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May 2008

Weekend update.

If there was any doubt that Scott McClellan is the biggest rat snitch soulless money-grubbing sell-out evil wiener ever (his former boss notwithstanding), please watch his Daily Show interview from January 2007 at

Then have a good cry for the state of our nation, and give up on politics forever.  Done, and done!

Got what I needed.

Writing for Love And/Or Money: Outtakes from a Life Spec, the Early YearsI'll admit it: I only checked out the book Writing for Love and/or Money because I loved the title.

I didn't (and still don't) know anything about the author, playwright Frank Gilroy.  This is not surprising, because my knowledge of playwrights is even more embarrassingly incomplete than my knowledge of artists.  This is particularly sad because I was a drama geek in high school.  So: Frank Gilroy is a playwright and author who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Subject Was Roses*, and this book is his explanation of how he got where he is, mainly by skipping school, avoiding nine-to-five jobs, and gambling at the race tracks.  Or, as he says in his introduction:

"As the man introducing me at the local community college goes on about my loftier achievements and awards, the audience (kids from families straining so they can get a higher education) openly yawns.

Scrapping prepared remarks, I tell them 90 percent of my career has been failure.

'I've been dead broke six times and if I don't sell something soon it'll be seven.'

I have their attention."

What follows is a year-by-year rundown of both his successes and his failures.  I only got as far as p. 40, but that was mainly because I've got other things around I want to read more.  But what I read of this, I enjoyed.  I LOVED one of his college anecdotes:

"'Why are you going to college?' Professor John Finch asks various students the first day of Freshman English.

Some say to get better jobs.

Some say because in their family everyone goes to college.

'To have a happier life,' one fellow says.

'That's the answer I've been waiting for,' Finch pounces.  'You're in the wrong place.  The more you learn the more uncertain you'll be about things you've taken for granted.'

Slight pause.  Then: 'The compensation is you'll be unhappier at a higher level of awareness." (pp. 20-21.)

I really enjoyed that.  I won't get the rest of it read, but I really enjoyed that.

*Here's today's fun fact: the movie version of The Subject was Roses starred Patricia Neal, an American actress who was fantastic in the movie Hud (with Paul Newman) and who was married to British author Roald Dahl.  Small world, after all.

Scott McClellan is a weenie.

I had a different post all ready for this morning, but then became subject to a bombardment of Scott McClellan in the media, and thought that badmouthing him would be a more timely issue.

Look at this man.  Do you really want to give him $27.95?  I didn't think so.

All day yesterday he and his little Bush administration tell-all, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, were featured on Yahoo.  This morning, he was on all the networks I get (to steal a great line from the movie Broadcast News, "I think he was live on two of them"), along with Bush's current minions professing shock at his betrayal.

According to today's reports*, here are some tidbits from the book: Bush is a liar.  Karl Rove will do anything to win.  Cheney views the world as full of evil he must conquer.

Are you KIDDING me?  Is any of that still news?  For THIS he gets all-day headlines on Yahoo and major broadcast media coverage?  Not only is the man a weenie, he is the worst kind of weenie: he did his evil boss's bidding (quite gleefully, I'm sure) for years, and now he's a turncoat for personal profit.  Puke.

So please don't buy this book.  I wish no one would, until McClellan announces that all his profits will be going to victims of the Iraq War (on both sides of the conflict).  I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.

*This just in, thanks to Bookslut: an excerpt at the Washington Post

A royally good time.

If you like reading, you're going to love The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett.

What's not to love?  The Queen comes across a mobile library on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, and feels she'd probably better check out a book, for the purposes of good public relations.  A member of her kitchen staff, Norman, is picking out a book at the same time, and eventually the Queen makes him a member of her household staff, largely charged with helping to pick out her further reading.

The Uncommon Reader: A NovellaOf course, no one really likes it that the Queen is reading (and enjoying herself doing so), and various intrigues to banish Norman and put a halt to her new, antisocial, and deemed rather unsettling reading habit ensue.  If you like reading OR the British royals, I think you'll be amused by this short novel, and if you like both (guilty!) you'll love it so much you'll draw a nice and very proper bath immediately and retreat to it so you can read the whole thing in one go.

There's not much in the way of plot to sum up, but I can give you a tiny flava:

"She soon became engrossed, and passing her bedroom that night clutching his hot-water bottle, the duke heard her laugh out loud.  He put his head round the door.  'All right, old girl?'

'Of course.  I'm reading.'

'Again?' And he went off, shaking his head.

The next morning she had a little sniffle and, having no engagements, stayed in bed saying she felt she might be getting flu.  This was uncharacteristic and also not true; it was actually so that she could get on with her book." (pp. 13-14.)

The Queen as "old girl."  Tee hee.  Check this one out.

I'm a bad person.

You know how I know that?  I'm about to dis a book written by man dying of pancreatic cancer, for the love of God.

The Last LectureLet's get one thing out of the way: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, is not a terrible book.  It's not the sort of book that's going to make the world dumber, the way books by Thomas Friedman and Jodi Picoult do.  But it is emphatically not a book for me. 

You've probably seen the story.  Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, found out in 2006 that he had pancreatic cancer.  In 2007 the prognosis got worse: he had numerous tumors in his liver and the doctors gave him months to live.  This provided the impetus to give a "last lecture" to a large audience at Carnegie Mellon, which he also felt could be recorded and written down so his three very young kids had something to remember him by.  It's not a bad idea, and the first part of the book (the text of which was taken from the talk) is interesting, about how he achieved most of his childhood dreams, including working as a Disney Imagineer and being Captain Kirk.*

Where it falters slightly is the last half, where Pausch trots out a bunch of "life lessons," most of which are not only not unique in the grand scheme of books and speeches, but which will be published in literally hundreds of different self-help and business self-improvement books this year alone.  They include: Dream Big, Earnest is Better than Hip, Don't Complain, just Work Harder, and Look for the Best in Everybody.  There's also a lot of chat about being a positive person, and never giving up when you hit "brick walls."

Well, okay.  But you know what?  Not everyone is a positive person.  I don't think everyone should have to be, which is why I find these types of books so obnoxious.  Frankly, I think the crap suggestion to "don't complain, just work harder" is directly attributable to that positive outlook.  Just once I'd like to read a book that says, "You know what? If you have a legitimate complaint, complain.  Don't stop complaining until the dicks causing your problems address your issue and maybe improve things for the next poor schlubs."  Maybe we should all start complaining a little more, with reason, including Pausch: maybe if the pharmaceutical companies were spending a little less money on creating diseases and demands for drugs they have, and a little more money on researching pancreatic cancer, they'd get somewhere faster. 

The bottom line is, of course, live and let live. Pausch has a right to write whatever kind of near-death book he wants.  But am I the only one who finds it ironic that a man advocating finding a way through brick walls has hit one he clearly won't be able to overcome?  I want to read the book that says, "Oh, shit, you know, some walls you just can't break down" and then see what the author does from there.**

I don't think anyone's going to publish that book.  But then, I'm not a positive person.***

*The Captain Kirk story was my favorite one in the whole book.  Pausch didn't become Captain Kirk, but he met William Shatner, which is even better, in my opinion.

**Actually, I've read that book, and it was AWESOME.  It was Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It, one of the most negative and inspiring books ever.

***Please note the important distinction that this doesn't necessarily mean I'm an unhappy person.

A little something light for the weekend.

Tee hee.

I really enjoyed the short book Indexed, by Jessica Hagy.  There's not much to say here (nothing like starting the new blog off with a whimper rather than a bang, and starting to take the holiday weekend a little early) except that it's very fun, and you should take it somewhere where you have to wait in line, like the post office or the bank, because it'll only take you five minutes to read.

The best part?  When you're done, you can simply visit the web site on a daily basis when trying to kill time at work, just like you should already be visiting Overheard in the Office.  CitizenReader is, and always has been, a proud sponsor of killing time at work just to make it to the end of the day.

Happy Weekend, everyone, even if it is a holiday that celebrates the deaths of the young and innocent perpetrated by the old and corrupt. 

Welcome! And a small story.

Hi, everyone!  And welcome to CitizenReader, which I hope will not be as technologically challenged a blog as Nonfiction Readers Anonymous was.  But, let's face it, I'm still it probably will be.

Why the change?  Well, NRA wasn't working anymore, for one thing.  For another, I just wanted a change that reflected my changing reading habits.  CitizenReader will still primarily be about nonfiction.  But I'll be including fiction reviews, too, and hopefully more thoughts about reading in general.  I have come to realize (only took me about a third of a century) that reading is really the only thing I'm good at.  And I'm going to try and do a lot more of it.

And now?  A story!

I don't know where I came up with the name "Citizen Reader."  My sister commented that it was vaguely Communist, so in her honor, I've used a red theme for the layout.  It's also loosely based on Thomas Jefferson's idea that the nation should be filled with "citizen farmers," people who could feed themselves and take care of their own but who were still engaged with the larger world.  That's what I'd like to be, only with reading.  I'm still working on how to feed myself.

When I researched the name Citizen Reader, I came across an article by David Castronovo and Anne Whitehouse that discussed the literary critic Edmund Wilson's correspondence with one of his readers, who he referred to as his "citizen reader."  I thought that was interesting and went to get a biography of Wilson, randomly selecting Edmund Wilson, by Jeffrey Meyers, from the library.  Then, of course, I didn't get time to read it, but when I opened it up, a piece of paper from the book's former reader fell out.  I'm providing it in full here, because it made me laugh.

"Edmund Wilson, Jeffrey Meyers.

Edmund Wilson drank to help his train of thought.  He never stopped reading, writing and thinking.  He wanted to know it all.  Nothing human is without connection.

When Dorothy Parker, Benchley and Sherwood resigned from Vanity Fair, Frank Crowninshield recruited Edmund Wilson to fill the gap.  'Vanity Fair' was a cross between today's Esquire and New Yorker.  Wilson published the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  He introduced readers to Freud, Proust, Bergson, Eliot, Fitzgerald.  He disliked the poetry of Frost and Pound and Wallace Stevens.

Edna Millay published her first poem in Vanity Fair in July 1920, shortly after Wilson joined the staff.  During the next three years she brought out all her poetry and prose in that magazine and reached a much wider audience.  Photographs of Millay fail to capture and convey the strange magnetism that attracted and inspired so many men.  She was the most passionate love of Wilson's life.  She was bisexual, loved sex and, in the true style of the bohemian twenties, seemed willing to sleep with everyone.  Wilson lost his virginity to her."

Well, frankly, I don't think I need to read the biography after that.  Although I may actually have learned more about Edna SVM than Edmund.  Whoever wrote this handy summary also has a future in writing, I think.  I love the first-line punch of "Edmund Wilson drank to help his train of thought." 

So, welcome, citizen readers.  Thanks for sticking it out with me.  I'm so glad to be back.

Looking for the Second Stacks?


And welcome to Citizen Reader.  If by any chance you got here because you attended the nonfiction workshop in Toledo (and if you did--thank you for attending; I had such a great time in your city!) and are looking for the outline from May 14, it can be found at:

Thanks again and feel free to check back here as well; as soon as I can get things up and running I hope to do daily book posts here as well.