Monday, January 7, 2008

The Sociopath Next Door

By Martha Stout, PhD

Through out my life I've occasionally observed behavior in certain individuals that completely threw me. Lies told with amazing ease, subtle back stabbings and pointless acts of meanness. Not frequently, but often enough to freak me out a little. When I witness these types of behaviors, I always wonder the same thing; how do those people sleep at night? The answer, frightenly enough, according to Dr. Stout, a clinical psychologist, is that they probably sleep pretty well. I was under the misconception that sociopaths were extremely rare. Apparently this is not the case. Dr. Stout, and she does have lots of research to back this up, contends that 4% of the population are completely lacking in conscience. 1 in 25 of us never experience shame, regret or guilt. They can behave in any manner they choose and never feel badly. This is because they do not feel anything in the emotional sense.
In "The Sociopath Next Door" Dr. Stout paints a chilling picture of the everyday sociopath. Just like normal conscience burdened people, their tastes and desires are varied. Not everyone lacking in conscience becomes a killer, but she does advise that they are all to be avoided. Drawing on her years of treating the victims of the shameless, Stout outlines the commonly seen behaviors of sociopaths and illustrates them in several composite case histories.
Although at times it reads a little like a textbook, that's probably unavoidable being the type of material it is. It is for the most part a fascinating read. I found myself chilled by the familiarity of some of the behaviors she describes. What really scares me is that these people are frequently great actors, as they had to mimic emotions they did not feel starting in childhood to fit in with everyone else. Because of this, they know how we tick and know exactly how to manipulate us. In addition to being a captivating read, this book may help you keep a few less monsters in your life.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Fourth Bear

By Jasper Fforde

Goldilocks has gone missing under very mysterious circumstances and it's up to Detective Jack Spratt, Sergeant Mary Mary and the rest of the gang at the Nursery Crimes Division to do the sorting out. The last ones to see her alive were a family of three bears who discovered her in post-porridge-eating/chair-breaking slumber in Baby Bear's bed. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Goldilocks was investigating the inexplicable explosive deaths of several competitive cucumber growers. To complicate things further, the murderous sociopathic Gingerbread Man has broken out of the nuthouse and is on the run leaving a trail of corpses behind him.
In his second Nursery Crimes novel, Fforde delivers his usual imaginative weirdness set in a world where the line between fiction and reality is blurred. With so much formulaic fiction out there, it's so enjoyable to read such a freshly unique novel. The plot is complex and entertaining. The story is peppered with surprisingly un-annoying puns. Although Fforde attributes his inspiration for the story to Swift's "..extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers.." line from Gulliver's Travels, I kind of wonder if the book was a giant set up so he could use the term "cuclear energy". You can check out Fforde's interactive site at

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

By Christopher Moore

Val Riordan, psychiatrist in Pine Cove, California, has just been going through the motions, handing out prescriptions to her patients without really treating their emotional issues. When one her patients commits suicide, she freaks out, switches all of her patients' antidepressants to placebos and tries in earnest to get down with some real therapy. Unfortunately an enormous ancient sea monster has taken residence in the town that, by a bizarre evolutionary twist, hunts depressed animals. The monster can't yet return to sea as it was injured trying to screw a fuel truck. The truck responded to the amorous attention by blowing up. When taking refuge in the local trailer park, the monster is befriended and named Steve by local crazy lady and ex B-movie queen, Molly Michon. As townsfolk start disappearing and general weirdness descends upon Pine Cove, Theo Crowe, the pot fueled town constable is left to sort out the madness and figure out what the hell is going on.
The characters in this book are total trip. They're funny, flawed and weird yet very three-dimensional. Moore writes with great humor and humanity. Once the initial set up has taken place, this multi-character narrative never slows, it just zooms head long until the conclusion. You can check out his others books and his blog at

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Island of the Sequined Love Nun

By Christopher Moore

After drunkenly crashing his employer's jet while getting busy with a woman of questionable morals, pilot Tucker Chase has little hope for future employment. With impending litigation hanging over his head, he jumps at an offer to fly a jet for a Micronesian missionary. Though it turns out be a trip full of peril, he eventually makes it the island. The island is the home of the Shark people. The religion of the Shark people is a cargo cult. They worship a long departed WWII pilot and the half naked women painted on the side of his plain. The missionaries, a husband and wife team, aren't attempting to spread their religion to the native people but are instead using the cargo cult religion to control the Shark people, the wife occasionally dressing like the woman on the side of the plane. Eventually, Tucker figures out that there is a nefarious purpose behind the healthcare the missionaries are providing the native people.
In his signature style, Moore puts an everyday-type man in insane circumstances. His writing is funny, bizarre, slightly twisted but as always, warm and human. "Island of the Sequined Love Nun" is Moore's 4th novel but it was the first one I read. I picked it up solely because of its title. How could that title not stop you in your tracks? I'm glad it stopped me in mine. You can check out his others books and his blog at

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Da Vinci Code

By Dan Brown

Robert Langdon, Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard, is called upon to investigate the murder of Jacques Saunière, curator of the Lourve in Paris. In his last moments, with his life draining away, Saunière positions his own dying body in such a manner to give clues pointing to Da Vinci's works. In order to sort out the mystery, many puzzles and brain teasers, many of which are in the art of Da Vinci, must be sorted out. It all seems connected to the search for the Holy Grail. Several story lines run simultaneously through book before coming together in the end.
I was surprised to discover that "The Da Vinci Code" was little more than an action/adventure book. With all the hype surrounding it, I was expecting something much more cerebral. It also seemed somewhat deficient in research. I'm not a religious scholar by any means and even I was aware of some very strong evidence that Mary Magdalene was Jesus's wife that Brown did not use, actually he left out some of the biggest clues. "The Da Vinci Code" isn't a bad or boring read, it merely a fairly basic action story. That and it has a few major plot holes you can drive a truck through. You check out Brown's homepage at

Saturday, September 29, 2007

They Call Me Naughty Lola

Edited and with an Introduction by David Rose

After hearing an interview with David Ross on NPR about this book, I had to get my hands on a copy. It's a collection of ads that have appeared in the lonely-hearts column of The London Reviews of Books over the years. Some are just really funny; others turn self-deprecation into an art form. "Shy, ugly man, fond of extended periods of self-pity, middle-aged, flatulent and overweight, seeks the impossible" reads one of the ads. Unlike other personals, it appears that the most important quality to show is a sense of humor. "Unashamed triumphalist male for the past 46 years. Will I bore you? Probably. Do I care? Probably not." Instead of the sadness and desperation that normally permeates personals, these are lively and creative. I found this book a lot of fun when read aloud, somehow sharing them adds to the joy. It's a great book for road trips, keeps everyone in the car amused and it's easy to pick up and down.

You Suck

By Christopher Moore

The eagerly awaited sequel to "Blood Sucking Fiends" picks up right where it left off. Jody has just turned her boyfriend, Tommy, into a vampire. He's a little pissed off that she didn't consult with him first. Amongst other problems, with Tommy being turned, they no longer have a ready blood supply around for snack. So they rent an extremely furry 35-pound cat from a homeless guy but cat hair is a nasty thing to have in your mouth. With the aid of duct tape and super healing abilities, they manage to shave the unwilling 35-pound cat. To add to the mix, The Animals, having blown the fortune they acquired in the first book, have returned from Vegas with a blue hooker named Blue who Tommy than accidentally turns into a vampire. On the upside, they luck out on the minion front with a freaky teenage Goth chick named Abby Normal but on the downside, the kinda-evil ancient vampire that turned Jody is not quite as squared away as they thought. So, pretty much standard Moore.
As usual, Moore's writing is hysterical yet human, supernatural crazy stuff going on, but mundane everyday pain-in-ass stuff thrown in to great comic value. It also covered topics I never really thought about, like, do vampires poop? You can check out his others books and his blog at

Blood Sucking Fiends

By Christopher Moore

In the city of San Francisco an ancient vampire is looking for something to amuse him. His entertainment of choice is to turn an unsuspecting individual into a vampire and just sit back and watch them try to cope. This time around he chooses Jody, a young redhead on her way home from work. She wakes up the next night under a dumpster with a large quantity of cash stuffed down her shirt, a gift from the vampire to keep things interesting. After figuring out what she is, she enlists the help of a 19-year-old wannabe writer/head stock boy of the Marina Safeway, C. Thomas Flood (Tommy), to take care of the things that she can no longer do during the day. Of course, the old vampire starts seriously messing with them. They must enlist the help of Tommy's raucous co-workers, known as The Animals, to escape the grasp of Jody's warped creator.
This was the book that made me fall in love with Christopher Moore's writing. It's just plain fun. There is something almost Shakespearian in the use of The Animals, sort of like the troop of crude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream. If you’re a fan of San Francisco, as I am, there are plenty of fun references that make the city come alive in your mind. As usual, Moore writes outrageously funny stuff about supernatural things, but still somehow remains both human and real. You can check out his others books and his blog at

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dirty Job

By Christopher Moore

Charlie Asher owns and operated a 2nd hand store in San Francisco. His wife dies shortly after giving birth to their only child, Sophie, and that's when things start to get weird. After a few struggles and mishaps he discovers that he is now a Death Merchant, as in he retrieves the souls of the recently dead or dying to give them safe passage to their next owner. As the years pass it becomes clear to Charlie that the forces of darkness are intending to rise up and lay claim to the world.
OK, laying it out like that, the book does not seem to be a barrel of laughs but I assure you it is written in Moore's usual delicious absurdity and the human quality that always seems to be present in his books is actually more pronounced than ever. Yes, it is a book about death and dying but it will still make you laugh. Moore writes gently and beautifully on the subject but still keeps his sense of humor. You can check out his others books and his blog at

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Eyre Affair

By Jasper Fforde

Welcome to world of Thursday Next. At home cloning kits make decanting your own pet dodo easy but as the jet engine hasn't been invented, most long distance travel is done by zeppelin. People are so obsessed with all things literary that the street gangs are Montagues and Capulets and door-to-door Baconians are out spreading the word that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. The Crimean War is still going on and additional branches of law enforcement had to be created to deal with things too dangerous or weird for the regular police to deal with. Thursday is a Literary Detective and the original manuscript of "Martin Chuzzlewit " by Dickens has been stolen by the 3rd most wanted man in the world, Acheron Hades. The twists and turns lead her, amongst other places, onto the pages of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre". Long story how that happens, but it's possible in Thursday's world.
I wont say much more about the plot, you really need to read this book for yourself. It's a fabulous read for anyone, but it's especially delightful for those among us who read a lot. It's wildly clever and fresh. There is nothing else like it out there. It's also the door in the Thursday Next novels. Some novel series can be read in any particular order and enjoyed. This is not really one of those series. Each book builds on the next although they are all enjoyable in their own right. Where other books can become slow in their down time, as if nothing exists in the main characters world other than the plot, Fforde uses that time to further present the world Thursday lives in. There are no dull moments, not even in the footnotes, which the author uses in a truly unique manner. Fforde's writing is brilliant, intelligent and oh so enjoyable. There are more novels coming, check it out at Fforde's interactive site