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May 2015

Very British Problems...

as a Twitter account* posting such items as the below was more than enough. I really don't know that it needed to be made into a book.

"'Right, well, anyway, good, I suppose I should really probably soon start to think about maybe making a move" - Translation: Bye" [Note: Evidently, this sort of thing is considered a "very British problem."]

And there you have it. My brevity may not be the soul of much wit, but it is all I have the energy for tonight. Have a great weekend, all.

*p.s. I still don't understand Twitter, and honestly, I think I'm happier that way.

Good when you've only got a moment.

I very much enjoyed David McCandless's illustrated book The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World's Most Consequential Trivia. This surprised me a bit, as I am almost completely an UN-visual person. Looking at credit card reading machines, I can almost never figure out the correct way to run my card just be looking at the little icon. I never know what most graphic signs mean, and I'm completely stymied by pictures-only, no-text instruction sheets.

But this book is fun. It's a book of a variety of charts, pictures, and graphic illustrations of all sorts of trivia: Colors and Culture; Who Actually Runs the World; a Rock Genre-ology; Rising Sea Levels; Hangover Cures from Around the World; and so on. Perhaps my favorite chart was a list of the wives of dictators, listing their occupations, years of marriage, children, political power rating, obsessions, rumors, and reasons for death.

Summer reading plans: 2015 edition.

Well, it's that time of year again.

I hate summer.

Don't get me wrong; it's nice not bundling everyone up before you leave the house. Particularly when the "everyone" includes two small boys who may or may not agree with my assessment that they need boots and hats. But that's about the only pro to summer that I can see. (Well, that, and not driving in snow, which is another of my least favorite activities.) Traditionally it is my least favorite season. I hate heat. I hate the lack of routine. And gardening? God, do I hate gardening.

But I have noticed that other people seem to like summer, and that it often includes "beach reads" and other reading plans. I can't say that I'll be signing up for any beach reads (liking neither beaches nor beach reads, for the most part), but maybe I should give my summer some reading routine by setting some goals. Although I never do very well with these summer reading plans. Two summers ago I meant to read Lonesome Dove, and I haven't gotten there yet.

1. Read Lonesome Dove. No, just kidding. I'm not in the mood. I'm saving it for when I take a trip and need a plane read. A girl can dream, right?

2. Read an Anthony Trollope novel. I listened to The Way We Live Now on audio a million years ago and enjoyed the hell out of it. This is the year of Trollope, so I'd like to read one of his other novels.

3. Have another Book Menage. Let's, shall we?

I'm going to leave it there. I'm learning fewer, simpler goals is the only way to fly. What about you? Summer reading plans?

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 25 May 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.

Arnold, Jennifer - Life Is Short (No Pun Intended): Love, Laughter, and Learning to Enjoy Every Moment [Memoir/self-help by the star of TLC's reality TV show "The Little Couple"]
Carolla, Adam - Daddy, Stop Talking [Ugh, Adam Carolla. I am not a fan. This is a daddy memoir/parenting manual, and here's the annoying ad copy: "Adam rips parenthood a new one, telling it straight about what adults must do if they don’t want to have to support their kids forever." 150,000 first printing.]
Hart, Mamrie - You Deserve A Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery [Drinking stories from a YouTube star, 100,000 first printing. Wow, YouTubers are really getting big deals.]
Holland, Mina - The World on a Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes, and the Stories Behind Them
Kenney, Lynne & Wendy Young - Bloom: 50 Things to Say, Think, and Do with Anxious, Angry, and Over-the-Top Kids
Marsh, Henry - Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery [I hate doctors and the medical establishment. Yet books on medicine and medical memoirs are total catnip for me. This one's by a brain surgeon, and I will be checking it out.]
McNish, Jacquie and Sean Silcoff - Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry [Business history, a nonfiction subgenre that can be surprisingly interesting.]
Offerman, Nick - Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers [Humor, by one of the stars of "Parks and Recreation," telling the stories of 21 of Offerman's favorite American icons.]
Otis, Ginger Adams - Firefight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate New York's Bravest [Labor history, which can also make for surprisingly good reading. This one's about the FDNY.]
Trennert, Jason DeSena - My Side of the Street: Why Wolves, Flash Boys, Quants, and Masters of the Universe Don't Represent the Real Wall Street
Tworkowski, Jamie - If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For [Memoir and inspiration from the founder of the To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) organization, which is an internationally-recognized leader in suicide prevention.]
Virgin, JJ - JJ Virgin's Sugar Impact Diet Cookbook
Webb, Brandon - Among Heroes: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s True Story of Friendship, Heroism, and the Ultimate Sacrifice [150,000 first printing.]

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

Memorial Day reading.

For Memorial Day I'm simply going to refer you to a book I read five years ago. I read a lot of nonfiction, but I still think about this one periodically, and I still think you should read it.*

Have a good weekend, y'all.

*Oh, and also Matt Taibbi's excellent article on the cheerleading for the Iraq War. Amen, Matt Taibbi. Wait, and also Joshua Key's (so sad) The Deserter's Tale, about the same war.

British Television: Whitechapel

And now for something completely different in our periodic tour of British television.

I forget exactly how I stumbled across the series Whitechapel, but it might actually have been suggested for me by YouTube, which, sadly, knows of my British TV addiction and takes it upon itself to make helpful suggestions against which I am powerless. In this way I have lost a lot of the last few years to YouTube. Damn you, YouTube!

But I digress. "Whitechapel" is an ITV production that ran for four series, from 2009 to 2013. It has been announced that no more series will be made, but those four should be more than adequate for anyone looking for a deeply scary combination of a crime procedural drama and true crime. The first two series were three episodes long, focusing on one crime per season. The latter two series featured six episodes each, covering three different events.

In the first series, the crimes to be investigated echo the most famous murders the Whitechapel region of London ever suffered: the Jack the Ripper crimes. In addition to the police detectives, the inspector in charge of the case also reaches out to a historian for his expertise on Jack the Ripper to help them consider any correlations between the historical and present crimes.

The cast is excellent, with a favorite of mine, Rupert Penry-Jones, starring as DI (Detective Inspector, of course, which is a title any good Anglophile is familiar with) Joseph Chandler, a "by the book" inspector who is reviled by the staff of police detectives in Whitechapel that he heads up; they think he's all there for just a quick stop on his way to bigger promotions. He also suffers from OCD. Other detectives include Phil Davis (as DS Ray Miles); he's a very familiar face from a number of shows (including "Sherlock," in which he appeared in a very different type of role). All the supporting players do a very nice job too.

There's not a whole lot of episodes to watch, but it's a meaty little drama and might appeal to fans of the more offbeat series "Sherlock," as well as the American series "CSI." Horror fans might like it too.

Fun trivia: I watched this show on YouTube over the course of the summer while I was expecting CR3. I was actually trying to watch the last episode in series 2 when I went into the early stages of labor. I knew we had to be getting close when the contractions made it impossible for me to focus on the storyline, or even enjoy looking at Rupert Penry-Jones. Which I do, very much. Now that I think of it: did I ever finish that episode? Gotta go.

Some new "meh" fiction for your consideration.

Last week was not a real winner for me and fiction.

First off, I read David Duchovny's new novel Holy Cow, and all I can say is, wow, David Duchovny needs some more people around him to tell him when something's a bad idea. It's not the worst novel I've ever read, but I pretty much made it through only because it's a fast read and 206 pages long. It's narrated by a cow who dreams of going to India, where cows are sacred, because she learns by sneaking out of her enclosure and watching TV through her humans' windows that Americans raise and butcher cows in horrible surroundings. This shocks her, and she starts making her plans for exodus. Along the way she picks up a pig who wants to go to Israel (where they don't eat pork, of course), and a turkey who wants to go to Turkey (just because). I'd say, hilarity ensues, but it doesn't, really. Here's your sample bit:

"My ancestors, my great-great-great-great-great-etc.-grandmother came from somewhere in what humans call the Middle East. That's where the Maker made us and first put our hooves on the ground. They called it the land of milk and honey. And guess who provided the milk? Though I'm told that goats also get milked by humans. Are you kidding me? Come on. No offense, but goat's milk does not compare with cow's milk, unless you're a goat kid. Have you ever seen a cow trying to drink milk from a goat? Case closed.

And now I hear stories of humans milking something called an 'almond' and another called a 'soy.' I've never seen a wild almond or a say galloping about in its natural habitat, but cow milk is the best. I'd bet three of my four stomachs on it." (pp. 11-12.)

And there you go. All I know is all week when I was reading other novels and Mr. CR wanted to know how they were, he would phrase the question this way: "Is it better or worse than the Duchovny cow book you've got in the bathroom? Because that thing is terrible."

Your other "meh" choice (although better, I think than the Duchovny cow book in the bathroom) is Ellen Meister's Dorothy Parker Drank Here. Here's the premise: Dorothy Parker, witty member of the Algonquin (Hotel) round table of the 1920s, along with many other authors and luminaries, signed a guest book owned by the hotel's manager. Turns out it was a magic book and if the person so chooses, after death they can "go to the light" or sit around the Algonquin. Dorothy chooses the latter, but is lonely, so she tries to get another author staying in the same hotel to agree to sign the book, so when he passes, she'll have company. Enter a gung-ho TV producer who wants to get that author booked on her talk show, and who learns Dorothy Parker is still hanging out at the Algonquin. I'd say, hilarity ensues, but, well, it doesn't. It's an okay book and actually Dorothy Parker's lines are believably witty, but all the rest of the characters (and most of the story) is serious dullsville.

Back to nonfiction for a while.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 18 May 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.

Ariely, Dan - Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles [Meh. Ariely had a hit with Predictably Irrational, but I thought it was kind of a snooze-fest.]
Axelrod, Alan - Lost Destiny: Joe Kennedy Jr. and the Doomed WWII Mission to Save London [Now this, actually, is WWII history I might read. Say what you will about the Kennedys, I have always thought, but they sure lost a lot of kids to public service.]
Bary, Rifqa - Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus
Bremmer, Ian - Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World - 50,000
Castor, Helen - Joan of Arc: A History [Oooh, a saint book. Those are catnip to Catholics.]
Cohen, Cole - Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders [Memoir of a woman who was diagnosed as having a HOLE the size of a lemon in her head. I must have it.]
Crabb, David - Bad Kid: A Memoir [Per the descriptive copy: "honest and hilarious coming-of-age memoir from comedian, storyteller, and The Moth host David Crabb tells a universally resonant story about growing up gay and Goth in San Antonio, Texas"]
Gaye, Jan - After the Dance: My Life with Marvin Gaye [Love Marvin Gaye, don't know anything about him. Will look into this.]
Goldfarb, Ron, ed. - After Snowden: Privacy, Secrecy, and Security in the Information Age [I feel like I need to read a good book ON Snowden first.]
Gornick, Vivian - The Odd Woman and the City [Gornick's a well-known journalist and memoirist; this is about her life in--where else--New York City.]
Graceffa, Joey - In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World [Memoir of a twenty-three-year-old YouTube star; 75,000 first printing.]
Inskeep, Steve - Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab
Jobb, Dean - Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation
Malkin, Michelle - Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs [From Amazon: "Firebrand conservative columnist, commentator, Internet entrepreneur, and #1 New York Times bestselling author Michelle Malkin tells the fascinating, little-known stories of the inventors who have contributed to American exceptionalism and technological progress. From me: Uch. 200,000 first printing.]
Popper, Nathaniel - Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
Sawchik, Travis - Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak
Sekulow, Jay - Power Trip
Sietsema, Robert - New York in a Dozen Dishes
Silver, Tosha - Change Me Prayers: The Hidden Power of Spiritual Surrender
Suzuki, Wendy - Healthy Brain, Happy Life: A Personal Program to Make You Fitter, Smarter, and Happier
Talgam, Itay - The Ignorant Maestro: How Great Leaders Inspire Unpredictable Brilliance
Vance, Ashlee - Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future [75,000 first printing.]

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

Ann Patchett as essayist.

I have never been a fan of Ann Patchett's fiction.

But when I saw that she had a new collection of essays out, I thought I'd give them a try. For one thing, I am a sucker for a good essay. For another, I was intrigued by the title: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

This is a collection of essays that were previously published in a variety of sources, including Granta and for And, ironically, the title essay turned out to be my least favorite essay in the whole thing. I'm always searching for good essays about relationships, marriage, parenting, etc., and I can't say this one spoke to me in any way. It's about how Patchett, after growing up a child of divorce and living through the break-up of her first marriage, decided she wanted nothing further to do with marriage. This was awkward when she met and dated a man she did love, and who did want to get married. However, they stayed together for many years, until a health scare her partner suffered made her change her mind and get married. So what's the takeaway? Well, here's a story from her time when she was thinking she probably had to get out of her first marriage:

"Standing waist deep in the swimming pool at Yaddo, I received a gift--it was the first decent piece of instruction about marriage I had ever been given in my twenty-five years of life. 'Does your husband make you a better person?' Edra asked.

There I was in that sky-blue pool beneath a bright blue sky, my fingers breaking apart the light on the water, and I had no idea what she was talking about.

'Are you smarter, kinder, more generous, more compassionate, a better writer?' she said, running down her list. 'Does he make you better?'

'That's not the question,' I said. 'It's so much more complicated than that.'

'It's not more complicated than that, she said. 'That's all there is: Does he make you better and do you make him better?'" (p. 249.)

So of course she concludes that her second husband does in fact, make her better. And that it is just that simple.

So why does that bug me? It just does. I don't believe marriage is actually that simple. I think that's a lovely thing you might want to embroider on a pillow or put on a coffee mug, but I think it's entirely wrong.

But there's some other essays here that merit a look. Patchett is best when talking about love, actually, when she talks about the love she has for her grandma (who she spent a lot of time actually physically caring for) and the love she has for a former teacher of hers, a nun from her Catholic school. In the essay "The Mercies," she talks about Sister Nena, and how she got to know and help her later in life. And that essay, I'll admit it, made me cry:*

"So ferocious is my love for Sister Nena that I can scarcely understand it myself, but I try. Hers is the brand of Catholicism I remember from my childhood, a religion of good works and very little discussion.

'I like the Catholic Church,' she says to me sometimes.

'Good thing,' I say, which always makes her laugh. I think that she is everything I have ever loved about our religion distilled down to fit into one person, everything about the faith that is both selfless and responsible: bringing soup to the sick; visiting the widowed husbands of her friends who have died; sticking with the children who are slow to learn and teaching them how to read..." p. 304.

So, uneven, but worth a look. I won't read any more of her fiction, but if she ever comes out with another nonfiction collection, I'll try it.

*Although I've been a crying mess lately in general. Getting older and tireder must also be making my tear ducts more overactive?

I do not understand the appeal of David Shields at all.

Over the last few years a nonfiction author's name I have seen a lot is "David Shields." When I come across his name or his titles, which often appear on many end-of-year "Best" lists, they always sound vaguely interesting. Like his book The Thing about Life Is that One Day You'll Be Dead. Intriguing, right? Also: Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Even more intriguing, sometimes, is the jacket copy on these books. Here's how Reality Hunger is described:

"With this landmark book, David Shields fast-forwards the discussion of the central artistic issues of our time. Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete? Exploring these and related questions, Shields orchestrates a chorus of voices, past and present, to reframe debates about the veracity of memoir and the relevance of the novel. He argues that our culture is obsessed with “reality,” precisely because we experience hardly any, and urgently calls for new forms that embody and convey the fractured nature of contemporary experience."

If you overlook that "landmark book" stuff, what you have there is a book that it seems like I would be interested in reading. So I checked it out, and then I tried for weeks to get past the first few pages. I couldn't do it. Same problem with another of his titles, How Literature Saved My Life. (Yet another title you'd think I would eat up with a spoon.) But I persist in trying to understand this author's appeal, or even, just being able to finish one of his books.

Well, the good news is that I did make it all the way through his new book, I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The bad news is, I still don't understand why this guy is a bestselling nonfiction author. Perhaps the quickest way to show you how I felt about this book would be to suggest some alternate titles for it that occurred to me while I was reading it:

"Two D-Bags Have the World's Most Boring Conversation"*

"Two Guys Find Yet Another Way to Avoid Housework and Family Obligations While They Take a Four-Day Vacation Together"

"We'll Bill This As an Art Vs. Life Conversation, But Really What We Have Here Is Four Days' Worth of Not Very Interesting Male Digressions"

"People Will Obviously Buy Anything with David Shields's Name On It, So Here You Go"

So what is it about? Literally, author David Shields and his former writing student Caleb Powell, one a bestselling author in his fifties, and the other a house-husband and father of three in his forties, take four days to hang out in a friend's cabin together and discuss "everything they can think of in the name of exploring and debating their central question (life and/or art?)." I really did read the whole thing, because at some point I expected them to actually get at something remotely resembling a debate about "life and/or art," but honestly, they never did. They discussed:

Their teacher/student dynamic; their wives and whether or not said wives read and like their work; the "x-factor" each of them need to enjoy stories or TV programs; sports; Powell's interest in violence and true crime and the nature of suffering; at one point they actually include a several-page transcript of the movie "My Dinner with Andre"; Caleb's experience with a transvestite in Samoa and his desire to explore that experience in fiction; a wide variety of authors (although they manage to take all the fun out of that, even, with David saying things like "It's crucial to me that these books rotate outward toward a metaphor"); how many kids they each have; capitalism; their mothers; Caleb's drinking; and then back to their teacher/student dynamic. So, okay, the conversation is wide-ranging. But nowhere does it actually take on the flesh-and-blood feel to me of a real conversation. It certainly didn't answer (or really even raise, in my opinion) the question of "art vs. life."**

A long time ago I went to a church service with my mother-in-law when their regular pastor was on vacation, and they had this little eighteen-year-old boy who was a counselor at the religious summer camp down the road in to give the homily. I don't remember what he talked about, but I do remember it was borderline annoying and I mainly wanted to pat the clueless little dear on the head, and tell him to get down from the podium so my mother-in-law, a woman then in her late fifties, could get up there and tell us a few things about how life actually is. This book gave me that exact same feeling. I think all of us should get four-day vacations wherein we just chew the fat with someone and then publish the results. I'm pretty sure 90% of those efforts would be accidentally more interesting than this one.***

And please note: this book has been adapted into a film by James Franco. God help us.

*I am aware that this is not very nice. I apologize. I can be nice, or I can be honest about how this book made me feel, but I can't be both.

**Other reviewers would disagree with me.

***Except not this book. Evidently two guys talking and annoying the crap out of me is a new mini-genre of nonfiction.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 11 May 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.

Abbott, Christmas -- Badass Body Diet: The Breakthrough Diet and Workout for a Tight Booty, Sexy Abs, and Lean Legs [This just seems like a lot to do. 100,00 first printing, though.]
Alt, Carol -- A Healthy You [Carol Alt is a supermodel. Evidently they don't pay enough for that, she has to be an author too?]
Batra, Ravi -- End Unemployment Now: How to Eliminate Joblessness, Debt, and Poverty Despite Congress
Bello, Maria -- Whatever...Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves [Maria Bello is an actress; this is a memoir/inspirational title about her coming-out story. 125,000 first printing.]
Bloom, Harold -- The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime [Bloom is an influential literary critic, but is NOT the author of the hugely influential title The Closing of the American Mind--that was Allan Bloom. I always get these two mixed up. This book is about "American" literature and how various authors influenced one another.]
Brands, H. W. -- Reagan: The Life [100,000 first printing.]
Brokaw, Tom -- A Lucky Life Interrrupted: A Memoir of Hope [Brokaw, I have not yet forgiven you for The Greatest Generation.]
Brzezinski, Mika -- Grow Your Value: Living and Working to Your Full Potential [Self-help from an MSNBC anchor.]
Davenport, Matthew J. -- First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America's First Battle of World War I
Dickman, Kyle -- On the Burning Edge: A Fateful Fire and the Men Who Fought It
Ellis, Joseph J. --The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783 to 1789. [Ellis is a popular historian, best known for the title Founding Brothers.]
Erisman, Porter -- Alibaba's World: How a Remarkable Chinese Company Is Changing the Face of Global Business
Gessen, Keith -- City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis[An essay collection, and I love the title. I must have this one.]
Gibson, D. W. -- The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century
Grunwald, Lisa & Steven Adler -- The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales from Adam and Eve to Zoloft [Wow, it's 560 pages long. Reminds me of the joke, you won't live longer if you're married, it'll just feel that way.]
Juan Reinaldo Sanchez with Axel Gyldén -- The Double Life of Fidel Castro
Leach, Penelope -- When Parents Part
Leadbetter, David with Ron Kaspriske -- The A Swing: The Alternative Approach to Great Golf
Leerhsen, Charles -- Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty [Lotta sports and disaster, big history titles this week. Books for Father's Day shopping already?]
Lewis, Matt -- Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas
Mann, Lucas -- Lord Fear: A Memoir [Here's the descriptive copy: "Lucas Mann was only thirteen years old when his brother Josh—charismatic and ambitious, funny and sadistic, violent and vulnerable—died of a heroin overdose."]
Mann, Sally -- Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs [Memoir of the American South, by a photographer.]
Maxwell, John C. -- How Successful People Win: Turn Every Setback into a Step Forward
Mays, Andrea -- The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio [Now this could be interesting.]
McChrystal, General Stanley -- Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World [Ugh. Business self-help with military overtones.]
Molina, Bengie -- Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty
Montgomery, Sy -- The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness [Just what it sounds like--the author explores "the emotional and physical world of the octopus."]
Moore, Stephen L. -- Texas Rising: The Epic True Story of the Lone Star Republic and the Rise of the Texas Rangers, 1836-1846 [100,000 first printing.]
Morell, Michael with Bill Harlow -- The Great War of Our Time: An Insider's Account of the CIA's Fight Against al Qa'ida
Morris, Robert -- Truly Free: Breaking the Snares That So Easily Entangle
Murray, Charles -- By the People: Rebuilding Liberty without Permission [Murray is best known as the author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American life.]
Posada, Jorge -- Journey Home
Rawlings, Richard -- Fast N’ Loud: Blood, Sweat, and Beers[200,000 first printing. Evidently Rawlings is "The breakout star of Discovery’s hit automotive restoration show Fast N’ Loud."Who knew?]
Rebanks, James -- The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape [Ooh, set in the Lake District of Northern England.]
Revenson, Jody -- Harry Potter: Magical Places from the Films: Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and Beyond
Richman, Adam -- Straight Up Tasty
Ridha, Jennifer -- Criminal That I Am: A Memoir [By the defense lawyer for convicted drug felon Cameron Douglas--with whom she fell in love.]
Rousey, Ronda -- My Fight / Your Fight [Memoir by an Olympic medalist in judo--holy cow, these types of things must really sell, 250,000 first printing.]
Shipler, David K. -- Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword [Shipler's prior book The Working Poor was okay, not great. Can't say this one sets me on fire.]
Simmons, Russell -- The Happy Vegan
Ureneck, Lou -- The Great Fire: One American's Mission To Rescue the Victims of the Armenian Genocide
Vigen, Tyler -- Spurious Correlations [Based on the website of the same name.]

So. What do you think? A long list this week. Anything look good there?

Still love The Oatmeal; this book, not so much.

Because I love The Oatmeal, I picked up his latest book, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.

I should have known from the title this would not be the book for me. I don't know where I heard this line, but I've used it many times: I only run if I'm the victim or perpetrator of a crime. The cartoon is still interesting, but not enough to carry the whole book, and most of the other cartoons deal with running as well.

But The Oatmeal is very generous with his cartoons on his website, so you can check them out there and decide for yourself if you want to get any of his books. This week you should totally look at "If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men." I laughed and laughed.

What would you send with a friend to read in the doctor's office?*

So yesterday in the comments someone said that she gave some Jen Lancaster memoirs to someone going through chemotherapy, and that person really enjoyed them. Which is an excellent thing.

But it got me thinking. Rather than thinking of a list of books you would take with you to a desert island, here's the challenge for today: What book/s would you send with someone going in for some worrying health procedures? Here's the best I can do, on short notice**:

1. (If they are a real reader) 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. Of course.

2. Drew Magary's futuristic novel The Postmortal. Really. The story moved along tickety-boo and it gave you some bigger issues to think about.

3. Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Affair. Really, super funny. Also very low on bad language if you're concerned about that sort of thing.

4. Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Very transporting, and really quite funny, if I remember correctly.

5. Oh my God, the entire Poldark saga, if the person had any tolerance for historical fiction.

6. Michael Lewis's The Blind Side, for sports readers.

7. CalvinTrillin's novel Tepper Isn't Going Out, which I re-read regularly because I just find it so sweet.

I know I'm missing a ton. So what would you send along with a friend to the hospital?

*I almost titled this "with a friend to read, when they're not wearing underwear." Because doctors always seem to be telling me worrisome things when I'm not wearing underwear, and it makes me nuts. But I didn't want to get all sorts of weird search hits from a headline like that.

**And from experience. I cannot go to the doctor without taking along engrossing reading material. The last time I went my pulse rate was so high (from nerves) that they thought I was going to have a heart attack. They actually had to check my record, where another doctor had noted that my pulse rate at appointments is always ridiculous, so no worries.

British Television: As Time Goes By

Before she was M in the latest reboot of the James Bond franchise, Judi Dench OWNED the role of Jean Pargetter on the long-running British TV series As Time Goes By.

Of course Dame Judi did many acting gigs before this show, both in theater and on television. But I'll always like her best for her role on this show. The premise was a bit meet-cute: Mature adults Jean and Lionel, who met and fell in love during the Korean War, were separated when Lionel went to Korea and a letter from Lionel to Jean went astray. Not hearing from Lionel, Jean assumed the affair was over, and went on to marry and have a daughter. When they meet again years later in London, Jean is a widow with a successful business of her own, and Lionel is a divorced man just returned from a coffee plantation he ran in Kenya (and who has just written a book on the subject).

This program ran for ten seasons, between 1992 and 2002. Episodes were half an hour, and were a nice mix of a bit of drama mixed with mostly comedy. I totally, totally enjoyed Judi Dench* and Geoffrey Palmer (wonderfully dry as Lionel), but I also enjoyed the supporting cast in this show. Lionel's publisher, Alistair Deacon, also has a long-running romantic subplot with Jean's daughter Judith. SPOILER ALERT: all the romances end satisfactorily, which I enjoy in my lighthearted romantic comedies.

The first few episodes are a bit ridiculous, with the younger set, Judith and Alistair, romantically pursuing the older set of Lionel and Jean, but once you get past that, the series settles into a very comforting slice of British life. I don't know where they filmed this one, and perhaps to British people the setting doesn't ring true, but to me the houses, sidewalks, and other locations look just like London should look.

I have seen this series so many times that I can practically say the dialogue along with any episode, which is very sad, I know. My local PBS station still airs it on Saturday nights (and have done for many years--which is where I watched it for the very first time) and if I happen to be flipping through stations at that time, I'll always leave it on, which makes Mr. CR cry, as he can't understand how I can possibly stand to BE WATCHING IT AGAIN.

He just doesn't get a good old-fashioned Anglophile BBC TV addiction. Give it a try. You'll get addicted too.

*I also think Judi Dench is the most gorgeous older woman ever. I love her short sassy hair.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 4 May 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.

Bittman, Mark -- A Bone to Pick: The Good and Bad News about Food, with Wisdom and Advice on Diets, Food Safety, GMOs, Farming, and More [I love Mark Bittman, and enjoy his writing much more than Michael Pollan, who writes on similar subjects.]
Bodenheimer, George & Don Phillips -- Every Town Is a Sports Town: Business Leadership at ESPN, from the Mailroom to the Boardroom [100,000 first printing.]
Cistaro, Melissa -- Pieces of My Mother [A memoir. From the description: "This provocative, poignant memoir of a daughter whose mother left her behind by choice"]
Cornwell, Bernard -- Waterloo
Davis, Kenneth C. -- The Hidden History of America at War: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah
Denson, Bryan -- The Spy’s Son: The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia
Fiorina, Carly -- Rising To The Challenge [Business memoir from the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Wonder if she'll explain why every HP printer I ever worked with was a jam-tastic mess.]
Garrett, Brad -- When The Balls Drop [150,000 first printing for this memoir from the comedian who played Robert on "Everybody Loves Raymond."]
Heffernan, Margaret -- Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes
Jordan, Jonathan W. -- American Warlords: How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II
Kreutzmann, Bill with Benjy Eisen -- Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead
Kyle, Taya -- American Wife [Memoir from the wife of Chris Kyle, the subject of the bestselling book American Sniper.]
Lancaster, Jen -- I Regret Nothing: A Memoir [I really don't like Jen Lancaster.]
Leader, Zachary -- Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915–1964
Leidich, Shari K -- Two Moms in the Raw: Simple, Clean, Irresistible Recipes for Your Family's Health
Levitt, Steven D. & Stephen J. Dubner -- When to Rob a Bank: And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-intentioned Rants from the Freakonomics Guys [I really don't like the Freakonomics guys.]
Licht, Aliza -- Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media
Maangchi -- Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking
Martinez/Silverman -- Pedro [Baseball biography of Pedro Martinez.]
Mccullough, David -- Wright Brothers [Wow, McCullough must really move units. 500,000 first printing on this one.
McGonigal, Kelly -- The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It
Miller, Dr. Lisa -- The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving [Oh, lord, I just cannot read one more parenting book. I tried to read Playful Parenting, which advocated turning everything into some sort of fun game, even discipline, and ended up throwing it across the room. And not in a playful way.]
Mitchell, George -- The Negotiator: A Memoir [Political memoir, but a former Democratic senator from Maine.]
Mlodinow, Leonard -- Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos [Mlodinow had a splash a few years back with the title The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, but I find him dry.]
Neiman, Susan -- Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age [I was vaguely intrigued by this title, but do I really have time for a philosophy book right now?]
Nelson, Willie -- It's a Long Story: My Life [Oh, I adore Willie Nelson. I must have this.]
Palfrey, John -- Bibliotech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google [Amen, brother!]
Patrick, Wendy L. -- Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Toxic People In Your Life [Uh-oh. What if I am one of the toxic people?]
Rivers, Melissa -- The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation [A big title, and I do think Joan Rivers was quite interesting, but I'm just not in the mood for this right now.]
Rotella, Bob -- How Champions Think: In Sports and In Life
Schatzker, Mark The Dorito Effect: Why All Food Is Becoming Junk Food—And What We Can Do About It [Kind of want to read this one, although really? I like junk food. It's a problem.]
Schwartz, A. Brad -- Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News
Schweizer, Peter -- Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich [Oh God, here comes what has been called the most popular political genre for the 2016 election: anti-Hillary books.]
Weintraub, Robert -- No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII
West, Kim Kardashian -- Kim Kardashian West: Selfish [Oh, my. You almost just have to go look this one up to see the cover. I know why men like Kim Kardashian, but what are her female fans in it for?]
Wilson, Pete -- What Keeps You Up at Night?: How to Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams
Wolters, Cleary Out of Orange: A Memoir [Memoir connected to the true story in the TV series "Orange Is the New Black."]

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

You may not love the biography, but at least you learn something.

Thomas Hardy
by Claire Tomalin

Recently I spent about a month methodically plowing through Claire Tomalin's biography Thomas Hardy.

Hardy was on my mind because a new adaptation of his novel Far from the Madding Crowd is coming out this week. I've not read all of his novels, but I very much enjoyed Under the Greenwood Tree (which I only read after watching the BBC adaptation, thanks again, British TV) and a short story collection titled A Changed Man. I've read parts of Tess of the D'urbervilles and would very much like to finish the whole thing, and although I've read The Return of the Native, I don't remember it very well.*

So when I went looking for a biography of Hardy I thought I would try Tomalin's; I'd never read anything of hers before but her name was familiar and she's a well-regarded biographer.

Frankly? I didn't care for the book a whole lot. I enjoyed learning more about Hardy, but for some reason it just felt like a real slog to read his life story. And he didn't really lead a dull life (he rose from extremely humble beginnings to become a very well-off author; he was married twice and carried a serious torch for another married woman; he wrote some of the angriest, and at the time, most scandalous literature available). This also was probably not the right biography for me because Tomalin really seemed more intent on proving Hardy's worth as a poet than as a novelist. That's fine, but it almost seemed like she just skipped over the writing and importance of his best-selling novels.

Periodically she also used turns of phrases that seemed a bit heavy-handed to me. There's this, in a caption for a photo of Hardy's first wife: "Her situation as a wife whose husband no longer needed her was pathetic, and, although she was mocked by many and disliked by som, there is something touching about her childlike face." And this: "Hardy and Emma's failure to have children is the saddest thing about their life together. He would have made a gentle and humorous father, and a child would have given Emma a focus for her attention and love, and filled up the long hours when he was absorbed in his writing. It would have relieved the tensions and resentments that built up between them..." (p. 172.)

Now that all may be true. But it seems rather a lot to assume. Particularly because the rest of the biography paints Hardy as a man truly driven to write and spending a lot of time doing so. Sometimes he did not seem over-kind to his first wife (or his second wife, really), so, although there is evidence that he was a kind uncle and friend to several relatives' and friends' children, it seems a bit of a leap to say what kind of father he would have made.

So yeah, not my favorite biography ever. But informative. Which is another thing I really do like about nonfiction: even if you're not in love with the author's writing or style, you usually still get something for your time in the way of knowledge.

*What I do remember is that I read it because Holden Caulfield referenced it in the novel Catcher in the Rye: "I like that Eustacia Vye." Yes, I was so in love with Holden that I went and read what he read. Ah, youth.