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November 2010

Citizen Reader's Holiday Gift Guide

Well, as previously noted, I'm having a hard time reading enough new books to be able to post lots of reviews here.* So, I thought I'd get some ideas out there for books that would make great gifts this holiday season. Largely, these suggestions will function as my "Best of 2010" list, as I'll really only be suggesting books I enjoyed. I'm always looking for book gift ideas myself, so if there's anything you read this year that really made an impact on you, please let me know in the comments.

But first? A bit of an informal poll. Do you still buy books as gifts? For whom do you buy book gifts? Are there any subjects or types for which you're looking for suggestions? And, last but not least, how do you think we will buy book gifts for each other in the e-book age?

*I have been re-reading books like a madwoman. (Evidently my brain can still handle books I've already read; it's just having problems with new information.) This week I'm re-reading Stacy Horn's memoir Waiting for My Cats to Die, which I loved the first time around, and which I'm loving again.

Obit shockers.

I'm not quite old enough (just yet) to scan the obituaries on a daily basis, but today I bought the Sunday paper just for something a bit different to read, and did a cursory glance over the obits. Wherein I was shocked to see that a high school classmate of mine has died from cancer. Which is lousy. Considering that this particular classmate, although he was good-looking, smart, and athletically talented, was also completely offbeat and thoroughly nice. (The percentage of high school boys who match that description, by my estimation, is roughly .000005% of that population.) This is not fair--I'll bet all the assholes from my high school class (who comprised 98.5% of the population) are still living. 

My local newspaper is now also including short obituaries "of note," which is actually kind of a helpful journalistic feature, and is where I learned that Chalmers Johnson, age 79, has also died. For those of you who have never read him, Johnson is best known for his master nonfiction work titled Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, in which he posited that--get this--America's increasingly imperial and military actions worldwide might increasingly foster anti-American sentiment and retaliations ("blowback.")* Two more volumes in the "Blowback Trilogy" are The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (American Empire Project) and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (American Empire Project). All three are fascinating reads, but if you're looking for a place to start (and some well-written nonfiction prose, to boot), I wouldn't look any further than Blowback.

So, gah. I think I'm off buying Sunday papers for a while; evidently I AM at an age where I should be reading the obituaries, and I don't want to.

*He wrote this before 9/11, mind you.

Magazine Review Week: Publishers Weekly

Back in my flush days as a public library assistant, I actually subscribed to Publishers Weekly magazine, which is a weekly publication and can get quite pricey.* But it didn't matter--I loved my PW, and read it from cover to cover each week without fail.

Now that I no longer subscribe, I haven't looked at a PW in a long time. So imagine my shock when I picked up an issue from the library and it felt like a shadow of its former self. It used to be quite the dense magazine, packed with articles and reviews and sales charts, and each issue actually had some heft. No longer...although I see the per-issue price is still a hefty $8.

It may be a shadow of its former self, but I still enjoy it as a magazine. It glories in its nerdy love of books, bookselling, and book reviewing; in the issue I read there was an article about the National Book Awards, how the Bible is a perpetual bestseller, a list of hot new books internationally, and the story of a small indie bookstore in Wisconsin. And, of course, there were the same old publisher ads (which I love to peruse) and the reviews, which I always found refreshingly honest, even though PW is a magazine that is definitely interested in selling books. There is no lame policy here (like there is at Booklist) of only printing positive reviews, and some of the negative book reviews in PW have been the ones I've enjoyed the most.

I won't be subscribing anymore. But I'll have to remember to pick PW up at the library once in a while again.

*This should tell you how much one can make as an editorial freelancer--when one can look back at one's library paycheck as the "flush days."

Magazine Review Week: GQ and Esquire

Let's count the ways I love GQ and Esquire magazines:

1. They're total porn for women. I think it's pretty accepted that women don't have the same need to observe the naked male body that men have to observe the naked female body, but who doesn't like a little eye candy in the form of a well-dressed man? These magazines offer page after page of menswear ads and articles featuring, yes, men in dapper suits and ensembles that nobody I know could ever afford or pull off, beautiful cashmere sweaters and tweeds and carefully tailored wool suits (complete with pocket squares), etc. Nice. It's the next best porn-for-women to, well, Porn for Women.

2. No articles on losing weight, craft-making, kids, or how to better your life by having a cleaner house. Also: no "inspirational" articles, and nary an Oprah opinion in sight. All of these things seem to be staples of "women's magazines."

3. God help me, I love cologne ads. I don't really like cologne on men, but I do like my magazines to smell musky and spicy. It's festive.

4. Actually interesting articles. They run the gamut from politics to culture to books coverage, it's great.

So yes, people always look at me a bit strangely when I check out my piles of these "lads' magazines" at the library. I just tell them they're for my husband (although he usually steers pretty clear of them, preferring his copies of Wired and Kiplinger's).

On a real Diana Athill roll.

After reading Diana Athill's fantastic 1962 memoir Instead of a Letter: A Memoir, I decided I would go back and re-read her memoir Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir (which I had read at one point, but couldn't much remember, except thinking at the time that Athill was a spicy old broad whose honesty I really enjoyed).

Athill2 I don't know that I enjoyed Somewhere Towards the End as much this time around. Whether this was because I wasn't in the right mood, or because I felt Instead of a Letter was so much more interesting, I'm not sure. But don't get me wrong: I still liked it. (So did RickLibrarian; you can read his review here.)

Athill wrote this memoir as she was heading into her nineties, and it's a somewhat free-associative tour through her love lives, personal relationships, work, and the aging process. I remain convinced that this is a woman I wish I could meet: unlike many who are described as "straight-shooters," I think Athill might actually be a genuine straight-shooter. Consider:

"Dwindling energy is one of the most boring things about being old. From time to time you get a day when it seems to be restored, and you can't help feeling that you are 'back to normal,' but it never lasts." (p. 132.)

I just like her matter-of-fact way of speaking. And, of course, Athill spent a lifetime and a career reading and working with books, so she has many interesting things to say on those subjects as well. Here was my favorite:

"I think that underneath, or alongside, a reader's conscious response to a text, whatever is needy in him is taking in whatever the text offers to assuage that need." (p. 49.)

That is awesome. Not sure which of Athill's other memoirs I'll read next, but I'll keep you posted.

My mind is still shot.

It's official: my brain is mush. At least I'm not the only one--the other day Mr. CR was searching for a word himself (it turned out he was looking for "parallel"), and couldn't find it. I said, a-HA! Now you know what I am up against.

One of these years I hope to return to normal posting. As I am not yet back to normal reading, however, after the grand (and appreciated) entrance of CRjr to my life, it necessarily puts a crimp in what I can post. For a few weeks I was keeping up with nonfiction, but for some reason I now seem to be regressing to a non-reading fugue state. Thank god for my sister's gift subscription of New York Magazine; I love it and it's the only thing I'm getting read cover to cover. Today I read parts of it to CRjr, because as sweet as Sandra Boynton's book Moo, Baa, La La La is to read aloud, I found myself needing something a little juicier, and CRjr will just have to come along for the ride. In today's issue we learned about Jimmy Fallon (I editorialized just a bit; I am not a Fallon fan) and read in the "Neighborhood News" section that on the Upper East Side, "A thirteen-pound, two-ounce baby was born at Lenox Hill, the hospital's heaviest in 30 years." This was a tidbit of news we both enjoyed.

So: please hang with me. Eventually my reading brain's got to come back, right? Oh, and due to an uptick in annoying spam comments that I don't really have the time to delete manually anymore, I have tried to enable comment verification, whereby I ask you to verify a word when you comment, although I think (hope) you don't have to sign in or anything. Would you let me know if this new arrangement for commenting causes you any grief? Thank you!

Introducing Mr. CR to Etsy.

It's embarrassing to admit, as I used to be a reference librarian, but Mr. CR always knows more interesting websites, trivia, and general all-around information than I do. So when I brought home the humor book Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF, I was charmed when Mr. CR told me it was pretty amusing, and set about telling me there must be some crafting website out there known as Etsy. And for once I got to say, "Yes, I know, that's why I got the book." Although I knew about Etsy, I can't say I've ever spent much time there (usually I'm trying to get crafty stuff out of my house, rather than bringing more in).

Regretsy The book's pretty simple in execution (and is based on the website of the same name); each page shows the craft on offer, with its original advertising copy and a brief paragraph having a little fun with it by Winchell. It's divided into sections like "pet humiliation," "art," and "toys and dolls." Also, let me just say: there's an entire section of this book dedicated to "Vulvacraft." That's right. Uteri and vaginas in art, oh my.

It's good stuff. And if you've been wondering where to find that perfect pair of uteri earrings, look no further--the contact info for the sellers highlighted is also included.