Monday, 25 November 2013

Book Review: "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality" by Jacob Tomsky

This read was a bit of a gamble. Written by a employee in the hotel business it professes to tell great stories, tips on getting the best service and an insider look behind the scenes. With many other writers this could have been quite dull, but Jacob's wit, heart and cynicism makes this a great read that does deliver on all the promises.

The memoir part takes up most of the book with a chronological tale of his employment from a valet parer in a luxury hotel in the southern U.S., through the lofty heights of management, and finally to a bitter front desk clerk in New York. You get to experience the differing hotel environments in each hotel he works in and see the direct effect of these styles on the staff, which of course reflects in the service of the clients.

Jacob has wonderful tales from his time in each hotel from the classy woman who only hires a New York room for 3 hours regularly, to the CEO client who stays multiple times a week and leaves a bag behind containing some interesting luggage.
So many funny and weird tales.

Interspersed throughout is Jacob's advice to us, the paying public. How do you get the best service and the added perks? What the fuck is up with minibars and how do you get stuff for free from them? And why do people constantly underestimate the power of the front desk clerk? This person has complete control over your stay and if you treat them like shit, they can make your stay hell. The methods for making a client's stay not so nice are rather funny and clever, but do not worry, you probably won't get to experience these methods unless you are an asshole to the clerk, or do something nasty in their presence such as treating your wife, girlfriend or especially kids like crap in front of the clerk.

This book is a wonderful and fun read, with the added advantage of being educational on what happens behind the scenes in the hotel industry and how you can make the most out of your next stay at a hotel.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: "Feynman" by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

I have been slow to discover the delights of Feynman, but I recognise a similar thinker, albeit a much, much brighter man. I love his famous BBC interview that was towards the end of his life and I did greatly enjoy his autobiographical sections in "Six Easy Pieces".

A graphic novel adaptation of Feynam's life works very well. While it does not present any new material, it takes the best snippets from all different sources and makes his life come alive with wonderful and simple illustration. Another great advantage to this medium is that the authors presented sections of Feynman lecturing and explaining physics problems. This works wonderfully and could only be bettered by watching a video of these lectures. (You can find some of his filmed lectures on Youtube).

So this was a wonderful read for a rainy Sunday afternoon. It really did capture his voice and his philosophies if I could use that term.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Library Copy of 'Fifty Shades of Grey" Tests Positive For Herpes

For a laugh two Belgian toxicologists borrowed 10 books from their local public library and put them through toxicological and bacteriological screenings. What they found was quite intriguing.

All books were rife with bacteria. Well that should be a no-brainer, but did they run some background readings on other books, say from their own library?

Another finding was that all showed trace amounts of cocaine. Not enough for a reader to display physiological symptoms, but possibly enough to alert a drug screening.

Also, "Fifty Shades of Grey" tested positive for the Herpes virus. Very low amounts mind you and the experts say not enough to transmit the virus. But what if you have a suppressed immune system?

Anyway, support your local libraries, they do great work. Keep your cocaine away from the books though. And anyone borrowing "Fifty Shades" from the library, well you deserve what you get.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Book Review: "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

I have been getting rather annoyed with blurbs the last few years and I am trying to steer clear of them as much as possible. Of course they come in handy for judging a book quickly and I do read them for unknown authors or authors that are hit or miss. After reading a book and looking at the blurb I have often thought "That's a bit spoilery. I could have done not knowing about that."  Why do blurbs have to contain spoilers of the first 100 pages of plot?

Anyway my point is with "The Goldfinch" is I made a concerted effort to avoid blurbs or any description of any kind before reading it. And looking back at the blurb now I have to say:


I would have been so disappointed with that knowledge. Sure sometimes I get pissed off with books with no blurb and just quotes from Bill Bryson and Stephen Hawking. But this is me this time, and this is my gushing thumbs up, and that means more than Bill Bryson's. And therefore this review is just going to amount to a huge gush of adoration with no plot details at all.

Of course I can tell you all what I loved about this book apart from plot details. And the plot was great. Lots of surprises, lots of intrigue. The characters are all wonderful, both to love and to hate. The writing is just so fucking brilliant. 800 or so pages in just under 3 days. That is how good.

I also loved Donna's "The Secret History" for a lot of the same reasons. She has definitely become one of my favorite authors, and it is good to know that she is popular. A rare overlap between what the masses love and what I love.

I don't know if this is an adequate review. But I loved it. And you should read it.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Book Review: "Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science" by Will Storr

In my mind Will Storr is the brilliant love-child of Mary Roach and Louis Theroux, both of whom I adore. I think Will may have to join their lofty heights in my respectability/adoration mind shrine.

Will's "Will Storr vs the Supernatural" was a wonderful and random find that I made several years ago. Will took it upon himself, Louis Theroux style, to get immersed in the lore and activity of the supernatural. What was different about the other supernatural books is that Will approached it from a skeptical point of view. His conclusions were  that most of what he investigated was utter bullshit, but there were a few instances that made him think. That book was much better than Mary Roach's approach taken in her book "Spook".

Anyway, this time Will has taken on the enemies of science. Well more like the enemies of reason. SO each chapter or two is dedicated to an interview or an activity with a fringe group or person. You start with a creationist preacher, move through to holocaust deniers and take on homeopathy. All sections are well-researched and Will approaches each instance with a sympathetic ear. That ear may not last long, but he does have the best of intentions.

All throughout Will is bringing this all back to the nature of belief and the apparent need for the human brain to make reliable sense of the world it exists in. So there is a greater message other than "Look at these dickheads" and a great attempt to try and understand human thought processes.

In it's own way I think that this book adds it's own to a religion vs. science argument and should be considered essential reading for anyone tackling this subject. It definitely should be as popular and as read as Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and makes a much more logical assay of belief than Hitchens' "God is Not Great". It had a die-hard atheist like myself thinking as opposed to going "right on!" to every point.

Book Review: "Pedro and Me" by Judd Winnick

I know this looks like the cover to an after school special, and it is actually like an after school special. But don't judge me.

I first came across Judd's work with the hilarious "Barry Ween" series which I do adore (I should write reviews for them). But I did not enjoy his collection of "Frumpy the Clown", which was unfunny newspaper type strips. So I picked this up a few years ago with no idea what it was about.

Turns out it's an autobiographical comic on the author's relationship with his friend Pedro, who was an AIDS advocate in the 90's. They met by becoming roommates in a MTV reality show. There are no surprises here and it ticks all the boxes for being a heartfelt story with a message.

But what really spoke to me reading it this time through  is the message of acceptance of differences and the need to be exposed to diversity. In the final stages of the audition process for the show Judd was asked by the producers if he was comfortable to share a room with someone who is HIV positive. Being a liberal kind of guy he didn't even think before saying yes, but then later admits that he did have some prejudice based purely on ignorance of how the disease is transmitted and how would that impact on him sharing a room with Pedro. Of course everything turns out fine, but it took a little bit of time (not as much as what you may think) to get used to living with someone like this. I think it goes to show that no matter how liberal we may be in our views, until we are close to someone who is different we are probably just full of idealistic words. Here it was someone with HIV, but in our lives we need to expose ourselves to all kinds of different people.

We have gained a multitude of sources for HIV education and this may be a great source to give to people who do not read novels or for teenagers. But I think the main strength is the message of equality and exposing yourself to different people. No, not in a trench-coat-wearing way.