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July 2008

What a (delightfully) weird little book.

Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers and Other Useless or Gross Information About Your Body: Information About Your BodyA reader pretty much knows what they're in for when they check out a book titled Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers & Other Useless or Gross Information about Your Body: a quick read and some disgusting fun facts that one's husband will be mortified about when you break them out at work parties.

I was expecting something along the lines of Why Do Men Have Nipples?, and other medical trivia books.  Human anatomy questions are indeed answered here:

"Do bugs live in eyelashes? Most people don't like the idea that bugs can live on their skin and hair. However, the truth is that many bugs do, and they live with us in harmony, most of the time. By the time we reach late adulthood, most of us have wiggly, microscopic, wormlike mites called demodex mites living in the roots of our eyelashes." (p. 31.)

But what I didn't expect was the fun historical and cultural information:

"What is the difference between Brazilian and Hollywood bikini waxing? [The Brazilian] waxing treatment traditionally leaves a small rectangle of hair, or 'landing strip,' on the mons pubis, the area found just above the genitals. The Brazilian wax usually includes the waxing of the labia as well as between the buttocks (ouch!), which is why it can be more painful than a traditional bikini wax. However, those Hollywood gals had to take it one step further, and created the Hollywood bikini wax. This involves whisking the whole lot off, leaving it totally bare down there. Some women have claimed that a Hollywood is even more painful than giving birth, so it may be best to have a few stiff drinks before attempting this one." (p. 39.)

"What was unusual about King Charles VIII of France's toes? Toward the end of the fifteenth century, King Charles VIII of France is said to have made it fashionable for men to wear shoes with square toes. He himself had six toes on both feet, and for this reason he decreed that very wide shoes were something to be admired." (p. 70.)

All in all?  Fun stuff.  Now I just need to find a party to attend before I forget which organ can grow back if it is cut in half, and why poo is brown.

Ugly fiction: Beautiful Children.

Beautiful Children: A NovelEvery time I try to read new, well-reviewed, good word-of-mouth literary fiction, it always bites me in the ass.

Consider Beautiful Children, by first-time novelist Charles Bock.  This is the book-jacket synopsis:

"One Saturday night in Las Vegas, twelve-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn't come home.  In the aftermath of his disappearance, his mother, Lorraine, makes daily pilgrimages to her son's room and tortures herself with memories.  Equally distraught, the boy's father, Lincoln, finds himself wanting to comfort his wife even as he yearns for solace, a loving touch, any kind of intimacy."

Okay, borderline intriguing.  Then you have the critical blurbs, like that from The Washington Post:

"In the no-man's-land of Bock's Vegas there remain only the survival strategies of the hopelessly inept young. I cannot think of another novelist who has dared to attack this most pressing and complex issue so ferociously."

And then you have the text itself:

Editor's note: I made it through about 100 pages of this book, and then I just stopped.  I've been looking through the text this morning, trying to find a quotable snippet that would illustrate why I can't read it anymore, but taken out of context, any bits I'm finding seem either just profane or too descriptive of some of the less savory aspects of strippers' and street kids' lives.  And that's not really the point.  Bad language doesn't bother me, and I've read lots of weird descriptions of violence, sexuality, evil, what have you (I read both true crime and fiction by Chuck Palahniuk, so evidently I'm getting jaded?).  So no quote here.  Just a vague sense of feeling dirty, and that the world is icky, and that I am annoyed with literary fiction for being "ugly fiction" and for always making me feel this way.  Now I'll be off novels again for a while.  I'm sorry I can't illustrate what I mean better.

Citizen Reading: Getting away from it all.

Mr. Citizen Reader and I are newly back from Michigan's Upper Peninsula (da UP, eh?) and a weekend wedding that was lovely.  (Three little words that make all the difference at any wedding: good buffet line.)  It was a very nice weekend away, primarily because we don't have kids and when we take vacations, which is not often but always appreciated, it really does seem like getting away.  (No extra packing, no figuring out activities for the car, no attending children's museums or other kid-friendly events, etc.)  Now, I have it on good authority that having kids is very nice, and interesting.  But not traveling with them?  Priceless.

Of course, coming back, even after a scant two days away, was brutal. 

I was planning on being such a well-rounded little reader.  I took along several novels, but ended up reading (of course) a memoir titled Hack: How I Stopped Worrying about What To Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab.  Mr. Citizen Reader packed some nonfiction, but stuck with the one novel he'd packed.  Evidently you can't fight city hall.

My question on trip reading is this: Do you feel more like reading about your destination before you go traveling, or when you get back home?  I'm a "get back home" reader myself.  I had zero interest in the UP and Wisconsin's Door County (where we also stopped), and now I'm jonesing for some good Wisconsin and Michigan history, with an emphasis on Great Lakes shipwrecks.  The few times I have traveled, I've always thought I should read about the place before I go (I felt this particularly with Boston and Montreal) but I never get it done.  But that's all right.  I prefer to try and lose myself in happy trip memories by reading about the places afterward.  Anyone else out there have a preference?