A really useful public speaking book.

About a million years ago I wrote a book on public speaking for librarians.

I originally wrote it because at one time I was lucky enough to teach library classes to university students, and because I really enjoy public speaking (and I also really enjoyed the university students, especially the ones in engineering, who seemed to be universally young and cheerful and funny) the classes always went fairly well. So my supervisor started asking me for "the script" I used for these classes, which used to make me crazy. Not only because I didn't use a script (I used notes, and I practiced, but never had a real script), but because I have always believed that if you have to read your talk or teach your class by reading a script, well, the battle is lost before you even start. She meant well, but no matter how many times I explained that, she would always end by saying, "So...I can have your script, then?"

And now I've broken one of my own cardinal rules of speaking and made a short story long. The crux of the matter is this: I still make it a habit to look at or read any new public speaking manuals I come across. The latest one I found in my local library catalog was Susan Weinschenk's 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People. It's wonderful. It's straightforward and easy to read and contains a ton of useful tips, not only for speaking, but (I think), for getting along with people in general, in such categories as "How People Think and Learn," "How to Grab and Hold People's Attention," "How to Motivate People to Take Action," and "How People React to You," and many more. Each numbered point is described over the course of two to three pages, with sidebars providing a number of helpful "takeaways." Each point ranges from the basic, like #1: "People process information better in bite-size chunks," to the more advanced, like #62: "People respond more to anecdotes than to data."

I really, really enjoyed the bits of this book that I have read, and I want to get it back from the library someday to read more of its tidbits. Highly recommended, if you're looking for a no-nonsense guide to presenting.

SALE on Real Stories reference books!

Anybody out there going to ALA Annual next week in Chicago?

If you are, please stop by ABC-CLIO's booth* at #1631 to see what they're offering in new reference books and products this year. And while you're there...pick up a sale flyer for ALL the titles in the Real Stories series of readers' guides. (And no worries if you're not going--next week I'll post a PDF for the flyer that you can print out and use when ordering.)

Normally the conference 20% off deal on products refers to books they actually have for sale AT the conference, but this flyer entitles you to 20% off ALL the titles in the series. So if you've been looking to beef up your nonfiction knowledge and RA services, or you simply want a great resource to answer your "what should I read now?" questions for nonfiction, now is the time to shop. With that in mind, let me take you through the titles in the series (in order of publication):

The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests** : I wrote this back in 2006, and it's technically part of the Genreflecting series of books, but it's a book that covers eleven different genres and reading interests, such as True Adventure, True Crime, and "Making Sense" (or "Big Think") books. The book is aging, of course, but I did make an effort when writing it to include a lot of "classic" nonfiction titles as well, to increase its long-term usefulness.

The Inside Scoop: A Guide to Nonfiction Investigative Writing and Exposés : The first book published in the series, also written by me. Covers my true love: Investigative nonfiction. Includes titles that would be considered journalism, character profiles, current affairs, exposes, business reporting, and "immersion journalism." I also included lists of documentary movies and magazines which typically publish investigative features.

Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography : There's only one word for this title, by Rick Roche, and that is mindblowing. Roche provides lists of perhaps the most popular nonfiction books out there, biographies, and puts them in helpful categories (think ready-made booklists and lists for book group consideration!). The book is huge and fascinating reading in its own right, and Rick provided tons of read-alikes for tons of very popular titles. He also wrote beautiful lists of prominent biographers and biography series that readers might not know about otherwise (and which could certainly help you train RA staff members on biographers and biographies with very little effort). When it comes to biographies, he's done all the work for you.

Women's Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests : A superb volume, written by Jessica Zellers, listing nonfiction books that most particularly "speak to women's experiences." This is a valuable grouping, because library catalogs do not do a good job of classifying books as "women's interest." Zellers lists titles that focus on women across biographies, memoirs, personal growth, history, adventure, feminism, and society. This book would be particularly useful for librarians looking for titles for women-themed book groups, or for any academic library focusing on women's history. It's also fun to read--Zellers has a writing style I like to call "sparkly."

Life Stories: A Guide to Reading Interests in Memoirs, Autobiographies, and Diaries : Maureen O'Connor took on the daunting task of listing and classifying memoirs and autobiographies in this volume, and wow, did she know a nice job. I personally know how hard she worked on this title and how comprehensive she made it, taking a rigorous approach to including books that were most likely to show up in the majority of library catalogs. Whatever interests in memoir you have--adventure, celebrities, the creative life, the working life (my favorite), the inner life, history, war stories, and survival (among many more), O'Connor teased out the best titles in every category, and provided tons of "read-alikes" for all of them.*** She also provides very helpful lists of memoir writing awards, titles that have been controversial for their amount of truth and facts (or lack thereof), and classics.

 And now we get to the two newest titles in the series:

Food Lit: A Reader's Guide to Epicurean Nonfiction : By Melissa Stoeger, this is another invaluable reference source because it pulls together all sorts of nonfiction titles it would be VERY HARD to find otherwise. Stoeger identifies all types of books that will appeal to "foodies," across genres such as memoir, biography, travel, adventure, history, science, and investigative writing, as well as including new categories like "narrative cookbooks" and "food essays." Her annotations and read-alike lists will not only make you want to read all these books, they'll make you hungry, too (which shows the skill of her writing). And she provides AWESOME resource lists of popular cooks and their books, other foodie formats like magazines and food documentaries and cooking shows (fantastically helpful for library patrons looking to find new cooking shows to watch), and novels which particularly focus on food.

Going Places: A Reader's Guide to Travel Narrative : Another reference book that should blow your mind, Robert Burgin's guide to travel books (one of the most popular nonfiction genres around) not only lists tons of classic and current travel books (and huge lists of read-alikes), he also assigned each book copious subject headings and all the locations where the authors traveled, meaning you can use the extensive index to look up all the travel narratives that focus on specific locations. Sure, you can look up places in library catalogs, but can you separate out the travel guides, history, and other books with that subject heading from the travel NARRATIVES? Burgin has done all that work for you. This is a book that is a must-have for creating reading lists, and your patrons might also personally love to take and create their own travel reading lists. (Plus, Burgin was the Real Stories series editor before me, so he really knows his stuff about ALL nonfiction, meaning a lot of his read-alike suggestions include other types of nonfiction books and a lot of novels.)

Whew. I kind of forgot myself how many great tools are available in this series. So why buy? Well, sure, you can Google all sorts of book lists for free. But I ask you: is it very easy to search for such lists of NONFICTION titles? Do you always even know where to start? AND: if you're looking for staff training tools to help readers' advisors and library staff learn about nonfiction categories, these might be very useful for that. Not to mention, your patrons might appreciate being able to check these out to create reading lists of their own.

Okay, enough cheerleading. Have a great weekend and a great conference, if you're going to be there.

*Full disclosure: I am the series editor of the Real Stories series (and the author of two books within the series), which is published by ABC-CLIO. So yes, I'm biased, but I still say they're great books!

**I'm taking you to these books' Amazon pages, which also list reviews each book has gotten, so you don't just have to take my word for it about the quality of these books.

***All of these books include comprehensive lists of similar books, or "read-alikes," based on subjects and appeals like characterization and writing style, by design.

A favorite eclectic recommender.

One of my favorite blogs to check for a wide variety of reading suggestions is Rick Roche's RickLibrarian. Rick's real subject specialty is biographies: he's the author of Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography (Real Stories) and Read On...Biography: Reading Lists for Every Taste (Read On Series) (both published by ABC-CLIO--I know they're not cheap, but if you're a librarian, please do consider buying and using them in your collection, particularly if you're looking to beef up your nonfiction readers' advisory services*).

A book I found ages ago through Rick's site was A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery. Yes, THAT A.A. Milne--the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. And perhaps I am going about this backwards, because I haven't yet read Winnie (although we have read an Easy Reader copy of Winnie the Pooh's Easter Egg Hunt so many times that CRjr has it memorized: "'Surprise,' mumbled Eeyore, 'I found an Easter egg!'"), but a while back I was looking for any kind of pleasant, easy reading that I could just wander through for twenty minutes or so at each bedtime.

This mystery novel hit the spot for that admirably. It's pleasingly British**, for an Anglophile like me, and the mystery's not real gory or complicated (for a synopsis see Rick's review), so it made perfect escapism reading. I rather feel it's more a book to be read in a cozy warm house while it's winter outside, but it's set in the summer and it might also make for good beach reading.

My thanks, and kudos, once again go to Rick.

*I'm not remunerated in any way when Rick's books sell, but they are so awesome and helpful that I can't help putting in a plug for them here or there.

**Here's how the sleuth, Antony Gillingham, is introduced: "When at the age of twenty-one he [Antony] came into his mother's money, 400 pounds a year, old Gillingham [his father] looked up from the 'Stockbreeders' Gazette' to ask him what he was going to do.

'See the world,' said Antony.

'Well, send me a line from America, or wherever you get to.'

'Right,' said Antony.

Old Gillingham returned to his paper. Antony was a younger son, and, on the whole, not so interesting to his father as the cadets of certain other families; Champion Birket's, for instance. But, then, Champion Birket was the best Hereford bull he had ever bred.

Antony, however, had no intention of going further away than London. His idea of seeing the world was to see, not countries, but people; and to see them from as many angles as possible. There are all sorts in London if you know how to look at them. So Antony looked at them--from various strange corners; from the view-point of the valet, the newspaper reporter, the waiter, the shop-assistant. With the independence of 400 pounds a year behind him, he enjoyed it immensely." (p. 25.)

Ah, England! Inattentive parents who are more interested in animals than you but are also your source of independent income! Amateur sleuths who are simply interested in the world! What a great country.

Genreflecting 7 is here!

It feels like it's been a long time coming, but the newest (7th) edition of Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests is finally here!

Gf7For those of you not familiar with Genreflecting as a reference book, it's the mother volume in the series, including information and title lists for a ton of genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers, Westerns, Romance, Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Christian Fiction, Urban Fiction, Graphic Novels, and...for the first time ever...TA-DA...a chapter on NONFICTION!*

You may wonder what a chapter on nonfiction is doing in a book on genre fictions, but I say, it's about time. If we truly want to consider all the genres or types of books that people read, particularly for recreation, then I think we have to consider nonfiction. I was very honored to ask to be included, and I look forward to using the other chapters to expand my own genre title and author knowledge.

Of particular note in this volume are editor Cindy Orr's** fantastic introductory chapters. She provides information on reading as a social activity, a "toolbox" for expanding your readers' advisory knowledge, solid tips for providing good RA service, and much more. In my favorite segment, she even describes "Difficult Situations, Difficult People," which includes tips on how to help patrons who don't communicate well ("the Clam"); people who are looking for books for someone else ("the Proxy"); picky readers ("the Fuss-Budget"); and my personal favorite, parents who won't let their teens talk with you alone about what they want to read ("the Double Whammy"). And of course, because she's Cindy, she describes all these situations with gentle and understanding humor, and then provides concrete and practical solutions.

It's a gorgeous volume, chock-full of chapters by library staff and experts much more knowledgeable in their genres than I am (although I gave it my best shot, as always). Do check it out.

*Written by yours truly!

**Yes, the same Cindy Orr who edits the Reader's Advisor Online blog (among many other jobs and talents). There's nothing she can't do!

A dance with Jane Austen.

It is a truth pretty much universally acknowledged that I am a sucker for all things Jane Austen.

In addition to having read her books, re-watched most film adaptations of her books way more often than is good for me (damn you, YouTube, time-waster extraordinaire), and reading any modern-day adaptations of her novels that I can find, I also pick up any nonfiction titles about her that I see pop up in my local library catalog. My latest such find was Susannah Fullerton's A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to the Ball.

It literally is just that: a book about dancing in Jane Austen's day, with extensive quoting from her novels to see how Austen incorporated balls and dancing into her fiction and plotlines. There is also a ton of good basic historical information, such as which dances were popular when, how people in that era learned dancing, what kind of music was played at balls, and how many different types of balls there were (as well as many more topics). At first I couldn't really get into this book; I just read bits of it here and there, but then over the course of two nights I got really interested and read most of it straight through. I particularly enjoyed the information on how suppers were held along with balls (I never really understood that when reading the books) and the different types of balls that were held and how people got invited to them.

But my very favorite part of the book was learning about Jane Austen's own personal experiences of ball-going and dancing:

"Jane Austen enjoyed these [Assembly] balls so much that she was disappointed if she had to miss one. If she was away from home, then she placed her 'spies' so as to get all the news. Catherine Bigg could be relied on to share gossip about who had danced with whom, who had too much to drink, which lady had opened the dance, and all the other juicy titbits of news the evening could provide." (p. 52.)

I enjoyed picturing ol' Jane dancing and placing her spies. I enjoyed that a lot.

A somewhat misleading title.

I have always been interested in epigraphs--those quotes and blurbs that writers include in the beginnings (mostly) of their books. So when I saw the title The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin, well, you can excuse me for getting a huge nerdy thrill, can't you?

But it wasn't quite what I wanted. I was looking forward to a consideration of how authors find and choose such epigraphs--I know you come across a lot of things as you read, and most writers do a lot of reading, but how do they remember the perfect quotes they eventually want to use for their books? Do they collect such quotes? Do they go looking for them AFTER they've written their books, or have them in mind before they start? Or what?

This book is still interesting, but disappointingly, mainly consists of 23 categories (such as "Life," "Love," "Rebels and Outsiders," etc.) that include the epigraphs from various books. On the first page of the "Life" chapter, for instance, is a quote from Ecclesiastes that Hemingway opened The Sun Also Rises with. And that's it. A few of the examples include a bit more explanatory material, but never quite enough to satisfy me. For example:

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. --G.K. Chesterton, in Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman.

Although widely viewed as a Catholic reactionary, Chesterton is credited with inspiring Mohandas Gandhi to take up the fight for Indian independence from British rule. A column Chesterton wrote in 1909 so impressed Gandhi that he translated it into Gujarati and then proceeded to write his own book addressing the problems of colonialism and how to achieve reform through civil disobedience." (p. 16.)

Now, that is all very interesting, but it is not really what I want to know. What I want to know is, is Neil Gaiman sitting around reading G.K. Chesterton? Or did he just leaf through a quote book until he found this one? And how did he remember it to use for his book?

Where do you want to go? A travel guide to meet your every need (in books).

It's been an exciting month for the Real Stories series of nonfiction reading guides!

Last week I told you about Melissa Brackney Stoeger's new guide to epicurean nonfiction, Food Lit. This week, I have the great pleasure of telling you about Robert Burgin's Going Places: A Reader's Guide to Travel Narratives.

Going placesAgain, I know it's a bit hard for me to be unbiased about these books. But you should see this book. Robert has rounded up every travel book you have ever heard of, and a ton of new ones that you haven't. When I was reading through his manuscript before publication, I put a bunch of titles on my TBR list that intrigued me (this is how I found Paul Theroux's Kingdom by the Sea, which was a great read). In addition to providing thorough annotations and read-alike suggestions, Robert has also grouped these books by reading interest and genre--categories you won't ever find in libraries and bookstores but which are just right--like "Quests," "The Journey," and "The Expatriate Life," to name just a few.

He also noted all of the places the authors traveled to in their books*--and included those in his subject index. So when a library patron approaches you and wants something to read about Spain (that isn't a guide book), you now have a one-stop resource for accessing such a list of titles.

Do check it out. Between this book and Melissa's you will find all the great nonfiction you will ever need about travel and food, respectively.

*Robert's also started a blog about his travels and travel books--you can find him at Travel With a Book.

Look no further for a great guide to food lit!

I am very, very excited: the first book that I helped with, as series editor for the Real Stories series of nonfiction reading guides (published by ABC-CLIO), came out yesterday!

Food litThe book in question is Melissa Brackney Stoeger's Food Lit: A Reader's Guide to Epicurean Nonfiction, and you'll excuse my parental-ish pride if I say it's nothing short of fantastic. Stoeger not only explores (and helps categorize into similar nonfiction food "genres") a TON of popular and current nonfiction titles about food, she provides gorgeous appendix materials about cooking shows, food blogs, and food book awards. If you work in a library and get questions from patrons with an interest in this subject, this is a great resource for you. (For example: Tired of combing through all the cookbooks in your stacks to find the more narrative foodie selections? Melissa has done all that work for you!)

If anyone out there is going to ALA Midwinter, I'm sure they'll have copies in the ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited (#2021) booth for you to look at, although I warn you--reading it will make you hungry (for both books and food)!

I wish I could go pass out advertising flyers at my local food co-op (foodies galore!) for it--I just might, actually.*

*I'm totally biased, but I also love the cover.

Odd jobs indeed.

I am a total sucker for any variety of "save more money now!" magazine articles and books. I even eagerly pounced on the Parade magazine in last Sunday's newspaper because there was an article in it about saving more money in the new year (and Parade magazine is not usually something I pounce on with any great anticipation).

Invariably, of course, I am let down. All of the saving tips seem to be of the "don't get cable" or "find a cell phone plan that doesn't charge for individual texts" variety, and since I already don't get cable or text (I have a cell phone for emergency purposes only that I still haven't figured out how to answer, which is okay because I haven't given anyone the number, because I don't like to talk on cell phones), those don't really help me. Invariably Mr. CR points out I should skip reading that stuff, because as someone who hasn't bought new socks for at least five years*, I'm really not their target audience.

So now I have moved on to "make extra money in your spare time!" books.

And that's how I found Abigail Gehring's Odd Jobs: How to Have Fun and Make Money in a Bad Economy. I thought I'd just look it over and see if there was anything suitably freelancey that I could try out from home, but it turned out to be not that kind of book. What it is, which actually turned out to be a lot more entertaining to read, is a compendium of, well, truly ODD jobs.

Some of the jobs explored? Escort. "Closet Exorcist." Street Furniture Sales. Lipstick Reading. Motivational Dancer. Human Scarecrow. Christmas Tree Farmer. Dog Handler in Alaska. Soap Maker. Body Part Model.

It's really quite the awesome recreational read (which I was not expecting). Each job is covered in about two to three pages, which is really all the more you want to read about these jobs. Gehring describes what you do, what you get paid, what it costs to get started, what you need to start, perks, downsides, and a few Internet sites to check out. And, bless her heart, she's a pragmatic writer, our Abigail. Here's my favorite bit from the "Escort" description:

"If you're thinking this job sounds too good to be true, it's because in most cases it is. Don't be naive. The majority of men paying $1,000 for an evening are expecting something more than arm candy." (p. 17.) Perhaps former Olympic athlete Suzy Favor Hamilton was not aware of this.

I really enjoyed this book. It didn't make me want to work any of the jobs, but let's face it, I like thinking about working and making money much more than I actually have any skills at working and making money.

*I think. The socks I'm wearing were already oldish when CRjr arrived, years ago.

Why aren't librarians allowed to love books?

When I worked in the public library I was frustrated by many things. Mainly, I'll admit, by the rudeness* of the general public, which remains the number-one reason I am still relieved not to be working a public-service desk job right now (although I'm sure I'll have to go back to one sometime, and will just be damn glad if I'm able to get one). But a slightly more esoteric annoyance I had with the system was how librarians are often told (in library school, or in training) that to be good "readers' advisors"--people who help readers find things they might enjoy reading--they must focus solely on what the reader wants. "It's not about you," we librarians are told, "Readers' Advisory is not about pushing your opinions on readers."

Well, okay. I get it. When you're helping a reader find something to read it is of course vital that you focus on their interests. Likewise, if someone is, say, a Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks reader, it is probably nicest if the librarian doesn't say (although they might be dying to): "So, you like hack authors, huh?"

But at the same time, I think that attitude does everyone a vast misservice. It hurts librarians, who are made to feel they can't speak about any books too enthustiastically--that they cannot "recommend," they must only ever "suggest," and strive never to allow their own opinions a part in the conversation. And I think eventually it hurts readers--who might be looking for, not only some assistance, but also a good book conversation with someone who also loves reading--not someone who is desperately trying not to have any opinions on any books whatsoever during the encounter.

Now, all of that is a very long-winded way to say I loved, absolutely loved, a little book I checked out at the end of last year titled Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores.** God love independent booksellers. They don't dick around with any "don't bring your own opinions or loves" edicts. This book consists of twenty-five indie bestsellers' lists of their favorite 50 books--each chapter provides some information on the bookstore where the contributor works, the list, some paragraphs about a few of the titles listed more specifically, and a short q-and-a about bookstores and readers with the contributor. And they don't list their 50 best-selling titles, or 50 "sure bets" (a term which always annoys the shit out of me, since I figure my sure bet is bound to be someone else's can't stand)--they list their 50 FAVORITES. It's awesome. Straightforward and very, very pleasing. I read it a chapter at a time last month, always at bedtime, and it was a very satisfying and settling read.

The short interviews with the booksellers were almost my favorite part; and the following is my favorite response to the question "Who is your most trusted source for book recommendations?" (by bookseller Emma Straub): "There are reviewers I trust, and friends I trust, and booksellers I trust. Really, my problem is that I have too many smart people recommending books to me all the time. My backlog is so enormous that often by the time I actually read a book, I've forgotten who told me they loved it or which newspaper gave it a rave. Then it's just up to me and the book to see if we can get along." (p. 16.)

Look at those words: Trust. Recommending. Smart. Love. Now THOSE are the words you should always bring to talking with other readers. So join me in the revolution, librarians: get rid of that wishy-washy word "suggest" once and for all.

*Not to mention general scariness and sometimes flat-out violence.

**If you buy it new the royalties go to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

Gotta love Bittman.

In case you're on the lookout for an exceedingly practical gift, you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of Mark Bittman's superlative cookbook How To Cook Everything.

Yeah, it's a big book. But it's awesome. I've looked at a lot of cookbooks, and I usually find at least one or two things I can use, but this is the first book that has been so consistently useful for so many types of recipes. Lately I've been trying to use new ingredients and do more cooking from scratch, and Bittman never fails me when I turn to his book for some inspiration (his chapter on cooking and using beans is particularly good). The best thing about many of these recipes is how simple they are--most include only a few ingredients and can be made with a minimum of fuss.

I've started to use this book so often that his name is steadily sneaking into our kitchen lexicon. His appetizer-ish meatballs are known as Bittman Balls around our house. Likewise with his yogurt biscuits: Bittman Biscuits. And, wonder of wonders, I even found an easy recipe for kale and pasta in his book a few weeks back and have moved it into steady rotation. Don't know what to call that one yet; maybe Bittman Noodles. Or Bittman Finally Found a Way to Use Kale, but that's probably too long.

In any case, if you or anyone you know needs a great basic but still very comprehensive cookbook, this is the one to try.

Blogs, Wikis, Facebook, and More.

I don't remember why I actually checked out the book Blogs, Wikis, Facebook, and More from the library, but I'm sure it had something to do with me trying to learn something, anything, about technology. Other than that I hate it, of course.

I think the subtitle is terrible: "Everything You Want to Know About Using Today's Internet but Are Afraid to Ask," but this is actually a very handy little guide for anyone seeking an intro primer to lots of online and tech services with which they're not familiar. Each subject is covered in about four to ten pages--just enough for an overview, a discussion of top tools, and a very briefly how-to on getting started in them. In alphabetical order, the subjects covered are:

Blogging, Bookmarks and Tagging, Cloud Storage, Communications, Design, E-Commerce, Education and Knowledge, Games and Virtual Worlds, Kids' Sites, Mapping, Music, News, Peer-to-peer Sharing, Personal Management Tools, Photographs and Videos, Podcasts, Portals, Security Issues, Search Engines, Social Networking, Web-based Office Software, and Wikis and Collaboration.

If you're a librarian training new reference staff, you could do worse things than assign this book to new hires as required reading. Sure, most new hires and youngsters today already know all this stuff, but everyone has their favorite service or platform (mine is blogging), as well as services they despise (for me, Twitter and Facebook). But love them or hate them, it's good to know a little bit about them, and this book is a nice quick little read (and is infinitely more helpful than the "For Dummies" guides on the same subjects).

Well, I don't think I got any dumber this week.

Which was a nice change. Walking around in the world lately I feel like a) I have just come out, blinking, from years of solitary confinement*, and b) that I get dumber as everyone around me seems to get smarter and move faster. It must be because I don't have one of those smart phone thingies. And never will, God willing.

But I did learn a few things this week. A lot of things I won't tell you about as they are personal, but also a lot of fun trivia tidbits that you can take with you to parties and various other glamorous outings this weekends.

I'm working on a book review article, and am reading a whole bunch of books I wouldn't normally otherwise. I'll tell you about the article when it's published, but for right now I can share the tidbits with you:

1. The Secret Service has responsibility for investigating counterfeiters (of U.S. currency and securities)--when they're not busy being too cheap to pay for their sexual favors;


2. The man who sat next to Abraham Lincoln in the theater box on the night Lincoln was assassinated would eventually go on to kill his wife (and spend the rest of his life thereafter in a German asylum).

3. (This tidbit comes from a Nova program I watched the other night. I am becoming a Nova junkie.) You've got to watch this clip of a cruise ship sinking--but don't do so if you're planning a cruise in the near future.

Huh. I just thought those were interesting (if tragic, in the second and third items) nonfiction tidbits.

*I felt this way when I went to pick up an order at Sears, and everything is automated! Scan your receipt, scan your credit card,** they pop out with the box. Weird. But then again, I haven't visited the merchandise pick-up area of Sears since roughly 1990, when Mom had to go pick stuff up there and I went along.

**And how does this work for most people? Do people usually have their receipts AND their credit cards? I say this from years of working at the public library, when people NEVER had their library cards or any sort of identification, and acted like we were crazy for requesting any such ID.

I at least like my manifestos to be helpful.

I was thoroughly annoyed by Charles J. Selden's The Consumerist Manifesto Handbook: The Guerilla's Guide to Making Corporations Pay for Faulty Goods, Substandard Services, and Broken Promises.

ManifestoAlthough I don't really have the energy to become a "consumer guerrilla," I do largely agree with the author that most corporations are out to make cheap, sell high, and by no means to provide anything approximating decent customer service. Largely I deal with this belief by striving not to buy anything I don't have to, but invariably, there are things a person needs.* And because I am the world's worst shopper, I somehow always manage (I feel) to get taken advantage of. So I thought this would be a handy little book for learning a few techniques for making complaints and actually getting them resolved.

Sadly: not so. Selden spends most of his book describing ways in which corporations take advantage of consumers (through various methods such as rushing goods to market; accepting a certain number of defects in their products because they'll make more money off them than they'll have to spend in resolving complaints; quality fade; customer disservice; etc.). Yeah, you're preaching to the choir here, Selden, I already KNOW that's what corporations are doing. I'm not saying a little background isn't helpful, but this is all old news for anyone who has bought any consumer goods in the past ten years.

Selden is also very good at relating stories about what a clever consumer guerrilla he is, most of which I just found obnoxious. Consider:"When I buy a prepackaged bag of food labeled fresh, I put any suspicious pieces--in their original containers--in the Returns Area of our pantry...Going to the minor trouble of retaining a couple of potatoes from a 5-pound bag, or even a couple of berries from a 1-pound box, nets me refunds for the entire container. Food retailers charge more for food because it is labeled 'fresh,' reason enough to raise consumerist expectations. Every potato and every berry had better be good--and fresh--or I'll expect a refund for the whole package--even if the majority was consumed." (p. 42.)

Now, that paragraph raises all sorts of questions. Were the majority of the foods they consumed actually "fresh" enough to meet their expectations, with one or two truly offending potatoes or berries really being "unfresh," or was the author just pulling a fast one, getting a refund for food already eaten?**

Later on the author discusses his wife's predilection for fancy-name clothes from Bergdorf Goodman***, and how he bought her a Barbara Bui suit on sale for $370 (marked down from $1,850), mailing it back to BG after ten months because its "feathery lapels" had started to lose feathers, and asking for an explanation or replacement. When they didn't hear back for a month, they called BG, who could confirm they had received the suit back but couldn't find it. Eventually BG offered to compensate them for losing the suit, asking them what they paid for it originally. The author's answer? The truthful (but again: dicey morally?) gambit, "I think it sold for around $1,800." BG offered a credit of $1,250, and the author took it, making $880 off a suit his wife wore for ten months.

I don't know what you think about that, but I'll tell you what I think: Gross. 

A greater problem with the book is that, although you may pick up some consumerist tips buried in the author's self-congratulating stories, the actual section on how to deal successfully with corporations that have you screwed you over only constitutes about twenty pages of the book (pages 155 through 172). It contains some not unhelfpul suggestions: have a couple of credit cards ready to use so you can always dispute charges on one or the other, document your purchases, write letters and find company officer names and phone numbers so you can call them at times amenable to you, not them, and so on. The appendix listing online resources is also not unhelpful.

But all in all: start your consumer guerrilla career by not spending the $14.95 on this book.

*The other day Mr. CR said to me, "hey, you have a big tear in your shorts, in a fairly obvious spot" (meaning, "I can see your underwear, and I don't want to, and neither do our neighbors"). And I said, "Oh NO...this is my one pair of shorts!" I can only hope that hot weather doesn't return any time soon.

**I get his larger point. Corporations shouldn't charge a premium for "freshness" if they can't back it up. But this is a level of semantics--and deliberations with front-line grocery store workers--to which I am simply too lazy to go. And I remember what I used to think of shoppers who came back to my farmers' market stand, demanding refunds for my produce that they'd eaten. It was not kind.

***How hilarious is that? Even when such "name" merchandise is on sale, talk about "made-up" value, that consumers impose upon themselves. I don't think you can blame companies for that one.

George Harrison and a blog recommendation.

HarrisonTo make up for my earlier months of not finding much good nonfiction to read, I have been having a spectacular month so far on nonfiction books. And a lot of that luck is not luck at all--it comes from checking RickLibrarian's blog on a regular basis. Rick Roche is a librarian and the author of a fabulous reading guide about biographies, and just an all-around great guy who I was lucky enough to meet at several library conferences and at his home library. Recently he posted about a biography in photographs--Olivia Harrison's George Harrison: Living in the Material World, and his review made me decide I had to see the book.

I'm so glad I did. Although I have always enjoyed the Beatles, I don't know much about them individually. In this collection, quotes from George Harrison and others who knew him are interspersed with a variety of gorgeous photographs illustrating his life, from showing buildings in his native Liverpool bombed during WWII (he was born in 1943), pages out of his school notebooks, photos from the Beatles' early playing days and travels, and photos from his later travels to India and throughout the world in search of spiritual peace and new experiences. It seems, on balance, that he was a totally fascinating guy. I can't quote from the book for you as I couldn't wait to pass it on to my brother, but it was inspiring to read how much he loved guitars and music from an early age. And just think--being a Beatle at age 17. CRAZY stuff. A wonderful story, great quotes, gorgeous photographs (many taken by George himself), I can't recommend this book highly enough. And I would never have found it without Rick's great blog!

Little readers.

Whenever I see or hear about one, I tend always to pick up books on reading or how to get people interested in reading. This is a leftover habit from my public library job, where people often asked me how to get their kids to read something, or what books we might suggest for kids who hated reading.

I'm ashamed to admit, I was always REALLY BAD at answering that question.

WhispererIt wasn't that I wasn't interested, or that I didn't want to help. I did. I typically went with such parents to the kids' book shelves, where we tried to figure out what their kid (who never seemed to be with them--the first problem) might enjoy. These were always totally painful encounters. The parents typically acted like they had no idea what their kids' interests might be, and they seemed completely uninterested in books themselves. They were usually only there because their kid had tested poorly on reading skills or a teacher had suggested they read more, and they typically left with the first Harry Potter book, regardless of what else I suggested.

So when I read about Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, I thought I would give it a look. I don't have too many concerns about CRjr's reading as yet--the only benchmark the boy has ever been early on is "can turn picture book pages without ripping them"--but people still do periodically ask me how to encourage reading in their children. My sole answer, and one that I now know is supported by Miller, is stated in her book as:

"My credibility with students and the reason they trut me when I recommend books to them stems from the fact that I read every day of my life and that I talk about reading constantly. I am not mandating an activity for them that I do not engage in myself. I do not promote reading to my students because it is good for them or because it is required for school success...

Findings from a 2007 Associated Press poll,reported in the Washington Post, indicate that the average adult American read only four books that entire year. This statistic does not tell the whole story; of the adults who read, their average was seven books, but 25 percent of the respondents did not read a book at all (Fram, 2007). Teachers fare no better on surveys of adult reading behaviors than the general population; in the 2004 article 'The Peter Effect,' Anthony and Mary Applegate report that of the preservice teachers whom they studied, 54.3 percent were unenthusiastic about reading." (pp. 106-107.)

And there you have it. If you don't read, and your kids' teachers don't read, they simply will not see reading as something that is done, or worth doing. It's as simple as that. Almost all the parents who asked me to find books for their kids never wandered over to the adult stacks when we were done and picked out anything for themselves; at most, they would stop at the video cart on the way out.

The book is interesting, but is told from a Language Arts teacher's point of view and has more to do with teaching strategies and tips for larger groups of children. But the paragraphs above make me trust this author--she knows what she's talking about when she says the key to reading is "walking the walk."*

*Which is not to say I think the only way kids can be happy or successful is by reading. I don't believe that at all. But if YOU think you'd like your kids to read more, YOU have to pick up a book or magazine yourself sometimes. That's all there is to it.

Parenting book tidbits.

Because I am now one of those boring suburban women who count "parenting" as among my interests*, it naturally makes sense that I am dragging home a lot more parenting books. So just in case anyone out there is looking for quick parenting book reviews, I thought I'd start posting tidbits about what I learn. Not full reviews--I rarely read these books cover to cover--just quick impressions.

Let's start with Athena P. Kourtis's Keeping Your Child Healthy in a Germ-Filled World. Let me save you some time on this book and give you the pertinent information: Wash your hands. Wash or make sure your children wash theirs.

The End.

GermWell, there's more info here than that, but you get the idea. Turns out there's really not much in the way of magic bullets for helping your kids avoid germs.** There's chapters here on food-borne germs, germs in school, sports germs, pet germs, outdoor germs, travel situations, and STDs, as well as information on common methods of fighting illness, including antibiotics, vaccinations, breastfeeding, and supplements and herbs. It's all quite logically written and organized, so if you're looking for a basic introduction to the subject, you could do a lot worse.

However, and this is an important caveat: if you are at all a Nervous Nelly or a germophobe-in-training, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. It will just freak you out further without providing much in the way of additional knowledge. Take it from this Nervous Nelly.

*Well, it's not so much an interest as it is something I do now. And, as per usual, I am better at reading about it than actually doing it. Sigh.

**This book is of course also hugely positive on vaccinations, but I take all that with a grain of salt. I don't trust doctors at all, and because doctors are so, SO pro-vaccination, in all cases, I tend to view vaccinations with distrust, although CRjr does get most of what they recommend, because I am too weak to fight the system.

I'm too lazy to even be a lazy couponer.

LazyPretty much the best way I've found to save money is to never go shopping. But, sometimes, in the course of life, there's things you need, particularly in the way of food. So every now and then I think I should learn how to be a good bargain shopper. When I'm in that mood, I invariably find myself reading books like Jamie Chase's The Lazy Couponer: How to Save $25,000 Per Year in Just 45 Minutes Per Week with No Stockpiling, No Item Tracking, and No Sales Chasing!.

It's an interesting book, and it's got a lot going for it. Chase does not advocate chasing sales or stockpiling supplies, or other super-couponer strategies like that, which is a relief. But it turns out that what she does advocate--doubling up store and manufacturers' coupons (they're called Qs, by the way; Chase's entire first chapter lays out all the couponing jargo for you), printing off coupons right before you go shopping, and stacking coupons with purchases designed to earn you store rewards like CVS's "Extra Care Bucks"--well, it's still too much work for me.

I'm going to stick with just never shopping, but if you'd like a good low-key guide to using coupons at grocery stores, drugstores, and online, do consider this one.

A book on brains my brain just isn't up to right now.

BrainI keep trying to read Sandra Aamodt's and Sam Wang's Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College, but I'm just not going to be able to finish it.

I'm a fretful parent (lucky CRjr--every time he hits a developmental milestone I mentally check it off the list, enjoy it for all of five seconds, and then start fretting about the next step*), so I thought it would be interesting or helpful to know more about how children's brains develop. I still think it would be, but this is not the book for me. Although the authors seem to know their stuff and they toss in encouraging asides like their assertion that your child will be fine as long as you do a "reasonably competent" job caring for them, I'm still finding it a rather tough book to follow.

Perhaps this is because I am so used to reading parenting books that are chronologically oriented, whereas this one is organized along subject lines, with chapter headings like "Once in a Lifetime: Sensitive Periods (birth to 15 years)", "Born Linguists (birth to eight years)," and "Connect with Your Baby through Hearing and Touch" (third trimester to two years)." That last is actually chapter 11, AFTER chapter 9, on adolescence. It was just too hard for me to follow. One nice thing about it is that it contains multiple sidebars offering "Practical Tips" and "Myth Busting" throughout; when I had to take it back to the library I just read through most of those (skipping the text) and called it a day.

*The same people who tell me the baby's just fine and I should stop worrying about every little thing like a nut job are usually the same people who tell me about the importance of early detection of problems so they can be addressed sooner rather than later. It's a Mommy Catch-22.

100 Best-ish Nonfiction Titles: Self-Help

An end is in sight for our consideration of the Time 100 Best Nonfiction Titles, I promise. The Time category list proceeded alphabetically, so the way I see it, all we've got left is Self-Help/Instructional, Sports, and War (they also include Social History, but we covered that in our History section). I'm not crazy about any of these categories, thinking Self-Help is largely too personal to apply "best of" honors to, and I feel like I listed some of the best Sports books under Biography. War, likewise, seemed more a part of History to me. But I already punked out on the Nonfiction Novel and Political lists, so I'm going to woman up and finish out with these categories.

Here's the Self-Help/Instruction titles Time listed:

The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous
The Elements of Style, E. B. White and William Strunk, Jr.

Well, at least this is a list that has brevity going for it. But I just get a chuckle out of any list that pairs these two books in the same category. I've been lucky enough not to need The Big Book*, but I have read parts of The Elements of Style and should read it again. It is a great little book for writers.

Now, best self-help. I fully believe in the category; I once taught a class on the reading interests of adults and I told the students not to laugh at self-help, as everyone will need a self-help book of some kind someday. Really. It's a universal. But, as noted previously, Self-Help tends to be very personal. There's definitely benchmark titles in the field: Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People; Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus; anything by Geneen Roth or Wayne Dyer, etc. Those tend to leave me cold. So I'm just going to list a couple of books I've found very informational in my own life, and leave it at that.

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias. Personal finance affects everyone, and even if you don't plan on becoming a big-time investor (or you don't have much to invest), Tobias's very understandable and often quite funny (which is necessary; books like this are a real snooze if the author doesn't have a sense of humor) guide can really help you get your mind around money basics. College graduates (if not high school) should be given the latest edition of this guide as a graduation present.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Everyone needs a dictionary, and don't give me any shit about using Your computer isn't always on, or at least it shouldn't be, and neither should your smart phone. I use my dictionary ALL the time, for spelling help, pronunciation (Mr. CR and I had a heated discussion about the pronunciation of the word "secreted" the other day--I won't keep you in suspense, I won), hyphenation, etc. The other day my dad called and wanted to know the definition of "hubris." I love my dictionary. It's one of the few things in the world that I know how to use and never lets me down.

*Sometimes the spirt is willing but the flesh is weak: My standard physical reaction to anything more than two beers is to pass out, only to wake myself up with copious vomiting 6 to 12 hours later. At least it made me a cheap date, if not the life of the party.