Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What I'm Reading
When I was in NY on the weekend, I went into a Barnes and Noble and probably spent over an hour in there. You're probably thinking, "You were in NY for only a few hours, and you wasted it in a BOOKSTORE?!" but you have to understand, I used to spend all of my free time in bookstores, and now if I go in, my toddler wants to ride the escalators, I'm constantly chasing her around the store, it's a case of get in there, grab what you need, leave, there's no time for browsing, and if I happen to also be with my husband, he usually lasts 10 minutes before he's tired of chasing her and he's pleading with me to go. So spending an hour in a bookstore ANYWHERE is a luxury that I will take if offered. :)

So anyway, I wandered around the store, browsing, picking up books, looking at their covers, when the one pictured here caught my eye, Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu. I loved the comic book style of the cover, and when I turned it over to see what it was about, saw that it was a collection of short stories. I opened it to the title story, about a guy who really wants to be a superhero, but no matter how many times he takes the exams, he's never granted anything beyond his "good-guy card" because his power is not considered important enough:

My power, if you can call it that, and I don’t think you can, is that I am able to take about two gallons of water from the moisture in the air and shoot it in a stream or a gentle mist. Or a ball. Which is useful for water-balloon fights, but not all that helpful when trying to stop Carnage and Mayhem from robbing a bank.

For years I was on a self-improvement kick. I read all the books and listened to tapes. I ordered everything there was to order by mail. Studied physics, how the big brains can change gravitational constants. I read history, I learned theory, the balance of good and evil, stuff like that. Still doesn’t change the fact that I’m minor. Not even minor. A sideshow. A human water fountain.

He begins to think he should have chosen a better moniker:

Part of the problem is my name. Moisture Man. Doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of the wicked.

For a few months last year, I tried to get people to call me Atmosphero. A few people did it to be nice, but it didn’t stick—I think the problem was too many syllables. Shortening it to Atmos doesn’t work either, because there’s a physicist up in Seattle named Atomos who solves science crimes with a group that calls itself The Nucleus. The registrar says if I use too similar a name I could be sued for infringement. She suggested the name ’Sphero, but that’s just plain wrong. Makes me sound like a force-field guy, and, anyway, -o endings are usually for villains.

So I’m stuck with Moisture Man.

A couple of years ago I listed myself in the phone book, which was a mistake, because you can imagine the crank calls I get.

I found myself laughing out loud in the store at this, and when the superhero's friend, who is really powerful, finally takes pity on him and asks him to come help some other heroes save the world, Moisture Man goes along, but while they're out shooting fire and ice and flying around, Moisture Man can't get his seatbelt undone, and is stuck in the car.

At that point, I was completely in love, and bought the book. The story actually ends up moving from the funny to the sadly beautiful, and I was so glad I'd bought it. This is Yu's first book, and I hope he writes several more.

The rest of the stories in the book have a similar quirkiness. He plays a lot with the actual short story form, and while his bio doesn't say it, I'm assuming he comes from a mathematical background. In one story, A is traveling on a train going 60 mph, and he sees B on the same train, and wonders if their integers would go together. They get married, and when B becomes pregnant they're not sure about introducing a baby into the mix because they're not sure what A+B equals. It's hilarious.

I'll admit there were a couple of stories that lost me, and I just skipped by them after I'd gotten halfway through, but that wasn't the case for most of them. And the stories that I skipped might end up being someone else's favourites. These are weird little tales, often told in a dry manner, but with hilarious moments that will have you laughing, and poignant examinations that will make you think about relationships and why we're in them. I definitely recommend this, especially to the Heroes fans looking for something to read in the hiatus. :)

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