Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One Step Forward, 127 Steps Back

On Monday morning, I won a $5 credit at Amazon.com from Publishers Clearing House.

On Tuesday morning, my wife spent $635 on the cat at the vet's office.

Sugarbabe by Holly Hill

Sydneyite Holly Hill gets dumped by her sugar daddy and decides to place an ad to find a new one. Despite the titillating subject matter, this book isn't worth reading. Hill is smug about her actions and somewhat unlikable. There are occasional bits of erotica but they are outweighed by self-involved drivel and frivolous details (I really don't care what foods she is serving to the men she is servicing, much less how she purchases them--I'm surprised she didn't publish the market receipts). Hill portrays herself as a woman of the world (and she's pushing 40), but then she is confounded by a sext message because she doesn't know what Greek and facial mean (I'm pretty sure I knew as a teenager). She is a "former" psychologist, and she inevitably lapses into psychobabble as the book wears on.

The cheesy cover art--a closeup of a slightly open mouth, lips coated with sugar crystals and tongue licking the corner--makes Sugarbabe hard to read in public without embarrassment. I had to be careful how I held it on the train so only a passenger lying on the floor could have seen it.

This is one of the most cynical books I've ever read. Hill's conclusion is that men can't be monogamous so we should negotiate the terms of fidelity before marriage, like a prenuptial agreement but sexual. I know the biological/evolutionary arguments against monogamy, but Hill's "controversial" and cynical angle is a bit much. I suppose guys who cheat would like this book because the author justifies their indiscretions.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody

I promised you strippers, so here you go. Diablo Cody is best known for writing the screenplay for Juno. Before that, she wrote this memoir about stripping in Minneapolis.

This is a very funny book with a lot of insight into the world of adult entertainment. Cody performs in a variety of places from topless clubs to nude clubs to peepshow booths. She doesn't fit the stripper stereotype of the abused-as-a-child, drug-addicted, surgically-enhanced slut, and neither do many of the women she works with (of course, this is Minnesota, which has a more wholesome reputation). Her attitude toward the industry is generally positive, though she does get tired of the work after a while. It's funny when she mentions thinking up a new stage name for herself... because Diablo is a perfect stripper name!

My only complaint about Candy Girl is that sometimes Cody overuses the thesaurus, trying too hard to be clever where simpler words would flow better.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Overheard in a Store

Little girl, maybe 7 yrs old: I'm hungry!

Mom: No! You just ate!

Little girl: But I'm going through a growth spurt!

Panera Knows How to Live!

I got an e-mail today from Panera Bread: "At Panera, we believe in Living Consciously." (caps theirs)

I agree. It's much more exciting than the alternative, Living Unconsciously!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Year of Yes by Maria Dahvana Headley

Finally, this is the first book for February's theme of relationships, and I'm writing about it on Valentine's Day. In The Year of Yes, Headley decides that she doesn't make good choices about which men to go out with, so for one year she vows to say yes to anyone who asks her out (with a few common-sense exceptions, of course). I know women who should try this. They have very specific and somewhat arbitrary requirements for which guys they will go out with, so they are always complaining about not having dates.*

It seems like I've read a million dating memoirs by New York City women. Heck, this won't even be the last New York woman dating memoir I read this month. I'm glad I never lived there--I'm sure I would have eventually found myself humiliated in some woman's tell-all. At least Headley differentiates her book with a novel premise.

One line that I liked: "I could have looked at him for millennia and  been perfectly happy without any reciprocity at all. That's how appealing he was. That's how appalling I was." I never before recognized the similarity of the words appealing and appalling.

Headley doesn't include all of her dates in the book, nor does she provide any stats. I was left wondering just how many times a New York gal gets asked out in a year. She does succeed in showing those women I referred to in the first paragraph what they are missing: some of her most fun and unforgettable dates are with men she clearly would have no "future" with. A date does not have to lead to a commitment; just having a good time is reward enough. Ultimately, The Year of Yes is about opening oneself to possibilities.

* My wife once argued that many men are like this, too. But here's the difference. I know guys who have physical requirements for a woman (and I won't argue that isn't shallow), but these women have a full spectrum of requirements including looks, interests, income, education, and so on. It's like they want to order a custom model directly from the factory. And they won't bother with anyone who doesn't meet all of those criteria.

Falling Uphill: 25,742 miles, 1461 days, 50 countries, 6 continents & 4 moments of enlightenment on a bicycle by Scott Stoll

In January I had an urge to roam so I drove up to Wisconsin twice to visit bookstores. I had never seen this book before when I came across it at Half Price Books in Brookfield. Then I saw it in two other Half Price Books stores. It turns out that Stoll hails from Milwaukee.

Falling Uphill is unlike any other bicycle tour memoir I've seen, and I've read many online and on paper. Rather than the usual chronological narrative, Stoll uses each chapter to answer one of 50 common questions by recalling some story from his journey. I could identify with this, having been asked many of the same questions about my own bike tour such as "What was the hardest part?" and "Don't your legs ever get tired?".

This book confirmed for me that I could never ride my bike around the world. The stuff he has to eat, the sanitary conditions he has to adapt to, the jerks who take advantage of him... Personally, I have no desire to deal with any of those hassles. I just don't have the disposition to roll with it. Of course, he has some great experiences as well, no doubt many more than he could fit into this book. All the same, I'm satisfied staying stateside and enjoying his stories.

A spiritual element to Stoll's journey grows as the book goes on, as four years of biking offers a lot of time to ponder such things. His experience meeting a guru bears a resemblance to an episode in Eric Weiner's Man Seeks God, and his epiphany in the Australian outback reminded me of Weiner's Franciscan friar: "...One of the steps to enlightenment includes being enlightened about how ungrateful I am."

There are so many other excerpts I could quote from this book. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but this is an exceptional bicycle touring memoir. Stoll earns extra credit for coming up with a fresh approach to what in the Internet age is becoming a crowded genre (both touring the world and publishing a story about it have never been easier). Learn more at his website.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Hey Buddy: In Pursuit of Buddy Holly, My New Buddy John, and My Lost Decade of Music by Gary W. Moore

This is kind of a baby boomer fanboy memoir. The author attends a tribute to "The Day the Music Died" and becomes obsessed with Buddy Holly and John Mueller, who portrays Holly onstage. In particular, he is moved by a song written by Mueller called "Hey Buddy", which is mostly composed of Buddy Holly song titles. The book is like a diary of that obsession, which leads Moore around the country learning about Holly, his death, and especially the impact his music still has half a century later (he takes pains to make it clear that this is not a biography of Holly, though some Amazon reviewers missed that point).

I was surprised how much influence Holly still has on people, even people younger than I. For example, Moore talks to a young woman in Nebraska who has a tattoo of Holly on her shoulder. When I became aware of Holly as a high schooler in the 1980s (my best friend was really into 1950s music), he seemed to be fading away, but his popularity has grown since then.

The parts about Holly are interesting, as are most of the parts about Mueller (perhaps I'm biased having a friend in a tribute band). But I could have done without Moore's musing about why he ignored rock and roll in the late 1960s (spoiler: Moore didn't like war protesters). It may have been important to the author, but I doubt that most readers care about that part. It's not even relevant to Holly's era. This is why writing coaches warn authors not to let themselves get in the way of a good story.

Moore succeeded in piquing my interest in Holly and Mueller. After I finished reading this book, I went to Mueller's website. Wouldn't you know, he had just played a show in the Chicago area a few days earlier. Heck, Moore was probably there, too, since he lives relatively nearby in Bourbonnais, IL. Maybe next time.

Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States by Pete Jordan

Jordan lived a nomadic lifestyle for several years washing dishes in all sorts of places around the country. He worked at an Alaskan fishing camp, on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig, at a casino, in a kosher kitchen, at a summer camp, and in too many little cafes to mention. Along the way, he sporadically published a zine aptly titled Dishwasher.

Eventually he moved to Amsterdam where he was forced to retire from dishwashing. The minimum wage there is on a graduated scale by age, so restaurants could hire a 16-year-old to do the job for half of what they'd have to pay him.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit; it's my first page-turner of 2013. Over the years, I've read memoirs by a waiter, two waitresses, a chef, a cook, and a dishwasher. Now I just need to find a busboy book to complete the dining memoir experience.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

February Theme

I still have three books to write about from January, but since I've also finished four books in February, I figured I should declare the theme. In keeping with Valentine's Day (gag), this month's theme is relationships: love, romance, sex, etc. Naturally, "sex" also means strippers and hookers. And no, I will not be sampling the Harlequin oeuvre!

I'm not sure whether the dummies are the writers or the readers.

Now prepare to read some half-assed reviews as I try to catch up...

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Problem With Newspapers

Here's a letter to the editor from last week's edition of The Onion:
Dear The Onion,
By the time I read any one of your articles, those events have already happened. What gives?
--Annette Brewer, Perrysburg, OH
I'm sure the industry could turn things around if they could just figure out how to fix this.

Shooing the Shoe Tax

Illinois State Representative Will Davis is proposing a 25-cent tax on running shoes to fund "programs that help high-school dropouts from low-income homes get jobs in the construction trades or get back on track to attend college."

I don't know anything about these programs, and I am uncertain whether a running shoe tax is the appropriate vehicle for funding them. But I do know that the business community (at least as represented in the Tribune article) is full of knee-jerk reactionary idiots:
"[Consumers are] already crossing the borders for many things," said Kim Clarke Maisch, Illinois' director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "They're crossing the borders for gambling, for example. We don't need any other reasons for them to travel elsewhere."
But [Fleet Feet Chicago owner Dave] Zimmer said an increase in shoe costs could prompt customers to buy them online at a time when bricks-and-mortar stores are losing business to the Internet.
Look, I understand nobody likes to pay taxes, especially new taxes. But to argue that a 25-cent tax on a $50+ item* is going to change shopping habits is ridiculous. With gas prices near $4 a gallon, how many Illinois residents are going to "travel elsewhere" to avoid a 25 cent tax? Alternatively, will people who shop at local running stores such as Fleet Feet flee to the Internet to save 25 cents? Anyone who really cares about price started buying running shoes online years ago because local shops generally charge higher prices and sales tax. If someone isn't shopping online to dodge Chicago's 9-10% sales tax** on their shoes, then he/she isn't going to start just to save a quarter.*** Only a hardcore Grover Norquist supporter would go to such lengths to duck a 25-cent tax on a pair of shoes.

Like I said, I don't know whether running shoes are the right way to fund these programs.**** Regardless, I am tired of business interests trotting out the same old anti-tax bogeymen no matter how ridiculously irrelevant.

* If you're paying less than $50 for running shoes, you probably aren't buying them at an independent business like a specialty running store (which is what Maisch and Zimmer represent).

** Illinois residents are supposed to declare online purchases and pay sales taxes on them, but I'm probably the only sucker who does.

*** I am ignoring shipping costs since free shipping offers are pretty common at online stores anyway.

****  Zimmer's only direct quote in the article questions this correlation rather than backing the assertion attributed to him about buying online.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Living Down to Your Potential

It is easier to become what people say you are than it is to convince them otherwise.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Super Bowl Thoughts

I fretted for days about where I should go to watch the game, but ultimately sharing my experience with a group of anonymous and possibly obnoxious people didn't hold much appeal. It finally came down to food, and I decided that I was more interested in scarfing down a bag of white cheddar popcorn than eating anything at a bar or restaurant. So I stayed home and enjoyed my popcorn... after eating a paczki appetizer (Fat Tuesday is right around the corner!).

In the second half I broke out the good whiskey, a bottle of 18-year-old Laphroaig I got for Christmas. That's another advantage of staying home--that glass of fine single malt would have cost at least $15 at a bar, and for a stingier pour.

The power outage--who really gives a shit? I mean, it was novel and somewhat amusing (personally I was disappointed that only half of the lights went out), but today it seems to be the Big Story in the news. During the game, the announcers kept updating us with explanations of why it happened, as if we couldn't enjoy the rest of the game without getting to the bottom of this. I'm surprised no one suggested it was al-Qaeda. Or aliens. Who cares? As they say in the barrio, caca pasa.

It was a weak year for commercials. I liked the Audi commercial about the guy going to the prom, and the Clydesdale commercial was sweet though predictable, but nothing else was particularly good (I was going to say memorable, but the Godaddy.com commercial was memorable without being good).*
EDIT: Okay, I forgot a couple of others that I liked: the Mercedes commercial with the devil and the Skechers ad with the guy chasing down the cheetah.

I didn't think I cared who won since I don't like either team (I thought about not even watching). But Jim Harbaugh is just such a festering asshole that I was happy to see the Ravens beat him. Some might call him passionate, but he's just a crybaby to me (even worse than the contemptible Pete Carroll). Say what you will about Lovie Smith, but he never gave Bears fans anything to be embarrassed about with his sideline demeanor. Jim Harbaugh makes Mike Ditka look like Tom Landry.

Joe Flacco gained the most from this game. I think he will soon sign a contract for much more money than he's worth. He's always been underrated,  but now he'll be overrated. I'd put him in the second tier of quarterbacks, very good but not at the level of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers. Flacco has been important to the Ravens, but defense is still their greatest strength.

After the game, I think Ray Lewis called the 49ers Satan-worshipping bastards, or at least atheists. When asked about the Ravens' victory, he said, "When God is with you, who can be against you?" So apparently the 49ers are godless since they lost. I know many athletes regularly credit God for their success (and Lewis beats it to death), but the way Lewis put it implies that God didn't just favor his side (you know, because He had a lot of dough riding on the game in Vegas), but that God smote the 49ers. Words are important, even if you're just a thuggish athlete who beat a murder rap, and if I were a Christian 49er** I'd be offended.

* I can imagine that dweeby guy deliberately messing up during filming so he could do multiple takes of graphically kissing Bar Rafaeli.
** I suppose any Jewish or Muslim 49er as well, but you know what I mean. Oddly enough, I don't recall any Jewish athletes crediting God for their victories, even though the Bible is full of that sort of thing.