Didn't Finish

I'm not going to finish "A Farm Dies Once a Year."

So I got to page 200 of Arlo Crawford's memoir A Farm Dies Once a Year before I admitted to myself that I just don't like this Arlo kid or his book, and I'm going to stop reading it now.

I know. I really have to get both more efficient and honest with myself and stop reading things that I dislike before, you know, I get 200 pages in. On the other hand, I feel like I have read enough of this book to say, yeah, don't bother.

Crawford grew up on a vegetable/farm marketing farm in Pennsylvania. His parents had moved to the farm in their late twenties/early thirties and made a going concern of it, and the actual descriptions of the farm and the marketing work are vivid and interesting enough.

But overall, although Crawford admits he enjoyed his upbringing and is proud of what his parents have achieved, he wants to do something else with his life. He wants to do something artsy or literary or whatever else it is well-educated and good-looking urban millennials do with their lives these days. And that's okay. But, if I'm telling the absolute truth, I was a little annoyed that an agent was able to sell a publisher on this not terribly interesting, not really back to the land memoir, in hardcover no less.

Here's another review of it if you'd like more of the nuts and bolts of the story, or if you feel I'm being unfair.

Have a good weekend, all.

Every single thing about video games bores the shit out of me.

I'm sitting here wondering how to start this post because even just thinking about video games, or playing them, makes my mind wander.

So I'll keep it short. I keep checking out books about video games and gaming, because it seems like the subject comes up a lot (especially when you are the mother of young boys). But I never actually finish reading these books. To me it's literally like reading the instruction booklet for doing your taxes. The latest book I've tried and can't read is Greg Toppo's The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.

Here's some of the jacket copy, because even though I dipped into this one in a number of places, and read about 50 pages of it, I can't remember a thing about it, except that it was VERY DRY:

"What if schools, from the wealthiest suburban nursery school to the grittiest urban high school, thrummed with the sounds of deep immersion? More and more people believe that can happen--with the aid of video games and simulations. Experts argue that games truly do 'believe in you.' Games give people a chance to learn at their own pace, take risks, cultivate deeper understanding, fail and still want to try again--right away--and ultimately succeed in ways that too often elude them in school."

Sigh. I won't be reading this one. I didn't make it through Tom Bissell's book on the subject either, and that hurt, because I LOVE Tom Bissell. Anyone out there ever read an interesting book on video games? Does such a thing exist?

Jared Stone's Year of the Cow: Skip it.

I'm not sure why I originally requested Jared Stone's memoir Year of the Cow: How 420 Pounds of Beef Built a Better Life for One American Family from the library. I just liked the title, I suppose.

I've been chipping away at this book for what feels like months, but I've only gotten to about page 52. The book is exactly what its title advertises: Stone buys his family a butchered beef steer, and then writes about their year eating it. My only thought after getting through those 50 pages was "Wow, we're really just writing memoirs about ANYTHING now." Along the way he throws in some history of meat animals and cooking; some family vignettes from his busy Los Angeles existence; and some recipes, but at the end of the day? It's a whole memoir about buying a lot of beef and eating it.

I've seen this done in similar ways, but better, and mostly by Steven Rinella (author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine: How I Spent a Year in the American Wild to Re-Create a Feast from the Classic Recipes of French Master Chef Au and Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter).

Here's your sample, so you can decide for yourself. This is the beginning of chapter 1:

"One cow is approximately one Prius-full of meat.

This is the latest fact I've learned in the past twenty-four hours. It's also the most pressing, as the aforementioned cow has been frozen, packed into eight neat boxes, and stacked into the back of my jet-black Prius. I'm behind the wheel, hell-bent for leather, racing against the cold pouring off the boxes in palpable waves. Due south. Los Angeles by sundown." (p. 7.)

Only One Thing Can Save Us, by Thomas Geoghegan

I have two main things to say about labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan's interesting book Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

First, when I started reading it, I was really digging it. It made total sense to me. It's a book about how things stand for "labor" (organized and not) in this country right now, and the author strikes a tone that seems, to me, totally reasonable:

"Of course it's for the young I feel sorry: after all, it was on our watch that a labor movement disappeared. Am I wrong or do they seem intimidated? So far as I can tell, at least on the El [in Chicago], they seem to shrink from one another. They stare pitifully down at their iPhones, which stare up pitilessly at them. Their own gadgetry sits in judgment of them.

But why pick on them? Everyone seems demoralized...More and more I have clients who have signed away their rights to be considered 'employees' at all--which means there's no minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, no Social Security, nothing. Years ago they should have said something when the HR people said: 'You're no longer employees here--but cheer up, you'll go on working for us as independent contractors.'...Sometimes I think: one day, every American worker will be a John Smith, Incorporated, every cleaning lady, every janitor, every one of us--it will be a nation of CEOs in chains. 'How did I let this happen?'

At some point, maybe 2034, it won't even occur to us to wonder. We'll just be too beat." (pp. 4-5.)

Now, the only thing I can argue with in the above is that I don't think it will take until 2034, or anywhere near it. So I enjoyed this book for the author's matter-of-fact tone. In fact, it didn't faze me in the least, until I left it in the bathroom, and Mr. CR said, "Holy cow, that is one depressing book you've got in the bathroom."

The second thing about this book is that I am not smart enough to read it right now. I really want to; I think the author has a lot of interesting things to say about where we've been with labor in this country and where we might want to think about going (rather than mindlessly following the path we're on), but this is a book that requires some concentration and some knowledge. There's a whole middle part, for instance, where the author discusses the economic ideas of John Maynard Keynes, and he seems to assume a level of knowledge that I don't have.* So for now, I'm going to put this book down...but only due to my failings, not the author's.

In the meantime, here's a more thorough review, from the New York Times.

*As the years pass I become more furious about how my time was wasted in public schools for 12 years, and about how I wasted my own time in college for nearly six more. Really? Nearly 18 years of school and nobody could give me a quick rundown on Keynes and basic economic theories?

Moms who drink and swear.

I am firmly on record as not minding swearing in my nonfiction (or fiction, really) books. However, I do think the swearing needs to be warranted. (For instance: I don't mind it when Matt Taibbi swears in his writing. I think most of the topics he covers require some amount of swearing, such as when he perfectly describes Alan Greenspan as a "one in a billion asshole.")

However, one book I leafed through recently contained just too much (unwarranted) swearing to be amusing. The title? Appropriately enough, Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind. It's a collection of short essays, based on the author's blog of the same name,* and it just didn't do much for me. For instance, she includes what she calls "Conversations with Crotchfruit" (the "crotchfruit" being her children? I've never heard that word, personally):

"Zach: Why do you wear underwear that goes straight up your butt?

Me: Thongs? I wear these so underpants lines don't show through my pants, okay?

Zach: And it probably doesn't get stuck in all those dents all over your butt either. I get it.

Me: OH MY GOD! GET OUT!" (p. 49.)

I have several questions about this exchange. Mainly, because this is a woman who also references sometimes suffering from hemorrhoids, what on earth is she doing wearing thong underwear? Let's just say this was a woman to whom I couldn't relate. I read about fifty pages, wondered why I was wasting my time, and took it back to the library.

Here's a sample entry from the blog: "In July, I posted the first of what I hope will be many Fuck You Dinner recipes, a recipe for good goddamn homemade chicken tenders. I promised to share more, but I’ve spent the summer telling dinner to go fuck itself and letting my crothfruit’s shitty dinner requests roll and not cooking much." That's pretty much what the book is like.

The second time was not the charm.

So Much for That (P.S.)
by Lionel Shriver

I found Lionel Shriver's bestseller We Need to Talk about Kevin a really disturbing but really interesting read. So I thought I would try her follow-up novel, So Much for That.

Incidentally? I am in a really fiction place lately. Is it because I'm permanently tired and somewhat overwhelmed, even though I am very lucky and things are going very well? Is this why women read a lot of fiction, because they're always holding this mess up and they only have so much energy left?* But does that assume that fiction is an easier read than nonfiction? Why would I feel more like one than the other?

But I will not be able to finish this one. It's got a compelling premise: man dreams of retiring to Third World island to live simply (and cheaply, off his nest egg); man's wife gets cancer; man's bank account, even though they HAVE insurance, drained, and their marriage pushed to its breaking point. I am on board with that premise. But, if Shriver used a scalpel in her Kevin novel, here she uses a sledgehammer, as when the wife, Glynis, is speculating that exposure to asbestos (via her contractor husband) might have caused her mesothelioma:

"'You could easily have known, and you should have! Evidence about the dangers of asbestos goes back to 1918. The evidence was really beginning to accumulate by the 1930s, but the industry had the research suppressed. The specific link between asbestos and mesothelioma was made in 1964. That was before you even started Knack [his construction company]! By the 1970s, that asbestos could kill you was basically a known fact. I grew up surrounded by these stories, and so did you!'" (p. 55.)

That's just not terribly subtle. Actually, I know I've sounded like that in the past, especially when I've just learned something, but there's too many of those types of speeches here. I may try some earlier Shriver, but I'm done with this one.

*I know this assumes a lot, but I do happen to think women are doing a lot of multitasking to keep this world going.

Short chapters are my kryptonite.

Well, I may be using the word wrong. I've never actually seen any of the Superman movies or read the comics (although I do own the soundtrack from the TV show Smallville). What I mean is, I'll get sucked into almost any book if it offers short chapters, even if I'm not enjoying the book or the subject matter that much. Because I seem to be powerless against them, short chapters are my kryptonite.

Glitter and Glue
by Kelly Corrigan

The Short Chapter Lure most recently got me to page 136 of Kelly Corrigan's latest memoir, Glitter and Glue. Corrigan is the author of the memoir The Middle Place, which was a rather surprise big bestseller. I never got around to reading that one, so when I saw this new memoir by Corrigan, I thought I'd give her a try. In The Middle Place, she laid bare her own struggle against cancer and her relationship with her father; in this book, she writes about her time working as a nanny in an Australian family with two children (in a household where the children's mother had recently died from cancer) and how her experiences there made her re-evaluate her (often contentious) relationship with her own mother.

In retrospect, I should have known this wasn't going to be a book for me when I read this: "That schedule left all unpleasant tasks to my mom, who liked to point out, Your father's the glitter but I'm the glue." (p. 47.) Now, I understand all the unpleasant tasks being left to Mom. But saying things like "your father's the glitter but I'm the glue"? Yeah, no. In the 100+ pages I read, I did get the picture that Mom Corrigan was a formidable and surprisingly funny woman and mother, but I just can't imagine any of the mothers I know saying anything like that.* But: as previously noted? Short chapters. So even when the book wasn't setting me on fire I just kept on going, really feeling like I was getting somewhere, because every 3-5 pages I got a new chapter.

It's not a bad memoir. Corrigan's a serviceable writer and keeps the story going nicely, and her story is not without insights, like: "But now I see there's no such thing as a woman, one woman. There are dozens inside every one of them. I probably should've figured this out sooner, but what child can see the women inside her mom, what with all that Motherness blocking out everything else?" (p. 88.)

But somewhere in the middle I thought, am I only reading this because I feel like I'm flying through its short chapters? Am I really enjoying it? And the answers to those questions were "yes" and "no," so I'm going to read the last ten pages or so for closure and then take it back to the library.

Have a happy weekend, all.

*In my family we're more apt to say less poetic and more pragmatic things, like "Thank God spring is here so I can get that man into the garden and out of the house."

Misled by a subtitle.

Weirdly enough, shortly after I got Across the Pond from the library, I also got Henry Hitchings's cultural history Sorry!: The English and Their Manners

I was very, very disappointed in it.

The problems began with the introduction. Which, at eight pages long, is about six pages longer than it needs to be*, since this is pretty much his whole thesis: "In the pages that follow, I examine English manners. I also examine Englishness." (p. 3.) Thereafter the narrative swings into (well, limps slowly along into, actually) a history of British manners, starting in medieval times and moving up through the twentieth century (and a bit beyond). It's not terribly written, and it actually has a nice notes section and an index, but it's on the crusty side of dry. It's also not so much a commentary on British manners as it is a HISTORY of British manners, which I don't think the subtitle was clear about.

I didn't finish this book, and I didn't find much to bookmark. I did mark this sentence as representative of the author's style: "If greeting people has become more relaxed (and thus in fact more awkward), the language of parting remains comparatively clear-cut, despite the rise of alternatives to a straightforward 'goodbye.' "(p. 48.) That's not even a very complicated sentence, but even re-reading it now my eye (and train of thought) tends to wander before I make it to the end.

*And, in all fairness, it is marked as chapter 1, although it functions as an introduction, laying out Hitchings's plan for the book. Hilariously, before I started writing this post, my memory of this first chapter was that it was at least 30 pages long. That's how long it felt.

Thank God; I was worried I was starting to like everything.

It has been a very good year for me, fiction- and nonfiction-wise. By which I mean I have been enjoying reading almost everything I have brought home (although some titles do get home and back from the library without me having read a page of them; you just run out of time). I was starting to worry, in fact, that I was becoming some sort of easygoing, non-judgmental, easy-to-please reader.

And then I started the book Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm.

I only got about 45 pages into this one, so no, I probably didn't give it a real fair test, but I am done reading it. It's a woman's memoir of going through a divorce, amicably share custody of her three sons with her ex, and trying to keep a farm running through all of it. To be even more fair, I should point out that I really had no reason to expect this book to appeal to me: I only got OFF a farm when I was eighteen, and I never, ever want to go back, and I don't even want to think about divorce and trying to raise children separately (it's exhausting to try and do it together, after all).

Why did I check this book out? Well, when I read Emily Matchar's Homeward Bound, she listed a bunch of "back to the farm"/homemaker memoirs, and this was among them; I don't read a lot of these types of memoirs, but for some reason I thought I would give one a try. It quickly became apparent, however, that this was not going to be a memoir for me:

"They're all mine now, and this is how I will raise my boys: on cheerful summer days and well water and BB guns and horseback riding and dirt. Because I'm claiming our whole country life, the one I've been dreaming of and planning out and working for since I was a little girl.

Last night the full moon hung low and close, like a glistening teardrop on the earth's dark eye, threatening to spill. It didn't, though, and neither did I. A month is a bill cycle, a mortgage cycle, and may become a child-support cycle, but a month is also a moon phase and a growing phase. Our financial lives, our emotional lives, and our cosmic lives are irrevocably intertwined." (p. 13.)

Yeah, cosmic lives. When I start seeing phrases like "cosmic lives," I'm pretty much done with a book.

Intriguing idea, but I need more "pop" in my science.

I heard about Mario Livio's book Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein -- Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe on some sort of NPR interview that he did, and, based simply on the title, thought it might make for an interesting read.

It probably is, but it is not for me. I only got to page 13, and I decided that, although a real scientist would probably consider this title "popular science," it is still a little hardcore for me. Livio's basic idea is that great scientific discoveries don't pop out of nowhere; they are, in fact, made when scientists make lots of little mistakes and even a few huge ones while they're trying to figure stuff out.

The chapters cover scientists including Charles Darwin*, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein, among others, and it certainly seems like a well-written book that the right reader might really enjoy.** But for me, right now, it's just a little dry: "The blunders described in this book have all, in one way or another, acted as catalysts for impressive breakthroughs--hence, their description as 'brilliant blunders.' They served as the agents that lifted the fog through which science was progressing, in its usual succession of small steps occasionally punctuated by quantum leaps." (pp. 10-11.)

*It didn't help that the book opens with Darwin and evolution, and I find evolution just about the most dull subject there is. If I even just hear the word "evolution," I start immediately yawning and my eyes get heavy.

**And I'm just totally scattered these days. If I had more time and my old powers of concentration I might have enjoyed this one a lot more too.

Duel of the douchebags.

I am aware that is not a really classy way to title this post. I thought long and hard about not using it, but it's really the way this book made me feel, so there you have it.*

The Lifespan of a Fact
by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal

The book in question is one of 2012's nonfiction titles that I was most looking forward to checking out. (The fact that the book was published in February 2012 and I'm just getting around to it now, in January 2013, should indicate that I'm a bit behind in my nonfiction reading productivity.) It's titled The Lifespan of a Fact, and it's co-written by author John D'Agata and his fact-checker, Jim Fingal.

Let's see if I can nutshell it for you. The book purports to be the seven-year conversation between D'Agata and Fingal about an essay D'Agata wrote and that Fingal was assigned to fact-check. The article in question was about a Las Vegas teen's suicide, and had originally been commissioned by Harper's magazine, but that publication rejected it based on its factual "inaccuracies." It was then picked up by The Believer, which is where it was assigned to Fingal. In practice, the book looks like this: there is a small paragraph in the middle of each page, that is the actual essay, and then there is smaller type around it, which is the conversation back and forth between D'Agata and Fingal about each "fact" Fingal checked and D'Agata's response to his checking.

When I first heard about it, I thought it could be an interesting case study about the use of facts in nonfiction, and I've always been really curious about the way fact-checkers work.** But I was annoyed by this book and its authors from very nearly the first page. There we have the first sentence of the article: "On the same day in Las Vegas when sixteen-year-old Levi Presley jumped from the observation deck of the 1,149-high tower of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, lap dancing was temporarily banned by the city in thirty-four licensed strip clubs in Vegas..." and the discussion between the authors about how D'Agata arrived at the number of "thirty-four." Fingal queried it because another article that D'Agata provided as a source for that number stated there were thirty-one strip clubs, to which D'Agata replied that he got thirty-four by counting the number of strip clubs in the Vegas phone book during the time when he was researching the article. So of course Fingal asked why he didn't just use thirty-one, if thirty-four could no longer be verified, and D'Agata answered: "Well, I guess that's because the rhythm of 'thirty-four' works better in that sentence than the rhythm of 'thirty-one,' so I changed it." (p. 16.)

Okay, I don't know about you, but when I hear bullshit reasoning like that about the use of facts in nonfiction, I stop reading. Make no mistake: I'm really not that concerned about whether there were 34 or 31 strip clubs in Vegas on that particular day. If you can state a source and stick with it, like the phone book counting, actually, I'm no absolute stickler. That's close enough for me. But to say you went with 34 because it "worked better in the sentence"? Lame.

This happens later in the essay too, when there is some discussion about whether it took Levi Presley eight seconds or nine seconds to fall to his death. In the Coroner's Report, as Fingal points out, it took eight seconds, to which D'Agata replies, about his use of "nine seconds"--"Yeah, I fudged that. It doesn't seem like it should be that big a deal, though. It's only a second. And I needed him to fall for nine seconds rather than eight in order to help make some of the later themes in the essay work." (p. 19.)

Really, D'Agata? You needed the kid's fall to be nine seconds, rather than eight? That seems like such an interesting thing to need, in light of the subject of the story.

So yeah. Four pages in and I was pretty much done reading. And it should be noted that the douchebaggery is not all on D'Agata's side; at one point Fingal starts questioning his description of the "base of the tower," and it's pretty nitpicky.

I'm not going to finish it. I did read a very good article about it, over at The Millions, that I would highly recommend you read if you're still curious about this one at all. At one point in that article, the author Mark O'Connell points out that the conversation in the book are themselves "heavily fictionalized version of the emails that were actually sent during the fact-checking process." What?

I guess I'm left wondering, does it have to be this hard? Do conversations about facts and truth and what makes nonfiction "art" have to be this boring and pedantic? Let's be clear on one thing: (as I tell my mother whenever she wants to talk politics with me) I don't have any answers. But I do have some suggestions: Nonfiction authors, do what you can to have some allegiance to the facts. Be ready to cite your sources, but trust that your readers are smart enough to know that not even the official sources are always completely truthful or accurate. Write better sentences, so they don't depend on you randomly picking facts to make them "flow better." And, for the love of all that's holy, if you don't want to be held to a journalistic standard, don't write pieces that read like reportage. Write a novel inspired by tragic true events instead--just ask Jodi Picoult, that's more lucrative anyway.

Okay, I'm done.

Well, not quite. It should be noted that royalties from the book "will be donated to a scholarship established in Levi's name at Pino and Bantam ATA Black Belt Academy in Las Vegas." (At least that's what it says in the back of the book. Has anyone fact-checked that?)

*Also whenever I think of the word "douchebag" I think of the classic SNL skit about it, and laugh.

**I know. Could I be any nerdier? Probably not.

Why does the world exist?

It's depressing, but today all I have to offer is yet another post about a nonfiction book I couldn't finish (and barely got started). Sometimes it seems like I'm not finishing a lot more nonfiction books than I'm finishing, but that does happen quite a bit. The book I couldn't get into last week was Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?

It's supposed to be a really good book, and it's gotten a lot of great reviews*, but frankly, like most big philosophical questions, Why Does the World Exist? is not something I care all that much about. And to me, that makes this book somewhat of a tough slog. This is the prologue, in its entirety:

"Prologue: A quick proof that there must be something rather than nothing, for modern people who lead busy lives.

Suppose there were nothing. Then there would be no laws; for laws, after all, are something. If there were no laws, then everything would be permitted. If everything were permitted, then nothing would be forbidden. So if there were nothing, nothing would be forbidden. Thus nothing is self-forbidding.

Therefore, there must be something. QED." p. 1.

Christ, who actually has the time for stuff like that? If there's nothing, would there be words to be all cutesy with, like in that paragraph? I think not. So, although I'm sure it will show up on many "Best of..." book lists for 2012, I'm probably not ever going to read it. QED that.

*Even this review in the Christian Science Monitor is mostly over my head, but I still enjoyed it, particularly where its author discusses how one of the ideas that seems to bother Holt (the universe existing simply as a "brute fact") doesn't really bother the reviewer all that much.

Nonfiction I Didn't Finish: October 2012 edition.

It has come to my attention recently that I just simply no longer have the time to finish every nonfiction book I start. This realization has been a long time in coming, and it still bugs me. But what can you do?

Well, you can offer posts explaining what you're putting down and why. For the month of October, these were the books I picked up for some reason or other, tried a few pages or chapters of, and then just put down (or, more accurately, took back to the library):

Steven Rinella: Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter

This one hurts me, because I LOVE Steven Rinella. I totally enjoyed his book The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, and I even read and liked American Buffalo, which I expected to be totally bored by--I just like Rinella's writing, and it doesn't hurt that he's a nice little piece of eye candy.* This new book is an examination of his childhood and development as a hunter, and his continuing lifestyle of killing the meat his family eats, even though he lives in Brooklyn. There's a great section of pictures in the middle, all of which I perused, and the writing is good (I still managed to read about 50 pages, even though I knew I probably wouldn't stick with the whole thing). But I'm just not interested in hunting (as such) and never will be. I am a meat eater and am all for knowing more about where your food comes from, but I grew up on a farm and have actually taken part in the butchering** of animals, so I already KNOW, trust me. Oh, that is something else to mention: don't give this one to readers you suspect might be squeamish about the details of butchering animals--Rinella doesn't skimp on any of the details.

Janet Groth, The Receptionist

Groth's memoir relates her many years of service as a receptionist at The New Yorker magazine. I just couldn't get into her story, and found her voice kind of boring, although I did read the chapter about her and Joseph Mitchell (the author of Up In the Old Hotel, and an author I love).

One funny anecdote Groth related was from her initial interview with Miss Daise Terry (who was in charge of secretarial personnel): "She said, 'Now, as a midwesterner, you have better sense than the Westchester County and Connecticut girls who come through this office. I always have to take them in hand and give them a stern talking-to about their behavior and conduct." p. 3. Ha. But the amusing bits were just too few and far between to keep me reading this one.

RothbartDavy Rothbart, My Heart Is an Idiot: Essays

Just couldn't get past the first essay, where he and his brother take advantage of phone calls to their deaf mother, which they have to interpret for her, although she has her laugh at them in the end. I've read mixed reviews of this one, and just couldn't get into it, although I enjoy Rothbart's FOUND! collections. Also: I think the publicity photo of him at the right is just ridiculous.

So: My question for you is, has anyone out there read any of these, and care to share your opinions?

*Damn--later pictures in the book reveal both his wedding ring and his wife. What Mr. CR would make of my habit of scanning left hands for wedding rings, I don't know.

**"Butchering" is such a scary word. Please be assured my family did all they could to make the process as quick and humane for the animals (if not for us--it's hard work, and scary, when all of the members of your family are in one place, tired, punchy, and holding sharp knives) as possible.