Humor Abuse

August 19th, 2012

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Lorenzo Pisoni was just two years old when he created and presented his first act during into intermission in his family’s Pickle Circus. His performance was so compelling it cut significantly into concession sales. Lorenzo Pisoni was drafted into the performance itself.

Humor Abuse, Pisoni’s one-man show about his life in the circus and out, is a brilliant meditation on how a severely gifted person can be accidentally abused by his parents as they nurture a child’s gifts. The problem a gifted child with gifted parents faces is that when he gets into the family business, he sometimes finds himself also taking on his parents’ burdens.

Humor Abuse is a hilarious and sad and impressive tribute to hard work, circus, clowning, and family. The pratfalls scripted into the show echo the slips and trips that occur in life as parents and child learn to nurture their talents.

Today is the closing day of this run. Go!

Book review: Song of the Lark

June 27th, 2012

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Author:Willa Cather
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:Fiction
Year of publication:1915

I am always blown away when a novel that is nearly 100 years old speaks to me as compellingly as Song of the Lark did. The story of Thea Kronborg, one of many children in a family

Recommended.

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Book review: The Monkey Bible

July 24th, 2011

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Author:Mark Laxer
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:science fiction
Year of publication:2010

I am frankly very disappointed in this book. It had so much potential, and I really enjoyed the first maybe two-thirds of it. Up to that point, Laxer posed questions that I personally thought were fascinating: What is the relationship between humans and the "non-human" world? Do we have any right to separate them at all [I don't think we do]? What does religion mean? How does the mental process of religion relate to the physical world? I was also impressed that there were no direct answers to these questions, because the answers are different for any individual... And Laxer effectively communicated that flexibility with a mix of narrators who all found different answers for themselves.

BUT. After a couple of hundred pages, the answers started being drilled into me, which I didn't appreciate, because all of a sudden the open-ness I had felt disappeared. I was also unhappy that the story took a lot of turns towards the impractical, so that by the end I didn't believe in the world presented to me anymore. All in all, The Monkey Bible represents a great idea, started off very well, but ended all-too-mush-ily for me.


I forgot to mention the "Companion Music CD" included with the book. I haven't been able to force myself to actually listen to it, because the lyrics are written out of the back of the book, and my reaction to them perfectly matches my feeling that they tried too hard: to "get a message across," to be super new-agey, to "enlighten" the audience in a way I didn't want to be enlightened. I think the book would have been able to speak for itself.

-- Fizzy

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Book review: Going Postal

March 21st, 2011

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Author:Terry Pratchett
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2004

This book is super satirical, funny, and enjoyable. The main character is an ex-thief who ends up working in the government as the Postmaster.

I just love how Pratchett mercilessly mocks how stupid and horrible people can be, and still makes this into a great book, and is able to slip in some big moral problems.

Very enjoyable if you love highly satirical, sarcastic, and just plain WEIRD.

-- Fizzy


In this particular visit to Pratchett's confusing city of Ankh-Morpork, we meet Moist von Lipwig. Moist, once a petty criminal, has been hand-picked by Lord Vetinari to be head of the city's postal service. Hilarity ensues.
As with most of Pratchett's novels, it's not the plot that counts. For example, here just in passing, is how Pratchett builds us a time-machine. It is slightly rickety, but it does move the plot along:

"I never learned jommetty, sir. Bit of a hole in my understanding, all that stuff about angles and suchlike. But this, sir, is all about pie."

"Like in food?" said Moist, drawing back from the sinister glow.

"No, no, sir. Pie like in jommetry."

"Oh, you mean pi, the number you get when," Moist paused. He was erratically good at math, which is to say he could calculate odds and currency very, very fast. There had been a geometry section in his book at school, but he'd never seen the point. He tried, anyway.

"It's all to do with . . . it's the number you get when the radius of a circle . . . no, the length of the rim of a wheel is three and a bit times the . . . er . . ."

"Something like that, sir, probably, something like that," said Groat. "Three and a bit, that's the ticket. Only Bloody Stupid Johnson said that was untldy, so he designed a wheel where the pie was exactly three. And that's it, in there."

"But that's impossible!" said Moist. "You can't do that? Pi is like . . . built in. You can't change it. You'd have to change the universe."

"Yes, sir. They tell me that's what happened," said Groat calmly. "I'll do the party trick now. Stand back, sir."

Groat wandered out into the other cellars and came back with a length of wood.

"Stand further back, sir," he suggested, and tossed the piece of wood on top of the machine.

The noise wasn't loud. It was a sort of slop. It seemed to Moist that something happened to the wood when it went over the light. There was a suggestion of curvature. Several pieces of timber clattered onto the floor, along with a shower of splinters.

"They had a wizard in to look at it," said Groat. "He said the machine twists just a little bit of the universe so pi could be three, sir, but it plays hob with anything you put too near it. The bits that go missing get lost in the . . . space-time-continuememememem, sir. But it doesn't happen to the letters, because of the way they travel through the machine, you see. That's the long and short of it, sir. Some letters came out of that machine fifty years before they were posted."

"Why didn't you switch it off?"

"Couldn't, sir. It kept on going like a siphon. Anyway, the wizard said if we did that, terrible things might happen! 'Cos oh er, quantum, l think."

"Well, then, you could just stop feeding it mail, couldn't you?"

"Ah, well, sir, there it is," said Croat, snatching his beard. "You have positioned your digit right on the nub, or crust, sir. Nyle should've done that, sir, we should've, but we tried to make it work for us, you see. Oh, the management had schemes, sir. How about delivering a letter in Dolly Sisters thirty seconds after it had been posted in the city center, eh? Of course, it wouldn't be polite to deliver mail before we'd actually got it, sir, but it could be a close-run thing, eh? We were good, so we tried to be better . . ."

And, somehow, it was all familiar.

Moist listened grimly. Time travel was only a kind of magic, after all. That's why it always went wrong.

That's why we're postmen, with real feet. ... Come to that, it was why farmers grew crops and fishermen trawled nets.

Oh, you could do it all by magic, you certainly could. You could wave a wand and get twinkly stars and a fresh-baked loaf. You could make fish jump out of the sea already cooked. And then, somewhere, somehow, magic would present its bill, which was always more than you could afford.

-- Emily

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Going Postal

Play Review: Twelve Angry Men

October 25th, 2010

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Author:Reginald Rose
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1954

I think this play is amazing. It focuses on twelve men on jury duty who are deciding whether a teenager is guilty of killing his father. The jurors must unanimously rule "guilty" or "there is a reasonable doubt." All of the jurors are white, fairly privileged.

The play stresses that whether he's guilty or not, everyone has the right to a fair trial. The writing is really strong, and I like how the whole plot surrounds so many unknowns...

-- Fizzy


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Book review: Harmonic Feedback

September 18th, 2010

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Author:Tara Kelly
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2010

I really liked this book: it's told from the perspective of a girl diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD.

Her biggest challenge in the book was realizing that the labels "normal" and "abnormal" are nothing more than labels, and that nobody is the same, so "normal" is subjective.


I found that her mental journey to that realization was very well put together and really hit home.

Note: High school level: drugs, sex.

-- Fizzy

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9/11/2001 and beyond

September 11th, 2010

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I commuted to NYC (Jersey City PATH train to WTC or Amtrak to WTC) daily for quite a while. And for a while I worked in a building with windows facing the WTC – watched the window washers swaying on the upper floors with fascination and dread.

WTC was really a very unpleasant building to be in. At the subway level, and the level of the shops just above, it stank of urine and the homeless who lived there were in terrible shape.

And yet that absence on the skyline tugs at my stomach every time.

On 9/11/2001 I woke up to NPR re-broadcasting the planes heading into the WTC; spent the whole day hoping our younger one hadn’t heard anything about it at school, but of course she had.

I didn’t even try to get hold of my many friends in NYC until Sept. 12 and when I did the phones were all down and emails were not returned, sometimes until weeks later.

One friend, Tom, FedEx-ed me, at my request, the black-covered New Yorker magazine that I for some reason desperately needed to read. My friend, Elizabeth, told me of the terrible filthy smoke and the smells that persisted for weeks.

Now I see that this terrible event has been used to justify all kinds of other really inexcusable incursions into our rights and the rights of others around the globe.

So far, I see very little good that has come out of this and that makes it all the sadder.

In the words of one of my Twitter pals, @pourmecoffee:

Let’s all remember to honor America [on 9/11] by dividing it into groups and being openly hostile to the ones we’re not in.

Or, commemorate @markos birthday and Sept. 11, 2001 in a meaningful way by buying @markos book: American Taliban

Some of my favorite reflections on 9/11:

Song reflection: Out There by Dar Williams

September 8th, 2010

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Freaky lyrics in this Dar Williams song.

Are they about loss of memory or just about getting to the point in a relationship when you forget all the good things that you enjoyed together?

Even after the anger, it all turned silent
And the everyday turned solitary, so we came to February
First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year
And then we forgot that we’d planted it all
Then we forgot what plants are altogether
And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting
And the nights were long and cold and scary, can we live through February?

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?”,
And you said, “It’s a flower”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”

Full Lyrics

Musical Review: Rent

August 20th, 2010

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Some musicals strike us as perfect, or at least nearly perfect. We’ve seen Into the Woods nearly fifty times and would be willing to watch it weekly or more if we could afford to. The book is interesting to us, most of the lyrics are clearly intentional and speak to us, the music is complex and beautiful. Sure there are songs that we think could go, or be improved, but still.

Rent seems terrifically unfinished to us. My teenage daughter who did not experience the 1980′s when AIDS first began to wreak havoc with so many lives and who had never heard the acronym AZT was utterly confused by the initial half hour. (We paused the DVD to explain what was happening and why.)

We admired Rent as an impassioned, furious, context-free snapshot of that awful time. The performers on the DVD are gorgeous, with voices to match. But the music and lyrics don’t rise to the cause they represent. The perfect song that Roger runs away to Santa Fe to write is not.

Wonder if perhaps, if the creator, Jonathan Larson, had lived to see the show on Broadway, he would have refined it further.

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Book review: Pirates!

August 1st, 2010

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Author:Celia Rees
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:Fiction
Year of publication:2009

I don't think the exclamation point in the title is warranted.

I picked it up because I saw "based on a true story", and wanted a glimpse into what pirate life was really like, but throughout the book I felt like it was very fictional.


After I finished reading the book, I learned that it was only loosely based on a true story and none of the characters was ever real. Anyways, a quick, cute read (I read it in about three hours) but not in any sense a gnarly pirate book as is implied in the title.

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