the ball while completing the process of going to the ground. Hmmm yes yes…. very interesting.
Side Note #2: So it was officially ruled a catch on the field but I don’t think that was a touchdown. To me it looks like Johnson’s left elbow/shoulder is down before the ball crosses the goal line.
See exhibit A:
I rest my case, your honor.
Side note #3: That highlight is from Super Bowl XII where the dumb Cowboys beat the stupid Broncos 27 – 10. I don’t much care for the Cowboys but I hate the Broncos. I’m glad they lost. Stupid jerks.
Side Note #4: I hate the Broncos. When the Seahawks were in the AFC West the Broncos beat them just about every time they played one another. Stupid John Elway and his dumb horse face can go suck a donger.
Side Note #5: Remember when the Seahawks KILLED the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII? That was awesome!
The nice thing about The 7 Habits is that it’s not a quick fix kind of deal. There are no shortcuts. The habits aren’t stupid useless crap like “wake up at 4am every morning”, or “eat more hot dogs”, or “stay away from brown cars”. Not at all. These habits present an overall framework for how to live a better life. They require an extraordinary amount of patience, understanding and discipline to develop. It will take a lot of time and energy to get good at them, but that’s ok. Anything worth doing is worth putting in the effort.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are as follows:
- Be Proactive (my favorite habit)
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win/Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (my second favorite habit)
- Synergize (my least favorite habit)
- Sharpen the Saw
Inside my paper back copy there is a ton of hand written notes in the margins— pretty annoying, I know. Luckily the margin notes stop somewhere near page 43 (the books is close to 300 pages long). It’s evidence that the previous owner never finished the book. What a dummy! I’m guessing that’s why it ended up in a used books store in Bellingham.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Blink is all about trusting your intuition and examines how a person can “know” something without actually knowing why or how they know it. Just because you don’t know the why does not necessarily discredit the quick judgements/decisions you make about something. For example, say you are an ancient sculpture expert. You have dedicated your entire life to studying ancient sculptures. One day you accidentally discover an ancient sculpture in your backyard and you are immediately able to tell within the first 2 seconds of seeing it if the ancient sculpture is a real ancient sculpture or a fake ancient sculpture knock-off even though you don’t know exactly know how you know, but you know you know, you know?
I’m a big Malcolm Gladwell fan. I always feel smarter after I’m done reading one of his books. But he does have the tendency to rub some people the wrong way. Sometimes he can come across as know-it-all smarty pants, and nobody likes that. Also, a lot of his arguments can seem pretty one sided. I’m OK with that though, his stuff is still really interesting to me even if I don’t always 100% agree with what he’s saying.
MJV Recommendation: Read this book if you like Malcolm Gladwell. If you are on the fence, give it a shot. I’ve read Blink, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw and think Blink is the best of the bunch.
Naked by David Sedaris
Naked is another memoir/essay style book from David Sedaris. I started reading it but I lost interest pretty quick — not exactly sure why. Unlike Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, it didn’t make me laugh. It was either not very good, or perhaps a more reasonable explanation is that I was just David Sedaris-ededid out. You probably noticed that this is the third Sedaris book on this list. That’s probably too much Sedaris over a 4 week time span.
One of the first stories went into great detail about Sedaris’ OCD problem as a child. His brain made him go around touching and licking things all the time. Images of him licking doorknobs were too much for me to handle, I did not get very far into this book. Naked is now sitting in my give it away pile, right on top of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.
MJV Recommendation: Skip this one and just read Me Talk Pretty One Day, or Dress your Family Coduroy and Denim.
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
I could tell you what Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was about but I’m going to let this video explain it instead.
Say, Emmett, that’s a mighty fine pizza costume you got there. Where did you get it?
I was not into this book from the get go. The only reason I attempted to read it was because it was a Bushwick Book Club Seattle selection. I read about one chapter and then quit, not interested. I’ve already had my fill of “corporate America food is bad for you” books with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (I enjoyed this one, learned a lot).
Side Note: Here is a song I wrote inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s about how organic chickens are not really treated that much differently than regular chickens.
MJV Recommendation: I don’t know. I thought Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was boring but I also barley read any of it so what do I know. However, a lot of my fellow Bushwick artists did read and enjoy it.
On that note, I will leave you with my favorite performance from Bushwick’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle show at Town Hall Seattle. Here is the mighty Annie Jantzer performing a song she wrote inspired by this book that I did not read.
OMG! We have finally reached the end of this article. Are you still with me? Wait, don’t answer that. I’m just going to pretend that you are. Life is more fun that way. This here has been over 3,000 words about books that I’ve read (or attempted to read). Holy crap!
Now I need a nap. MJV is outta here.