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January 2013

Where do you want to go? A travel guide to meet your every need (in books).

It's been an exciting month for the Real Stories series of nonfiction reading guides!

Last week I told you about Melissa Brackney Stoeger's new guide to epicurean nonfiction, Food Lit. This week, I have the great pleasure of telling you about Robert Burgin's Going Places: A Reader's Guide to Travel Narratives.

Going placesAgain, I know it's a bit hard for me to be unbiased about these books. But you should see this book. Robert has rounded up every travel book you have ever heard of, and a ton of new ones that you haven't. When I was reading through his manuscript before publication, I put a bunch of titles on my TBR list that intrigued me (this is how I found Paul Theroux's Kingdom by the Sea, which was a great read). In addition to providing thorough annotations and read-alike suggestions, Robert has also grouped these books by reading interest and genre--categories you won't ever find in libraries and bookstores but which are just right--like "Quests," "The Journey," and "The Expatriate Life," to name just a few.

He also noted all of the places the authors traveled to in their books*--and included those in his subject index. So when a library patron approaches you and wants something to read about Spain (that isn't a guide book), you now have a one-stop resource for accessing such a list of titles.

Do check it out. Between this book and Melissa's you will find all the great nonfiction you will ever need about travel and food, respectively.

*Robert's also started a blog about his travels and travel books--you can find him at Travel With a Book.

Holy downer book, Batman.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco

If you're looking to become suicidally depressed, have I got the book for you.

A few weeks ago I was actually browsing my library's "Serendipity Collection"--a shelf of books that are new, bestselling, or otherwise popular, and for which there are usually long waiting lists, but in that small collection they are available on a first come, first serve basis. I place a lot of holds, and normally have a pile of books to pick up and check out, but nothing great had been coming in for me, so I thought I'd look around. So I ended up checking out Chris Hedges's and Joe Sacco's investigative work Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.

According to Hedges's intro, the pair (Hedges is a journalist; Sacco is a graphic novelist/journalist) "set out two years ago to take a look at the sacrifice zones, those areas in the country that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. We wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like when the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit."

So yeah. You're starting to see where the suicidal depression comes in, right?

The book is comprised of four chapters on "destruction": in journalism and graphic novelettes the two tell the stories of people they found on the Native American reservation at Pine Ridge South Dakota (poverty, alcoholism, drug dealing); Camden, N.J. (a former industrial/dock town where immigrants used to find the American dream and now poverty and lawlessness rule, along with racial tensions and violence); a coal-mining region of West Virginia (where mountaintops are being blown off, there are very few coal jobs to work anymore, and everyone has diabetes or other health conditions from breathing in coal dust); and Immokalee, Florida, where illegal immigrants work in modern-day slavery. A fifth and final chapter titled "Days of Revolt" centers on the Occupy protests in New York City.

It's so sad, but I couldn't stop reading it. On the other hand, I don't know if I can recommend it. Really. I know the authors meant the last chapter in particular to be inspiring, but I just can't help feeling that the Occupy protests were not enough to offset the relentless misery in the first four chapters. What I did find inspiring, actually, was one of the graphic novelettes in the Camden, N.J., chapter, featuring a woman named Lolly Davis, who not only worked and took care of her own children, but also raised other people's children, and in one memorable story, during race riots in the city, warned her white neighbors across the way to "put something red in their window" (as a rioter had told Davis to do) so rioters would leave them alone.

I thought the format was done well too--I'll admit I skipped ahead and read most of the graphic novel bits before I read the rest of the text. But that was to be expected--I've never been much of a Chris Hedges fan. I find him a bit histrionic in all his books (I wasn't overfond of his title War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, either). Here's what he has to say towards the end of his narrative:

"The game, however, is up. The clock is ticking toward internal and external collapse. Even our corporate overlords no longer believe the words they utter. They rely instead on the security and surveillance state for control. The rumble of dissent that rises from the Occupy movements terrifies them. It creates a new narrative. It exposes their exploitation and cruelty. And it shatters the absurdity of their belief system." (p. xii.)

Okay, sure. I wish the game really were up, but I suspect it is not, and won't be for a long time, even with continuing Occupy protests. But that's just me. Do read the book sometime, but do me a favor and make sure you're not depressed when you start (although whether you should blow a happy mood with it either, I just don't know).

Yet another awards list of books I haven't read yet.

This past weekend they held the ALA Midwinter conference in Seattle, and as they typically do at this time, the organization has released their picks for their annual "ALA Notables" (as well as their "Reading List" books, which are notable genre titles).

You can see the entire list over at the Reader's Advisor Online. As per usual (for me, anyway) the list is a combination of books I haven't read (and am not real interested in reading) and books I disliked (I tried to get through Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking THREE times and failed; Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story was just beyond me). I'm left wondering what I do like to read, since both their "genre" and their "notable" (read: literary) picks totally bore me. But then, I'll let you in on a little secret: everything the American Library Association does, pretty much, bores me.* The whole organization always smacked of a really long and worthless work meeting to me: lots of commitees, lots of politics and backstabbing, very little of anything concrete or helpful actually getting done.

*Except their Read posters. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for their Read posters. Mainly because I'm shocked that they actually managed to produce something tangible.

Look no further for a great guide to food lit!

I am very, very excited: the first book that I helped with, as series editor for the Real Stories series of nonfiction reading guides (published by ABC-CLIO), came out yesterday!

Food litThe book in question is Melissa Brackney Stoeger's Food Lit: A Reader's Guide to Epicurean Nonfiction, and you'll excuse my parental-ish pride if I say it's nothing short of fantastic. Stoeger not only explores (and helps categorize into similar nonfiction food "genres") a TON of popular and current nonfiction titles about food, she provides gorgeous appendix materials about cooking shows, food blogs, and food book awards. If you work in a library and get questions from patrons with an interest in this subject, this is a great resource for you. (For example: Tired of combing through all the cookbooks in your stacks to find the more narrative foodie selections? Melissa has done all that work for you!)

If anyone out there is going to ALA Midwinter, I'm sure they'll have copies in the ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited (#2021) booth for you to look at, although I warn you--reading it will make you hungry (for both books and food)!

I wish I could go pass out advertising flyers at my local food co-op (foodies galore!) for it--I just might, actually.*

*I'm totally biased, but I also love the cover.

Books to movies, 2013.

Have you seen this list of movies based on books that are opening in 2013?* The entire list pretty much makes me snore,** although I adore Baz Luhrmann (director of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge) and wouldn't mind seeing his take on The Great Gatsby.

Anything on this list that piques your interest? I must admit I'm not the most highbrow of movie fans; I think the only movie I got to see in the theater last year was the James Bond pic Skyfall, and the only movie I'd really like to see this year is the new Star Trek (particularly because I want to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain).

*Thanks to the Reader's Advisor Online for the link.

**Except for the movie Admission, which bugs me. I liked the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz and I am in love with Paul Rudd. But Tina Fey? TINA FEY? My beautiful Paul Rudd has to act attracted to Tina Fey? I guess we'll see if he's got real acting chops or not.

Odd jobs indeed.

I am a total sucker for any variety of "save more money now!" magazine articles and books. I even eagerly pounced on the Parade magazine in last Sunday's newspaper because there was an article in it about saving more money in the new year (and Parade magazine is not usually something I pounce on with any great anticipation).

Invariably, of course, I am let down. All of the saving tips seem to be of the "don't get cable" or "find a cell phone plan that doesn't charge for individual texts" variety, and since I already don't get cable or text (I have a cell phone for emergency purposes only that I still haven't figured out how to answer, which is okay because I haven't given anyone the number, because I don't like to talk on cell phones), those don't really help me. Invariably Mr. CR points out I should skip reading that stuff, because as someone who hasn't bought new socks for at least five years*, I'm really not their target audience.

So now I have moved on to "make extra money in your spare time!" books.

And that's how I found Abigail Gehring's Odd Jobs: How to Have Fun and Make Money in a Bad Economy. I thought I'd just look it over and see if there was anything suitably freelancey that I could try out from home, but it turned out to be not that kind of book. What it is, which actually turned out to be a lot more entertaining to read, is a compendium of, well, truly ODD jobs.

Some of the jobs explored? Escort. "Closet Exorcist." Street Furniture Sales. Lipstick Reading. Motivational Dancer. Human Scarecrow. Christmas Tree Farmer. Dog Handler in Alaska. Soap Maker. Body Part Model.

It's really quite the awesome recreational read (which I was not expecting). Each job is covered in about two to three pages, which is really all the more you want to read about these jobs. Gehring describes what you do, what you get paid, what it costs to get started, what you need to start, perks, downsides, and a few Internet sites to check out. And, bless her heart, she's a pragmatic writer, our Abigail. Here's my favorite bit from the "Escort" description:

"If you're thinking this job sounds too good to be true, it's because in most cases it is. Don't be naive. The majority of men paying $1,000 for an evening are expecting something more than arm candy." (p. 17.) Perhaps former Olympic athlete Suzy Favor Hamilton was not aware of this.

I really enjoyed this book. It didn't make me want to work any of the jobs, but let's face it, I like thinking about working and making money much more than I actually have any skills at working and making money.

*I think. The socks I'm wearing were already oldish when CRjr arrived, years ago.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It seems an appropriate day to mention that Taylor Branch's new history title, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement, was just released on January 8. (PLEASE NOTE: This book is a compilation of selections from his trilogy on the subject, starting with Parting the Waters. The good news is, if you don't have time to read all three volumes, you could just read this new book instead.) He won the Pulitzer Prize for the first book in his series of books on this subject, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. I read that a long time ago, but it was interesting. Some day when I win the lottery this is one of the long series that I'll sit right down and read (along with Robert Caro's biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson, which, heaven help me, I just don't have the time for right now).

However, if you're looking for something shorter that might make you think about the state of civil rights and race issues today, I would definitely recommend Geoffrey Canada's Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence.

Why aren't librarians allowed to love books?

When I worked in the public library I was frustrated by many things. Mainly, I'll admit, by the rudeness* of the general public, which remains the number-one reason I am still relieved not to be working a public-service desk job right now (although I'm sure I'll have to go back to one sometime, and will just be damn glad if I'm able to get one). But a slightly more esoteric annoyance I had with the system was how librarians are often told (in library school, or in training) that to be good "readers' advisors"--people who help readers find things they might enjoy reading--they must focus solely on what the reader wants. "It's not about you," we librarians are told, "Readers' Advisory is not about pushing your opinions on readers."

Well, okay. I get it. When you're helping a reader find something to read it is of course vital that you focus on their interests. Likewise, if someone is, say, a Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks reader, it is probably nicest if the librarian doesn't say (although they might be dying to): "So, you like hack authors, huh?"

But at the same time, I think that attitude does everyone a vast misservice. It hurts librarians, who are made to feel they can't speak about any books too enthustiastically--that they cannot "recommend," they must only ever "suggest," and strive never to allow their own opinions a part in the conversation. And I think eventually it hurts readers--who might be looking for, not only some assistance, but also a good book conversation with someone who also loves reading--not someone who is desperately trying not to have any opinions on any books whatsoever during the encounter.

Now, all of that is a very long-winded way to say I loved, absolutely loved, a little book I checked out at the end of last year titled Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores.** God love independent booksellers. They don't dick around with any "don't bring your own opinions or loves" edicts. This book consists of twenty-five indie bestsellers' lists of their favorite 50 books--each chapter provides some information on the bookstore where the contributor works, the list, some paragraphs about a few of the titles listed more specifically, and a short q-and-a about bookstores and readers with the contributor. And they don't list their 50 best-selling titles, or 50 "sure bets" (a term which always annoys the shit out of me, since I figure my sure bet is bound to be someone else's can't stand)--they list their 50 FAVORITES. It's awesome. Straightforward and very, very pleasing. I read it a chapter at a time last month, always at bedtime, and it was a very satisfying and settling read.

The short interviews with the booksellers were almost my favorite part; and the following is my favorite response to the question "Who is your most trusted source for book recommendations?" (by bookseller Emma Straub): "There are reviewers I trust, and friends I trust, and booksellers I trust. Really, my problem is that I have too many smart people recommending books to me all the time. My backlog is so enormous that often by the time I actually read a book, I've forgotten who told me they loved it or which newspaper gave it a rave. Then it's just up to me and the book to see if we can get along." (p. 16.)

Look at those words: Trust. Recommending. Smart. Love. Now THOSE are the words you should always bring to talking with other readers. So join me in the revolution, librarians: get rid of that wishy-washy word "suggest" once and for all.

*Not to mention general scariness and sometimes flat-out violence.

**If you buy it new the royalties go to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

National Book Critic Circle award nominations.

First: one thing that made me laugh this week was the bump in site traffic I got after the Golden Globes. Which one of my posts were readers chancing upon? That would be Tina Fey Is Not Funny, which showed up a lot this past Monday as a search phrase that was leading readers here. By all accounts Poehler and Fey did a good job; but I didn't watch (after all, I just don't find Fey that funny, although I've got no beef with Poehler, perhaps because the media doesn't treat her as God's proof that yes, even women can be funny), so I can't say.

In other book news, the nominations have been announced for the National Book Critic Circle awards. Normally these award lists leave me cold, but this isn't a bad list. I haven't read most of them, of course (still trying to catch up on 2012, frankly, even though it's over), but for a change this is actually a list comprised of more books I'd like to read than not. 

Best nonfiction 2012: my very first podcast!

Many, many thanks to Steve Thomas, who creates the podcast Circulating Ideas ("the librarian interview podcast"). He was nice enough to ask me to participate in his podcast round-up of the best books of 2012 (as well as some sneak previews of 2013 titles), and I had so much fun doing it.

You can find the podcast at his site. In the first installment, he interviewed Liz Burns, Kelly Jensen, Kristi Chadwick, Anna Mickelsen, myself, and Becky Spratford on our "best" picks.

I'll admit I listened to my part first (it starts around the 1 hour 18 minute mark)*, but I went back when I had more time later in the week and listened to the rest and thoroughly enjoyed it. (It was particularly useful for me, as a lot of great fiction and YA titles were discussed.) I particularly enjoyed the fact that many of the lists are presented in a conversational format. And: a second installment is now up as well!

*My apologies: at times I was talking too close to my headset microphone and there's some annoying noises on the hard consonants. I didn't realize that was happening--live and learn!

Authors: In Memoriam, 2012 (the personal version).

Of course, anytime an author dies it makes the baby Jesus cry. But when I was typing up yesterday's list of authors who passed on last year, I must admit there were more than a few that really hit me hard. Which ones?

Well, Ray Bradbury, of course. And Nora Ephron hit pretty hard too. But David Rakoff? Oh, losing David Rakoff broke my heart.

Several of the names surprised me; Jacques Barzun because I really didn't know he was still alive. David Oliver Relin (co-author of Three Cups of Tea, but we can't hold that against him, I think Greg Mortenson is the real problem there) was sad because he committed suicide, and Jeffrey Zaslow (although I think his book, The Last Lecture, co-authored by Randy Pausch, was a crime against the book-buying public) was kind of sad because he died on a snowy road driving around in Michigan promoting his latest book. It's a tough life, being an author.

And then, there were Earl Shorris ("who fought poverty with knowledge," what a beautiful epigraph) and Paul Fussell.* Two of my very favorites. This year please do consider reading a book by either of those authors in tribute; they wrote thoughtful, solid, intelligent nonfiction. They will be missed.

*In fact, I'm thinking I'm making this the Year of Fussell here at CR. Maybe we'll do a Menage with him, or perhaps I'll issue a reading challenge?

Authors: In Memoriam, 2012

I meant to write this post a long time ago, when I noticed during my summer's break from blogging that several authors I loved had died. (And yes, I'm reasonably sure that there is no connection between my stopping blogging and authors dying, but geez, now I'm a little bit nervous about taking any more extended breaks.)

So, as it is now 2013, I thought I'd just go ahead and make a list of authors who died in 2012. I provided a few obituary/tribute links for some of the more well-known names, but was too lazy to do so for everyone. Please let me know who I missed, or let us know in the comments which authors you're really, really going to miss.

Jose Aruego (illustrator)

Jacques Barzun

Nina Bawden

Jan Berenstain

Leila Berg (children's author)

Doris Betts

Maeve Binchy

Ray Bradbury

Christine Brooke-Rose

Helen Gurley Brown

Michael Louis Calvillo

Stephen Covey

Harry Crews

Marion Cunningham

Simin Daneshvar

Henry Denker

Leo Dillon (illustrator)

Nora Ephron

Irvin Faust

Eva Figes

Phillip Finch

Philip Fradkin

Carlos Fuentes

Paul Fussell

William Gay

Jean Craighead George (children's author)

Suzy Gershman

Jack Gilbert (poet)

Dorothy Gilman

Rosa Guy

Harry Harrison (SF author)

Reginald Hill

Eric Hobsbawm

Robert Hughes

Penny Jordan

Erica Kennedy

Charla Krupp

Ellen Levine (children's author)

Kenneth Libo

Thomas Locker

Jean Merrill (children's book author)

William Lee Miller

LeRoy Neiman

Helen Nicoll (UK children's book author)

David Rakoff

David Oliver Relin

Adrienne Rich

Dora Saint (Miss Read)

Maurice Sendak

Anthony Shadid

Earl Shorris

Louis Simpson (poet)

Donald Sobol (creator of Encyclopedia Brown)

Simms Taback (children's author)

Antonio Tabucchi

E. V. Thompson

Barry Unsworth

Gore Vidal

Kathy (K.D.) Wentworth (SF author)

Bill White (cartoonist)

Reed Whittemore (poet)

Tom Wicker

Jake Adam York (poet)

Jim Young

Jeffrey Zaslow

Zig Ziglar

One of my favorite nonfiction titles of 2012.

I very much enjoyed Jeanne Marie Laskas's latest investigative book, titled Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work.

Evidently Laskas now has six books to her credit; I only knew about the one, a memoir titled Fifty Acres and a Poodle, which I read a million years ago and also enjoyed. Just recently a friend got me a gift subscription to Reader's Digest magazine (which struck both me and Mr. CR as kind of funny, since we'd never read it, but it turns out to be really entertaining bathroom reading), and I've noticed Laskas also does the advice column there. She usually shows good sense there, so when I saw this title, I thought I'd give it a go.

Laskas set out on an experiment that's been done a lot, especially in this age of "stunt" or "year in the life" memoirs--investigating what people do at their jobs. Her twist on the subject is that she investigates jobs we never really see anymore: coal miners, cowboys, oil drillers, truck drivers, etc. And she does it by sharing peoples' lives; she actually went down into the coal mine, and traveled to Alaska's north shore to stay with the guys doing the drilling. Her writing is very straightforward, which is great for this sort of investigative writing. For instance, when she first goes down in the coal mine and is surprised to find that everything is white:

"Everyone, I was told, gets jolted by the white. You try to make sense of it. 'They just paint this opening part white to cheer everyone up?' I said to Foot the first time I saw it. He didn't even dignify that guess with a response. 'It's, like, a joke?' I said. 'Irony? A little humor to start your day before you move into black?' I figured we'd hit the black part of a coal mine as soon as we moved farther in. Foot looked at me in that way he came to look at me, a stillness, a flatness to his gaze, an expression that said, You just keep turning into more of an idiot. He said, 'I think you'll find there are no aesthetic choices, nor is there irony, in a coal mine.'

The white is on account of 'rock dust,' powdered limestone, a fire retardant that you throw on every exposed inch of coal--which, were it not rock-dusted, would be spontaneous combustion waiting to happen. One small explosion could trigger a series of explosions, on and on, fwoom, fwoom, fwoom, through the mine, but not if you've got it rock-dusted." (pp. 20-21.)

I didn't love all the chapters equally (the chapter on the Ben-Gals, the cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals, one of whom also doubled as a construction worker, left me particularly cold), but there was enough here to think about that I can still call it one of my favorite books of the last year. I even suggested it to the guy who runs the gas station down the road; I was having a problem getting one of the pumps to start, and when he came out to help me (which was very nice of him) we got talking about the price of gas, which I personally feel should be much, much higher. And then I proceeded to bore him by telling him about the oil drilling chapter in this book. That's just the long-winded way I roll.

Duel of the douchebags.

I am aware that is not a really classy way to title this post. I thought long and hard about not using it, but it's really the way this book made me feel, so there you have it.*

The Lifespan of a Fact
by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal

The book in question is one of 2012's nonfiction titles that I was most looking forward to checking out. (The fact that the book was published in February 2012 and I'm just getting around to it now, in January 2013, should indicate that I'm a bit behind in my nonfiction reading productivity.) It's titled The Lifespan of a Fact, and it's co-written by author John D'Agata and his fact-checker, Jim Fingal.

Let's see if I can nutshell it for you. The book purports to be the seven-year conversation between D'Agata and Fingal about an essay D'Agata wrote and that Fingal was assigned to fact-check. The article in question was about a Las Vegas teen's suicide, and had originally been commissioned by Harper's magazine, but that publication rejected it based on its factual "inaccuracies." It was then picked up by The Believer, which is where it was assigned to Fingal. In practice, the book looks like this: there is a small paragraph in the middle of each page, that is the actual essay, and then there is smaller type around it, which is the conversation back and forth between D'Agata and Fingal about each "fact" Fingal checked and D'Agata's response to his checking.

When I first heard about it, I thought it could be an interesting case study about the use of facts in nonfiction, and I've always been really curious about the way fact-checkers work.** But I was annoyed by this book and its authors from very nearly the first page. There we have the first sentence of the article: "On the same day in Las Vegas when sixteen-year-old Levi Presley jumped from the observation deck of the 1,149-high tower of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, lap dancing was temporarily banned by the city in thirty-four licensed strip clubs in Vegas..." and the discussion between the authors about how D'Agata arrived at the number of "thirty-four." Fingal queried it because another article that D'Agata provided as a source for that number stated there were thirty-one strip clubs, to which D'Agata replied that he got thirty-four by counting the number of strip clubs in the Vegas phone book during the time when he was researching the article. So of course Fingal asked why he didn't just use thirty-one, if thirty-four could no longer be verified, and D'Agata answered: "Well, I guess that's because the rhythm of 'thirty-four' works better in that sentence than the rhythm of 'thirty-one,' so I changed it." (p. 16.)

Okay, I don't know about you, but when I hear bullshit reasoning like that about the use of facts in nonfiction, I stop reading. Make no mistake: I'm really not that concerned about whether there were 34 or 31 strip clubs in Vegas on that particular day. If you can state a source and stick with it, like the phone book counting, actually, I'm no absolute stickler. That's close enough for me. But to say you went with 34 because it "worked better in the sentence"? Lame.

This happens later in the essay too, when there is some discussion about whether it took Levi Presley eight seconds or nine seconds to fall to his death. In the Coroner's Report, as Fingal points out, it took eight seconds, to which D'Agata replies, about his use of "nine seconds"--"Yeah, I fudged that. It doesn't seem like it should be that big a deal, though. It's only a second. And I needed him to fall for nine seconds rather than eight in order to help make some of the later themes in the essay work." (p. 19.)

Really, D'Agata? You needed the kid's fall to be nine seconds, rather than eight? That seems like such an interesting thing to need, in light of the subject of the story.

So yeah. Four pages in and I was pretty much done reading. And it should be noted that the douchebaggery is not all on D'Agata's side; at one point Fingal starts questioning his description of the "base of the tower," and it's pretty nitpicky.

I'm not going to finish it. I did read a very good article about it, over at The Millions, that I would highly recommend you read if you're still curious about this one at all. At one point in that article, the author Mark O'Connell points out that the conversation in the book are themselves "heavily fictionalized version of the emails that were actually sent during the fact-checking process." What?

I guess I'm left wondering, does it have to be this hard? Do conversations about facts and truth and what makes nonfiction "art" have to be this boring and pedantic? Let's be clear on one thing: (as I tell my mother whenever she wants to talk politics with me) I don't have any answers. But I do have some suggestions: Nonfiction authors, do what you can to have some allegiance to the facts. Be ready to cite your sources, but trust that your readers are smart enough to know that not even the official sources are always completely truthful or accurate. Write better sentences, so they don't depend on you randomly picking facts to make them "flow better." And, for the love of all that's holy, if you don't want to be held to a journalistic standard, don't write pieces that read like reportage. Write a novel inspired by tragic true events instead--just ask Jodi Picoult, that's more lucrative anyway.

Okay, I'm done.

Well, not quite. It should be noted that royalties from the book "will be donated to a scholarship established in Levi's name at Pino and Bantam ATA Black Belt Academy in Las Vegas." (At least that's what it says in the back of the book. Has anyone fact-checked that?)

*Also whenever I think of the word "douchebag" I think of the classic SNL skit about it, and laugh.

**I know. Could I be any nerdier? Probably not.