Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages" by Michael Popek

It's happened to all of us: we're reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a receipt. Eventually the book finds its way into the world - landing in a library, a flea market, other people's bookshelves, a used bookstore. But what becomes of those forgotten bookmarks? What stories could they tell?

By day, Michael Popek works in his family's used bookstore. By night, he's the voyeuristic force behind, where he shares the weird objects he has found among the stacks at his store.

[This book] is a scrapbook of Popek's most interesting finds. Sure, there are actual bookmarks, but there are also pictures and ticket stubs, old recipes and notes, valentines, unsent letters, four-leaf clovers, and various sordid, heartbreaking, and bizarre keepsakes. Together this collection of lost treasures offers a glimpse into other readers' lives that they never intended for us to see.

What a wonderful little find! I've had this on a to-be-read list forever, and while at work yesterday at our main branch, decided it was about time I check it out. If you love history, you'll love this book. Yes, there are some "modern" finds here, too, but the majority of the items presented here are from the early 1900s, if not earlier (some date back to the 1800s!).

Popek has done a wonderful job of simply showing what he's found. There is a picture of the item, sometimes a translation/typed version of what's written on the item, and a picture of the book in which the item was found. He doesn't try to interpret what was going on with the reader, nor does he make any comment about what he's found. The only time there are "extras" is when the item in question has something related to his general area or to a real-life famous person.

The letters are fascinating (and it's somewhat heartening to realize that our ancestors were just as guilty of "bad" writing as we are today). I think my favorite was the letter from a what appears to be a vendor of meats written during the Great Depression; he apologizes for "the delay" of his payment but feels "very much encouraged having paid five thousand dollars since May 1 in this year of great depression." Yes, you read that correctly - five thousand dollars. During the Great Depression, that might as well have been a million dollars! And how wonderful to read that this businessperson still feels guilt over being late with his payment. Just amazing when you consider how a lot of businesses are regarded these days.

If you have a chance to check out this book, take it. It's not a long read, mostly pictures and such, but well worth the time to look through and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags: relationship warning signs you totally spotted...but chose to ignore" by Natasha Burton, Julie Fishman, and Meagan McCrary

Red Flag (noun): 1. a sign of danger. 2 The points in time when you notice something is a tad off with the guy you're dating, but decide to let it go because you really like him, you're tired of being single, you really really want to get laid, whatever. When things start going downhill, you look back on that seemingly insignificant moment you dismissed and think: That's when I should have known.

You've done it before. Saw something wrong with him - whether it was suspect grooming habits or ridiculously childish behavior - but let it slide. It's not the big of a deal. Except it totally was. You wanted to fall in love, but ended up going insane. You swore you'd never do it again. But did. Don't beat yourself up. In the search for love, we've all either blatantly ignored or completely missed red flags. Instead, smarten up. It's time to figure out what you missed and learn how to avoid similar flagtastic fiascos in the future. If you raise your red-flag awareness now, you'll be able to greenlight a real relationship down the road.

Again, another fun find at work! This book reminded me a bit of "He's Just Not That Into You" but from the girlfriend perspective, which means this book is a lot more honest and much less "you're so fab, and you know you deserve more". Don't get me wrong; I loved Greg Behrendt's book (and totally wish I'd had it when I had really needed it, as I was happily married when it came out), but his book had a lot of "you go girl!" attitude in it. Looking back, I felt like he was trying to warn while giving a pep talk. Red Flags is much more "holy crap, girl! What the f*ck are you thinking!" - the sort of things you'd expect your girlfriends to tell you when you're out dissing on your boyfriend and his foibles.

The flags are pretty much all here, everything from him being childish (ie, loving his farts, belching, not being able to mention lady parts without bursting into fits of giggles) to the narcissist who just loves himself. I loved the sections about how he and his family interact because that dynamic really can tell you a lot. Also watch out for guys who obviously see you as more of a friend, will not admit you're the girlfriend, and make it perfectly clear that they're not looking to be committed long-term or be married (I was "involved" with a guy that hit almost every red flag in this section, which of course, makes me wonder about my own sanity at the time).

What's great about this book is that it's not just a man-bashing, run-while-you-can book, which it totally could have turned into. The authors are always quick to point out that a red flag doesn't necessarily mean it's time to cut and run; it just means that you need to stop and think long and hard about the fact that this flag exists. Is it something that you can talk to him about, perhaps something he isn't aware of? Is he receptive to your observations? If so, then great - you two can work on this issue and come out a stronger, happier couple. If the guy looks at you like you just grew a second head, you need to watch out. And if he turns it all around on you, especially if he becomes abusive in any way, then yes - RUN. Some things just cannot be overcome and it's better to get out while it's still possible.

Overall, I would say this is excellent little advice book. And don't be fooled by the rather-young ages of the authors; these red flags can happen to us at any age. Men can and do behave badly well into adulthood - just look at the classic "mid-life crisis" type of guy!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: more movies that suck" by Roger Ebert

No need to go into a plot summary here as this book is a straight-forward as it gets. Film critic Ebert has collected over 200 of his reviews dating back to 2006 and published them in this fun book. The title comes from his review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I don't know if he purposely used this phrase or not, but I was immediately reminded of a movie and a book title fused together to come up with the phrase: the wonderfully cinematic The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. In any case, it is a great phrase, and as someone who has found it difficult to sit through movies lately, I completely understand what Ebert is talking about.

The movies run the gamut from the popular flicks of 2011 to lame comedies to foreign flops. Most movies get 2 stars, some 1 and a half, several only earn 1. The most interesting reviews are the no-star reviews, of which there are very few. Interestingly, one of the films that earned his harshest criticism is a remake of a movie I've actually seen, I Spit on Your Grave. I thought his take on the movie was spot on, at least for the remake, which I admit I haven't seen. The original is a very controversial movie due to its content, and if I hadn't read an extremely interesting book about women in horror movies, I probably would have never watched it myself. (And no, I can't remember the name of that book for all the tea in China, which saddens me, as I would highly recommend it to those interested in horror films and the issue of whether or not they exploit women). The original ISOYG is very difficult to watch and I think one of the biggest reasons why is the complete lack of a soundtrack; it gives the movie more of a documentary feel, not to mention that music often gives us clues as to how the director wants us to feel/respond to a scene. There are no such clues in the original version, so you're not sure if you're supposed to be upset at the woman's rape (although why you wouldn't be is beyond me), if you're supposed to feel sorry for her, or if you're supposed to cheer for her when she starts getting her revenge. As to the other no-star reviews, I haven't seen or heard of those movies, but two of them have been alluded to on a certain episode of South Park. Either that or the SP creators are just that sick-minded, which is entirely possible.

Ebert does an excellent job of pointing out why movies just aren't all the much fun anymore. Action movies are just that - ACTION. There are few directors out there trying to make sure that the audience has a plot to follow. Comedies have become incredibly syrupy or raunchy, and neither formula is overly successful. And finally, the 3-D invasion is really weighing on Ebert's nerves. One of the things that I did not know about 3-D filming is that when you take your 2-D movie and convert scenes into 3-D, you lose a lot of the "brightness" of said film. One of Ebert's biggest complaints is movies that are filmed in a "dark" way to start with that are also in 3-D; as he explains, it's adding insult to injury to make a dark movie even darker and harder to see (think all of the horror movies that have 3-D versions). Maybe it's why I don't enjoy the 3-D films myself. As he says in several reviews, "I dunno."

Overall, a fun look at some rather blah films. I'm do know I'm glad I spent my time reading these reviews rather than watching these movies!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Flow: The cultural story of menstruation" by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim

Go with the Flow! In this hip, hilarious, and truly eye-opening cultural history, menstruation is talked about as never before. Flow is a fascinating, occasionally wacky, and sometimes downright scary story, covering everything from mikvahs (ritual cleansing baths) to menopause, hysteria to hysterectomies - not to mention the Pill, cramps, the history of underwear, and the movie about puberty they showed you in fifth grade. Flow answers questions such as: What's the point of getting a period? What did women do before pads and tampons? What about new drugs that promise to end periods - a hot idea or not? Sex during your period: gross or a turn-on? And what's normal, anyway? With color reproductions of (campy) historical ads and (excruciating) early femcare devices, it also provides a fascinating (and mind-boggling) gallery of this complex, personal, and uniquely female process. As irreverent as it is informative, Flow gives an everyday occurrence its true props - and eradicates the stigma placed on it for centuries.

I love the cover of this book, and let's face it, it sounded like it might be interesting. This time the cover art and the description did the book justice; it was interesting, and fun to boot.

The authors are women, and often I found myself thinking this sounded more like a day out with the girls than a primer on the history of menstruation and all things associated with it. The writing has a very nice, easy "you-are-there" style, which helps as sometimes the subject matter is just - well - yeah, it's a bit on the "icky" side.

The history of "femcare" as the authors dub it isn't all that long, surprisingly enough. Way back in the day there was no such thing. What did our intrepid ancestors do, you may ask yourself? Um, bled. Sorry, but that's the truth; our foremothers pretty much bled on whatever it was they were wearing. Yes, some of them tried to use various things to handle the flow (some of them what you'd expect, like wads of cotton) but most just bled onto their clothes. As the authors are quick to point out, why do you think our clothing back then had so many petticoats and such? It wasn't to look feminine after all; it was to hide all that icky stuff going on down there.

Perhaps the authors' biggest complaint is that femcare is almost always presented as a problem, and thus, a solution. But pretty much every woman is going to need it at some point in her lifetime, so it's really not a problem so much as it's simply a matter of biology, and the authors want to know why it can't be presented as such. Think about it: have you ever seen an ad for tampons, pads, douches or the like that didn't talk about making your life better somehow? And keep a close eye out for the "not-so-fresh" type comments, as almost every ad has one of some sort. Women's flow is almost always presented as an obstacle to overcome, and a very yucky one at that.

Then we get to the whole idea of not having a period at all, which is now possible through the miracles of modern medicine. And the authors want to know two things: is this really a good idea and why is it being pushed on us? Well, it's sort of a good idea if you're concerned about ovarian cancer. The Pill gives a woman a leg up (so to speak) on cutting down her chances of ovarian cancer due to the fact that the eggs don't burst out of the ovaries as they normally would every month. No bursting means no repairing the ovary which means less chance of the cells going haywire and becoming malignant. And yes, I had pretty much forgotten everything they taught me in my sex-ed class and was fascinated by this information. It makes sense to me now why some of my friends know when they're ovulating, as they feel the discomfort/pain of that little tiny egg kicking its way through the ovarian wall. And if you're on the Pill, you don't really have a period, either. You have a pseudo sort of thing happen every month, something that mimics a period but doesn't supposedly have all the usual aches/pains/icky stuff that those not drugged up experience.

To that I say, my sweet a**! Sorry but in the name of full disclosure, I've been on the Pill since I was eighteen. Most months I would say I'm pretty OK, no PMS or anything to really clue anyone in that "Aunt Flo" is visiting. But sometimes, look out - it's love you one minute, hate you the next, and where's the damn ice cream?! I do get some pain (cramps, occasional backache, etc) and I still have some bloating. So if my body isn't having a "real" period, what's all that about? Is it all in my head? Sure doesn't feel like it, and sadly, the authors don't explore this enough for my taste.

Overall though it's an interesting, and yes, fun, book. Even if you have no intention of reading it, pick it up for the pictures alone. There are some fabulous old ads for the various products. My favorite are the ones used for the "Modess...because" campaign: high fashion photography that look more like artwork than femcare ads. In fact, if you saw them elsewhere you'd never know they were hawking tampons/pads!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's little lessons for making it work" by Tim Gunn

On the runway of life, Tim Gunn is the perfect life coach... You've watched him mentor talented designers on the hit television show Project Runway. Now the inimitable Tim Funn shares his personal secrets for "making it work" - in your career, relationships, and life.

Filled with delightfully dishy stories of fashion's greatest divas, behind-the-scenes glimpses of Runway's biggest drama queens, and never-before-revealed insights into Tim's private life, [this book] is like no other how-to-book you've ever read.

In the world according to Tim, there are no shortcuts to success. Hard work, creativity, and skill are just the beginning. By following eighteen tried-and-true principles, you can apply Tim's rules to anything you set your mind to. You'll learn why Tim frowns on displays of bad behavior, like the vitriolic outburst by Martha Stewart's daughter about her mother's name-brand merchandise. You'll discover the downfalls of divadom as he describes Vogue's Andre Leon Talley being hand-fed grapes and Ann Wintour being carried downstairs by her bodyguards. And you'll get Tim's view on the backstabbing by one designer on Project Runway and how it brilliantly back-fired.

Then there are his down-to-earth guidelines for making life better - for yourself and others - in small and large ways, especially in an age that favors comfort over politeness, ease over style. Texting at the dinner table? Wearing shorts to the theater? Not in Tim's book. Living a well-mannered life of integrity and character is hard work, he admits, but the rewards are many: being a good friend, being glamorous and attractive, and being a success - much like Tim himself!

He is never one to mince words. But Tim Gunn is always warm, witty, wise and wonderfully supportive - just the mentor you need to design a happy, creative, and fulfilling life that will never go out of style.

So the secret is out. No, not about Gunn being gay. No, not the one about him not having had sex for decades after a bad breakup/AIDS scare. Nope, the biggest secret that I think Gunn has been keeping is this...

Tim Gunn is a genuinely nice guy. Really!

While reading this book, his tips for life, that's the one thing that keeps coming through again and again. After all, we've got chapters here like "Take the high road" and "Niceties are nice". Gunn is never the snarky queen that most would expect here. He is sincere in his offerings of how to make one's way through life, but he's also honest as well. (I love the title of the 2nd chapter, "The world owes you...nothing"!)

Gunn gives some background regarding his trials and tribulations, and those are nice examples of what he's talking about. He has taken the high road himself several times, even though he's been sorely tempted to be just as nasty in return. He's just got a nice style to his writing, one that makes it seem as if you'd totally be able to have a conversation if you happened to meet him on the street. He's the gay everyman, I suppose. And he's just about as worried as I am about where the youth of today are headed. In Chapter 5, he's talking about students who say they're not "inspired", and that they need "inspiration" but don't know where to find it. Gunn responds "Look around you!... Look out the window. Go for a walk. Go to a movie. Go to a museum. Go see a show. Read a book. Go to the library.... Have a conversation." THANK YOU. It seems like too many young people today expect the world to just give them what they need. Wake up! You need to look for these things yourself - which makes them more meaningful in the long run. Sigh.

I definitely recommend this book. It's short, it's sweet, and he's got some very good advice. If you're not going to pick it up, here are the rules to live by, and I would agree that they are some very good rules for life.

1. Make it work
2. The world owes you...nothing
3. Take the high road
4. Don't abuse your power - or surrender it
5. Get inspired if it kills you
6. Never underestimate karma
7. Niceties are nice
8. Physical comfort is overrated
9. Talk to me: there's always another side to the story
10. Be a good guest or stay home (I won't judge you - I hate parties)
11. Use technology: don't let it use you
12. Don't lose your sense of smell
13. Know what to get off your chest and what to take to the grave
14. When in Rome... I still wouldn't eat monkey brains
15. When you need help, get it
16. Take risks! Playing it safe is never really safe
17. Give back (but know your limits)
18. Carry on!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"The Narcissim Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement" by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D.

Narcissism - a very positive and inflative view of the self - is everywhere. It's what you have if you're a politician and you've strayed from your wife, and it's why five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures today than did just ten years ago. It's the value that parents teach their children with the song lyrics like "I am special. Look at me," the skill teenagers and young adults obsessively hone on Facebook and MySpace, and the reason high school students physically beat classmates and then broadcast their violence on YouTube for all to see. It's the message preached by prosperity gospel and the vacuous ethos spread by celebrity newsmakers. And it's what's making people depressed, lonely, and buried under piles of debt.

Jean M. Twenge's influential and controversial first book, Generation Me, generated a national debate with its trenchant depiction of the challenges of twenty- and thirtysomethings face emotionally and professionally in today's world - and the fallout these issues created for older generations of employers. Now, Dr. Twenge is on to a new incendiary topic that has repercussions for every age-group and class: the pernicious spread of narcissism in today's culture and its catastrophic effects. Dr. Twenge joins forces with W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., a nationally recognized expert on narcissism...[this is] their eye-opening exposition of the alarming rise of narcissism - and they show how to stop it.

Every day, you encounter the real costs of narcissism: in your relationships and family, in the workplace and the economy at large, in schools that fail to teach necessary skills, in culture, and in politics. Even the world economy has been damaged by risky, unrealistic overconfidence. Filled with arresting anecdotes that illustrate the hold narcissism has on us today - from people hiring fake paparazzi in order to experience feeling famous to college students who won't leave a professor's office until their B+ becomes an A - [this book] is at once a riveting window into the consequences of narcissism, a probing analysis of the culture at large, and a prescription to combat the widespread problems caused by narcissism. As a society, we have a chance to slow the epidemic of narcissism once we learn to identify it, minimize the forces that sustain and transmit it, and treat it where we find it. Drawing on their own extensive research as well as decades of other experts' studies, Drs. Twenge and Campbell show us how.

I can't even begin to tell you how much I liked this book. Really! You know you've got a winner on your hands when you've only read about the first 10 pages and find yourself nodding you head and saying "uh huh, uh huh, yep" under your breath.

If you think the world is going down the tubes, that people are more self-centered these days, that kids just have no respect for their elders, then this is the book for you. If you were raised as I was to know the value of hard work, to not expect anything to be handed to you, again, this book is for you. The authors do a fabulous job of mapping out how our current predicament can be directly traced back to the big change in parenting. Remember when it was OK to spank your kids? Remember when parents were more worried about raising their children to become productive members of society? (Or at least get them to age 18 and make them leave home, get a job, etc?) That's my generation, and sadly, one of the last to still have some semblance of a strong work ethic.

As much as I can understand where the Occupy Wall street people are coming from, I think a lot of those people are the ones talked about in this book. You know the kind: the kid that has just graduated from college and can't understand why anyone won't hire him/her, let alone pay him/her the $50,000/year that he/she just knows he/she deserves. The people that always feel that they are owed something, be it a job, recreation time, or what have you. That sort of person/people. And while the authors point out several reasons for this shift in attitude, the biggest part of the blame is laid directly at the feet of parents, specifically those that chose to be "friends" with their kids, rather than their parents.

When I grew up, my parents told me "no" - A LOT. I didn't turn out half bad, if I do say so myself. And now that I'm older and wiser, I really appreciate that they taught me that I won't get everything I want - not unless I go out and work my butt off for it. They taught me the value of hard work, and of the almighty dollar. They taught me what it means to sacrifice, and to save. And I've done pretty darn well for myself, thanks to their efforts at parenting. I'm glad they didn't want to be my friend, not until now when we're all adults, and it's more appropriate to get to know each other on that playing field.

My only complaint is that while the authors have a chapter of suggested ways of changing this tide, it doesn't seem like it's enough. That chapter actually came off a bit wimpy, as if even the authors themselves think there's just no end in sight to the me ME ME attitudes that seem to dominate our worlds now. And that's a very sad thought indeed.