Glennon Doyle Melton, perspective, and other random thoughts I had while washing the dishes.

All summer my sister kept asking me, what is the deal with this book Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I said, I don't know, I've been hearing about it but I haven't paid much attention. All the while I was thinking, Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon. Why do I know that name?

Carry on warriorAnd then it hit me. When she came out with her first book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, it became a bestseller, so I'd requested it from the library, even though I'd never seen much at (Melton's blog, on which the book was based) that really set me on fire. I still remember looking it over before I left the library (sitting in the chair next to the train table, where of course CRjr would have been crashing the trains and the second CRjr would still have been gestating), thinking, yeah, I just don't think there's anything here for me. So I turned it back in without even reading it.

That changed this fall. Melton published a new memoir, titled, of course, Love Warrior, which became an Oprah book and was a book about healing her marriage. Which made it all the more awkward when Melton announced, shortly after her new book's publication, that she and her husband would be separating. And then my sister kept asking me about the book. So I thought, well, I don't really want to wait for ages on the hold list for Love Warrior, but maybe I should give Carry On, Warrior, another chance.

And so I did.

I read it, and then I left it around*, and that's how Mr. CR found it and must have read some of it too. So the other day he said to me, "What's up with that Carry On Warrior book?" And I said, "It's terrible." And he said, "Yeah, it is." And we left it at that and just enjoyed (at least I did) a somewhat rare moment of quiet solidarity in our marriage.

And then I left the book on my table, thinking I should blog about it. So tonight I looked at it and realized what the problem is: I no longer have the heart to write negative reviews about books. Which is a shame, because I am a real believer in the well-written negative review, and I used to like writing a good negative review. So no: I don't think Carry On, Warrior was a great book. I didn't particularly enjoy it. Just as I thought that long-ago day in the library, there was really nothing in this book for me. Here's a bit from an early chapter, when Melton talks about her inspiration for writing and blogging, and describes how one day at the playground she just wanted to have an honest conversation with another woman there:

"I shed my armor and I waved my white flag. All of a sudden I heard myself saying the following to Tess:

Listen. I want you to know that I'm a recovering alcohol, drug, and food addict. I've been arrested because of those things. Craig and I got accidentally pregnant and married a year after we started dating. We love each other madly, but I'm secretly terrified that our issues with sex and anger will eventually screw things up. Sometimes I feel sad and worried when good things happen to other people. I snap at customer service people and my kids and husband regularly. I always have rage right beneath my surface..."

Tess stared at me for so long that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911. Then I saw some tears dribble down her cheek. We sat there, and she told me everything. Things with her husband were bad, apparently. Really bad. Tess felt scared and alone. But at the playground that day, Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect." (p. 4.)

Okay, whatever. It's not bad writing (most of Melton's essays are so neatly put together, as a matter of fact, that I'm thinking I should study them for my own writing), but it's just not an experience or an outcome that speaks to me. With the exception of a slight problem I have with Reese's peanut butter cups, I don't really have an addictive personality. I also don't have the type of personality that really responds deeply to the heavily repeated use of the word "love." It wasn't really fair of me to describe the book to Mr. CR as "terrible"; it's just a book that is fundamentally NOT FOR ME.

On top of all of this I see tonight, on the Interwebs, that Glennon Doyle Melton is now in a relationship with former soccer superstar Abby Wambach.

I really don't care who Melton dates, and it makes no difference whatsoever to me if who she dates is a man or a woman. But it did make me chuckle just a bit, especially after another popular female memoirist's recent announcement that she had divorced her husband and was now dating a woman. Here is the quote all the news stories have been using, as culled from Melton's Facebook announcement:

"They’re lucky kids, to be surrounded by so much love. We have family dinners together — all six of us — and Abby cooks. (She is an AMAZING chef because Jesus loves me). We go to the kids’ school parties together. We are a modern, beautiful family. Our children are loved. So loved. And because of all of that love, they are brave."

You see what I mean? That is a LOT of uses of the word "love" in one paragraph.

Anyway. So tonight I was washing dishes and wondering why I can't get into these "love"y types of books. And then, I thought, well, of course not, you hate everything. Which is true, in one way. I do profess to hate a lot of things, like all doctors and politicians and people who think corporations are people, etc. But then I thought about it some more and thought, well, you know, I don't really HATE all those things. I like to think that I wouldn't actively go out and cause harm to anyone, even someone I hate. (Although I can't be sure, I don't entirely trust even myself.) And then I thought some more (I had a lot of dishes tonight) about how this all related to Trump, and how everyone seems to be going way overboard in one way or another in reaction to his election. But me? For once I'm kind of sanguine about the whole thing. Yeah, he's a pig. But are we really holding up Bill Clinton as the example of how to respect women? What about JFK? Everyone was so busy NOT looking at all his indiscretions, did anyone ever even count the number of women he used for sexual encounters and then just tossed away? And the nuclear weapons stuff? Yeah, one of our presidents has ALREADY USED NUCLEAR WEAPONS and people mostly called him a hero for it. Is Trump gross? Yes. Was Hillary gross? Yes. Are all politicians gross? Yes.

You see the circles my brain runs in?

So here's what I figure. I'm going to skip the negative review on Melton's book. So it's not for me. Maybe next time I'll realize that sooner and use my time to get up and go help someone instead. That's also what I'm going to do about our political situation. Not pay attention, try to save time and energy that I can hopefully devote to maybe visiting someone who could use a visit. Or helping someone who could use some help. Or even just doing a little better job paying attention to my children rather than reading books that I'm not really enjoying while I'm with them. And maybe in four years we can all vote for someone better, although I would guess whoever comes along in four years is also going to be gross.

See? I ended up being negative somehow. But here's the title of the self-help book I want to write: We're All Assholes but Let's Try to Get Along Anyway. I can't imagine it will become an Oprah book anytime soon.

Marie Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: Not really meant for me.

I don't actually know what kind of magic it's going to take to change my life, but sadly, I don't think tidying up alone is going to do it.

Have you heard of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing? It's a bestseller and it's been getting a lot of good press (including some good words from readers I either trust or like or both). So I thought, my house and life are a mess, and this book is only 213 pages long, let's give it a whirl.

It was a fun (and somewhat useful) little read. Kondo's a well-known organization and decluttering expert, and in short and delightfully straightforward chapters she advises you (basically) to touch all your stuff, figure out if it "sparks joy" in you, and if it doesn't, ditch it. There's more to it than that, really, but that's the gist. She also concludes that if you tidy up your surroundings, and more fully appreciate fewer possessions, you will change your life for the better.

Let's get one thing straight: I'm totally on board. For at least the last decade I have had no problem throwing stuff away. Likewise, it is pretty easy to avoid acquiring things when you can only shop for fifteen minutes at a time.* One friend who told me about this book was telling me she didn't know if she agreed with the part of the book where Kondo suggests emptying your purse every time you get home (so as not to accumulate odds and ends, etc.). At that point I emptied my pockets onto the table: card wallet (reinforced-with-tape paper credit card sleeve that I use to carry about 5 important cards), cell phone, keys. I said, "Done!' She laughed but I do suspect she rather thought I should have my Girl Membership revoked.

But the thing where she tells you to ditch anything that doesn't "spark joy"? Well, whatever. If I actually abided by that there would be very few possessions left in my house. I hate my stove, for instance, and disdain its glass-top surface as ridiculous every time something boils over. And that old red short-sleeve sweater? Well, it's the only thing remotely appropriate to wear with my black "funeral skirt" (and you can guess why I keep that around). So you see my difficulty in going along with that one.

But at the end of the day? I did read the whole book and was somewhat charmed by it. I'm not going to start folding my clothes the Marie Kondo way, but the other day I did thank my house for housing me so nicely (she also recommends frequently thanking your possessions for their service) and it was nice. Did it change my life? Not really. Was it a harmless way to express joy and gratitude? Sure.

I'll take it. Have a good weekend, all.

*I ABHOR shopping of all types (except book-) and Mr. CR jokes that we only have fifteen minutes in any given store before I start hyperventilating. This smacks of high maintenance, I know, but it does mean that people you're shopping with start to learn to make their choices quickish.

Yet another reason not to judge other people's self-help reading.

Mainly because that sort of thing will always come back to bite you in the ass.

When I worked at the public library, I often checked out books to parents about "1,2,3 discipline" and "spirited" or "indigo" children. What I used to think was, well, I don't know that you've got 'spirited' children--you might just have brats.

And here are the titles I checked out at the library the other day: Difficult to Delightful in Just 30 Days; Taming the Spirited Child; and Raising Your Spirited Child.*


*Please note that neither of the CRjrs are really too "spirited." I'm just busily trying to find some nice, harmonious way to reconcile my massive need to control with their massive needs to not be controlled. We're all learning here.

Brian Grazer's A Curious Mind: Disappointing.

I so badly wanted to like Brian Grazer's book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.

I don't actually know anything about Brian Grazer (beyond the facts that he is a Hollywood movie producer with big hair who runs Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard), but this book got a lot of good press and it's based on a rather engaging idea. Grazer has spent much of his adult life engaged in what he calls "curiosity conversations," whereby he just tries to get some time with interesting and/or famous people, and have a chat. About nothing really in particular.

And I loved the first chapter, when Grazer is explaining his idea, and how he got started in work and with this curiosity habit. Very engaging stuff:

"One Thursday afternoon, the summer after I graduated from the University of Southern California (USC), I was sitting in my apartment in Santa Monica with the windows open, thinking about how to get some work until I started law school at USC in the fall.

Suddenly, through the windows, I overheard two guys talking just outside. One said, 'Oh my God, I had the cushiest job at Warner Bros. I got paid for eight hours of work every day, and it was usually just an hour.'

This guy got my attention. I opened the window a little more so I wouldn't miss the rest of the conversation, and I quietly closed the curtain.

The guy went on to say he had been a legal clerk. 'I just quit today. My boss was a man named Peter Knecht.'

I was amazed. Sounded perfect to me.

I went right to the telephone, dialed 411, and asked for the main number at Warner Bros.--I still remember it, 954-6000.

I called the number and asked for Peter Knecht. An assistant in his office answered, and I said to her, 'I'm going to USC law school in the fall, and I'd like to meet with Mr. Knecht about the law clerk job that's open." (p. 2.)

Now that's hilarious. That story is proof that the meek will not inherit the earth, at least not while we're on the earth. I enjoyed the story even more as Grazer talks about how he parlayed it into meeting famous people; the largest part of the job was basically ferrying legal paperwork around, so when he had to deliver papers to people he wanted to meet, like Warren Beatty, he just told their assistants that he had to hand the legal papers to them personally. I just laughed and laughed at the sheer clever ballsiness of this guy. So I was more than ready to continue on the curiosity journey with him.

How disappointing, then, that the rest of the book, ostensibly focusing on the conversations Grazer has had with people over the years*, read more like a business book treatise (and not a particularly compellingly written treatise at that) on the merits of having curiosity. I skimmed through most of the book, but mainly I ended up feeling like the victim of a massive bait-and-switch: Grazer would tease with the name/s of people he spoke with, but he never really shared any concrete details of their conversations. Instead he veers off into a lot of this sort of thing:

"Unlike creativity and innovation, though, curiosity is by its nature more accessible, more democratic, easier to see, and also easier to do." (p. 61.)

Blah blah blah, whatever. Yeah, curiosity is great. I get it. It's not a complicated concept. Now would you just tell me what you and Rufus Wainwright TALKED ABOUT??**

*And he's talked to a LOT of interesting people; he lists his conversational partners at the end of the book, and they include (but are not limited to): Muhammad Ali, Isaac Asimov, Tyra Banks, Jeff Bezos, Vincent Bugliosi, Jim Cramer, Mario Cuomo, David Hockney, Chris Isaak, Wolfgang Puck...

**When I saw Rufus Wainwright on his list of people, I got super excited (because I read the list before reading the book), thinking I would get to hear about his conversation with Wainwright. (Oh, Rufus.) Alas, I found that the book contains only the briefest of anecdotes about his discussions with just a very select few of his interviewees.

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.

Geneen Roth, you're beginning to annoy me.

A disclaimer: adult language follows. Bail now if you do not enjoy seeing the f*** word in print.

In my summer of crank, I have taken to using the following phrase a lot: "Are you fucking kidding me?" I know, I know, I shouldn't be swearing around CRjr. But I can't help it. "Are you kidding me?" just doesn't have the oomph that "are you fucking kidding me?" has. And sometimes I like to speak with oomph.

My latest "are you fucking kidding me" moment came when I started reading Geneen Roth's Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money. I know, I know, her last book, Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, was terrible and this is not the sort of book I enjoy at all. But Geneen is a bestselling nonfiction author, and sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me. I think, deep down, if I read books that many other people like, I will start to understand how other people think, and then maybe I will get along with all other people better and understand the American culture and fit in. Blah blah blah. I don't care so much for myself, but it has come to my attention that perhaps CRjr would have an easier time of it if his mother wasn't an old, profane, grouchy misanthrope.

Lost Here's how Geneen starts off: "I was standing in my kitchen wondering what to have for lunch when my friend Taj called.

'Sit down,' she said.

I thought she was going to tell me she had just gotten the haircut from hell. I laughed and said, 'It can't be that bad.'

But it was. Before the phone call I had thirty years of retirement savings in a 'safe' fund with a brilliant financial guru. When I put down the phone, my savings were gone and my genius financial guru, Bernie Madoff, was in handcuffs. I felt as if I had died and, for some unknown reason, was still breathing." (p. 1.)

That's right, folks, Geneen Roth, of Oprah bestselling fame, lost all her money (money tons of readers gave her) in Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme.

Here's some more: "In 1992, my fourth book sold enough copies in paperback to spend two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and when I received the check for this windfall--$106,000--it was like getting a paper bag filled with Monopoly money...Up to that moment, I had had the luxury of not paying much attention to money, partly because I was making enough to pay my bills, after which I'd put what was left over into a savings account, and partly because I had met and married my partner, Matt, and relegated the money part of our lives to him." (p. 5.)

This is a woman writing self-help books for other women? Are you fucking kidding me?

Well, anyway. I was not able to read this book in its entirety, but it seems to follow much the same format of her earlier bestseller Women, Food, and God. She tells some personal stories, she explains what she learned, she applies her experiences to other womens' lives and how they can be more mindful about their money matters. Blah, blah, blah. If you're curious, this is not the book that will make me understand the culture, or fit in, so that CRjr doesn't have a grouchy misanthrope mother. Them's the breaks, folks.

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. 

Not sure what all the fuss is about...quite literally.

One of the biggest nonfiction titles last year in terms of buzz and sales was Geneen Roth's Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything.

Roth This was, of course, because it was an Oprah title. And although I am no fan of Oprah or her book choices, I realized in January that I was eating some leftover Christmas cookies not because I was hungry or even peckish, but rather because I was bored and antsy. So I thought, well, maybe this book will have something to say about eating to fill holes other than one's stomach.*

So, because I knew I probably wasn't going to have the interest to read the whole thing, I did that type of nonfiction reading I do when I want to get the basics of a book but don't necessarily want to read every line of it: I kind of skim-read it for a while. But, honestly, I made it to page 62, and I still have no idea what Roth is saying, or what the point of her book is. The book jacket tells me that Roth posits that "the way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive."** Well, okay. But trust me: that doesn't exactly make for compelling storytelling. As far as I can tell, Roth's claim to fame is gaining and losing more than a thousand pounds over her lifetime, and now she teaches seminars basically telling women to lose weight by stopping trying to lose weight. There's a lot of sentences like this:

"When I first meet people who come to my retreat, I see those same beliefs funneled through the relationship with food. As if punishing themselves with dietary rigors will make up for something inherently damaged, fundamentally wrong with their very existence. Being thin becomes The Test. Losing weight becomes their religion." (p. 63.)

Okay. There's nothing wrong with that. I can support a woman who just wants us to have a normal relationship with our food as food. It's just that this book isn't particularly interesting, or personal, or helpful. I've skimmed the whole thing now and about the best line I can find to nutshell it for you is on page 161: "eat what your body wants when you're hungry, stop when you've had enough." The rest of it just seems like a big ad for Geneen Roth Retreats or seminars or whatever.

*I do plenty of eating when I AM hungry and/or peckish, and I am hungry a lot, so I really can't afford to start eating when I'm not hungry if I ever want to fit back into my pre-CRjr fat jeans.***

**I'll buy this. I eat candy, chocolate, and cookies like one of my core beliefs is that someday they won't exist any more. Or, more likely with this economy, I won't be able to afford them any more.

***You read that right. I'm still not even back in my previous FAT jeans. So sad. I don't weigh all that much more, it's just that stuff has...shifted. Sigh.

Not secrets I'm going to be pursuing.

I couldn't resist a title like The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, by Gene Stone.

Secrets It's a simple enough premise. Journalist stone relates the stories of twenty-five individuals or groups who "never get sick," and reveals their secrets. A few of them are things you can't really influence: such as living in "blue zones" or having good genes, but the majority of them are things you can. There's some basic stuff: germ avoidance, napping, stresslessness, taking vitamin C, but there are also things a bit farther afield:

"So each morning Bill pours a coffee cup's worth of hydrogen peroxide into a sink filled with lukewarm water, shuts his eyes, puts his head in the sink, and blows bubbles through his nose to get the mixture circulating." (p. 95.)*

It's a readable little book, especially for a self-help/health title. The chapters are short and punchy, and Stone frames each of the tips around the story of a person who actually follows the regime (and does well by it). But I'm not going to finish it (turns out that good health isn't all that exciting to read about, although it's very exciting to have it), and I'm also not going to be following a hydrogen peroxide regime. I just know I'd find a way to poison myself, and that's not really worth it. But if you're looking for some new and healthy ideas for the new year? This book might be a fun place to start.

*Incidentally, don't try this without getting the book and reading disclaimer about this habit, including not breathing in any of the peroxide water.

A disappointing reading weekend.

I couldn't really find my reading groove this weekend.

First I looked at a book called How Patients Should Think: 10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Drugs, Tests, and Treatment, by Ray Moynihan and Melissa Sweet (as I firmly believe that where the medical establishment is concerned, your best defense is a good offense). It had some good information, and I liked their philosophy that "asking questions needs to be seen as an essential and valid part of seeking health care," but I just cannot read any more health or medical books right now. I will have to check it out some other time.

I also started Greg Grandin's Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, but was completely bored. I don't think it's a bad book, just a very detailed history, and something for which I wasn't in the right mood.

I also started Alison Weir's The Lady in the Tower, about the fall of Anne Boleyn, which is okay, but didn't quite hold my attention the way I wanted.

So, all in all, a meh reading weekend, and I hope yours was much better. I did start a new book last night that I'm excited about (always at the end of the weekend, I find them). Further bulletins as events warrant.

Two takes on urban sufficiency.

Urban I applaud the spirit behind The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City (by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen). I really do. I'm on board with their opening projects: composting, a little raised garden bed, container gardening, etc. But when it starts to veer into hardcore, I'm afraid I have to get off the train. A few things I will not be doing:

1. Well, pretty much anything from the "Urban Foraging" chapter. I will not be harvesting and eating weeds (I have eaten weeds--Mom used to make dandelions like endive; chopped up and mixed with mashed potatoes and a bit of bacon--but I got enough of that in my youth) or dumpster diving for food.

2. I know it's all the rage right now, but I will also not be keeping chickens.

3. Composting toilets, making use of my own waste? No freaking way, man. I LOVE my flush toilet, I'm clinging to it until civilization ends, and then I'm just going to give up and die. If that makes me a bad person, environmentally, then so be it.

So I will not become an urban homesteader. There were still a few interesting things in the book, although I found a similar title, Kathy Harrison's Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens, to contain more helpful information about being prepared and what to have on hand for basic emergencies and first aid. Over the weekend I also picked up R.J. Ruppenthal's Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, which I predict I will find interesting until it actually comes time to plant something. Further bulletins on this book as events warrant.

Second verse, same as the first.

This is what my sister has been saying about the new year, and although I have high hopes for 2009 (in my own pessimistic way; mainly I'm hoping it's no worse than 2008), I figure she's probably right.

Evidence for that can be found in my long list of overdue books from the library. It's time to own up and admit I'm never going to get everything that's currently overdue read and just take them back. The most ironic title on the stack? The Experts' Guide to Doing Things Faster: 100 Ways to Make Life More Efficient, by Samantha Ettus.

Faster On the bright side, I don't think I'll be missing much. I did page through this one, and although parts of it look intriguing ("Clean Your Home," "Cook a Meal," "Make Your Computer Run Faster,") most of it looks like things I don't want to be doing at all, much less faster: "Tackle Your To-Do List," "Choose a Healthy Snack," "Style Your Hair." It's a very odd little book, each short chapter being written by a different expert, and even the chapters that seemed like they might be helpful weren't all that fresh ("Recover from Surgery: Push yourself through the mental pain that accompanies every part of rehabilitation." Not all that clever, although the fact that this chapter was written by an NFL player who's been through 29 surgeries was mildly interesting. Here's what I actually learned from that chapter: Encourage nephews to never, ever take up football.).

What I'm really looking for, I guess, is the Guide to Getting Out of Things I Don't Want to Do (Chapter 1: Cleaning, Chapter 2: Working, Chapter 3: Anything that isn't reading, really), not a guide for simply doing things faster.

I'm a bad person.

You know how I know that?  I'm about to dis a book written by man dying of pancreatic cancer, for the love of God.

The Last LectureLet's get one thing out of the way: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, is not a terrible book.  It's not the sort of book that's going to make the world dumber, the way books by Thomas Friedman and Jodi Picoult do.  But it is emphatically not a book for me. 

You've probably seen the story.  Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, found out in 2006 that he had pancreatic cancer.  In 2007 the prognosis got worse: he had numerous tumors in his liver and the doctors gave him months to live.  This provided the impetus to give a "last lecture" to a large audience at Carnegie Mellon, which he also felt could be recorded and written down so his three very young kids had something to remember him by.  It's not a bad idea, and the first part of the book (the text of which was taken from the talk) is interesting, about how he achieved most of his childhood dreams, including working as a Disney Imagineer and being Captain Kirk.*

Where it falters slightly is the last half, where Pausch trots out a bunch of "life lessons," most of which are not only not unique in the grand scheme of books and speeches, but which will be published in literally hundreds of different self-help and business self-improvement books this year alone.  They include: Dream Big, Earnest is Better than Hip, Don't Complain, just Work Harder, and Look for the Best in Everybody.  There's also a lot of chat about being a positive person, and never giving up when you hit "brick walls."

Well, okay.  But you know what?  Not everyone is a positive person.  I don't think everyone should have to be, which is why I find these types of books so obnoxious.  Frankly, I think the crap suggestion to "don't complain, just work harder" is directly attributable to that positive outlook.  Just once I'd like to read a book that says, "You know what? If you have a legitimate complaint, complain.  Don't stop complaining until the dicks causing your problems address your issue and maybe improve things for the next poor schlubs."  Maybe we should all start complaining a little more, with reason, including Pausch: maybe if the pharmaceutical companies were spending a little less money on creating diseases and demands for drugs they have, and a little more money on researching pancreatic cancer, they'd get somewhere faster. 

The bottom line is, of course, live and let live. Pausch has a right to write whatever kind of near-death book he wants.  But am I the only one who finds it ironic that a man advocating finding a way through brick walls has hit one he clearly won't be able to overcome?  I want to read the book that says, "Oh, shit, you know, some walls you just can't break down" and then see what the author does from there.**

I don't think anyone's going to publish that book.  But then, I'm not a positive person.***

*The Captain Kirk story was my favorite one in the whole book.  Pausch didn't become Captain Kirk, but he met William Shatner, which is even better, in my opinion.

**Actually, I've read that book, and it was AWESOME.  It was Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It, one of the most negative and inspiring books ever.

***Please note the important distinction that this doesn't necessarily mean I'm an unhappy person.