By Morgue Anne
An endless library containing every book that could ever have possibly existed. This would seem like a heaven to many people, but for Soren Johansson of “A Short Stay in Hell”, it’s a literal Hell. As a man who was unfortunately Mormon in his living life, Soren is surprised to discover that his idea of God is vastly inaccurate only moments before he is sent off to his near-eternal damnation. Author Steven L Peck takes this simple premise and expands on it perfectly in his novella.
The 108 pages gives the reader the perfect tasting of this library world without overwhelming them, and while part of me longs to read more about the happenings in this particular afterlife, I know that nothing would be so perfect as what Peck gives us, because it grants us the opportunity not only to enjoy the story but to savor the possibilities of the world presented to us by Peck. We fall past a thousand lifetimes and seemingly countless books as well as fall in love alongside Soren Johansson, but it hits us like a truck and keeps barreling past while we are left in the wake. He is burdened with a terrifying task to find the one tome containing his story, and granted all the time in the universe to complete it alongside all of the unfortunate souls doomed to this particular fate.
The twist that makes this purgatory a hell is that it is not a normal library of prose and compositions, but contains every 410 page book that could ever have possibly existed. This includes countless covers filled with nothing but nonsense, punctuation and letters thrown in every order there could ever be. The frustration is palpable, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, many groups are formed and evolve in their own ways both towards and away from civilization over the years.
Short Stay in Hell is a quick read, quite possible to do in one sitting if you aren’t careful and get sucked in too quickly. Yet it leaves a heavy impact, leaving you to mull over the ideas presented and, of course, decide on your own how you would fare to find your own story in the immeasurable library of Hell.
By Morgue Anne
Why is the Penis Shaped Like That is probably not a book I would recommend to read on the bus, or any other form of public-transportation, really. Yes, you could point to the “Scientific American” on the spine and reassure everyone giving you funny looks that it is, in fact, a collection of legitimate scientific studies about…weird and fun sex stuff. Or you could buy it for kindle and save yourself the embarrassment of only reading this particular book in the privacy of your own home. Or you could just not give a rat’s ass, because if you’re reading Why is the Penis Shaped Like That then you probably are not someone who’s overly concerned with grandmother’s giving you disapproving glances on the subway.
Let’s be honest - why wouldn’t you want to read a book with this title? If you have any inkling of something resembling a sexuality, you’ve probably had some questions over the years that your high school health class, church group, or grabby uncle just never got around to answering for you, most likely because they didn’t know. Jesse Bering dives into everything from the purpose of the female orgasm to the neurology of people who are sexually attracted to animals and evolution of bodily fluids, leaving no stone unturned in his search for answers.
Bering does a fantastic job of bringing his own voice to each essay while also staying fairly objective in a celebration of science at it’s best. While most people stop searching for answers as soon as they’re uncomfortable, Bering makes a point to dive even further and look at things from an objective viewpoint. This attitude may frighten a lot of people away, but consider that the more we understand something the better equipped we are to handle instances such as pedophilia. There is a lot of stuff in there discussing “vanilla” sex as well, such as the title essay and a few other pieces concerning male and female genitalia (with one of my personal favorites on the psycho-therapeutic aspects of semen). This is guaranteed to be a fantastic ice-breaker with all the strange information you will gain. I can’t count how many conversations I started with “So I’m reading this book about strange sexual studies…” and then went on to tell someone about foot fetishists. Or female ejaculation. Or the different scientific terms for blow jobs.
This is not a book I recommend to someone without a sense of humor, or anyone who is unable to get past the ‘ew ew ew’ part of their brain and take a look at something that might make them a little uncomfortable. This is for the curious, the scientist inside all of us who takes a look at the world around and wonders “Why?”. If you are still hesitant, consider this - if a gay man can suck it up and write an entire section of his book on vaginas for the sake of being fair and balanced, you can give Why is the Penis Shaped Like That a chance.
By Morgue Anne
Tina Fey may be a genius, and Amy Pohler will get my vote for president every election for the rest of life, but Caitlin Moran is my soul-sister. After reading her second book, Moranthology, I can imagine perfectly the two of us lounging on a couch, bleaching each other’s (copy-written) hair and trading stories about the effects of marijuana on various creatures in the animal kingdom. But only during the commercial breaks, because one simply does not talk during Sherlock. I feel like Caitlin (Yes, I’m calling her by her first name now) wouldn’t judge me for my fuzzy skull pajamas or my weird, crazy ideas about feminism not being just for women. I know, after reading only one of her books, that we would be best friends. That’s how much of herself Caitlin puts into this aptly titled Moranthology. Much like the author herself, Moranthology is quirky, passionate, and unflinchingly honest. Reading really did make me feel like I was sitting on a best friend’s couch, being way too caffeinated and sharing everything from our most embarrassing celebrity interview moments to views on womanhood. Let it be known that Moranthology is one of the few books in existence to actually make me laugh out loud (your move, David Sedaris). Caitlin’s energy jumps off every page and leaps from every word. With short chapters taken from her column in the Times of London, this is the perfect throw-in-your-purse and read it on the bus/in line at the post office/anywhere book. Just make sure you’re somewhere where it’s ok for you to frequently burst out in snorts of laughter, because there will be plenty of that. Just relax and enjoy it, because Caitlin Moran will go down in history as one or the revolutionarys of womanhood in our modern era, the Funny Girl. The women who refuse to out on pants on Sundays, who will never apologize for being ‘one of the dudes’ but will insist that all her dude friends shower regularly. I really, really hope this trend of intelligent, hilarious women takes more hold in our pop culture. God knows we could use a few more minds like my new friend Caitlin’s, and probably a few less like the Kardashians (or whoever’s popular and stupid nowadays). Although something tells me the significant others of the world won’t be too pleased when Caitlin’s “ask them something ridiculously important right as they drift to sleep” trend takes hold.