The best thing an author can be is honest, and I was in awe of Harris' candor while tackling such a range of themes - there's alcoholism, bullies, div...moreThe best thing an author can be is honest, and I was in awe of Harris' candor while tackling such a range of themes - there's alcoholism, bullies, diva moments, body image issues, incredible teachers, friendship, romance, the roller coaster of adoption, 9/11, attempted suicide and coming out. Harris is candid about himself, his family, his idols, the situations he's been in, and the situations he's created for himself in a way that's incredibly refreshing.
Two stories really stood out to me. First, "As Good As It Gets," the story about Harris' summer of freedom at Opryland and the isolation he encountered after returning home. "There is nothing wrong with you," might seem like a simple, undramatic thing to say to a teenager, but if his teacher Mr. McDowell hadn't taken an interest, where would Harris be today? What happens to those who aren't lucky enough to have a Mr. McDowell in there lives? His statement that bigotry is driven by "Ignorance. Fear. Also, some people are assholes," is spot on and not said enough.
Second, "The Zoo Story" really hit close to home. I don't have an incredible voice or celebrity friends, but like Sam, I had to convince my husband to give parenthood a chance. Although he was over the moon when our daughter was born, my husband wasn't quite sure what to do with the little crying bundle. As much as he loved her, she mostly made him nervous and panicky.
That first, mostly non-verbal year, I was in my mommy element - I'd read all the books, magazines and blogs; I had ample clothes, diapers and Butt Paste; our schedule was well researched and planned. My husband grew more comfortable as our daughter became more mobile and vocal, and now he's come into his own as "the fun one" while I've been relegated mostly to rule-setting, logistics, and photography.
We didn't have to jump through any hoops to become the happy trio we are today, nor did we have to abide the intolerant opinions of family, and reading about part of that maniac journey in "Better" gives me a whole new appreciation for my relatively easy road. But even when he was young, Harris had a sense that the show must go on, and his ability to embrace life and get on despite its hurdles is a real inspiration.(less)
Usually I try to skip the college graduate advice-type books, but I enjoyed Lucky Man so much that I decided to give A Funny Thing Happened a try. But...moreUsually I try to skip the college graduate advice-type books, but I enjoyed Lucky Man so much that I decided to give A Funny Thing Happened a try. But not even Michael J. Fox could improve upon this particular genre.
He tells some funny anecdotes, shares some personal moments, and basically tells the same story all these post-college books tell: Remember your priorities, roll with the punches, and never stop learning. (Fox adds to be curious, which I am a big believer in.)
Truthfully, it's all good advice. But nothing about that list has changed in the (gasp!) 10 years since I graduated college. And none of the authors who have tackled the list have done so in a way that left me thinking "Damn, s/he really nailed it!" At least none I've read so far - including, unfortunately, this one.(less)
I've read a ton of baby and child-rearing books in the past three years, looking for something that best describes my own personal parenting philosoph...moreI've read a ton of baby and child-rearing books in the past three years, looking for something that best describes my own personal parenting philosophy or provides more of a structure for the things I think are most important to teach my daughter. This search stems from the very different styles my husband and I have developed - he has more of a give-the-kid-what-she-wants-because-she's-just-a-kid approach, whereas I believe our day is filled with teachable moments, and giving her whatever she wants doesn't teach her anything.
Luckily for my daughter, we balance each other out, but among family and friends, I find myself and my philosophy very much in the minority.
Apparently, that's because I live in the wrong country.
So many of the points from this book are things I've said or general guidelines I've tried to follow in raising my daughter:
(8) Epidurals aren't evil - it's all about knowing what you can or can't handle, and you certainly don't need or deserve anyone's guilt trip about your decision. (12) Tell your baby the truth - I have been fighting hard against teaching my daughter about Santa Clause and the Easter bunny. Not only am I not religious, but I fail to see the importance of lying about why she gets presents in December or chocolate in April. What will she learn through my participation in the whole farce? (16) Baby formula isn't poison - again, a decision for the family to make, and one that's sometimes necessitated by circumstances not in your control - and you don't need or deserve anyone's guilt trip about the decision. (That last bit is important and bears repeating.) (33) You just have to taste it - one bite of a new thing is all you need, and if you serve it with something the child knows and likes, all the better. (46) Teach the four magic words - please, thank you, hello, and goodbye. (53) Give kids lots of chances to practice waiting - not for hours, mind you, but a minute or two is reasonable and shows them how to be considerate of others and what they're doing. (75) Show kids that you have a life apart from them - just because you do, doesn't mean they're not important.
Others points from the book that I've encouraged my husband to consider:
(20) Do "The Pause" - don't run to the crib/bedside the instant you hear her crying - your immediate, well-intentioned response will likely wake the child, who otherwise might've drifted back into sleep on her own. (29) You are the keeper of the fridge - don't let her help herself to whatever's in there or in the pantry right before dinner. You're in charge here, right? (50) Back off at the playground - let her explore and work out conflicts by herself - you'd be surprised and proud of how well she can manage. (56) Don't let your child interrupt you, and (57) don't interrupt your child! Just because she wants to play by herself for a little bit does not mean she'll grow up to be a psycho killer. (91) Say "No" with conviction, and (92) say "Yes" as often as you can. There are ways to say no by saying yes - for example, Q: "Can I have an ice cream cone?" You could answer "No, not right now" or "Yes, after dinner." (96) You're not disciplining, you're educating. And disciplining isn't a bad, horrible, terrible, awful thing that you should never, ever do, either.
And others still I will be trying immediately and only wish I had thought of/known sooner:
(26) There are no "kid" foods; (31) Serve food in courses, vegetables first; (35) You choose the food, she chooses the quantities; (63) Give kids meaningful chores; and (82) Your bedroom is your castle!
Those are the points that spoke to me the most - and now that I see just how many there are, I feel the book deserves an extra star! The only area where I found it lacking was in advice - what steps can I take to change my parenting approach? How can I implement these 100 French Parenting keys? For some items, it's just common sense; for others, I imagine it could take a serious adjustment for both parent and child.(less)
I probably shouldn't have read this before Memorial("Meat-morial") Day weekend.
Hindsight aside, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. This boo...moreI probably shouldn't have read this before Memorial("Meat-morial") Day weekend.
Hindsight aside, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. This book was eye-opening on so many levels. Sure, Eric Schlosser goes into detail about how the food served in fast food chains is produced, but he also covers socio-economics, marketing, politics, science, and modern parenting. He describes how the skilled jobs of the '40s and '50s are now handled by unskilled, often immigrant workers for poverty-level pay. He explains how the fast food industry builds brand recognition and loyalty at a young age by targeting children, even during their school day, similar to the cigarette manufacturers' approach once upon a time. He talks about the safety and health standards at meatpacking facilities and how regulatory organizations like OSHA and the FDA, which are supposed to look out for the public's best interest, have been manipulated and made ineffectual against the injuries and health hazards.
It's fascinating - and horrifying - stuff.
Did you know that the smells and tastes of most of your favorite fast foods were manufactured in a chemical plant by a "flavor company"? Or that your tax dollars have largely subsidized fast food companies' high worker turnover rate through tax breaks for low-income workers who don't receive much if any training and generally only last a few months ("annual turnover rate in the fast food industry is now about 300 to 400 percent")? Did you know that deregulation in the '80s caused OSHA to "adopt a policy of 'voluntary compliance' at meat packing plants? Or that the fine for a company's negligence that results in a worker's death could be as low as $480? Did you know the meat packing industry has to meet higher standards and abide by stricter guidelines to export their product across the pond than to ship it to a neighboring state?
These are just a few of the many points that blew my mind. It makes you realize how little we actually know about how our food is processed. We put a lot of faith into organizations that are manipulated by those whose motivation is profit, not the public's health.
Like most people, I try to make good decisions when it comes to feeding my family. I have a bountiful vegetable and herb garden, I try to buy seasonally and locally from farmers markets and family-owned grocery stores, and I try to buy beef and pork from local providers whose methods I've researched and agree with. But we still enjoy the occasional fast-food or chain restaurant meal, and we supplement the local meats with what's available at the grocery store. No big deal, right?
Before I met my husband, it never occurred to me that doors can double as towel racks, checkbooks can also be used as coasters, and that Tupperware li...moreBefore I met my husband, it never occurred to me that doors can double as towel racks, checkbooks can also be used as coasters, and that Tupperware lids make acceptable plates. I am a Type A neat freak who tends to hoard books, and my husband is an easily distracted I'll-clean-when-company-comes type who would rather throw things out than organize them. (Like, filing cabinets, for instance.)
So a friend of mine loaned me this book so I could come up with some compromises that would help me keep the house presentable and him from having to deal with unpractical organization methods. Here are just some of the useful tips we implemented that have been successful so far:
(1) We've started using a tall canister on the kitchen counter so we can easily find every-day utensils like whisks, spatulas, and wooden spoons.
(2) When the lid to our laundry hamper was on, it became an extra counter to put things on - and instead of clearing it to put his dirty clothes in the hamper, my husband would just drop his clothes on the floor in front of it. The hamper would be empty, but there'd be a pile of clothes on the floor! We solved the problem by simply removing the lid.
(3) The bathroom counter was always cluttered, and I would find my husband's deodorant, razor, and cologne all over the house. Now, we have a small basket for things we use every day. That way they're within easy reach, and the basket serves as a reminder to put things back.
(4) We purge before Christmas and birthdays to make room for our daughter's new toys, but it never occurred to us to do the same for ourselves. I made two big trips to Goodwill this year right before the holidays, and it made all the difference.
(5) We've been giving our 3-year-old daughter more specific chores - like "pick up your books" instead of a vague instruction to "clean up" her room.
And we're not done. There was a useful suggestion on nearly every page. So next on the list of things for us to try are:
(1) On garbage day, we throw out the contents of all Tupperware containers in the fridge. We're pretty good about this one, but it still isn't an ingrained habit.
(2) Banning all paperwork from the kitchen to prevent pile ups next to our messy cooking areas.
(3) Buying open bins for the floor in our closet. It'll be easier to find and put away winter necessities (hats, gloves) and sporting gear (cleats, Underarmor) without having to put them in storage during off-seasons.
This is one of the few books I've read that preaches practicality above beauty, simplicity above complication when it comes to organization. And I have to say, it's working really well for us so far. (less)
This book was a mixed bag for me. I thought it was well organized, simple to follow, and included a wide variety of games. But when I finished, I was...moreThis book was a mixed bag for me. I thought it was well organized, simple to follow, and included a wide variety of games. But when I finished, I was disappointed by how few pages I'd marked as "to try."
So I guess I'll start with those I want to try. The first on my list is Big Foot Box Shoe Race - my daughter loves shoes, arts 'n' crafts, and running, so this game is made for her. I'll let her decorate a few pairs of box shoes and we can use them to race around the house/yard. (I can see her box shoe collection growing to rival her actual shoe collection, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.)
Most of the bean bag games struck me as easy and enjoyable. And once you've made the bean bags, the games you can invent to play are nearly endless.
Bombardment will be fun when my daughter is older. This game is a spin on dodge ball - two teams stand on either side of a divider line, except instead of throwing balls at each other to knock the other team out, they instead try to take out a row of cans or bottles. Games like dodge ball always seem to end with someone intentionally beaming someone else in the face. So I'm glad this version eliminates the human target.
Pinball Machine seems like a pretty epic undertaking, and as cool as it would be to build one myself, I just don't know if I have the patience to see that project through. So for now it's on the maybe list, and definitely more for me than the kid at this point.
In future, I'm sure we'll play some of the paper games listed - Squiggles and Dot-to-Dot Grid are definites (my siblings and I know these games as "Lines" and "Dots," but we enjoyed them a lot in my preteen and early teen years).
There were a few games that my daughter and I played when she was about one - Digging for Treasure (hide objects in a rice-filled shoe box) and Knock Down the Tower (stack cups and use something to knock them over - the book recommended using bean bags, but we used wind-up toy trains and cars). Then there were a few that I just couldn't really see as being much fun - Around the Hoop (having a group of kids hold hands in a circle and pass a hula hoop around) in particular struck me as dull.
I guess the bottom line is that Play These Games has a lot to offer, and it's an incredibly quick read, just don't expect it to introduce you to groundbreaking, mind-blowing, earth-shattering new games. Just fun stuff you can do with common items and a little imagination. (less)
Clifford Irving is full of two things: shit and himself. And if you believe he didn't truly understand the ramifications of what he was doing or that...moreClifford Irving is full of two things: shit and himself. And if you believe he didn't truly understand the ramifications of what he was doing or that he's remorseful for what he did, you've fallen for the hoax within The Hoax. Another con, told by the master.
Irving set the bar for fakers like Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and James Frey. He convinced his publisher, McGraw-Hill, that the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes authorized Irving to write Hughes' autobiography. And he used friends, family, and business partners alike, dragging them into his fantasy to keep the scam going.
Now, to be clear, the two stars I gave the book aren't a rating on the man himself (GoodReads doesn't allow negative stars anyway), but rather a rating of the book. I was really interested in hearing Irving's story, but in the first few chapters he kept insisting that this was all just an innocent spoof that got our of hand. He faked legal documents, forged signatures, stole money, and claims that it was all a harmless deception. It reeked of insincere BS and quickly became tedious. I also grew tired of the excessive descriptions - and if this is a representation of his non-fiction, I have no interest in reading his fiction.
Even the audio was difficult to listen to. The reader's female voices were even more ridiculous than the elaborate lie Irving was trying to pull off, especially his editor Beverly, who was represented by an unprofessional-valley-girl-type voice.
Ultimately, I was pretty happy when I returned this one to the library. (less)
The two Nick Hornby books most people are familiar with – High Fidelity and About a Boy – focus on the lives of two different thirtysomethings traveli...moreThe two Nick Hornby books most people are familiar with – High Fidelity and About a Boy – focus on the lives of two different thirtysomethings traveling the same meaningless path to nowhere. And, though I’m not 30 yet, I understand that I will be there soon enough, and quite possibly could pass Will Freeman and Rob Fleming on my way down said meaningless path.
Fever Pitch wasn't what I expected, based on those other two Hornby novels I've read. The book isn’t broken into chapters; instead, it is fittingly broken into soccer matches and dates -- "Arsenal v Wolves" means more to Hornby than "Chapter 2." Although I’m not familiar with soccer terminology or the teams mentioned in the book, (I have no interest in soccer. I’m not a soccer fan. I’ve never been to a soccer game. I’ve never even watched one on TV.) it didn’t matter. While Arsenal and soccer are Hornby's obsession, knowledge or interest in either one isn't necessary for readers to enjoy Fever Pitch's interesting study in mania and male behavior and enlightening history of Arsenal and how one young boy found his identity in a crap football team.
One of my favorite lines:
"The publishers of this book cannot reasonable expect me to write about this kind of neurosis and then ask me to miss a few games to help them publicise it. 'I'm mad, remember?' I will tell them. 'That's what this whole thing's about!' "(less)
As a fan of Fey's comedy, I fully expected to like this book. But I didn't expect it to be this good. Most of...moreI love you, Tina Fey. And your dad, too.
As a fan of Fey's comedy, I fully expected to like this book. But I didn't expect it to be this good. Most of the comedians whose books I've read end up going for easy laughs and little substance - which is fine; I expect comics to make me laugh, not hurt my brain with heavy concepts. But this book contained the right balance of both.
Fey's fierce, sarcastic wit shines through as she takes women to task for our treatment of each other, shares anecdotes about her personal life as a mama and her career as a minority in her professional field, and other social commentary and observations. I eventually gave up trying to listen to this at the gym because I was laughing so hard I couldn't catch my breath on the elliptical.
In fact, the only thing I wish were different was that my PlayAway had come with the PDF she kept referencing. Apparently, there is some additional information if you pick up the eBook or hard copy, which I fully intend to do.(less)
I agree: Definitely not as good as his political satires, though Al Franken does manage to get in a few jabs at Bush, Madonna, and even Oprah (I'm gla...moreI agree: Definitely not as good as his political satires, though Al Franken does manage to get in a few jabs at Bush, Madonna, and even Oprah (I'm glad this was published before "the car episode," or there might've been many, many more references to her). The "advice" he gives is consistently amusing, while the summaries that follow each chapter get stranger as the pages turn.
My favorite chapter actually isn't even a chapter. I'm not sure when I started reading books' afterwords and acknowledgements, but I'm glad I didn't miss Franken's "Oh, the Acknowledgements" and even "Oh, About the Typeface!", as both had me laughing out loud.
This was an extremely easy read, and if I've learned nothing else from Franken, I've learned that we should all feel bad for his wife, Franni. That poor, poor woman. (less)
Well, it took me two years, but I finally was able to bring myself to look back at the 2000 election and read this book.
It's so hard to read a book li...moreWell, it took me two years, but I finally was able to bring myself to look back at the 2000 election and read this book.
It's so hard to read a book like this when you know the ending; harder still when you know you don't like the ending. I tried to start reading this several times, but the first chapter, titled The Rise and Fall of Mr. Nice Guy Al Gore, made me cringe, and I never got more than a few pages into it before running for another book — usually some mindless chick-lit. :)
I'm glad I was able to get over this hump, though, as Milbank presented a side of presidential elections that has always made me curious: What is it like for those who are closest to the action? And not just Gore and George W. Bush, but the non-contenders, too. Milbank gave readers information on everyone from crazy Alan Keyes to aloof Ralph Nader, and spent quite a bit of time on Arizona Sen. John McCain and Bill Bradley, the Republican and Democrat runners up, respectively.
There was just so much covered here that never made the 'papers, which is great in some respects and disappointing in others. Do political journalists focus on "the numbers" (polls) in their articles so they can sell book publishers all the human interest stories surrounding the candidates? Because it certainly seems that way.
Milbanks even covers the campaign crews, which had me in stitches — particularly the stories about Chris Lehane, Gore's press secretary. His pranks (hiding random objects, such as bananas, in other campaign members' luggage) and especially "press bingo" (whereby he would pick a strange word and see how long it would take him to get the press to print it in a story) had me in tears — the good kind!
Milbank's humor definitely made this touchy subject a little easier to digest, but one quote from the book stays with me: "Though large numbers of Americans are ill informed, ill mannered and ill prepared to choose a leader, when you add them up something magical happens. Individuals are transformed into a wise and noble creature: the American electorate." Wise. Heh. Noble. Right. (less)
Allen Raymond is a highly entertaining guy. Completely unethical, but highly entertaining.
How to Rig Win an Election is the story of Raymond's rise an...moreAllen Raymond is a highly entertaining guy. Completely unethical, but highly entertaining.
How to Rig Win an Election is the story of Raymond's rise and fall in Republican politics as a campaign consultant. It details his education, introduction to local politics in New Jersey, and the questionable actions that landed him in prison. Nothing he revealed was particularly surprising -- we've all seen what a circus American elections can be, but we can only guess at what happens behind the scenes. So this was an interesting peek into the mind of a PR guru.
I've always wondered how people in political PR can straddle that gray line between right and wrong and still sleep at night, how they justify the things they do, how they can be proud of their ability to twist information to make good politicians look bad and clean ones look dirty.
Turns out, for Raymond at least, it's all about being victorious election day.
Oh, and the money.
Had the southern "Republican Revolution" not been rolling across the country, Raymond could've easily ended up working as a Democratic consultant. But the Republican side of the aisle was where the money was, so that's where Raymond went.
He started working local elections in New Jersey, which were interesting to read about, but when he described his experiences working on the Steve Forbes campaign (against George W. Bush), he really got my attention.
Raymond and his team thought Forbes was too nice to win -- and they were right. Karl Rove and the rest of the Bush machine used a brilliant strategy, convincing Forbes not to go negative, to abstain from negative attacks.
And he fell for it. Forbes wouldn't fight back. His team would come up with responses to the lies and misleading information -- responses that were both true and catchy -- but Forbes wouldn't use them. He thought they were too harsh, too personal, too negative.
Raymond's time with the Forbes campaign didn't involve any of the shady dealings that would later land him in prison, but to me it was the most insightful part of the book. Whereas I respect Forbes more for knowing these things about him, Raymond saw him as a guy who didn't deserve the presidency because he didn't "have the gumption or the guts ... [didn't] have what it takes to go rip the [other] guy's face off."
Because of his humor, I felt more sympathetic to Raymond than I thought I would. It's a testament to his PR talents that I finished the book despising what he was part of, but not necessarily him as a person.
There are some truly great lines in the book, and in the Epilogue Raymond makes some sickeningly true assessments about former President Bush the Younger and the state of our democracy. But the most true of all was this about voters:
"[Politicians] get in power, they stay in power, and they keep the power. But don't the voters have some power in this mess? Sure. And they give it up every election."(less)