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September 2014

Moms who drink and swear.

I am firmly on record as not minding swearing in my nonfiction (or fiction, really) books. However, I do think the swearing needs to be warranted. (For instance: I don't mind it when Matt Taibbi swears in his writing. I think most of the topics he covers require some amount of swearing, such as when he perfectly describes Alan Greenspan as a "one in a billion asshole.")

However, one book I leafed through recently contained just too much (unwarranted) swearing to be amusing. The title? Appropriately enough, Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind. It's a collection of short essays, based on the author's blog of the same name,* and it just didn't do much for me. For instance, she includes what she calls "Conversations with Crotchfruit" (the "crotchfruit" being her children? I've never heard that word, personally):

"Zach: Why do you wear underwear that goes straight up your butt?

Me: Thongs? I wear these so underpants lines don't show through my pants, okay?

Zach: And it probably doesn't get stuck in all those dents all over your butt either. I get it.

Me: OH MY GOD! GET OUT!" (p. 49.)

I have several questions about this exchange. Mainly, because this is a woman who also references sometimes suffering from hemorrhoids, what on earth is she doing wearing thong underwear? Let's just say this was a woman to whom I couldn't relate. I read about fifty pages, wondered why I was wasting my time, and took it back to the library.

Here's a sample entry from the blog: "In July, I posted the first of what I hope will be many Fuck You Dinner recipes, a recipe for good goddamn homemade chicken tenders. I promised to share more, but I’ve spent the summer telling dinner to go fuck itself and letting my crothfruit’s shitty dinner requests roll and not cooking much." That's pretty much what the book is like.

I'm only sorry it took me so long to get around to it.

I really, really enjoyed Helaine Olen's investigative business book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.

I first read about this one ages ago on Savvy Working Gal's blog, and I was immediately attracted by its cover. I wondered a bit about its subject matter; I'll admit I was skeptical that an entire book was necessary to explore the "dark side of the personal finance industry."* That's right. An entire book critiquing not the broader business atmosphere of the U.S., not the entire stock market, not capitalism, but literally critiquing ONLY those finance gurus who are well-known enough to have their own publishing, radio and TV programs, and seminar businesses. Olen began the book with a bang, giving the history of one of the earliest pundits, S. F. (Sylvia) Porter, who wrote financial advice columns and books from the 1930s through the 1970s. But I really started to enjoy myself in Olen's second chapter, on popular money guru Suze Orman:

"If there are any other personal finance gurus who are capable of arousing this much passion, I have not discovered them. Everybody knows Suze, the woman whose personal appearance is in itself nearly a caricature, with the neon-bright jackets, deep tan, big, bright white teeth, and ultrablond, ultrasculpted hair. She winks broadly at her audience, seemingly flirting with them, calling them 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' in her over-the-top flat Midwestern accent. Orman has more than half a dozen bestselling books to her credit and a CNBC show, which despite being placed in the Saturday night graveyard hour still gets better ratings than anything in the cable giant's weekday lineup." (p. 28.)

I really enjoyed that, even though, personally, I like watching Suze Orman when I see her programs on PBS pledge drives. It's not so much that I like her financial advice, but I'm interested in public speaking techniques and Suze is nothing if not a MASTER of public speaking.

I'm not doing a great job of describing this book; do click on the link above to Savvy Working Gal's blog, where she gives a much better synopsis of Olen's main points. I will say it took me a while to read this book--it's quite detailed--but in a good way. A great read, particularly if you are oh so tired of hearing TV financial pundits blather on about how we can all save a million dollars by brewing our own coffee at home.

*Not because there isn't enough dark side there, but I thought it might get dull to read about. It did not.

I love hearing authors on the radio.

So yesterday morning the little CRs and I were munching through our Cheerios* and listening to Wisconsin Public Radio, and a guy was on talking about football. And normally, I'm not all that interested in football as a subject. So we listened for a bit, and I thought if I got bored we'd turn over to one of CRjr's favorite CDs (he's still on his Jackson Browne kick). But then I just started enjoying the author.

Which was perfect, as it turned out the author was Steve Almond, of whom I have always been very fond. He's got a new book out called Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto.

Of course it was a timely topic, because the Packers played their season opener on Thursday night. And I must say, I have always been a Packers fan. But the last few years? I just haven't felt like watching. I always thought perhaps a bit of the thrill went out of the game when Brett Favre was done quarterbacking. And frankly I can't really enjoy watching players crunch into each other anymore, after all the concussion news. But I'm not really militant about not watching football, or telling other people they shouldn't.

And neither is Steve Almond. I won't be reading this book--he'd just be preaching to the choir with me and I don't have the time--but you should consider it, if you're interested, or at least listen to the radio program. He's well worth a listen.

*Okay, I was having Fiber One cereal, because I am old, and pretty much the only thing that I really believe in anymore is regularity.

More book lists for fall.

I'm never all that interested in end-of-the-year "best book" lists, but I'll admit that I'm a sucker for autumn book lists, and all they herald. Not only new exciting book releases, but crisper weather! Falling leaves! Pumpkin spice lattes! All things I love.

So today you may want to consider a couple of fall book lists I came across, and they're both from USA today:

Booksellers pick potential hits; and 30 Cool Books for Fall.

Anything there you want to read? The first list didn't do anything for me*; I am particularly uninterested in George W. Bush's biography of his dad. A political biography, written by a barely literate former politician? No thank you. On the other hand, I might consider a book off the second list--a biography of Bill Cosby (Cosby: His Life and Times), who I have always thought is a super interesting person. And who can pass up a mystery written in the style of Agatha Christie (Sophie Hannah's The Monogram Murders)?

*Actually, both lists were dull, in my opinion, but it never hurts to keep up with what everyone else considers "the hits" or "the cool books." If Jodi Picoult is cool, though, I'm glad to be uncool.

The second time was not the charm.

So Much for That (P.S.)
by Lionel Shriver

I found Lionel Shriver's bestseller We Need to Talk about Kevin a really disturbing but really interesting read. So I thought I would try her follow-up novel, So Much for That.

Incidentally? I am in a really fiction place lately. Is it because I'm permanently tired and somewhat overwhelmed, even though I am very lucky and things are going very well? Is this why women read a lot of fiction, because they're always holding this mess up and they only have so much energy left?* But does that assume that fiction is an easier read than nonfiction? Why would I feel more like one than the other?

But I will not be able to finish this one. It's got a compelling premise: man dreams of retiring to Third World island to live simply (and cheaply, off his nest egg); man's wife gets cancer; man's bank account, even though they HAVE insurance, drained, and their marriage pushed to its breaking point. I am on board with that premise. But, if Shriver used a scalpel in her Kevin novel, here she uses a sledgehammer, as when the wife, Glynis, is speculating that exposure to asbestos (via her contractor husband) might have caused her mesothelioma:

"'You could easily have known, and you should have! Evidence about the dangers of asbestos goes back to 1918. The evidence was really beginning to accumulate by the 1930s, but the industry had the research suppressed. The specific link between asbestos and mesothelioma was made in 1964. That was before you even started Knack [his construction company]! By the 1970s, that asbestos could kill you was basically a known fact. I grew up surrounded by these stories, and so did you!'" (p. 55.)

That's just not terribly subtle. Actually, I know I've sounded like that in the past, especially when I've just learned something, but there's too many of those types of speeches here. I may try some earlier Shriver, but I'm done with this one.

*I know this assumes a lot, but I do happen to think women are doing a lot of multitasking to keep this world going.