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December 2015

New Nonfiction: 28 December 2015

A weekly 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. Sorry there's no commentary this week; I was too busy replacing batteries in remote control cars and trying to convince two little boys hopped up on Christmas sweets that it was indeed bedtime.

Better Homes and Gardens - Better Homes and Gardens I Didn't Know My Slow Cooker Could Do That: 150 Delicious, Surprising Recipes
Cordain, Loren - The Real Paleo Fast & Easy
DiSpirito, Rocco - The Negative Calorie Diet: Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 10 Days with 10 All You Can Eat Foods 150,000
Kondo, Marie - Life-Changing Magic: A Journal: Spark Joy Every Day
MacNeil, Natalie - The Conquer Kit: A Creative Business Planner for Women Entrepreneurs
Osteen, Joel - Fresh Start: The New You Begins Today
Rankin, Lissa - The Anatomy of a Calling: A Doctor's Journey from the Head to the Heart and a Prescription for Finding Your Life's Purpose
Smith, Ian K. - The Shred Power Cleanse: Eat Clean. Get Lean. Burn Fat.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 21 December 2015

A weekly 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.

Carter, Dan – Dan Carter: My Autobiography
Cuddy, Amy – Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
Dickerman, Sara – The Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse: Fresh, Whole-Food Eating with a Two-Week Plan for Every Season, Including 140 Recipes. 100,000 first printing.
Elkaim, Yuri – The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet: The 5-Day Food-Cycling Formula That Resets Your Metabolism To Lose Up to 5 Pounds a Week
Powell, Chris – Extreme Transformation: Lifelong Weight Loss in 21 Days
Sin, R.H. – Whiskey, Words, and A Shovel (Poetry.)
Vaccariello, Liz – Stop & Drop Diet: Lose up to 5 lbs in 5 days

No commentary this week except to say, oh sigh, here come all the diet books for the new year. A terribly boring time for nonfiction publishing, the new year. Have a good week, all.

Holiday Book Buying Guide 2015: For the kid in your life who's read everything else.

You know this kid, right? You give them a three- or five-book series for a birthday or the holidays and they burn through all of them in about a week? It's hard to keep up with kids like that, when buying books for them, but on the other hand? What a great problem to have.

So today I'd like to suggest a nice little series that hasn't been talked about much lately, so maybe it's something the voracious reader you know won't have encountered yet. That series is Lloyd Alexander's Westmark* trilogy.

Now, of course, Lloyd Alexander is fairly well-known as the author of the Chronicles of Prydain series. And those are good books too. But this three-book series offers a bit more for the slightly older reader (maybe 9 or 10 to 12 or 13?) to get their teeth into. In the first book, the kingdom of Westmark is in a bad way: its king is faltering under grief caused by the death of his daughter; his kingdom is effectively being ruled by the evil advisor Cabbarus; law-abiding people are being harrassed for no reason. In this atmosphere the orphan Theo, a printer's apprentice, finds his life turned upside down when his boss's shop is destroyed and Theo is forced to run. While on the run, he takes up with a con artist and his servant/friend, and eventually they chance upon an extremely talented young girl/street urchin named Mickle. Adventures ensue, and all is most definitely not what it seems when it comes to who the characters really are.

There are some fights and, especially in the second book in the trilogy (The Kestrel) some military battles, but nothing is described in horrific detail. Characters die, and tough choices are made, but in such a way that it shouldn't be too much for the younger kids to read. The pace moves right along and there's some humor, so these are even books that an adult could read to a kid or with a kid, and not mind it at all themselves.**

The third book is called The Beggar Queen***. And of course you can't find these books new****, but you can certainly find them online at Powell's Books.

*Although I see that Westmark won a National Book Award. So perhaps it is better known than I think. But, it won the award back in 1982. So maybe not.

**I read the whole series in a couple of days and really, REALLY enjoyed it.

***This is also a great series for girls. Mickle, the main female character, is all kinds of awesome.

****I take it back. I just checked and you can find them new at Amazon. I thought they might be too old.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 14 December 2015

A weekly 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.

Berry, Jo – PewDiePie: The Ultimate Unofficial Fan Guide to The World’s Biggest YouTuber. Okay, I keep seeing this name "PewDiePie," so I went and watched a couple of his YouTube videos. This guy has the most subscribed-to YouTube channel? Here's something I've just been waiting to get old enough to say: those crazy kids these days. I don't get it.
Hidalgo, Pablo – Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary. If you're a big Star Wars fan you're probably having a great week. If you liked Star Wars okay but largely lost interest once a. Han Solo ceased to be a major part of the story line, and b. Han Solo got old, you probably won't by this week's bumper crop of Star Wars books.
Maxwell, John -JumpStart Your Thinking. Maxwell is an inspirational and leadership writer whose endorsements include blurbs from Ben Carson and Elizabeth Dole.
Szostak, Phil – The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So. Short list this week--everything's slowing down for the holidays. Anything look good there?

British Television: Broadchurch

Of late, it has been hard for me to watch as much British television as I might like. This is largely due to the fact that from the hours of roughly 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., I am being followed around by two little boys, for whom (let's face it) much of British television would be completely inappropriate. But every now and then I ignore work and housework and take my golden hours of freedom after 9 p.m. to watch some newish Brit TV. And the series I watched just lately is called Broadchurch.

Now, for a long time I resisted Broadchurch, even though it stars David Tennant (one of my favorite Brit stars). I enjoy crime dramas, but when going for recreational viewing I tend to head more for the comedies. But finally, I thought, it was time.

Broadchurch is set in a small community on the coast of England--uck*--in which an 11-year-old boy is found murdered--double uck**--and over the course of eight forty-five minute episodes, it transpires that everyone in the community (not just the killer) has a whole lot of secrets--triple uck. So even though the first episode was good, I thought, I'm not going to keep watching this. It's just too skin-crawling. But then, as almost always happens, I watched a second episode, and then I was sucked in.***

I can't say that this was one of my favorite series. But the acting was great (particularly by the two leads, Tennant and Olivia Colman) and there were a number of surprising twists and turns. I particularly liked the fact that often the secrets that were revealed were not the secrets that everyone in town thought they would be. If you're in the mood for a dark whodunit, this might be what you're looking for.

If you like Broadchurch: You might also enjoy Case Histories, another crime/mystery drama series set in Edinburgh, or Blackpool (if you can find it), set in another British coast town, centering around a crime, and also starring David Tennant (with a musical twist). Oh, and this series was remade in the US, as Gracepoint, but the trailer makes it look like a shot-by-shot remake.

*Everyone always thinks "small communities" are going to be fun and quirky, like the one in Northern Exposure. In my experience small communities are not so much quirky as they are nosey, gossipy, and stultifying, because the people in them know you and your family and have had time to form way too many opinions about you and your family.

**Since I have had the CRjrs it is very hard for me to watch any programs that include violence to kids.

***This is the sneaky thing about British TV: a lot of their series don't have as many episodes as do American programs, so after you watch one or two episodes, you start to think, oh well, there's only six (or eight, or ten), might as well polish them off.

Not an Elinor Lipman fan.

Anybody who reads romance, chick lit, or women's lit (and I do read all of those, although mostly I end up disliking women's lit) inevitably comes across the name Elinor Lipman.

Lipman is a novelist with several well-reviewed and (I'm guessing) respectably selling novels to her name. I have always seen her name a lot, offered as a reading suggestion for those who like a bit of humor with their romance, and the interesting thing about Lipman is that she seems popular with both readers and critics. She seems like she would be a sure bet.

But you know what? I just don't get the appeal.

I tried to read her a few years back, and I don't think I got through the novel in question (or it certainly didn't make much of an impression). This time, trying to be fair, I thought I would read one of her older novels, one of her newer ones, and just for good measure, I would throw in her recent essay collection (I Can't Complain).

The Way Men Act, published 1992. Melinda LeBlanc returns to her hometown to be a floral designer and falls in love with the owner of the shop next to hers on Main Street, and then denies it for the course of the entire book.

The View from Penthouse B, published 2013. Two sisters room together in a Manhattan penthouse, although their surroundings belie their circumstance. One sister is a young(ish) widow; the other is a divorced woman who lost her money to Bernie Madoff. (And, oh yes, her husband was a fertility doctor who, ahem, sometimes offered personalized fertilization services to his patients.) They also end up taking in another boarder, an unemployed finance worker who they think is making cupcakes for his dates with women, when really they are dates with men.

God, frankly, I'm bored even typing out those briefest of synopses.

And I didn't find the essays all that scintillating either. They're short, and were published in a variety of sources, from Good Housekeeping to the Boston Globe. They center on a variety of family topics (including the loss of Lipman's own husband at the age of 60), the writing life, and personal foibles. And it's all nice enough stuff:

"My sister and I do solemnly believe--no, we insist--that each of us was, unquestionably, her father's favorite child, the shiniest apple of his eye. The argument goes like this: I was Daddy's favorite child. No, sorry, you're wrong. I was. We smile as we present the evidence of his devotion made visible. Finally, we agree to disagree, recognizing what a sweet and lucky argument ours is." (p. 14.)

But none of it really seems to have any teeth, you know? If I had to describe her succinctly I'd say she reminds me a bit of Nora Ephron, without the anger (and without nearly as much humor), or Susan Minot without the slightly more interesting grit.

Either way: I've given her what I think is a fair try, and I'm done now.

Holiday Book Buying Guide 2015: For the Anglophile in your life

Know any Anglophiles? You know, your friend who watches more British TV than she does American, and (largely as a result of that) clicks on all the royal family linkbait she comes across?*

Well, if you need a gift for an Anglophile, you could go more wrong than buying Fraser McAlpine's fun pop culture/reference guide Stuff Brits Like. In short chapters McAlpine covers a wide variety of subjects of interest to those with an interest in all things British: Pedantry, Talking About the Weather, Apologizing Needlessly, Sarcasm**, the National Health Service, Dunking Biscuits, and many, many more. It's engagingly written (as seen in this chapter on "Reality TV"):

"It's bubble-popping time! A certain number of people may be interested in reading a book about British culture because they believe the world is going to aitch-ee-double-hockeysticks in a handcart and entertainment media are throwing vacuous nonentities out there as hard and as fast as they can and it's the end of civilization as we know it unless the British--with their tradition of theater and literature and thinking hard about stuff--have the key to making everything okay. Surely they won't have fallen prey to the base demands of reality TV? Surely they've seen through the giddy parade of desperate egos and stuck to watching BBC dramatizations of the lives of prominent scientists, starring Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston? Surely? Please?

Sorry. That hasn't happened. I mean yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has made those dramas, that's still a thing, but the Brits are as dazzled by reality TV as anyone." (p. 160.)

It's also got loads of pop culture references, to British music, films, and television shows that any Anglophile worth their salt will simply drool over.

So do you know anyone who reads all British books and watches all British TV and whose crushes are exclusively Brit stars like Tom Hardy and James McAvoy? Buy them this book, and Bob's your uncle***, they'll love you forever.

*I may or may not be describing myself.

**You can see why I love these people.

***You'll know what I'm saying if you're an Anglophile.

New Nonfiction (with commentary): 7 December 2015

A weekly 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.

Barr, Niall - Eisenhower's Armies: The American-British Alliance during World War II. More World War II nonfiction I will most likely not be reading. Barr's written several books of military history.
Blumenthal, Brett - 52 Small Changes for the Mind: Improve Memory * Minimize Stress * Increase Productivity * Boost Happiness. Even one small change a week seems beyond me at this point.
Greger, Dr. Michael, with Gene Stone - How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Present and Reverse Disease. 150,000 first printing. I am not interested in this title. This is the title I want: How Not to Feel a Million Stupid Niggling Little Aches and Pains after Forty, Never Be Frustrated by Your Spouse, Children, and Other Family, and Oh Yeah, Stop Worrying about Every Stupid Little Thing. If I had a life like that, I'd be more than happy to die at the end of a decent interval of it.
Forbes, Steve - Reviving America: How Repealing Obamacare, Replacing the Tax Code and Reforming The Fed will Restore Hope and Prosperity. Ah, Steve Forbes. Still publishing, but evidently too tired to run for president lately?
Furedi, Frank - The Power of Reading: From Socrates to Twitter. I don't know. Of course I love books on reading. But does this ad copy make it sound as dull to you as it does to me? "It is a fascinating insight into understanding the post-Gutenberg debates about literacy in a multimedia environment with such a strong emphasis on the absorption of information."
Hawksley, Lucinda - Queen Victoria's Mysterious Daughter: A Biography of Princess Louise. I would guess all Anglophiles will be interested in this one.
Loosli, Linda - Prepare Your Family for Survival.30,000 first printing. I'm totally addicted to these. I never follow the instructions, and am completely unprepared for survival when everything is going well, but I read them anyway.
Wootton, David - The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution. I really should read more science. But this one is 784 pages long!

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

Holiday Book Buying Guide 2015: For the Bill Murray fan in your life.

I thought I'd put a twist on the holiday book buying guide experience by suggesting some ridiculously specific books for specific readers. What do you think?*

I really, really enjoyed Robert Schnakenberg's compendium The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray. Arranged in an A to Z format, every single topic you can possibly think of, from Murray's movies to family to personal likes and dislikes, is here. It's also got a lot of great quotes, pictures, and sidebars detailing "Tales from Murrayland," detailing such exploits as how Murray has taken to crashing people's parties and pictures.

And I do mean comprehensive. There's even entries for things Murray doesn't like, like this one for Ball, Lucille:

"Despite a self-professed predilection for 'funny females,' Murray is not a fan of the wailing red-headed comedian who starred in the eponymous 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. 'Lucy never really made me laugh,' he told film critic Elvis Mitchell in a 2008 interview. 'Lucy was never my girl.'" (p. 19.)

This book was a lot of fun to read, and gave me an appreciation for all the Murray movies I want to re-watch (Stripes) as well as watch for the first time (The Razor's Edge). It also gave me some insight into how you probably don't want to be married to Bill Murray, as well as great stories from his large family, including his sister's feeling sorry for his SNL co-stars:

"Murray's sister Laura once revealed to an interviewer that Todd DiLaMuca's penchant for giving people noogies was based on her brother's own adolescent proclivities. 'We just couldn't believe it,' she said of her family's initial reaction to the sketches. 'He was just in the kitchen giving us those, and now there he is suddenly doing it on national television and getting standing ovations. I actually felt sorry for those other cast members any time I saw him doing that, because they were painful.'" (p. 61.)

So there you go. My first official ridiculously specific book-buying suggestion.

*Although aren't there a lot of Bill Murray fans? He is pretty funny.

It's that time of year again...New York Times Notable list time!

Yes, of course, it's the time of year for all the "Best of" books lists. Ninety-nine percent of which bore me silly. But every year I'm always excited to see the New York Times Notable Books list. Not because I look to it for recommendations or anything, but because I enjoy seeing how few notable books I read every year.

So how did I do this year? Well, on the fiction side: .5. Down from 1 in 2013! I say .5 because I only read about half of Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies and HATED it. Not only that, there's only about two titles here I'm still interested in reading: Outline, because I enjoy Rachel Cusk; and Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, because I like the title.

And now, ta-da! Nonfiction: 3.5. The three I read were Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own, Rosemary Sullivan's Stalin's Daughter, and Kathryn Edin's $2.00 a Day Living on Almost Nothing in America. Again, a .5 because I read about a quarter of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and then had to take it back to the library because it was overdue. At least I recognized most of the titles on the nonfiction side (and had had some home from the library; just didn't have the time to read them); most of the fiction titles I'd never heard of at all.

Sigh. Evidently I will never be a serious reader of notable-type books.

In other news, the GoodReads Choice Awards/Best Books of 2015 list is out too, and as much as I'm not really a fan of GoodReads (if you search for a good book on "civil rights," there, for the love of God, it suggests Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help), at least some of those lists are interesting. I'm not sure I agree with the choice of Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari as the "best nonfiction" of the year (it was good, but I don't know that it was that good), but at least this nonfiction list includes some books I'd still really like to read. (The Science list there is interesting too.)

What do you think? Any "Best of" lists you particularly enjoy or dislike? I'm starting to think I should run my reading spreadsheet from June to June, and then post a "best of" list in the middle of the year. Mainly I just get so tired of these types of lists at this time of year.

A little bit of love for Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance.

Modern Romance
by Aziz Ansari, Eric KlinenbergHardcover

I enjoyed the hell out of Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance.

Now, don't get me wrong. I didn't really find it uproariously hilarious, and it was definitely on the "social sciences lite" side of psychology. But I very much enjoyed the comedian's combination of personal dating anecdotes, thoughts on love and relationships, and a wide variety of poll findings and sociological data (which are also on display in his new Netflix series). It was a quick and somewhat informative read, and in my current distracted state, I find that's about all I can ask of a book these days.

Aziz moved from a discussion of how we used to date and marry people (we mainly met them where we lived) to how we meet people today, how we ask for dates, how people search for love internationally, when and why people settle down, and what happens when sexting and cheating tear apart relationships. Some of the information was enlightening, and some was funny, but most of what Aziz found horrified me:

"Today, if you own a smartphone, you're carrying a 24-7 singles bar in your pocket." (p. 31.)

That gives me the all-over shudders.

"The issue of calling versus texting generated a wide variety of responses in our focus groups. Generally, younger dudes were fucking terrified of calling someone on a phone." (p. 39.)

That just makes me sad. I don't really like using the phone either, but come on, just to talk to someone? Someone you might like? Overall I am just wowed by men's fragile egos. I had one great male friend who told me he didn't mind rejection a whole lot, because he thought "every no just brought you closer to a yes." Simple and upbeat. Please note that this friend married an unbelievably attractive woman. And they're still married.

"A woman who came to one of our focus groups discussed how she got so fed up with text messaging that she cut off her texting service and could only be reached by phone calls. This woman never went on a date with a man again. No, she actually started dating someone soon afterward. She also claimed the guys who did work up the courage to call her were a better caliber of man and that she was, in effect, able to weed out a lot of the bozos." (p. 40.)

So yeah, I enjoyed this book, even though it made me feel old. Those crazy kids these days.

This just in: Ansari's book won Best Nonfiction in this year's GoodReads Choice Awards.