Tag Archives: new books

My Stars

Please let me preface this by saying that I don’t know beans about Bristol Palin’s life, but I would not want to slam anybody who is a single mom. Single momming is all kinds of hard work.

That said, people who write jacket copy for the memoirs of single mothers are fair game. So from the front flap of B. Palin’s new book, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far, I give you:

“…Through all of these ups and downs, Bristol learned how to face her challenges head-on with courage and grace, [WAIT FOR IT!] traits she put to good use as a contestant and finalist on Dancing with the Stars.”

People are generally said (if they emerge from such horrors not actually having descended into a permanent state of jibbering idiocy) to have faced things like life-threatening disease, natural disasters or hostage situations with courage and grace. Dancing with the Stars? Really?

I would prefer to face Dancing with the Stars with gin and tonic.

Other things that make me giggle, but in more of a laughing-with-you kind of way:

The Practical Napper: Tips, Facts, and Quotes for the Avidly Recumbent, by Jennifer Eyre White.

My favorite:

Napping is good for world peace. When you’re napping, you’re not:

  1. Behaving like imperialist swine.
  2. Trying to convert other countries to your religion and/or political system and/or fashion sense.
  3. Calling other countries mean names.

 

The Ralph Steadman Book of Dogs

Every once in a while, somebody will bring up that old hypothetical question, “If you could have a dinner party and invite anybody you wanted, living or dead, who would you ask?” People generally get all earnest about this one and come up with a guest list that includes Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Personally, I think having Ralph Steadman, Rabelais and Christopher Moore over for pizza and booze would be a laugh riot. Ooh — and Django Reinhardt. Maybe he’d jam. I’d ask Hunter S. too, but he might wander off with a bottle of drugged wine and a shotgun to lie in wait for the delivery guy.

Steadman’s latest goofy collection of canine drawings is a hoot.

That's some hat.

Anything by Angela Thirkell

I first discovered Thirkell during a dark, scary, I-can’t-read-anything-distressing-my-life-is-distressing-enough-what-if-I’m-doing-everything-all-wrong-probably-it-would-be-better-for-everyone-if-I-just-hid-here-under-the-couch-wow-I-should-really-vacuum . . . time in my life. She seemed the perfect antidote to my then-reality: a sort of buttoned-up, post WWI Jane Austen knock-off.

Thirkell is a gentle and forgiving observer of every-day people doing every-day things in an English village. She’s also got an out-of-nowhere-surprise hit of snark when you least expect it. Literary quotes from Dickens and Thakeray sneak up and bite you when you’re not looking. She wrote for money, starting in the 1920’s and continuing into the 50s. She didn’t expect most of her “society” friends to like, or even read, her novels. She’s classist and sexist and funny and kind — sometimes, upsettingly, all at once. I like her Barsetshire books the best. If you’re a guy, you will very likely hate them (I didn’t say in what way she was sexist). If you’re not, or you’re up for something different, give them a try.

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Sex and Robots

I have two new books to tell you about. One is Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson. It comes out in June. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a fan of speculative fiction (A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Difference Engine, The Windup Girl), but usually, things with “-opocalypse” in the title just don’t speak to me.

Robopocalypse is a fast-paced, smart thriller. It’s good fun and very, very hard to put down. Run out and grab a copy this June. And if you’ve got a quirky graduate to buy for: This is it. You will be “The Cool Relative who got me This Awesome Book.” Engineering student? Perfect. Reads the Onion? Wrap this puppy up. But honestly, everyone will be hooked. I’m thinking it will be The Book of the Summer. A guilty pleasure? Yes, in the exact same way that Clancy and Grisham were, at the top of their game.

The jacket promotion on my reader’s copy tells me that Stephen Spielberg is supposed to be making a movie of the novel in 2013. It will probably make a great film. If you’re a fifteen year old boy. It’s not a short book, so I envision it reduced to loud and incessant Transformer-like effects. I will go see it, and (thanks to my old college roommate and her fondness for high-volume hair metal) will probably sleep soundly through the second half.  A girl can dream though…  And since movies, as a rule, need bear no relation to the book they are named for, I wish for this closing scene:

Humphrey Bogart turns to his unlikely automaton companion and watches as the machine tosses a can of Vichy Brand Motor Oil into the wastebasket. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” says Bogie, as they stroll down the runway into the Moroccan night.

Sex with Presidents

Larry Flint and Harvard professor David Eisenbach have recently published One Nation Under Sex, a look at how the sex lives of the powerful have molded American politics and history. Did you know they think Lincoln was gay? Yeah, that’s an old one. And except for the feather it ought to put in the caps of everybody who fights the good fight for gay rights, I really don’t care. Tom & Sally sittin’ in a tree is pretty much yesterday’s news too, but I did not know so much about James Buchanan before.

It’s an interesting book. Because most of the people in it are dead, it was less salacious than I expected, and also more put-down-able. Still, a worthy read. And the last chapter makes it an important one, in a nation which has tended in recent years to think that who somebody sleeps with is more important that who they call airstrikes on.

I’m never sure how I feel about Larry Flint. As a full-on Freedom of Speech geek, I kind of like him. As a girl… meh. I’ve got nothing against the young women who pose for things like Hustler. Good for them; they are making money. And I guess that the fellas who purchase the mag are paying their wage, but really? It just kind of perpetuates this weird disconnect between what guys are led to think goes on inside women’s heads and what really does. What goes on in guys’ heads? No idea. Ask Lincoln.

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Puppy Love

I was a good little vector. I went and got my flu shot early and am now sick as a dog regardless.  Despite the best efforts of wonderful people to bring me  soup and otherwise look after me, I’m trying to spare folks the intense germification and accompanying crankiness which I spew out in equal measure. So I’m hiding out at home with the dog, a bag of lemons and a jumbo box of echinacia tea. And I’ve become aware of a canine virtue we often overlook:

The Dog as Nurse

My dog knows I don’t feel well. While he might normally spend a day at home leaping about and gnawing on me or the furniture, today he just gently follows me around looking for all the world as though he’s about to ask how to turn on the kettle so he can make me a toddy.  I wonder if this is a trick you can teach a dog… bartending is so useful. The dog also functions excellently as hot water bottle. He curls up beneath the quilt but above the sheets and keeps my feet toasty. At first I was concerned. How can he breathe under there? But he seems to like it, so I’m chalking it up to yet another example of how talented a member of the family he is.

This is all really just an excuse to tell you about some dog books.

I Didn\’t Do It, by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest is probably my favorite picture book this year. I was kind of behind the ball and didn’t know they’d come out with a follow-up to their previous & delightful Once I Ate a Pie until I saw a copy of this new one at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show. Who says it’s not worth it for publishers to attend these things? I made a real traffic hazard of myself accosting other booksellers outside the Harper Collins booth to show them the book and gush. I can’t help myself, I get excited.

Katy Schneider’s illustrations are wonderful as always, full of the personality of each doggy character. The astonishing thing about this book and Once I Ate a Pie is that in the kid-lit world of disneyfied animals (who are cute and fun, but not particularly real) they are so doggish. Each poem and illustration brings us a little closer to the playfulness, the devotion and the humor of dogs.  I’d give you an excerpt here, but like all the very best picture books, the words are wonderful – but the pictures are what make them whole.

Oogy: The Dog Only a Family could Love

I’ve been telling people about this warmhearted memoir by Larry Levin for weeks now. It’s the story of a former bait dog, and before you stop reading I want to let you know that there are no scenes of violence in the book. We meet Oogy after his life has been saved by a wonderful vet clinic and the Levins have decided to adopt him and give him a cozy home. For all you folks who just cannot read another sad dog story, this is just what you will like. The perfect antidote to the evening news, this is about people being their best – people saying, “I want to take that dog home, the one with no ear and all the scars.” Make no mistake, for all our horrors and failings as a species, some of us say that every day at shelters and vets’ and pounds around the country:  I’ll take the one with three legs, the broken one, the one who can’t see. I’ll take the old one who can’t find a home. I’ll take the lost one, running in traffic, about to get hit. I’ll take the one who needs shots every day, the one with no tail and all the burns, the one with mange, or fleas, or heartworm. I’ll take the one who needs me.

This is the kind of story that lets us know what we’re here for. We can help – in a big way, or a seemingly small one. Like many of us, I know people who have taken in animals from truly horrifying circumstances. The funny thing is, those people are nearly always rewarded with the same kind of love and education that Oogy offers his family of people. Animals are great teachers of love and courage and trying again – giving things another chance and a new start. Their bravery is extraordinary and comes with the kind of open heart that takes humans a lifetime of practice. Read Oogy and feel good about dogs and people – and know there are some wonderful things in this world.

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How Did You Get This Number?

Sloan Crosley’s new collection of essays by this name is flat wonderful.

I enjoyed her previous book, I Was Told There\’d Be Cake. It was funny and sharp, but she was so young. I dimly remember being that young. Crosley is obviously talented and IWTTBC is witty and edgy.

But sometimes I think the “edge” we laud so much in the arts lately reveals a kind of immaturity. You reach a certain point in life and uncomfortable + odd + kind of sad, no longer  =  funny.  Failings stop being something other people have and start to accumulate at the back of your dresser drawers — medals you wish you hadn’t gotten for coming through whatever you failed at still alive. Put another way, you become a bit of a sap.

Crosley’s new book has a depth and warmth you don’t see very often in personal essays. She’s less of a clown and much more funny than in her bestselling first collection. Her turn of phrase is sometimes startlingly elegant and always spot-on. And in How Did You Get This Number she doesn’t just make you laugh, she makes you think. HDYGTN comes out June 19th. Go out and get yourself one. I look forward to much more from this author.

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