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September 2011

How I read a book about yoga, without reading any of the yoga bits.

It's a bit embarrassing to note that I did read Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, but that I pretty much skipped all the bits that had to do with yoga.

Poser Which, of course, made it faster to read, as the book is really about yoga and Dederer's journey of self-discovery through its practice and discipline. She details her life, marriage, family relationships, and parenting experiences, all set against the backdrop of her native Seattle, but primarily she describes the yoga classes she attends, the poses she seeks to master, and how yoga helped her make sense of her life for more than a decade. She also intersperses stories of her own childhood (a unique one: her mother left her father for another man, but her parents never got a divorce) in 1973.

So what did I read, if I skipped the biggest chunks of the narrative? Well, I cherry-picked it for Dederer's marriage and parenting stories, which were delightfully meaty. When she had her first child, more than ten years ago, "attachment parenting" was the big trend in Seattle: everyone around her was co-sleeping (babies and parents together in one bed), buying organic, and wearing their babies in various slings, as strollers put children at too much of a distance from their parents. Although I am too lazy to do any of those things (I wouldn't give up the stroller for love or money), I still recognized Dederer's feeling that she's a bit of a parenting impostor in a land of other much more driven "perfect mommies." Consider her take on weaning her daughter a bit earlier than is usually accepted in perfect mommy circles:

"Lucy wasn't yet ten months, and I wasn't supposed to quit nursing until at least a year. If you think this sounds like a frivolous dilemma, or not worth losing sleep over, then that just goes to show you were not a new mother in a liberal enclave at the end of the last century.* While I debated whether or not to wean her (and Bruce, my husband, feigned interest), the inevitable occurred. My back went I weaned her.

Now that I've been doing yoga for ten years, I'm tempted to say something wise, such as: I was ready to wean and my body made the decision for me. But back then I didn't believe in that kind of crap. Instead, I paddled around in a complicated gumbo of guilt and relieve. I claimed to feel cheated of my full, god-given, federally mandated year of nursing. I apologized to my husband for my subpar performance. I told my friends: Oh, no! I can't nurse the baby. Inside, I secretly exulted..." (p. 7.)

I found that entertaining. I also found her take on child-rearing in the 1970s fascinating; she makes a big deal out of the feminist movement and how women went to work instead of staying home, as well as how divorce changed American family dynamics. I am a child of the 70s but my experience is directly opposed to hers: although my mother worked on the farm she was also our full-time caregiver. She was also not a fan of "feminism," my mother, although she actually is kind of a feminist.** So, weirdly, this book helped me understand why I often feel kind of out of step with others from my generation.

My other favorite quote from this book came during a story of the author's friend Lisa, who left her husband and four children, and whose experience Dederer sought to understand:

"Lisa followed the first thing that gave her the right to be: wifedom, motherhood. And now she wanted out. When the first thing no longer works, you have to get away from it somehow. You need something to set you free. And everyone knows that in order to leave a marriage, in order to change a family, you need a disaster.

Not the kind of disaster that just falls from nowhere onto your head, like a cartoon Acme anvil. Not a huge disaster, maybe more of a mini-disaster. The kind of disaster you have to build with your own hands. (Like you have to do everything else in this goddamn family.) You have to blow up the palace where you're the queen." (p. 213.)

Come on: "Like you have to do everything else in this goddamn family." That's a good line. I defy any married woman to tell me otherwise. So yeah. I can't tell you if this book was any good because of the actual yoga writing, but women who've been at all puzzled about marriage and children might find something to like here nonetheless.

*Or now. People feel really strongly that you should breastfeed for at least a year. Oh, and it's totally natural and easy, and you are bad at womanhood if you suggest otherwise.

**She did, after all, give me the greatest gift any woman can give her daughter: the confidence to know that I was (and am) loved, and I didn't need attention from boys to give my life purpose. That made high school a lot easier.

Hot dog!

I'm a creature of routine.

So much so that one of my favorite things to do is watch my favorite movies or programs over and over and over AGAIN--so many times that I can basically recite all the words along.

Two of my favorite programs to re-watch are actually documentaries that are shown sometimes on PBS: A Hot Dog Program and Sandwiches You Will Like. Have you seen these shows? They're awesome. The filmmaker takes you to a bunch of hot dog and sandwich joints, talks to the owners and the customers, and throws in a lot of shots of great looking food. Just a couple of weeks ago, I sat down in front of the TV and thought, huh, I could really go for watching that sandwiches program. And then I turned the TV on and the hot dog program was running on PBS (or its extra digital channel, however that works). Close enough! Maybe this can be my super power: my sheer desire causing the TV to show whatever programs I feel like watching right then.

These shows are written and produced by Rick Sebak, who I really enjoy, so the other day I thought I'd be clever and see if my local library owned any other of his programs. They did: something titled Breakfast Special. I was excited to get it, but I must admit I was underwhelmed. As compared to his hot dog and sandwiches program, he profiled many fewer breakfast places, so the pace seemed much slower. And, although I love breakfast, this program just didn't make as hungry as his other shows do. Sigh. Back to hoping I still have the power to will the hot dog and sandwich programs onto PBS whenever I want to see them.

Finally, a readable book on reading.

Howards Susan Hill's memoir of a year spent reading, Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, was so great that I only allowed myself one chapter of it per day, to make it last. It was the book equivalent of a box of chocolate truffles.

Hill is a British author who specializes in ghost and detective stories (her novel The Woman In Black has been made into a film, starring Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame, that will open in 2012), but she's clearly very widely read and seems to know or at least have met everyone who's anyone in the British publishing scene. In this memoir, she moves through her own house and bookshelves, explaining why she finds certain books the places she does, and the experiences she relives in revisiting and re-reading them.

Normally these books don't do a whole lot for me. But this one was so wonderful, so straightforward, so imbued with a love for books and reading that I found myself wanting to run right out and get everything she suggests. I also happen to agree with Ms. Hill on her attitude toward the printed book:

 "It ain't broke: the book, that is. I know because I just went round the house looking for something to read, and on the way I reassured myself that as the book ain't broke around here, I do not propose to fix it with an electronic reader. Yes, let's use the whole word. Let's tell it like it is. Electronic reader. Something monotonous-looking and made of plastic, is grey and has a screen...I will stick to paper and print and pages for reading books. If it ain't broke. Of course, someone wants to persuade us that it is so that they can sell us their device. 'Twas ever thus." (p. 76.)


But the real genius of her book is in her descriptions of the books she has read and loved: she makes you want to read each and every last one of them. I found a lot of great authors who I already love referenced (she's got a great Penelope Fitzgerald story), and Hill also introduced me to other writers I now want to read. And in addition to recommending specific authors, she also makes a grand case just for READING:

"But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books, as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I have the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA...

All through the house, the books are murmuring, turning over in sleep like pebbles on the shoreline as the tide recedes." (p. 202.)

Awesome. Just awesome.

Your daily Langewiesche.

I continue to be unsettled in my nonfiction reading, and reading in general. For some reason I am just a bit tired lately--which means I've been reading things like Agatha Christie books. Nothing really to blog about there.

So it's mainly an update today. I did finish William Langewiesche's The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, and liked it even more as I went on. The last segment in the book, on the shipbreaking industry in India (literally: they run old ships aground and then people tear them apart, manually, for the scrap steel), is nothing short of fantastic. What I really like about Langewiesche is how he doesn't really insert himself in the story, but you do get a feeling for how fascinated he is by his subjects. I envy that, kind of. Imagine being engrossed in something and being able to investigate and write about it for your job. Imagine being able to write this kind of prose:

"I went down to the ship when I could, past the ground crews who by now had grown used to my presence. At the torn bow, I climbed through the broken bilge into the huge forward cargo hold, now open to the sky. The ship was mine to wander--up precarious ladders to the main deck high above, through passageways and equipment rooms where the peeling paint and rusted steel gave evidence of the years of wandering and hard use, and ultimately of neglect. Nonetheless, I felt a sort of awe, and was never in a hurry to leave...

The workers did not seem to mind my presence, or even to wonder about it. They appeared sometimes like ghosts, moving fast and in file without speaking. They were very dirty. They were very poor. But they lacked the look of death that I had seen on the men in the Bhavnagar rerolling mill. They were purposeful. Toward the stern, where sunlight streamed through rough-cut ventilation holes and struck the oil-blackened walls, the towering engine room had the Gothic beauty of a cathedral--a monument to the forces of a new world." (pp. 238-239.)


Guest Review: Blood, Bones, and Butter

A while back a very nice CR reader named Susan Kennedy emailed me and asked if I ever planned to review the book Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton. She had just finished and loved it, and wanted to know what I thought of it.

Blood I was touched by her very nice email, so it broke my heart to tell her I had indeed started the book, read maybe a chapter, but had gotten bored and decided I wouldn't be finishing (or reviewing) it. But then we had a great idea: she'd read the book, and I wondered why she'd liked it. So why not have this conversation on the blog? She graciously acquiesced, so below you'll see my questions about the book (in bold) and her answers.

1. In a sentence or two, could you summarize what this book was about?

A chef grows up in kitchens. She learns about life from her French mother, her work experience in varied kitchens in NYC and beyond, and finally with the opening of her own restaurant.

2. What did you like about it?

I liked the vivid and almost fantastical storytelling.  I could smell and hear and taste things she described with humor and honesty.  I listened to the story as an audio book so perhaps this kept my attention better as Gabrielle read the story herself. I particularly enjoyed her account of the writing group in grad school and the Italy stories.  I hated the abrupt ending – seems like she holds something back for another book.

3. Do you typically seek out "foodie" books, or how did you find this title?

I spotted it on a NY Times bestseller list and gave it a try.  I read foodie books if an expose label fits.  As a home cook, I tend to read more recipes than foodie lit.  Let’s see.  Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential cracked my Top Ten list.  Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma educated me.  Foodie books like Julie and Julia that are more fluffy do not interest me much.  Anything that can be described as “slice of life” gets a chance.

4. Would you recommend it to other readers or book groups? Why or why not?

I recommend it for a book club.  It takes you on a tour of various kitchen environments and the lifestyle that group showcases.  It offers many topics to discuss like what is marriage/motherhood/success to the author?  She leaves a few major points unanswered.  For example, how does a lesbian in the 21st century NYC marry a straight man?  She breezes over her relationship with her father and siblings.  Maybe she left them out for the sake of the kitchen theme or perhaps privacy.

5. What are you reading now?

Behind the Palace Doors.  It’s about the British royals from Henry VIII forward.  I tend to be in more than one book at a time.  I am halfway through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which had to go back to the library as it was overdue.  Naturally it is a popular book here in Baltimore.

Many, many thanks to reader Susan Kennedy, and her willingness to share her thoughts on this book. Now, I've got to go get the British royals one she just referenced.

I'm not convinced on the evolution stuff, but I still enjoyed the read.

Dunbar I'm not entirely sure why I checked out the title How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar's Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks, by Robin Dunbar, but I'm guessing I saw it on my library's list of new nonfiction books and thought it sounded intriguing.

I wasn't wrong--Dunbar is a professor of psychology and offers here a variety of very readable science essays on evolution and other "evolutionary quirks" like why tall people seem to be more successful, why we laugh, what morning sickness could be for, and how many friends with whom we can really keep in actual successful contact (the number seems to be about 150, known as Dunbar's Number). For basic science writing, it's kind of light and easily understandable:

"Our brains are massively expensive, consuming about twenty per cent of our total energy intake even though they only account for about two per cent of our total body weight. That's a massive cost to bear, so brains really need to be spectacularly useful if they are going to be worth the cost. The consensus, at least for the primate family, is that we have our big brains to enable us to cope with the complexities of our social world...It seems that it is pairbonding that is the real drain on the brain. So let me ask: have you been struggling yet again with your partner's foibles?...Among the birds and mammals in general, the species with the biggest brains relative to body size are precisely those that mate monogamously." (p. 12.)

I enjoyed that a lot. Particularly in light of my and Mr. CR's recent and unsatisfying skirmishes regarding what constitutes a fair division of household duties.

So yeah, in bits, this is an interesting book. I did skip some of the chapters that were more blatantly about evolution, mostly because I just don't care about evolution as a subject at all.* If you're looking for a book that will provide some neat ah-ha! moments, you might like this one; but it will be liked best by those with a strong bent toward the topics of evolution and evolutionary biology and psychology.

*There is nothing I find more boring than the creationism/evolution debate. I don't even get why it IS a debate, frankly. If you believe that God can do anything, why is it hard to believe that God could create evolution? But much of that is probably my ignorance talking. I don't really know anything about the science of evolution, except that it seems to involve a lot of something I once saw on my brother's t-shirt. Two scientists, working at a chalkboard. On one side are equations, and on the other side are equations, and in the middle: "A miracle occurs." Evolutionary scientists always seem (to me, anyway) to be the types who say, "a million years ago was this, then a miracle occurred, and now we all have wider pelvises. At least we think it's because a miracle occurred, but we don't really know."

Tuesday Article: Humans and books--messy

I have been bummed lately, feeling like machines and algorithms are taking over the world. I'd be less bummed if I thought they were doing a very good job.*

So I wasn't all that titillated to hear that Goodreads, the social reading/cataloging site, is now offering a book recommendation service based on an algorithm they bought from another company. But I was glad to read this article about it in the New Yorker, where the author concludes that books, and humans, are messy, and algorithms don't always do well with messy. For some reason that cheered me up.

*I swear, now that CRjr's pediatrician's office is on computerized record-keeping, our visits take twice as long. How is that possible?

Forget about audiobooks for the time being.

I have less time for reading these days, which is good and bad. It's good because I'm busier doing other things I want to be doing (watching CRjr eat, for example, continues to be a joy) and don't want to be doing (good lord, I could mop the floor under CRjr's highchair every day and my floor would still be sticky). I can't complain about any of that.* It's bad because, well, I miss reading.

So lately I thought maybe I would get some books on audiobook, and that way I could listen to some nonfiction while I did other tasks like cleaning and cooking and even playing with CRjr. This plan, however, is failing spectacularly, for a variety of reasons.

The first book I tried was Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia, which got great reviews. I listened to about three CDs of this one, and the book did seem interesting, but Frazier himself read it, and that was a huge mistake. His voice is okay, but he's got that over-enunciation thing that people who are not natural performers have. (Maybe natural performers have that problem too, if they're not very practiced in reading for recording.) And the subject's just not interesting enough to me to keep on keeping on. The only time I really perked up was when Frazier described meeting an American journalist in Russia who couldn't believe that Frazier was in love with the place--the journalist complained about nothing in Russia working, and he did so using a lot of "fuck"s. Now, I know that Matt Taibbi spent many years in Russia working as a journalist, and I know he loves to swear, so now I'm dying to know if that was Matt Taibbi. How can I find that out, short of emailing either author?

The other book I tried was Chris Hedges's Death of the Liberal Class, which I really wanted to read. Unfortunately, I started listening to it while I was trying to sort hand-me-down clothes from my sisters' kids for CRjr**, and while CRjr was playing in the room. And here's something I'm learning about parenting: even if you take what you think is going to be a braindead job like marking and sorting clothes, it takes just enough of your brain to make it impossible to focus on a book on tape. So I couldn't focus on the Hedges book, and it will have to go back too.

So we're back to listening to music CDs. CRjr seems relieved, particularly when I play Dan Wilson. He loves Dan Wilson.

*Okay, maybe I can complain about the cleaning. I HATE cleaning. And as a person with a high filth tolerance, it's sometimes more work to convince myself of the value of cleaning than it is to actually clean.

**Which I really appreciate, as the only thing I hate more than cleaning is shopping.

A long-awaited pleasure.

If you've read this blog for a while, or if you know me as a reader, you know that I have a little thing for author William Langewiesche.

It doesn't hurt that he's gorgeous. But mainly I love his writing. His writing to me is like the best fall day: Crisp, sharply detailed, and able to pack a lot in a small package (much like fall days are shorter than summer ones). Every time a new book of his comes out, I rush to read it, and I always learn something new. But here's a little secret: there are two books of his I haven't read: Inside the Sky, and The Outlaw Sea. I've been holding them in reserve, for a time when I really needed a "go-to" nonfiction title. This week, when I have been feeling uninspired by all other titles, I have been slowly making my way through The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, savoring each chapter like one of those last, bright, lingering fall days before the snow flies.

In The Outlaw Sea Langewiesche describes the rule of law (or lack thereof) on the world's oceans. As per usual, he makes highly technical and possibly quite boring material come alive, and he describes ships and ocean navigation in such a way that even I, a dolt in all things technical and mechanical, understandable:

"Aboard the Kristal most of the repairs consisted of chipping with hammers and chisels at heavy rust that had spread like a cancer under the paint, across the main deck and through the hull. There have been reports, difficult to substantiate but entirely plausible, that considerable and illicit welding was also being performed, and that as a result, one of the cargo tanks could not be used--a restriction that may have caused the crew to load the molasses improperly, placing severe strains on the ship's structure. It seems unlikely that this could have occurred without at least the tacit approval of the ship's management company. Be that as it may, the crew certainly knew about the Kristal's precarious condition and were glad for their jobs nonetheless." (p. 10.)

It gets a lot more technical than that, particularly when he describes the sinking, in 1994, of a passenger ferry ship, the Estonia, in the Baltic Sea. (A tragedy, and its investigation, that makes up a good chunk of the narrative.) But he's packed a lot in that paragraph, and he's made it easy to read. The whole book has been like that so far.

I'm not done with it, because I'm reading it slowly to savor. Wonderful. A tragic book but a good one to sink my teeth into as we enter beautiful, cool, and over all-too-quickly fall.

Wanted: Good Business Books.

It looks like I'll be making some sort of "best business books" list for Library Journal again this year, and I'd like to cover all my bases. So: does anyone out there want to suggest any business books (published in 2011) that really lit you on fire? I'll happily consider any recommendations--and thanks in advance for any help!

Speaking of business, do consider reading this article from The Atlantic,* about how Americans are working harder and feeling poorer. If you don't have the time to read the article I can nutshell it for you, using a quote from its second paragraph: "Since the recovery began, corporate profits have captured nearly 90 percent of the growth in real income." Ridiculous.

*Thanks to the Lesbrarian, reference librarian with the mostest, for the link.

Fiction bender.

For whatever reason, I have not really been in a nonfiction mood the past few weeks.

This is not to say that I haven't been reading nonfiction. I've got a title in the bathroom and one on my nightstand, and I'm enjoying both of them when I read them. But I can't seem to focus on them exclusively. It is therefore taking me forever to get through them, and that's weird for me.

On the other hand, over the last few weeks I have plowed through every Anne Tyler novel I own: The Accidental Tourist, Saint Maybe, Searching for Caleb, Back When We Were Grownups, and Earthly Possessions. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant--one of my very favorites of hers--has only remained unread because I can't find my copy (I know it's here somewhere). For whatever reasons I find Anne Tyler to be a very interesting novelist. I wouldn't call her comfort reading, though--there's something ever-so-slightly edgy* about her fiction and her characters that both unsettles and settles me. If that makes any sense. And I like the fact that I never really know what Anne Tyler the author is thinking. I remember finishing The Clock Winder and thinking it had a lovely happy ending, and then I read in an interview that she didn't think she'd given it a happy ending at all.

Are there any authors, fiction or non, who do this for you? Soothe but yet provoke?

*It was very hard to read Saint Maybe again, particularly the part where the mother of two young children and a baby is falling to pieces from depression (with reason). Interesting how the scenes describing a baby being in its crib all day with not much attention affect me now, with CRjr around.

An honor just to be nominated.

I have never been real good at winning things.

In grade school, I was the kid who took home only one ribbon each year--the one for "participating." I've never been the strongest, fastest, or most competitive kid on the block, and those are all qualities which are pretty much imperative for winning end-of-school-year picnic prizes in elementary school.

So it touched my heart that someone nominated me for Best Nonfiction Blog at the Book Bloggers Appreciation Week site. There's only one small problem: I missed the deadline for accepting the nomination and sending what I thought were my five best posts of the year.


I know. Those are not real onerous requirements for accepting the nomination. And I did put it on the to-do list for my weekend. But as weekends tend to do around here now, the deadline weekend came and went and I missed it. So I'm going to award myself a (non)participation ribbon for this one and hope for better things, or at the very least the ability to finish off a to-do list, next year.

But I did want to say two things: 1. THANK YOU to whoever nominated me; I do appreciate it. 2. And do consider voting at the BBAW site--it really is a nice little contest, and I thoroughly approve of all the nonfiction blogs up for consideration.

Now I'm off to enjoy this weekend before it, too, starts to get away from me.

Two non-starters.

This past week I looked at two books that had great titles, but after I started them, I almost immediately realized they were not what I am in the mood for this week.*

Weinstein The first was Arnold Weinstein's Morning, Noon, and Night: Finding the Meaning of Life's Stages Through Books, a scholarly book with different sections on different periods in a person's life, and the literature he has found that sums up the human condition at those various times in our lives. It's not a bad idea, but after I nearly fell asleep reading the following paragraph (in the introduction, mind you) I knew I'd be taking this book back to the library unread.

"And, of course, that is what I am arguing in this book: that literature shows us who we are; it never stops doing this. I've posited this view before, but never with quite the personal conviction that you'll see in the pages aghead. This (very likely valedictory) book also constitutes something of a conclusion to my career. The ground I cover--from Sophocles and Shakespeare to Art Spiegelman and Jonathan Safran Foer--represents pretty much a roll call of the works of literature I've dealt with over a lifetime, but I now undersand that they illuminate my own lifetime. And the personal voice I've allowed myself throughout this book is a voice that finds both its matter and its manner, its substance and its timbre, in the books I love." (p. xiv.)

Blah, blah. A lot of the authors he cites are not ones that do anything for me, either, including William Faulkner and Jonathan Safran Foer (one of my all-time least favorites, as a matter of fact).

Love The other book was titled All about Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion, and it's by Lisa Appignanesi. I didn't get far enough in it to do it much justice in a summary, but I think the author considers different types of love--new crushes, lust, friendship, familial love, etc.--and describes how all of those types have been described in literature, pop culture, and other references, as well as how she's experienced it in her own life. It was all right, but it wasn't doing a whole lot for me either, and its due date was rapidly approaching, so I just took it back. Very disappointing--I kind of had high hopes for both these titles. Perhaps they were both just too philosophical for me for summer/autumn reading.

*I'm not sure what I am in the mood for this week. I've been doing the crosswords in my New York magazine, and bouncing back and forth between a William Langewiesche title and a science fiction novel.

Basement Reading: Robert Sullivan

If you'll recall, I had very unstructured plans for my summer reading. I wanted to read a few books from off the bookshelves in my own basement (consisting of a mix of already-read favorites and TBR classics and reference works), and I wanted to partake in a few challenges.

So here it is, the day after Labor Day, and I didn't do one post all summer about my "Basement Reading." Typical.* Although I did fulfill my duty of participating in a challenge in July, when I took part in Thomas's very enjoyable International Anita Brookner Day challenge, and I had a really good time with that. I want to read more Brookner someday.

Sullivan So it turned out I only re-read one book from my basement this summer, and it barely counts because it's barely 150 pages long--Robert Sullivan's tiny little book titled How Not to Get Rich: Or Why Being Bad Off Isn't So Bad. Back in the day when I was first falling in love with nonfiction (my eyes met the pages of Matthew Hart's nonfiction science title Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession across a crowded library...the book wooed me shamelessly, with smooth prose and new facts and the irresistible sensation that I was learning something at the same time I was wasting time reading...ooh! The rush of a new relationship), one of the first books that blew my reading mind was Robert Sullivan's Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants. It sounds ucky but it's not, it's fascinating. I wrote a review of it for Bookslut, which they were kind enough to publish, and then I rushed off to read some other Robert Sullivan titles, and developed a huge crush on him. I developed such a crush that I actually wanted to help support him monetarily, even in a tiny way, so I bought a copy of one of his books new (which I almost never do, as I am cheap). That book was titled, ironically enough, How Not to Get Rich.

Now, trust me, I do not need a book on that subject. I have been getting not rich for more than a third of a century now and I am GOOD at it. I am the idiot who tips my change AND a dollar bill when I buy a plain coffee at the coffee shop. But in the throes of my Sullivan Crush I didn't need a reason to buy his (then) newest book. When I got it, I read it and enjoyed it, and it ended up on my basement bookshelves, which sounds sad, but is actually where I keep most of my most treasured books (we have, luckily, a quite clean and dry basement). But I don't know if I enjoyed it as much on that initial read as I enjoyed it this time. Probably because in the interim I have had a few more years in which not to get rich.

The whole volume, if you can't tell from the title, is a cheeky little spoof of advice books, many of which cover financial topics. In addition to being funny, and charming, it rings with truth (as all the best truly humorous writing does). Consider the text in the chapter headed "How to Spend the Bulk of Your Leisure Time If You Are Not Going to Get Rich, Probably Ever":

"You read. You read for pleasure. Not constantly; you want to see your friends and get outside once in a while and so on, but you want to do a lot of reading. Perhaps it sounds too simple, but reading is an important strategy in the pursuit of a lifestyle that is, monetarily speaking, not that well-off."

Ha. Sound familiar, anyone? But what I really like about this title is how it admits, basically, that the average person (and the below-average, and the above-average) is not going to get rich in their lifetime, regardless of what sort of American dream, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps bullshit we've all been taught since elementary school. It admits that, but yet it's not depressing. You actually finish this book feeling pretty good about not being rich. You feel dumb because you're not as funny and as good a writer as Robert Sullivan is, but you feel better about not being rich. That's worthwhile.

*Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes: How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.

Waste of a perfectly good title.

I get a lot of my nonfiction reading from a pretty basic source: each month my local library system posts a list of new fiction and nonfiction books in their catalog, and each month I scan the list and order up any titles that tickle my fancy.

So imagine my displeasure when Hugh MacLeod's book, with the awesome title Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination, turned out just to be another business self-help book.

And not a very good one at that. MacLeod is the creator of the website, and is best known for drawing cartoons on the back of business cards. In this book he adopts a Seth Godin-esque approach to living your dream: be special, dream big, follow your entrepreneurial plan, etc. Here's the basic idea, from page one: "Everybody needs an Evil Plan that gets them the hell out of the rat race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short."

Yeah, yeah. We've heard it all before. Does anyone still believe this stuff? Like this? "Thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier to have an Evil Plan, to make a great living, doing what you love, doing something that matters." p. 1.

In short chapters punctuated by his not-all-that-clever doodles, he holds forth on how you've got to sell not only your product but also your belief system*; how customers have to love your product AND your process; and how you should be overextended doing work you love. It all sounds la-di-da and wonderful, but I challenge you to find someone who can actually make this advice work. (The part about making a great living off the Internet in particular gives me a big chuckle.)

I kept the book in the bathroom for a while, where I read it for giggles, until Mr. CR told me it was depressing him and I had to get rid of it.

*This also puts me in mind of a GREAT quote from the movie Broadcast News, which I recall roughly a million times every day as it is. When Albert Brooks spits out, with such distate, about an anchorman colleague who's more style than substance: "And he'll talk about us all really being salesmen." Such bitterness. Awesome. You should watch the entire movie, but you could also see it here. The pertinent quote is right after the two-minute mark.