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February 2014

I can't even think of a title for this post.

Really. This is how braindead I've become. I was going to leave it blank and see if I came up with a title after I wrote this review, but I've got to mosey on to bed, so it's going to stay the way it is.

Yes, I know, it's getting even more casual than usual here at Citizen Reader. What can I say? Put on your pyjamas and join the party.

A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me the URL to a website called 27bslash6.com, because she is my go-to friend for funny things on the Internet (and she has impeccable taste--she sent me a post from Drew Magary without even knowing how much I love Drew Magary). I can't say I found the website all that hilarious, but that's mainly because after doing freelance work online I get rather sick of reading on the computer and only looked at it for about thirty-nine seconds. I did see that the author of the website, David Thorne, had a new book out, so I just requested that from the library instead.

The book is titled I'll Go Home Then, It's Warm and Has Chairs. the Unpublished Emails, and has a lovely picture on the front of a kitty cat in a flight suit, holding a snowboard.* And that image nicely sums up what I thought of the book: a third of the stuff in the book made me laugh so hard I actually hurt my throat a little bit (although with our continued subzero temps and dry air, my throat's already a bit tender), a third of it I didn't really understand, and the final third made me really, really glad I don't know, work with, or live near David Thorne.

For the most part, the truly hilarious parts of this book are parts of larger vignettes that are too long to quote. But here's a little flavor of some truly laugh-worthy stuff: "The four seasons in Australia [where Thorne is from] consist of 'fuck it's hot,' 'Can you believe how fucking hot it is?' 'I won't be in today because it is too fucking hot' and 'Yes, the dinner plate size spiders come inside to escape from the heat.'" (p. 23.)

The book also includes photoshopped pictures, some of which include cats wearing 3D classes. This is CRjr's favorite part of the book; the other day he picked it up and said, "Where are the kitty pictures?", so I flipped to a page with some kitty pictures. Not the right ones, though--CRjr threw the book back at me and said, "The kitties with the funny glasses." At 3 and a half, already a discerning customer of humor, I couldn't be more proud.

All in all the funny outweighed the not-so-funny and somewhat-discomfiting (as in when he makes life a living hell for his co-workers, neighbors, salespeople, and generally anyone else who annoys him). Give it a try.

*Sometimes it really is as simple as kitty in a funny outfit=funny.


Looking for an intrepid librarian reporter.

Anyone out there attending this year's Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Indianapolis, coming up in mid-March?

If you are, first of all, bundle up. The first week of March is looking to be way colder than average in the Midwest, so I can't believe the second week will be all that much warmer (although I'd love to be wrong).

And, secondly, if you plan on going to the conference and attending any sessions that have to do with Readers' Advisory (a list of all such programs was posted today over at the Reader's Advisor Online blog), please consider acting as a "reporter" for the Reader's Advisor Online blog! We're looking for one brave soul to submit a couple of short (two to three paragraph) summaries of two to three RA sessions to be posted to the blog. In return you'll get the RA reference book of your choice, from ABC-CLIO.

We're particularly looking for someone who hasn't attended this conference before, or who hasn't written for us before. Please contact me at realstory@tds.net to apply or with any questions!


Thank God; I was worried I was starting to like everything.

It has been a very good year for me, fiction- and nonfiction-wise. By which I mean I have been enjoying reading almost everything I have brought home (although some titles do get home and back from the library without me having read a page of them; you just run out of time). I was starting to worry, in fact, that I was becoming some sort of easygoing, non-judgmental, easy-to-please reader.

And then I started the book Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm.

I only got about 45 pages into this one, so no, I probably didn't give it a real fair test, but I am done reading it. It's a woman's memoir of going through a divorce, amicably share custody of her three sons with her ex, and trying to keep a farm running through all of it. To be even more fair, I should point out that I really had no reason to expect this book to appeal to me: I only got OFF a farm when I was eighteen, and I never, ever want to go back, and I don't even want to think about divorce and trying to raise children separately (it's exhausting to try and do it together, after all).

Why did I check this book out? Well, when I read Emily Matchar's Homeward Bound, she listed a bunch of "back to the farm"/homemaker memoirs, and this was among them; I don't read a lot of these types of memoirs, but for some reason I thought I would give one a try. It quickly became apparent, however, that this was not going to be a memoir for me:

"They're all mine now, and this is how I will raise my boys: on cheerful summer days and well water and BB guns and horseback riding and dirt. Because I'm claiming our whole country life, the one I've been dreaming of and planning out and working for since I was a little girl.

Last night the full moon hung low and close, like a glistening teardrop on the earth's dark eye, threatening to spill. It didn't, though, and neither did I. A month is a bill cycle, a mortgage cycle, and may become a child-support cycle, but a month is also a moon phase and a growing phase. Our financial lives, our emotional lives, and our cosmic lives are irrevocably intertwined." (p. 13.)

Yeah, cosmic lives. When I start seeing phrases like "cosmic lives," I'm pretty much done with a book.


How-to nonfiction.

I tend not to blog a lot about informational or how-to nonfiction. This is not because I don't read it, but rather because I feel that any nonfiction you find because you're primarily interested in the subject is, well, usually pretty easy to find by subject. Like anything else, this rule is subject to exceptions. I actually love getting recommendations for things like cookbooks, health books, etc., simply because there are SO MANY of them.

One of the reasons I didn't post as much this week, as a matter of fact, was because it never felt like I got enough time to read or even peruse the informational books I had going, much less the other nonfiction (and I had even less time to blog about it)! So what am I trying to learn about this month? Here's the books I've got around with bookmarks stuck in various places:

Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies, Meri Raffetto

Best Food for Your Baby & Toddler, Jeannette L. Bessinger

Raising a Son, Don Elium and Jeanne Elium

Do It! Marketing: 77 Instant-Action Ideas to Boost Sales, Maximize Profits, and Crush Your Competition, by David Newman

Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook, by Camilla Saulsbury

To some extent my informational reading always reflects topics I am better at reading about than actually doing. (Just the way I used to read dating manuals because I had no idea how to get a date or go on dates.) Soon it's about the time of the year for me to check out a bunch of gardening books even though I really have no intention of gardening.

How about you. "Read" any good cookbooks lately, or learn anything particularly helpful from a nonfiction book?


Fiction Interlude: Still a solid Victorian mystery series.

I have always enjoyed Charles Finch's Charles Lenox mystery series, set in Victorian England. I'm not much of a mystery reader and the Victorian era isn't my favorite in British history, but I was originally drawn to the first book because of its beautiful cover, and each book in the series has shared the same style (to good effect, I think, they're always quite visually striking).

Every now and then I simply check my local library catalog for "Charles Finch" and see if he's come out with a new one, and last month I was not disappointed--I found the seventh book in the series, An Old Betrayal. In this installment, gentleman detective and esteemed Member of Parliament Charles Lenox finds himself ever more conflicted in his desire to be a good politician while also still pursuing his real love, which is crime detection. The story features a damsel in distress, two murders, and eventually, a dastardly plot involving high-level burglary and treason.

Mr. CR read the book too (as he has read most of the books in this series, when I bring them home) and found it a serviceable read. I enjoyed it, although I think Finch is starting to phone these books* in just a little bit. You really only notice when he is trying to work in some period detail or information and the best way he can find to do it is in parentheticals or asides.** And, sadly, what I liked best about the first book in the series was the relationship between Charles Lenox and his neighbor, Lady Jane Grey. Now that they're together the Lady Jane is not given much to do and their conversations don't seem as lively. I'll refrain from making any commentary on what that says about marriage in general.

But these are small quibbles. I still enjoyed the book, and I'm sure I'll read the next one in the series too.

 *And how could he not? He's been publishing one a year, and has written another contemporary novel (The Last Enchantments, just published) during the same time period.

**Yes, yes, I should give you an example of this. But I forgot to mark the proper pages with bookmarks. You'll just have to take my word on it.


Another Helene Hanff stunner.

Please note: For all you Helene Hanff fans out there, remember that Stacy Horn (an author I think of as a modern-day Hanff, with her fantastic writing skills, her joy for life, and her residence in New York City) put up a walking tour video of the places Helene lived in New York. It's awesome.

The bad news is, I am all out of "new to me" Helene Hanff books to read.*

The good news is, the book in question, the one I had been saving to read for last, was wonderful.

As you know, I love Helene Hanff. (Actually, I think I am in love WITH her. It's a small distinction but an important one.) After I first read 84, Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloosmbury, I started making my way through her other books, but slowly, so I wouldn't run out of them all at once. But now, having read her memoir Underfoot in Show Business, I am officially out of Hanff treats for myself.

But it was worth it. I checked it out from the library, and the very first thing I enjoyed about it was its delicious old book smell. You know, the slightly sweet, pulpy odor that most books of a certain age, particularly if they've been living around other books, get. And then when I read it, it turned out to be a delightful journey through Helene's early professional life, when she moved from Pennsylvania to New York City to try and become a playwright. This is how it opens:

"You may have noticed that this book was not written by Moss Hart. It's a book about show business, where fame is the stock in trade, and it's written by a name you never heard of and probably can't pronounce. There is a simple explanation for this.

Each year, hundreds of stage-struck youngsters arrive in New York to crash the theatre, firmly convinced they're destined to be famous Broadway stars or playwrights. One in a thousand turns out to be Moss Hart.

This book is about the other 999. By one of them." (p. 11)

Of course, this book is old. It's dated. Frankly, I don't even know who Moss Hart is. But Helene plows right in, in her forthright manner, and tells you how she grew up loving the theatre (as did the rest of her family), how she attended college briefly and then had to drop out to take a job (where she spent a lot of her time writing plays), and how she eventually moved to New York City and tried to make it in the business. And once she's in New York, well, she never slows down. She describes trying to find an agent, how actors and actresses get cast, and all other manner of behind-the-Broadway-scenes action; but perhaps the most enjoyable bits are those in which she and her friend Maxine make their way in the big city, contriving to see Broadway shows for free and trying to find apartments which include some kind of kitchen space or privileges.

This should come as no surprise: I loved it. Even when I didn't get the references, even when I had no idea what she was talking about. I just find Helene so inspiring. Here was this woman who was never rich, was mostly quite poor, as a matter of fact, but she lived life (mostly) where she wanted to live it, in her beloved New York City, and she seemed always, ALWAYS to be having a good time. I'm sure a lot of her life wasn't easy, but you certainly wouldn't know it from her prose. I enjoyed this bit, too, when she described herself, fairly early on in the book:

"I had a dumpy little figure, and the clothes I bought off the sale racks in Wanamaker's basement didn't improve it. I wore glasses, I had straight, stringy, mouse-colored hair which I could afford to have cut or set very often, and I had as much poise as any young girl who's never been anywhere or done anything and most of the time isn't exactly sure who she is." (p. 14.)

She's not describing herself very glamorously, and yet, you get the feeling, even when she was unsure, Helene didn't really mind being Helene. At least that's the impression I get. The other overall impression I always get from her books is one of joy: what joy she brought to life, and what joy she got from it. And what joy she's brought to my life. I wish she'd written at least a hundred more books.

*Well, she wrote a few children's history books too, that I might still track down.


There seems to be a lot of crafting in the new domesticity.

I am a terrible homemaker.

Really. I don't even like to apply the term "homemaking" to what I do. I'm an average cook, I hate cleaning, I refuse to "decorate" in any way (my current TV table is the same $15 plain wood table I bought from an outgoing student for my dorm room, oh my god, over twenty years ago now), I'm not really very good at playing with the children, and when I hear the word "crafts," I reach for my revolver.*

So why would I read a book on the "New Domesticity"?

The first thing I should probably do is define the term for you. Or, more accurately, I should let Emily Matchar, author of the book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, define it for you:

"The motivations behind New Domesticity are varied: an interest in self-sustainability; concern for the environment; the need for flexible, child-friendly work; the desire to remain connected to older generations. But the common thread seems to be this: my generation--those of us in our twenties and thirties--is longing for a more authentic, meaninful life in an economically and environmentally uncertain world." (p. 5.)

So yeah, I'm in my thirties (just barely, but I'm enjoying it while I still can), and yes, I stay at home as a pretty stereotypical housewife, with some freelance work on the side. I do many of the things Matchar talks about her interview subjects doing--raising the kids, trying to earn a little "pin money" on the side, and making the food. But I can safely say, after reading this book, that I do not approach domesticity with the zeal that Matchar's subjects do; many of them are actively "homesteading" and doing things like trying to raise their own meat animals and live off the grid.

Matchar's book is interesting (if a bit repetitive), and she actually does a nice job of keeping her tone pretty even-keeled. She seems generous to her subjects, willing to believe the best about their desires to DIY and remove themselves as much as possible from the factory food system, but also questions how realistic those desires are, and how they developed from and represent the last fifty or so years of feminism. She covers a wide array of topics, from domestic bloggers and Etsy crafters to DIY food culture, parenting to the politics of the New Domestics. And every now and then she comes across with a pretty nice flash of insight:

"Today parents are expected to be the total authorities in their children's lives. Parent are taught to question everything they hear and make sure it 'feels right' for their particular family. This can be empowering but also exhausting--every vaccine and preschool and baby-food brand must be rigorously vetted by Mom or Dad (usually Mom)." (p. 126.)

One thing I do feel the book was missing (as I feel most books of this type miss) was any realistic disussion of how on earth anyone can "homestead" or go without a job (or a spouse with a job) with health insurance. Unless you're the Pioneer Woman, no one is making enough on blogs or crafts to quit their day jobs, much less pay for any kind of health insurance on their own.

It wasn't the fastest or most fascinating read of the year so far, but I'll say this: it held my interest even after several 2 a.m. feedings (sometimes I have a snack and a chapter of something after nursing CR3). And that's usually the mark of a pretty well-written book.

*Not really. But I will always remember that phrase from the promo copy on Jim Knipfel's fantastic book Ruining It for Everybody: "and when I hear the word 'spiritual,' I reach for my revolver."


Reading (rather than watching?) the Olympics.

I have always really enjoyed the Winter Olympics.

Don't ask me why. Perhaps because winter is my second-favorite season, after fall. Perhaps because I really do like watching figure skating. I was particularly excited about the Olympics this year, because CRjr really enjoyed watching a lot of the events in the Summer Olympics, which came along when he was 2 (he was particularly into the swimming races, for whatever reason), and I thought he might enjoy the Winter Olympics too. But, correct me if I'm wrong, it seems like all they're showing this year is snowboarding and this new "slopestyle" skiing and snowboarding stuff. And if there's anything more boring to watch than slopestyle, I challenge you to find it.*

So that got me thinking about reading the Olympics. The other day I saw this list, suggesting fiction titles related to the Olympics. I also remembered reading a book called The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games, by Tony Perrotet. This is what I had to say about that book in my reference guide to nonfiction, The Real Story:

 "Perrottet describes the historical details of the original Greek Olympic games in muscular and fast-moving prose**, using such historical documents as a Handbook for a Sports Coach, a third century training manual, and numerous illustrations from drinking vessels and other primary sources to flesh out his account of the events at the original games, training regimes, customs, and spectator involvement.  The details can be quite earthy (such as his description of the thriving prostitution business that grew up around the festivities) and the author’s skill in weaving them into a comprehensive narrative is admirable."

If I remember correctly, I really enjoyed the book. You might too, even if you're bored by the real thing this year. Perhaps I'll re-read it until NBC decides to put a few different events on the air during prime time.

*I was up feeding CR3 at 3 a.m. this morning and actually got to see some luge. It was a real treat.

**Yeah, yeah, "muscular and fast-moving prose," I got carried away a little bit writing some of the annotations for that book. I was a lot younger when I wrote it!


The fun of a good negative review, part two.

Weirdly enough, after posting yesterday's link to a negative review of a business book, I chanced across several other items on the Internet about negative reviews in general. (Weird how that always happens. You're thinking about a topic--and all of a sudden that topic is everywhere.) I try to read whatever I can find on this subject, because certain publications' rules about only allowing "positive" book reviews have always bugged the shit out of me.* If reviews of books just don't appear, then, I always wonder, does that mean they were bad, or that they just weren't considered for review? Lame.

Anyway. I particularly liked this article about the power of saying what we don't like about books, written by Francine Prose and Zoe Heller. What do you think?

*I'll admit I sometimes enjoy writing a negative book review. Here's a couple of my favorite negative reviews from this site. I got a lot of angry comments on the Jen Lancaster one in particular. I enjoy a healthy debate so that was fun.


Ah, the fun of a good negative review.

I have always enjoyed good negative book reviews. Either I agree with them and they're fun to read, or I disagree with them and then I have to get the book in question to see for myself. Either way it's a win-win.

For whatever reason, I haven't been finding a lot of nonfiction I love to hate lately (it doesn't help that I barely have time to read nonfiction I'm enjoying). But I did come across this article the other day, in which a reviewer let loose on a personal finance book that they called the "worst personal finance book ever." Go check it out!


And what an American life.

Wow, talk about living hard, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse: did everybody here know that author Jack London (of Call of the Wild fame) died at the age of 40? After packing more action and adventure into that short lifetime than most people do who live twice as long?

I read The Call of the Wild a million years ago, and remembered liking it, although I think that is the only piece of London's writing that I've ever read. My sister has referenced him before, though, so when I saw Earle Labor's new biography, Jack London: An American Life, in my library catalog, I placed it on hold, thinking I would lend it to her to read.

I made the (happy) mistake of reading the first few chapters of the book myself, and then I kept it for myself to read, rather than passing it along. Sorry, sis.

I couldn't stop reading this book simply because of the sheer momentum of London's life. From his illegitimacy to his hardscrabble childhood, his dedication to Socialist causes to his young adulthood filled with hard labor, his unstinting efforts to educate himself to his drive to become a published author, and his first unhappy marriage to a fulfilling second one, complete with a sailing voyage around the world, this story just never gets the chance to be dull. Labor's writing is straightforward and not nearly as flashy as its subject, and I periodically wished for some more juicy details*, but overall this was a quick read for how much ground the author had to cover.

A great biography, complete with notes, bibliography, and index, and a great read, about a truly unbelievable life. And a great book to read during this time of the year, trapped as we all feel by weather and the doldrums of January and February.**

*I forgot to place bookmarks at the places where I thought, huh, I'd like some more detail here. You'll just have to take my word on this one.

**Or am I the only one feeling this way?


I'll stick with the source material, thanks.

Longbourn
by Jo Baker
Powells.com

I finally read Longbourn, by Jo Baker, because I read about it at Bookshelves of Doom (a blog I enjoy and trust) and also because I saw it on a lot of "best of" fiction lists last year. And hey, I cannot turn down books based on Jane Austen's works.

Longbourn (the title is from the name of the house in the Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, of course, where the Bennets live, and the inheritance of which is entailed away from the Bennet daughters) follows the plot points of Pride and Prejudice closely (exactly, as a matter of fact), only from the point of view of Sarah, one of the Bennets' household servants. As Jane and Lizzy are busy trying to sort out their prospective romances with Bingley and Darcy, the servants' lives of routine and order and never-ending work are also shifted. The household is also changed by the addition of a new servant named James, a young man who seemingly appears out of nowhere, and who is just a bit too uninterested in Sarah, if you know what I mean. Various subplots involving the long-suffering Mrs. Hill and other bit players such as Wickham round out the story.

It was interesting, a good idea, and it is written well. I enjoyed both Sarah and James as characters, particularly James, whose truly upstanding nature provides a nice counterpoint to Austen's Darcy. It was hard to put down, really, until I read the whole thing.

So why didn't I love it?

Well, I just didn't. I think it might be hard to love Austen the way I do and to also love this.* Austen's writings are romantic, of course, and sharp in their own way--old Jane obviously knew plenty about human foibles and weaknesses and neatly skewered a wide variety of them in her various novels. But they are not really dark. Or ugly. Take Wickham. Now, in the original book, Wickham is a capital-S Scoundrel who preys on girls who are really a teensy bit younger than they should be. But the ickiness factor is compounded here. Consider this exchange between Wickham and the very young Lonbourn housemaid Polly:

"'How old are you, Little Miss?'

'Don't know quite. Twelve, thirteen, maybe. Why?'

'Shall I buy you some pineapple bonbons, then, and send them back to you?'

Polly stared up at his big face, which everybody said was handsome; the sprouting moustache, the open pores between his eyebrows, the broken veins on his nose. Grown-ups could be so very unpleasant to look at, if you got too close.

'Oh, would you, though? Would you really?'

She wanted to ask what the other flavours were, before she committed herself to pineapple; whether there would be lemon drops and cough candy, coltsfoot rock and aniseed.

'I would. I will. If you'll be sweet to me now.'" (pp. 207-208.)

Uck. You know, I don't really need too much help picturing the earthiness behind Regency England. Every time I finish a re-read of an Austen novel I mentally add the line: "And they lived happily ever after, until Lizzie [or insert heroine name here] died giving birth to their first child a year later." So yeah, I can do dark. But for fiction, fun reading? I guess I just prefer the lighter touch of the Austen source material.

*Maybe not. Perhaps I'm completely wrong on this point.


Intriguing idea, but I need more "pop" in my science.

I heard about Mario Livio's book Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein -- Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe on some sort of NPR interview that he did, and, based simply on the title, thought it might make for an interesting read.

It probably is, but it is not for me. I only got to page 13, and I decided that, although a real scientist would probably consider this title "popular science," it is still a little hardcore for me. Livio's basic idea is that great scientific discoveries don't pop out of nowhere; they are, in fact, made when scientists make lots of little mistakes and even a few huge ones while they're trying to figure stuff out.

The chapters cover scientists including Charles Darwin*, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein, among others, and it certainly seems like a well-written book that the right reader might really enjoy.** But for me, right now, it's just a little dry: "The blunders described in this book have all, in one way or another, acted as catalysts for impressive breakthroughs--hence, their description as 'brilliant blunders.' They served as the agents that lifted the fog through which science was progressing, in its usual succession of small steps occasionally punctuated by quantum leaps." (pp. 10-11.)

*It didn't help that the book opens with Darwin and evolution, and I find evolution just about the most dull subject there is. If I even just hear the word "evolution," I start immediately yawning and my eyes get heavy.

**And I'm just totally scattered these days. If I had more time and my old powers of concentration I might have enjoyed this one a lot more too.


TBR: February reading lists.

Well, all I can say about this winter is, at least it's February now. It has to end sometime, right?

In the meantime, here's a couple of February reading lists for you: one from Flavorwire, and one from Amazon.

Anything on either list float your boat? Only two nonfiction titles on that Flavorwire list (and lots of story collections, if you like that sort of thing), but one looks kind of interesting. And actually, that list from Amazon's a really interesting one--I want all of those nonfiction titles AND the Robert Harris novel. Goodness. I'm going to need another month of winter to get through some reading, looks like.


Thinking about Joyce Maynard.

Labor Day (P.S.)
by Joyce Maynard
Powells.com

Last Friday the movie Labor Day, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, was released.

I first saw the trailer for this movie about a month ago, and I thought, huh, I've always enjoyed Joyce Maynard. Maybe I'll read the novel before the movie comes out. So I did.

The story, not to put too fine a point on it, is ridiculous. A teenage boy, Henry, and his recluse mother, Adele, while out doing some necessary shopping, are abducted by a bleeding man who tells them he has a gun. They take him back to their house, ostensibly to hide out, but while he does so, over the course of the long, hot Labor Day weekend, he gains the affection of both Adele and her son (who eventually learn he has escaped from prison, where he was serving time for a crime that had extenuating circumstances). It ends both tragically and hopefully, with a betrayal that you could see coming from the introduction of a certain character.

But still? I enjoyed it.

I think the crux of the matter is that I just like Joyce Maynard. If you've never heard of her, she's probably most well-known for being one of J.D. Salinger's paramours (an experience she wrote about in her memoir At Home in the World), and for selling his letters to her at auction when, after a divorce and trying to raise three children, she needed the money. She's also a novelist, and has written a YA book (or books, I'm not certain) as well.

Be that all as it may, here's what I like about Joyce. This ridiculous story grew out of an equally (well, in my opinion) ridiculous experience in Maynard's own life, when she started exchanging letters with a prisoner who wrote her some fan mail. You can read that entire story (and I recommend it, it's interesting) here. Maynard's real-life story was not as romantic as the novel she eventually wrote, but I find the whole situation fascinating. Who on earth corresponds with a prisoner, without knowing what he's incarcerated for, when you live by yourself with three kids? And, further, who on earth takes that experience and writes a romantic, ridiculously hopeful and forgiving of human nature, novel about it?

Joyce Maynard, that's who.

At the end of the book, Henry, all grown up and with a daughter of his own, has this to say about how he comforts the baby whenever she cries: "What she will register, at least, will be the fact that she is not alone. And it has been my experience that when you do this--slow down, pay attention, follow the simple instincts of love--a person is likely to respond favorably. It is generally true of babies, and most other people too, perhaps." (p. 241.)

Yeah, I like her. And I liked her sappy novel too. Didn't expect that one, did you?