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April 2009

Can't talk, gotta read.

Here's a little tip, from me to you: If you're having a busy week, and you have a lot of work yet to do, and your weekend's going to be at least partially shot to hell because you have to attend a bridal shower*, do not, under any circumstances, pick up Michael Perry's new book Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting.

Coop I started it last night at 11 p.m., and wow, was that a mistake.** So now I'm tired from reading too late, and behind in my day's work (already!) because I read some more over breakfast. But you know what? It was totally worth it. I'm not done with it yet but am trying to valiantly exert some self-control and get other stuff done so I can go back to it tonight.

I'll say more about it next week (Perry is one of my favorite authors, having written the memoirs Population: 485 and Truck: A Love Story) but suffice it to say that it's awesome. I was reading it last night, totally lost in my own little world (or, more accurately, Perry's own little world) when Mr. CR looked over and said, "Are you all right?" And I started and said "Yes, fine, why?" And he said, "You have a funny little smile. I just wondered." Evidently when I am feeling 100% joy it manifests itself in a funny little smile. Good to know.

*Nothing against the bride. Brides are welcome to have bridal showers. But I don't believe in them personally (and please note, I didn't have one myself, so I never feel bad skipping out on them and sending a check instead; for various reasons, I can't do that this time). As a religion, my Anti-Shower Beliefs rival my Catholic ones in vehemence.

**It was a mistake because it's SO GOOD I didn't want to stop reading. 

The allure of a good title.

How, I don't know about you, but when I see a title like Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? Insanely Annoying Modern Things, I just have to get that book.

Shit I've been reading a lot of humor books this spring (are there more available right now or are they just appealing to me more right now?) and this has been one of my favorites. It is, quite simply, a collection of essays about very annoying modern things (or things the authors consider annoying, anyway, and handily enough, I agree with them on nearly all their entries), alphabetically organized.

Now, something leads me to believe that at least one of the authors involved (it's got three authors: Steve Lowe, Alan McArthur, and Brendan Hay) has had some less-than-enjoyable encounters with modern healthcare. I LOVED this entry, on "Doctors":

"In June 2005, a UK documentary offered a compelling reason why so many general practitioners manage that trademark double whammy of talking in slow, patronizing tones while also being utterly hopeless in the actual 'helping people' department: They are either drunk or high on drugs. Or rather, one in fifteen of them is, anyway. The others are just pricks." (p. 60-61.)

Now, I realize that is about doctors in the UK,* but it made me laugh anyway. I don't like doctors.** So give it a try; there's a little something here for everyone: "Bad Boys," "Bratz," "Creative Industries, the Phrase," "Hedge-Fund Boys," "Mac Junkies," "Networking," etc.

*The first two authors are British, and this book was first published in the UK; it's been adapted for the U.S. by the third author, Brendan Hay.

**I know we need them, and I know I should be grateful to them for services rendered. Doesn't make me like them.

Love letter to libraries: Part two.

Do you love your library? I bet you do. If you read yesterday's post, you'll have noticed that I'm having a rather soppy new love affair with my community library, which took me by surprise. Mercifully, a mere ten months after quitting my job IN a public library, I think I'm finally ready to think of the library as a place again without wanting to throw up. We're really making progress.

As I can now think more clearly about libraries, I thought it might be a good time to share some suggestions for library use that I would hope make our libraries better for everyone.* Of course, as most of you are readers and, judging from your comments, quite interesting and kind people as well, I realize that in offering this list of suggestions I'm largely preaching to the choir. But that's okay. Sometimes one wants to preach to the converted, just for a break from preaching to the unconverted, who never listen anyway.

Citizen Reader's Suggestions for Loving Your Library**:

1. As you browse the shelves, don't be afraid to straighten the books up in a generally tidy kind of way. I'm not suggesting you shelve or put things in order or strain yourself to get to a shelf you can't reach or do this with every shelf you browse. But doesn't it feel good when you look at a shelf of books falling over and in general disorder, and then you give them a gentle push against the shelf side and smartly tap the bookend in place against a newly straight row of books? Think how nice things would look if everyone tidied one shelf as they looked around.

2. On a related note, teach your child (when they reach a suitable age) to take out a book, look at it, put it back, and then go on to the next book, as opposed to pulling every book off every shelf in reach and then piling them on the floor. Library staff members are not your maids or your kids' mommies. Likewise, trash receptacles exist solely to collect your trash--make use of them rather than leaving food wrappers, scrap papers, and used kleenexes (and even, in some libraries--condoms and drug paraphenalia) around the library.

3. On a note related to that, PLEASE WATCH YOUR OWN CHILDREN WHEN IN THE LIBRARY. At least 80% of my reason for quitting last year was because I literally didn't have the heart to run out from behind the counter and yank any more toddlers back in the doors (and away from the parking lot, a few steps away), only to return them to mommies who never, ever said "thank you" for it.

4. Pay your fines. If you don't want to pay fines, return your books on time. You're not going to find a better deal than that anywhere.

5. Wash your hands and train your kids to wash their hands both before and after all of you visit the public library. I'm usually not a germ-o-phobe but you'll feel better about the library if you don't get a cold after visiting it.

Now, you'll excuse me? I'm off to use the library, but I have to wash my hands first.

*Okay, most of these would really make life better for library staff members. But wouldn't it be nice to make someone's day, even if it's just a lowly library worker's?

**How's about it? Anyone else got any suggestions they'd like to add to my list?

Love letter to libraries.

Typically when I go to my local library I head right for the check-out desk and simply pick up the items I've requested on hold. I will sometimes browse around, but not often.

Esquire But this weekend I went to my library in the company of Mr. CR, who wanted to look around first. So I said okay, and went downstairs to pick up the most recent issue of Esquire that I could get (hello, Clive Owen!). While I was there, I wandered through the nonfiction travel section and looked at books on Scotland and England. I then popped back upstairs and considered the CD collection for a while, thinking I should learn something about classical music and selecting a Chopin CD, but then changing my mind and taking the soundtrack for The Motorcycle Diaries, which I'd heard before and liked. I headed over to the DVD shelves to see if Mr. CR was ready (he wasn't; he was considering whether it was a sign from fate that the first DVD of the first season of Deadwood was in, and that he should start watching the series).

Fine, I said, and headed over to New Fiction and New Nonfiction just to browse. As I was running my hand over the new book spines (I always do this around books; for the most part when shopping I don't touch a thing, but I am the original Miss Touchy-Feely when it comes to books*), something occurred to me out of nowhere:

Libraries are really pretty great, aren't they? They're entire buildings housing books, CDs, magazines, movies, and tons of other things, all just sitting around waiting for me to borrow and use them--for free. It's unbelievable, really. What an idea. Let's all share some stuff. How on earth did that ever get started? I mean, really, it's stunning. We can't really figure out public education, we spend too much on war, and health care is a mess, but in libraries we really get the idea of "share and share alike" right.

It took my breath away, to be honest with you. It's so sad that I didn't have that feeling anymore for the last several years that I worked in a library. How typical. I couldn't really appreciate the library until I stepped out of it. Although I sometimes miss the library, I'm so glad I quit, so I could have that feeling again.

*Speaking of books as objects, check out the neat list at Reader's Advisor Online of books about book covers! Super cool.

Bourdain and Eggers rock my world.

State Has anyone seen the fantastic new book State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey?

Don't let the rather drowsy cover fool you. It's meant to look retro; the editors wanted a modern equivalent of the state travel guides produced in the 1930s through the Federal Writers' Project (part of FDR's Works Progress Administration job creation). That's right, the U.S. government put $27 million into paying authors and artists to create books and art. Can you imagine how that sort of thing would go over today? Just imagine valuing authors and artists enough to want them to continue their work. Stunning.

But the history of this volume is not the great part. What is great is the list of contributors Weiland and Wilsey have managed to pull together: Dave Eggers on Illinois. Sarah Vowell on Montana. Anthony Bourdain on New Jersey. Louise Erdrich on North Dakota. Jonathan Franzen on New York. Jhumpa Lahiri on Rhode Island. David Rakoff on Utah. And many, many more.

You don't have to read the whole thing. Get it, and read about your state. (I did, and although it hurts me to report this, I didn't enjoy the essay about Wisconsin, by Daphne Beal. Ms. Beal talked mainly about the east side of the state and Racine, which is not my part of the state, and she maintains that all Wisconsinites say "soda," not "pop," which is not true.*)

When my duty to my home state was done, however, I went right for Anthony Bourdain's piece on New Jersey, which was awesome (of course), and then I proceeded merrily along to Dave Eggers's piece on Illinois, which blew me away and reminded me, instantly, how I felt upon first reading his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, lo those many years ago, and how I fell in love with him over that book. Who would have guessed that an essay about the state of Illinois (a state Wisconsin natives largely disdain from birth; it's in our water) would have knocked me over? As Eggers says:

"The slogan on all license plates in Illinois, for as long as anyone can remember, has been Land of Lincoln. Everyone in Illinois and all sensible people elsewhere believe it to be the best license-plate slogal of all the states in our union. The closest runner-up would be New Hampshire's fiery Live Free or Die, but that slogan scares children. A license-plate slogan shouldn't scare children and shouldn't include the words 'or die.' A license-plate slogan shouldn't encourage death in the face of curtailed personal liberties. A license-plate slogan should, without threats or hysterics, evoke the moral essence and scenic grandeur of a state, and if possible it should be alliterative and should mention everyone's favorite president." (p. 130.)

I'm still a little in love with Dave Eggers, if you must know the truth.

*It's not just me. Mr. CR deigned to read it, nonfiction though it was, and concurred with my sentiments.

Free-ranging, all right, and very funny.

I vaguely remember reading Simon Rich's first book, Ant Farm, and not really understanding much of it. (I think I got it because it had a Jon Stewart blurb on the back? I'm so slutty* when it comes to Jon Stewart.)

Chickens So why I got his new book, Free-Range Chickens, I'm not sure. But I'm so, so glad I did. It's only a half-hour read, and I'm not sure it's worth its $17 cover price, but there's no doubt that some of it is very, very funny.

It opens with a nice little essay in which a young Simon Rich tries to wrap his mind around the concept of the tooth fairy (a weirdo being who wants children's teeth and sneaks into their houses to get them) and moves directly into the very hilarious "A conversation between the people who hid in my closet every night when I was seven.)

But, hands down, my favorite was "How My Mother Imagined the Police":

"FIRST OFFICER: I just got a call from a local mother. Apparently her child was supposed to be home by six--and he still hasn't arrived.

SECOND OFFICER: Jesus Christ. It's almost seven. Are you sure she told him to be home by six?

FIRST OFFICER: Yes, that's his weekday curfew: six p.m. If he stays out past that hour, he's supposed to call and tell her where he is.

SECOND OFFICER: And you're telling me he still hasn't called?

FIRST OFFICER: I's a pretty scary situation.

SECOND OFFICER: We better get the chief." (p. 26.)

Tee hee. That is quality stuff. Although I see in the back that Simon Rich (in addition to looking about 11 years old) writes for Saturday Night Live. Which leaves me with just the one question: Why isn't Saturday Night Live funny?

*Reading slutty, that is, in that I'll get any book he blurbs or that is written by any author who appears on his show. Oh, who am I kidding? I'd love the chance to be slutty slutty** where Jon Stewart is concerned; I love him. Although, and here's your question for the day: who do you love more, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert? I think I might actually tip Colbert...

**This morning my mom told me about she and dad's visit to a comedy club over the weekend, where the comedian was funny but, you know "a little crude." Ever since she told me that I've found myself being way cruder than usual.

Now THIS is reading for fun.

A big shout-out and thank you to Bookie, for pointing me to the Guardian's Digested Read* of Jodi Picoult's Handle with Care, which is, quite frankly, the most brilliant thing I've read all week. I'm pretty sure this John Crace guy isn't making as much money as Jodi Picoult is, which is yet further proof, if you needed any, that this world is unfair.

Also a big hello and thank you to RickLibrarian, who posted a very nice review of my new book The Inside Scoop: A Guide to Nonfiction Investigative Writing and Exposes at his blog. Thanks, Rick! And, for all you readers of biographies, please note that Rick's reading guide, titled Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography, is going to come out this summer. I myself can't wait to see it!

*"I called you Willow. Though it's the readers who would be Weeping by the end." This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I lived in Great Britain and had access to the print versions of British newspapers. I'd totally subscribe to one of those. My suck-ass local paper? Not so much.

Oh, I'm reading for fun, all right.

Last week there was an article in Newsweek titled "Does Jodi Picoult Hurt Literature--Why Is It a Sin to Read for Fun?"*

Well, that was just too good to pass up. If you can, I'd highly recommend the article, but if you don't have time, I can hit the high points for you.

"The young woman with blonde ringlets has a question: where did Jodi get her green-velvet hair scrunchie? Jodi, who has wavy red hair not unlike the blonde's, admits she stole it from her teenage daughter, then says she'll write down the name of the Web site where the blonde can order it."

That is totally my favorite part of book readings, learning where I can buy hair accessories. When I saw the awesome Melissa Bank in person, I didn't waste time with any reading or writing questions. I asked her what makeup she uses.

"But commercial writers such as Picoult are a thorny subject for the self-appointed literature police."

Hello, I'm Citizen Reader, and I'll be your self-appointed literature policewoman today.

"There is a formula to a Picoult book: each takes a controversial ethical issue—"designer babies," high-school shootings, child abuse, the death penalty—and pits sympathetic characters, often family members or best friends, on either side of the debate. "

Actually, that's a very handy summary of every Picoult book ever written.

"On her Web site, a fan in remission from leukemia wrote that she learned a lot more about her disease reading "My Sister's Keeper" than the doctors ever told her."

Actually, I believe that too. But that rather indicates to me more that there is something desperately wrong with our health care system, not that there is anything right about Picoult's writing.

"But it's reductive to lump Picoult in with all bestselling commercial writers. Her prose is smooth and never gets in its own way."

Hello, I'm Citizen Reader, and I'll be your reductive literature policewoman today. Picoult's prose is designed to impart information about the disease of the week she's writing about, and to pull you, by the halter if you balk, from one chapter to the next, which doesn't really equal "smooth."

And, last but not least...wait for it...

"Picoult sees herself more in the school of so-called literary writers such as Sue Miller, who also writes about domestic topics despite frequent downmarket comparisons, especially to "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer. "In terms of the literary content of the 'Twilight' books, they're totally escapist. I think technically I am maybe a cut above," she says."

Oh, Jodi, Jodi, Jodi. I don't care if you're out there selling hair scrunchies and selling lots of books. But please don't call yourself a literary writer.** And, frankly, I'm no Stephenie Meyer fan, but at least Stephenie had to dream up her story, rather than just ripping it from the day's headlines.

Hm. That WAS fun!

*A big shout-out to Minneapolis Sarah, for bringing this article to my attention.

**I haven't giggled at an author's statement so hard since Jennifer Chiaverini's (she's the author of roughly a million books about ladies who quilt) statement that her writing wasn't formulaic. Um, Jennifer? Your own titles, most of which include the word "quilter," beg to differ.

Fifty bucks well spent.

I haven't spent it yet, mind you, but I think I will.

The pending purchase in question is the oversize book from DK Publishing titled Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary.* It's gorgeous.** For a girl who wishes she'd taken an art history course, it's an art history course all by itself, with representative artists from numerous countries over the course of human history. Each page includes five to fifteen major artworks, along with timelines, short artist bios, and short facts about each work of art.

Art It's wonderful, and the slick pages are beautifully printed. This is certainly a case where looking at a book is just hands-down better than looking at the Internet (faster, too), and if you know anyone with young kids, I'd suggest this book, just so they can leave it laying around and their kids can learn about art from an early age.

I'll admit I spent most of my time in the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, primarily in Europe, but there's also sections on art from other parts of the world, and the latter pages on modern art (although it's not my favorite) were also very informative. Even if you don't want to buy it, I would check it out.

*Do follow the link to Powell's--there's a video there you can watch and see inside the book.

**Take care when you carry it home. It's heavy!

Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: Just Helene

Hanff Thanks so much for joining me for Helene Hanff* Appreciation Week. As I looked through her books for excerpts to share, I just grew in my love for her. You know how rarely that happens? Sadly, familiarity often does breed contempt in this world. But not where Helene is concerned. The more I learn about her, the more I love her. Consider this excerpt from her obituary in the New York Times:

"But ''84, Charing Cross Road'' could not provide its author with the economic stability she sought throughout her life. ''The one drawback about being a writer is that you never know in any month where the rent is coming from six months from then,'' Ms. Hanff told Publishers Weekly in 1985.

In her last years she was 'broke,' by her own account, living on royalties and Social Security and accepting a $5,000 grant from the Authors League Fund to help pay her hospital bills.

No immediate family members survive."

Now, as my sister points out, there is no justice in a world where Helene Hanff died broke. But I have to give Hanff credit for making it as a writer and reader, even if she didn't end up with anything. Frankly, just making her New York City rent for most of her adult life speaks to her tenacity.

I've enjoyed this week, but I'm holding a couple of pleasures in reserve: Hanff is also the author of books titled Apple of My Eyeand Q's Legacy. When I read them you'll be the first to know, but I want to leave them for a while and enjoy the delicious anticipation. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

*The picture is from Wikipedia, and as, by all accounts, Helene hated having her picture taken, I shouldn't have used it. But I couldn't help myself. I think it's a great picture.

Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: Queen of England

Before she became quite well-known for writing 84, Charing Cross Road, Hanff worked as a script reader and childrens' book author. Now, I can't say that her book for kids, Queen of England: The Story of Elizabeth I, was her favorite book of mine. For one thing, it was published in 1969, and it' was published by Doubleday, and all those educational kids books from the 50s and 60s share a quaintly dated feel.

But I still enjoyed it, and I read the whole thing. For one thing, the way she talked about her in other books, I think Hanff had a real love and appreciation for Elizabeth I, and I can respect that, because I do think Elizabeth I was a singular woman:

"On the morning of Palm Sunday--a chill, rainy March morning--Elizabeth was taken by boat across the river to the Tower of London. She stepped on shore, and saw stone steps leading up to an iron gate called Traitors' Gate. She stopped in her tracks.

She cried out that she would not go through Traitors' Gate. She was not a traitor. She was true and loyal to the queen...

The guards made her climb the stone steps. At the top step, she stopped again. She sat down on the wet stone step and said she would go no farther. She would not go into the Tower--too few left it alive.

A few friends had come this far with her. They now had to say good-by, and one man broke down and began to weep. At this, Elizabeth rose to her feet. She told the man to stop weeping.

'My truth is such,' she said, 'that I thank God my friends have no cause to weep for me.'"

Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

Although Helene wrote to the Marks & Co. bookstore for twenty years, starting in 1949, she didn't actually get to travel to London until 1971, when she did things up right and stayed there for a month, getting to know a wide variety of people and being (as far as I can tell) incandescently happy.

Bloomsbury Although I loved The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, and loved all that I learned from it about London and Great Britain, my favorite part of it was actually reading Helene's memories of how she first started educating herself through books:

"But Oxford I have to see. There's one suite of freshman's rooms at Trinity College which John Donne, John Henry Newman and Arthur Quiller-Couch all lived in, in various long-gone eras. Whatever I know about writing English those three men taught me, and before I die I want to stand in their freshman's rooms and call their names blessed.

Q (Quiller-Couch) was all by himself my college education. I went down to the public library one day when I was seventeen looking for books on the art of writing, and found five books of lectures which Q had delivered to this students of writing at Cambridge.

'Just what I need!' I congratulated myself. I hurried home with the first volume and started reading and got to page 3 and hit a snag:

Q was lecturing to young men educated at Eton and Harrow. He therefore assumed that his students--including me--had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the 'Invocation to Light' in Book 9. So I said, 'Wait here,' and went down to the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3, when I hit a snag:

Milton assumed I'd read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I'd been reared in Judaism I hadn't. So I said, 'Wait here,' and borrowed a Christian Bible..."

Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: Letter from New York

In 1978 Hanff was approached to prepare a short series of five-minute broadcasts about the city of New York, where she lived, to be played on BBC radio. The series ran for six years, and the book compilation of her talks was published as Letter from New York, from which today's excerpt is taken. Enjoy!

"In our building, my friend Nina gave a birthday dinner for our mutual friend Richard a few weeks ago. I remember telling you once that almost nobody in New York has a garden. And the reason why I said almost nobody is that here and there, in a Manhattan highrise apartment house, there's a remarkable exception like Nina. Nina lives in a penthouse on the 16th floor, and the living room double doors open onto a narrow cement terrace, twenty feet long but only five feet wide. In window boxes along the twenty-foot railing and in pots on shelves along the opposite brick wall--sixteen floors above the street--is Nina's garden. The night of Richard's birthday dinner we had cocktails on the terrace and I made Nina give me the names of everything growing there, so you'd know what can be done with a narrow cement terrace and a green thumb. Blooming in Nina's garden are ageratum, miniature amaryllis, miniature dahlias, dianthus, freesia...

Nina owned Duke, my true love, the German shepherd who died last winter; and she used to get very wrathful when he ate her flowers. I'd ring the bell to take him to the park, and Nina'd open the door and say: 'Your boyfriend had a little African violet salad for breakfast; I'm not speaking to him.'"

Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: 84, Charing Cross Road

A while back I wrote about reading (and loving)Helene Hanff's classic collection of letters titled 84, Charing Cross Road. I also promised to go on a Hanff bender, which I have pretty much done.

I have enjoyed every single, solitary minute of it.

That's the good news. The bad news is I've got a busy week coming up, lots of work, lots of things I don't want to do, but I thought, what better time to get out of the way and let a real author (and a completely classy and interesting lady, if everything I've read about her is true) talk for a while? So tune in every day this week for a little taste of my new hero (although I can't decide if I'm in love with her or if I want to be her) Helene Hanff, starting with a tidbit from her book that started me off, in which she shares a 20-year correspondence with Frank Doel, a bookseller in Marks & Co. in London.

From the first letter:

"Gentlemen: Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase 'antiquarian booksellers' scares me somewhat, as I equate 'antique' with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble's grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies."

And from my favorite letter of hers:

"Frank Doel, what are you DOING over there, you are not doing ANY thing, you are just sitting AROUND.

Where is Leigh Hunt? Where is the Oxford Verse? Where is the Vulgate and dear goofy John Henry, I thouht they'd be such nice uplifiting reading for Lent and NOTHING do you send me.

you leave me sitting here writing long margin notes in library books that don't belong to me, some day they'll find out i did it and take my library card away."

Tune in tomorrow for another daily dose of Helene.

I didn't know such a thing existed.

Hey, whaddya know? There is at least one decent novel on the New York Times Notable list, and it's Shannon Burke's Black Flies.

Flies I started this book one afternoon and wasn't really happy until I had the time to finish it up the next morning. It's the story of Ollie, a young man whose MCAT scores weren't enough to get him into medical school, so he becomes a medic (EMS) in Harlem. He begins, as many medics do, with the idea of helping to save people's lives. A mere eleven months later, after receiving very few thank yous from the individuals he and his colleagues pick up on a daily basis, dealing with Rutkovsky, a partner he respects but who is so far beyond burnt out that the phrase has lost all meaning, and struggling to feel something, anything, besides contempt for human beings, he finds he doesn't know that he cares about saving lives all that much anymore. Or, as his former girlfriend tells him:

"'Well, that's what I'm talking about, Ollie. You want to help people. That's your good quality. That's what I always liked about you. That's why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place. You were always like Mr. in college. But...I can hear it in your voice. Your good qualities aren't being used. They're getting beaten down.'" (p. 139.)

It's a great novel. Short, scary, but very thoughtful. And hey, it's a New York Times Notable book, so you can walk around holding it and feeling very cultured.

You're preaching to the choir, dude.

So, here's my question about political books. How do people stand to read books that only share and provide facts about their own personal points of view? I'm talking about the Ann Coulter and Al Franken political readers of the world. For the most part, the only people reading those books are the hardcore disciples who completely agree with everything they already think. To me, that sometimes seems like nothing more than a big waste of reading time.

Reagan Take a book like William Kleinknecht's The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America. Now, I am of the opinion that Ronald Reagan was a total shithead. So you'd think, wouldn't you, that this book would be right up my alley? And I guess it could be. But after reading the Introduction, I just couldn't get myself to read any further. For the most part, I was completely in agreement with everything the author said. If I had any sort of memory (I don't, sadly, except for book titles and the names of BBC actors and the literary adaptations in which they appear, you know, the really important stuff) this would be a great book from which to learn facts and interesting tidbits about the many and exact ways in which Ronald Reagan was a total shithead. Consider:

"But therein lies the great myth of Reaganism, for his betrayal of the working people of America could not have been more complete. Thanks in large part to Reagan's policies, the two periods of economic expansion that followed his election did little for Americans in the middle and lower income brackets...Expressed in constant 1998 dollars, households whose wealth placed them in the bottom 40 percent of the country had seen none of the benefits of two decades of economic growth. Between 1962 and 1983, the average household net worth of that group had grown from $800 to $4,700. But by the time Reagan was out of office in 1989, that group had a negative net worth of $4,100; that is, they were in debt for that amount...

The real winners in that economic growth were the wealthy. The top 1 percento fhouseholds saw its average net worth grown from $7.2 million to $9.1 million between 1983 and 1989, a 26.9 percent increase that far surpassed the 6 percent growth for the middle 20 percent." (pp. xiv-xv.)

Now, that's interesting stuff. But the problem* is, a. I know numbers can be largely manufactured or construed to say pretty much whatever you need them to say, so it's hard for me to get too passionate about them, and b. I'm never going to remember them anyway, so I can have them ready for when someone asks me why my gut feeling is that Ronald Reagan was a total shithead. So yeah, this would probably be an interesting book (there are also chapters on Reagan's mastery of the media, deregulation, his big-business friendly policies, his campaign against Jimmy Carter, crime and punishment, tax, and his relentless pummeling of liberals and the New Deal). I just don't have the time or the heart or the inclination to read it right now. On the other hand, I do now have a title I can remember for the next time someone tells me how great Ronald Reagan was. They won't listen to me or read it or anything, but I'll at least have tried.

*My second problem with the book is this line, from the introduction: "This book is borne of annoyance: a great bewilderment over the myth that continues to surround the presidency of Ronald Reagan." I agree with that in spirit. But shouldn't it be "This book is BORN of annoyance"? Help me out, grammar experts, because if it should be BORN I'm going to be totally annoyed with this book.

A little bit tricky for the self-employed.

Boss I really, really enjoyed Graham Roumieu's very short, very funny, very strange book of doodles titled 101 Ways to Kill Your Boss. Because it can be read through in about fifteen minutes, I'd highly advise taking it along to work and perusing it while you eat your lunch. Plus, what boss isn't going to be a little more careful around you if they see a book with that title on your desk?

Do check it out. Some of the comics are hilarious, some are weird, and some are deeply disturbing. (Okay, they're all deeply disturbing.) My favorite? The one where an employee has just decapitated his boss into a file cabinet drawer marked "Heads." The librarian in me thrills to the classification and neatness of the solution.

Where are you, Lynn Snowden?

One of the problems with nonfiction authors is that they don't often write as many books as popular fiction authors do. Frankly, William Langewiesche couldn't write enough books to keep me happy, although he is starting to put together a lengthier backlist.

On the other hand, I sometimes find authors like Lynn Snowden. I don't know where I heard about it, but something possessed me to request her book Nine Lives: From Stripper to Schoolteacher, My Yearlong Odyssey in the Workplace. I brought it home and perused it slightly, thinking I'd look it over, find out some interesting tidbits about stripping*, and take it back. Before I knew it, I'd read the whole thing by reading a chapter or so every night.

I really enjoyed this book. An early example of "participatory journalism," a la George Plimpton and Barbara Ehrenreich, it's also a surprisingly good one. I loved her chapter on cocktail waitressing in Las Vegas (which turned out to be her hardest job, as well as one of the hardest to get), as well as her chapter on being a housewife, which she also found exhausting. But the chapter on stripping was still my favorite, precisely because she gave a very forthright accounting of her reactions to her customers. I particularly enjoyed this:

"Taking my clothes off in front of strangers turned out to be pretty easy to do. It's walking by a construction site that's a hundred times worse than disrobing in a strip joint. Men are much more cowed and intimidated in front of strippers than they are on the street. They're on our turn in a strip club, and they don't want to do something wrong or they'll be thrown out." (p. 186.)

I really enjoyed the other strippers (in New Orleans) teaching Snowden how to size up the customers for how much money can be had, and for pointing out that therapists make hundreds of dollars an hour (which, they argue, they are, as most guys just want to talk about themselves); I also enjoyed this:

"One guy was smiling at me the whole time I was onstage, but never came up to tip. After I finished I went over to him and asked if he enjoyed the show. 'Yes, I deed,' he says. Oh, shit, he's French, I think. Bad tippers as a rule. 'I like ze girls who smile.'

'If you liked it, you should have given me a tip,' I say.

'Ees zat why you were smiling at me?' he says indignantly. 'To get ze dollar. Eez zat why you are doing zees? For ze money?'

Yes, you fucking moron." (p. 201.)

Finally, finally, a case where women can say, "Boys, she's just not that into you."

My question is: where is Lynn Snowden now? This book was published in 1994, and she published another book, Looking for a Fight, in 2000, but since then...I can't find any other books she's written. Please write another one, Ms. Snowden, even if you don't want to write any more about stripping.

*Between this, Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, and Diablo Cody's Candy Girl, I think I am now done reading about striping.

Scottish triumvirate of goodness.

Scotland may not be a big country, but it certainly is responsible for a good chunk of my pop culture joy.

Take, for example, the lovely and talented James McAvoy. Let's run down his case:

1. He was in the great little movie Starter for 10, which Mr. CR and I watched this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed.* Man, the Brits know how to make a good, bittersweet, romantic comedy, and they can do it in 90 minutes (unlike most recent American rom coms, which have been clocking in at 100+ lately). Set in 1980s England, McAvoy plays a nerdy university student who actually wants to know things, and tries out for his university's quiz team (to try and get on the quiz program "University Challenge"); along the way, of course, he finds himself torn between two very different girls. In the beginning of the movie he attends the British version of a college house party--and bless him for actually looking as awkward as I always felt at those things.

2. He married a woman several years his senior, and when an idiot radio interviewer asked him if he was sorry he got married in his late twenties, when he could have been using his fame to hook up with lots of women, he nicely pointed out that he was already hooking up with the one woman he really wanted to hook up with.

3. He's 5' 7", and I love short men. Also: Scottish accent. And: asking talk show hosts for permission to say certain words:

When I get more time, I'm going to go on a mini-McAvoy bender, including the miniseries State of Play and the movie The Last King of Scotland.

Number two in the triumvirate: Martin Millar. I've talked about him before, but I have a new book of his waiting for me at the library (Yay!) and Mr. CR is reading his SF novel Thraxas right now. Mr. Millar also struggles with agoraphobia (I relate; I can go outside but I can't say I typically enjoy it) and writes an amusing blog (recent headline: "Modern world continues to disappoint").

And then, of course, let's not forget glorious number three: Ewan McGregor. Although I am smitten with McAvoy right now, McGregor will always have a place in my heart, not only for his acting in such fabo flicks as Shallow Grave and Brassed Off (another great British bittersweet chick flick), but also for his beautiful uncontrolled laugh and interview style. Although I had pledged in the mid-1990s to never again watch a Tom Hanks movie (I hate him) or support Dan Brown (I hate him more) in any way, I may actually have to break down and see Angels and Demons because McGregor is in it.

So, thank you, Scotland. If I didn't already love you for containing Edinburgh, I'd certainly love you for the three reasons above.

*You know it's a watchable chick flick when I can get Mr. CR to sit through it.

MENAGE Day 5: Thanks for playing!

Hey everyone. Thanks so much for yet another great Book Menage. I thoroughly enjoyed this outing, even if I didn't wholeheartedly love both the books. And I found that interesting too: I've definitely had to re-evaluate Dangerous Laughter based on your comments!

My question today is twofold, and mostly on process: How did you like this five days, five different questions format? Or did you prefer the good old days when there was one post and one massive comments section?

And, the all-important matter of: What should we read next? I'm still wanting to pair Tom Bissell's memoir The Father of All Things (I'm cheating; I've already read and reviewed this book) with Doris Lessing's memoir/novel Alfred and Emily, but I'm flexible. Would you like to make some suggestions? Please list any book pairings you'd be interested in, and sometime next week we'll take a vote and I'll announce the winner of the next Menage's books.

Thanks again. This was awesome! And have a great weekend.