Stack Overflow: Grab Bag

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Today’s Stack Overflow is a mixed list–something for everyone: non-fiction, comics for adults and kids, and some middle grade fiction!

First up: back in January I picked several books that I resolve to read this year (in an effort to read some more non-fiction especially) and I finished the first one in that stack.

Kidding Ourselves

Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception by Joseph T. Hallinan

Several years ago, I reviewed Hallinan’s book Why We Make Mistakes, which digs into the various types of mistakes we make and why they happen. Kidding Ourselves is a related topic, focusing specifically on the ways that we deceive ourselves. It includes topics like the placebo effect (and the flip-side of that, hypochondria), superstitions, and being drunk with power. Hallinan mixes anecdotes with results of scientific studies to demonstrate the ways that self-deception can sometimes be a feature, not a bug.

As I was reading it, I kept encountering real-life situations that related to the book. For instance, the fact that evidence often does not sway somebody’s beliefs, but in fact may reinforce their opinions to the contrary–that’s pertinent in any election year, or whenever somebody brings up the topic of vaccinations. I also found the chapter about optimism fascinating: Hallinan explains that optimists tend to be worse at predicting their ability to accomplish a task–pessimists have much more realistic assessments of themselves. However, the optimists do get more accomplished than the pessimists. So, that whole cliche about aiming for the stars and at least you’ll hit the moon has some truth to it.

If you’re interested in psychology and how the brain works, Kidding Ourselves is an engaging and entertaining read–though you’ll find yourself wondering how much you’re fooling yourself as you read it.

(The next book from my list that I’ve started is Parenting in the Age of Attention-Snatchers.)

The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting by Guy Delisle

The Owner’s Manual to Terrible Parenting by Guy Delisle

This little cartoon book features a dad being terrible–giving grammar lessons during a bedtime reading of Harry Potter, crashing his son’s remote-control helicopter, giving completely fake explanations for things, and so on. A lot of it does feel like stereotypical “bad dad” situations, but Delisle’s illustrations are great at capturing the expressions of this dad and his kids–particularly the blank stare. I should note that it’s intended for adults, though: there’s profanity sprinkled throughout the book, so preview it before you pass it along to your kids.

Glorkian Warrior 3

The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny by James Kochalka

Here’s a book that is for kids and is also (sort of) about a “bad dad.” Gonk and his friends want to be Junior-Junior Glorkian Warriors, so they tag along with the Glorkian Warrior … who is talking to his mug of coffee that he has decided is named Wendy. As you may know if you’ve read any of the previous Glorkian Warrior books, GW isn’t exactly known for making much sense, and putting him in charge of four kids is a crazy idea. Once again, Kochalka’s wacky brand of humor is a hit with my kids–we sat and read this whole book out loud together when our review copy arrived. It’s due out on March 15.

The Great Pet Escape

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

Last year Victoria Jamieson published Roller Girl, a graphic novel about a girl who gets into roller derby–and a big hit here at my house. Jamieson is back with another comic book, this time aimed at slightly younger readers, about some classroom pets. GW the hamster is a mastermind, and ever since he was locked up in the second-grade classroom of Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary, he has been crafting his escape plan. He needs to find the rest of the Furry Fiends–Biter the guinea pig and Barry the bunny. But there’s a hitch: Harriet the mouse is the ruler of this school, and she’s got a secret weapon.

It’s a very funny book, playing on the tropes of jailbreak stories but with, you know, cute furry animals. There were some shades of Toy Story 3 in there, too, the way the characters think about the kids who play with them. It’s a much shorter book than Roller Girl so I know my kids and I wanted more, but the ending looks like it’s open to further tales of the Furry Fiends, so maybe there will be more in the future.

13-Story Treehouse series

The 13-Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton

My oldest daughter has read the first book in this series countless times but I just hadn’t gotten around to it until now. (We also have the next two books, The 26-Story Treehouse and The 39-Story Treehouse, but she tells me the first one is her favorite.) Andy and Terry live in a treehouse with things like a bowling alley and a man-eating shark tank, but it seems the “13 stories” actually refers to the 13 chapters of the book, which are full of silly things like Terry painting a cat yellow to turn it into a canary or watching “The Barky the Barking Dog Show” on TV. The overarching plot, though, is that they have a deadline to get their next book to Mr. Big Nose, their publisher–but then they keep getting distracted by everything else.

The books are really fast reads, because they’re about about half text and half pictures (or maybe even more than half pictures), and everything is pretty ridiculous and over-the-top. Personally the series is not one that I cared for quite as much because it felt like “anything goes silliness” rather than the sort of crafted magical world that has its own internal consistency. I will say, though, that each book introduces a lot of random things that (usually) eventually tie together in the end. I could tell that it would be quite entertaining for kids–I think it’s just not the sort of kids’ book that also has a lot for adults to appreciate.

The next book in the series–as you may have guessed, The 52-Story Treehouse–is due out in April.

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

I came across a used copy of Big Questions at the bookstore and couldn’t help myself. It was a gorgeous, enormous hardcover–over 650 pages–and I’d never heard of it before. Over the past couple of months I’ve slowly crawled my way through it, and it’s just a fascinating book. It’s told from the point of view of a flock of birds. There’s a small house with an old lady who takes care of a mentally handicapped young man, and this is pretty much the only exposure these birds have to humankind. But then a fighter plane crash-lands, and the birds have all sorts of questions: what is it? Is it a bird? Or is it an egg, and is the pilot who crawls out a hatchling? What about that big, shiny object that it dropped on the ground before it landed?

Even after finishing the book, there are some things I’m still not quite sure I entirely understood, but I really liked the idea of these small birds trying to tackle questions outside of their experience and imagination.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books except Big Questions.

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