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September 2016

Friday Book Lists: 30 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: Bestselling books the week of Sep. 26

Romantic novels that aren't romances

The Today Show: 12 must-read books for fall. Yay! There's the Shirley Jackson book I just can't wait to come in for me at the library! Although I'm experiencing title fatigue on that Belle Boggs book, The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood--it's everywhere.

Vanity Fair: Sloane' Crosley's favorite books for fall

New York Times: Best Cookbooks for Fall 2016

Bustle: 13 places book-lovers should visit in the fall

Publishers Weekly: New religion and spirituality books

Female Comedian Memoirs: the scorecard.

So earlier this summer Mr. CR asked (begged) me to read some happier nonfiction. Or at least stop bringing home and telling him about sad nonfiction that I was reading. So I thought, okay, I'm going to bring home some memoirs by female comedians. (I decided on this project when I saw that Amy Schumer had a new book coming out this fall, so I thought I'd read some other memoirs this summer, then finish up with that one because it would be a timely topic.) That should have been light reading, right?

Well, kind of. Not really, actually. Taken as a group, I found that this group of books kind of depressed me. On the plus side, they were all pretty quick and easy reads. On the negative side, I didn't find most of them hilarious. And at their worst, they made me horribly sad. So let's do this thing, shall we?

A note: I forget what order I read these in, so they're just presented in the order in which I re-piled the books up on my table, so I could look them over and write about them here before returning them to the library.

BedwetterSarah Silverman, The Bedwetter: Stories of Redemption, Courage, and Pee. I actually don't know a lot about Silverman's comedy, and I've never seen an episode of "The Sarah Silverman Program." But for whatever reason, I think she's kind of funny  (go to :45 on that clip) and she doesn't much bother me. (You know how you form these opinions of celebrities, or entertainers? Like you know them personally or something?) And I'll say this for her book: it didn't make me want to kill myself as much as some of the other books on this list did. The book is primarily personal essays and memoir, with some chapters on how she broke into stand-up and the production of her television show.

And she doesn't waste time: on page ten, she relates the story of the accidental death of her older brother (when he was an infant and she wasn't yet born). Her parents went on a cruise to Bermuda that her mother had won while appearing on a game show, and while they were gone, they left the baby in the care of his paternal grandparents, where he accidentally smothered in his crib. (Is that terrible or what?) So yeah: you can see how this family and person might develop a dark sense of humor. And the title's not really a joke either: Silverman really did have a problem wetting her bed at night, well into later childhood and her teens. Or, as she puts it: "At eight years old, my urine showed no promise of abandoning its nightly march out of my urethra and onto my mattress. New Hampshire was running out of clean sheets." (p. 21.) Some of the funniest things in this book were the separate headings within the chapters; here's one of my favorites, how how she suffered from clinical depression as a teenager: "Another Chronic Condition that Nobody Has Any Fucking Clue How to Treat." (p. 30.) And that was followed immediately by another hilarious, if sad, heading: "An emotionally disturbed teenager is given a bottomless well of insanely addictive drugs as a means to improve her life, and other outstanding achievements for the New Hampshire mental health community." (p. 31.) Grade: Okay. I got some chuckles. (Yeah, no letter grades, no star ratings. I refuse to use quantitative standards when good old ambiguous qualitative standards are available to me.)

Tiny Fey, Bossypants. Actually, this one was a re-read. I don't think I finished it last time and I wanted to see if I'd underestimated it. I stand by my original assessment: Tina Fey is Not Funny. I did finish it this time, though. Grade: Pointless, but at least not appalling (See: Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl).

Not that kind of girlLena Dunham's Not that Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned." Another re-read, as I couldn't finish this one the first time I had it either. (I know. I am not a fast learner. But I was so appalled by so many of these "funny" memoirs and by the positive reception of them by other reviewers and readers that I kept thinking, well, I must just be missing something.) This was another book that was primarily a book of not-that-great personal essays with a few chapters thrown in about Dunham's professional life and her seemingly sudden and meteoric rise to fame and omnipresence on the Internet thanks to the popularity of her TV show "Girls." This book made me the most unhappy, because Dunham was the youngest author whose book I read, and all I could think when I was done with this one was, Wow, I'm so sorry for all the young girls out there.

I'll illustrate. Here's a charming story from her chapter titled "Barry," about a man with whom she had an unpleasant (if not illegal, on his part) sexual experience when she was in college: "Barry leads me to the parking lot. I tell him to look away. I pull down my tights to pee, and he jams a few of his fingers inside me, like he's trying to plug me up. I'm not sure whether I can't stop it or I don't want to..."

Okay. In addition to being disturbed by that, it's also where I lose some patience for Dunham. Really? How is this guy even getting in a physical position to make that happen while she's peeing? What part of that don't you want to stop? I'm not trying to be judgmental, really. I literally just don't get it. It continues:

"Now Barry's in my place. Now we're on my floor, doing all the things grown-ups do. I don't know how we got here, but I refuse to believe it's an accident." This continues until: "Before sunrise, I diligently enter the encounter into the Word document I keep, titled 'Intimacy Database.' Barry. Number Four. We fucked. 69'd. It was terribly aggressive. Only once. No one came." (pp. 58-60.)

Nobody in this book, even the author, sounds like they're having any fun, and it's certainly not funny. Grade: I may need some True Crime to cheer up after this.

Amy Poehler, Yes Please. There were some funny bits in Poehler's memoir, but as with Fey's, I didn't find it that interesting, either. Grade: If you must read something by a female SNL alum, choose this one over Fey's.

Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (and other concerns). Okay, again, I wouldn't put this one in the class of great literature, but at least I laughed at it throughout and Mindy did not make me feel that being a woman today, putting up with the industry and men (wow, that is a lot to do), is just the worst job ever. These are mostly personal essays too, in sections titled "I Forget Nothing: A Sensitive Kid Looks Back," "I Love New York and It Likes Me Okay," "Hollywood: My Good Friend Who Is Also a Little Embarrassing," "The Best Distraction in the World: Romance and Guys," "My Appearance: The Fun and the Really Not Fun," and "My All-Important Legacy." Her look at her career trajectory is probably the most interesting one among these memoirs; she thoroughly describes her low-level entertainment and TV jobs, her two-woman play "Matt and Ben," writing for The Office, a brief stint at SNL, and her writing process in general.

Mindy also scores as the only writer whose book I recalled pleasurably after reading it. She has this very hilarious, and strange, chapter titled "Why do Men Put on Their Shoes So Slowly?" It's all of one page, and here's most of it: "Why do all the men I know put their shoes on incredibly slowly? When I tie my shoelaces I can do it standing, and I'm out the door in about ten seconds. (Or, more often, I don't even tie my shoelaces. I slip my feet into my sneakers and tighten the laces in the car.) But with men, if they are putting on any kind of shoe (sneaker, Vans, dress shoe), it will take twenty times as long as when a woman does it. It has come to the point where if I know I'm leaving a house with a man, I can factor in a bathroom visit or a phone call or both, and when I'm done, he'll almost be done tying his shoes." (p. 188.) Ever since I read that, I've noticed the many, many times I've waited for Mr. CR to put on his shoes and get out of the house, while I wait in the car. It wouldn't be so funny, except if I'm in the car, it means I've dressed myself, dressed two small boys, packed our going-out bag, and gotten said two small boys strapped into their car seats...all while Mr. CR is still putting on his shoes. Mindy is onto something here.

Grade: If you're going to read one book on this list, make it this one. It's funny, it's interesting, it's personal without being TOO MUCH, and if you're trying to inspire a woman to be a writer and entertainer, this is also probably the most positive book here.

Jessi Klein, You'll Grow Out of It. I reviewed this one not long ago. Grade: Points for some solid laughs, but overall? It left me wondering once again why smart, funny, good-looking women are taking semen shots in the face (that they don't seem all that excited about getting) and trying so hard to be what guys want. Not really Grrl Power, in my opinion.

Last but not least:

Girl with the lower back tattooAnd then we come to Amy Schumer, and her book The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. I just struggled to get through the first 75 pages of this one. May I illustrate? The first essay is titled "Open Letter to My Vagina," and here's how it starts: "I know I've put you through a lot. I've had hot wax poured on you and the hair ripped from you by strangers. Some of the strangers have burned you even though I told them you have very sensitive skin. But it's on me for going to a shady-looking place in Astoria, Queens, that you thought may have been a drug front. I've been responsible for getting you yeast infections and UTIs and have worn stockings and Spanx for too long, knowing it could cause you problems. And I want to apologize for Lance on the lacrosse team, who treated you like you owed him money with his finger. That sucked, and I'm totally with you in being pissed. But you've also had a lot of nice visitors, right? Huh? You have to admit we've had a lot of fun together. I even fought to be able to call you 'pussy,' which I know you prefer, on television." (p. 3.)

Yeah, I don't know. I'm just not laughing. And this hurts me, as I know Amy Schumer and her writing team are capable of some really funny stuff, as in this clip from her show: Last fuckable day. Overall I much preferred it when she was talking about getting started in stand-up, and writing her show, and learning the business. And I'll admit that I laughed out loud as she describes writing down the first joke she really "wrote":  "This old woman on the subway asked me, 'Have you heard the good news?' She was trying to save me. I said, 'Ma'am, I'm so sorry. My people are Jewish.' She said, 'That's okay, your people just haven't found Jesus yet.' I said, 'No, we found him. Maybe you haven't heard the bad news.'" (p. 153.)

But once again there were too many personal stories that just made me unhappy, thinking of what women put up with. And that's really not how I wanted to feel after my "lighter reading." Grade: Okay, if you're really interested in Amy Schumer. Personally, I'm heading back to some good depressing nonfiction so I can cheer up.


Citizen Reading: 26 September 2016

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

A new Winnie the Pooh book is planned, introducing...a penguin?

Novelist D. Keith Mano: Obituary.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" has been a long time coming to the big screen.

Love pop culture? Love providing readers' advisory help? Then this free webinar is for you!

Kirkus Prizes: Shortlists.

Here are the writers who won this year's MacArthur "genius" fellowships.

One of the original greats of reporting on the workplace: Studs Terkel.

Poldark's back on PBS! And here's a list of Winston Graham read-alikes, too.

James Patterson's new BookShot, titled The Murder of Stephen King, has been pulled. Here's a couple of takeaways from the article: 1. can you believe James Patterson made $95 million dollars last year? and 2. James Patterson, please stop coloring your hair. You are old. We all know it.

Infographic: Ten influential poets.

Publishing remains: "extremely white."

George R. R. Martin, maybe you should just finish the series you have going, rather than hinting at a prequel.

On Jane Jacobs's street smarts. (Related: The New York Times calls this new biography of her "flawed.")

October is National Reading Group Month! They provide kind of an interesting list of books there, to consider for your book group. Anybody read any of them? The only one I've ever even heard of is The Tsar of Love and Techno.

"Author Robert A. Caro will receive the 2016 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book foundation."

Top cities for reading. Lots of Midwestern cities on this list. Yay, the Midwest!

Andrew Carnegie Medals longlists announced. Huh. Actually a surprising interesting list. (I am not usually a fan of anything the ALA sponsors, and this is an ALA award.) I'm rather pulling for Matthew Desmond's Evicted.

I agree with the last line in this article--perhaps the sheen has just worn off of the Bridget Jones sequels--but I liked the movie. I was so meant to be born British.

Ten standard books for high school. How great are they?

Google continues to try and put librarians out of work: now their Google Play Books service has a feature to aid "book discoverability." Google will not be happy until all of us never talk to another human being again.


Nonfiction news from the New York Times: What we can learn from women who break the rules; Why do people who need help from the government hate it?

An Anglophile book I must have: The Face of Britain, by Simon Schama.

David Cameron to write his "memoirs" based on his audio diary.

How lucrative was The Great British Bake-Off for...booksellers?

Ralph Lauren to write his autobiography.

EarlyWord would like to bring your attention to the book Ten Restaurants that Changed America.


Sorry, there isn't one (!) this week. Gaiman must be slowing down.

Friday Book Lists: 23 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 22

Ten books for readers who love Liane Moriarty.

Don't read these if you're on a diet: 21 tales of chocolate-themed romance

Christian Science Monitor: best books of September Oh, my God, a new Tracy Kidder. I must have it.

Chicago is emphatically not my kind of town. (I've just never liked it.) If you do, however, this list of Chicago books might be for you.

Nancy Isenberg's White Trash.

White trashOkay, I did not get through all of Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. It's 321 dense pages long, plus notes, for the love of all that's holy. To get through that much serious nonfiction I would need at least another 321 years.

But I did read the first 100 pages thoroughly, and then skimmed most of the book from page 200 on. And I really, really liked it. It's a totally different look at America's history, and provides a nice "look behind the curtains" that are the ruling mythologies of our American experience. We're exceptional? Well, no, not really, a lot of our first settlers ended up here because other countries were looking to dump their poor and challenging citizens somewhere else. All our founders were here for the noble goal of religious freedom? Again, no. See the answer above. The histories of the colonies and how they came about, and the more targeted look at our Founding Fathers' writings (from Thomas Jefferson to Ben Franklin, along with a number of other not-so-well-known names), were quite detailed (and a little dry, sometimes) but still: v. v. interesting.

The latter half of the book is more about "white trash" and poor whites in modern history, including chapters about enforced sterilization and eugenics, Elvis Presley, Lyndon B. Johnson, integration, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. There was a LOT here to think about, in terms of race, economics, and social class.

So. Here's a bit from the introduction:

"In the most literal terms, as we shall see, British colonists promoted a dual agenda: one involved reducing poverty back in England, and the other called for transporting the idle and unproductive to the New World. After settlement, colonial outposts exploited their unfree laborers (indentured servants, slaves, and children) and saw such expendable classes as human waste. The poor, the waste, did not disappear, and by the early eighteenth century they were seen as a permanent breed. This way of classifying human failure took hold in the United States. Every era in the continent's vaunted developmental story had its own taxonomy of waste people--unwanted and unsalvageable. Each era had its own means of distancing its version of white trash from the mainstream ideal." (pp. 1-2.)

I don't read a lot of serious history and it shows; I wanted to give this one more time and attention. (Someone at the Atlantic did: here's their article.) If you're looking for some American history that is most definitely not "same old, same old," I would consider this one.

Citizen Reading: 19 September 2016

"Fifty Shades Darker": Trailer. Please note: The first go-round made $570 million worldwide (even though it was terrible). (Related: E.L. James is going back to the well again, with the next installment in the "Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian's Point of View" series coming out soon.)

Fall Preview wrap-up over at EarlyWord.

The new Librarian of Congress was sworn in last week.

William Patrick Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe (on which "Field of Dreams" was based): has died.

Most American readers still prefer print books.

Happy 75th birthday, Curious George!

Oh, I'm so sad. Can you believe it's been eight years since David Foster Wallace died?

National Book Award longlists: Young People's Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, Fiction. Actually, the nonfiction list is interesting. And it's composed almost entirely of books I've never even heard of. It is humbling to know how much I don't know.

Lots of award news this week: here's the Booker Prize shortlist as well.

Love "Mad Men"? You might be interested to know the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, has a novel coming out next year.

Here's your review of Bridget Jones's Baby. I saw it this weekend, and you know what? I enjoyed it. God love Bridget Jones, and Renee Zellweger, whatever else you think of her, has made that role her own. Oh, and Emma Thompson? Emma Thompson is THE BEST. If you liked the first film, I think you'll like this one too.

Even USA Today is sick of Bill O'Reilly's "killing" books.

James Patterson's new BookShot is about...snore...screw it, I don't even care enough to finish this headline.

Lena Dunham: your new spokesperson for Indies First.

Booklist: Focus on Romance and Travel.

Temple Grandin will write a book for kids.

2016: Emmy winners list.


A new advice book--from Eleanor Roosevelt?

Comedian Norm Macdonald has a memoir coming out...and you can chat with him about it.

A group biography of the Mitford sisters, who evidently all kept quite busy.

For all you lovers of books about work: here you go.

Maureen Dowd on "the year of voting dangerously."

A disturbing look (is there any other kind?) at drug-dealing: Wolf Boys.

Former President George W. Bush will publish a book of his painted portraits of veterans in February 2017, titled Portraits of Courage. I enjoyed this take on his artistic style: Bush "paints in a similar fashion to the way he talks – affecting a folksy, homespun, plain-speaking tone, with just enough ham-fisted strangeness and bungling missteps to keep things interesting."

Well, I suppose it had to happen: Prince's ex-wife to publish an "intimate memoir" about her life with him.

A new book on Bill Clinton.


Not only will Neil Gaiman's new book about Norse mythology be published in the UK, it will include a "Christmas illustrated edition in 2018."

Friday Book Lists: 16 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 15

The New York Times makes 9 book recommendations for you this weekend

USA Today: New and Noteworthy Books

9 books to help you cope with anxiety Now here is a book list I can get behind!

Politico: "the smartest minds in politics name the best books they read this year"

People Magazine's best fall books You know I'm going to have to check out the Jennifer Weiner memoir, even though I am no fan of Jennifer Weiner.

On the boob tube: 11 fall shows we can't wait to see

Here's a list I really enjoyed this week, as a reader who loves autumn: 9 things book-lovers can't help doing in the fall

New York, New York.

So I missed a Helene Hanff book!

I think I had been saving Apple of My Eye, a travel guide/love letter to the city of New York, for a treat, and then just kind of forgot about it. Until this summer, when I had a Hanff mini-revival, re-reading all her books and getting Apple of My Eye. What's great about this guide to NYC is that it was written in 1978--how's that for a mind-blower? When the city was broke and seedy and down on its luck. Spoiler alert: Helene still loved her city.

But here's the weird part. Here's what I was reading one night:

"One thing about the World Trade Center: you don't need a map to find it. With our eyes on the severe twin towers jutting skyward, we steered a zigzag course through winding streets until we came to an intersection seething with traffic, across the street from it. As we waited for a green light, we looked across the street and saw, in front of the Trade Center and blocking the entrance to it, cement mixers, mounds of earth, piles of wooden boards and the rest of the construction mess out of which the Center's landscaped plaza will have emerged by the time you read this.

'You know the problem with this book?' I said to Patsy [a friend of Helene's, with whom she was exploring the city to do the research for this book]. 'I want to write about the Trade Center Plaza and I can't because it isn't there yet. I want to write about Radio City Music Hall and I'm not sure it'll still be there when the book comes out. No other city on earth has such a mania for tearing down the old to build the new--which I approve of. My theory is that since New Yorkers mostly come here from somewhere else, they have no interest in the city's past; they come with big plans for its future. And on a narrow strip of island, you can't build the future without tearing down the past first; there isn't room for both. But it's a headache when you're writing a book about it." (pp. 52-53.)

And then, as she and her friend looked out from the 107th-floor observatory, there's this:

"And suddenly, irrationally, I gloried in the highhanded, high-flying, damn-your-eyes audacity that had sent the Trade Center's twin columns rising impudently above the skyline at the moment when New York was declared to be dying, and so deep in debt it couldn't afford workers to dispose of the Center's trash, police its plaza or put out its fires." (pp. 55-56.)

So I paused and thought about that, and then I thought about the date. What are the odds that I would be reading exactly that chapter of this book at 11 p.m. on September 10? WEIRD.

Citizen Reading: 12 September 2016

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

God help us: James Franco is going to adapt Neil Strauss's pick-up manual The Game.

Japan's longest-running manga comes to an end.

How well are publishers connecting with their readers?

Children's author Anna Dewdney has died.

A new book next spring from...F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Some easy ways to get kids reading.

I am no fan of Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), so news of this lawsuit, that his latest work "pulls too much content from the original public domain work," amuses me very much.

"Live by Night" (based on the Dennis Lehane novel): Trailer. Man, just looking at Ben Affleck makes me want to punch him. I don't know why, really.

Amazon is hoping its "pop-up" stores will drive even more traffic to its online store.

Well, it was bound to happen: I'm officially tired of Elizabeth Gilbert headlines.

LibraryReads October 2016

Scotiabank Giller Prize: Longlist.


There's a new 9/11 book out. (Related: 11 books worth reading about the World Trade Center's redevelopment.)

Simone Biles to write her autobiography.

Bernie Sanders has a book coming out in November.

Can I take another book about a premature baby? I just don't know.

I'm usually not a big reader of spy fiction or nonfiction (although I am addicted to Daniel Craig as James Bond), but this new book about a Russian spy looks interesting.

Jon Ronson (one of my favorites): reviews a new nonfiction book titled The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online.

Coming in November (well, in the UK): a Freddie Mercury (of Queen) biography. (I went through a little Queen revival a few months back. Have you listened to "Somebody to Love" lately? You really should.)

This looks fun: a book that "re-examines the psychological test.

Oprah's latest Book Club pick: a memoir about infidelity.

Belle Boggs is very hot this month, for her new book about trying to have a baby.


Neil Gaiman speaks on Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast Magic Lessons.

Friday Book Lists: 9 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 8

The fall previews just keep coming!

Rolling Stone's fall book preview, full of music tell-alls

This fall's biggest books, critiqued on the basis of their covers

Stories of robot love

The world's most boring book list, but here it is anyway: LibraryReads October 2016

The 10 best books of October, according to Amazon's editors (You know, I might have to try the Bruce Springsteen autobiography. I was so surprised by my love for Patti Smith's Just Kids, and I didn't know anything about Smith when I started that.)

New York Times: 9 great books to start off September (I've already put Avalanche: A Love Story and Patient H.M. on hold at the library, and am thinking I'm really going to have to get that Attica prison revolt book too.)


A pair of graphic novels I either could have done without, or really needed.

Mary weptLast spring (or thereabouts) I noticed that a graphic novel titled Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible was getting a lot of press attention. As it was a historical/religion graphic novel, and therefore nonfiction, I thought I would try it. I had read another graphic novel memoir by the same author, Chester Brown, about a million years ago. I couldn't remember it at all, other than its title: I Never Liked You. But I thought, let's try it.

And then I waited for it on hold from the library for so long that I forgot all about what it even was. I kept seeing the title "Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus" on my hold list, and I thought, I wonder what that book's about? And then it came.

How could I forget this one? It's a graphic novel, illustrating the stories of numerous women in the Bible, as well as other well known books/stories. Included here are illustrations of the Cain and Abel story, Ruth's marrying Boaz, the Annunciation of Mary, Bathsheba and David, Tamar, and Rahab (the latter two whose stories I don't know very well, but involved prostitution or sex as an exchange in some way). And what is the theme? Well, I'm vastly simplifying it here, but Brown speculates that the way the stories of these women were told, particularly in the Gospel according to Matthew, means there is some evidence that not only were there many prostitutes in the Bible, but that Mary the mother of God was one of them. Here's Matthew talking to himself while writing his Gospel account:

"All the evidence indicates that Jesus's mother was a whore. Jesus himself said so. But many Christians are against prostitution, and they don't want to hear the truth. Even if I wrote it, it would just be censored when the scribes copy out the book. But I want to acknowledge the truth in some manner. Is there a way of hinting at it without it being censored?" p. 146.

So I finish this thing, copious afterword and notes included, and my one thought, is, Wow, for some reason this guy really needs prostitution to be okay.

So I looked up his earlier books, and find his title Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir about Being a John. And of course, everything makes more sense now. Of course he needs prostitution to be okay, because he goes to prostitutes.

Which is all, at this point, bothering me much less than you would think (or my mother would expect of me). For one thing, as a Catholic of a certain age, I was raised in a religious education environment that didn't really pay a whole lot of attention to the Bible. Sure, we had scripture every week in church, but Catholics doing "Bible study" when I was growing up was pretty much unheard of. In my family we seemed to depend a lot more on certain prayers, saint stories (although yes, I had books of Bible stories too), Catholic catechism (as laid down in the conservative Baltimore catechism series), and a special fondness for Mary.* So you know what? I don't care if Mary was a prostitute. I don't really care if she was a virgin, although that's what I learned and frankly it's just as easy for me to believe she was a virgin as anything else (see earlier: I just don't particularly care). The important thing is Mary IS my mother. I love her as my mother and I ask for her help and her intercession like a mother. She has been my only friend at many dark 3 a.m. hours in my life. The Catholic Church has done many things appallingly wrong in its history. But I am so grateful to Catholicism for giving me Mary as an individual in her own right, and my mother.**

So if Chester Brown wants to think she was a prostitute, and has done a lot of reading and research to back that up, well, okay.*** Evidently a lot of his ideas are based in part on Jane Schaberg's scholarly book The Illegitimacy of Jesus. At this point I wasn't particularly bothered.

But then I had to go and read his memoir Paying for It as well.

And now, friends? Now I'm a bit disturbed.

It's not a complicated book. Brown decided, after his girlfriend (with whom he lived) asked if he minded if she pursued a relationship with another man (while they still lived together), that he really didn't mind, and that in fact he was glad to be rid of the jealous feelings of a monogamous relationship. Things progress until he decides to pursue his two competing desires: "the desire to have sex, versus the desire to NOT have a girlfriend," (p. 16) and soon he responds to an escort ad and begins a series of encounters with paid sex workers. Most of the book thereafter details those encounters, set off by interludes of him and his friends engaging in discussions about whether his behavior is wrong or not.

Well, okay. I read the whole book--once again with copious appendices and notes wherein Brown lays out most of his arguments that prostitution should be decriminalized--and while I was reading it I didn't really have much of a reaction. But then I found I would think about different parts of the book, and Brown's arguments, at random points later in the day. And the more I recounted his experiences and his arguments, the more I reacted.

I'm not going to take each chapter or experience in turn. Instead, I'd like to give you a broad overview of what disturbed me about some of Brown's encounters with sex workers: 1. he often pays for half-hour sessions rather than full-hour sessions, and then depicts himself variously trying to get the prostitutes to move on from oral to full sex, or he shows himself periodically stopping the action to slow down his, ahem, "completion." At least one of the women asks him why he keeps stopping and starting again, informing him, "it's starting to hurt, y'know!" (p. 63.) 2. Periodically he has to question whether the women even understand English, or whether they are really the age they claim to be. 3. At least once he wants to walk away because the prostitute is unattractive, or (gasp) appears to be as old as "in her thirties." 4. After several visits to the same prostitute, he notes afterward that the "dates" are starting to make him feel empty inside. 5. Several prostitutes indicate (to me) they might not be enjoying the work--one says "ow" throughout the entire encounter, another answers Brown's questions about her previous work in a massage parlor and admits that she would rather be back at the massage parlor rather than working as an escort.

So, looking at the above as a whole, the picture I'm drawing of the author is that he's a cheap bastard who so badly wants what he's doing to be okay that he never questions whether women are foreign-born or actually eighteen; who's in his late thirties himself but of course is completely uninterested sexually in women of a comparable age; and although he seems desperate to reassure his friends that he treats these workers kindly (he tips them, lets them use his phone, etc.) he clearly is not put off his stroke when a woman shows clear signs of being in discomfort or pain.

I'm sorry, but there you have it. With that picture in my mind, I simply cannot take most of his arguments for the decriminalization of prostitution seriously. Like the one he relies on a lot: "I believe that, if prostitution is decriminalized, its normalization will happen relatively quickly--within a few generations. When I was born, in 1960, homosexuality was widely seen as 'sick' and disgusting. It was illegal to engage in homosexual activity in this country (and probably all of the other 'western' countries). In 1967, Pierre Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality in Canada...The result, forty-something years later, is that homosexuality has become normalized for most people 'in the west.' It's no longer widely seen as sick or disgusting." (p. 231.) Does anyone else find this argument weak? Are paying for sex with professionals and homosexuality really analogous situations? Also, if activities like pedophilia or necrophilia were "normalized," does that mean they would be okay?

Brown also likes to make the point that prostitutes should have their choice to make their living in the way they choose. Another weak argument, I think. How much money can a woman really make in this line of work if men stop choosing them (as Brown does) the minute they look like they are past their twenties? What is the percentage of women who are really CHOOSING this work? I would suggest you read Robert Kolker's Lost Girls for a look at how someone gets into this work and what happens after they do. It doesn't seem to me that choice often has a lot to do with it.

Anyway. Blah blah blah. I had a lot more thoughts about these two books, but this post is already ridiculously long. I didn't particularly enjoy the experience of interacting with these books, but I do have to admit that I have now given them a lot of thought and even argued with their author in my head. So, paradoxically: A good reading experience. I think the Paying for It book might actually be a good book for all women to read, for its scary insights into one male mind (particularly what Brown describes as the "burden" of his life--"Every time I saw an attractive woman, I wanted to walk up to her and try to initiate some sort of interaction. I usually lacked the confidence to do so...I wasn't even aware that all of that felt like a burden until I walked out of that brothel and saw an attractive woman on the street and realized I felt no inner tension about whether or not I should talk to her. Of course I shouldn't--she was a stranger. Why would I worry that I was missing an opportunity to potentially have sex? Suddenly, sex with beautiful women was easy to get." (p. 263.) I'll tell you this: it obviously takes all kinds.

*Family legend has it that Dad appealed to Mary to intercede and help him find a good wife, and he found our mother. My mother is spectacular, so thanks, Mary!

**And the subject of one of my favorite prayers, a poem by Anne Porter: "Mary, in you/We see the flowering/Of our human beauty/And hear/The songs of God. And in your heart the lost/Rejected and abandoned ones/Are held in honor. Stay with us now/And always."

***This is way off topic, and I never reviewed it here, but this summer I also read a lot of Tom Bissell's really interesting book Apostle: Travels among the Tombs of the Twelve, also about Bible history, and how very little anyone knows about even the Apostles (arguably well-known and often-cited figures that they are). In that book Bissell noted that when he noticed all the inconsistencies and historical fuzziness in the Bible, he lost his verve for his Catholic religion. This does not happen to me. The more I learn about how complex the Bible is, how historically difficult it is to pin anything in it down with certainty, it doesn't make me take my religion less seriously. It makes me take the Bible less seriously. If that makes any sense.

Citizen Reading: 5 September 2016

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

I have no idea who Thomas Kunkel is, or what the Sperber Award is, but I do so love Joseph Mitchell (author of, among other nonfiction gems, Up in the Old Hotel).

USA TODAY: Fall Books Preview. Thank God (said with heavy sarcasm), there's a new Nicholas Sparks coming.

Do you know about the IndieFabs Award? You should!

Oprah has already chosen her next Book Club book.

New Agatha Christie adaptations are expected from the BBC! [Related: the BBC's going crazy with the adaptations! They'll also be bringing the novel The Miniaturist to the screen.)

Well, that's creepy. Know what Charles Manson's favorite book was?

Author Eimear McBride feels most sex written about today is "either completely overblown and ridiculous or else it’s disgusting and horrible." Do you agree?

2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Awards: Winners.

"Group reading in the digital age." Article about Wired's new online book club. I should care but I got bored by this article about two paragraphs in. Wired magazine simultaneously bores me and weirds me out, so I would assume their book club choices will do the same.

Lena Dunham set to publish a book of short stories.

Oh, Nora Ephron, I miss you.


This Blood in the Water title, about the Attica prison uprising, seems to be shaping up to be one of the hottest books of the fall.

The Curse of Cash suggests that paper money is on the way out.

Will this season's big micro-history be a history of chairs?

Tim Ferriss plans to write a new book titled Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. Whatever. I am just totally bored by Tim Ferriss. Talk about being a titan tool.

This new title wonders, do parents really matter?

Lawrence Wright has a new book out titled The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.

Rachel Cusk (I love her): reviews books on assisted reproduction.


Neil Gaiman shares advice on how to get over heartbreak.

Friday Book Lists: 2 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

Christian Science Monitor: Best books of August

Paste Magazine: 16 best nonfiction books of 2016 (so far)

i09 picks all the best fantasy and SF for the fall

The Guardian: 10 best "seaside novels"

13 supernatural stories for fans of 80s horror

Entertainment Weekly's Fall Preview

New York Times: 9 books for back-to-school time. Oooh: "...while the books below don’t offer light reading, they do offer plenty to chew on." I totally have to get that book by Nicholson Baker, about his experiences as a substitute teacher.

Awesome: "30 tales of librarians in love."

If anything rivals my love for nonfiction and reading, it's my love for TV and movies. Hence: 20 must-see movies this fall.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 1