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April 2015

Genre, you've WON.

One of my freelance gigs is helping to write the Reader's Advisor Online blog, which is published by ABC-CLIO as a great, free service. We post at least twice a week: once, on Sundays, with our "Run Down," which is a list of reading, author, movie adaptation, and book-related news stories and headlines (as well as professional development tips), and on Thursdays, with the "New, Noteworthy, and No-Brainer" list, designed to help library staff be aware of new books coming out.

Anyway, in my work for that blog, every day I routinely scan 500-800 online headlines, most of them having to do with books and cultural news. So, although I don't actually spend a lot of free time perusing the Internet, scanning those headlines tends to give me a picture of what's happening online from week to week. And one of the most common types of stories I come across is what I call the "Woe is Me, I'm a Genre Author/Reader/Promoter/Fan, and I Just Don't Get Any Respect!" story. Here's an example:

Trashy Books on NPR

This one's actually pretty benign; it's about Sarah Wendell, the blogger behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and her interview at NPR, where she says this: "Romance readers are so often subjected to shaming, we’re not actually ashamed of the books that we read but we’re told we ought to be … even by the people at the checkout counter at the bookstore."

Really? You're telling me everyone who works in bookstores isn't just glad that anyone is still buying SOMETHING at bookstores? Even romance?

But I digress. Usually when I see this type of story, romance/chick lit/women's fiction/mainstream fiction-author (or, if you prefer, just plain "author") Jennifer Weiner seems somehow to be involved. The latest story of this type was this one:

Jonathan Franzen Is Still Mad at Jennifer Weiner, Modernity

Weiner and Franzen have a long-running feud that isn't so much played out against one another as it is in a million hashed and re-hashed print and online stories.* The basic gist is this: Weiner thinks Franzen gets all the respect because he's a guy and a "literary fiction" author, and she further thinks that review sources should pay more attention to the types of books that people actually read**.


These articles make me NUTS. And not because I hate genre or anything. I don't. I happen to read a lot of genre (and watch it too--I'm currently addicted to Firefly and am starting to think Joss Whedon might be the best writer of genre ever--discuss), and Mr. CR has bookcases full of it.*** What makes me nuts about these articles is the picture they paint of the poor, outcast genre authors, who don't get the respect or reviews that "literary" authors get. Which is bullshit, first off. Genre books may not be over-represented in such hallowed literary halls as the New York Times review section or literary magazines, but they OWN the world of literary blogs. Let me ask you this: You know a whole lot of great blogs for literary fiction or nonfiction? No? How about blogs about genre fiction? Um, if you can't think of any of those, here's a handy list of a ton of them.

So, even if the blogosphere isn't enough proof for you, let me just point out that a ton of other review sources, like magazines and newspapers like USA Today, also review a lot of genre fiction. And have you ever gotten a look at ANY bestseller lists, even those published by the New York Times? They contain almost ALL GENRE TITLES. And have you seen this article, about the highest-paid authors from 2013? I don't even need to take a count--all fifteen authors on that list are genre authors (except perhaps for Bill O'Reilly, although I would argue what he writes is genre nonfiction--Simplistic History/Politics for Nutjobs genre nonfiction). And here's the Forbes list of highest-paid authors. Also all genre authors, unless you don't consider Gillian Flynn and John Green to be genre authors. Maybe not John Green, but I would definitely consider Flynn to be a "thriller" author.

So genre authors make the most money, and don't forget, their works tend to lend themselves more easily to film adaptation. All in all? I think it's rather unseemly of genre authors to demand that they also be allowed to take over the more "literary" review publications. It reminds me of yet another quote from the movie "Broadcast News," when William Hurt asks Albert Brooks what you do when your real life exceeds your dreams, and Brooks hisses back, "Keep it to yourself!"

You've won, genre authors. Now keep it to yourselves.

*This makes it one million and one!

**I find this kind of insulting, personally. Just because a book is read by MORE people doesn't mean it is the only readable book. As long as one (or, okay, two) person somewhere reads a book, that is a book that people "actually read."

***Which I tease him about, but still. Obviously I allow it in my house.

Before I forget.

Have you seen this interview with Edward Snowden, by John Oliver? I embedded the video for the entire episode of "Last Week Tonight"; the interview proper starts around the 16-minute mark. Really. Watch it and come back and talk with me about privacy.

Also: can anyone recommend a good book on whistleblowers in general? Specific whistleblowers?

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 27 April 2015

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 Reader's Advisor Online. Text in bold is commentary.

Abood, Maureen - Rose Water and Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen
Berry, Amanda and Gina DeJesus -- Hope: A Memoir of Survival[First printing of 250,000]
Blehm, Eric -- Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines
Bonsall, Joe -- On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys
Borges, Marco and Dean Ornish -- 22 Day Revolution:  The Plant-Based Program That Will Transform Your Body, Reset Your Habits, and Change Your Life[Wow, everyone's on the plant-based program lately. This one has a foreword by Beyonce.]
Brickhouse, Jamie -- Dangerous When Wet [Another son/mother memoir, with alcoholism thrown in.]
Brown, Jeffrey -- Darth Vader and Friends [A comic.]
Browne, David -- So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead
Durham, Janis Heaphy -- Hand on the Mirror: A True Story of Life Beyond Death [250,000 first printing.]
Harper, Bob -- Skinny Habits[Ugh, I dislike Bob Harper. My dream is to go on "The Biggest Loser" and lose all my weight by throttling him.]
Helwig, Jenna -- Real Baby Food: Easy, All-natural Recipes for Your Baby and Toddler
Lydon, John -- Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored [Lydon is also known as Johnny Rotten, frontman of the Sex Pistols. I won't get to this one, although I do love the title.]
Macdonald, Mark -- Why Kids Make You Fat
Martin, Roberto -- Roberto’s New Vegan Cooking
Murphy, Marc -- Season with Authority
Patalsky, Kathy -- Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen
Roll, Rich -- The Plantpower Way: Whole Food Plant-Based Recipes and Guidance for The Whole Family
Sacks, Oliver -- On the Move: A Life [I'm not a Sacks fan, but he's a hugely popular NF author.]
Stone, Jared -- Year of the Cow:  How 420 Pounds of Beef Built a Better Life for One American Family [Man buys cow, spends year cooking it, learns more about his food, yadda yadda yadda, I weary of "shtick lit," also known as "stunt journalism," also known as, wow, they gave this guy a book deal for this?]
Sull, Donald -- Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World [I want to get this one.]
Warner, Jackie -- This Is Why You're Sick and Tired [Is it because I bought and ate too many jelly beans, on sale after Easter for 75% off?]

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

A little trick for "book discoverability."

All the news in bookselling and librarianship the last few years has been about "book discoverability." Not a real complicated concept; basically, how do readers discover books?

Publishers are interested in this topic because, even though they are business people, the business of books is such that you can never be sure which book is going to be the next one to explode. So they want to know how to help people discover books that they want to buy. And of course librarians want to understand the topic for a related, but less mercenary, reason: they want to help people discover books they enjoy, often based on conversations with them about books they enjoyed in the past (and why they enjoyed them). That's what we call "readers' advisory." And of course readers have a vested interest in book discoverability, because all they want to do is constantly discover books that they will love, with no stinkers in the bunch to slow them down.

I love thinking about book discoverability because I can't for the life of me figure out how to stop discovering great books. Right now there are--wait, I'll go check--97 items checked out on my library card. A lot of those are books for the CRjrs, but the vast majority are books for me. They're not all the best books, or books that I'll love, but they're all books that I really want to read, and if I would ever get time to actually read them, would probably enjoy.

But today I'd like to talk about my favorite "trick" for discovering great books, and it is simply this: get to know interesting, smart, kind people...and then ask them what they're reading.

A few weeks ago I went to a birthday gathering for a former colleague. I don't get to see him often, but when I do it's always, always, an enjoyable and educational good time. When I asked him, right before we left (I should have asked earlier; I'm always a bit dithery these days, trying to make sure two young boys are properly dressed for the outside, we have all our toys and supplies, and, oh yes, trying to keep said young boys, who are both very antsy and very fast, in my immediate vicinity until we can make our exit), what he was reading, he told me about a book titled Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.*

So I got it from the library, and it's WONDERFUL. Exactly what the title promises. And it's a thoroughly satisfying book as BOOK--somewhat oversized, but not uncomfortable to hold; heavy, but not too heavy; and it comes with its own ribbon bookmark. It's not actually that text heavy; it's a big book because the letters are often shown in their original form, along with transcripts for easier reading. And they do indeed vary widely: from Queen Elizabeth II to President Eisenhower, including her recipe for drop scones; from a Campbell Soup company executive to Andy Warhol; from a former slave to his previous owner (which is, you've got to read it to believe it, hilarious in the best possible way); Ray Bradbury to a fan; an otherwise un-famous older woman who describes her mastectomy surgery (done in 1855, mind you, without anaesthetic) to her daughter.

A wonderful read; completely engrossing. So a hearty thank you to my friend, for recommending it. Now: get out there this weekend and talk to some good people, and for the love of all that's holy, remember to ask them what they're reading.

*And yes, I think he actually quoted the entire subtitle from memory, so you can see why I love him.

Jonathan Crombie

Yes, I know you're not supposed to feel about celebrity deaths like you've lost someone you actually know. But can we have a moment of silence for my childhood crush*, Gilbert Blythe?

Jonathan Crombie, star of 'Anne of Green Gables,' dies at 48

This just seems wrong, and I must admit has added to my generally cranky month. If I told you how many times I rewound my VCR tape of "Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel" (taped off of PBS, natch) to re-watch the romantic ending, you would be appalled. That may, in fact, also have been the beginning of my love affair with all things Canadian.

*Okay, my absolute first crush was John Cusack in The Journey of Natty Gann, but let's not split hairs.

Depressing nonfiction: Robert Putnam's Our Kids

Mr. CR was right, I've been reading a lot of depressing nonfiction books.

One of them was Robert Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. I checked this book out because of its author: Putnam is best known for his 2000 title Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. That book, although I read it so long ago that I can barely remember it, spawned a particularly nerdy reading habit of mine, when reading any kind of investigative, historical, economic, or sociological work of nonfiction. I almost always play "Find Putnam"--or, more specifically, look through a book's text, notes, references, and index for references to Bowling Alone. And you'd be surprised how often you find it; it surely has to be one of the most quoted books of the late twentieth century (which is why I started noticing it and playing the game).

So when I saw he had a new book out, I thought I'd try it, although with a title like that you know it certainly isn't going to be a happy read. Putnam explores what he calls the growing "opportunity gap," by which kids from different economic classes face a lifetime of different opportunities in their families, education, community, and personal economic lives. To do this, he relies not only on a ton of research (the notes section in this book is 83 pages long), but primarily on qualitative research and the personal stories (garnered through many personal interviews) that he uses to tell his story. Such as:

"David was a scrawny 18-year-old in jeans and a baseball cap when we first encountered him in a Port Clinton park in 2012. His father had dropped out of high school and tried in vain to make a living as a truck driver, like his own father, but as an adult has been employed only episodically, in odd jobs like landscaping. David apologizes for not being able to tell us more about his father. 'He's in prison,' he explains, 'and I can't ask him.' David's parents separated when David was very little, and his mother moved out, so he can't tell us much about her, either, except to say that she lives in the Port Clinton area. 'All her boyfriends have been nuts,' he says. 'I never really got to see my mom that much. She was never there.'" (p. 27.)

I can't really say that anything I read in this book was a surprise. There's an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that there is increasingly a class-based (perhaps even more than race-based) divergence in not only current living conditions between poor kids and rich kids, but a divergence in future social, educational, and economic mobility. This is particularly disheartening in a country largely built on the principle that if you simply work hard, you can succeed.

The two most disturbing parts of the book (to me) were the paragraph that said "high[test]-scoring poor kids are now slightly less likely (29 percent) to get a college degree than low-scoring rich kids (30 percent)." (p. 190.) That's gross. And this paragraph, in the last section explaining the authors' research methods: "Just the simple act of scheduling an interview with working-class respondents--who lacked reliable transportation, money for gas, stable work hours, and child care--showed us how hard it is to plan for the future amid constant insecurity and uncertainty." (p. 270.)

It was a thought-provoking book (although I don't think it will have the reach that Bowling Alone did), and I was glad that the author concluded with a "What Is to Be Done?" chapter in which he tried to make a few suggestions. But it was sad, and I worry that of course it will only be read by people who already agree with its premise. But there you have it.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 20 April 2015

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 Reader's Advisor Online. Text in bold is commentary.

Alexander, Elizabeth--The Light of the World: A Memoir [the author "finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband." Are there a lot of these types of memoirs lately or does it just seem like it?]
Bolick, Kate--Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own [Wow, 100,000 first printing. They anticipate a lot of people who will appreciate the label "spinster," or is there something about this author I don't know?]
Bradley, James--The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia [I find James Bradley a very boring author of history.]
Carducci/Tanguay--Tippling Bros. A Lime and a Shaker: Discovering Mexican-Inspired Cocktails
Churchill, Dan--Dudefood: A Guy's Guide to Cooking Kick-Ass Food
Dyson, Freeman--Dreams of Earth and Sky [Dyson's a physicist, meaning I won't understand these essays at all.]
Eltahawy, Mona--Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution
Franta, Connor--A Work in Progress
Gaynor, Mitchell--The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle
Gessner, David--All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West [I think I'd rather just read some more Abbey and Stegner.]
Hageseth, Christian with Joseph D’Agnese--Big Weed: An Entrepreneur's High-Stakes Adventures in the Budding Legal Marijuana Business [Now that's what I call a business book!]
Hamilton, Alissa--Got Milked: The Great Dairy Deception and Why You’ll Thrive Without Milk [Okay, milk's one thing, but where does she stand on ice cream?]
Hartwig, Melissa--The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom
Jordan, Brad “Scarface” & Benjamin Meadows Ingram--Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rap
Krakauer, Jon--Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College town [Oh, ugh, another one I don't want to read but probably should, although I find Krakauer over-dramatic sometimes. I'll be surprised if it beats the best title on this sort of subject, Ken Armstrong's Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity.]
Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach--Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battliefield [200,000 first printing.]
Little, Benilde--Welcome to My Breakdown: A Memoir [Oof, depressing memoir week.]
Lucas, Ed--Seeing Home, The Ed Lucas Story: A Blind Broadcaster's Story of Overcoming Life's Greatest Obstacles
Miller, Shannon with Danny Peary--It's Not About Perfect\t: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life [Olympian gymnast memoir about competing and surviving ovarian cancer. Is spring the time for depressing/"inspiring" memoirs? Or are there always just a lot of them?]
Perino, Dana--And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side [The bad news is I don't know what to do with the rage this title inspires in me. Anybody who works as GEORGE W. BUSH's press secretary and still has the balls to lecture me on the "bright side" of life can take some advice from me: just go paint kindergarten-esque paintings like your former boss and have the decency to just disappear from public life.]
Prum, Eric--Infuse: Oil, Spirit, Water
Quinones, Sam--Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic [Actually one of the few titles on the list this week I'd like to see.]
Perlmutter, David--Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain--for Life
Reedy, Brad--The Journey of the Heroic Parent: Your Child's Struggle & The Road Home [Wow, I hope I never have to read this one.]
Reeves, Richard--Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II [I do not read about WWII, but I might break that rule for this one.]
Robinson, Ken--Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education
Seierstad, Asne; Tr. Norwegian by Sarah Death--One of Us: Anders Breivik and the Massacres in Norway [I've read Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul, and it was very good.]
Toppo, Greg--The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter [I don't buy it, so I should probably read this one.]
Ward, James--Perfection of the Paperclip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession [This title is just nerdy enough to be appealing.]
Yoshino, Kenji--Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial

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

The search for lighter nonfiction.

I've been cranky as hell the last few weeks.

I was saying something to that effect to Mr. CR the other day (as if he hadn't noticed) and he said, "Well, get some happier reading, would you? Good Lord, the nonfiction you've got around here is depressing me when I just read the titles."

This was a fair point, as I do indeed have a record number of downer nonfiction titles on the go. So I thought I'd try a light memoir/collection of humorous essays that a friend recommended a while back: Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

And I enjoyed it. I enjoy Mindy Kaling, I enjoy "The Mindy Project" (although where they are going with the pregnancy storyline, I have no idea), and I'm always a fan of some good humorous nonfiction. There's nothing earth-shatteringly hilarious here, but I think Kaling has cemented my affection forever in her chapter titled "Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing to Be Great":

"Here's my incredibly presumptuous guide to being an awesome guy, inside and out...

#6. Avoid asking if someone needs help in a kitchen or at a party, just start helping. Same goes with dishes. (Actually, if you don't want to help, you should ask them if they need help. No self-respecting host or hostess will say yes to that question.)" (p. 164.)

Simple and right on. Kindly but firmly stated. Kaling's my kinda girl.*

So yes, a good light read. However, I was done with it in a couple of hours. Clearly I need a bigger stockpile of chipper nonfiction titles. Suggestions?

*And frankly? She's roughly one million times funnier than Tina Fey.

New feature: British television

Woman does not live by nonfiction alone. She does, in fact, live by nonfiction, fiction, magazines, the backs of cereal boxes, any and all reading material, and a whole load of British television.

It is this last item that will be the focus of this new feature of the blog. Periodically I'll take a break from the nonfiction and highlight British television series, miniseries, movies, actors...well, you get the point. I'll be doing this just in case there's anyone out there looking for a good source for Brit TV recommendations*, but also because I'm somewhat curious to track how many of these programs I've seen over the years (and hope very much to see in the future).

And today we'll start with a program near and dear to my heart: the very first British television series that captured my heart. I first watched it back in the days of antiquity when you had to figure out how to program your VCR to tape programs in your absence**, and then, if you were taping something on PBS, you had to hope they weren't having a pledge drive that would screw up your timing.

So this particular program was one that was on my local PBS station on Saturday nights, at eight p.m., and when I watched it I was at an age when I actually went out on Saturday nights. So one Saturday night I was at a party at a friend's house, when I remembered I hadn't set the VCR, so I had to run home and start the recording, because I simply could not miss an episode of Ballykissangel. I took some teasing about this fact from the friend whose house I had to leave briefly to go set the VCR, but karma has since intervened and given her an even bigger addiction to British TV than I have, so that's funny.

Ballykissangel was this great, hour (or so)-long drama set in a small rural village in Ireland. It featured the adventures of the locals, of course, led by Assumpta Fitzgerald (the owner of the local pub), her friend Niamh Egan (and her husband, the local constable), and Niamh's wheeler-dealer father, Brian Quigley (among many others). Into this rather settled village arrives a new and somewhat un-orthodox priest, Father Peter Clifford, who endears himself to the locals at the same time he frequently butts heads with his more conservative priest/supervisor Father MacAnally.

The series ran for six seasons, but the first three are the nearest and dearest to my heart. They feature the developing love story between Assumpta and Peter, which is awkward, as Peter is a Roman Catholic priest. I won't tell you how it works out, and don't you dare look ahead at season summaries on the Wikipedia page. Later seasons feature different characters (most notably: an insanely young Colin Farrell) and are enjoyable in their own way, but are not as all-consuming as the start to the series.

I loved the characters in this show. And of course, the setting: so beautiful. Much like Northern Exposure, this show made you want to live in a small community where all the locals know one another, although (from experience) I can tell you that that sort of thing isn't nearly as fun in real life.

The series ran from 1996 to 2001, and of course looks increasingly dated. But don't let that stop you (and don't be deterred by the almost painfully old-school, traditional Irish theme music); if you're just starting out in Brit TV, this should be one of your earlier stops.

Genres: Drama; Romance; Ireland; Community Life

Assorted Trivia I Know Because I Spend a Ridiculous Amount of Time at The two stars of the show, Dervla Kirwan (Assumpta) and Stephen Tompkinson (Fr. Peter), were engaged to each other for two years during the show's run. They eventually broke up, and Dervla Kirwan went on to marry Rupert Penry-Jones, who is, there's no other way to put this, super hot.

So what do you think? What other information could I include in these Brit TV summaries?

*Anyone know of a good British TV reference site/guide they use?

**Well, we're pretty low-tech around here, so that's still the way we'd have to tape something, but there's nothing much on TV--we only get the broadcast channels--these days that we feel really compelled to record.

2014 in Reading: Favorite Nonfiction

You didn't think I'd wrap up my year in reading, 2014, by only talking about fiction titles? I didn't think so.

So, today: Favorite Nonfiction of 2014! (Order reflects reading order, not order of preference; I'm just moving from top to bottom, a.k.a. January to December, in my handy-dandy Excel spreadsheet.) Links are to my reviews of the books, if I did them.

1. Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World. A 2013 title, not a 2014 one, but I'm listing it here because I found the writing good and the subject thought-provoking.

2.Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun. This book yielded the research gem that "researchers found that a father in a room by himself was the 'person-space configuration observed most frequently'" in family homes during a specific study. The whole book was interesting, about the modern experience of parenting, but that particular gem was my real takeaway.

3. Michael Lewis, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. Another fast and interesting read from Lewis. My favorite bit was how one guy mined people's work experiences on LinkedIn to find things they weren't really supposed to be talking about.

4. Sandeep Jauhar, Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. I don't know how representative of all doctors and their practices this one is (Jauhar is a doctor in Manhattan, and faces living expenses problems that doctors in other areas may not be as squeezed by) but I found this one totally forthright and fascinating. I believe he was telling the truth because, frankly, he sounded a bit like a dick, which is what I am used to my doctors sounding like. A disheartening look at medicine as not only business first, but business only.

5. Gina Sheridan, I Work at a Public Library. Nothing real earth shattering here, just a quick and enjoyable memoir about working at a public library, rich with "interesting" patron stories and many other stories about the job that rang true. 

And huh, that's it. You know? I didn't have a great year for nonfiction, although I still did read quite a bit of it. I did read Roz Chast's graphic nonfiction novel Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant, which showed up on a lot of other "best of" lists, but although I found it interesting, I couldn't really put it on my "best" list. Perhaps because the brutal honesties of caring for elderly parents are still in my future and I'm worried I won't be up to the challenge.

And, to close: a few honorable mentions, for very good nonfiction I read in 2014, that was not published in 2014. Those titles were:

Earle Labor's Jack London: An American Life; Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped: A Memoir; Rose George's Ninety Percent of Everything; Sandra Newman's The Western Lit Survival Kit; Helaine Olen's Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 13 April 2015

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 Reader's Advisor Online. Text in bold is commentary.

Anderson, Pam - Three Many Cooks: One Mom, Two Daughters: Their Shared Stories of Food, Faith & Family [This is not by Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson. I checked.]
Baxter, John - Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light [I always think I should read some more books about Paris and France, but I never do.]
Branch, Miko - Miss Jessie's: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch---Naturally
Brooks, David - The Road to Character [Ugh. David Brooks. See Matt Taibbi on this "cultural conservative."]
Cox, Tom - The Good, the Bad, and the Furry: Life with the World's Most Melancholy Cat [Feel-good books about pets often annoy me, but I'll admit I had a soft spot for Dewey, the library cat.]
Eklund, Fredrik - The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone [I am the world's worst salesperson, but I read a ridiculous number of selling how-tos. I'll probably look at this one too.]
Glatt, John - The Lost Girls: The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus [I simply do not have the heart for this one.]
Grimsley, Jim - How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood
Hammer, Langdon - James Merrill: Life and Art
Jacoby, Richard - Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage, and Reclaim Good Health [Easter has shown me that I have a serious sugar/candy problem, so yeah, I'll probably look at this one too.]
Jeremiah, David - A. D.: The Revolution That Changed the World
Karlson, Kevin; Rosselet, Dale - Peterson Reference Guides: Birding by Impression
Kramer, Bruce H. - We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying [A memoir of living with ALS.]
Kramer, Joan - In the Company of Legends
Kruse, Kevin - One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America [Morbid curiosity will probably compel me to look at this one.]
Martin, Richard - Coal Wars:The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet [Ditto from above.]
McDougall, Christopher - Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance [McDougall had a bit hit a few years back with the NF title "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.]
Meisler, Stanley - Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse
Mulgrew, Kate - Born with Teeth: A Memoir [Actress memoir.]
Perrette, Pauley - Donna Bell's Bake Shop
Quartz, Steven and Anette Asp - Cool: How the Brain's Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World [If my brain actually craves cool I'm sure my life is really, really disappointing it.]
Roberts, Cokie - Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 [I'm somewhat annoyed that Cokie keeps pumping out these works of somewhat fluffy history, but actually, I kind of enjoyed her first book, Founding Mothers.]
Rowling, J. K. - Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination [Oh brother, here come the graduation books. Here's an 80-pager comprised of Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard in 2008.]
Schlapman, Kimberly and Martha Foose - Oh Gussie! Cooking and Visiting in Kimberly’s Southern Kitchen
Slayton, Marina and Gregory - Be the Best Mom You Can Be: A Practical Guide to Raising Whole Children in a Broken Generation
Somers, Suzanne - Tox-sick: From Toxic to Not Sick
Stanford, Frank - What about This: The Collected Poems of Frank Stanford
Tamny, John - Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You about Economics [I'm one of the only people on Earth who did not enjoy Freakonomics, so this will probably not be for me.]
Teege, Jennifer - My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past [This one's been getting a lot of press.]
Villani, Cédric ; Tr. French by Malcolm DeBevoise - Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure
Wachsmann, Nikolaus - KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps
Welch, Jack & Suzy - The Real-Life MBA [500,000 first printing, but uch, Jack Welch. Former CEO of GE. Here's a quote from the Wikipedia page about him: "Welch has stated that he is not concerned with the discrepancy between the salaries of top-paid CEOs and those of average workers."]

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

Poetry Month: Leo Marks's Code Poem for the French Resistance

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for love poems (even when they're disguised as code poems). Who isn't, really?

So today's entry is Leo Marks's Code Poem for the French Resistance:

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours.

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

But you haven't really lived until you've heard British actor Richard Armitage read it.

Reading experiences of 2014: Best

So last year I found the literary equivalent of the biggest box of the tastiest bon-bons ever.

Best reading experience of 2014: Hello, Poldark!

Also known as the Poldark Saga, written by Winston Graham (incidentally, I'm not linking to the Wikipedia page on the series because there are spoilers there). The first book, Ross Poldark, was published in 1945, and the last book in the series (#12!), Bella Poldark, was published in 2002. Somewhere in the middle of the series' run, a very popular BBC series, also titled "Poldark," ran from 1975 to 1977.

On the surface of the matter, the Poldark series looks like just another historical fiction saga. Set in Cornwall during the years of 1783 through 1820, it follows the fortunes of one Ross Poldark,* a Cornish squire who returns from the American Revolutionary War (so strange for an American like me to think of British soldiers returning home from that) to find that his father is dead, his ancestral home is in a shambles, and the woman, Elizabeth, to whom he thought he was engaged, is preparing to marry his cousin Francis. Hilarity does not ensue, but an entire Cornish soap opera does: over the course of the series, the relationships between Ross and Francis and Elizabeth, and then Ross and Demelza (a woman about ten years his junior, who he first rescues from a too-rowdy country fair and then employs as a kitchen maid), and then Ross and his family and George Warleggan (a local banker and self-made man, and Poldark's arch-nemesis).

The plot is not really the point. As noted: it's pure soap opera. But the characters are notable: Ross is one of those noble souls who sticks his neck out for the little guy (incidentally, I've noticed this sort of thing usually turns out a lot better in fiction than it does in real life) and inspires both strong loyalty and strong antipathy, and Demelza? Well, Demelza is a revelation. She puts up with too much from Ross but other than that I simply LOVED THE HELL OUT OF HER. Even Graham's female characters who I did not like (Elizabeth chief among them) ended up inspiring something like respect from me. And although their stories were intertwined with the mens', they seemed to have their own inner lives and did not serve primarily to "reveal glimpses" into the souls of the male characters. What a treat that was, for a change.

There's lots of other good stuff in the series; there's a lot in it about mining that I found interesting (and which gave me a lot to think about when I later read the book Blood Diamonds, also about mining in Great Britain), and even the storylines about the poorer characters in the books held my interest.

I'm ashamed to tell you what I all neglected while I plowed through all twelve books in this series.** The house went uncleaned for weeks, I made some horrible ready-made meals, and I let CRjr and CR3 tackle each other until (inevitably) too much ha-ha led to boo-hoo. But oh, it was time deliciously spent. So worth it. Right around Christmas time I realized I had forgotten to request the next book I needed in the series from the library it time to take it along to my in-laws', where we stayed for a couple of days, and I actually felt despair at having to pause in my reading.

It was a thoroughly great reading experience, and I'll always think fondly on 2014 for it.*** I also look forward to waiting a few years and then re-reading the entire run of books. AND, total bonus, soon I'll get to see an updated TV version, thanks to the BBC. Awesome.

*Every time I say his name I follow it with a catchphrase I enjoyed from the otherwise entirely forgettable Ewan McGregor movie "Down with Love": "Ross Poldark: ladies' man, man's man, man about town."

**I almost never read series fiction. I might read the first book in a series just to see what it's about, but very rarely do I make it through ALL the books.

***Incidentally, if you know of readers who enjoyed the cult classic The Cowboy and the Cossack, I think this series, or even just the first book in the series, might be a good readalike for that book.

Reading experiences of 2014: Best and Worst

Well, it's April now, so it feels like it might be time for some posts wrapping up my reading experiences in 2014. As you can tell, productivity and I have simply not been in the same room since the arrival of the CRjrs.*

So I'm looking back over my clumsy reading spreadsheets for last year, and strangely enough, I think my strongest reading experiences, pro and con, were both centered on fiction books. Let's start with con, shall we?

Horrible fiction, thy title is Shotgun Lovesongs. Back in July of 2014 I had a few choice words for that novel. I still can't believe the good press it got**--the more I think of the author's portrayals of women, which were one-dimensional in the extreme (although his portraits of his male characters also needed at least one more dimension to be considered "multi-dimensional"), the more sickened I am that they're making it into a movie. Bah.

On the other hand, the positive reading experience...was so POSITIVE. Tune in tomorrow to see what book (or books) made my whole reading year worthwhile.

*But who cares? Lately CRjr has been hitting the local libraries--hard--for all their shark books (although books on the planets are running a strong second), and it's so awesome. Our living room looks like we are starting our own juvie nonfiction library.

**Incidentally, the positive New York Times Review accidentally reveals what I thought sucked about the whole novel: "The real star of “Shotgun Lovesongs” is Hank’s wife (and high school sweetheart), Beth, who provides the novel’s most substantial female voice. Both insider and outsider to Little Wing’s buddy culture, Beth offers our clearest glimpses into the hearts of the men around her." Yeah, she's the "real star" of the book, and what does she do for us? Ooh, she gives us glimpses into the hearts of the men around her. Thank God we have women characters around to use to get to know the male characters better. Bah!

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 6 April 2015

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 Reader's Advisor Online. Text in bold is commentary.

Acuff, Jon - Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck

Ahlers, Amy - Reform Your Inner Mean Girl: 7 Steps to Stop Bullying Yourself and Start Loving Yourself

Apovian, Caroline - Age-Defying Diet: Outsmart Your Metabolism to Lose Weight–Up to 20 Pounds in 21 Days!–And Turn Back the Clock

Bamberger, Michael - Men in Green [Golf history.]

Bard, Elizabeth - Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes

Baur, Gene - Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day [Sigh. Most days I just don't have the energy to eat mindfully.]

Bergen, Candice - A Fine Romance

Bock, Laszlo - Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead [Ugh, Google. I tire of Google knowing everything about us, and now I'm supposed to let them transform the way I live and lead?]

Brett, Regina - God Is Always Hiring: 50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work [Does God offer health insurance?]

Brower, Kate Andersen - The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

Byron, Tanya - Skeleton Cupboard: Making of a Clinical Psychologist [Oooh, sounds juicy.]

Cho, Joy - Oh Joy! 50 Ways to Create & Give Joy [Print run of 100,000. Who is this Joy Cho?]

Cryer, Jon - So That Happened: A Memoir [Oh, I do love Jon Cryer, and can't believe it took "Two and a Half Men" to make him famous.]

Elsmore, Warren - Brick Vehicles: Amazing Air, Land, and Sea Machines to Build from LEGO

Franklin, Aaron - Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto

Garcia, Francis and Sal Basille - Staten Italy: Nothin’ but the Best Italian-American Classics, from Our Block to Yours

Goldsmith, Marshall - Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to Be  [Sigh, I don't think I have the energy to create behavior that lasts.]


Grazer, Brian - A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life

Imig, Ann - Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We're Saying Now [You know with my current penchant for parenting books, I'm going to have to look at this one.]

Jakes, T. D. - INSTINCT for Graduates: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive and Face Your Unlimited Future [And here come the meh gift books for the poor graduates.]

Markova, Dawna - Collaborative Intelligence: Four Influential Strategies for Thinking With People Who Think Differently

Maxwell, John C. - Wisdom from Women in the Bible: Giants of the Faith Speak into Our Lives

Meyer, Joyce - Get Your Hopes Up!: Expect Something Good to Happen to You Every Day

Norris, Mary - Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen [Love this title; will be checking out the book.]

Pennington, Bill - Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius

Scaravella, Jody - Nonna's House

Schatz, Kay - Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!

Smiley, Tavis, with David Ritz - My Journey with Maya

Smith, Jamie - Gray Work: Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy [Will probably be scary, but who can resist a spy memoir?]

Torey, Allysa - At Home with Magnolia

Voltaggio, Bryan - Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends

Yearwood, Trisha - Trisha's Table [Wow, 400,000 print run. I had no idea Trisha Yearwood was so big.]

So. What do you think? Anything look good there? A lot of cookbooks this week, it seems.

Yeah, I'll never be using GoodReads, either.

So last week I went off the rails a little bit about the concept of a person's ebooks reading them, and sending all sorts of personal information to marketers, publishers, and any hackers who might happen to be around.

And then I popped over to Kim's excellent book blog Sophisticated Dorkiness, and found her link to a BookRiot article titled "Why I Quit Goodreads (or,The Bookternet Is Not Safe for Women)."

You should read it, but if you don't want to, and I can't blame you, it depressed the hell out of me for days,* I'll try to cover the big points for you. The author, Brenna Clarke Gray, evidently reviews books through her GoodReads account (or she did, until she deleted her account). And when she gives three-star or fewer reviews, evidently she gets contacted by authors and authors' publicists, some of whom are threatening.

That's right. response to BOOK REVIEWS.

Evidently she also posts about book news at Twitter, and this is what she has to say about that experience: "Let’s be clear: you are not the first person to call me a feminist whore on Twitter. Maybe if you were, your words wouldn’t have such an impact. But when you’re the fifth in a day, or the hundredth in year, then maybe this isn’t about me overreacting — maybe this is about the way we use language to make discussion scary and inaccessible for women."

Well, all I can say to that is, Jesus H. Motherfucking Christ. And I am sorry, so sorry, to use that language on Good Friday, of all days. But I do think a little (okay, a lot) of righteous anger and profanity is called for here. You're telling me people can't even feel safe reviewing books on GoodReads?

Yes, yes, I know this is all down to just "internet trolls," and compared to living in a war zone, this is low-level intimidation.** But Gray is absolutely right: even low-level intimidation starts to wear on you.

Allow me to illustrate.

By the time I left my job at the public library (and I worked in the richest, safest branch in a rich, largely safe city, mind you) I could no longer do my job at night when I was the ranking person in charge. You know why? Because I'd seen enough disturbing incidents and threatening people that I was spending all my time, mentally, praying that no shit would go down on my watch. It's kind of hard to provide readers' advisory services and reference help when you're that preoccupied. It wasn't particularly gendered and most of the dodgy behavior I witnessed was fairly low-level (I'm anxious by nature, I'll admit, so it doesn't take a whole lot to make me nervous), but even just being sworn at starts to make you a tad defensive.

So here's where we are. I didn't feel safe at my job, and this woman doesn't feel safe reviewing books at home. So I ask you: where do I go? WHERE DO WE GO?***

*And even if you read the article, don't read the comments. So, so depressing.

**Also known as "first-world problems." But you know what? Honestly, is this all the better we can do getting our shit together in the first world, where we have all the advantages? Disappointing.

***If we don't want to feel threatened, we don't go to the UK and campaign to get Jane Austen's face on the currency, that's for sure. If you don't want to be constantly hounded on the street, I guess you don't live in New York City, either.

The title made me want to like it.

With a title like People I Want to Punch In the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges, I really wanted to love Jen Mann's book.

It's a short book of humorous essays on parenting, of the sort I've been consuming like bon-bons ever since I had the CRjrs. There's a lot of this sort of thing:

"I love my cleaning lady just a little bit more than I love the Hubs. No, that's not true. I love her a lot more than I love the Hubs, and I'm not afraid to tell her, or him." (p. 32.)

And this:

"I have a confession to make. No, this isn't the part where I reveal that I'm a closet crafter who has a craft room in my basement where I hoard countless dollars' worth of rubber stamps, paint, tulle, ribbon, and glue guns (yes, glue guns, plural, because every good crafter worth her glitter knows you need more than one size). Even though that's all true, I'd rather talk about my even more embarrassing confession: I want a minivan. Baaad." (p. 103.)

Yeah, it's okay. I read the whole thing (it's only about 200 pages long). And it had a few moments. But overall? It just wasn't all that funny. As types in the genre, I'd much more heartily recommend Karen Alpert's I Heart My Little A-Holes, Drew Magary's Someone Could Get Hurt, or even Amber Dusick's Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures.

April is National Poetry Month.

I've never read a lot of poetry, but because it was shelved with the nonfiction in the public library where I worked, I've always considered it "honorary nonfiction," in the best possible way.

So, Happy April as National Poetry Month!

When I got married a very dear friend of mine wrote this in his card to us:

"i thank you God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the NO
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)"

It's a poem by e.e. cummings, of course. I loved this card the most of all my wedding cards and presents, although I must admit the awesome baking pans and silpats from one of Mr. CR's aunts also remain close to my heart (and in near constant use).

And now my dear friend tells me he is getting married. I am so happy for him.* Buddy, marriage is not all like that poem, I can't lie, but it does have its moments, and they do make you glad the ears of your ears are awake. I'm making it my mission this April to find a poem at least this good to write in your card. I don't know if it can be done, though.

*I'm so happy for him I won't even make the obvious joke about discussing marriage on April Fool's Day.