Phoning It In

Why? Why can't I stop reading "frugal living" books?

The latest one I read was so bad it brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from a television show: "It's like watching a car crash. Into puppies."*

Yet another frugal living book I didn't enjoy and didn't learn anything from (but yet read all the way through) was Natalie P. McNeal's The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life. It's basically McNeal's year-long diary, which was also posted at, of trying to get out of debt and live more frugally. And when I say diary, I mean diary: like a lot of blogs-into-books, it reads like it was lifted wholesale from the website without much of an editorial look-over. I hate that.** This was also published by Harlequin, which should have tipped me off. Nothing against Harlequin, or romances (I like romances, actually, the juicier the better), I just don't think it's a publishing concern known for its work with serious nonfiction.

McNeal's voice is pleasant enough, even though she's not saying anything new (p. 85, ah, it's the obligatory latte quote: "Death to the latte! And it's about time. Middle-class Americans are dropping their $4 lattes and brewing coffee at home."), she doesn't actually get out of all her debt in the course of a year, and she really does, as far as I can tell, give up a lot of the "fabulous life"--for instance, she has to stop traveling as much with her friends. (A lot of her "buy nothing" frugal strategy also seems to be to go along with her friends buying her drinks and dinners out--not a bad strategy, but one you have to be pretty damn charming to pull off.) She does talk at length about her job as a reporter for the Miami Herald, and the downsizing in the newspaper business, which I found interesting (if sad), and I must say I finished the book without rancor, wishing her luck in her freelance career. But all in all? A pretty forgettable read:

"February 3. I had a love affair with George this morning. George Foreman, that is. It's Sunday and I had to work today, so George and I grilled some chicken breasts. I packed the chicken, some salad and an apple in a bag.*** I like this cooking healthy stuff, but it sure isn't as filling as eating out." (p. 20.)

So why? WHY can't I stop reading these frugal books? I rarely find them helpful, and they're now actively starting to annoy me, as I'm finding it increasingly naive to think we're all going to "frugal" the country back into shape--as if not buying as many meals out is going to put a dent in our personal debt (or our national spending, much of which is disappearing into the money pit that is our "defense" and military spending. For some reason these books are like candy to me****, but much like candy, I think it's probably time to give them up.

*Oh, the short-lived CBC series "An American in Canada," we hardly got to know ye.

**I like blogs, and I like books. I like them for different reasons. This is not to say a good blog can't make a good book, but come on, people, tidy up your writing a little bit when publishing it in book form.

***I think she needs the serial comma here too.

****I ate so much candy this weekend it was obscene.

Whatever, jerk.

Oh my. It is time to re-name the blog Crankypants Reader, I believe.

For whatever reasons, I am addicted to simple life and save money books--like business books, I find reading about these subjects much more satisfying than actually living these topics (which I kind of do by default, anyway). Nothing gives me bigger screaming heebies than the thought of growing my own food, "urban foraging," going back to the land, or, in the case of saving money books, searching for coupons online, doubling and stacking coupons, and then hoarding the food I buy with coupons. In some odd way I think I'm searching for a book that will help me save enough money that I won't need to work at all, but I know that most varieties of "saving money" activities actually end up being bigger chores in themselves.

Good So keep in mind that I'm searching for the unfindable, and therefore it is not really fair of me to rip on John Robbins's title The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less. I started off annoyed with this one when I learned that Robbins is the son of the founder of Baskin-Robbins, and therefore grew up surrounded by fantastic wealth (and ice cream--it just doesn't get much better than that). He makes a big deal about how he rejected his father's wealth when he grew up and got married--"we built a tiny one-room log cabin in which we lived for the next ten years, 1969-1979, growing much of our own food..."--but I say pooh to that. There's a big difference between rejecting your father's pile of cash (but knowing he's really never going to let you starve) and your father not having a pile of cash.

Eventually Robbins made his own fortune by writing the bestselling title Diet for a New America, but later in life he lost all his money because he had it invested with...wait for it...Bernie Madoff. (I read it too fast to get all the details; I'm not sure he knew who he was investing with, but that's not really such a good idea either.) So now he's poor and looking to live simple again, and, ta-da! He's written this book.

I wouldn't be so bitter about all of this (hey, good for him for trying to find a way to cash in; God knows if I could I would) but this book is the most utterly bland, derivative, hodgepodge example of its type. He starts off with some generic information about getting to know your money type, taking four steps to financial freedom (largely borrowed, with attribution, from Joe Dominguez's and Vicki Robin's Your Money or Your Life), and chapters on saving money by maintaining your home (and cutting energy costs), trying to live where you work, eating smarter, and thinking carefully about how many kids you have and how you will raise them.

That's all all right. But I have two main beefs with this book: health insurance, arguably any individual's biggest money sink today, is barely mentioned (except in the first chapter, where Robbins does state that his grandchildren, a set of twins, have special needs and require expensive care) and doesn't show up in the index.* He also engages in what I call modern green thinking--that is, thinking that purports to be green but doesn't really seem (to me) to be. To wit: "If you have an old fridge, consider getting a newer one, preferably one with an Energy Star label. Old fridges are electricity hogs. The most efficient newer ones use only a tenth as much energy as those produced before 1993." (p. 108.) I always get very squirrelly when someone's energy- and money-saving suggestion is to go buy something new; it's just a gut reaction.

So. All of the above are the reasons for my reaction of "whatever, jerk" to this title. Also: I'm just plain Crankypants Reader this week. Let's hope for better times next week!

*I can save all I want on my clothing and home budgets--ask Mr. CR; I've been wearing the same pair of pants all winter because I want to fit in my old pair of pants (yes, singular; even when I lose the baby weight I'll still only have the one option)--but that ain't going to put a dent in what we pay for partially-job-subsidized health insurance premiums, or what we would have to pay if we tried to cover our own insurance. 

It was the wrong time for me to read this book.

I try not to go crazy with the capital-letters-and-period style, but I can't help it here. I hated Maira Kalman's And the Pursuit of Happiness SO. MUCH.

Happiness I'll give it this: it's a very different book. It's big (470 pages) and heavy and a pseudo-graphic novel in that it contains numerous illustrations. It's Kalman's take on American history, in chapters organized by the months of the year ("January: The Inauguration. At Last." "February: In Love with A. Lincoln."), although it also includes anecdotes from more current affairs.

It didn't help that the book starts with Kalman traveling to President Obama's inauguration. She doesn't tell a straightforward story; she sprinkles some text with drawings on each page: "The angels are singing on this glorious day," followed by an illustration of an angel, followed by "And we mortals, driving down to Washington, passing white mountains and black mountains of unidentified industrial stuff, listen to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing words from a Bach cantata...'Now is the time of grace.' The heart is racing. And all I can say is hallelujah." (pp. 4-7.)

And all I can say is, calm down, lady, you're just going to the inauguration of another shithead politician. Who actually may be worse than other politicians because he seemed to promise something better, but has turned out to be more aggressively just like every other shithead politician than even I, in all my cynicism, thought he was going to be.

As you can see, it was just the WAY wrong time for me to be reading this book.

There's also lots of stuff in it about the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson, and those parts of the book are vaguely interesting and informative. But everything else about this book, including the fact that most pages have just a few words of text or one drawing (seems wasteful to me), simply annoyed the hell out of me. Friends who liked it have told me they enjoyed the whimsy of it, but I guess my current mood is just beyond whimsy. Ugh. Rarely have I appreciated more the words of Dorothy Parker, who once reviewed a book and said something to the effect that she "didn't want to put it down...I wanted to throw it across the room." I would throw this one across the room, and hard, but I don't want to put a dent in my wall. Gah.

Worst Business Books 2010

Per Robin's fantastic suggestion last week, I thought it might indeed be fun to list some of the business books that most annoyed me on my search for the best business books of the year. They are as follows, in no particular order:

Dave Ramsey's The Money Answer Book. This one I actually reviewed for Library Journal earlier in the year, and it really pissed me off. Ramsey is one of those financial writers who take one simple idea (don't use credit cards) and leverages it to the hilt*; he's known as a financial guru for helping people get and stay out of debt, with a twist of right-wing Christian fanaticism (this book also contains numerous questions and answers about the necessity of tithing to one's church). What REALLY pissed me off about this one is that it's a reprint, but it's a reprint no one cared about updating, because at one point Ramsey refers to the importance of putting the maximum amount toward one's yearly IRA limits, and he cites $3,000 as the individual max, which is wrong (it's 5,000 currently). Now, that is a big error on a pretty basic and important piece of information, and it shouldn't be a hard piece of information to verify during the reprinting process. Lame, super lame. Wonder what Ramsey's faith says about greediness in reprinting books quickly for the maximum amount of profit. I suppose if he gives 10% of that profit to his church all will be forgiven.**

Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us, by John Quiggin. It's got a catchy title and cover, but this is still a very dry academic text about popular economic ideas and how they don't always hold up.

Overhaul: An Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry, by Steven Rattner. I was hoping for more out of this one, but it is just TOO BORING. What I'd like to read on this subject is a really good, insightful, and short article about it by someone like William Langewiesche.

The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. This one ended up on a lot of other "best business books" lists this year, but I thought it was completely dull and never really did figure out what the authors were saying. Under the heading "What to Expect in this Book" the authors say this: "Pull is about expanding our awareness of what is possible and evolving new dispositions, mastering new practices, and taking new actions to realize those possibilities." (p. 6.) Bleah. I ask you, doesn't that sound like an undergraduate trying to pad with business research paper with words that don't mean anything? Snore.***

Those were the biggest offenders. Anyone else read any lousy business books last year and want to share?

*Mr. CR thinks Ramsey is actually pretty good at what he does, making the simple point that some people can't handle credit cards and therefore shouldn't have them. I don't know how a person lives without a credit card, especially if they have to do ANY traveling or purchase anything online, and would argue that the true nuance would be having a credit card but learning to control yourself with it, at which point Mr. CR points out that sometimes nuance is just beyond people. It's a fair point.

**I lied about the no particular order. I hated this one the most.

***No links to books today; I don't want you to buy any of these.

Will someone please explain to me why Jen Lancaster is considered "hilarious"?

Really. I want to understand, and I don't.

My apologies, first off, if you DO find Jen Lancaster amusing. Somebody (or a lot of somebodies) must, because she's a bestselling memoir author who pumps out a memoir a year. But I just don't get it. A million years ago I read her first memoir, Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, about how she lost her spectacularly well-paying job and she and her boyfriend faced being broke, which, for a woman who liked to shop at Prada, was a painful experience. I still remember what I thought: the author was obnoxious and I didn't care at all that she was struggling financially (really, if you make tons of money for a few years, you can't put some of it into savings?*), and it just wasn't that funny. I further thought the book wouldn't go anywhere, and I agreed with lines like this, from an original review of it:

"She's almost gleeful about lacking 'the internal firewall that keeps us from saying almost everything we think,' but she doesn't come off as straightforward, just malicious. (Of course, it's possible she's making up much of her dialogue, which is a little too clever to be believable.)"

Lazy Well, four memoirs later, here we are, with Lancaster's latest title, My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Beinga Dumb Ass Is the New Black or a Culture-up Manifesto.** I know. Why do I keep looking at her memoirs if I can't stand them? It is literally because I want to figure them out. On the one hand, her books read like completely un-edited blog posts, and she seems to think throwing in the word "ass" (and referring to herself as a "dumb ass") constitutes the height of comedy. On the other hand, there must be something about these books that I'm missing.

While reading My Fair Lazy (the motif in this memoir is Lancaster's desire to immerse herself in culture and avoid embarrassing situations like the one where she met her idol, Candace Bushnell, who told her she's really into Baudelaire, and Lancaster had no idea who that was) I tried to keep an eye out for quotable bits that annoyed me, but here's the thing: the whole book annoyed me. Maybe a story from the end of the book will be instructive. For context, Lancaster has been invited to a party where Alec Baldwin is; in the course of the evening, her husband even takes a picture of him because he can't believe he's not wearing a belt. So, as Baldwin is leaving, she decides she wants a picture with him, and this is what she tells her friend later about the encounter:

"'Fletch and I kind of chased after him to see if we could get a shot taken together. But Alec was in a rush and had to go but he wanted to make sure he wasn't snubbing someone important by running off to his dinner. He looks at me--not rude or anything, just direct--and goes, 'I'm sorry, who are you?'

I run my hands through my newly extension-free hair and continue. 'And somehow every single thing I've worked on for all these months totally flew out the window, and I looked him dead in the eye and said, 'New York Times bestselling author, motherfucker.'" (p. 366.)

Now, I sincerely hope she's exaggerating for the sake of story. Otherwise, that's obnoxious (and not in a good way) and I'm on Alec Baldwin's side. You know, maybe when your husband was taking a picture of a beltless Alec Baldwin, earlier in the evening, THAT would have been the time to ask him for a photo, not when he had to get somewhere else.

So please: someone, anyone. Tell me why this woman is, in fact, a New York Times bestselling author.

*I call this "Jerry Maguire Syndrome." My brother couldn't stand the movie Jerry Maguire, primarily because he refused to believe that a super-rich sports agent wouldn't have had some money saved up.

**I also hate her stupid long subtitles.

The Great Fiction Reading Adventure of 2010: Part 3

I did not read exclusively mysteries or thrillers during my Great Summer Fiction Read of 2010 (although I know it is starting to sound that way). I also read a romance by Nora Roberts titled Vision in White. After finishing it, I have just the one questions about Nora Roberts:

What's all the hubbub, bub?

Vision I chose to read a Nora Roberts because the woman is a publishing behemoth. For all intents and purposes, she is to romance what James Patterson is to thrillers. It's stated at Wikipediathat she's published more than 165 novels*, and she sold more than 12 million books in 2005 alone. I've been meaning to read her for years, figuring you can't say you've read any romance until you've read one of hers. Plus, I'd always heard that she was quite a good writer.

I didn't see it. I mean, the book was okay, but I can't say I even really enjoyed it the way I've enjoyed many other romances over the years (particularly the spicier titles by Lori Foster and Erin McCarthy, or historical romances set in the Regency period). In this novel, Roberts is clearly opening what is going to be a series of four books about four women friends who work together in their own wedding planning firm. This title focuses on Mackensie "Mac" Elliot, a professional photographer who has some trust issues, mainly as a result of her mother Linda's often-married-and-divorced lifestyle (and her continuing habit of contacting Mac only when she needs help or more money). So when Mac meets Carter Maguire, a local teacher who had a crush on her way back when, she has to work through those issues, even though Carter's pretty much perfect for her (and everyone can see it except Mac).

Ho-hum. Like I said, it's all right, but the prose struck me as workmanlike (and not in a good way--in a "I need to turn out three more of these titles this year yet, can't be bothered to fuss with graceful sentences" way) and the characters are dull, dull, dull. There's a few steamy scenes, but again, they're not so much titillating as they are fill-in-the-blank. I know. Once you write 165+ of these things, how creative can you be? But still:

"Mac crouched to aim up as the bride and her father stood at the top of the stairs, holding hands. As the bride's music swelled, he lifted his daughter's hand to his lips, then to his cheek.

Even as she took the shot, Mac's eyes stung.

Where was her own father? she wondered. Jamaica? Switzerland? Cairo?

She pushed the thought and the ache that came with it aside, and did her job.

Using Emma's candlelight, she captured joy and tears. The memories. And stayed invisible and separate." (pp. 18-19.)

Yeah, I'm sticking with "ho-hum." Anyone a big Nora Roberts fan? Is her earlier stuff better? Her historical stuff? Please enlighten me as to why this woman is making money hand over fist for what seems to me a perfect example of "Madlibs Romance"--formula at its least inventive, just plugging in the different names.

*I know I shouldn't be using Wikipedia as a reference source. But I was originally just going to state Roberts's sales as being in the "a lot a lot" category, so I wasn't really gunning for complete and total accuracy.

Oooh, this is just too delicious.

Note: No new post today (Friday) as I am in the middle of a couple of books, but I just wanted to add to the below that if you have any interest whatsoever in how historians sometimes fudge their research, a great book on the subject is Peter Hoffer's Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud--American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin. It's way more scintillating than the title makes it sound.

I have never been a Stephen Ambrose fan.

Or, to put it another way, I have always felt that Stephen Ambrose is one of the most overrated authors (and a plagiarizer to boot) of the twentieth century. This has puzzled at least one of my reading friends, who sighed when she first heard my anti-Ambrose rants and said, "Oh, honestly, how can you like nonfiction and not like Stephen Ambrose?" It's very simple, really. Ambrose writes about subjects that are not at the top of my interests list, and he writes about them with a tone I don't care for : male adventure (yay!), World War II (double yay!), camaraderie under pressure* (the biggest yay of all!). And what was his defense of his plagiarism, particularly in the book The Wild Blue? Well, he just forgot to put quotes around passages that he lifted wholesale from other books.**

I also have memories of what seemed like a double standard for male and female historians from when I worked at a public library; I could never get older male readers to try Doris Kearns Goodwin ("She's a plagiarizer!") they all said, but they would happily read each new Ambrose title as it came along. (How they heard the news story about Goodwin plagiarizing, but not Ambrose, I'll never know.) Recently I was also annoyed to stumble across yet another history of World War II, titled The Pacific, and written by--you guessed it--none other than Ambrose's son Hugh Ambrose. Oh brother. Lots of authors have now profited off the perennial popularity of the "Good War," but the Ambrose family appears to be turning the profiteering into a family dynasty.

So, yes, I'll admit it: I was rather titillated to visit yesterday and find this little news snippet: "In this week’s New Yorker, writer Richard Rayner reports that the late historian Stephen Ambrose fabricated interviews with former President Eisenhower for the books that brought Ambrose to fame. The information is based on discoveries by Tim Rives, the deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library."

But enough of my invective. Go read Rayner's article--it's short and very, very interesting. And it gives one even more food for thought on the nature of "truth" and nonfiction.

*I fully admit that I have never been impressed by the war platitude that every guy is just doing it for the guy next to them. That's the way everybody in war feels, so who's to tell who's right? Also, camaraderie under pressure is easy to have; solidarity is easy when everyone's in the shit. Camaraderie when there's no pressure would be a lot more impressive.

**Um, Stephen? That is the definition of plagiarism.

Friday short takes.

Ah, the weekend, she's almost here. And I for one am glad.

Nothing particularly pithy today (or any day, yes, thank you, hecklers), just a few short takes on this Friday morning.

I went to look at Joseph Stiglitz's new book Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy yesterday, and it looked quite interesting. But I have to face reality in that 1. I don't have the heart to read it right now, and 2. it's well-written, but it's still pretty dense stuff and I'm not going to have the time to read it right now. So then I flipped to the back to take a wander through the index (I do this a lot; I find that doing indexing has helped me develop the skill of looking at an index and gleaning a lot of information about a book that way) when I was shocked to find that THERE WAS NO INDEX. What the hell? In a complex book about finance and economics? W. W. Norton and Co, and Mr. Stiglitz, you should be ASHAMED of yourselves. I'm no economist but I could tell you how to make one person's economy better: hire a freelance indexer, you cheap bastards.

I only got about two chapters into Ian Mortimer's book The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, and it's a bit too dense to recommend for pleasure reading, but it's a lot of fun nonetheless. I wish there were books like this for every century (and location)--Mortimer talks about every aspect of the 14th century, from costume to traveling to health to eating and drinking to the law (among many other topics), and it's all written in the form of a friendly guidebook introducing you to the culture. Super cool stuff.

Bellfield Anna Dean's Bellfield Hall: Or, the Observations of Miss Dido Kent. If you're a Jane Austen or Regency fan run, don't walk, to get this title. It has nothing to do with Austen, but is set in her time period and features witty writing somewhat similar to hers. And its heroine is named "Dido Kent." You've got to love that. At least I did.

And that's it! Enjoy the weekend, folks, life's too short not to. Or, alternatively, sometimes it feels too damn long. Either way grab a good book and tell the rest of the world to buzz off for a couple of days.

Really, Michael Pollan?

I am thoroughly disgusted with Michael Pollan's new book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

Rules This did not come as a complete surprise, as I have never been a huge Michael Pollan fan. I know many people who enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I don't think it was a bad book, but (here's a surprise) it was too long for me. And In Defense of Food was one of those books that seemed redundant to me--if you were the kind of person to read In Defense of Food, I figured it was probably likely you were the type of person who least NEEDED to read In Defense of Food. (It is wrong to stereotype. But I figured most readers of that book were probably fairly well-off people, who get a charge out of going to farmers' markets and "getting to know their farmers," and who had the time and money to worry about the origins of their food.) But still, it wasn't a terrible book, and to each their own, although, for my money, I prefer books about agriculture and society by Wendell Berry, or cookbooks by Mark Bittman.

But Food Rules is nothing but a 140-page distillation of In Defense of Food (which the author himself summed up in only seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.") with a few other folksy bits thrown in. Divided into three parts (what should I eat?, what kind of food should I eat?, and how should I eat?), each "chapter" consists of a rule (in large type) and a short explanation, such as "Eat only foods that will eventually rot," followed by information like "the more processed a food is, the longer the shelf life, and the less nutritious it typically is." What's really annoying is when the rules start to resemble each other, particularly early on; on page 9 you find "avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry," and on page 17, you have "avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce." Hmm.

I have looked the book over and can't discern if any of the money from its publication is going to a charity or something, which would be the only excuse. Otherwise I am going to assume that Pollan was simply looking for a way to squeeze a few more bucks out of his fans. What really hurts me is the fact that all libraries probably had to purchase multiple copies of this little money-grab (as there is usually high demand for Pollan titles of any kind), and for each $11 copy they had to buy, they couldn't buy a different book that had something new or different or better to say. Bah!

Memoir moratorium.

Every horrible review you've read of Julie Powell's Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, is right on.

I was not a huge fan of Powell's bestselling memoir Julie and Julia; I read it mainly because I love Julia Child and I was curious about it. When I read it I thought it was easy to see that it was compiled from blog posts, and not very cohesively at that. The story was okay, but I thought it could have used a lot tighter editing.*

Cleaving So when she published this, her second memoir, I knew I probably wouldn't love it, but I actually got curious after reading some bad reviews of it. (This is why I never mind "bad" reviews. Sometimes they pique my interest more than positive ones do.) So I read a lot of it over the weekend, getting to maybe the halfway point before I had to stop. The story is, once again, fairly simple: Powell decides she wants to learn how to be a butcher, so she apprentices herself in a butcher shop a couple of hours away from her home in New York City. At the same time, she is experiencing a rocky period in her marriage--primarily because she has been having an affair (that she doesn't want to stop) for some time, and her husband knows about it.

For whatever reasons, I really enjoyed the bits where she discussed her growing mastery of meat cutting techniques. (I've been ridiculously hungry for burgers and steaks lately, which probably increased my fascination.) But the parts about her affair and marriage? Too weird for me, man, by half. When I got to the part where she went out and engaged in "the worst sex in the world with a total stranger" in order to forget her lover and then immediately texted him about it, I not only put this book down, never to return, but I have now placed a moratorium on all memoirs for at least a week. Uch. Rough sex with strangers and a foodie hook. Is this all it takes to get a memoir deal these days?

*I say this as a blogger: blog posts are not really writing, and books simply thrown together from blog posts are not really books.

Dude, if you think zoos are okay, you've lost most of your credibility with me.

After all my complaining about it, I still ended up reading a lot of Jonathan Safran Foer's nonfiction manifesto Eating Animals.

It really wasn't for me. First off, Foer explains one of the larger reasons why he decided to investigate America's food supply (and factory farming specifically), as:

Eating "Unexpected impulses struck when I found out I was going to be a father. I began tidying up the house, replacing long-dead lightbulbs, wiping windows, and filing papers. I had my glasses adjusted, bought a dozen pairs of white socks, installed a roof rack on top of the car and a 'dog/cargo divider' in the back, had my first physical in half a decade...and decided to write a book about eating animals..."

And, a few pages later:

"As my son began life and I began this book, it seemed that almost everything he did revolved around eating. He was nursing, or sleeping after nursing, or getting cranky before nursing, or getting rid of the milk he had nursed. As I finish this book, he is able to carry on quite sophisticated conversations, and increasingly the food he eats is digested together with stories we tell. Feeding my chld is not like feeding myself: it matters more." (p. 11.)

Brother. Yes, I know your life changes completely when you have children, blah blah blah, but it's never been my favorite reason for authors to write their books. For one thing it always seems like kind of a prick move to me--maybe you could think about the state of the world before it becomes important to you because you now have children to worry about? Maybe even if you don't have kids you should be thinking about some of these things? Anyway. That's a small, very personal quibble.

It's not that I disagree with Foer, really. I don't think factory farming is right either. I didn't enjoy reading the chapter about how the chicken you buy in the supermarket is "water-cooled" after it is processed, which means it cools in what industry insiders refer to as its own "fecal soup." It's just that most of his arguments fall flat with me. I was particularly annoyed when he talked about taking his son to zoos and thinking about animals--as I think zoos are maybe as cruel to animals as factory farming is (except zoo animals aren't put out of their misery by premature deaths, but are rather kept alive to be gawked at in their tiny little cages).

It's also telling to me that my favorite part of the book was the part not actually written by Foer, but rather by a person who works in the chicken industry (whom Foer quotes):

"It's a different world from the one I grew up in. The price of food hasn't increased in the past thirty years. In relation to all other expenses, the price of protein stayed put...

People have no idea where food comes from anymore. It's not synthetic, it's not created in a lab, it actually has to be grown. What I hate is when consumers act as if farmers want these things, when it's consumers who tell farmers what to grow. They've wanted cheap food. We've grown it. If they want cage-free eggs, they have to pay a lot more money for them. Period." (p. 96.)

I want to read a book written by THAT guy. He seems to have a better grip on reality than Foer.

In all? There's at least two books out there that are MUCH better than this one: Mark Bittman's Food Matters, and Catherine Friend's The Compassionate Carnivore. I would highly suggest reading either one (or both!) of those books instead.

Back away from the nonfiction, James Patterson.

Normally I'm content to live and let live where author James Patterson is concerned. Sure, I think he's an unbelievable hack and all that is wrong with the state of American fiction and consumers' current reading habits. But, as he typically writes (or contracts with others to write) thrillers, which are not my cup of tea, I don't tend to think much about him at all. I don't, for example, hate him with the heat of a thousand white-hot suns, the way I hate Thomas Friedman. Thomas Friedman is special for me that way.

Tut But now the man is starting to come out with nonfiction titles, which is where I'm going to have to draw the line. His first title was a "medical thriller" titled Against Medical Advice (co-authored with Hal Friedman), which I glanced at but didn't read. I did note, however, that it was at least superficially a book that could pass for adult reading--more than twenty words on a page, chapters that were sometimes longer than 2 or 3 pages, and at least a half-hearted attempt at putting together a cohesive medical tale. But now? Now he's come out with something called The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King--A Nonfiction Thriller (it's co-authored by Martin Dugard). I thought, well, I'm interested in Egypt. I thought, I should really keep up with what Patterson is doing, because readers do seem to love him. So I checked it out.

And, much like Jodi Picoult, I find that nobody can illustrate quite how bad James Patterson is better than Patterson himself. I submit, from the second chapter:

"'This is James Patterson calling. Is Michael around? I have a mystery story to tell him.'

As most people would expect, I love a good mystery, and I thought I might have unearthed a real doozy to write about, which was why I had put in a call to my editor at Little, Brown, Michael Pietsch, who is also the publisher.

As I waited for Michael to come on the line--he usually takes my calls, night or day*--I looked around my second-floor office. Am I completely mad? I wondered.

The last thing I needed right now was another writing project. I already had a new Alex Cross novel on the fires, and a Women's Murder Club brewing, and a Maximum Ride to finish. In fact, there were twenty-four manuscripts--none of them yet completed--laid out on the expansive desk surface that occupies most of my office..."

The mystery that Patterson was calling Pietsch about was a book about the life and supposed murder of King Tut, with alternating chapters from 1300s BC, and the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries  when Howard Carter was excavating Tut's tomb. Even a cursory glance at his book indicates something is slightly off. If your third-grader brought this book home, you would look it over and say, "Honey, shouldn't you be reading something harder than this by now? Where are my tax dollars going?" It literally looks like an easy reader for kids just out of picture books.

I should have put in the half hour it would have taken to read the whole thing so I could critique it properly, but I'm now getting to an age where I am too protective of each of my half-hours. Fie on you, Patterson, and your book assembly line.

*I'll bet he takes your calls, since I'm assuming you've made him massively rich and he is, in fact, probably contractually obligated to kiss your ass at all times.

Authors to boycott.

Lately I've been seeing a lot of new book releases that have me thinking, "God, I hate [insert author name here] and I wish we could set up an Author Boycott." I've actually been thinking of listing those authors I consider boycottable in the sidebar, sans links to their books, but then I thought, do I really want to be reminded of all the authors that annoy me on a daily basis? Not so much. So I've decided to work out all my crank* here, today, in a special Fall 2009 edition of "Authors I Dislike on Principle, Even Though That's Not Very Open-Minded of Me."

1. Mitch Albom. Albom is the male equivalent of Jodi Picoult, and reading him is making our nation dumber by the minute. This fall he has come out with another book supposedly designed to instill quasi-religious self-discovery in his readers (Have a Little Faith), but which is really produced and sold only to make Mitch Albom yet another bucketful of money, since evidently he didn't invest the bucketful of money he's already made from Tuesdays with Morrie wisely. Albom is also noteworthy for getting in trouble for reporting on a basketball game as though he was there (which he wasn't) when he was a sports reporter. What did Morrie have to say about the ethics of that one, Mitch?

Superfreak 2. The Freakonomics guys have come out with Superfreakonomics, which is actually subtitled "Global cooling, patriotic prostitutes, and why suicide bombers should buy life insurance," but which might as well be titled "hey, our first shitty book, wherein we just made stuff up and tied it to economics and statistical theory with the most tenuous of links, sold really well, mainly because we wrote about all shocking and provocative topics and stuff." Other researchers have pointed out how their oh-so-controversial (by book-selling design) "abortion has lowered crime" conclusion** from their first book is based on flawed research; I'm sure, given a little time, similar articles could (and hopefully will?) be written debunking each chapter in this new piece of pseudoscientific trash. In his defense, Levitt got it completely right when he was interviewed on The Daily Show and pointed out that he's no scientist. I couldn't agree more, sir. Anyone who accepts this book as acceptable "nonfiction" never gets to complain about the lack of facts and/or "truth" in the nonfiction publishing sector, ever again.

3. Jonathan Safran Foer, whose appeal as a novelist I have never understood, has written a book about his newly minted vegetarianism titled Eating Animals. Thankfully, I don't have to pick on this one; Jessa Crispin over at Bookslut has already done that for me. Here's what she had to say: "I am trying so hard to be nice to Jonathan Safran Foer, by which I mean I am trying to forget he exists on this planet. His book Eating Animals, however, is making this goal very, very difficult. It was bad enough when he was writing shitty novels, but now he's indulging in my least favorite form of nonfiction: the 'I have never thought about this thing before until now, and despite the fact that other people have thought about this for years and wrestle daily with the implications, I think my brand new thoughts should be shared with the world.'" Amen, sister. Also? I don't like anyone who picks on Anthony Bourdain. Don't pick on Bourdain, dude. You're going to lose. He's smarter than you AND he has a sense of humor.

4. Any author whose book is being sold for $10 this week, and I'm looking at you, Barbara Kingsolver and John Grisham. I don't know if you had any say in that, but if you could've said no to that and didn't, I'll be very unhappy with you. Like it isn't hard enough for new authors to break into the system, now you're using your fame to offer your books at half the prices of theirs? What is the point of that?

5. Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. Woman power, life changes, midlife crises, will marriage consume me?, blah blah blah. I know. As the cynical daughter of a no-nonsense farm woman, I have no business even looking at a Sue Monk Kidd book. But I can never help myself, particularly when she helps her daughter to get in on the publishing bounty of schmaltzy womanly topics (another master of this is Jeffrey Zaslow: see The Girls from Ames). Consider Sue's story about getting her own wedding dress: "It was the first wedding dress I tried on. I fell in love with it at first sight, but when I noticed the price, my heart sank. Six hundred dollars, a fortune.*** I tried to be stoic about it, and Mother and I kept looking, trudging from shop to shop, until finally she proclaimed she didn't care what the dress cost, we were going back to get it. 'It's only money,' she said, as if steeling herself." (p. 150.) Now THAT is the proper way to go into a marriage, caring only that you get what is perfect for yourself, no matter how much your loved ones have to scrimp and save to get it for you. That's beautiful, man.

Okay, I think that's it. Thanks for letting me vent, especially going into the weekend--I feel a lot better! Have a nice one, all.

*Well, a lot of my crank, anyway. I've got crank to spare so expecting to dump it all in one day's worth of posting is probably unrealistic.

**Full disclosure: I am in fact anti-abortion so that conclusion particularly annoyed me, especially in light of how the authors massaged their data to arrive at it. It's only fair you know of my bias; but I think even without that I would think the Freakonomics books are poor examples of "nonfiction." They are, however, good examples of a tenet I believe in, which is that you can make numbers and statistics prove anything you want them to prove.

***Please note: that's 600 dollars in 1968 money. Anybody know what that amounts to today? Oh wait, I do, thanks to The Inflation Calculator: "What cost $600 in 1968 would cost $3673.94 in 2008." 

He's American, all right... he seems to be becoming less funny and less enjoyably weird by the minute.

Ferguson I was totally pumped to see Craig Ferguson's new memoir, American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, on bookstore shelves.* I love his accent (of course), I enjoyed his movie Saving Grace, I loved his completely weird novel Between the Bridge and the River, and I've always found him a somewhat surreal and enjoyable talk show host (particularly when he's interviewing other Scots).

But this memoir? Yawn. It's not only that it's a fairly typical show business memoir (he was enthralled by the U.S. the first time he visited, as a teenager; he had a tough rise to stardom; he is a recovering alcoholic), it's that there's very little that sparkles in the telling of it. I know. It is churlish of me to expect to be entertained by a man's struggle with the demons of fame desired and fame achieved, not to mention alcoholism.** But he is an entertainer, so I can't feel my expectations were completely unseemly. Here's a fairly typical passage:

"As I dozed on the farty rattly airplane on the way home, I thought about my short conversation with the president.***

We had been talking about Scotland; he had visited for a while when he was younger and expressed a sort of puzzled awe at the amount of drinking that was done there, hinting that he had taken part in a farily major way. We talked a little bit about the dangers of booze. I've been sober for seventeen years and, according to rumor, he himself a little longer than that.

'It's a long way from where I've been to standing here talking to the president,' I told him.

'It's a long way from where I could've ended up to being the president,' he replied.

'Only in America,' he chuckled.

We clinked our glasses of sparkling water.

'Damn straight, Mr. President,' I said.

And I believe it." (p. 7.)

All in all? It hurts me to say it, but give this one a miss.

*I was also pumped to see him wearing a kilt on the cover; I still think he's a cutie and hey, he's got nice legs.

**After all, Russell Brand's My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up, covered much the same territory, and still managed to be entertaining.

***Ferguson hosted the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2008; the president to whom he was speaking was George W. Bush.

The death knell for fiction.

And who sounded it for me? Lorrie Moore, that's who.

For various reasons I got on the hold list pretty early for her new novel, A Gate at the Stairs. And none of them were bad reasons. For one, if I can remember correctly, I actually kind of enjoyed her novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? For another, she works in the city where I live. Also? I write for a reader's advisory database (the fabulous Reader's Advisor Online--and yes, I'm completely unbiased*) and I thought this would be a big fiction title that I should know something about. The consequences of all of those reasons were that my Friday night reading was given over to this book, and what a waste of a night it was. Folks,** this novel is one hot mess.


Now, I'm actually getting weary of enumerating ways in which modern novels suck. (I'm not going to touch the new Dan Brown with a ten-foot pole, sorry, I actually read the Da Vinci Code all the way through and so have completed that homework.) But I think I can tackle this one in a short paragraph: there isn't any subject that Moore doesn't throw in to this novel for maximum effect. We have, just to name a few: 1. a young woman, Tassie Keltjin's, coming of age, in a college city and away from her rural Wisconsin farm upbringing; 2. her mother is a Jewish woman stuck on the farm who seems vaguely unhappy with her lot; 3. Tassie goes to work for an older woman in her college town as a nanny; 4. The child she's nannying is a biracial girl that the older woman has adopted; 5. She falls in love and has a tempestuous physical love affair with a man named Reynaldo; 6. Oh yeah, the events of 9/11; 7. She deals with racism on the street when people yell at her and the biracial child; 8. The marriage of the couple for whom she nannies is falling apart; 9. her younger brother signs up for the military and gets shipped out--guess what happens; and 10. the woman for whom she nannies has a secret past that means she can't handle life with her new adopted daughter.

And somehow? With all that? I was so bored I kept falling asleep, and I never could remember if the main character's name was Tessie or Tassie. Those don't seem like good signs.

Thank you, Lorrie Moore.*** I am officially off fiction until further notice.

*I went to journalism school, people, and if there's one thing you learn, it's that you must at all costs act like you are objective, even when we all know that's impossible.

**The second thing you learn in journalism school is to put a human face on your stories and never, never to sound too elite; hence, "folks." Don't knock it. It got George W. Bush elected twice, and he didn't even have to go to j-school to learn it.

***Moore also didn't have the balls just to set the book in Madison, Wisconsin, although there's some pretty clear references to the city. (Other reviewers have pointed out her "isn't it so cute?" attitude toward Madison in interviews like this one, as well.) Okay. The next time you have your characters visiting a sex supply store in a fictional city, Ms. Moore, at least don't give it the same name as the most well-known erotica shop in the city you're NOT setting your novel in.

This just in: It hurts me to disagree with Bookslut, but I don't think I can agree with Amy Hanridge's review of this book. At one point she even compares Moore to Carol Shields, which also hurts me. It's like comparing Jodi Picoult favorably with Anne Tyler. Yikes. Do yourself a favor; skip this book and read anything by Carol Shields instead.

Jesus Christ Almighty.

I have been having a very cranky week where books are concerned. First, there was this news:

James Patterson signs 17-book deal with Hachette: "He has agreed to a 17-book deal with his longtime publisher, the Hachette Book Group -- an unthinkable commitment for most writers, but for Patterson a mere three years worth of work."

I know there are bigger problems in the world, but that's just ucky.

And then it continued, just one of those weeks where every new book I read about annoyed me on principle. Have you ever had one of those days? Where you cast about for a book to read, and although there were many good choices available, and you knew it, you were just looking for something different, and all you kept coming across were new books like Katrina Kenison's* memoir The Gift of an Ordinary Day, the advertising copy for which reads:

"Kenison, here at middle age with two sons in their teens, pursues with graceful serenity a time of enormous upheaval and transformation in her family's life. As her sons grew out of babyhood and into the 'new, unknown territory' of adolescence, she no longer felt clear about what her life's purpose was supposed to be; their comfortable suburban Boston house of 13 years grew restraining, and Kenison longed for a simpler, more nature-connected lifestyle."

Again, something about that just makes me tired. Now, I am not the target audience for parenting memoirs, or books on women's midlife crises. But must they all sound like this? (I was annoyed with Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for the same vague reasons--"look, middle-aged woman changing her life! She's becoming more genuine! She can be a famous novelist AND an earth mother!") It didn't help to learn that Kenison's first memoir is titled Mitten Strings for God.**

So. Here I am. Books all around but too cranky to read any of them. Does anyone have any good suggestions? Some good, nonsentimental nonfiction? Novels that didn't make you want to toss them after 50 pages? Even poetry that you like? I'm desperate for something to love over here.

*Kenison was the longtime series editor for The Best American Short Stories series, so it's become rather clearer why I haven't found a whole lot of stories in that series over the past decade that really spoke to me.

**That's really the title. I would never joke about mitten strings or God, much less mitten strings FOR God. Sounds like a great name for an ironic college band or something, though, doesn't it?

David Denby, you're the most boring man alive.

And if you want to call that snark, that's okay with me.

David Denby is one of those nonfiction authors I keep trying, even though I've never, ever read anything of his that made me say, "Yeah, that's right!" He's a film critic for The New Yorker magazine, which goes a long way toward explaining why I never really find anything I like reading in The New Yorker.

Snark His latest book is titled Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation. Denby spends 128 pages describing what he thinks is and isn't snark, which he defines as "a strain of nasty, knowing abuse spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation--a tone of snarking insult provoked and encouraged by the new hybrid world of print, television, radio, and the Internet." Of course that's not all there is to it; he goes on for some time describing what snark ISN'T (it's not Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; it's not Internet "trolls," it's not irreverence or spoof.)

I'd like to offer a better overview of Denby's premise, but I think the major weakness of his work is that he never really gets around to explaining it himself. Instead he gets all sanctimonious, at the end of his first chapter:

"We are in a shaky moment, a moment of transition, and I think it's reasonable to ask: What are we doing to ourselves? What kind of journalistic culture do we want?...Journalism is a vast sea of good and bad, but surely some demands can be made, and the distinction between toughness and cynicism, incisiveness and fatuous sarcasm, satire and free-floating cruelty--these are differences worth fighting for in any medium."

Whatever, Mr. Denby. Methinks someone sniffed a market for erudite earnestness (also known as the same people who purchased Harry Frankfurt's dreadfully dull but creatively titled books On Bullshit and On Truth) and decided to exploit it for all it was worth. I expected no less of the man who wrote Great Books, one of the few boring books about books I've ever read, a compilation of his not-so-fascinating remarks on the great books of Western civilization, and American Sucker, about his adventures losing money in the stock market he wasn't smart enough to exploit before the dot-com bubble burst.* I don't care if you need the money, Mr. Denby, but for once would you consider selling out by writing an interesting book?

Yes, this is all very snarky. And I'm doing it on the Internet, on one of those disgusting snarky little blogs. So be it. Not all of us can luck onto film reviewing gigs because we were disciples of Pauline Kael.

*I probably shouldn't be so mean about this. He got into the stock market because he was going through a messy divorce and wanted to make enough money to be able to buy his wife's half of their New York apartment so he could stay in it.

Holy shit, Thomas Friedman, you are a pig.

Many thanks to alert reader Katharine,* who threw caution to the wind and evidently wagered that I don't have a blood pressure problem or heart condition when she decided to comment on an earlier post to let me know that Thomas Friedman, he of the porn stache, charges $70,000 for his speaking engagements. As quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal:

"Journalist Thomas Friedman’s hefty speaking fee cost him a chance at being chosen for UW-Madison’s common book read program, Go Big Read.

His book “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” was one of five finalists for the program’s first book, but his fee of $70,000 — which has been the subject of some controversy of late — was too pricey for UW-Madison’s budget, said Sara Guyer, interim director of the UW-Madison Center for Humanities and a member of the book selection committee.

Instead, Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” was chosen by Chancellor Biddy Martin. Pollan was already scheduled to visit to campus this fall at a rate of $15,000, sponsored by a number of sources including the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Pollan will now likely be paid more than that because his visit will be extended for activities surrounding Go Big Read, but his contract hasn’t been finalized, Guyer said."

I can't say I'm crazy about the choice of the Pollan book either, but it does beat the Friedman book. Wow. I would like to see an Ultimate Cage Match between Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Zaslow, but I can't say I'd be cheering for either one to emerge victorious out of the cage.

*Incidentally? You are the best, Katharine.

Stop rewarding this man.

Welcome back!

Well, I'm feeling cranky about a book, so it must be time to start posting again. I'm not sure I'll be back on the full five-day schedule right away, but I'll do my best. I didn't get all the dandelions, but I got a lot of them, and I'm still behind on some projects, but that's no surprise. I wouldn't know how to work if I weren't motivated by being behind.

So what am I cranky about? Well, the other day I was looking at some new nonfiction titles and some bestseller lists, just trying to keep up with the ol' nonfiction world (although I've been reading more fiction of late...details on that to come!), when I saw the title The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship, by Jeffrey Zaslow.

Hm, I thought. Now that's a title I normally wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. (It's got "sentimental" written all over it, and I've never been one of those gals who needed a big ol' circle of women friends, primarily because I have two awesome sisters.) But, I wondered. Jeffrey Zaslow. Why did that name sound familiar?

I went on my merry way, but I kept seeing the book pop up, and I kept thinking, "Zaslow. Why do I know that name?" And finally I remembered that I live in the 21st century and I could easily Google his name. And then it all became clear. Remember one of last year's biggest sentimental claptrap titles, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch? (Dying professor gives last lecture to students, dripping with life wisdom and acceptance of one's mortality and all that jazz?) It was co-authored by Jeffrey Zaslow.

So, this year, because evidently The Last Lecture didn't make him enough money, Zaslow has decided to cash in on another trend, the importance of women's friendships (particularly as baby boomers, who have always been rather, let's say, fond of themselves, age and start to look back on their lives, experiences, and friendships), and has produced The Girls from Ames. It's about ten women friends (eleven, originally; one member of the group died at age 22) who went to school together in Ames, Iowa, and have stayed in touch.

There's really very little to review here. It's exactly the kind of book that you would think it is: it tells stories of how the girls met, where they all ended up, what challenges they've faced, who they married and how many kids they've had, and how they've all changed (or not changed) as they've aged. It's serviceably written and if you're into this kind of thing, I'm sure it's a fine read. And parts of it are very poignant--some of them had bad experiences in high school and college; one of them died too young; some of them have divorced and had children die; etc. And that's okay. Sometimes you need a good sappy read. (I'm guilty of that myself; see my enjoyment of Vicki Myron's Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.) But I've got a couple of issues with this book:

1. First of all, why is this dude writing it? I know he wants to understand women and all, but for this type of book, I'd rather just see a woman take it on. For this reason, rather than this book, I'd suggest Cheryl Jarvis's The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Transformed Their Lives. Although it wasn't about lifetime friends, its premise that one woman advertised to find a group of women who would share ownership of an expensive piece of jewelry with her, and how they became friends, seemed less, you know, like a man telling a story of women's friendships mainly for profit.

Ames 2. This is how the book is described at Amazon: "It demonstrates how close female relationships can shape every aspect of women’s lives – their sense of themselves, their choice of men, their need for validation, their relationships with their mothers, their dreams for their daughters – and reveals how such friendships thrive, rewarding those who have committed to them." I found the "need for validation" clause EXTREMELY obnoxious. As though to be a woman is to have a need for validation.* I say, fuck that. And you can agree with me or not, I don't care. But wait. I am a woman, so I should care. Please agree with me? I need the validation.

3. I realize the above is the fault of some underpaid publishing assistant who is writing jacket copy, but this line, found on page 15, I'm going to blame completely on Zaslow: "As a clique, they had a reputation for being flirts--more social than academic, and more apt to tease boys than to please them. In reality, though, most of the Ames girls were very good students. And a couple of them actually pleased more than they teased."

Puke. So, all I can say is, I wish people would stop rewarding this man by buying his books. If you're desperate for a chicks bonding narrative, I'd look into The Necklace instead, and if you're interested in lifelong relationships, put this title down and invest in Peter Feldstein's and Stephen Bloom's superlative photography book The Oxford Project (which is also set in Iowa!) instead. But suit yourself. I wish I was woman enough to need the validation that your following my advice would provide, but I'm just not.

*And, "dreams for their daughters"? Are they not allowed to dream for their sons?

My mission in life...

...I have decided, is to mock Jodi Picoult mercilessly. I can't help it. I know she's popular. I know a lot of people read her, and we just have to be happy people are reading. I know it's not nice to hate people at all, much less people you've never met. But God, do I hate Jodi Picoult.

Care She's got a new book out, Handle with Care, and if you want to read 477 pages of unrelenting and unrepentant ugliness, consisting of a baby being born with a degenerative disease called OI (osteogenesis imperfecta*) and her mother's wrongful birth lawsuit against her former best friend and OB-GYN (contending that her OB-GYN had seen evidence of the disease early enough in the pregnancy that the mother could have aborted, but had not told her), this is the lighthearted novel for you. Throw in the fact that the mother's a former pastry chef and periodically, weirdly, there are pastry recipes thrown in, and the creepy factor of this novel increases exponentially. Oh, and if there was any doubt as to which character is speaking when, even though each chapter is clearly labeled with that chapter's narrator's name--the chapters are actually printed in different fonts.

My God. Is this what we've come to, as readers? I've watched television and played video games that were more intellectually stimulating than this, so if this is the literature we're clinging to, well...I don't know. But it does make me sad. I don't even understand who can read books this ripped from the headlines, this tragic, not to mention this unbelievably long. I think that's why I keep beating my head against the Picoult wall; short, positive schmaltz I can understand. Although Tuesdays with Morrie was not for me, it was short, and it was uplifting. THAT I can understand. But nearly 500 pages of tragic, depressing, not patrticularly thoughtful schmaltz? Who has the energy to read that after a long day of just trying to make it in this world? I simply do not get it.

Now. Because nobody can illustrate how bad Jodi Picoult is better than Jodi Picoult, here's a little prose sampling. Enjoy:

"For two months now, we had known that you'd be born with OI--osteogenesis imperfecta, two letters of the alphabet that would become second nature. It was a collagen defect that caused bones so brittle they might break with a stumble, a twist, a sneeze. There were several types--but only two presented with fractures in utero, like we'd seen on my ultrasound. And yet the radiologist could still not conclusively say whether you had Type II, which was fatal at birth, or Type III, which was severe and progressively deforming. Now I knew that you might have hundreds more breaks over the years, but it hardly mattered: you would have  a lifetime in which to sustain them." (p. 6.)


"The outcome of this recipe is a work of art, if you can make it through the complicated preparation. Above all else: handle everything with care. This dessert, like you, is gone before you know it. This dessert, like you, is impossibly sweet. This dessert fills me, when I miss you the most."

Ugh. Just re-reading that makes me depressed. Have a good weekend, all.

*To her credit, Picoult does suggest at the end of her book that charitable donations can be made to the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.