Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BC2012: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic

Sometimes I like to choose which book to read next based on the one I just finished. In that spirit, I went from one of the coolest vehicles of all time, the Wienermobile, to one of the least cool, the Yugo. Even the graphic design of the covers makes the contrast clear. On the cover of Dog Days, the Wienermobile is glossy while the rest of the cover photo is matte. On the cover of The Yugo, the Yugo is matte while the rest of the dust jacket is glossy.

The Yugo is often remembered as the butt of many jokes, and Vuic acknowledges this by leading off each chapter with wisecracks like "How do you double the value of your Yugo? Fill the gas tank." But don't be misled into thinking this book is a lightweight. The Yugo is a thorough and engaging history of the car, the factory, the company, and Malcolm Bricklin, the man behind the dream. The author teaches modern European history at Bridgewater College in Virginia, and he weaves a lot of interesting historical background into the tale. I enjoyed it more than I expected, as would anyone interested in this car or automotive history in general.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Next Broadway Smash

I saw this in the Chicago Tribune today:
Mary Zimmerman will premiere her new stage-musical version of "The Jungle Book" in Chicago, as part of the Goodman Theatre’s 2012-13 subscription season, the Chicago theater announced.
But when I read it, my eyes somehow passed over one critical word: book.

Wouldn't it be awesome if someone made a musical of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle? Can you imagine actors belting out show tunes about exploited workers and contaminated meat?

If The Book of Mormon can be a hit, why not The Jungle? Okay, I suppose the former is a bit more humorous than the latter. Wouldn't it be even more awesome if someone made a musical comedy of The Jungle? There could be actors dressed as cows and pigs singing happy songs on their way to slaughter. The grand finale could feature the meat packers singing "My Buddy Fell into the Rendering Tank (and Now He's on Your Table)"!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

BC2012: Dog Days: A Year in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile by Dave Ihlenfeld

I wanted to read this book last weekend, but circumstances led me to reject any book with dog in the title. This weekend I felt stronger, and besides, I had a feeling this book would be a lot of fun. Actually, I don't care for Oscar Mayer hot dogs, but I love the Wienermobile. Dog Days turned out to be just what I needed: a lighthearted, funny book that only took four or five hours to read.

I bought this book for half price at Barnes & Noble after Christmas. Incredibly, the clearance table was the first place I had ever seen it even though it was published in 2011. I almost passed it up since I was with a friend who reads "serious" books. When he got married, he told me that altogether, he and his wife had four copies of Plato's The Republic. Needless to say, my wife and I own none. Anyway, I'm always a little self-conscious about what I buy when we're together (it doesn't help that he'll occasionally point out a book and ask, "Who would buy a book like that?" and I already have it on my shelf at home). I looked at this book and set it down, but I went back to retrieve it as we were getting ready to leave. Heck, just the cover photo made it hard to resist: the Wienermobile parked in the author's driveway. I mean, how cool would that be?!

Ihlenfeld's book serves as a humorous memoir and a brief history of the Wienermobile. He recounts the whole process of getting and holding the job of "Hotdogger" from his first interview to training at "Hot Dog High" to passing out Wiener Whistles all over California, at Mardi Gras, and even at U.S. military bases in Europe. If you've ever been curious about Wienermobiles, if you like to read about unusual jobs, or if you just want some good laughs, you'll enjoy Dog Days.

BC2012: The War for Late Night by Bill Carter

This book documents the recent past, "When Leno went early and television went crazy." The oddest thing about reading this book is that much of it took place only 2-3 years ago, but it seems like it was a decade ago. Maybe that's because the news cycles pass so quickly that it's hard to keep time and events in perspective.

Another odd thing about reading this book is that it seemed like it was going to take forever as I read the first half, but the end came quickly once I had passed the midway point. I wonder if it had something to do with BC2012 and my feeling that I'm way behind this month in terms of finishing books. This is one of several fairly long (300+ pages) books I've read in February.

Anyone looking for the inside story of what happened behind the scenes at NBC won't find a better book than this one. Not being a big fan (or hater) of Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien, I didn't really have a horse in this race. But The War for Late Night is full of the sort of TV network machinations that have always fascinated me, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Plus there's plenty about David Letterman, who I've watched for 25 years, and there's some background about Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert as well.

Lyrics of the Day

From the legendary Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell":
It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell,
"C'est la vie", say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
That song came to mind this morning when I read that the French government is eliminating the word mademoiselle due to feminist pressure. The French language doesn't have an equivalent of Ms., so women filling out government forms were in essence forced to declare their marital status by choosing madame or mademoiselle while men were not. The lyrics of "You Never Can Tell" illustrate this by noting that the wedding turned the mademoiselle into a madame (whereas Pierre was always a monsieur).

I learned today that the distinction between mademoiselle and madame used to be different:
Before the French Revolution, the use of "mademoiselle" had little to do with whether a woman was married; a laywoman or commoner was always called "mademoiselle" to indicate she was of lowly status. Only women of high birth were addressed as "madame."
I want to make a joke here about how that changed when the French lost their heads, but I think we can skip the guillotine humor.

By the way, the magazine Mademoiselle folded in 2001 after 66 years of publication. And the French stopped using the guillotine in 1981 when they abolished capital punishment.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

BC2012: I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum

Back in the 1980s when I was a teenager, I watched a lot of MTV. Come to think of it, I never listened to Top 40 radio (I preferred classic rock, which wasn't as stale 25 years ago as it is now) so almost all of my exposure to new music came through MTV. I can still recall the lyrics to dozens of songs I never even liked after seeing/hearing them so many times on the cable channel (in retrospect it's odd that I watched so much considering that I wasn't really into most of the performers in heavy rotation). I was so enthralled with MTV as a concept that I wrote a research paper about it circa 1986*, which is the midpoint of I Want My MTV and arguably the high point of the music video era. When Barnes & Noble offered a 50% discount on the book after Christmas, I had to buy it.

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution is an oral history with quotes from hundreds of MTV executives, record label execs, VJs, performers, band managers, directors, et al. It begins with the concept of a music video TV show put forth in the late 1970s by former Monkee Michael Nesmith and ends with the success of The Real World in 1992, after which MTV became less and less of a music video channel. There are many behind-the-scenes stories about the company, the music industry, the making of videos, and the stars who were virtually created by MTV. Readers of a certain age will nod knowingly as they recall the videos being discussed, the images of Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, and Billy Squier (to cover the range from fashionable to groundbreaking to pathetic) burned into their brains by heavy airplay.

One glaring omission is VH-1. There is an explanation of why it was started (to fend off a short-lived Ted Turner video channel), but that's all. Surely there were some turf wars between MTV and its sister channel as they sought their respective niches in the video world (like which channel got to "world premiere" a particular video), but no one talks about it here. I also would have enjoyed reading more about the original VJs, but it looks like they are creating their own book (my interest in MTV apparently waned with their departure because I remember nothing about the later VJs in I Want My MTV).

I Want My MTV reminds me in many ways of Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. It's an oral history several inches thick, and it focuses more on the earlier years of a pop culture institution (I was pleased to see a tip of the hat to Live From New York in the acknowledgments). Anybody who grew up with MTV prior to 1992 will love this book, although it may be a bit long for some.

* I aspired to be a rock critic in high school. I had the coolest topics for my research papers, including MTV, the changing face of radio, and Bob Dylan.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lyrics of the Day

I meant to post this yesterday but I didn't have time. I only took one CD along for my planned drive to the grocery store, David Gray's Draw the Line. My choice of music probably led to my change of plans, but if I had brought along more CDs, I might have driven several hundred miles instead. I still drove long enough to hear the disc twice through. From the title track:
All this talk can hypnotize you and
We can ill afford
To give ourselves to sentiment
When our time is oh so short
Names beneath the lichen
On these cemetery stones
And carnivals of silverfish
Waiting to dance upon our bones
The events of the past year have at times made me somewhat obsessed with death, and I think about these lyrics often. I remember as a kid thinking that silverfish were the most disgusting, prehistoric-looking creatures on earth, or at least in my bathroom. The image of "carnivals of silverfish" dancing on my bones is simultaneously euphoric (carnivals!) and repulsive (eewww, silverfish!). In other words, utterly brilliant.

Gray is one of those artists I kind of missed during his greatest popularity*, but a friend introduced me to his music a few years ago. While putting together a Christmas wishlist, I asked him what to buy from Gray's discography. His reply: "anything and everything." I don't listen to Gray often, but whenever I do there are moments on every CD when I think, "Damn, those are incredible lyrics."

* I can't remember why I was so out of touch from 1995-2002, but I completely missed Ben Folds Five and a bunch of other artists from that period, too.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day Two A.G. (After Gracie)

I promise I won't keep counting the days like this for long.

I woke up this morning with Bruce Springsteen's "Cadillac Ranch" going through my head. I don't know why; I haven't listened to Bruce in months. Although I made it through "buddy when I die, throw my body in the back" just fine, I fell apart on the last line of the song: "Came and took my little girl away." We started calling Gracie "little girl" the day we got her. She was so petite, pretty, and soft that she always struck us as a very feminine dog. Judging by how she responded to "little girl", we suspect that one of her previous owners called her that as well.

Then I went upstairs to order the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook online. My wife checked it out at Barnes & Noble last night, but I didn't want to pay $35 when I knew it would be much cheaper at Since I still ordered from B&N, I didn't feel like I was ripping them off (generally I think it's rude to pick out something in a regular store and buy it online from someone else). With a coupon for an extra 20% off, the book cost us less than $20 (and we get free shipping as members) so it was worthwhile financially... until they sent me an e-mail minutes later canceling my freaking order. WTF? I had noticed they had an old credit card on file, but since I paid with a B&N gift card I assumed it didn't matter. It turns out that it does matter, and I had to go through 30 minutes of hassle to get it all straightened out. I suppose since I don't work it was still worth half an hour to save $15, but it threw my whole day off.

I headed toward the grocery store, planning to eat at the Corner Bakery and read for a while first (my usual routine). But that wasted time with B&N set me back so it would have been the lunch rush, and I'd be getting dirty looks from other customers for hogging a table in a busy restaurant. On a whim, I decided to visit my grandparents' graves instead. It will be one year next Monday since my grandmother died. It's been a difficult 12 months losing two grandparents, three more distant relatives, and two dogs.

I don't know if going to the cemetery does anything for me. I mean, I've been there a few times but it's not like I feel their presence, and I always feel awkward saying anything to them or their spirits or whoever it is that people talk to at cemeteries. Is that because I've never believed in all that supernatural stuff? I cleared away some debris from their markers and straightened out a wreath that had fallen over. My grandmother always hated my unshaven face so I apologized for my stubble, explaining that I hadn't been planning to visit when I left the house. Then I asked them to look after our girls for us since we aren't planning to join them anytime soon. Grandpa liked eating out, so it seemed relevant to mention a few restaurants that have closed since he died. I joked that the local Chili's probably closed because they didn't serve Merlot, his drink of choice in later years. I imagine he would have said the same thing.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I ate, read, and bought groceries. While I was out, my wife went to visit a co-worker in the hospital who apparently got a heart infection from having his teeth cleaned. He's only in his forties, but he's in pretty bad shape and may not live long.

Tomorrow will be better... It's Paczki Day!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day One A.G. (After Gracie)

Last night my wife said something that made me realize why losing Gracie is especially hard on us (aside from the obvious reasons). Gracie was the dominant personality in our household. Her actions and spirit sort of drove everyone else along. It was the same way with Teddy from 1998 to 2005. Both were always around my wife or me, bugging us to get out of bed or keep them entertained. They would not be ignored. Rosco isn't that kind of dog. He comes to us for affection when he wants it, but he seems content just lying around and sleeping. Ginger wasn't either -- she was happy to follow the pack. So while Ginger was a sweet love sponge of a dog, her death wasn't the end of an (all-too-short) era like Gracie's was.

Rosco seems to be taking the loss in stride. If anything, he's been perkier lately.

I told a few neighbors about Gracie today. One said she hopes pets go to heaven because she's looking forward to seeing her dogs and horses again more than any people! I said every time I read that "Rainbow Bridge" story I fall apart. Incredibly, just my luck, she had never heard it, so I had to try to tell her about it without busting up. Needless to say, I wasn't too successful.

Then I stopped by Ruff Haus Pets, our neighborhood pet shop, to thank the clerk again for giving me some freeze-dried lamb patties on Thursday night. Not only did Gracie love them, but on Friday night when we offered her a bowl with canned dog food, homemade ground turkey and rice, and one of those lamb patties, she chose only the lamb for what was to be her last meal. Sometimes I get on my wife's case for patronizing expensive boutique pet stores, but I think we'll shop more at Ruff Haus in the future.

I went to Rockwell's for brunch. One of the managers there has a dog that Gracie bit years ago when both were puppies. We are still grateful that he didn't sue us -- or ask for a rematch since his dog has grown to twice Gracie's size. He was very sad to hear about our girl, and he said at least there's a little reminder of her on his dog's nose. He says the scar gives her character. He doesn't hold any grudge; in fact, he comped my meal today. I settled in for a couple of hours to read a book after my meal. I had chosen The War for Late Night carefully, not wanting to read anything that might remind me of Gracie (my wife and I ate breakfast there yesterday after putting Gracie to sleep and cried in our eggs). I figured at worst there might be some mention of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Hits of the sixties were playing on the sound system. I was okay until I heard
What becomes of the broken hearted
Who had love that's now departed?
I'm glad that song is only three minutes long because I cried through every second of it. I know it will get better, but it will take some time.

An Odd Concern

For the past few days I've been extra cautious when combing my hair after I shower... because I worry that I might absent-mindedly pick up my razor instead of my comb and start shaving my head.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Bit of Comfort

This morning at the vet's office, a parade of assistants came in to say goodbye to Gracie. One of them told us about her boxer who died of cancer at age five. She said someone reminded her then that dogs don't have any idea of feeling cheated when they die young. They don't set goals or make plans or even conceptualize age like we do. So while it breaks our hearts to think of the future we could have had together, at least our little girl didn't look at it that way. She lived day by day, and I think we made most of them happy ones for her.

Gracie Johnsen, 2007-2012

Gracie and I had a sometimes difficult relationship. I took it personally when she peed on my pillow not long after we got her (she was house trained, so she was indeed sending me a message). I didn't like the way she growled at me every time I tried to get back into bed after using the bathroom at night. I threw away a lot of socks after she chewed the dirty bottoms out of them (yuck!). I got mad when she gnawed through one of our seat belts and madder when she chewed through another. And her piercing bark nearly drove me insane.

But she was our dog, and I loved her despite all that. Sometimes we would go for long, brisk walks. Not often enough, and of course now I regret that. She was just reaching her prime, only 4.5 years old. We thought we'd have so much more time, so many more walks together. She had calmed down from her cheeky puppy years (we got her at 11 months), and I was looking forward to her mellowing further into a lady. She's the prettiest dog we've ever had, with soft, silky fur. I'll miss her youthful exuberance. She was literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed all the time. We had to install a barrier inside our car to keep her from jumping up front. I'll miss the way she would jump off the bed and fly ten feet across the room (sometimes over Rosco), the way she would leap in the air with excitement at feeding time, the way she paced back and forth on the front window ledge, the way she excitedly pounded the window with her front paws when she saw something outside. She always stayed close to us -- even when she pushed open the backyard gate, she would merely run around to the front porch and wait for us to figure out where she went.

We lost Ginger only a month ago -- she hasn't even scrolled off the front page of this blog yet -- and now we had to say goodbye to Gracie. We treasured the past few days when we got to spoil her at home. She even discovered two new favorite foods: freeze-dried lamb patties and ice cream (the latter being the only way to get her to swallow pills). My wife always teased that I didn't like Gracie, but I really did love her, and this is hitting me hard. She'll always be our little girl.

Friday, February 17, 2012

BC2012: I Love Rock 'N' Roll (Except When I Hate It) by Brian Boone

I've read a lot of books that could be classified as "rock trivia" or "rock potpourri". I Love Rock 'N' Roll is one of the better ones, and also among the newest having come out in 2011. Boone's writing is snarky and often hilarious. For example, he lists several singing duos and answers the question, "So, was they bonin', or was they not bonin'?" The list begins with Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's 1983 hit "Islands in the Stream":
Despite these two being more inseparable in the '80s than Ronald Reagan and his doting mother Nancy,and the fact that most children at the time thought that they were married (at least I did), no bonin' here. Parton has been with her rarely seen husband Carl Dean since 1966. Rogers has had five wives, [but] none of them were Dolly, a fact that likely haunts him as he lays awake each night, weeping facedown on a pair of gigantic pillows as he screams, "You're the coward of the county, Kenny Rogers. You are. For letting her get away!"
Silly, I know, but I just about lost it when I got to the part about the two gigantic pillows.

I finished this book a week ago. I realize this is one of my lamer reviews, but I'm pretty distracted with Gracie right now. It's been hard to focus on anything else between caring for her and crying over the inevitable.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gracie Comes Home for a While

Yesterday afternoon we learned that Gracie most likely has malignant histiocytic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer with a prognosis of six to nine months at most even with chemotherapy. Without chemo, it would be a matter of days or weeks. We're awaiting results of a different bone marrow test that will probably confirm the diagnosis. But even if that test shows something else, it will still be something almost as bad and equally incurable. We visited her last night and she got tired pretty quickly. She wasn't anything like her usual self. We decided to leave her there until the results came back from the other test, at which time we would probably say goodbye and put her to sleep.

Gracie responded very well to steroids, however, and today we got a call around lunchtime saying that we could take her home. Today she is almost normal, particularly her appetite, although she is still moving slowly and sleeping a lot. Considering that her hematocrit is still in the 12-15 range, that isn't surprising. The vet recommended trying one dose of chemo just to see how she responds. After asking many questions and debating a bit, we decided there wasn't much to lose. The chemo treatment is a $90 oral dose, and they give it every three weeks. If she responds well, she might be with us for a while without too much discomfort. As long as she still eats and walks around she's okay; otherwise it will be time to say goodbye. If she's still with us in three weeks, then we can decide whether to give her another treatment.

It's hard to straddle that line between giving up on her and doing too much to keep her alive, but for now we are comfortable with our decision. Today she was too much like the spritely dog she used to be for us to put her to sleep. On the other hand, we know it's terminal and we don't want to hang on too long and become those people everybody else talks about, saying "Why don't they just put that dog out of her misery?" We're just going to take it day by day and be grateful for whatever time she has left.

By the way, if anyone in my family doubts how much I love Gracie, let me say this: I turned up the thermostat five degrees so that she will be more comfortable! (I am notorious -- and frequently ridiculed -- for keeping our thermostat at 65 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night.) We ran the A/C for Teddy in August 2005, and we'll fire up the boiler for Gracie for as long as she has left.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BC2012: The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

Regular visitors know that one of my favorite reading topics is water. Most of the books I've read have been about water scarcity and/or activism (the others have been largely historical). The Big Thirst is a different kind of water book. Subtitled "The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water", this book is primarily about our relationship to water. I cannot recall the last time I read a book about water that had such little overlap with my previous knowledge.

The story begins with chemistry and geology, noting the uniqueness of many of water's properties. Fishman writes about a "fourth form" of water bound within rock deep in the earth's crust (e.g., serpentinite). This is the first of many surprising new concepts I discovered in The Big Thirst. Another is Ultra Pure Water (UPW), which is used in the production of microchips. This water is so pure that it is toxic to drink in large quantities -- drinking it would leach the nutrients out of one's body (besides, it reputedly tastes bitter). Even the obligatory chapter about Las Vegas is different from any I've read elsewhere. Instead of scolding the city for waste in a dry environment, Fishman focuses on how the city and its casinos have pioneered several tactics and technologies to reduce water consumption.

The chapter about India was a real eye-opener. India's water problems are not about scarcity, but about distribution and sanitation. Only one of the 35 largest cities in India has a 24-7 water supply, something most Americans take for granted. Many cities had 24-7 water when the British were in control, but their systems have deteriorated due to neglect and disinterest. Consequently, the acquisition of water defines the lives of many Indians, particularly women. Even middle and upper class Indians have to install storage tanks and pumps in their homes to collect tap water during the few hours a day that it is provided. It's easy to imagine water distribution issues in Third World nations, but it is hard to believe that a country with such resources as India has those problems.

Fishman's book is well-written and utterly fascinating. Unlike many books by water activists, The Big Thirst offers a generally positive outlook on the world's water issues -- yes, there are many challenges, but they are not insurmountable. I'd rank it among the top five books I've read about the subject.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lousy V-Day Surprise

I woke up this morning to the telephone ringing. It was my wife calling from the vet's office.

Our younger dog Gracie hasn't been well lately. A couple months ago, she started chewing at her front legs. Probably an allergy. A month ago, she was hopping around on three feet. Although I feared the same $3000 torn ACL that Rosco has had twice, the vet suspected it was only a sprain. Then Ginger died. Gracie stopped eating her regular food (she would still eat people food), and we wondered whether she was depressed. Her gimpy leg seemed to get better. Then one of her front legs swelled with an infection from her biting. The vet gave her a steroid shot. Last week she suddenly fell down a couple of times. The vet was mystified, and of course she acted fine at his office (it reminded me of times when my car has done weird things for me but not for my mechanic). As the days passed, she became more lethargic and even less interested in eating. Last night my wife cooked ground beef and rice for her, and she still wouldn't eat. This morning after Gracie went out to pee, my wife had to carry her up the stairs.

Gracie has seen the vet at least five times in 2012. Her blood work was fine on January 10, but today they did her blood work again and discovered something terrible. Gracie's red blood cell count (hematocrit) was four. Four! It's supposed to be around 37. She's one tough girl -- the vets were shocked that she could even walk today in such a weakened state. Yet it gets worse... Her white blood cell and platelet counts are also very low. This four-year-old dog who seemed perfectly healthy two months ago is now at death's door.

We took her to the emergency vet, which has a number of specialists. They told us she needed a blood transfusion ASAP, and they wanted to take a bone marrow sample and do an ultrasound (our vet had already done x-rays). Otherwise we had to put her to sleep.

But she's only four and it's only been a month since we put Ginger to sleep. What could we do? They'll give her the transfusion (a six-hour process) and keep her overnight. Now we just have to wait. I hope we get some test results tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Steve Jobs' Epitaph

"I'm glad I didn't live four months longer."

I've never been much of an Apple fan, but I couldn't really dislike them when they were an underdog. Remember 15 years ago when Microsoft gave Apple $150 million and promised to release their latest Office software to run on Macs just to save their sorry asses?

But since the iPod, iPad, iPud, and iPhone have become immensely popular with everyone but me, I have no trouble hating Apple. Now it turns out those wonderful products are manufactured under appalling, exploitative conditions. I have to admit I'm getting some schadenwood. Although it doesn't compare to, say, boys being raped in the showers, this is one PR nightmare Jobs probably wouldn't have wanted to deal with.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

BC2012: Checkout Girl by Anna Sam

This book was a rare find at a Barnes & Noble half-price clearance table last month (Borders' post-holiday clearance sales were so much better, both in breadth of selection and depth of discount). In retrospect, maybe I bought it just to buy something. I probably would have put it back if I had I read a few more pages in the store.

Although I've worked retail and I'm certainly capable of running a register (heck, I've written computer programs to validate credit card transactions), I have never wanted to deal with the hassles of ringing up customers. I figured Checkout Girl would be good for a few laughs and remind me why I'd never want this job. The book definitely accomplishes the latter, but it barely clears the bar for the former.

It is written like an instruction manual for someone starting a job as a supermarket checkout clerk, awkwardly addressing the reader as "you" using a simple writing style. The original text was French, so maybe the translation is the problem. Positioned in the "reference/humor" category, the book didn't tell me much that I didn't already know from being a customer, and it didn't make me laugh enough either (like the book in general, the funny parts were too simple and/or obvious). I think Checkout Girl could have been much better as a memoir with more substance and details in the stories.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

January - BC2012 and Other Goals

At the end of each month, I plan to summarize my progress on Book Challenge 2012 as well as the other goals I set at the beginning of the year.

1. Book Challenge 2012: So far, so good. 11 books finished, 7 books purchased. I bought five of those books on a rare visit to Half Price Books in Bloomingdale; otherwise it would have been a really great month. It was a weak moment of "comfort shopping" as I had been to a wake earlier that evening.

2. Cut down on e-mail: This is going well so far. I've unsubscribed from half a dozen Groupon-like sites, about ten retail sites, and a couple of bands I haven't gone to see in years. I still need to cut a few more, but I'm already noticing it takes less time to read my e-mail in the morning.

3. Drive less: This one is going well, but I generally drive less in the winter anyway. Not going to bookstores as much helps -- due to the absence of Borders and my commitment to BC2012 (I was already near the aforementioned HPB). I'm also trying to be more aware of gas/mileage expenses. For example, it isn't worth burning two gallons of gas to use a $7 dinner coupon. It seems so obvious here in print, but lots of people do that sort of thing every day.

4. Physical activity: No progress on this one. Winter is the obvious excuse (though it's been unusually mild), plus I've had some problems with my left arm that finally seem to be healing.

5. Drink more: I got rid of the nasty old water bottle (actually just relegated it to plant-watering duty). My wife said I couldn't set a goal of drinking more alcohol, but she has given me several generous pours of single malt scotch this month. I'm halfway through a bottle of Moldovan vodka, too. Those people know how to drink!

6. Dine and shop locally: I'm doing okay with dining but not shopping yet. My biggest concern is that the corner restaurant is tilting dangerously toward becoming a Lincoln Park bar with game night, movie night, trivia night, etc. Shit, next they'll probably "adopt" a Big Ten school. How about "grumpy, anti-social guy just wants to enjoy his dinner and read a book night"?

7. Clean and declutter: I haven't made a concerted effort, but I've been chipping away at the pile on my dining room table. (My wife and I each have our own square tables in the dining room with our respective piles of crap on top. We haven't eaten in the dining room in seven years. And the kitchen table has been covered with stuff even longer.)

8. Enhance and expand my web presence: No progress.

9. Figure out my professional future: I almost wrote "no progress", but then I remembered a seed that was planted in my head by a book I read recently (no, not Hell Bent for Leather!). It's not worth sharing publicly yet, but I'm exploring a bit.

New: 10. I went to the dentist on the 31st. To my chagrin, he discovered a small cavity, my first in maybe 7-10 years. He and the hygienist suggested an electric toothbrush, although they said I actually brush very well with a normal brush (deciphering such mixed signals is the worst part of my dental visit, but I'm too old-school to change anyway -- they've been pushing those electric brushes on me since the last millennium so you'd think they would have figured that out by now). They said I should floss more regardless -- especially since I don't use an electric brush -- so I'll add flossing regularly to my list. I flossed five or six times in January, which was more often than usual (I tend to floss more as my dental check-up approaches, like cramming for an exam), so there is plenty of room for improvement. Ugh, I hate behavior modification goals like this that I have to track every day. It's like having a potty chart.

Oh well, at least I didn't set any weight-loss goals. I was at Jewel (a local grocery store) last night, and they have already started selling paczkis!