Picture Books

Not the most bookmarkable book on bookmarks.

BookmarksI enjoyed the collection Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages by Michael Popek, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped to. The book is a collection of ad hoc "bookmarks" that Popek, a longtime bookseller (it was his family biz) found in used books his family was reselling. The book is organized into five different sections: Photographs; Letters, Cards, and Correspondence; Notes, Poems, Lists, and Other Written Ephemera; Receipts, Invoices, Advertising, and Other Official Documents; The Old Curiosity Shop: and From Four-Leaf Clovers to Razor Blades. Each page shows a bookmark, the book it came out of, and the bib info for the book.

Some of the bookmarks were interesting--old postcards and torn pages out of personal journals were my favorites--but many of the bookmarks (and the books) just weren't all that fascinating. They literally were just old forgotten items, including some very dull indeed receipts and other "ephemera."

Now, perhaps I am a bit jaded. I was looking for something a bit more exciting. But then, I worked at a public library. My most interesting finds in returned books were (in no particular order): kleenexes (used and unused), bandaids (ditto), cat urine, vomit (and the note explaining what it was so I could be quite sure it was vomit), and yes, once, a $50 bill.* But none of those things would photograph well for a collection like this, I suppose.

*Which I still think we should have got to keep and divide, like booty. I say anyone who has that casual a relationship with $50 bills deserves to lose one once in a while.

A nice atmospheric read.

MonsterAlthough I didn't re-read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes for Halloween this year, I did read a YA novel that had kind of a nice autumn atmosphere. (Although it's atmosphere is decidedly not "nice"; it's both a bit scary and very sad, I just mean that the author did a nice job giving it an "autumnal" feel.)

I don't know where I heard about Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, but I'm really glad I brought it home. It's a fascinating little book (which is actually based on an idea by YA author Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could write it into a story) and it's beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay. It's set in Great Britain, and it's about a boy named Conor who has more than a few problems. His mother is sick, he's getting picked on in school, his father's left him and his mother to start a new family in America, and the grandmother he dislikes is about to come stay with him and his mother to help out. If that weren't enough, a monster comes for him. This is how the book starts:

"The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do."

"A monster, Conor thought. A real, honest-to-goodness monster. In real, waking life. Not in a dream, but here, at his window. Come to get him.

But Conor didn't run.

In fact, he found he wasn't even frightened.

All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster revealed itself, was a growing disappointment.

Because this wasn't the monster he was expecting.

'So come and get me then,' he said." (p. 9.)

It's an interesting book, the illustrations are beautiful, and it can be read in about an hour or so. I'd recommend it.

Waste of a perfectly good title.

I get a lot of my nonfiction reading from a pretty basic source: each month my local library system posts a list of new fiction and nonfiction books in their catalog, and each month I scan the list and order up any titles that tickle my fancy.

So imagine my displeasure when Hugh MacLeod's book, with the awesome title Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination, turned out just to be another business self-help book.

And not a very good one at that. MacLeod is the creator of the gapingvoid.com website, and is best known for drawing cartoons on the back of business cards. In this book he adopts a Seth Godin-esque approach to living your dream: be special, dream big, follow your entrepreneurial plan, etc. Here's the basic idea, from page one: "Everybody needs an Evil Plan that gets them the hell out of the rat race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short."

Yeah, yeah. We've heard it all before. Does anyone still believe this stuff? Like this? "Thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier to have an Evil Plan, to make a great living, doing what you love, doing something that matters." p. 1.

In short chapters punctuated by his not-all-that-clever doodles, he holds forth on how you've got to sell not only your product but also your belief system*; how customers have to love your product AND your process; and how you should be overextended doing work you love. It all sounds la-di-da and wonderful, but I challenge you to find someone who can actually make this advice work. (The part about making a great living off the Internet in particular gives me a big chuckle.)

I kept the book in the bathroom for a while, where I read it for giggles, until Mr. CR told me it was depressing him and I had to get rid of it.

*This also puts me in mind of a GREAT quote from the movie Broadcast News, which I recall roughly a million times every day as it is. When Albert Brooks spits out, with such distate, about an anchorman colleague who's more style than substance: "And he'll talk about us all really being salesmen." Such bitterness. Awesome. You should watch the entire movie, but you could also see it here. The pertinent quote is right after the two-minute mark.

The view from Detroit.

Even though I live in the Midwest, I sometimes think about Detroit, and it seems as foreign (if not more so) to me as do cities across the world in other countries and cultures. This mainly started when I found some pictures online of an abandoned building in Detroit that was once used to store textbooks and other school items and supplies (the Book Depository). It just looked so sad. Ever since I saw those I have been looking at and reading books about Detroit.

Detroit I found my latest read* on Detroit while I was poking around online looking for reviews of Paul Clemens's superlative investigative title Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. Detroit Disassembled is a big, gorgeous book of photography, although the photographs are anything beautiful. They document a city in decay.

What we found so jarring about these photographs (Mr. CR carefully looked at the pictures too) is how, whoever abandoned these buildings, seemed to abandon them midway. Nothing seems cleaned out or closed or locked down with any kind of order: in a former high school, desks are piled around haphazardly and science lab equpment sits out on counters; in the book depository, trees grow out of piles of books left jumbled on the floor to rot; in a library branch, the spinner still holds pulp paperbacks. It looks like stills from a horror movie, you know the type, when everyone in a small town just disappears into thin air, leaving their half-eaten meals on a table.

It's a horrible, gorgeous book. It needs to be looked at in conjunction with reading either Paul Clemens's Punching Out or Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. I sometimes wonder if the whole city shouldn't be emptied and left to decay, and then maintained and visited as some sort of post-apocalyptic theme park (you know: see Alan Weisman's book The World without Us, about the process of how cities would go back to trees without us around, in action!). I'm not saying everyone who lives there would have to leave; maybe they could just live in some new buildings across town and then work jobs in the theme park. Or maybe that's too morbid. It was just an idea. Look at this book and tell me if you don't start having similar ideas.

*I say "read." Mainly I just looked at the pictures, although I did skim the essays by the photographer and by Philip Levine.

Graphic Novels: The Challenge, Part 2

As you may or may not know, I started the reading summer out being challenged by Beth to read ten graphic novels. Because I am allergic to being told what to do, I suggested a compromise of me reading two graphic novels. Beth agreed and a mini-challenge was born.

Her first choice for me was Hope Larson's YA graphic novel Mercury; I reviewed that book last week. Another suggestion she made was Hannah Berry's Britten and Brulightly, although she noted it was a bit strange.

Britten Turns out I don't mind strange. This is a completely different novel from Mercury: much different story (crime/mystery/noir), much different art. One of the things that makes it strange (I'm not going to be a spoiler and tell you what it is) didn't really bother me all that much, although I did wonder why Berry used it as a plot point. I thought it would have worked just fine without it. The book opens with Britten describing his career as a private investigator--and his nickname "The Heartbreaker"--earned after telling people what they hired him to find out but which they really don't want to know anyway. I enjoyed that aspect of the story, and the actual mystery he is charged with, very much. Although towards the end I did think the story got both unnecessarily complex (and then was resolved too quickly)*, that's a criticism I have of a lot of modern-day noir and mystery.

But I did love the art of this one. Very dark, with lots of line detail of the city in which the story is set. It reminded me of Paul Madonna's work, which I love, and looked to me the way a graphic novel "should."

So, thanks, Beth. These were both interesting reads and when I passed the graphic novel section of my local library yesterday, I didn't run past it the way I normally do. I slowed down a bit and actually thought about perusing it. (I didn't, but the next time I might! Baby steps.)

*Mr. CR read it too and also thought the ending was too abrupt. Interesting that our reactions to these graphic novels has been quite similar, as we both have quite different reading tastes.

Forget history textbooks.

Camelot I firmly believe all history textbooks in use in schools today should be tossed.

Instead, I think students should just have access to big beautiful books like Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House (by Richard Reeves, with photographs by Cecil W. Stoughton).*

I'm no huge fan of JFK (or Jackie), but I found this a fascinating book to look through. I also really enjoyed the introduction, in which the family's attention to matters of detail, image, and photographs is discussed. Good at PR, they were, those Kennedys (even the coining of "Camelot" came from Jackie herself, in the aftermath of her husband's assassination).

All the photographs have captions, although I'll admit they aren't real in-depth about actual historical events; this is more of a personal history about the Kennedys and many of the ceremonial activities at the White House. But the real value of the book is that it makes me want to read more about this era, and about JFK as president. I've got another book home right now, titled Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books, and I must admit this book has made me more interested in her as well. I'll give her this--one of the most arresting photos in the collection is the one of her making her way, alone, up the portable staircase to the plane on which her husband's body was waiting to be flown back to Washington. That had to be tough--even if your husband was a womanizing jerk.**

*Yes, I know nobody learns by looking at books anymore; when they do learn, they're probably looking at computers. That isn't always the best--when online, you're always looking elsewhere, and not focusing on what's in front of you.

**This is just the phrase that comes to mind when I think about Kennedy. I can't help it.

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.

Kudos to Sedaris for trying something different.

Although I was never a huge David Sedaris fan (preferring essayist David Rakoff, just to be difficult), he's been growing on me of late. I think he tipped the scales when I listened to one of his essays about the medical care he received while in Paris.* It was a hilarious little piece about how he kept worrying about not having insurance, and giving the doctors his contact information in Paris so they could track him down for payment, and the doctors kept reassuring him they didn't need any of that stuff right away, first they were just going to treat him, and how happily shocked he was by the whole experience (as he was familiar with the American way, which belongs more to the "beat payment out, THEN treat illness" school), culminating in his resting in a recovery ward of the hospital, where they let him smoke, which made the whole thing one of his best days ever. Good stuff.

Sedaris So I was excited to get his new essay collection, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. And, although I read half of it and got more than a few chuckles out of it, I'm not going to keep reading it. I'm not sure what they're called, but these are little essays/stories/fables told from animals' points of view, and they're nicely illustrated by Ian Falconer (of "Olivia" picture book fame). The title story, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, is actually quite funny:

"The squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks when they ran out of things to talk about. Acorns, parasites, the inevitable approach of autumn: these subjects had been covered within their first hour, and so breathlessly their faces had flushed. Twice they had held long conversations about dogs, each declaring an across-the-board hatred of them and speculating on what life might be like were someone to put a bowl of food in front of them two times a day. 'They're spoiled rotten is what it comes down to,' the chipmunk had said, and the squirrel had placed his paw over hers, saying, 'That's it exactly. Finally, someone who really gets it.'" (p. 15.)

There's no doubt about it, Sedaris is a sharp guy, and a good humor writer. But I've never been into these types of stories. (Allegories? Is that what they are?) They remind me a bit of James Thurber's humor writing, and although I recognize his talent as well, this kind of fable humor has never been for me. (And some of these tales, much like fairy tales, can get very dark indeed.) I much prefer something straightforward and cutting, by authors like Dorothy Parker. I always feel like I get Dorothy Parker, although I'm sure there's stuff in her essays that I'm missing too.

So: Kudos to Sedaris for mixing things up a bit. But for real reading pleasure I'll probably just get and re-read one of David Rakoff's books.

*I can't for the life of me remember where I heard this essay or what it was called; maybe it was on a "best of..." NPR tape or something.


Introducing Mr. CR to Etsy.

It's embarrassing to admit, as I used to be a reference librarian, but Mr. CR always knows more interesting websites, trivia, and general all-around information than I do. So when I brought home the humor book Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF, I was charmed when Mr. CR told me it was pretty amusing, and set about telling me there must be some crafting website out there known as Etsy. And for once I got to say, "Yes, I know, that's why I got the book." Although I knew about Etsy, I can't say I've ever spent much time there (usually I'm trying to get crafty stuff out of my house, rather than bringing more in).

Regretsy The book's pretty simple in execution (and is based on the website of the same name); each page shows the craft on offer, with its original advertising copy and a brief paragraph having a little fun with it by Winchell. It's divided into sections like "pet humiliation," "art," and "toys and dolls." Also, let me just say: there's an entire section of this book dedicated to "Vulvacraft." That's right. Uteri and vaginas in art, oh my.

It's good stuff. And if you've been wondering where to find that perfect pair of uteri earrings, look no further--the contact info for the sellers highlighted is also included.

Cute, but not a whole lot of substance.

Cat I knew when I saw the title Careers for Your Cat (by Ann Dziemianowicz and illustrations by Ann Boyajian) I would have to check it out. Mr. CR and I have spoken frequently about our own little furry freeloader, and how it's just about time she went out and made the living for us, as she has been sponging free food and lodging off me for fourteen years now. Which made this, in the introduction, all the funnier:

"I've seen it for far too many years. It's always the same scenario. You're toiling away at your job, putting in the overtime to bring home the bacon--and the Fancy Feast--and what is Fluffy, your freeloading, fat cat, doing?...

I'll tell what she isn't doing, she isn't raising one paw to help you." (p. 1.)

This is actually kind of a cute little gift book, consisting of the introduction, some questions under the heading "The Meowers-Briggs Career Test," and then a list of Career Options. The Career Options pages consist only of the job title and a few of the job attributes (Librarian: Polite and reserved, but not unfriendly; likes to curl up with a good book), plus great illustrations of kitty cats. Really, the pictures make the book. If you're the sort of person who's amused by drawings of fat cats wearing ties and other career-appropriate clothing (and I am) then you might still be charmed by this book; otherwise, there's not a lot of content here.

For now, I have to enjoy New York City in pictures.

If I was independently wealthy, I would go to New York City at least once a year. Alas, I am not. So retirement and annual visits to my favorite city in the world will have to wait.

Neighborhoods Until such time as I hit the lottery, I am lucky that other writers and photographers seem to enjoy New York City as well, and that books such as New York: The Big City and Its Little Neighborhoods exist. This is a large-format illustrated book about neighborhoods in the city's boroughs, including Brooklyn's "Little Beirut," the Bronx's "Little Ireland," Manhattan's Chinatown, Queens's "Little Egypt," and "Little Sri Lanka" on State Island (among many others). The author, Naomi Fertitta, grew up in Queens, but moved to Manhattan after college and very rarely left it, until she developed an interest in the city's other boroughs and neighborhoods. The result of that interest is this book.

Each neighborhood chapter includes a 2- or 3-page description, a list of places to visit, and at which to eat and shop, and a number of beautiful photographs. I enjoyed this book very much, but I'll admit I would have enjoyed it more if the photos had included captions. But I really enjoy reading photo captions.* If knowing what you're looking at isn't as important to you, then you won't have any complaints about this book.

*I don't remember for sure, but I'm pretty certain another favorite New York picture book of mine, Steven Jenkins's The Food Life: Inside the World of Food with the Grocer Extraordinaire at Fairway, included photo captions.

A unique picture book.

The other day I read about a book of photographs published by the author Jeff Bridges, titled simply Pictures.* I am a sucker for photography books, and I have always thought Jeff Bridges was a smokin' hottie, so I checked the book out from the library.

Bridges I was not disappointed. Evidently Bridges has a habit of putting together small books of photographs from the films on which he works, and giving them out to fellow cast and crew members as gifts when the production concludes. As a result, many of the photographs in this book offer a real "behind the scenes" look at the magic that is movie-making. Shots of actors and actresses include all the microphones, booms, dollies, ladders, and other pieces of movie detritus along the sides of sets that movie watchers never see. Because Bridges uses something called a Widelux camera (you'll just have to get this book for the explanation of how it works--as is typical with me and technical information, I just skimmed it to get the basic idea of how the camera uses a slower exposure time to capture a broader panoramic view of the subject) his frames include all sorts of wonderful extraneous sights.

It's a big old coffee table book, so you get to enjoy the photographs in oversized glory. I enjoyed it for its broader take on the film world, for Bridges's explanatory notes, and for the reminder that I really, really need to watch The Fabulous Baker Boys one of these days. In all, I haven't been so charmed by a photography book by a movie star since Leonard Nimoy's title The Full Body Project, which featured photography of full-figured women wearing very few clothes.

*Unfortunately, I have forgotten where I first read about this book, because my memory is just laughably bad.

Reading: The love affair continues.

Before I get to today's post, I have to be mercenary for a second and make some announcements about my own writing. (I know: obnoxious. I'll try to be quick.) If by any chance you are a librarian or library staff member, and you are at the PLA conference in Portland today, AND you are reading this blog (what are you doing here? Go to the exhibits and get some free advance reading copies already!), you should know that Nancy Pearl is signing copies of our new book, Now Read This III: A Guide to Mainstream Fiction, at the ABC-CLIO/LU booth (#1723) from 2:30 to 3:30. (Other good signings are taking place there today too.)

Also: A new book about readers' advisory to which I contributed a chapter is now available! The Readers' Advisory Handbook, edited by Jessica Moyer and Kaite Mediatore Stover, has been published by ALA Editions. My chapter is about "Nonfiction Speed Dating"--getting to know nonfiction books in a few easy steps--and if you'e so inclined, you can preview it here (my chapter starts on page 6 of the PDF file). The book also includes contributions about audio books, how to write reviews and annotations, preparing materials like bookmarks and booklists, and how to host author events. Good stuff!

Memoir And now: the love affair with reading stuff. Something you should know about me is that I continue to struggle to find ways to make a living that include reading and writing.* To some extent I have been borderline successful at this, but the thing about reading for a living is that you put in a lot of hours that aren't, for lack of a better term, billable. For example, yesterday I started a book titled Memoir: A History, by Ben Yagoda. I'm reading this book for work, as I hope to review it over at the Reader's Advisor Online blog. But the time it takes me to read the book is time that I can't really bill to anyone. So sometimes I do feel I should stop mucking about, and go back and get a real hourly job already. But then...something happens. I've only read the first chapter of the book so far, and it was wonderful. I took notes, and it felt so good to be learning and doing something that wasn't (to me, anyway) pointless. And it was satisfying because I know something about memoir and many of the landmark titles Yagoda mentions (and everyone sometimes likes to know they know what they should know). So I decided, what the hell. Even if I have to put in ten unpaid hours for every paid one, I am going to find a way to make this life work.

The feeling was compounded when I walked to the library and home yesterday, and picked up a book I had requested, titled Pictures, by Jeff Bridges (yes, the actor). It was big and beautiful and I was so excited it came in that halfway home, when I had a long block to walk, I took it out of my bag and looked at the pictures while I walked. I hadn't done that for ages, and it felt really good. Just for today, if you can--rekindle your love affair with reading. Take a book outside at lunch. Take a small book with you wherever you have to wait in line. Ignore a household duty to read an extra chapter. You'll feel better for it, I promise.

*And by "making a living," I don't mean anything crazy like getting rich or even borderline affluent. I mean being able to buy my own health insurance for me and Mr. CR (and have some cash left over for food), which I couldn't do at this point. It's so sad that that's the real yardstick for success in this country. Greatest country in the world!

Evidently I'm just reading the wrong graphic novels.

Rall I read all of Ted Rall's and Pablo Callejo's graphic novel The Year of Loving Dangerously: A Graphic Memoir, and about the only lasting impression I have of it is that it left me depressed as hell.

And then I thought, every time I read graphic novels I end up depressed as hell. Consider: David Small's Stitches. Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Art Spiegelman's Maus. Neil Gaiman's first episode of Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes).* What I can't decide is, do I end up depressed because so many nonfiction graphic novels deal with somber and graphic stories, or do I end up depressed because I either don't understand the book (this is always the case with Gaiman) or because literally picturing things is too intense for me? It's a quandary.

But. Back to Rall's graphic memoir, in which he tells the story, and Callejo provides the drawing. The teaser for this story is "dumped, fired, arrested, expelled, and evicted--Ted Rall lost everything in the summer of 1984. Survival meant breaking all the rules." And that's pretty much it, really. Through no real fault of his own (and due to an unforseen medical emergency), Rall got booted out of Columbia University in the summer of 1984 and didn't have any place to stay in New York City. What he did then, basically, was put together a string of one-night stands and amorous encounters so he usually had a place to stay at night.

Which is resourceful, to say the least. But I still found it depressing. (Mr. CR didn't understand me at all when I was trying to explain my feelings. I think he was just impressed by the chutzpah of the solution.) Maybe it's because the cartoon of Rall on the cover doesn't look all that happy (although the women around him do). Maybe it's because later in that summer he had a slight STD scare, and nothing puts me off the idea of a summer of free lovin' more than the idea of an STD. But all of this is neither here nor there. As an attempt at a graphic memoir, there's nothing wrong with this book. I picked it up primarily because I find Ted Rall to be a very interesting writer, in the same camp as Matt Taibbi,** and I'll always look at anything he writes. But this one just wasn't for me.

*There are exceptions. Brian Fies's Mom's Cancer, although it was really sad, didn't actually leave me depressed, nor did Mat Johnson's Incognegro, which was just such an unbelievable story I didn't know how to feel about it.

**And like Matt Taibbi, he is completely underrated, which is wrong. If you've never heard of Rall, please do look into anything he's written.

Loving Stephen Fry wherever he is.

Normally I don't have a lot of time for travel books written about the United States. But every so often I like to make an exception--particularly so when the author of such a book is British.

Fry Stephen Fry (better known to American audiences for his role as Jeeves in the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster, or for his appearances on Blackadder) set out to set foot in every one of America's fifty states, and to learn a little something about what makes each of them unique. My next research task is to track down the television series he made (on which this book, Stephen Fry in America, is based), but even if I don't find it, I've already enjoyed the book immensely.

Be prepared: although Fry seems quite fond of America and Americans, there are times when he won't pull any punches. For instance, when he spent some time in Oregon camping out with a man who firmly believes in the Sasquatch legend, this is what he had to say: "I have to spend hours camping out with Matt, listening to completely unconvincing stories of Bigfoot sightings, accompanied by weird and inappropriately tearful mentions of his wife and children. His particular blend of aggressive family sentimentality*, macho gun-toting and childish superstition is not something I find it easy to respect or like." (p. 284.)

Now that's a bit churlish. But I love churlish. I think the churl is what lends more weight to Fry's many other kind words about the majority of the states and their residents. And, of course, as Fry said I would in his introduction ("human nature, after all, dictates that you turn straight to the entry in this book that covers your own state..."), I went right for the chapter on Wisconsin and was proud to learn that he thinks that we, in contrast to the rest of the U.S., really get cheese. I'll take that.

It's a fun read, with beautiful pictures. Do check it out.

*I totally love this phrase, as aggression and sentimentality are two of my least favorite personality traits.

Hijacked by a great idea.

Today I was going to post more about Wendell Berry's essay collection Bringing it to the Table, but last night I was hijacked by another little book that kept me enthralled for the night (and therefore kept me from finishing the Berry).

Madison The book is titled, simply, Madison, and is by David Sakrison. This was a book I found on one of my regular toodles through the "new nonfiction lists" that my library system is kind enough to embed in their catalog on a monthly basis, so it was a nice surprise when it came in. As a Wisconsin resident I'm always interested in local histories and pictorial works about the state.

But what truly sets this one aside is its format: it's a collection of really old postcards of Madison (contributed by collector John Powell), which are then captioned with informative bits of history by Sakrison. It was a quick little book that could be read in an hour or two, but I learned a lot about the city, and I loved the old postcards. I particularly loved it when you could glean a little of the senders' writing off the front. For example:

"Arrived here O.K. Had a fine time at Madison. Went down and had lunch at this place ("Keeley's Palace of Sweets"). Am really tired so I will go to bed right away. With love, Harriet."

That's awesome. And now I totally want to eat at a place called "Keeley's Palace of Sweets."

The book is published by Arcadia Publishing and is part of their Postcard History Series. Check out their list; it's a wonderful format for learning about history.

Photography by Robert Frank.

The other day when I stopped in at the library to pick up my holds, I decided to browse their new book shelves a little too. Normally I am the world's worst library browser; I can't say my local library does very many or very interesting book displays, so I've gotten in the habit of just going there to pick up books I've specifically requested.*

AmericansBut lately nothing that's been coming in on hold has been doing anything for me; hence, the idea that I might just browse a bit. And I found a great little book titled The Americans, which is simply a collection of black and white photographs that were first published in the 1950s (complete with a short introduction by Jack Kerouac**).

The photos were beautiful, and it was a pleasure just to enjoy leafing through a book and letting it soak in. I'll have to do more browsing in the future to keep finding these little gems that are good for my soul.

*I do try to keep things a bit random; I place most books on hold after perusing the library's monthly "new nonfiction books" list every month.

**I read most of the introduction without looking at who had written the introduction. By the end of it ("Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.") I was thinking, who on earth wrote this strange introduction? When I saw it was Kerouac I just laughed. For some odd reason I love that guy. Maybe I'll try and read a little Kerouac this spring, just to feel young again.

What'll you have?

I had a wonderful time this weekend, reading the book Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress, by Candacy A. Taylor.

Counter It's a slim but meaty book featuring interviews with waitress "lifers"--waitresses the author sought out who have made working in coffee shops and diners their life's work. In between the interviews the author offers historical and sociological tidbits about the waiting life, including chapters on tricks of the trade, regular customers, and tips. It's also beautifully illustrated, with multiple photographs.*

I enjoyed the interviews and the different women** the author spoke to, particularly as I have a bit of history with the career myself (although I was one of the part-timers just doing the job for cash that these old-timers scoff at as mere flashes in the pan). But I was particularly amused by author's history of how women came to be the staffers of choice for diners during World War II. She cites a 1941 article from The Diner magazine, which lists the reasons why women make superior diner staff:

"1. Women will work for less pay. 2. Women won't stay out late drinking and call in sick the next day. 3. Women belong around food. 4. Women will work harder than men. 5. Women are always happy. 6. Women are more efficient workers. 7. Women are more honest than men--they don't steal. 8. Women can talk and work at the same time. 9. Women clean diners better than men. 10. Women are cleaner than men. 11. The customers like women better. 12. Customers don't swear in front of women." (pg. 18.)

Now, I don't know that I agree with much of that list, but I was charmed by numbers 4,6, and 8. It took me back to my own restaurant days.

This is a great book. Although I'm just glad it was published by someone (in this case, the Cornell University Press), this is the sort of book that should be published by a mainstream trade publisher, and which should become a bestseller. If there were any justice in the world, anyway, that's the way it would be.

*Why aren't all adult nonfiction books illustrated? It would be so much more interesting.

**The frank nature of the interviews reminded me, in the best possible way, of the superlative title The Oxford Project.

Book Menage Day 4: The Wrap-up.

Welcome to Day 4 of our Book Menage! I just want to take a moment and thank everyone who has popped into the comments so far; I have found this to be a particularly fascinating discussion and I'm rather glad we went with the true crime subject matter, even though they're not typically easy books to read.

I think we've already covered a lot of ground, so a few easy questions today.

1. What were your favorite and least favorite parts of each of these books? Would you suggest either to other readers, and if so, why?

2. Do you think you'll ever read another true crime book, ever again?

Sleep  3. You know that I always have to ask about covers. How did you feel about the covers of these books? (The Horn book has different covers in hardcover and paperback; the paperback cover is the one I've posted before--look below and you'll find it and the Geary cover--and I'll post the hardcover jacket with this post.

I have emailed some of our questions to both of the authors, but it's a hard time to be making a living as a writer (or artist) so I'm not sure either one will have time to answer. Please do check back, though; if they reply I'll post their answers here.

Book Menage Day 2: Exclusively Geary.

Welcome to Day 2 of the True Crime Book Menage! Today I'd like to focus specifically on the Rick Geary book The Borden Tragedy.* The questions I have for you today are:

1. How do you feel about reading true crime, or really any nonfiction, in graphic novel format?

2. Did you read the newspaper articles at the end of the book too, or not? If not, why not? If so, did they add to your enjoyment of the book?

3. What questions would you have for Rick Geary after reading this book?

Don't feel like you have to answer each question if you don't want to. These are just my three biggest questions about the Geary book. As previously noted: please feel free to pose and answer your own questions in the comments. I love it when people take the comment discussions in different directions.

*Please note: if you read different titles by Geary, please feel free to answer these questions anyway--I think they're still pretty applicable.