Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded

I first became aware of John Scalzi through his award-winning science fiction, though he has also written such things as Uncle John's Bathroom Reader and other products his fans are only vaguely aware of. Bottom line: he's a serious, professional Writer with a capital W and is a serious smart@$$. But then I repeat myself. In any case, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded is a collection of entries from this serious writer's blog, entitled Whatever, from 1998 to 2008, and much like this blog, he covers a variety of topics as the mood suits him.

The first thing that struck me before I thought about reviewing this book is that I am writing a blog about a guy who's a blogger who turned his blogs into a paperback book. I probably could have read all this stuff for free, but professional courtesy, Doc's recommendations, and morbid curiosity caused me to plunk down some beer money on this collection of opinions. It was not money wasted.

Scalzi holds forth on anything, from the wrongness of bad chocolate to why it would be bad to have Ayn Rand as your mother to the plane-free skies he saw after 9/11. His tone varies by his mood and the subject matter. He reserves special scorn for Christian fundamentalists, what he calls "Leviticans," as to him they are more interested in the laws in the Book of Leviticus than the actual teachings of Jesus--and he may have a point, I say as a conservative Christian. I have no doubt I'd find Scalzi incredibly annoying if I were to meet him face to face. His opinions are widely divergent on a variety of issues. For example, he is vehemently anti-Republican and believes that George W. Bush is the worst president of this century. He is also much more combative than I am. If we were to get into a verbal argument, I have no doubt I'd concede a point just to get him to shut up.

But the reason I admire Scalzi, sharply voice opinions and all, is because of the boldness and clarity of his writing. He has reasons behind his opinions, and they are clearly stated. I don't agree with all of them, but I at least don't have to sit there scratching my head wondering what he really meant by something. If people who disagree with him also manage to irritate him say, by not being clear or having good reasons for believing as they do, Scalzi will take them to task with what I can only call the verbal equivalent of a spanking and a noogie. Thus the title. When he's serious, he's serious. When he's funny, he's seriously funny. I must share some of my favorites just to give you a sampling:

Scalzi on marshmallows:
"A stainless steel holding chamber filled with inert helium can't keep marshmallows from going stale. All told, there are better ways of getting a sugar high than tolerating stale sugar suspensions whose origins inevitably lead back to something with a mane, big soulful eyes, and a small Guatemalan in checkered pants sitting ont its back."

On generic cereal mascots:
"The dirty secret about being a ceral mascot is that if it doesn't work out--if your cereal flops or management decides to make a mascot change--you're through. You can't get work again. No other cereal will hire you."

On getting laid off by AOL:
"Given my high opinion of myself and my career, the layoff was a smackdown of monumental proportions. Becuase my career had been so charmed, much of my self-worth was invested in my work; not to have that work anymore left me spinning."

On the meaning of life:
"The meaning of my life is pretty simple: To live my life without regret. But like many simple ideas, the execution is difficult. It means being a good husband and being a good father. It means working hard to support my family. It means doing my best to give others the respect they deserve. It means being involved in the life of my community and country. It means developing a moral system and the backbone to stand for what I believe."

There are more great nuggets in this book and the rest of Scalzi's blog, but I hope I've given you enough of a taste to encourage you to defer that six-pack purchase and buy this volume. Once you've gotten some paid samples (like this book, but also his SF), you can go back to the blog and get the rest of his stuff free. But you just might find that it's worth paying a professional for work well done. No doubt Scalzi would think so.

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