Previous month:
August 2010
Next month:
October 2010

September 2010

A little announcement: the sequel.

It's of late last week, there's another little being in the world who we hope will love books and reading and text as he grows older (of course CR would prefer that he love nonfiction, but with all of Mr. CR's genre books around on bookcases, we'll see what develops).

We had a boy! CRjr is officially here*, and we are all recovering nicely. And we are very, very thankful.

The hospital stay went very well, but at one point it felt especially trying. At that point I fished out 84, Charing Cross Road from my backpack (I just thought it might be handy to have along), read a couple of pages in the bathroom, and immediately felt my world pop back into rightness. Once again, thank you, Helene Hanff.

Sorry for the lack of return commenting; the blog's been on autopilot as we try to get our respective acts together. But we'll be back! In the meantime, this pretty much sums up how we've been feeling (from J.D. Salinger, who I also almost took along, but didn't want to pack more books than clothes):

"Marriage partners are to serve each other. Elevate, help, teach, strengthen each other, but above all, serve. Raise their children honorably, lovingly, and with detachment. A child is a guest in the house, to be loved and respected--never possessed, since he belongs to God. How wonderful, how sane, how beautifully difficult, and therefore true."

*Sorry for the lack of pictures, but until he's old enough to sign a release form of his own volition, we'll respect his privacy. I may be a biased source, but: he's beautiful.

Authors you love even through their books that you don't.

For whatever reason, Steve Almond is one of those writers who I really enjoy, even when I'm not particularly loving their specific books.

Almond Take his latest, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. I was pretty pumped to get this one, as I enjoy Almond and I really enjoy music (although I have not been what you would call a slobbering fanatic about any one group, singer, or style for some time). I've been reading it off and on, but never more than two short chapters at a time or so; nothing in it has really set me on fire.

But, even so? I just enjoy Steve Almond's writing. I enjoyed interludes like this:

"Back in fourth grade, Alissa Fox brought to class a miraculous device her father supposedly helped invent. It had a numerical keyboard and performed all four basic math functions, with the results visible (sort of) on a tiny gray screen. Of especial interest was the fact that you could turn the machine over and type a secret series of numbers, o as to produce words such as 'hello' and 'boobs' and 'bigboobs.' This machine--called a cal-cu-lator--so totally blew our minds that it was assumed that Alissa Fox's dad was int he CIA and could shoot lasers from his teeth.

Back when I was teaching undergrads how to write short stories that would horrify their parents, I often told this story, in an effort to compel my classes to think about how quickly technology has transformed our species, has shifted our attention from individual imaginative tasks to collective screen addiction and thereby replaced the peculiar sensitivities of our internal lives with a series of frantic buy messages. One of my students would eventually respond to this by smiling timidly and saying, Man, you're really old."

Which is a great lead-in, really, to discussing how formats of music have changed (and a discussion of the relative merits and drawbacks of each), which is what he does in this chapter.

This book may not be the one for you. But do give Steve Almond a try. I'd particularly suggest his titles Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (about his investigations into how different candies are made) or Not That You Asked: Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions (an essay collection).

A solid Mary Roach read.

Mary Roach is known for her accessible and, at times, even quite humorous science writing--she made a big splash with her first title, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and she's been quite popular ever since.

I really enjoy accessible science writing (frankly, science has to be made accessible if I want a chance in hell of even vaguely understanding it) and I find it just plain takes a good writer to make science (and most nonfiction, really) understandable, so these types of "popular" science books are usually very good reads.* Sadly, though, I wasn't all that turned on by Roach's previous two titles, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. But I was very, very pleased with her latest, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

Mars Space exploration and travel to the moon is one of those subjects I never seek out consciously, but which I often enjoy reading about serendipitously. (One of my favorite books ever to index was In the Shadow of the Moon, about the evolution of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs) I never would have picked up Roach's book based on its subject, but I blew threw it in a couple of dedicated nights of wee-small-hours reading, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I didn't bookmark anything for quoting; Roach's style is best taken as a whole. And yes, she did put in the obligatory chapter about sexual intercourse and weightlessness, but I'll tell you what the really interesting chapter was: how NASA went about trying to solve the problem of astronaut, ahem, elimination. And I don't mean being cut from the program. I mean the problem of trying to poo in (early in the program) plastic baggies or (later in the program) a toilet that could handle waste without letting fecal matter out to circulate through the cabin. Now THAT was the money chapter, in my opinion. 

*I realize, in a funky ironic twist, that this sentence itself is barely understandable. See? Good writing is hard!

A thoroughly unique mind.

It's ALMOST the time of year for me to re-read Ray Bradbury's classic novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Each year I look forward to October primarily for that reason.*

Echoes So when I saw a new book at my library called Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, by Sam Weller, I got super excited. And I was not disappointed. This was one of those books I was going to wait on, because I have lots of other library books that should get read and returned first...but I couldn't wait, and then I blew threw it in a couple of days.

Organized in sections titled things like Childhood, Faith, Art and Literature, Writing and Creativity, the book is a straightforward question-and-answer session. To his credit, Weller is an appropriately understated interviewer, which leaves plenty of room for Bradbury to work his magic. Now, I did not agree with everything Bradbury said, and I actually learned some things I didn't like about him (**SPOILERS** he likes Ronald Reagan; he cheated on his wife). But I still have to appreciate the fact that the man does have an entirely unique mind. And any librarian is going to love a man that says things like this:

"The library was very important. After high school, I went two or three nights a week for nearly ten years. The library is all the education you need. When I married Maggie in September 1947, I figured I was done. I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven." (p. 203.)

Weller is also the author of a biography of Bradbury, The Bradbury Chronicles, which I also want to read sometime soon. Do give this one a try, even if you're not a particular fan of Bradbury--he's never dull.

*I'm thinking this year I'll re-read Fahrenheit 451, too, it's been ages since I read it the first time.

We interrupt nonfiction news for a movie recommendation.

Just a short note today: If you haven't yet seen the movie Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, please do so. It's only about 100 minutes long and well worth it; it's based on a novel by Walter Kirn, that I'm now going to have to go find. And, unlike a lot of movies I watch based solely on the stars (which is why I saw The Ghost Writer, featuring everyone's favorite Scotsman, Ewan McGregor, a few months back) involved, I'm pretty neutral on George Clooney. But he hit this one out of the park, and so did his two female co-stars.

I don't think the preview does it justice, but in case you missed it when it was in theaters:

Cute, but not a whole lot of substance.

Cat I knew when I saw the title Careers for Your Cat (by Ann Dziemianowicz and illustrations by Ann Boyajian) I would have to check it out. Mr. CR and I have spoken frequently about our own little furry freeloader, and how it's just about time she went out and made the living for us, as she has been sponging free food and lodging off me for fourteen years now. Which made this, in the introduction, all the funnier:

"I've seen it for far too many years. It's always the same scenario. You're toiling away at your job, putting in the overtime to bring home the bacon--and the Fancy Feast--and what is Fluffy, your freeloading, fat cat, doing?...

I'll tell what she isn't doing, she isn't raising one paw to help you." (p. 1.)

This is actually kind of a cute little gift book, consisting of the introduction, some questions under the heading "The Meowers-Briggs Career Test," and then a list of Career Options. The Career Options pages consist only of the job title and a few of the job attributes (Librarian: Polite and reserved, but not unfriendly; likes to curl up with a good book), plus great illustrations of kitty cats. Really, the pictures make the book. If you're the sort of person who's amused by drawings of fat cats wearing ties and other career-appropriate clothing (and I am) then you might still be charmed by this book; otherwise, there's not a lot of content here.

Will someone please explain to me why Jen Lancaster is considered "hilarious"?

Really. I want to understand, and I don't.

My apologies, first off, if you DO find Jen Lancaster amusing. Somebody (or a lot of somebodies) must, because she's a bestselling memoir author who pumps out a memoir a year. But I just don't get it. A million years ago I read her first memoir, Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, about how she lost her spectacularly well-paying job and she and her boyfriend faced being broke, which, for a woman who liked to shop at Prada, was a painful experience. I still remember what I thought: the author was obnoxious and I didn't care at all that she was struggling financially (really, if you make tons of money for a few years, you can't put some of it into savings?*), and it just wasn't that funny. I further thought the book wouldn't go anywhere, and I agreed with lines like this, from an original review of it:

"She's almost gleeful about lacking 'the internal firewall that keeps us from saying almost everything we think,' but she doesn't come off as straightforward, just malicious. (Of course, it's possible she's making up much of her dialogue, which is a little too clever to be believable.)"

Lazy Well, four memoirs later, here we are, with Lancaster's latest title, My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Beinga Dumb Ass Is the New Black or a Culture-up Manifesto.** I know. Why do I keep looking at her memoirs if I can't stand them? It is literally because I want to figure them out. On the one hand, her books read like completely un-edited blog posts, and she seems to think throwing in the word "ass" (and referring to herself as a "dumb ass") constitutes the height of comedy. On the other hand, there must be something about these books that I'm missing.

While reading My Fair Lazy (the motif in this memoir is Lancaster's desire to immerse herself in culture and avoid embarrassing situations like the one where she met her idol, Candace Bushnell, who told her she's really into Baudelaire, and Lancaster had no idea who that was) I tried to keep an eye out for quotable bits that annoyed me, but here's the thing: the whole book annoyed me. Maybe a story from the end of the book will be instructive. For context, Lancaster has been invited to a party where Alec Baldwin is; in the course of the evening, her husband even takes a picture of him because he can't believe he's not wearing a belt. So, as Baldwin is leaving, she decides she wants a picture with him, and this is what she tells her friend later about the encounter:

"'Fletch and I kind of chased after him to see if we could get a shot taken together. But Alec was in a rush and had to go but he wanted to make sure he wasn't snubbing someone important by running off to his dinner. He looks at me--not rude or anything, just direct--and goes, 'I'm sorry, who are you?'

I run my hands through my newly extension-free hair and continue. 'And somehow every single thing I've worked on for all these months totally flew out the window, and I looked him dead in the eye and said, 'New York Times bestselling author, motherfucker.'" (p. 366.)

Now, I sincerely hope she's exaggerating for the sake of story. Otherwise, that's obnoxious (and not in a good way) and I'm on Alec Baldwin's side. You know, maybe when your husband was taking a picture of a beltless Alec Baldwin, earlier in the evening, THAT would have been the time to ask him for a photo, not when he had to get somewhere else.

So please: someone, anyone. Tell me why this woman is, in fact, a New York Times bestselling author.

*I call this "Jerry Maguire Syndrome." My brother couldn't stand the movie Jerry Maguire, primarily because he refused to believe that a super-rich sports agent wouldn't have had some money saved up.

**I also hate her stupid long subtitles.

Business, business, read all about it!

A collection of reviews I wrote for Library Journal about business and personal finance books has been published in the September 1 issue!

For whatever reasons, I had a lot of fun writing this one. The books were varied and interesting (even when I didn't like them) and I always feel like I'm doing a real service for librarians by reading business books so they don't have to.

If you read the reviews, please note that the Dave Ramsey book in particular really ticked me off, due to a pretty basic inaccuracy in the text. It was a good reminder that even if you do read ONE book about investing, you might want to consider checking whatever you learn against at least one other source, or asking someone you know who knows a little bit about personal finance about it. I'm just sayin'.

Nonfiction fall snore.

Has anyone looked at the lists of new and forthcoming books for fall that are up at* Do take a look, if you haven't yet:

New This Month

Coming Soon

Politics and books about dead presidents as far as the eye can see. Snore. (And no, I will not be snapping up Bush's Decision Points or Palin's America by Heart. Ugh.) In fact, there's only one book I kind of want to look at, and that's Matt Taibbi's Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con that is Breaking America. And even that one may make me sad. But I guess this is what we get during election season. Bleah. Here's looking forward to winter's nonfiction crop.

*Just because I'm trying not to shop there anymore doesn't mean I can't still use their resources. Ha!