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September 2008

Citizen Reader: The Staycation.

That's right, Citizen Reader is going on a staycation.

And, because Citizen Reader is a dolt, she's doing up a staycation the right way: going to the doctor to get some health issues resolved and waiting for her laptop computer, which died in the middle of being stressed by said health issues, to be diagnosed and fixed or replaced. Et tu, computer? (A big shout-out to Mr. CR, who's letting me use his desktop, even though I am a computer jinx.)

All told, I'd rather be flying to London or Edinburgh. In the meantime, have a great weekend and week and enjoy the start of autumn. I'll be back before you know it--that's a threat. I mean, promise.

This month's must read: the conclusion.

Part two of the essay "The Tiniest Bit," from Hollis Gillespie's* Trailer Trashed:

"That day the New Orleans airport was a lot like the city itself: dead but not dead, animated by oddities that should not be there, like the National Guardsman who pulled the Jetway to our plane, and the tented 'hospital' on the tarmac where actual surgeries were performed, and the Red Cross workers, and the makeshift morgue. Most people had a gun or a badge or both, and those who didn't, the minority, were evacuees. They wandered aimlessly in clothes that were not theirs and, oddly, almost all of them were wearing brand-new baseball caps bearing industry logos.

I did not make it to the morgue because a truck had pulled up a few hours beforehand with a litter of sixteen puppies, which were each almost immediately adopted by disaster workers, who then walked them on improvised leashes throughout the atrium. It was probably almost the only thing that could have brought light into the eyes of these bereft people, and in the end that was worth seeing more than a makeshift morgue.

In all, it made me wonder about the world, the sorrow and loss, how lasting that is, how thick and insurmountable it seems, and then I saw puppies. And then I remembered how an elderly gentleman once danced in the street with a kind-hearted cleaning lady--held her in his arms like the perfect daffodil that she was--and I remembered the beauty of that, the aching grace of that, and suddenly I realized the tiniest bit is enough. The tiniest bit flavors the rest." (pp. 39-41.)

It's not a perfect book; it jumps around a bit too much and could have benefitted from an editor's imposing of a bit of order or structure or something. But I'm going to go out on a limb and call it like I see it: that is PERFECT essay. And I thank Hollis Gillespie for it.

*I also have a soft spot for Gillespie because she says "Jesus God..." a lot, which is a blasphemous bad habit  I share. You can get away with the occasional "Jesus God" at work a lot easier than you can "Fuck sake."

This month's must read.

I am LOVING Hollis Gillespie's new collection of essays: Trailer Trashed: My Dubious Efforts toward Upward Mobility.

Trailer Gillespie, if you don't know her, is a humorist and memoirist who has worked, variously, as a German interpreter, flight attendant, and now writer and NPR commentator, whose first memoir, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch, I also loved. (I was not nearly as fond of Confessions of a Recovering Slut, but maybe I just wasn't in the right mood that day.) In this collection, she shares more tales of her family (her mother was a missile-making scientist and her dad sold trailers when he worked at all) and her friends, one of whom is notable for wanting her to call him if she ever finds a dead hooker in her hotel room, as he promises he has a plan for disposing of bodies. But all of the slightly unhinged stuff aside (and lots of swearing, don't forget the swearing) these are gentle stories.

So: I'm going to share one of her essays with you. It may not be totally cool from a copyright standpoint, but the book is searchable in Amazon, which gives you three pages anyway (which is the length of the following essay, "The Tiniest Bit." So I say let's have at it. I can't do it justice any other way.

"We were warned before we took off from Atlanta about the state of the New Orleans airport, told to 'prepare ourselves,' as the entire B concourse had been converted into a rudimentary morgue. On the way there, a Federal Air Marshall futher expounded that morgue might not be the right word. 'Dumping ground is more like it,' he said, as bodies had been simply shunted in that area, some still slumped in the airport wheelchairs that had been commandeered as provisional gurneys to get them there. Once we landed, it would be six hours before our people would be ready to leave. 'You can wait here,' he told me. 'You don't need to go out there. The place is contaminated.'

But upon arrival, I was the first one off the plane. I've always been that way. Even against my better judgment, I seldom pass up a chance to ogle catastrophe, dead bodies included. My own father's funeral was open-casket, and my mother graciously gave us, her teenage kids, the option of not viewing him in that state. 'You can wait here,' she said. I was the only one of my siblings who went in. I stood with him a long while, wondering if I could run my fingers through his hair. Finally I did. It was his hair all right, and I was surprised that his hair was there but he was not. In the end I wish I hadn't seen him like that; I wish my last memory of him could have been the last time I saw him alive, when he was making cocktail sauce, adding the horseradish very gingerly. 'You just need the tiniest bit,' he said. 'The tiniest bit is enough. It flavors everything else.'

He was from Birmingham, and he used to talk about New Orleans like it was some kind of Emerald City, an enchanted wonderland. Even during his surprise last days, he used to constantly recount how he once saw Louis Armstrong at Preservation Hall. 'You walk down the street,' he used to say, 'and you hear music coming out of every doorway. I heard that trumpet and walked inside, and there he was.' It was like my father lived on that memory, kept it protected like a treasured talisman, and pulled it out often to ward off the harshness of a world that would relegate a man who loves music and the magic of New Orleans to an efficiency aprtment and a job at a used car lot adjacent to LAX.

So when I was sixteen, I went to New Orleans and decided to stay a good while, moving in with my hotel's maid when I ran out of money. Her name was Shirley and she had an Afro like a perfect daffodil. One night I took her to Gunga Din's on Bourbon Street to watch the mangy drag queens insult the audience. That one tiny bit that I did--'taking her out on the town,' as she called it--was enough to brightly color the rest of our relationship. After that she refused to charge me rent anymore. 'You keep your money,' she insisted, and I am still astounded by her kindess. On another day we walked through the French Quarter and stopped to listen to a child play the violin on the street corner. A crowd formed, and an elderly man asked Shirley to dance. He spun her through the street in beautiful, pitch-perfect ballroom maneuvers, his posture so erect and his face so proud, his steps so achingly graceful. In light of Hurricane Katrina, it is an amlost unbearably memory."

Tune in for the conclusion tomorrow.

Eccentrics and health care.

Remember a while back when we talked about all the great literature coming out of Canada, and how I mentioned that someone had opined that was due to their socialized health care and the idea that writers in Canada could actually afford to be starving artists for a while without fearing that one small health problem could send them rapidly and irreversibly into debt?

Peril Well, I found another example today of the beautiful eccentricities that can come out of socialzed health care. This one's name is Bob Servant, and he's a sixty-two-year old British man with a history of working odd jobs, and whose friend convinced him to publish a book called Delete This at Your Peril: One Man's Hilarious Exchanges with Internet Spammers. You know all those annoying emails you get from royalty in Nigeria, who need all of YOUR banking particulars so they can send you all their money, and they can retrieve it later and give you a percentage for your trouble? Well, Bob Servant actually answers those emails. Quite hilariously:

"TO: BOB SERVANT. From his royal highnest, Jack Thompson. Dear sir,

Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business. I am Jack Thompson, the only son of late King Arawi of tribal land. My father was a very wealthy traditional ruler, poisoned to death by his rivals...Before his death he told me of a trunk box containing $75m kept in a security company. I now seek a foreign partner where I will transfer you proceeds for investment as you may advise. I am willing to offer you 20% of the sum as a compensation...


Good morning, your Majesty, I want 30% and not a penny less,

Bob Servant."

Bob Servant does this a lot, with financial scammers of all kinds, as well as "Russian brides" offering themselves for money, and any number of other spam campaigns. I was completely amused for the majority of the book, and Mr. CR read the whole thing and actually giggled at many parts of it. (Mr. CR is definitely of the stoic school, so getting an outright giggle is nearly unheard of, although very enjoyable when spotted in the wild.)

So yeah, it's fun. Do read it. And, to get back to the earlier point: who has time to work odd jobs, cultivate their weird sense of humor, and actually write back to email spammers, which is a task I think has a definite value to society? People from socialized medicine countries, that's who. Something like this could only come out of America if written by someone who inherited big-time family money. And, frankly, have you ever met someone who both a) inherited family money, and b) had a sense of humor? I thought not.

No good.

That is how I feel about the news that author David Foster Wallace, at 46, has died.

I'll grant you, I was never a big fan of his fiction. But if you want to read one of the finest essays ever written on the subject of reading and writing essays, I'd strongly recommend you pick up the 2007 edition of the Best American Essays series, for which he wrote the introduction. He was also the author of books of essays of his own, including Consider the Lobster and the sublimeA Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, in which he wrote about attending a county-fair like baking competition. Wonderful stuff.

I think the Guardian has it right with their typically outspoken headline: Foster Wallace is a Huge Loss. Compounding the sadness is the fact that he committed suicide; in addition to the just plain loss of someone, I always think about the sadness that must have come before the death and feel very badly about that as well.

Sometime this week, or whenever you can, find a copy of Consider the Lobster and raise a glass of something expensive and alcoholic in tribute to a very fine author. I will be doing that, and hoping that whatever came before, peace will come after.

Shallow alert.

I'll admit it. I only checked out the book Long Way Down: An Epic Journey by Motorcycle from Scotland to South Africa for the pictures. Why? Because it's co-written by actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.

And Ewan McGregor is SO CUTE.

Mcgregor I was not disappointed. There are three sections of photos in the book, in which McGregor and Boorman take turns telling the story of their motorcycle journey from the northern tip of Scotland to the southern tip of South Africa, and many of them feature Ewan looking very, very adorable. I also enjoyed the captions: (Between two photos, one of Ewan by his tent, one of Charley by his tent) "In the cuds in Tunisia. Ewan would like to point out that he often got his tent up before Charley. Charley would like to point out that not only is his tent up, he is already starting supper."

Okay, so I'm shallow. I looked at all the pictures, twice, and read here and there in some of the chapters, which were also quite amusing, but I'm not going to read the whole thing. I'd recommend it, though, especially if you're looking for a good adventure story that also has some laughs. If you'd prefer to watch the story,it's available on DVD, just like Long Way Round (the tale of the pair's first journey around the globe) was.

A novel, a question.

Has anyone out there read Jeffrey Eugenides's novel The Virgin Suicides? If so, did you like it?

If so, why?

Suicides I read it yesterday and I'll admit that's about my only reaction. What was the point of this book? Why would anyone enjoy it? There must be all sorts of things I'm missing here, because it was well received critically, was a big bestseller, and was also made into a movie. Maybe because the basic outline of the story was rather titillating? All five daughters of the Lisbon family eventually commit suicide,* one by throwing herself out an upstairs window onto a fence, the other four a year later, by various means. The story is told in flashback, I'm assuming by one of the neighborhood boys, who watched the family of all girls, fascinated.

Etc., etc., for 250 pages. I'll admit it: I just don't get it. To me it read like a very male, very adolescent fantasy of how crazy women get when they're locked away from boys (the Lisbon parents are strict about dating), which is a theme I find annoying, to say the least. Oh--except that hypothesis doesn't work for one of the daughters, Lux, who finds plenty of male companionship, eventually resorting to having sex on the roof of her house with numerous suitors.

I kid you not. On the roof. I'd have to see the house in question but it's difficult to picture that, logistically.

So I MUST be missing something. Right? What is it I'm missing? Please tell me so I can understand.

*Evidently it's based loosely on an actual event. Hm. Maybe I can track down some nonfiction on the story instead. ADDENDUM: Here's what I learned in the Literature Resource Center database, available thanks to my local public library: "The author got the idea for The Virgin Suicides while visiting his brother's house in Michigan and chatting with the baby sitter. The young woman said that she and her sisters had all attempted suicide at one point. When Eugenides asked why, she replied simply, "pressure." The theme of inexplicable adolescent trauma amid a placid suburban landscape gave birth to the plot of the novel."

Who can live like this?

I was only going to skim Judith Matloff's Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block, but after I read the first few chapters, I couldn't stop. Matloff, a former foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor, tells the story of her later-in-life marriage to another journalist, and their subsequent desire to settle down perhaps someplace less unsettled than where they had been living (Rwanda, Moscow, etc.). So where did they choose?

Why, West Harlem, New York City, on a street with a lively drug trade and a crack addict neighbor named Salami squatting in the abandoned house next door, of course.

Matloff and her husband don't settle there because they love the neighborhood; they buy a brownhouse there because it's one of the few living situations they can actually afford in New York City, even with years of savings upon which to draw. From the start the author has to deal with a house falling down around her, construction contractors of varying degrees of skill and trustability, and individuals doing drug deals on her front steps. In addition to the multitudes of trash she finds on her front stoop, she also finds broken crack vials and two syringes filled with old blood in her backyard.

Homegirl But what's truly fascinating is how she and her family eventually become quite comfortable as a part of their neighborhood. They make an effort both to join community efforts to lessen crime, as well as to get to know the (primarily) Dominican Republican drug dealers on their block. My absolute favorite part was when she returned from the doctor's office, newly in possession of the information regarding the sex of her baby, and has no one to tell but her local drug boss Miguel:

"Eventually, the chicken wing in the sonograms took on a more human appearance, including, on one visit, an unmistakable set of male genitalia. As I rode home from the doctor, I called Mom, John, and my sister, but no one was there. Wanting to share the news with a human rather than an answering machine, I announced our unborn's gender to Miguel as he held the taxi door open for me. 'Un hijo!' ('A son!') Miguel called excitedly to the street.

Oops, a narcotics dealer was the first to know. This was truly a strange start." (p. 198.)

I enjoyed that immensely.

Last Two Political Books of 2008: Part two.

I hereby pledge to you that I will be reading and posting about no more political books for the rest of the year. Yes, I will continue to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online, because you have to reward a show that reports from the Larry Craig bathroom at the Republican National Convention:

But before I ignore political books, turn off the TV news, and generally stick my head in the sand, I'd like to share a paragraph from Scott McClellan's completely pointless and largely very boring book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception:

Mcclellan "One of the most memorable images that stands out to me took place during one of the president's visits to Walter Reed. He would go from room to room, visiting with the wounded soldiers and their loved ones. I entered a room just ahead of him and stood by the doorway. The room was dimly lit. A young mom from Texas and her seven-year-old son were seated next to their husband and father. He sat upright in a wheelchair, motionless. His head was covered in white gauze and bandage from the top down to his eyes. He was clearly not aware of his surroundings; the brain injury was severe.

The president entered just after me. He walked over to the mom and hugged her. He put his hand on the son's shoulder and told him, 'Your dad is a very brave man.' After visiting briefly, Bush turned back to the soldier, placed his hand gently on the wheelchair, bent down, and softly kissed the top of his head before whispering in his ear, 'God bless you.'...

These visits had a way of reinforcing the president's resolve to successfully complete the mission--to press ahead. The momentary doubt became, in the end, another reason for his unshakable determination.

Still another motive for Bush to avoid acknowledging mistakes was his determination to win the political game at virtually any cost." (pp. 208-209.)

That just makes me sick on so many levels I don't know where to start. I can talk about one level, though: throughout the book McClellan points out how he was just repeating what he was told, and had NO IDEA everyone in the administration was a lying sack of shit. You know what I say? Methinks McClellan doth protest too much. I'm pretty sure he knew everyone was lying. And anyone who can watch the scene above without wanting to punch the hypocritical God-blessin' president in the gut* is a bad man.

We're done here. I promise.

*I know, violence isn't the answer. But he sure does bring it out in me.

Last two political books of 2008: Part One.*

The other day I was on the phone with Mom and she wanted to get into it about Barack Obama (not that she's a fan of John McCain either, thank God). We've always been a family that could chat this stuff over so it wasn't surprising that this topic would come up. I think my response did surprise her though:

"Mom, I can't talk about this with you. I am done with politics."

Can you believe I once wanted to major in Political Science, and when Dad suggested that that was perhaps the most bankrupt subject on earth (I'm guessing he meant morally as well as financially) I actually cried and told him I wanted to change the world? Hoo boy. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and kindly pat that young girl on the head, lovingly.

Trillion I'm having much the same problem with Joseph Stiglitz's and Linda Bilmes's book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. I just can't do it. I tried. But when you can pretty much feel in your bones what a book is going to say, and all you're going to learn from it is some more numbers that you'll forget in a day, and you're too much of a coward to tell your few remaining pro-war friends any of the things you've learned anyway, it's time to give up the ghost and move on to something that will be a better use of your time.

What I can do is give you a flava of the book. I may print it out and make a bookmark out of the following passage; it pretty much says it all. Maybe I'll take it to my conservative in-laws' extended family this Thanksgiving and pass it out.** If nothing else, I'd never have to go to another extended family Thanksgiving.

"By now it is clear that the US invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake. Nearly 4,000 US troops have been killed [Editor's note: the number is currently 4155], and more than 58,000 have been wounded, injured, or fallen seriously ill. A further 7,300 troops have been wounded or injured or fallen seriously ill in Afghanistan. One hundred thousand US soldiers have returned from the war suffering from serious mental health disorders, a significant fraction of which will be chronic afflictions. Miserable though Saddam Hussein's regime was, life is actually worse for the Iraqi people now. The country's roads, schools, hospitals, homes, and museums have been destroyed and its citizens have less access to electricity and water than before the war. Sectarian violence is rife." (p. ix.)

Also of supreme interest is the appendix showing how the Department of Defense web sites listing Afghanistan and Iraq casualties and injuries have evolved over time to be more confusing in language, more cluttered to look at, and which require the person consulting the site to add their own numbers together rather than providing totals. Close enough for government work!

*I have been reading too many political books this year, as there are too many available. Today's and tomorrow's posts will be my last two about political books in 2008, is my solemn pledge to you.

**I won't, though. See earlier coward assertion.

Well, that's just sad.

The other night I was speaking with someone who had just attended a book/reading conference in Canada. I asked if they were still getting charged more for books up there, which seems unfair, as the Loonie (their dollar) is still very nearly even with our suffering dollar. The answer to that was yes. And then I heard this very interesting tidbit:

Evidently, per capita, there is an enormous amount of fantastic literature, fiction, genre fiction, nonfiction, etc., coming from Canadian authors these days. I can't say I'm surprised, but then, I love Canada with my whole heart and soul. So we chatted a bit about why that might be, and my friend said that people at the panel thought at least one reason was Canada's socialized health care, meaning that their starving artists can, you know, be starving artists for a little while, while still having the option of, you know, basic medical care. As opposed to (in my friend's words) "having to go get some stupid full-time draining job just to have access to health insurance and doctors when you need them."

That is just SO SAD. It's not enough that all our manufacturing, tech, and call center jobs are elsewhere, now we're outsourcing our writing as well? This country has some explaining to do.

So. If you're looking for Canadian book news, might I humbly suggest Book Ninja? Since all the great lit is coming from our gentle giant neighbor to the north, let's be informed about it, at least. I may read a Carol Shields novel of some type this weekend in Canadian solidarity.

And, for no reason at all except I find the whole story kind of funny (I can't help it), here's a link to some info from Levi Johnston's (Bristol Palin's baby daddy) MySpace page:

Have a good weekend, all!

Weirdest Book of the Week Award

...and it goes to: Gene Simmons, front man for the band Kiss, reality TV star, and now, author!

So what is the title of Simmons's newest nonfiction triumph? (He's also the author of Sex Money Kiss and Kiss and Makeup.) It's nothing other than...

wait for it...

Ladies of the Night: A Historical and Personal Perspective on the Oldest Profession in the World.

And the title pretty much says it all. Oh, except for this paragraph, which I really enjoyed:

Simmons "Men don't think about reproducing; they think about sex. Men are simple: they work, eat, sleep, and have sex. Women think about reproducing, because they are biologically built for it. They have breasts and childbearing hips. Starting at the age of thirteen or so, their menstrual cycle reminds women every single month of their biological imperative to reproduce. Men are oblivious to reproduction for the sake of reproduction. All we have is the urge to have sex. And lots of it."

Followed by this one:

"In modern times, some women get married. Some women date. Call it what you will: there is always a price...for the male. Today, when the male of the species takes a female out on a date, he will pay.* He always has. He always will. When a fifteen-year-old kid takes a girl to the movies, hoping for nothing more than a kiss at the end of the evening...he will pay. In every culture on the face of the planet, the male always pays."

Completely dry and surprisingly unerotic chapters follow, on such topics as "Ladies of Ancient Greece," "Ladies of the Middle Ages," and "Modern-Day Ladies." I can quite honestly say I've never seen anything like it. I can't imagine it why I requested it from the library, but when I saw the title and the author I just laughed and laughed. I owe it for that, as for various reasons I really needed the laugh this week. And perhaps the biggest laugh of them all?

Wait for it...

"For the record, I have never hired the services of a Lady of the Night. If I ever did, she would have to pay me." (p. 168.) Okay, Gene. Whatever you want us to believe.

*Boy, did I date cheapskate losers in college, evidently.

Two for two.

A while back I read and thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Peacock's double love letter to the professions of housecleaning and writing, A Broom of One's Own. (Okay, it wasn't really a love letter to housecleaning as much as it was an admission that hard, good physical work need never be demeaning, which still seems to me a love letter of sorts.)

Because I enjoyed her nonfiction, I decided to investigate her fiction as well, and came home with Life Without Water. Now, typically, this would not be my type of novel: coming of age, Summer of Love, universal truths, etc. Often when I see any of those words on a book jacket I run in the opposite direction, screaming. But this was Nancy Peacock. I persevered.

Life And I'm so glad I did. For one thing, it's a smoothly written little work, not slim or short really, but definitely readable in an afternoon. The story is that of Sara, who hooks up with hippie Sol in a North Carolina house with no water, and she eventually gives birth to Cedar while Sol paints the floorboards in the house a rainbow of colors and does a bit of marijuana-dealing on the side. Sara tires of this eventually and leaves Sol, only to find Daniel on one of she and Cedar's road trips, and to eventually return with him and another couple to the North Carolina house to live in a two-couple commune. Eventually things go wrong with Daniel too, the house burns down, and any number of things happen until the book simply ends, again, with characters not really changing all that much but still surprising you.

I love it when fiction does that. I read this one in a couple of hours, completely submerged in its world and, I'm afraid, mostly with my mouth hanging open in concentration and thought.

This is how it opens:

"My name is Cedar and I was born in 1969 in one bedroom of a gray and tumbling house in Chatham County, North Carolina. My mother's name is Sara. My father called himself Sol. My mother has told me over and over and over again the story of their courtship, the story of my birth and her reasons for being with this man called Sol. My mother has told me that if not for her brother Jimmie's death, I might not have ever been born." (p. 1).

Turn up your nose at the Jodi Picoults and Oprah books of this world. Pick up this novel instead.

Now this is the stuff of nightmares.

Just a week ago I was having nightmares from Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a dark novel of the apocalypse. Now I'm having them* from the most buzzed-about, feel-good, coming-of-age bestselling novel of the summer: David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Sawtelle Now, granted. This is a novel about a boy and his dogs. I am not a dog person. Emphatically.** Ergo, I had no business reading this novel. But it had buzz! It's a first novel! It's set in northern Wisconsin! It's a bestseller! I felt that I had to.

Here's the first issue; the book synopsis is: "Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's paternal uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelles' once peaceful home. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Claude insinuates himself into the life of the farm--and into Edgar's mother's affections." (From the dust jacket.)

Sound familiar? That's right--we have a modern day retelling of Hamlet on our hands. (Or, as one reviewer has referred to it, Hamlet meets Huck Finn.) It probably doesn't help that I've already read one modern retelling of Hamlet this year (and it was a LOT better), or that Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, a retelling of King Lear, is one of my most-hated books ever. And I like it when old stories are cleverly retold. But Hamlet meets Huck Finn? God, talk about trading on the literary reputation of others.

Second issue: On page 30, we have the first chapter of several, told from a DOG'S point of view. I find that obnoxious. I do not find it literary. I do not find it brave. I do not find it avant garde. I find it annoying as hell.

Third issue: This book is 562 pages long. Maybe if I was the type of person who got four or more weeks of vacation a year, that would be acceptable. I don't, and it's not. Even if Wroblewski was going for a massive American epic marriage between Hamlet and Huck Finn (God help us), I'm sorry, but you should be able to do that in 400 pages. Where have all the good editors gone?

Enger So yes. I am defying everyone who has loved this book, which is evidently pretty much all the reviewers and the majority of the American book-buying public when I say: Skip it. I don't care. I feel good saying it. And, also? If you're looking for Shakespeare retellings, try Lin Enger's Undiscovered Country (which is the other Hamlet book I read this year). Sure, it's a YA novel, but it's only 320 pages and roughly a million times better. Or, if you need a movie instead of a book, even watching the BBC's modern adaption of Macbeth (with James McAvoy, rowr) will still save you hours.

*I'm not kidding. Last night I dreamt I was reading some other novel, and although it was pretty good, the last chapter was told from a dog's point of view. I woke up screaming.

**This situation is not helped by living in a neighborhood where some of our "neighbors" regularly let their huge stupid dogs wander around unleashed.