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June 2009

Dylan has the proper attitude.

I'm in the middle of a few books, so no coherent thoughts this morning. The only thing one can do when unfocused, is, of course, spend some quality time at YouTube.

So, even if you don't know him, you should consider watching Irish comedian Dylan Moran's talk show interview. I particularly like what he has to say about technology:

"It's just that you're filling your life with all these gadgets and shite because you're bored." (Around the 1:30 mark.)

Dylan Moran on Chat Show

And yes, I am aware of the irony of embedding* a YouTube clip to laugh at modern technology. It's still funny.

*Or I should say, trying to embed. I'm not sure why it's not working this morning, and I'm too tired to figure it out. So all I can offer is the link.

Golden week.

Although last week was a rather long week for completely non-reading reasons, it was one of those charmed weeks where I rather enjoyed every book I picked up--even books I normally wouldn't have thought I would like.

Them A case in point is Nathan McCall's Them, which I read about somewhere, and although I didn't think I would read the whole thing, it sucked me in. The story is basic, and one that is happening in all sorts of cities in America: Forty-year-old Barlowe Reed, a single black man, is living in a primarily black section of Atlanta known as the Old Fourth Ward. He works hard as a printer, hates paying taxes, and mostly enjoys a good cold beer at the end of the day in the house he rents. When his new neighbors turn out to be a white couple, though, the reader can see what's happening: gentrification.

It's not a subtle book by any means, and reviewers and readers (at Amazon) have hammered it for McCall's reliance on stereotyping, particularly where the white characters are concerned. But I thought it was interesting all the way through, and for once I didn't really mind the stereotyping, which made the book's title all the more appropriate--after all, we're all a "them" to somebody else, regardless of who we are. (I find it interesting, moreover, that "stereotyping" is lambasted in this book, but nobody dares bring up the word where the collected works of Jodi Picoult are concerned, which are rife with stereotyping.)

And I liked the main character, Barlowe Reed. I would like any character who gets in a fight at the post office because he hates flags and he doesn't want stamps with flags on them, let's face it ("They tried to make me buy flags, Nell. What you expect from me?"--p. 10.) This was a different read for me; and I think it might pair well with a nonfiction book like Judith Matloff's Home Girl, in which the author herself was the agent of gentrification in a Harlem neighborhood. I'm also going to look into McCall's memoir Makes Me Wanna Holler.


Well, let's just say I owe all of you big time!

That's right, I get to be one of several guest bloggers at the BookNinja site, which is not only a fabulous books and reading blog, but is also masterminded from Canada. That's right! My dream of being Canadian moves one step closer to fruition!

Thank all of you so much for your votes! As I told George, the editor at BookNinja, this is way better than my eighth-grade student council run, which ended in tears (but also, thankfully, a much clearer understanding of my social standing, or lack thereof, which actually made it a lot easier to get through high school). I don't know all of the details yet but we'll get to run amuck at the BookNinja site from July 2 through July 16.

I would say I will endeavor not to let the quality of Citizen Reader suffer, but let's face it, me and "quality work" have never been in the same room together anyway. (Ah--and there's the payoff in doing mediocre work and keeping everyone's expectations low!) I'll still be here, though.

Now, for the rest of the weekend, as another fine Canadian citizen would say, "Keep your stick on the ice. We're all in this together." And thanks again.

This is why I don't get very far cleaning.

The other day I was doing a little light spring cleaning in my kitchen, which typically entails throwing away some five-year-old- stale, half eaten packets of chocolate graham crackers and a few cans of expired soup (circa 2006).* I was busily cleaning out a drawer when I came across a loose piece of scratch paper. "What's this?", I thought.

So I flipped it over and on the back side I'd written:

"A Two-Pronged Approach to the Afghan People.

By night our missiles rain on them,
By day we drop them bread.
They should be grateful for the food--
Unless, of course, they're dead.

-Calvin Trillin, Oct. 29, 2001."

What that was doing in my cereal and paper plate drawer,** I have no idea. And it made me sad to read it. But it did put me in the mood for some Calvin Trillin, so even though I found cleaning about as nonfulfilling as ever, I did get a little something out of it this time. Have a great weekend, all.

*I know, it is a sin to waste food. Part of the kitchen-cleaning plan is to now be smarter about how I buy food.

**Don't ask. I have no home organizational skills whatsoever. Somehow I manage to get meals made and dishes washed (sans dishwasher), so the system seems to be working, and I'm not going to fuss with it now.


Okay, please do excuse the rather hysterical nature of the heading. But I am SO excited.

The story, in short: George over at BookNinja is going away for a couple weeks in July (to Ireland; I'm so jealous I could cry) and asked for applications for guest bloggers. So I threw in an entry, thinking I didn't have a shot in hell, but as you'll see, my entry gave me a chance to rag on Thomas Friedman, which I enjoyed. And George picked me as one of the candidates to be voted for!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, WOW WOW HOLY SHIT WOW.

BookNinja's an awesome blog, and I'd love to post there. So if you get a chance, please do wander over to the posting and toss a vote my way. I would be coy and just say I'm the entry making fun of Thomas Friedman, but as I am asking for a favor here, I have to stop playing hard to get. Please vote for "Sarah Statz Cords." (Or the cat lady. Her entry is pretty funny.)

Great title, great author, great book.

I loved, loved, LOVED Stacy Horn's Waiting for My Cats to Die: A Morbid Memoir.

Of course, with a title like that (much like Anneli Rufus's Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto) you knew I was going to love it. But why should you read this book? Well, if you think you might have anything in common with a woman in her early forties who's looking for love, struggles with work and the parts of her job she can't stand, and who cares desperately for not one, but two cats who have diabetes and require some intricate cat care regimes, you might, like me, find that you feel quite close to Stacy Horn.

Cats For the most part, it's a straightforward memoir, with chapters with recurring titles like "Cats," "Romance," "Work," "Death," etc. For a woman in her early forties, Horn seems to think about death a lot, but that's only natural considering her areas of interest (more on this later); the poor thing also spends a lot of time caring for her beloved cats Veets and Beamers (as her vet says, "Ladies and gentlemen, guard your cats! Any cat that comes near that woman gets diabetes!"), and running the social networking website that she started way before such things were cool (called Echo, at, it's a place where New York City residents can chat). She even periodically includes interviews that she does with older people, with such questions as "What are the main differences between the young you and the you now?" (which is a great question). She also includes thoughts about her friends and romances and how the two sometimes just don't work:

"Joe and I keep waiting for our friendship to turn into a When Harry Met Sally thing. We have this level of comfort with each other. When I was obsessing about my stomach, for instance, we compared fat rolls. Does it get any better than this? Feeling unself-conscious enough around someone to compare fat rolls?Joe and I can't help thinking things would be even better if we could somehow move into the more-than-friends category. We're so close...In the future people may marry for friendship. Maybe Joe is simply ahead of his time. There is, I have to say, something exquisitely cmforting about Joe's knowing when my TV holes are. TV holes are the times when there's nothing good on and it's safe to call. Is this enough to make a marriage?" (pp. 71-72.)

Oh, I love her. I actually fell into this memoir ass-backwards; Horn is the author of the spectacular nonfiction books The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad (one of the best True Crime books ever) and Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory; after reading those books, I finally figured out that I should probably see if she'd written anything else, and up popped this book. Do read it. For a morbid memoir, it's a lot of fun.

Penelope Fitzgerald is my people.

So, if I'm reading Penelope Fitzgerald's spectacular short novel The Bookshop correctly (and I think that I am), what she's saying is:

1. People are real shits; and

2. If you're not a real shit, you don't have a chance in hell of beating them.

Or, as a corollary to number 2, you might in fact "beat" the shits in that you will win a moral victory, but 2 1/2: You will never know you have won the moral victory, or 2 3/4: it will not help you to win the moral victory.

If she is, in fact, saying all these things, then there's really only one thing left for me to say: I think me and this Penelope Fitzgerald are going to get along.

It's a small story, about a very ordinary but sometimes enthralling lady named Florence Green, and her desire and plan to open a bookstore in her small British village of Hardborough. The year is 1959, and the class structure is clearly still in place (as it is today, too, just not as obviously). But what could possibly go wrong in a nice little local village where everyone knows each other? Um, yeah...

I'm off to find more books by this woman. This book was bleak as hell but meeting her heroine Florence Green, oddly enough, gave me faith in (some) human nature. I'll take it. Please go read this book, and come back to tell me what you think. I'm dying to talk it over with someone.

A woman with a Jane Austen problem...

... must be in want of any kind of Jane Austen spinoff, right?

Well, friends and neighbors, not if that spinoff is Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (even if it IS "the classic regency romance--now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem."). I've had it home, I laughed at the title, I read the first few chapters, I looked at the pictures (which were quite well done, actually), I laughed at the author's blurb ("Seth Grahame-Smith once took a class in English literature. He lives in Los Angeles."), I was done.

Zombies I'll admit I don't want to read any more because I'm jealous that I didn't have the idea (the New York Times bestseller list idea that it turned out to be) first. But I also don't want to read it because I've never been a huge fan of the old genreblenders, or satire, or whatever you want to call it. Mainly because, of course, it's just a mishmash of the original with some zombie bits. Consider the scene where Darcy first slights Elizabeth Bennet at a ball:

"'Which do you mean?' and turning round he [Darcy] looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, 'She is tolerable, but not handsome enought to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.'

As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood turn cold. She had never in her life been so insulted. The warrior code demanded she avenge her honour. Elizabeth reached down to her ankle, taking care not to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant to follow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat." (pp. 13-14.)

Uh, yeah. Not for me.* It's been getting good reviews and all and they don't seem to mind it over at the AustenBlog, but if I have time to spend with Jane, I think I'll just re-read Persuasion, thanks.

*It wasn't for Christine Merrill, either. If I haven't convinced you, read her much funnier review.

My Booky Wook: Part Two.

Men are weird.

Now, basing blanket statements like that on the example of Russell Brand and his dad is probably not a wise decision. But there's no denying it's a thought that wanders through my mind as I read books like Brand's autobiography My Booky Wook.

As stated yesterday, I found this book to be a surprisingly rich reading experience. There's a few reasons for that. First, I love all things Brit, and that includes Russell. Secondly, he's funny; I even loved his captions. For one of his school pictures, he wrote "Dagenham Park, elfin, porcine, oddly Puerto Rican; this look has it all. I loved that shirt." If you could see the picture, the "oddly Puerto Rican" bit of that would just make you laugh. It's perfect. I also enjoyed his dedication: "For my mum, the most important woman in my life, this book is dedicated to you. Now for God's sake don't read it."

Secondly, the book, although it is emphatically ALL about Russell, provided a surprising degree of helpful information. Take heroin, for instance. I've read Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting several times and can't say I ever really understood the appeal of heroin. But Brand actually describes it in a way that puts it in context, especially in relation to other drugs:

"Heroin delivered. LSD kind of does a bit, especially when all the things that are familiar to you peel away and you suddenly realize the fragility of how you normally see the world. Marijuana kind of doesn't really, although it's a laugh for a while (I say that having smoked it constantly for a decade). Alcohol makes you sick and gives you a headache. Crack is like inhaling plastic, but so brief and flimsy and brittle as a high. Normal cocaine just makes you nervous, amphetamines are even worse and ecstasy never really agreed with me. But heroin gets the job done.

What it mainly does is take you right out of reality, and plant you somehwere more manageable. In short, it contextualizes everything else as meaningless." (p. 214.)

Okay, I start to get why that is a dangerous, dangerous drug. I've lost the exact page where he also references his love for living in the present, and that provided some insight as well, particularly for why I don't believe I have a particularly addictive personality (except where Pop-Tarts are concerned). I'm never aware of when the present is going on, actually. I fret about the future and I spend a lot of time looking back with nostalgia, but I'm not terribly good at being in the present. If you're the sort of person who is, I can see where it would be a lot easier to become interested in a whole lot of "feels good in the present" things. I found that very interesting. Hmm, gaining insight through a pop celeb autobiography. I don't think that was supposed to be part of the process.

So, I loved My Booky Wook. I loved it and was as surprised by it as much as I loved and was surprised by Jenna Jameson's autobiography, How To Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (make note of that subtitle; it really was). And, as I told Mr. CR, Russell is my very favorite former drug- and sex-addict.* He seems to be funny even without the addictions so I hope he can keep it up.

*I like his comedy too, but not as much as I love Dylan Moran's. And yes, I know, Moran is Irish, not British. He's my favorite import from "across the sea."

My favorite sex and drug addict, imported from Great Britain.

I had a surprisingly complex relationship with Russell Brand's memoir My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up.

Booky First, I was super excited to pick it up at the library; for some reason Russell Brand completely amuses me. Then, when I started it, I looked at all the pictures first and got even more excited to read the book. I enjoyed the first quarter of it immensely. Then, I started to get a wee bit bored at Russell's tales of acting schools and constant misbehavior; later on I started to feel really bad for him as he described his love for heroin, his stint in drug treatment, and a very uncomfortable stay in an American clinic for sex addiction treatment, wherein he was surrounded (and a bit unnerved by) numerous pedophiles. Then, when I finished it, I decided it was quite unlike anything I had thought it was going to be, and although I couldn't say I enjoyed it, it was a very interesting read, and I certainly didn't feel any dumber for having read it.

I love books like that.

First things first. If you don't know who Russell Brand is, or you're only familiar with him from his appearance in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I wouldn't bother with this book. If, on the other hand, you've seen other Russell Brand stand-up tapes, or you've seen him on You-Tube; it might work, likewise, if you have a total addiction to all things Brit pop culture, this will be the book for you, as Russell kindly explains every Brit cultural reference he makes (including describing the enduring appeal of the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses). But in the end, really, it's kind of a sad book (about as sad as watching an episode of his now-defunct TV show RE: Brand on YouTube, especially the one in which he has a boxing match with his dad) about a guy with some fairly severe addictions.

So, you might be asking, if it was so sad, why did you really kind of enjoy it? More on that rather messed-up dichotomy tomorrow.

Book Menage: Summer Edition.

Who's ready for another Book Menage? I am!

Bissell My librarian and reader's advisor friends tell me escapist fare is hot this summer, so I say we go the other way with our Menage. I'm pulling executive privilege* and announcing that our two books for this round will be Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (you knew I was going to make you read it eventually) and Michael Perry's Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. You know the drill: we read two books (as compared to all those other wussy book groups where they only read one), we come back here, we talk.

Pop485 Now, arguably, the Perry could be considered escapist fare. But it's so much more than that. And what are the connections between these two books? Well, largely, these are two men that I think you should get to know, as they are stupendous. Also, they are both memoirs that explain what it means to be connected, both to a place and to a history, and what that means (for good and bad) to our relationships.

So the only thing that remains to be decided is who gets a free set of these books (I'll have my lovely assistant Mr. CR pick a name from the last Menage for me later) and when we should start. Why don't we start on Monday, July 20? That's a good five weeks out. Sound like a plan?

AND PLEASE NOTE: Anyone who participates in the Menage is entered in the drawing to get the two books for the next Menage, absolutely free! So join us and invite a friend; the more the merrier.

*Everybody's suggestions last time for future book pairings were great, and we'll use them for our next Menage, like maybe a couple of travel books or a bio/memoir mix.

Where has Tom Drury been all my life?

One of the highest compliments I can pay a book or author is to finish reading it, and then to ask, of myself or the empty room at large: "Where have YOU been all my life?" When I finished reading his novel The Driftless Area, I turned back to the title page and asked, "Tom Drury, where have you been all my life?"

Driftless Drury's 213-page (score one for the author: I loves me some SHORT novels) novel is a marvel of economy and small but subtle shifts in perspective. It's the story of Pierre Hunter (score two: that's a great name), a somewhat aimless mid-twenties guy who is bartending in a supper club in his Iowa hometown (score three: I can just taste the brandy-old-fashioned-sweets served at such a club). One winter night, out ice-skating late--don't question me here, just accept that aimless young men in the American midwest might conceivably do such a thing--he falls through thin ice and is rescued by a mysterious and solitary young woman who lives alone in a house near the lake, with whom he promptly falls in love.

But hilarity does not really ensue. The woman with whom he falls in love is not what she seems, and Pierre, bless him, can't seem to stop getting into trouble, as when he comes into the possession of $77,000--in a way that only he could manage, on a hitchhiking trip--and the money's (understandably) irate owners come after him.

It's got a little mystery, a little violence, a little love, even a bit of paranormal activity, and it presents it all through the eyes of one of my favorite male characters yet. Read this one, even if my review hasn't done it credit. I'm off to find some other Tom Drury titles.

Damn fiction.

I was all set to review a fiction book this morning, and then I thought about it a bit...and realized I'm not a very good fiction reviewer.

There's no doubt about it. Reviewing fiction is different from reviewing nonfiction. For one thing, I'm always afraid of blowing the ending in fiction. This very rarely matters in nonfiction, because usually if there's a story to be told, the reader knows all about it, or enough about it that you can easily discuss it. In True Crime, largely, someone's been murdered and someone's going to be apprehended. Sports adventure, like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air? People are going to climb up a mountain, and it's not going to end well. We know that. That's why we bought the book. Particularly in memoirs: the plot twists are often why the memoir is being written. Got a drug problem? Issues with your parents? Sex addiction? That's WHY the memoir is being written. So I'm not giving anything away when I share that.

But fiction? A lot of times a twist in the narrative or a surprising turn in the story is what I want to share, as I feel that's where the author has probably spent the most time, or where their prose is really shining. But then I can't...because I don't want to ruin the story.

I further struggle with fiction because when it's bad, I just want to stop reading it, whereas with nonfiction, I like to figure out why it's annoying me. I don't know why that is. Perhaps because I expect a lot of modern fiction to be bad, I'm not as personally affronted by it or something.

I'm also really bad, it turns out, at summarizing stories in general. So what do you say? What do you like to see in a good fiction review? Let me know and I'll try to make it happen for tomorrow's review of fiction.

Unsentimental parenting memoirs, part two.

How I happened to have both Michael Lewis's Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, and Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother, home at the same time, was a matter of pure chance.

Cusk Cusk is a British author whose novels I have been considering reading, because traditionally I enjoy British authors very much. So when I saw that she had written a memoir on being a mother, I thought that might be interesting too, so I requested it from the library. The next week, my copy of Home Game came in too, so by chance, I read two very interesting, very different, very slim (always a plus with me) nonfiction titles on the raising of children.

Although I enjoyed them both, I think the edge goes to the Lewis book, and that mainly for staying power. I really, really enjoyed the first few chapters of the Cusk book, but as it went on I lost interest, and I'll freely admit I only skimmed the last few chapters. (Bookslut has noticed this problem with Cusk as well; opining that she is better in interviews than she is on the page.)

But what I did love about it was some of its early, frank prose. Consider:

"This experience forcefully revealed to me something to which I had never given much thought: the fact that after a child is born the lives of its mother and father diverge, so that where before they were living in a state of some equality, now they exist in a sort of feudal relation to each other. A day spent at home caring for a child could not be more different from a day spent working in an office. Whatever their relative merits, they are days spent on opposite sides of the world. From that irreconcilable beginning, it seemed to me that some kind of slide into deeper patriarchy was inevitable: that the father's day would gradually gather to it the armour of the outside world, of money and authority and importance, while the mother's remit would extend to cover the entire domestic sphere. It is well known that in couples where both parents work full-time, the mother generally does far more than her fair share of housework and childcare, and is the one to curtail her working day in order to meet the exigencies of parenthood. That is an issue of sexual politics, but even in the most generous household, which I acknowledge my own to be, the gulf between childcarer and worker is profound. Bridging it is extremely difficult." (pp. 5-6.)

Now, I think there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in that paragraph, and there's a lot of other paragraphs that are at least that interesting. So, two suggestions: if you're in the market for a Mommy Memoir that is filled with anecdotes about how having a baby completed the author and her baby is the cutest and the best baby ever, this book will probably not be for you. Also, if you do pick it up, don't be afraid to stop reading it if you start to find yourself losing interest. You'll feel better about the first half, which is excellent, if you don't force yourself through the second half, which simply loses a bit of its punch.

William Langewiesche, watch your back.

Anyone who knows my reading habits knows that I have a little (okay, big) fixation on William Langewiesche, nonfiction author extraordinaire. Recently, though, I have been finding my head turned by another nonfiction author: Michael Lewis.

Lewis I have thoroughly enjoyed Michael Lewis ever since I read two of his earlier books, the finance classic Liar's Poker and the sports classic Moneyball. Then he came along with the book The Blind Side, which was ostensibly about football, but was really a fantastic look at society, poverty, race relations, and sports all at once. And now he's struck again with a 190-page memoir gem titled Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood.*

I have no kids, and I've never been all that interested in kids, but for some reason I rather enjoy checking out parenting memoirs (particularly the less sentimental ones). This memoir, about Lewis's three kids (with his wife, former MTV newscaster Tabitha Soren), is decidedly not sentimental, which I'm pretty sure is one of the reasons I enjoyed it. It's also very funny; I laughed pretty much through the whole introduction (in which he explains how his three-year-old daughter learned the swear "word" "shutupyoustupidmotherfuckingasshole"). He's just got a way with words:

"I inherited from my father a peculiar form of indolence--not outright laziness so much as a gift for avoiding unpleasant chores without attracting public notice. My father took it almost as a matter of principle that most problems, if ignored, simply went away. And that his children were, more or less, among those problems. 'I didn't even talk to you until you went away to college,' he once said to me, as he watched me attempt to dress a six-month-old. 'Your mother did all the dirty work.'

This wasn't entirely true, but it'd pass cleanly through any polygraph...In theory, his tendency to appear only when we didn't really need him should have left a lingering emotional distance; he should have paid some terrible psychological price for his refusal to suffer. But the stone cold fact is his children still love him, just as much as they love their mother...Small children are ungrateful; to do one a favor is, from a business point of view, about as shrewd as making a subprime mortgage loan." (pp. 9-10.)

Now THAT is honest. Not real sentimental, but honest. I really enjoyed the whole book, and I hope you do too. And if you don't have the time to enjoy the book, just check out Lewis's performance on the Daily Show (below). Make sure to listen through to minute five or six, when he explains the Lewis family credo. It's awesome.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Michael Lewis
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Newt Gingrich Unedited Interview

*If I have one quibble with the book, it's that I don't know that it requires a $23.95 cover price. $19.95 should really cover any book under 200 pages, hardcover or not. Please Note: This book also first appeared as diary entries at Slate magazine, so if you don't want to purchase it, just check it out there.

David Eddings, RIP.

Pawn "The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor's farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love and food and comfort and security and, above all, home. No matter how high Garion rose in life, he never forgot that all his memories began in that kitchen...

The center of the kitchen and everything that happened there was Aunt Pol. She seemed somehow to be able to be everywhere at once. The finishing touch that plumped a goose in its roasting pan or deftly shaped a rising loaf or garnished a smoking ham fresh from the oven was always hers..."

I have not always been a nonfiction fiend. When I was little I read a lot of fantasy books, including David Eddings's Belgariad series, which started with Pawn of Prophecy. (The above is the opening page of that book.) And when I say read, I mean consumed. I read all the books in the series roughly a million times. I'm so old that when I first started reading them, Eddings was actually still writing them, and I had to wait for the subsequent volumes, which was unbelievably exciting. Let's put it this way. I lived on a farm. I didn't get to the city very often. So when I did get to town, and could sneak a visit to the bookstore (luckily, there was one in the mall where my parents and I sold vegetables at a farm market), and then found that the new volume in the Belgariad was out, well, as they would say on South Park, spank my ass and call me Charlie. Those were not only some of the most exciting moments of my childhood, they remain some of the most exciting moments of my life.

The point of this long and ridiculously self-centered story is that David Eddings has died, at the age of 77. The news made me very sad and I had to go downstairs and retrieve my copy of Pawn of Prophecy,* just to hold it a little bit. It's a pulpy old paperback, cover price $3.50, and the spine and pages are just starting to loosen it up. It smells pleasantly old. But just holding it and re-reading the above** made me very happy.

So here's to you, David Eddings. Mr. CR tells me you're derivative of Tolkien, but I don't care. I spent lots of happy hours with you in my youth and I'll spend more this winter when I re-read all your series, which I am now planning to do.***

*Unlike Mr. CR, who has kept every book he has ever bought, very few books moved with me from my childhood home to college and subsequent homes. During the last move I almost got rid of my David Eddings paperbacks, but I couldn't quite get myself to do it. And, although I like to jettison stuff whenever possible, just this once, I'm glad.

**How great for a fantasy series to start in a kitchen. Please note: I lived on a farm too, and I also loved our kitchen. I knew this series was meant for me from that very first page.

***I also had a crush on the hero Garion, and can't wait to relive that while I re-read. Super!

Holy shit, Thomas Friedman, you are a pig.

Many thanks to alert reader Katharine,* who threw caution to the wind and evidently wagered that I don't have a blood pressure problem or heart condition when she decided to comment on an earlier post to let me know that Thomas Friedman, he of the porn stache, charges $70,000 for his speaking engagements. As quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal:

"Journalist Thomas Friedman’s hefty speaking fee cost him a chance at being chosen for UW-Madison’s common book read program, Go Big Read.

His book “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” was one of five finalists for the program’s first book, but his fee of $70,000 — which has been the subject of some controversy of late — was too pricey for UW-Madison’s budget, said Sara Guyer, interim director of the UW-Madison Center for Humanities and a member of the book selection committee.

Instead, Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” was chosen by Chancellor Biddy Martin. Pollan was already scheduled to visit to campus this fall at a rate of $15,000, sponsored by a number of sources including the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Pollan will now likely be paid more than that because his visit will be extended for activities surrounding Go Big Read, but his contract hasn’t been finalized, Guyer said."

I can't say I'm crazy about the choice of the Pollan book either, but it does beat the Friedman book. Wow. I would like to see an Ultimate Cage Match between Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Zaslow, but I can't say I'd be cheering for either one to emerge victorious out of the cage.

*Incidentally? You are the best, Katharine.

Ah, serendipity.

Remember how, a while back, I was looking to find the portrait of Helene Hanff (she of 84, Charing Cross Road fame) that Elena Gaussen painted? (The artist and the painting are described in Hanff's sequel to 84, CCR, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.)

Well, Google had turned up nothing, except for a bit more information on the artist, Elena Gaussen Marks, and her husband, Leo Marks (whose father originally owned the bookshop to which Hanff wrote about in 84 CCR). So I was resigned to never seeing the portrait. However, as I read more about Leo Marks and his career as a codemaker during World War II (and as the author of lovely cipher poems), I became more interested in reading his book, Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945.

So I checked the book out at the library, brought it home, and looked at it for a few weeks, longingly, as I didn't have time to start it right away. Finally I decided I would just have to get it back some other time, but before I returned it, I opened it up to check out the pictures in the middle. I don't know how you feel about this, but I am fundamentally unable to put a nonfiction book down before I have looked at its pictures (if any are available). Even if I don't get them read, I always look at ALL of the pictures in whatever nonfiction books I drag home. I don't know why. They're usually the first thing I look at when looking at new nonfiction books in bookstores, too. So before I returned Between Silk and Cyanide, I went to look through the pictures, and guess what I found?

"Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, by Elena Gaussen Marks." A picture of the portrait! Or at least I'm guessing it's the portrait. (As my sister says, how many can there be?) It's not at all what I expected, but it's beautiful in its own way. So there it is, and if you want to see it, all you have to do is check out Leo Marks's book. All I can say is, suck that, Google.

Stop rewarding this man.

Welcome back!

Well, I'm feeling cranky about a book, so it must be time to start posting again. I'm not sure I'll be back on the full five-day schedule right away, but I'll do my best. I didn't get all the dandelions, but I got a lot of them, and I'm still behind on some projects, but that's no surprise. I wouldn't know how to work if I weren't motivated by being behind.

So what am I cranky about? Well, the other day I was looking at some new nonfiction titles and some bestseller lists, just trying to keep up with the ol' nonfiction world (although I've been reading more fiction of late...details on that to come!), when I saw the title The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship, by Jeffrey Zaslow.

Hm, I thought. Now that's a title I normally wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. (It's got "sentimental" written all over it, and I've never been one of those gals who needed a big ol' circle of women friends, primarily because I have two awesome sisters.) But, I wondered. Jeffrey Zaslow. Why did that name sound familiar?

I went on my merry way, but I kept seeing the book pop up, and I kept thinking, "Zaslow. Why do I know that name?" And finally I remembered that I live in the 21st century and I could easily Google his name. And then it all became clear. Remember one of last year's biggest sentimental claptrap titles, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch? (Dying professor gives last lecture to students, dripping with life wisdom and acceptance of one's mortality and all that jazz?) It was co-authored by Jeffrey Zaslow.

So, this year, because evidently The Last Lecture didn't make him enough money, Zaslow has decided to cash in on another trend, the importance of women's friendships (particularly as baby boomers, who have always been rather, let's say, fond of themselves, age and start to look back on their lives, experiences, and friendships), and has produced The Girls from Ames. It's about ten women friends (eleven, originally; one member of the group died at age 22) who went to school together in Ames, Iowa, and have stayed in touch.

There's really very little to review here. It's exactly the kind of book that you would think it is: it tells stories of how the girls met, where they all ended up, what challenges they've faced, who they married and how many kids they've had, and how they've all changed (or not changed) as they've aged. It's serviceably written and if you're into this kind of thing, I'm sure it's a fine read. And parts of it are very poignant--some of them had bad experiences in high school and college; one of them died too young; some of them have divorced and had children die; etc. And that's okay. Sometimes you need a good sappy read. (I'm guilty of that myself; see my enjoyment of Vicki Myron's Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.) But I've got a couple of issues with this book:

1. First of all, why is this dude writing it? I know he wants to understand women and all, but for this type of book, I'd rather just see a woman take it on. For this reason, rather than this book, I'd suggest Cheryl Jarvis's The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Transformed Their Lives. Although it wasn't about lifetime friends, its premise that one woman advertised to find a group of women who would share ownership of an expensive piece of jewelry with her, and how they became friends, seemed less, you know, like a man telling a story of women's friendships mainly for profit.

Ames 2. This is how the book is described at Amazon: "It demonstrates how close female relationships can shape every aspect of women’s lives – their sense of themselves, their choice of men, their need for validation, their relationships with their mothers, their dreams for their daughters – and reveals how such friendships thrive, rewarding those who have committed to them." I found the "need for validation" clause EXTREMELY obnoxious. As though to be a woman is to have a need for validation.* I say, fuck that. And you can agree with me or not, I don't care. But wait. I am a woman, so I should care. Please agree with me? I need the validation.

3. I realize the above is the fault of some underpaid publishing assistant who is writing jacket copy, but this line, found on page 15, I'm going to blame completely on Zaslow: "As a clique, they had a reputation for being flirts--more social than academic, and more apt to tease boys than to please them. In reality, though, most of the Ames girls were very good students. And a couple of them actually pleased more than they teased."

Puke. So, all I can say is, I wish people would stop rewarding this man by buying his books. If you're desperate for a chicks bonding narrative, I'd look into The Necklace instead, and if you're interested in lifelong relationships, put this title down and invest in Peter Feldstein's and Stephen Bloom's superlative photography book The Oxford Project (which is also set in Iowa!) instead. But suit yourself. I wish I was woman enough to need the validation that your following my advice would provide, but I'm just not.

*And, "dreams for their daughters"? Are they not allowed to dream for their sons?