Into the Book

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  1. When I went back to Singapore for the summer holidays, I got roped into giving an impromptu Sunday school class one Sunday. Well, since most of my family has been/is involved in children’s ministry one way or the other, I guess this isn’t so unusual. So when I started reading this book, I immediately thought of how I could use this the next time I’m giving the children’s sermon (although that may be a few years away).

    While the title sounds as though it’s a guide on how to create a story, it’s actually a guide on how to tell a story effectively. According to the book, the bible is 75% is in a story format because “God had it written this way to make it easier for people to learn, remember and share with others.” I’m not sure if this is true, but considering that most of my Sunday School lessons were taught through stories, effective storytelling is definitely going to be an asset.

    The book is divided into three sections. Section One is about how to create a captivating story. Section two is about how to present the story well (this section is not essential, but recommended for anyone who wants to improve their storytelling skills). Section three is about why storytelling is essential. The focus isn’t so much on how to come up with a good story, it’s about teaching you how to tell a story effectively.

    What I liked about this book was that story-telling wasn’t restricted to just kids, it’s presented as a way of sharing that can work for everyone. And while the first application for story-telling that came to mind was for sermons, this book also shows that it’s possible to use it in a classroom setting.

    If you’re looking for a book that will help you in Children’s ministry or in any ministry that requires public speaking, you should definitely pick up this book.

    Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.
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  2. One does not simply review a book like this without pausing – for one moment – to appreciate the attention-grabbing power of its title. A moment of silence, please.

    [crickets]

    Good? Good. Oh, and any pacifists who may be reading this are welcome to the smelling salts; just look in the cabinet on the left. Good? Good. You’ll need them again before I’m finished.


    The Little Black Book of Violence is written by two guys who know what they’re talking about. A strange (some would say silly) observation, perhaps, but one I believe is worth making. These men have experience. (One could say they have ‘a history of violence,’ but I think that conveys the wrong idea.) This isn’t just a bunch of theory for them; it’s down-to-earth, nitty gritty, keep-your-head-from-getting-torn-off practical. And that’s Reason #1 why they deserve a hearing.

    The book is divided into three sections. The first (Before Violence Occurs) details the importance of identifying and avoiding conflict to begin with. According to the authors, “fighting is what you do when you’ve totally screwed up your self-defense.” Concepts like awareness and de-escalation are given plenty of attention, with the aim of convincing you that such skills are even more vital than whatever butt-kicking skills you have or think you have.

    Of course, if you are forced into a fight, you should be prepared to do just that: fight. Teddy Roosevelt’s advice comes to mind: “Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.” The second section (During a Violent Encounter) focuses on a series of self-defense tips and techniques. Nothing fancy, just no-nonsense advice on how to keep the other dude from stomping a mud-hole through your face. It’s an insightful read, but there’s only so much you can explain on paper, and it’s difficult to practice the techniques unless you’re working with a trainer. (My siblings weren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of being subjected to a neck joint crush. Go figure.)

    The final section (Aftermath of Violence) is probably the most sobering, as the authors make it clear that surviving a violent encounter is only the beginning. After that, you’ve got another battle to fight: legal, physical, psychological, financial, or a combination of all four. Topics like first aid, creating witnesses, and talking to the police are discussed here.

    In the end, what Kane and Wilder manage to do – very effectively, I might add – is deglamorize violence and make it seem very uncool. Necessary in certain cases? Yes. Something to be engaged in lightly? Not on your life.

    – Corey p.

    Postscript: It’s worth noting that this book does contain a smattering of language and some graphic images (most of these are related to the aftermath of violent encounters, but there is one partial nude shot). This isn’t a book for youngsters by any stretch of the imagination.

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  3. One thing that has always puzzled me was how different Biblical names are in Chinese and English. Well, it’s a little different in Japanese as well, but the Japanese pronunciation are actually quite similar to the Chinese pronunciation. Well, after reading Identity Theft, it hit me – the Chinese and Japanese names are transliterated from Hebrew/Greek, not English!

    Identity Theft is based on a simple premise – the Jesus that we know today has been stripped of his Jewishness. And that is something that is hindering the Jews from coming to know him. From names that have been changed (think Miriam to Mary) to the idea of Peter as the Pope, the book provides a brief introduction to how Jesus has been stripped of his Jewishness.

    The book isn’t written in the normal non-fiction form. The narrative vehicle uses the experiences of a Jew called David as he’s visited by and taught by an angel called Ariel. As a Messianic Jew, the author Ron Cantor used his experience, his struggle of being both Jewish and Christian to show how David struggled with belief in Christ.

    Personally, I thought this book was eye-opening. I’ve always been told that Jesus was a Jew, and that the Gospel came first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, but since a lot of my Sunday School materials (not to mention so much classical art) came from the West, I developed this impression of Jesus as a Caucasian.

    For me, it was the section of how names that were changed that got me to realise how casually I’ve taken the fact that most Jews aren’t Christians. Why am I not more upset that not more of God’s chosen people don’t believe in his Son?

    I heartily recommend this book. I think it fulfills its twofold purpose of introducing Jesus to the Jew and of re-introducing Jesus to the believer.

    Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.
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  4. Every now and again, you pick up a book that takes you on a ride roughly equivalent to that of the Kingda Ka roller-coaster. It takes you way up and it takes you way down, tearing along like a bat out of hell, and leaving its passengers with mixed feelings of terror and heady elation. Maybe nausea, too, at some points.


    Ideas Have Consequences is sort of like that. It’s one of the most challenging, stimulating, and strangely exhilarating books I’ve encountered in a long time. I suspect – no, I’m certain – that one reading didn’t give me half of what can be gotten out of it. But then, as Stephen King would say, “good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” And this, most definitely, is a good book.

    Ideas Have Consequences is about “the dissolution of the West.” Richard Weaver writes in the Introduction,

    I attempt two things not commonly found in the growing literature on this subject. First, I present an account of that decline based not on analogy but on deduction. It is here the assumption that the world is intelligible and that man is free and that those consequences we are now expiating are the product not of biological or other necessity but of unintelligent choice. Second, I go so far as to propound, if not a whole solution, at least the beginning of one, in the belief that man should not follow a scientific analysis with a plea to moral impotence.

    Keep in mind this was penned in 1948. The social decay he’s talking about hasn’t gone anywhere; if anything, it has intensified. Weaver’s scalpel-keen examination of the breakdown of modernity is as relevant today as it was in the middle of the twentieth century. So I urge you: read this book.
    The ills of modern man, as argued here, are essentially six-fold: they can be found in the denial of universals coupled with the embrace of utilitarianism/pragmatism; the undermining of order and hierarchy; the loss of focus and the rise of fragmentation; the unabashed exercise of ego and self-indulgence in art and work; the desensitizing effects of an irresponsible media; and the emergence of “the Spoiled-Child Psychology.”
    Weaver’s solution to these issues? It begins with the preservation of the right to private property; an acknowledgement of the power of the word; and a rediscovery of piety and true justice. 

    We have to inform the multitude that restoration comes at a price. Suppose we give them an intimation of the cost through a series of questions. Are you ready, we must ask them, to grant that the law of reward is inflexible and that one cannot, by cunning or through complaints, obtain more than he puts in? Are you prepared to see that comfort may be a seduction and that the fetish of material prosperity will have to be pushed aside in favor of some sterner ideal? Do you see the necessity of accepting duties before you begin to talk about freedoms?

    Weaver’s writing is imbued with a wonderful anger. There is no bitterness here, no uncontrolled wrath, but there is a righteous indignation that tells the truth in all its stingingly painful glory. We can always use more of that.
    “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he 
    that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov. 29:18)


    – Corey P.


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  5. It seems that the more I read Joel C. Rosenberg’s theology, the more skeptical I become. But if I ignore that, his latest book Damascus Countdown is a gripping read about what the start of the end times might be like.

    Damascus Countdown is the third book in the Twelfth Iman series of books. It follows the CIA undercover operative David as he tries to stop Israel from being attacked by nuclear bombs. The mastermind behind this is The Twelfth Imam, who’s is gathering all the Islamic countries into one Caliphate in order to become lord of the age.

    What I liked about this book was the tight writing and the characterisation. There’s a large cast of characters, but I felt as though I knew most of them personally. And even though I felt that the characterisation was well developed, it wasn’t at the expense of the plot. The book moved along at a quick pace, with a very exciting end.

    Apart from the main plot, there are a few subplots, such as what’s going on with David’s family and the former Shia-theology scholar turned Christian Birjandi and his dilemma on whether he should answer the summons of the Twelth Imam.

    Before I start on my niggling doubts, let me quote this passage of the book that I agree with:


    “We need to be very careful not to overreach in our interpretation.”

    Personally, I find it very hard to understand End-Time prophecies, especially with all the disputing schools of thought. That’s why I’m very skeptical when things are written as though they are definitive, with no reference to other interpretations.

    Well, there’s that and the fact that this book was focused solely on America and the Middle East. I understand the need to have the Middle East as the main region, but why is America the other big player? Where are the Asian countries? If I remember correctly, China is mentioned two times, India once and the rest of Asia barely at all. This is strange considering that this is where significant economic growth (and with it, political growth) is concentrated. I’m actually fairly sure that the Asian countries pull weight in the international arena as well.

    For example, Malaysia has ties with the Middle East, and has even offered to be a peace broker. Their Prime Minister Najib even visited Gaza in the recent past.

    In conclusion, this is an exciting and enjoyable work of fiction. The only thing that I have doubts about is the over the theology, and what I think is an inaccurate portrayal of global politics.

    Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for a free and honest review.


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  6. Lovecraft has been dominating my bookshelf of late, and in the interest of maintaining my sanity, I had to find something less dire to immerse myself in. Something to laugh at. Something that didn’t involve reanimation, wall-dwelling rats, or cosmic entities preparing blot mankind from the earth.

    Supervillain of the Day (the first book in a new series by Katie Daniels) turned out to be just what I needed. It isn’t perfect – the writing is spotty at times, and some of the character interactions could use polishing – but it is, most definitely, fun.

    Supervillains are wreaking havoc all over the world – except in London, England, that is. For most Londoners this is very good news. For the editor of a tabloid specializing in “strange and unusual” stories? Not so much. But reporter Jeffry Floyd is on the case, charged with the task of finding a supervillain… or else. “Or else” being the loss of his job.

    The book’s opening sentence sets the tone for the rest of the tale:

    No one knew that the new mayor was a supervillain until the day he lost his temper with his secretary and tried to force-choke her from across the room.

    Say hello to superhero comedy. Or should I say, supervillain comedy. (If you’ve seen Megamind, you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about). The story’s greatest strength is that it embraces the ridiculous and runs with it. Between the zany characters, outlandish situations, and crackerjack dialogue, there was seldom a moment I didn’t have a grin on my face while reading. Short though it is – you can finish it in a single sitting – it’s nice to know that “this is not the end.” More books are on the way, and Supervillain of the Day is a promising start to the series.

    As a sidenote, I can easily picture this series as a graphic novel. The concept, the action, and the characters would lend themselves well to that medium, and if such a “graphic novelization” ever came to pass, it would make a good story even better. Who doesn’t like crazy artwork to go along with their supervillains?

    Now… to Lovecraft I return. I have a feeling I won’t be laughing much. Unless laughing maniacally counts; and in that case, you should be worried.

    – Corey P.

    (I received this book free from the author in exchange for a review.
    I was not required to write a positive review.)


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  7. The next best thing to writing is reading about writing. And if I were to gather my favorite writing books and pile them on the floor, I imagine it would look like this:

    Somewhere near bottom would be Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. It’s not that I don’t appreciate this book – remember, it’s still in my favorites pile – but I don’t love it the way others do. I see as it essential reading, but I don’t see it as the Holy Writ of writing guides.

    Next up would be William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir. The first is sharp, winsome, and delightful (I reviewed it here). The second is a gritty, unvarnished look at one man’s journey as a writer. After reading it, I had a deeper appreciation for King’s work and the life behind it.

    At the top of my favorites pile would be Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson. Though not a memoir, it is similar to King’s book in that it addresses not just writing, but the writing life. What sets the two apart is how they approach the subject. King has a treasure trove of wise and insightful observations, but his outlook is pagan, atheistic, and often pretty bleak. Wilson’s is staunchly Christian to the core.

    I don’t care if you plan to make a career of writing, or merely have a passing interest in it – this book should be on your shelf. It’s an immensely rewarding read for those who want to “sling ink” full time, but most of the tips are such that anybody can profit from them.

    The book is short – a mere 120 pages – but I think Wilson has inherited Lewis’ ability to pack into one sentence what most writers pack into three or four. He lays out and explains “a veritable Russian doll of writing tips”: seven exhortations for people who wish to cultivate the wordriht life.

    1. Know something about the world
    2. Read
    3. Read mechanical helps
    4. Stretch your routines
    5. Be at peace with being lousy for awhile
    6. Learn other languages
    7. Keep a commonplace book

    My favorite tip would have to be the first one: know something about the world.

    By this I mean the world outside of books. This might require joining the Marines, or working on an oil rig or as a hashslinger at a truck stop in Kentucky. Know what things smell like out there. If everything you write smells like a library, then your prospective audience will be limited to those who smell like libraries. (p. 10)

    An apt reminder for those of us who are tempted to think that the writer’s life happens almost exclusively behind closed doors with a stack of paper and a stack of books. As Thoreau put it, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

    – Corey P.


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  8. I’ve read a number of writing books over the past several years, and the two which have taught me the most are Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy and Stephen King’s A Memoir. If you take the whole writing business seriously, I can’t recommend those books highly enough. But there’s another book you should have on your shelf, too – On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I only just discovered it myself, but it already holds a place among my favorites.

    This self-proclaimed “informal guide to writing non-fiction” is exactly that – informal. It’s not a textbook, and it doesn’t want to be, which is one the many reasons I enjoyed it so much. Zinsser’s style is warm and honest, his passion for words contagious. Sure, he gets a little cranky now and then (at one point, he calls Ben-Hur “junk”), but it’s clear that he loves writing, and he wants us to love it, too.

    Now don’t get the wrong idea: this isn’t a book for “softies”. Mincing words is not Zinsser’s forte, and when he takes a swing at something he considers silly, he usually hits hard (and with stinging accuracy). According to his way of thinking, it’s not enough for you to want to write – you must also want to write well.

    This book can help you do just that.

    Instead of throwing myself into a detailed explanation of how it can help you – and why you should let it – I think I’ll just step aside and let the author speak for himself. If that doesn’t convince you of the book’s worth, I don’t know what will.

    From chapter two, Simplicity:

    Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon… Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating considerable precipitation wouldn’t dream of saying that it may rain. The sentence is too simple – there must be something wrong with it. (p. 7)

    Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this as a consolation in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. (p. 13)

    From chapter five, The Audience:

    In terms of craft, there’s no excuse for losing the reader through sloppy workmanship. If he drowses off in the middle of your article because you have been careless about a technical detail, the fault is yours. But on the larger issue of whether the reader likes you, or likes what you are saying or how you are saying it, or agrees with it, or feels an affinity for your sense of humor or your vision of life, don’t give him a moment’s worry. You are who you are, he is who he is, and either you will get along or you won’t. (p. 28)

    From chapter six, Words:

    Also bear in mind, when you are choosing words and stringing them together, how they sound. This may seem absurd: readers read with their eyes. But actually they hear what they are reading – in their inner ear – far more than you realize. Therefore such matters as rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence. (p. 38)

    From chapter eleven, The Ending:

    The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right. They didn’t expect the article to end so soon, or so abruptly, or to say what it said. But they know it when they see it. Like a good lead, it works. It’s like the curtain line in a theatrical comedy. We are in the middle of a scene (we think) when suddenly one of the actors says something funny, or outrageous, and the lights go out. We are momentarily startled to find the scene over, and then delighted by the aptness of how it ended. What delights us, subconsciously, is the playwright’s perfect control. (p. 76-77)

    From chapter thirteen, Writing About a Place:

    The other big trap [in travel writing] is style. Nowhere else in nonfiction do writers use such syrupy words and groaning platitudes. Adjectives that you would squirm to use in conversation – “roseate,” “wondrous,” “fabled,” “scudding,” – are common currency. Half the sights seen in a day’s sightseeing are “quaint,” especially windmills and covered bridges. They are certified for quaintness. (p. 95)

    From chapter fourteen, Bits & Pieces:

    Again and again in careless writing, strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs. So are countless adjectives and other parts of speech: “effortlessly easy,” “slightly spartan,” “totally flabbergasted.” The beauty of “flabbergasted” is that it implies an astonishment that is total; I can’t picture someone being partly flabbergasted. If an action is so easy as to be effortless, use “effortless.” And what is “slightly spartan”? Perhaps a monk’s cell with wall-to-wall carpeting. Don’t use adverbs unless they do necessary work. Spare us the news that the losing athlete moped dejectedly and the winner grinned widely. (p. 109-110)

    Among good writers it is the short sentence that predominates, and don’t tell me about Norman Mailer – he’s a genius. If you want to write long sentences, be a genius. Or at least make sure that the sentence is under control from beginning to end, in syntax and punctuation, so that the reader knows where he is at every step if the winding trail. (p. 112)

    Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with “but.” If that’s what you learned, unlearn it – there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is primed for the change. If you need relief from too many sentences beginning with “but,” switch to “however.” It is, however, a weaker word and therefore needs careful placement. Don’t start a sentence with “however” – it hangs there like a wet dishrag. And don’t end with “however” – by that time it has lost its howeverness. Put it as early as you reasonably can – as I did three sentences ago. It’s abruptness then becomes a virtue. (p. 114)

    From chapter eighteen, Criticism:

    Every writer wants at some time to be a critic. Small-town reporters dream of the moment when their editor will summon them to cover the Russian ballet troupe, the concert pianist, the touring repertory company that has been booked into the local auditorium. Then they will trot out the hard-won awards of their college education – “intuit” and “sensibility” and “Kafkaesque” – and show the whole country that they know a glissando from an entrechat. They will discern more symbolism in Ibsen than Ibsen ever thought of. (p. 172)

    From chapter twenty three, Write As Well As You Can:

    My favorite definition of a careful writer comes from Joe DiMaggio, though he didn’t know that’s what he was defining. DiMaggio was the greatest player I ever saw, and nobody looked more relaxed. He covered vast distances in the outfield, moving in graceful strides, always arriving ahead of the ball, making the hardest catch look routine, and even when he was at the bat, hitting the ball with tremendous power, he didn’t appear to be exerting himself. I marveled at how effortless he looked because what he did could only be achieved by great daily effort. A reporter once asked him how he managed to play so well so consistently, and he said: “I always thought that there was at least one person in the stands who had never seen me play, and I didn’t want to let him down.” (p. 273)

    – Corey P.


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  9. If you ask me, you can never read the Bible from start to finish too many times. And while I normally read according to a reading plan, I think it would be very helpful to read it with a devotional. So, if you have 90 days of mostly free time, you should definitely use this book to read through the Bible once.

    Now, 90 days is a fairly short period of time to read through the Bible, which is why this book goes through several chapters (sometimes a whole book) in a day. What this means is that instead of a detailed verse by verse examination, the book looks at a more macro picture.

    Each day goes through the chapters selected, interweaving the Biblical narrative with an ideas to consider. At the end of each day are questions for you to consider. While you could just read the devotional without reading the Bible (the entire narrative is told, after all), I think it will be much more enriching to read it concurrently.

    Apart from going through the Chapter/Books, there are also two days dedicated to introducing the Old Testament and the New Testament. I foumd that this helped me in not feeling so overwhelmed, since it introduced key themes.

    I want to end by quoting this passage on James (Day 82):

    “The practice of faith affects our actions, our mouths, and our relationships. It’s a deadly delusion to think that hearing and agreeing with God’s Word is the same as doing it. A thousand messaegs from gifted teachers do no good if the truths learned from them don’t produce change in our lives.”

    So yes, I highly recommend this book, but bear in mind, that just reading the book won’t be enough. Put into practice what you’ve learnt.

    Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book coutesy of Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for a free and honest review.


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  10. After two decades in Britian, Bill Bryson decided it was time to return to the U.S. This was partly because he wanted his wife and children to experience life in his homeland, and partly because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another. “It was clear that my people needed me,” he says.

    Before leaving, though, Bryson resolved to take a grand farewell tour of the island that had so long been his home – the goal being to take stock of the place and figure out what it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Shakespeare, cricket, Windsor Great Park, double-decker buses, and village names like Farleigh Wallop.

    Want to know what he found?

    Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain – which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad – old churches, country lanes, people saying ‘Mustn’t grumble’ and ‘I’m terribly sorry but,’ people apologizing to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, tea and crumpets, summer showers and foggy winter evenings – every bit of it. (p. 316)

    If you’re worried I just spoiled everything for you, don’t be. The joy of reading this book is in the journey itself, whether you know the destination or not. In Notes, we have an example of travel writing at its finest and funniest, and any reader looking for a jolly yet informative portrait of Britain should buy a copy at once. It’s the next best thing to packing a suitcase and going there yourself.

    That recommendation does come with a caveat, however, as Bryson’s humor sometimes veers into the profane. A handful of tasteless jokes are cracked, and strong language is used. Having said that, I think most readers will still find the ride is an enjoyable one, despite the bumps.

    If you’re avoiding this book because you expect it to be a dull travel guide, have no fear. This book is no travel guide, and it isn’t intended to be. Mere agglomeration of facts is not Bryson’s style. He is first and foremost a storyteller, and though facts and details are present, they are not an end unto themselves. Notes is an educational read, no doubt, but it’s a dashed entertaining one, too.

    What I most enjoyed was watching Bryson find a grin in the strangest of places. Whether he’s recounting a conversation he had with one of the “natives,” or making an utterly random observation about this or that landmark, the guy seldom fails at being funny.

    I returned to the car and spent some time experimenting with the controls and thinking how much I hated these things. Some people are made for cars and some people aren’t. It’s as simple as that. I hate driving cars and I hate thinking about cars and I hate talking about cars. I especially hate it when you get a new car and go into the pub, because someone will always start quizzing you about it, which I dread because I don’t even understand the questions. 

    “See you’ve got a new car,” they’ll say. “How’s it drive?” 

    I’m lost already. “Well, like a car. Why, have you never been in one?” 

    And then they start peppering you with questions. “What sort of mileage you get? How many liters is the engine? What’s the torque? Got twin overhead cams or double-barreled alternator cum carburetor with a full pike and a double-twist dismount?” I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to know all this about a machine. You don’t take that kind of interest in anything else. I’ve been waiting years for somebody in a pub to tell me he’s got a new refrigerator so I can say, “Oh, really? Hoe many gallons of freon does that baby hold? What’s its BTU rating? How’s it cool?” (pp. 140-141)

    – Corey P.


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