Books in June

In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You by Shari Graydon is a beauty myth primer for teens, and as such didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, although I think it did me good to be reminded of this stuff. I've been watching too much What Not To Wear and am starting to think that it's good and right to want to be pretty all the time.

Risk: A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You by David Ropeik and George Gray. This is really what it claims to be: a practical guide. It's a huge list of everything you think is scary -- radiation, electromagnetic waves, pesticide residue, tap water -- with discussions of how scared you should actually be, and why, and what you can do to protect yourself. This would be a handy reference book to keep around the house.

An Intelligent Person's Guide to Judaism by Shmuel Boteach. (Actually now I'm not sure whether I got the 1999 edition by "Shmuel" or the 2006 edition by "Shmuley". I wonder what else changed...) I got this because I am vaguely interested in Judaism and also because I love Shmuley's show on TLC. As it turns out, Judaism is pretty cool but I can't get past the believing in God requirement. I guess that's a pretty fundamental part of this whole Abrahamic religion thing but I just can't do it.

Some other thoughts: Shmuley doesn't like Ashkenazi culture. What's wrong with knishes? What's wrong with klezmer? Nothing, that's what!

The part refuting the Christian idea of suffering being a means to better oneself threw me for a loop because I realized I have bought that concept entirely. When someone claims that their suffering made them stronger I nod agreeably; it had never even occurred to me that it might not be so. I'm still not sure that it is always false; I think that some suffering is good for you. Where Shmuley and I may differ is in the scale of the suffering under consideration; he is talking about being, say, imprisoned and used for creepy medical experimentation where I am thinking more of, say, not having a TV in your bedroom.

The whole section about women was a little creepy. I'm just not sure where I stand on the whole gender thing these days. Having read Gender Wars (and having a working brain) I know that women are not identical to men; being a feminist I believe that women are legally, morally and in every other way equal to men; being a mathematician I know that the differences between men and women in most meaningful scales are less significant than the variation within either group; being a parent I believe that someone has to put the home and family first and their career second. Shmuley thinks that the woman is most biologically suited to that role, but I don't think that's so. Shmuley also says women are naturally more spiritual than men, gentler, more compassionate, smell better -- a lot of nice things which make me think maybe I am being patronized. Maybe not, though, perhaps I am over-sensitive and suspicious.

Anyway, I will read some more Shmuley books and see how they are.

Better House and Planet by Marjorie Harris is a book about how to keep your house in an environmentally sensitive manner. It's actually one of those "1000 Household Tips"-type books that were popular in the eighties. I took it out because I wanted some tips on cleaning without using nasty cleaning products, but this book is more like a big game of "Bullshit or not?!" A sliced avocado won't brown if you don't take the stone out: bullshit or not? Bullshit! I can't remember any more, but this book had a concentration of about one urban legend per two pages.

Very disappointing, and I still don't know how to clean without using nasty products. Maybe I will just use vinegar for everything.

The World's Best Street & Yard Games by Glen Vecchione is a collection of all the cool games you played (or didn't play, in my case) when you were a kid, and lots more besides. Games for when you are feeling rowdy or when you are all dressed up and can't get dirty; games for day and games for night; games for the sidewalk and games for the park. It's an excellent collection, and it made me wish the girls would hurry up and grow up so we could play.

Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs. Another good Kathy Reichs, although again her sentence fragments — and paragraphs consisting entirely of a single sentence fragment — got on my nerves. And this time her "my subconscious is trying to tell me something" shtick that she does at the end of every book she writes annoyed me as well. (Then Jeffrey Deaver did it in his book too — do all mystery writers do it and I just never noticed before? Surely not.)

But what annoyed me most of all was how much they screwed up this character and the stories when they made the TV series Bones. It's like they threw out everything that was good about the books, threw in David Boreanaz and half-baked the whole thing. Is that show even still on?

Naked by David Sedaris is very funny and good, although his constant moaning about what a sad loser he is is a bit of a demotivator when after all, he is the one who wrote the book and there you are sitting at home reading it. If he's a sad loser, what does that make you? I don't really know how he went from being a sad loser to having his book on my shelf, but there you go.

Incidentally, if you like this you might like the David Rakoff book I read a while ago; they are both gay New Yorkers named David who do weird things and write about them amusingly.

When You Lunch With The Emperor by Ludwig Bemelmans. Anyone who has read to Delphine knows that Ludwig Bemelmans is the Madeline guy, but apparently he also wrote books for grown-ups. This is a collection of his autobiographical essays; witty, cutting but not catty, poignant, favourable adjective, favourable adjective. I will read more of his stuff eventually; you should too.

Twelfth Card by Jeffrey Deaver. This is a Lincoln Rhyme book; if you remember the movie The Bone Collector, it was an adaptation of an earlier Lincoln Rhyme book starring Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme in an unusual spot of race-blind casting. Unfortunately it caused me some mild confusion at the beginning of this book, because the Lincoln Rhyme in the book is not only white but is required by the plot to be somewhat ignorant of black culture. Once I sorted out the "he's actually white" thing I was fine.

The book was heavy on information, with lots of clunky sentences like "Mel Cooper lifted several samples off the tape and ran them through the gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, the workhorse instrument in all forensic labs. It separates unknown trace into its component parts and then identifies them." Smooth, but then I suppose you have to get that information out somehow, and I would rather the author just blurt it out rather than giving it to a character as some crude expository dialogue: "Mrs. Jones, this is a gas chromatograph slash mass spectrometer. Perhaps you already know that it is the workhorse..."

I supposed the "romance" between Sachs and Rhyme (or as I think of them, Angelina and Denzel) is developed in one of the earlier books, but in this book I just couldn't see the attraction; Rhyme seemed like a patronizing ass, and Sachs seemed to be annoyed with him much of the time. As I would be.

Anyway, having said all that, still an enjoyable read with a damn good mystery, some surprising twists and a satisfying result.

Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye by Cynthia Heimel. Despite the tacky title and the even tackier cover, this was a collection of good, funny essays by an author I hadn't encountered before. I will see if she has written anything more recent though, because this book was really dated: she makes references to Miatas and Ghost, she claims New Yorkers don't eat sushi and that you shouldn't wear high heels with jeans. It boggles the mind, really, but I suppose that's what happens when you write a pop culture book.

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