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Al Jaffee’s Mad Life

This book was written before MAD’s demise. It mostly tells the story, illustrated by Jaffee, of Jaffee’s bizarre childhood. He was born in the US and then stolen back to where his family was from in Lithuania by his mother. She had some sort of mental illness and he and his brothers grew up being severely neglected. He came back to the US as a teen and always had an odd time being adjusted. This book is a lot more about him than it is about MAD, though people interested in the inside baseball of MAD will find stuff to occupy them in the last few chapters.

Born Standing Up

By the time I knew about Steve Martin, he was already famous and doing SNL. This biography covers his lie from when he was born to basically when he became stupid-famous and talks a lot about how he chose to do the stuff he did. It’s a neat look into someone who is often pretty private about a lot of his life and is a great behind the scenes look at what sort of work it takes to become not only a comedian but a sort of unique one with a very narrowband audience appeal. Martin come across like a really nice guy and is gracious about all the people he mentions even though he definitely had a bit of a rocky upbringing. A bunch of old photos really make this a book worth reading.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert

This was a great book about someone I’d always wanted to know more about. I grew up reading Ripley’s books but Ripley himself had been dead since long before I was born. This is a meticulously well-researched biography of a man that even his biographer didn’t seem to like much even as he accomplished becoming a household name and the best paid cartoonist in the world. I also learned about Norbert Pearlroth, Ripley’s researcher who had a full time+ job going to the downtown NYPL every single day to find material and never got any credit. I enjoyed this book but was a little bummed that larger-than-life Ripley was just in a lot of ways a normal weirdo.

Haben, the Deafblind woman who conquered Harvard Law

A story about this woman’s life told through a lot of anecdotes. I liked hearing about what she went through, I was surprised at some of the things she knew and did not know (such as disability accommodations and her legal rights) and wanted to hear more about her day to day life being at Harvard and being in a relationship (she seems to be in but it’s actually unclear). I very much enjoyed her perspective especially since she is also a woman from Ethiopia (and culturally Eritrean) which put a bunch more spins on this story. Worth a read, was looking for more of a “warts and all” story but her voice is not like that.

Inside The Kingdom: My Life In Saudi Arabia

Got this at a library booksale and it was simultaneously an interesting frog-boiling story of a woman from Switzerland who wound up living as a veiled woman in Saudi Arabia and a wife to a very wealthy man who happened to be one of Osama Bin Ladin’s 20-someodd brothers. It’s more her story of what the world is like in Saudi Arabia for women and very little political stuff except as those two things overlap. It’s a weird book to read because she is simultaneously incredibly privileged but also incredibly oppressed. She eventually leaves and she talks about what was involved in that as well. Very interesting read.

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

This book is more fun than you expect it to be. It’s a semi-autibiography written by Linus and David Diamond who seems to have done a lot of the legwork to keep the book going. It’s a fun book that gets inside the head of a true techie geek and explains how single-minded determination to solve tech problems led to him spending long amounts of time inside, living with his mom, tying up the phone line and creating Linux.

Despite the title, it’s not a “blah blah open source is the only way” title. Linus of course is a fan of open source, but this book isn’t his soapbox for OS, this is a book about him. He talks briefly about the differences between Stallman’s GPL and the open source model Linux was released under, but doesn’t get too into the various pissing matches, or open source politics much at all. He tries to set the record straight about his own personality -- he was always out to be well-known for Linux, he just wasn’t expecting a band of geeks to propel him there -- and what he’s been doing since RedHat’s IPO. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in his life since then that aren’t mentioned, but as a readable and inteersting introduction to a tech.legend, this book is worth the read.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece

What a fascinating book. This book was well off the beaten path of what I usually pick up and I don’t even remember how I got it. It’s a story told by the grandchildren (or other relations, I don’t think she had kids) of the woman portrayed about how she went north to Alaska to help with the education efforts there. Alaska in her day was a near total wilderness and the US Government was involved in trying to Christianize and Americanize the native people living there. Accordingly they send schoolteachers to this not-yet-state territory to set up establishments and generally keep an eye on things. Hannah Breece was a spirited woman, up to the challenge, whose story is told through letters and research done after the fact by Jane Jacobs who followed some of her paths through Alaska years later. It’s illustrated with several great old photographs including a few taken by Breece herself.

Sitting Pretty

Rebekah Taussig has put together a great book about growing up as someone using a wheelchair & how she experiences the world, going from her super-supportive family to a not-very-supportive world it’s a great explication of the social model of disability

Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss

This book was almost unreadable. I stuck with it because I liked getting at the SNL anecdotes but it was a rambly non-chronological memoir piece that was mostly about drugs and women. Davis has an interesting backstory but is a terrible writer. This book appeared to not have even been edited. I’m not sure I would recommend it for anyone but the most fervent of SNL (or Grateful Dead) fans.