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February 2015

Leonard Nimoy, photographer and author.

I'll admit that I've had a real soft spot for Leonard Nimoy ever since I saw his book of photography titled The Full Body Project, in which he featured photographs of "plus-sized and obese" women.

So it was with sadness today that I saw this headline: "Leonard Nimoy, Actor, Director, and 'Star Trek' icon, Dies at 83." An interesting article--evidently he also wrote two memoirs. I may need to look into those.

Double blow for nonfiction.

So you've heard that Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert has already concluded his Colbert Report?

The entire time that Jon Stewart has been on The Daily Show, I have not had cable and have never actually seen him on TV.

And yet, I have seen many episodes of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.* And many of them have been very, very funny, as well as a better source of news stories than network news or any other online sources. So yes, I will miss Jon Stewart for myself. But I will also miss Jon Stewart for this reason:

Why book publishers will miss Jon Stewart

And the subtitle of that article is "Jon Stewart was known for bringing attention to lower-profile, more obscure books."

You can see why I love Jon Stewart, right? So yes, I think it will be a sad day for nonfiction when Stewart finishes his run--I've gotten a lot of books based on their authors' appearances on his show. So--what do you think? Where can nonfiction readers look for "lower-profile, more obscure" (and often very good) books, and great interviews with nonfiction authors?**

*My brother swears by Colbert and the Report, and I agree with him that Colbert is a genius. But for my lazy brain--I am almost always listening to these programs on my laptop, while doing other work--I find it easier just to enjoy Stewart.

**Well, for a while at least, you can make your way through the backlist by visiting these lists of books and authors featured on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

If a book is written about hypothetical science questions... long will it hold my interest before I decide, meh, that's enough of this?

The answer is: about 130 pages.

Last year I saw Randall Munroe's book What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions pop up in a lot of reviews and on a lot of "Best of" lists (go over to and check out their downloadable "best of nonfiction for 2014" spreadsheet--it's pretty high up on that list). And I thought, okay, I don't read enough science (or math).* Let's try it.

So I brought it home, and yeah, it is interesting. Quite interesting. And amusing, very amusing, in parts. Munroe (according to the handy-dandy book jacket) is evidently the creator of the webcomic xkcd, where people ask him absurd hypothetical questions and he answers them, to the best of his ability. Here's one:

"Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?"

And here's part of the answer:

"I was sort of surprised to find that the answer was yes!  But to really do it right, you'll want to talk to the Russians.

The principle here is pretty simple. If you fire a bullet forward, the recoil pushes you back. So if you fire downward, the recoil should push you up.

The first question we have to answer is 'can a gun even lift its own weight?' If a machine gun weighs ten pounds but produces only 8 pounds of recoil when firing, it won't be able to lift itself off the ground, let alone lift itself plus a person...

Despite growing up in the South, I'm not really a firearms expert, so to help answer this question, I got in touch with an acquaintance in Texas." And then there's a note, and the note at the bottom of the page says this:

"Judging by the amount of ammunition they had lying around their house ready to measure and weigh for me, Texas has apparently become some kind of Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic war zone." (p. 68.)

Now that's witty. And some of the questions and answers, like "If every human somehow simply disappeared from the face of the Earth, how long would it be before the last artificial light source would go out?" are downright fascinating. So yeah, it was kind of fun. But at some point I do weary of reading what basically boils down to science factoids, even if they are written well. And because they are all hypotheticals, well, I did catch myself thinking, good lord, only a guy would have this much time and energy to expend on fantastical science hypotheticals.** But that was not a very charitable thought.

I really enjoyed the 130 pages I read, but I'm taking it back to the library with another 170 pages untouched. For my money, I still like a good old-fashioned terrifying biological read, like Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex or David Quammen's Spillover.

*Mainly because I never understood most of the science classes I took, and I wasn't all that interested (which was most likely the biggest part of the problem).

**I'm also currently reading Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things To Me, which, at least while I'm reading it, is making me a bit frustrated with the male gender.

New Nonfiction: 23 February 2015

Bell, Jim - Interstellar Age: Inside the 40-Year Voyager Mission
Chogyel, Tenzin - Life Of Buddha                
Christgau, Robert - Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic As a Young Man
Dando-Collins, Stephen - Operation Chowhound: The Most Risky, Glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII
Desouza, Luiza - Eat, Play, Sleep: The Essential Guide to Your Baby's First Three Months
Dhawan, Erica  and Saj-nicole Joni - Get Big Things Done
Gibson, David  and Michael McKinley - The Jesus Code
Goodman, Marc - Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It (Sounds like a real upper, doesn't it?)
Gordon, Kim - Girl in a Band
Hamid, Mohsin - Discontent And Its Civilizations
Holzer, Harold - President Lincoln Assassinated!!: The Firsthand Story Of The Murder, Manhunt, Trial, And Mourning
Kelly, Jason - The 3% Signal    
King, Greg  and Penny Wilson - Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age (Oh, well, I suppose I should read history some time, and this one sounds interesting.)
Lapin, Nicole - Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Getting Your Financial Life Together...Finally  
MacCulloch, Diarmaid - God In America   
McClelland, Mac - Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story
McKnight, Scot - Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together
Mercola, Joseph - Effortless Healing
Price, Catherine - Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection
Rosenberg, Goran - A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz
Sessums, Kevin - I Left It on the Mountain
Stark, Susan  and Daniel J. Pierson - Reflections From Pope Francis
Strobel, Lee - The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives    
Tucker, Patrick - Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (I really have got to stop reading depressing books about the future.)
Weisinger, Hendrie - Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most

So what do you think? Anything look good there?

A new series, published each Monday, sharing a selected list of new nonfiction titles to be published during the week. List originally published at The Readers' Advisor Online. Highlighting reflects titles I'll be trying to get from the library.

Amber Dusick's Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures

Oh, I really enjoyed Amber Dusick's book Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures.

The book delivers exactly what it promises.* Dusick dishes on parenting two small boys, and accompanies her stories with stick-figure drawings of her anecdotes. I laughed my way through it one night in about an hour, and when Mr. CR asked what I was laughing at, I handed it off to him, and then he laughed through it too. Mr. CR has a charming but elusive giggle, rarely spotted in captivity, and I was touched that he laughed at many of the same things in this book that I did.

He even laughed at my favorite chapter, which didn't have as much to do with parenting as it did with marriage. One of the obligatory stories in Dusick's book is about how the entire family got the (throwing-up) flu, starting with the kids, moving to Mom, and finishing up with Dad, who gets his flu on the weekend, and gets to spend his time alone in bed (whereas Mom spent her sick time during the week, caring for the kids). So this is what transpires: "I tell him matter-of-factly that he is not dying. He just had the flu.

The same flu, I remind him, that I had while taking care of the kids all week.

This is where he is supposed to have an epiphany of how amazing I am and what a hard week it has been for me and why I'm ever-so-slightly annoyed and jealous that he has been in bed for two days.

Only he doesn't. Instead he says something that is so completely the opposite of what I was expecting that I'm stunned.

[and this bit is is cartoon form] I must have a stronger, mutated version of the virus." (p. 122.)

Tee hee. Good stuff, this.

*And you've got to love a woman who says this, straight up: "I hate well-child doctor visits. Especially once I started noticing that my kids would get sick approximately forty-eight hours after their well-child visits. Every. Damn. Time." (p. 98.)

2014 in Reading: The VIDA Count's got nothing on me.

For several years now something called the VIDA Count has been getting a lot of play in book reviewing and media circles. Basically it's a count of how many of the books reviewed in major sources are by men and how many are by women, and who's doing the reviewing. The news hasn't been good if you're looking for equity between the sexes. You can see all the charts for books reviewed in 2013 here.

What I found most interesting this past year about tracking my own reading was how far off I was in my own estimate of what I read. I actually didn't want to write this post, discussing how many male authors I read versus how many female authors I read, because I thought I would be embarrassed to share the fact that I read a ton more male authors than female ones.* So what did I find?

Of the 99 total books I read, 63 were by women, and 36 were by men. What's more, a shocking 24 of the 36 titles written by men were novels. (I'm not good at math, but I think this means that of 99 books I read last year, only 12 were nonfiction titles by men.) I read 19 novels by women, and 44 nonfiction titles.

I tend not to pay a lot of attention to who is writing what I read, unless I notice books coming out by my particular favorites. Learning that I naturally read a lot more books written by women than men, and that I didn't read much male-written nonfiction at all, was very interesting to me. In future posts I'm going to look at my favorites and least favorites for the year, so I'll be kind of interested to see how that shakes out too. Stay tuned!

In the meantime: who do you read more, men or women? Does it matter to you in any way?

*I rather thought my book collection would look like my CD collection: that's a total sausage fest, with maybe one or two Sarah McLachlan and Dido CDs thrown in as the exceptions to the rule.

New Nonfiction: 16 February 2015

Baird, Mimi - He Wanted The Moon: the madness and medical genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and his daughter's quest to know him (I have no idea who Dr. Perry Baird is, but this sounds interesting all the same.)

DiSpirito, Rocco - Cook Your Butt Off!

Fraser, Steve – The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (this just sounds interesting, if sad.)

Green, Lisa - On Your Case: A Comprehensive, Compassionate (and Only Slightly Bossy) Legal Guide for Every Stage of a Woman’s Life

Jacquet, Jennifer - Is Shame Necessary?

Jobrani, Maz - I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One On TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man (I only know Jobrani's name because he sometimes appears on the awesome NPR program Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, but I'll check out the memoir anyway.)

Kotlikoff, Laurence J. – Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security

Mayer, Catherine – Born to Be King: Prince Charles on Planet Windsor (As an Anglophile I'm probably required to look at this.)

Pilon, Mary - The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game

Turner, Jessica N. - The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You

Wilson, Charlie - I Am Charlie Wilson

So what do you think? Anything look good there?

A new series, published each Monday, sharing a selected list of new nonfiction titles from the week. List originally published at The Reader's Advisor Online. Highlighting reflects titles I'll be trying to get from the library.

Now we're talking: Meghan Daum's The Unspeakable

You know that reading experience when you see a book is coming out by a writer you love, and you can't wait to get that book, and then you get it, and it's everything you could have hoped for? Oh, it's so great when that happens. And it just happened for me, in the form of Meghan Daum's new essay collection The Unspeakable.

UnspeakableDaum's first collection of essays, My Misspent Youth, is one of my favorite essay collections of all time, so when I first saw that she had a new collection coming out, I immediately went to place a hold on it in my library system, and was totally dismayed when I didn't find it there. I waited for weeks until finally, FINALLY, a library purchased it and I could get it.

And, oh man, she's so good: "At its core, this book is about the ways that some of life's most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion. It's about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor--that we might not love our parents enough, that 'life's pleasures' sometimes feel more like chores--but can only talk about in coded terms, if at all. It's about the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lessons and therefore are often elbowed out of sight. In some places, the book is about literally not being able to speak. It's about what happens when words fail in the truest sense." (pp. 5-6.)

Let's just say it's one of my cherished dreams that when we met other people, we could tell them our names and then a short sampling of our medical problems and how we deal with them (also "unspeakable")*, so this is a woman after my own heart.

Her topics range widely, from watching her mother die, to her love for dogs, from the generational divide between Gen Xers and Millennials to a diary of the time she spent in a medically induced coma. It's good stuff, and it's a good quick read too, so have at it.

*Really. Think about discussions you've had with people about ailments you share. Don't you usually learn more in conversation than you do at any number of doctor office visits?

2014 in Reading: By the numbers

Second in a series on my first-time adventures in tracking my reading over the course of a year.

Okay, so I was able to make Excel tell me some basic information: how many books I read last year (99), and how those titles broke down along the fiction/nonfiction dividing line (44/55, respectively).*


Now, that's not terribly interesting in itself. But I will say, I was a bit surprised that I read that much fiction. I knew I'd been reading more of it...but I would still have said I read a lot more nonfiction, and overall I still consider myself a "nonfiction reader." If I still had the ability to string two thoughts together or write a coherent sentence (those abilities will come back, maybe when my two CRboys graduate high school, right?), I'd say there was something to think about there, about how we *think* of ourselves as readers, and how our perceptions of our own reading habits and tastes may or may not be accurate.

I AM glad that I kept track not only of what I did read, but what I did NOT read. Separately from my "Books Read" spreadsheet, I kept a table of books that I merely "looked" at. These were books that I took out from the library and either didn't get time to read (but might want to get back) or that I started and didn't like. There the total of books was (and did not include purely how-to, cookbooks, or most parenting titles I perused) 11 fiction titles and 60 nonfiction titles. I'm guessing I checked out a lot of nonfiction and then didn't have the time to finish it, but this also tells me that mostly, if I started fiction, I finished fiction, leading to the low number of titles of fiction that I "just looked at."

Ever find any surprises in your reading habits?

*And all I can say about this total is, thank God for my spectacular local library, which is where I get almost all of my reading material.

New Nonfiction: 9 February 2015

So you want to try something new? Let's do this: each week on Monday I'll post a list of new nonfiction titles that will be published that week. It won't be a comprehensive list; it will in fact be quoted from the Reader's Advisor Online blog (for which, full disclosure, I also write). But: when the list is posted there, on Thursdays, what we highlight are big titles that will be of interest to the most readers. What I'll highlight here (perhaps with some explanatory notes) will be nonfiction titles I want to read. Very rarely will the highlightings overlap.

Ready? So here we go!

Axelrod, David - Believer
Bagans, Zak - I Am Haunted
Brooks, Michael - At The Edge Of Uncertainty

Greenfield, Susan - Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains (Note: For the most part I am annoyed by technology, although I do enjoy email. The very thought of taking a phone and the Internet everywhere with me in the form of a smartphone, however, gives me hives. So yeah, I'll be checking this one out.)

Harari, Yuval Noah - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Hari, Vani - The Food Babe Way (The subtitle on this one is "Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food and Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days." Sigh. That seems like a lot to do in three weeks, but I'll look at it anyway.)

Lightman, Alan - Screening Room: Family Pictures
Lovelock, James - Rough Ride To The Future
Loyd, Alexander - Beyond Willpower (Oh, Christ. Here's another one I don't really *want* to read but probably should. I've requested it from the library.)

McBride, Karyl - Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family
Michaels, Shawn - Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar
Moustaki, Nikki  - Bird Market of Paris
Rae, Issa - The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
Santorum, Rick & Karen - Bella's Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation
Seitz, Matt Zoller - The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Thomas, Dana - Gods And Kings
Wimbush-Bourque, Aimée - Brown Eggs And Jam Jars

So. What do you think. Anything look good there?

2014 in Reading: General Thoughts

By now I know better than to promise actual series of posts (I never stick with it--bad blogger! Lazy blogger!), but what I'm hoping to do for a while is to look back on my year of reading that was, 2014. For the first time ever I kept a reading spreadsheet (other than using this blog, I have never kept a reading list, spreadsheet, or journal), and wow, that was kind of interesting. So far I've continued it into 2015, but who knows how long that will last? Bad spreadsheeter! Lazy spreadsheeter!

So here's a few things I learned about keeping a reading spreadsheet, just to ease us into this topic.

1. I hate Excel. Christ, do I hate Excel. At least once a year I think, hey, I should learn Excel, it would be a good skill, I should talk to my brother, he's an Excel wizard, etc. etc. And every time I open Excel my eye starts twitching and my soul starts shriveling. I hate Excel. I will never have even adequate Excel skills. I hate it as I hate most computer programs, math, and really, doing anything that is good for me but also slightly challenging (e.g., dieting, exercising, thinking positive thoughts).

2. Because of #1, I will not be sharing any fun graphs or real number-type crunching. I have tracked what I read, but will probably still have to tot up numbers on paper, because I lack the will to bend Excel to mine.

3. It's kind of a pain in the ass to track what you read. And, it takes away from actual reading time. Anyone else track what they read? Why? Should I keep it up?

More on actual reading results to come. Overall? It was a good reading year. I think when I do run the numbers I'll have a surprising fiction total--I was just in kind of a fiction place in 2014. Most likely because I only got the chance to read about four sentences in a row before someone needed something in the household. Turns out fluffy fiction's easier to read than intense nonfiction when you've got people wanting meals, snacks, drinks, baths, bathroom breaks, picture books (many times over), you name it.

And where in the hell have you been?


So I was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio today, to their Chapter a Day program. And honestly, I wasn't even paying attention to the book they were reading.* But I was thinking, huh, I don't think I've listened to Chapter a Day since they read Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

And then I thought: Boy, did that book suck.

Talk about one of the most overrated books of 2014.

And then I thought: Huh. I miss blogging.

I've kind of been waiting for that feeling, actually. And so here I am. Short post today, to test the waters. What can I promise for Citizen Reader going forward? Well:

1. Completely unpredictable posting; and

2. Maybe some other big things. Further bulletins as events warrant.

In the meantime, hello. And I hope you are having a very nice 2015 so far.

*A lot of times I have the radio on just to hear other adult voices. Not that the constant boyish yells of "I want a treat!" and "Don't put me in timeout....I get LONELY" aren't charming, but a variety of voices just adds to the spice of life.