Saturday, January 07, 2017

100 Books Interlude: If a book feels like work, it's not worth reading.

Last night, when I got home from our weekly trip to the pool I went downstairs to my desk in the lower level and brought up two new books to start reading.

We go swimming almost every Friday night, the boys and I, something I decided to do a while back when I wanted to make Friday nights special.  When I was a kid, Friday nights were "Hamburger Night," a night when Mom and Dad would cook us burgers on the Supergriddle (TM, no doubt) and we would eat burgers and chips -- actual potato chips, or sometimes Doritos!-- while watching TV with them in the living room, instead of boring old regular nonburger dinner at the kitchen table with no chips, me sitting next to my brother Bill bumping elbows because I was left-handed and he was right-handed and my parents for reasons unknown to me never changed our seating pattern in 17 years.  My parents were not top-notch in the parenting department.

Anyway, Swimming Night is the new Hamburger Night: we eat dinner, clean up, and then the boys and I head off to one of the two swimming pools we can use via our health club memberships. When the weather is nice, we walk to the near one, just under a mile away. When it's not nice, we drive to that one or to the much farther away (but more beloved by Mr F) "Dolphin Pool," the one 20 minutes away which has a zero-depth kiddie pool AND a Dolphin-statue fountain and a warm-water pool all in one room.

The reason I got the two new books has both a lot to do and nothing to do with Swimming Night.

The main reason I got two new books was that the main book I'd been reading -- since before Xmas -- was The Trees by Ali Shaw. The Trees is not a bad book in most senses: it's got an interesting premise (one day a bunch of trees just grow out of the ground and wreck all the buildings and roads and whatnot, leaving most people dead and a few people thinking wtf) and the writing itself isn't bad, but despite those two things going for it, The Trees is not a good book, using 'good' in the only sense that it can have when related to books: worth bothering to read.

The Trees is slow, and focuses on characters who are both one-dimensional and unlikeable, but unlikeable in slow, boring, one-dimensional ways.  I was roughly halfway through the book and nearly nothing had happened.  The first chapter, when the trees almost literally erupt out of the ground, is a good start, but after that, the characters are just walking, and thinking, and talking, and whenever something seems about to happen it almost never does, with rare exceptions like when the foursome that has formed watches while one of them shoots a man in the head for killing her brother.
There are hints that something bigger is going on, even, than trees erupting out of nowhere. There are tiny stick-figure things that show up from time to time (and do nothing). There are prehistoric (or at least from the Woolly Mammmoth era, which is prehistoric, right?) animals suddenly appearing (and doing nothing).  But it's all so much nothing.

Meanwhile, every character has -- as every character must, in such books -- one animating facet to them and little else.  Adrien, the main character, is a loser. That is literally his shtick: he doesn't like life and wants to just sit and watch westerns while his wife is in Ireland probably having an affair for which even Adrien doesn't blame her.

Hannah, a woman who I think we meet shortly after the trees show up trying to talk people into helping her save a particular tree that has damaged a church or something, loves nature. That's her thing, and she's almost annoyingly upbeat, meds-adjusting-level upbeat, until she shoots that guy in the head for having shot her brother, at which point she hits the depressive phase and won't do much but eat some stale mushrooms in her backpack.

Seb, Hannah's son, loves technology and the Asian girl that they meet up with who is skilled in woodcraft because she was taught that by a guy in California before her dad took her back to Tokyo with his girlfriend, making her aggressively antisocial to everyone in the world except a baby fox, and Seb, whose nose she broke at the point where I stopped reading. It wasn't that point precisely which made me stop reading (the girl then goes ahead and kisses Seb, through the blood, even though it was pretty apparent right up until that moment that she did not want to kiss Seb and the kiss was entirely out of character for her and the moment.)

The characters vacillate between this is terrible we can't possibly go on and come on guys buck up little campers and make the most of this which okay I suppose maybe we all would do that in such a situation, but the fact that it might be realistic doesn't make it entertaining any more than every snapshot on a cameraphone is art. There is no real rhythm to when they do that. (The exception is the Asian girl, whose name I can't for the life of me remember even though she was a major part of the book and I was reading it a bit last night.)

While we were swimming on Swimming Night, I kept having my mind wander back to The Trees, but not in a good way. It wandered back because the day before I'd gotten a couple of additional books at the library that had finally come in after my hold, and I really, really, wanted to read them. I'd taken a stab at reading The Trees in the interlude between dinner and leaving for Swimming Night, and read a few pages, before getting bored and going to play Plants vs. Zombies 2. 

So at the pool, I kept thinking I should just finish The Trees quick and then read the new books, but that thought literally made me sad and a bit tired.  That's when I realized that since starting The Trees, I'd read four other books (not even counting audiobooks, which aren't really competition for physical books), and that I didn't really want to read The Trees any more.  Not even a little.

So when I got home, I committed and got the new books up and put the old terrible books down, before my mind could tell me I was a quitter. That's how it feels sometimes when I give up on a book, like I'm a quitter.

But now, this morning, in the clear, minus-12-degrees light of day, I started thinking Why am I the bad person here?  Why should I feel bad that a book couldn't even be good enough to want me to read it?

I have a pretty low tolerance for my culture. I've been watching Spider-Man 3, the one where Toby Maguire shows how he's getting evil by parting his hair on the other side (goatees are so 90s),

It's easier to carry around in public than a swivel chair and a white cat.

 and I recognize that it is not a particularly good Spider-Man movie, and I rewatched Summer School recently enough to recognize an actor from it when he showed up, 30+ years later, in a television show.  I'm not a snob, so if something isn't holding my interest that probably means that thing is too awful to appeal to someone who literally checks periodically to see if he can get the television show Herman's Head to watch again.

It's not my fault or a failing in me if your book can't hold my attention, and I don't think readers should feel bad about not working their way through books that aren't worth it. On IO9 recently there was a list of "10 Books You Pretend To Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them)."  The list was nonsensical in its very premise: do scifi fans really pretend to have read scifi books? I don't. I've made no bones about the fact that I think everyone telling me I have to read Isaac Asimov ought to shut up, his books sound boring and stupid to me and I don't want to read them. (Foundation is number 4 on the list.)

Worst spec fiction cover ever...

... until this one.

In the list, various 'experts' talk about why people should read these books. Of Cryptonomicon, one says "It's so long, and so dense." Something called Dhalgren by Samuel Delany was described as   a "monumental achievement" which most people haven't read and is "a lot of work."

Infinite Jest is on there. I tried reading that, twice -- wasting seventeen actual dollars of my money on the book back when seventeen dollars was a lot of money to me, representing my book budget for two months.  It was awful. The IO9 'expert' admits most people don't read this one, either, even though they own it.

Worst of all was the reason for reading Gravity's Rainbow:

This is sort of an odd one. Many of the authors we contacted for this article named Gravity’s Rainbow immediately as the book that everybody pretends to have read — but then they all admitted that they, too, had not actually read it. “I don’t believe that anyone has actually finished Gravity’s Rainbow. Thomas Pynchon has spent decades waiting for his audience to laugh at that cool twist right at the end, and is now starting to wonder. I’ve started it five times,” says Paul Cornell, author of the comic This Damned Band and the Shadow Police series of books.
So why should you read Gravity’s Rainbow where some of the coolest genre writers have failed? Several people said they’ve found the parts they were able to get through immensely enriching.

The parts they were able to get through. It reminds me of all the time I spent (wasted time) trying to read Ulysses before giving up on that dreck.

Why do we say bad books that are 'a lot of work' and are difficult to read are so valuable? I have read books that are dense -- Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (who used to be good before he got bad) comes to mind.  I loved that book.  It packed a lot of information into it but was good, and not a tough read at all. (Eco's The Name Of The Rose was terrible: another one I started and didn't finish).  Catch-22, the best book of all time, is dense and packed with information and has important things to say, but isn't difficult to read at all.  American Gods: dense, important, majestic, easy to read.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, like The Lord Of The Rings before it, is a long and carefully-thought-out book about magic, with its own internal system that appears realistic because it is so carefully crafted, and a range of characters that is broad, if not vast.  It makes the IO9 list for some reason (as does Dune) even though both Strange and Dune are books that pull you into them and make you want to read.

Books that are work are not books that are meant to be read.  My philosophy textbook in undergrad was dense and difficult, but that was because it was a textbook, and learning philosophy was my job.  Why should reading a novel about trees taking over England be the same level of difficulty as learning calculus?  One of the experts on that IO9 article opines that we don't seem to value working at our reading. That's Jeff Vandermeer, whose Area X trilogy was challenging in a good way: it didn't spell things out for you and didn't cut corners and I'm not sure I've figured it all out yet even, but it was one of the greatest books I ever read because it was a great book.

Long books are okay. Dense books are okay. Books that present mysteries for you to figure out or which don't just explain things right up front are okay.  Lots of great authors know how to write long dense books that make the reader invest some mental energy in the story which nonetheless are fun to read.  Why should we bother with books that demand that mental energy be devoted to the very task of reading, as opposed to parsing the story.

There is a difference between challenging and bad.  Books like Infinite Jest are bad because they are poorly written and present the task of reading as the challenge of the book: they make reading the book difficult apparently because the author wanted to do so.  (S by JJ Abrams was like this: I gave up on it because the effort of reading that book, which sounded so good in premise, was not worth whatever payoff it promised.) Books like The Trees are bad along the same lines. There might be a noteworthy idea somewhere in the trees, but that idea is wrapped in a tedious story about unlikeable people whining their way through an English forest, a story that is not challenging in the sense that it requires me to think, and is not challenging in the sense that it presents ideas I might find difficult to agree with or comprehend.  It's challenging in the sense that a 200-mile drive through Kansas is challenging: you just have to keep plodding along in hopes that eventually the scenery will be worthwhile.

I'm surprised that I felt bad about stopping reading the book.  I'd thought I'd mostly gotten over that, and was willing to abandon books more quickly.  Maybe I saw more of a glimmer of hope in The Trees, the way I used to think, about mid-season, that just possibly maybe the Buffalo Bills might make the playoffs this year before deciding no, they didn't.  But now I'm more angry that I felt bad about it, because I feel like that's the author's fault, too: he showed me something that had promise, that I felt like might be worth it, and I even invested considerable time in it. And yet even halfway through, Shaw couldn't make me want to go on reading his book any more.

That's not my fault. It's his. I once said, after watching Superstar with our kids, that the director of the movie owed me two hours of my life back.  I figure I blew about 12 hours of my life on Shaw's book, and he owes me twelve hours back. If life were fair, Ali Shaw would come over to my house and do 12 hours worth of chores so that I could spend those 12 hours reading something that was worth my time.

Friday, January 06, 2017

I had this moment

Book 2: This is a seriously brilliant idea. Also I invented a tongue twister!

So I'm going to start a publishing company. It's going to be called "F.A.M.E.-US". The acronym stands for "Famous Actors Making...something something something". I'm not good at acronyms. I'll get marketing to come up with something.

Here is how "FAME-US Publishing" will work: aspiring authors who want a wider audience than they may otherwise get will submit their work to me. I will then locate an actor, athlete, rock star, or other famous person who wants to be known as a literary-type person -- an author.  "FAME-US" will then publish the book under that well-known person's name, as if he or she had actually written it.

The author gets the bulk of the profits, and the ability to write for a living, but no notoriety. The celebrity gets a bit of literary credibility. I get rich, too, of course.

I haven't yet worked out how to keep the public from knowing the celebrity didn't actually write the book, but I also haven't yet worked out whether the public cares.  This is, after all, only the next step in celebrity endorsements, right? If we are more likely to buy something because someone famous said to buy it, does it matter if we think the someone famous actually uses or wrote that thing?

I got started thinking this way, of course, because of Book 2, Holy Cow. Holy Cow has a 3.3-star average on Goodreads, translating into something between liked it and really liked it. Averages can be misleading but in this case they're not: 80% of the Goodreads reviews are favorable. On the other hand, NPR's book reviewer called it a "bizarre disaster."  It's not really that bad, but it's also not good, either.

The basic plot is that animals are as intelligent as humans, but can't talk. The main character, Elsie Bovary, is a cow. When she learns that cows are slaughtered for meat, she decides to escape the farm and go to India, where cows are worshipped. She's joined by a turkey (who wants to go to Turkey) and a pig (who wants to go to Israel.) They fly to Turkey then steal a plane and fly to Israel before eventually making it to India and then getting back home.

That might have been enjoyable, but the book suffers from a lack of internal consistency, among other major flaws.  A book doesn't have to be realistic, but a book's system -- or any story's system -- has to be consistent for the story to not suck.  Here, the system fails because Duchovny didn't think it through or didn't care or both.  Probably both.

For example: Elsie calls the TV the "box god," implying that she doesn't understand technology. But she knows about cell phones, airplanes, ticket kiosks, and the like. It's never explained if Elsie is merely being hyperbolic in referring to TV as the 'box god.'

For example, 2: the animals are smart enough to use cell phones, read maps, order airline tickets, learn about Turkey on Wikipedia, and the like, but not smart enough to determine that, for example, Turkey is not a great place necessarily for turkeys to live.

For example, 3: Duchovny, when it's important, makes clear that animals do not speak English and cannot talk to humans. Then he has a camel in the mideast make a speech to Israelis and Palestinians about all getting along (the camel is the former Joe Camel, because that is the level of creativity Duchovny is displaying here) and the humans all understand it and eventually we are told the camel and the pig are up for a Nobel Peace Prize. The speech, by the way, was a speech about how the Israelis and Palestinians should all realize that they hate the same things (the pig) and therefore should get along in their hatred of that common thing. Even for a camel and a pig that is a dubious sentiment.

Along the way, there are numerous terrible jokes, a slapdash ending to get the animals back to America for no reason whatsoever (they get high with some cows in India and the cows want Elsie to say she is a god but she won't so they all leave India) and otherwise a bunch of junk that buries the otherwise-interesting, otherwise-clever parts of the book.

There is a lot of potential in the book, if it were subjected to some second-drafting and critical thinking and editing. But that's all there is: potential.

So that's what got me thinking: Would Holy Cow have been published at all if it were not written by David Duchovny?  The answer to me is obviously no.  It would be nearly impossible to market a comic novel of talking animals with dull points to make about ethical treatment of animals, religion, and pop culture. It's not a kid's book. It's not an adult's book. It's not a particularly good book.

And yet, it's not David Duchovny's only book, either. He's got "Bucky F*cking Dent" published, too. It's apparently a book about a would-be writer -- all would-be writers eventually write a book about would-be writers. (How many writers would a would-be writer write if a would-be writer would be writing books?) It's also about Bucky Dent, and so hits on one of the more basic sports cliches of the world, and is no doubt a coming-of-age tale in which someone becomes wiser by either meeting or comparing himself to Bucky Dent. No, I didn't read the description of the book yet when I wrote that. I will do so now. *Checks* I was right.

84% of the reviews of Bucky F*cking Dent are positive on Amazon. Duchovny is said to be a "New York Times Best Selling Author."

Books are products, like cereal and toasters and orange juice (sorry, I'm writing this at breakfast.)  As I've pointed out repeatedly, the goal of many authors and all publishers is not to make sure you enjoy reading a book, or even finish a book. The goal is to sell you the book.  After you pay for the book, the burger (looking forward to lunch now), the blue jeans, the manufacturer -- publishers are manufacturers -- don't really care what you do with them. If you buy books to use as ballast in a boat (a littering of alliteration!) they don't care. They just want to sell you the book.

It's impossible for me to know how many people bought or read Holy Cow because it was by David Duchovny. It's why I listened to it, for free, from the library, and I imagine a significant number of people made that same choice: Hmm, Duchovny? All right, I'll give it a shot.  We confuse celebrities with our friends because we see them and imagine they are the people we see on TV: Jennifer Aniston must be Rachel, right? David Duchovny is cool Fox Mulder, or that weirdo on the sex show on HBO, whichever, plus he's famous and you don't get famous without being something good, is the American way of thinking.

Just like putting your story in the Star Wars universe helps jack the sales of a mediocre-to-good scifi story up to the stratosphere, putting a celebrity's name on a book will help pump the sales.  After I finished this book, I wondered if I could re-issue Codes only this time have it be written by Mark Hamill or George Takei; cut them in for 50% of the profits and retire, or at least get to make a living ghost-writing books for Mark Hamill.  (Hamill is listed as the co-writer on a comic book miniseries, The Black Pearl. I am now going to put that on my list to read.)

We are not as immune to marketing as we think. There is a direct correlation between advertising dollars and opening-weekend box office. Critical reviews of movies add relatively little to box office; sequels with built-in audiences have six times the effect.  If you want to ensure a big opening weekend, don't worry about critics: make a sequel to an action movie. A good critical review adds $1-2 million. Being an action movie adds $4 million. Being a sequel adds $13 million, and now you know why there have been a zillion Fast & Furious movies.

Putting a celebrity's name on a book -- whether a cookbook, novel, book of poetry, or some other book -- is advertising and marketing. It instantly conveys a brand. I only ever watched one episode of X-Files and otherwise have never seen a David Duchovny movie or TV show, but I know his brand, and his brand was on this book. If it had been Holy Cow by Mindy Kaling, or by Arnold Schwarzenegger, or by Brett Favre, each of those names would have conveyed a different sort of brand, the way Coke and McDonald's and Ford convey an image, as well.

 But being a brand doesn't mean you're any good. It just means you can fool people.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, you've got a successful marketing campaign.  Look for books by "FAME-US" to hit the shelves around Xmas.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Trumpocalypse 11: Holidays are over, back to school.

Democratic navel-gazing continues, and that comic -- put out this week by Tom Tomorrow -- shows the actual lessons learned by Democrats so far: if you come even close to understanding that you lost an election because you gave people no reason to vote for you, retreat into Russian Hacking.

Meanwhile, Republicans are not sitting on their laurels. The ever-tightening grip the GOP has on public office is largely the result of Karl Rove's Operation REDMAP, a open 'secret' the Republicans began working on years ago, to take over local and state governments and thereby seize control of the federal government. It's worked.

And it continues to be their base of operations, like the sweep used to be for Army football.  Next up: Wisconsin's Superintendent of Public Instruction, a statewide 'nonpartisan' office that controls most of public education. Tony Evers is the current DPI head, having been in there since 2017, serving 2 four-year terms. Tony Evers is generally thought to be a liberal Democrat who strongly supports public schools and teachers' unions.

Two candidates have filed to run against Evers. They are Lowell Holtz and John Humphries.

Holtz's website has the address "" He has primarily been a teacher and principal throughout his career. His endorsers include number one-listed state senator Mary Lazich, who is retiring but not before she helped promote a bill to allow people to carry guns into schools. Lazich said the bill was to ensure that people dropping kids off at schools weren't 'accidentally' committing a crime by packin' heat on the way to 4K.  Her co-sponsor was more graphic, envisioning a world where vigilante soccer moms save an entire school:

Brooks said he was offering the bill because he would feel terrible if there were a school shooting and parents and teachers told him afterward they didn't have a chance to defend themselves because of state law. 

Apparently neither Brooks nor Lazich would 'feel terrible' if a bunch of school kids were shot because the prevalence of guns in our society makes it almost certain every nutcase out there has more than one.

Humphries has a career devoted more to the psych end of school services, as shown on his LinkedIn. Humphries' first act as a candidate was to resign his current position (intended to demonstrate that he was making a clear separation between his job and his campaign). His second act was to accept a $39,000 consulting contract to continue working at his job, only now with no direct supervision or set hours.  And you thought the GOP's effort to gut ethics watchdogs was a failure!

Both candidates are pro-voucher. School vouchers and the end of public instruction is a Republican goal, remember.  Under failed presidential candidate Scott Walker, Wisconsin has tried to lead the nation in reducing funding for schools, now spending $1,014 less per student than when Walker was elected.  Walker's last budget proposal in 2015 was planned to increase the voucher program.

The election, held in spring, is expected to be low turnout. In 2013, the last DPI election, less than 800,000 votes were cast for the DPI race, with Evers winning by 179,000 votes. Similarly, campaign contributions are typically lower than in partisan, high-profile races. Evers in his races gets contributions primarily from unions and public education associations. Evers' site claims to have 326 endorsements but you can't view who is endorsing him.

Low-turnout elections tend to favor conservatives and Republicans. Democrats, focused on the presidency and ignoring their traditional constituency, have lost ground consistently over the past 2 decades in state and local elections. My prediction is that this will be the most expensive DPI race in Wisconsin history, and that Hughes will win. Hopefully my kids' school vouchers won't get lost in the mail.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

A Minute With Mr Bunches: Carnivorous bugs edition.

We were playing with Mr Bunches' new set of cars, one of which was an ambulance.

Mr Bunches: Dad what does an ambulance do?

Me: It takes people to the hospital if they are sick.

Mr Bunches: Or if they are injured.

Me: Yes...

Mr Bunches: Or eaten by carnivores...

Me: Sure...

Mr Bunches: ... like bugs or snakes.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Book 1: That's right I'm going to start the count over each year.

There is a scene in Secret Wars that kind of exemplifies the sort of sloppy storytelling that is the hallmark of anything created primarily to sell toys, and serves as a hallmark of what ultimately is a very silly story that somehow embodies everything that people (or at least one people, me) dislike about comics.
The scene comes near the end of the storyline, a 12-issue miniseries in which various Marvel heroes and villains have been transported to "Battleworld" by a being called "The Beyonder" to fight to the death. One of the people transported it Galactus, who eats worlds. Another is Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, who was the smartest person in the Marvel Universe until someone named "Moon Girl" came along.  

The scene involves Richards and Galactus; throughout the series (which features actually very few battles, given it takes place on Battleworld and is named "Secret Wars") Galactus has been ignoring the war and building a machine to eat the Battleworld planet, some weird thing where he sucks the life out of the planet and feeds himself.  Meanwhile, the heroes have been ignoring the battle -- which if they win would result in them being granted whatever they wish -- to keep an eye on Galactus, who they generally concede they could in no way ever defeat if they had to battle him, but who they nevertheless plan to battle if Galactus goes through with trying to eat the planet. The heroes do not stop to think, for example, that if they concentrated on quickly defeating the relatively meager force of villains brought here, they could then get all their wishes granted and that wish might include "Let Galactus not eat this planet," but maybe that's why Reed Richards is only second smartest.

Anyway, what happens is this: Richards is teleported up to Galactus' home world, a giant space station, to talk to Galactus. Then Richards comes back and tells the heroes that Galactus has said Richards is a "force for life" or something and Galactus is a "force for death" and that therefore they should not fight Galactus, because, follow the logic here:

1.  Galactus is going to eat Battleworld.
2. That will kill the villains.
3. And the heroes.
4. Making Galactus the winner.
5. Galactus then gets his wish.
6. Galactus' wish will be to be free of the hunger that makes him eat worlds.
7. Galactus will no longer eat worlds and billions upon billions will live.

There is a BIG leap of logic in there, from 5 to 6, especially if Galactus is a "force for death" which suggests that maybe Galactus would instead wish to be even BETTER at eating worlds, but Richards, #2 Genius that he is, determines that the heroes must not fight Galactus and must let him eat the world, giving up their own lives (and the lives of the other people unwillingly called to Battleworld) to save those billions-upon-billions.  

THEN, Richards says something to the effect of "OH WELL LET'S FIGHT ANYWAY" and when the other heroes question this Richards says "Galactus showed me a picture of my pregnant wife and I really want to see my unborn child so let's win this war so I can do that," and everyone charges off to defeat Galactus, which they do only to be killed by Doctor Doom in a flash of lightning. (Oh, um, spoiler alert.)

What COULD have been a very interesting morality play -- let one world die to save billions, inaction in the face of evil to accomplish good, ends-vs-means -- is boiled down to "Yeah but my son, guys it's CLOBBERIN' TIME" making all the philosophizin' time before it so much nonsense. 

That's not the only flaw in Secret Wars but just the one that struck me most recently as I was reading it. Other flaws include arbitrary motivations, characters being declared dead and then magically not dead (including literally EVERY HERO, all of whom are killed dead as doornails by Doom and then resurrected via some mechanism that is not clearly explained) heroes fighting heroes, random stabs at social relevance (temporary Iron Man is an African-American, and when this is revealed [apparently the Avengers don't care who is in the suit as long as someone is?] Iron Man asks Reed Richards whether Richards was surprised at that. Richards says no because "some of [his] best friends are people."  This makes as much sense as anything else in the story.

It's all silly, but it's silly not because someone was having fun with things or anything like that. It's silly because the people involved didn't really care about making it a decent story, even within the confines of what passes for a 'decent' story in a throwaway comic book. (I am not being a snob here; I like comics just fine, and frequently choose them for lighter reading. You can write a fun, light story that's good. It just takes more work than crapping something like this out.)

The people involved may not have cared because Secret Wars was dreamed up with nothing more in mind than selling some action figures; the fore- and after-word of the collection make that clear: Kenner had just gotten DC to commit to some action figures, and this was in the rush after Star Wars to action-figure-ize the world, so Mattel got Marvel to agree to a line of action figures, but wanted a specific story to tie them all into. (That Mattel then put the same amount of effort into the figures as went into the story is maybe ironic? The action figures were equally terrible and not really related to the story at all.)

Secret Wars' biggest direct contribution to comics history might have been the new Spider-man suit, which I recall being a big deal back in the 1980s, and its indirect contribution might have been the emphasis on crossovers and limited-series and universal re-creations, which, judging by almost-completely incomprehensible headlines that occasionally appear on IO9, happen in the comics world with disconcerting regularity -- there are more reboots to comic universes than I could count, judging by those stories.

There are a few interesting silly things that leapt out at me as I read, too. Like this:

"Look it's Doctor Doomwimp." Awesome insult, Absorbing Man. One thing that came out in Secret Wars: Dr. Doom talks like he does because he's recording everything he says. Seriously. He's asked that at one point and he says yeah, he's recording everything he ever says for posterity.  I think it would be awesome for there to be a special wing of of the Congressional Library devoted to every denouncement Doom has ever made of the Fantastic Four, with a whole branch of Blast you Reed Richards!

Hey, they're already cataloging tweets. Maybe get them to do something more fun.

Then there's the fact that the Human Torch in particular talks like this is still 1963, repeatedly saying stuff like I can't dig that lingo, but everyone in the comic talks like, well, an i

A: You, New Iron Man, are calling Thor, God Of Thunder, "junior."
B: You, New Iron Man, are making a basketball reference to Thor, God Of Thunder.
C: Not even a clear basketball reference.  Does anybody call basketball roundball?

Does Anybody Call Basketball Roundball:
A Thinking The Lions/Google (TM) Investigation:

They DO. WYMT (Motto: "Dedicated to Eastern Kentucky") has a "roundball preview." But before you go feeling all cool and calling it "roundball" remember that Urban Dictionary (Motto: Where you go to see what sexual euphemisms your kids are using on Facebook) says "roundball" is "what my dad calls basketball."  

Overall, I ended up having my nostalgia disappointed by Secret Wars. I never read the entire series when I was a kid; I read like three issues, and I don't remember why, other than that I wasn't a big Marvel fan. What I remembered, for 30 years, was this cover:

I loved that cover so much as a kid that I bought that issue, and even though 30+ years later I didn't remember how lame the story was -- so lame that I didn't bother reading all 12 issues back then -- I still remembered how great that cover was, and that -- and that alone --  was why I wanted to read the entire series now.

In other words, 15 year old me was smarter than 47 year old me. He gave up a lot earlier.

I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people! I won't start a new year hating people!

A San Francisco restaurant serves part of a meal on an Ipad in a handcrafted box.

The Ipad shows videos of dogs finding truffles, while the person eats truffles.

It's meant to fill a 'knowledge gap' about how truffles are found.

The meal costs $220.