A collection of essays by the writer of the popular blog Baby Sideburns that covers the aspects of parenting that are not covered in traditional parenting books.
Why I picked it up: I despise most parenting books. They are filled with impossibly ridiculous advice from people who probably have a fleet of nannies to do the real work of raising kids. And I was delighted to see a book on the library shelf with "a-hole" in the title.
Why I finished it: There were many times when I was certain this book was written just for me. Like all parents, I have some baby poop stories that I love to overshare with my childless friends. Alpert has an entire chapter dedicated to poop. I was in stitches reading her discussion of the proper use of “shit” versus “shat.” Honestly, we don't use "shat" enough in our swearing. I really want to sit down with Alpert and tell her about the mall visit where my son broke a blender carafe in a department store and my daughter blew out a diaper so badly that I had to take off her shirt and use it as a wipe. I was sure that mall security was going to escort us off the premises. Alpert's frank discussions on diaper blowouts, sex, and her hatred of Caillou made me want to buy her a beer, or at the very least, finish the book.
It's perfect for: Trina who is about to have a little a-hole of her own. She's been fretting over buying the perfect things for her baby. I really want her to read the first essay, which is on things that you don't need for your baby. The best advice in the book is to save money by not buying cutesy, printed sheets because they’re going to get stained. Alpert suggests buying them with brown amoeba shapes because that's how the baby will decorate them anyway.
While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre. With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.
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Young Kitty Genovese, a bartender in a safe neighborhood in New York City, was heading home at three AM when she was attacked by a knife-wielding criminal. The man stabbed and assaulted her near her apartment building. Her screams woke up quite a few people; thirty-eight people reportedly saw or heard the attack. Her attacker left her wounded, went to his car to get away, then, when no one appeared to help Kitty, he went back and finished her off. Kitty, bleeding heavily from several wounds, suffocated because air in her lung cavities didn’t allow her to draw a breath. Papers had a field day reporting how none of the witnesses were willing to get involved. (One “hero” did yell to "leave her alone” and a few others called the police.)
Why I picked it up: I knew of this case and Kitty's name. For her life and death to still be relevant fifty years after her murder, it had to be important. I wanted to know all the details.
Why I finished it: The murderer was frightening. He had committed several other crimes, including rape and murder, and engaged in necrophilia with his victims’ bodies. He was cold and dispassionate, even when detailing this crime to police. He was the scariest part of the book because he seemed normal; he had a steady job, a wife, and kids.
It's perfect for: My neighbor Ernie. He was involved in the Peace Corps, and has extensive experience as a volunteer. He would be interested to read about those who were inspired to help others because of Kitty’s murder, including Sully Sullenberger, the pilot of the US Airways jet that landed in the Hudson river with no casualties, and Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels.
A coffee table book full of work that uses scale, large and small, as an essential element. Many of the pieces in the “Big Art” section wouldn’t easily fit into museums or galleries, like Lilian Bourgeat’s Le dîner de Gulliver, Leandro Erlich’s Bâtiment, and Theo Jansen’s Animaris Umerus. Everything in “Small Art” would fit into your house all together: Diem Chau’s beautifully carved crayons, Brock Davis’s food sculptures, Lorenzo Manuel Durán’s leaf art, and more.
Why I picked it up: The front cover is a full-sized house, Fantastic by Jean-François Fourtou that looks like it has been delicately overturned. The back cover, part of the Forced Labor series by Liliana Porter, is a tiny man with a tinier jackhammer who has been using it to destroy the small piece of wood he’s standing on. Both images gave me that incredulous “What the hell?” reaction I love when I look at modern art.
Why I finished it: I got the giggles a couple of times, notably looking at Nancy Fouts’s Balloon Pear, Kurt Perschke’s RedBall installations, and Jason deCaires Taylor’s underwater sculptures. (I can imagine coming across the latter randomly, while scuba diving. I’d totally freak out.)
There are profiles of each artist, as well, which give insight into their work and approach. In particular I like the entry on Jansen and his mammoth Strandbeests that explains how he starts designing them and what he builds them out of, and the one about Joe Fig explains why he recreates artists’ studio spaces in miniature.
Readalikes: I wish there was an amazing graphic novel adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels that was as much fun as Hanna-Barbera’s The Adventures of Gulliver and that had unexpected, eye-popping moments like this book. If anyone wants to do a few sample pictures and put it up on Kickstarter, they’d have my full support. And while I was reading the small art section I was reminded of Lori Nix’s photos of her miniature, post-apocalyptic dioramas.
The world’s smartest cartoonist answers bizarre questions submitted by readers using real science and comics. The extensive footnotes are informative or funny, and often both. References for each answer at the back of the book include URLs in case you’re smart enough to check Monroe’s answers.
Why I finished it: The answers themselves are incredible if somewhat roundabout ways to learn about scientific principles. The first What If? I read on the website (and apparently the first one posted) was about relativistic baseball: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% of the speed of light? The x-ray front just ahead of the ball (created by the air molecules fusing with the ball’s surface, since they can’t get out of the way) in the t=30 nanoseconds illustration about halfway down the page made me giggle. (If you don’t get this, you’re not alone -- my wife couldn’t understand why I was laughing, either.)
The “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox,” which appear throughout, are worth the price of the book by themselves. The first is: “Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee?”
It's perfect for: My daughter. She and I have been watching a lot of The Walking Dead lately (her request). I think she’s a bit overdosed on zombie-oriented, end of the world scenarios -- neither of us can understand why everyone isn’t wrapped in ballistic nylon, wearing helmets with face and neck protection, and carrying baseball bats. She’d love the answer to “What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped...?” not so much for the effect (almost none), but because Monroe supposed they magically gather not in “an area the size of Rhode Island”, but in Rhode Island itself. Things go very badly as everyone tries to get home. (If this is ever turned into a TV show, I know my daughter and I would watch it.)
A husband and father chronicles his love affair with his wife, from their earliest meetings through her illness and eventual death from colorectal cancer. He toggles back and forth between present and past, remembering first dates and family vacations as well as providing detailed accounts of his wife’s diagnosis, treatments, and final days. It’s heavy stuff, but Ham brings humor and light to the text, noting the good times, absurdities, and foibles (chiefly his own) along the whole journey.
Why I picked it up: One of my recurring fears is that I or someone in my family will become suddenly, terminally ill. I was drawn to this book because of its emphasis on both realness (bad things happen, and painfully) and resilience (life does go on, even when we don’t think it can).
Why I finished it: This is a self-published memoir with its eyes wide open: heartfelt and specific, therapeutic for the writer and informative for the reader. Although my editor-brain found it overwritten at times, I admire the author for his honesty and clarity of purpose. Ham didn’t write an instruction manual or panacea for the masses; he wrote his own story, for himself and his daughters, and is happy if others find comfort from it as well.
It's perfect for: This is a tricky one. Families in similar crises may find this just the right mirror text, but every situation is different. People who work in oncology could benefit from the Hams’ experiences as patient and caregiver, seeing how medical advice is given and received -- not always willingly.
Sportswriter and fan Saul Wisnia chronicles the rise, fall, and miraculous comeback of the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. Wisnia doesn’t shy away from the low points, including the horrific ending to the 2003 American League championship series on Aaron Boone’s bloop home run off Tim Wakefield, and offers plenty of new insights and interviews from players, coaches, and other key players during the Red Sox’s curse-breaking season. The section on the 2004 World Series, like the contest itself, feels a little anticlimactic, but the book is an action-packed love letter to K-Men, cowboys, and idiots everywhere.
Why I picked it up: The 2014 Red Sox have been nothing but an exercise in misery. I wanted to remember the good old days.
Why I finished it: Wisnia is a diehard Sox fan, and though most of the book takes a reasonably even-handed approach, there are several awesome zingers throughout, like this one about my boyfriend Tek: “Catcher Jason Varitek also had a standout year offensively (.296, 18 [HR], 73 [RBI]), but it was his take-charge attitude and tireless work with the pitching staff that made him an invaluable presence behind the plate, in the clubhouse, and in A-Rod’s face.”
It's perfect for: Your favorite Dirt Dog, obviously, but also anyone who loves learning about the behind-the-scenes, inner workings of professional sports. Hearing the story of the sad but inevitable departure of Nomahhhh from the perspectives of players, coaches, front-office staff, sportswriters, and fans added richness and sympathy to that chapter in Sox history.
Beginning with a major earthquake in 1923 that unsettled the Japanese financial system and brought on a series of governmental decisions that led to World War II, Shigeru Mizuki interweaves national history with his family's story.
Why I picked it up: A fat manga (over 500 pages) on Japanese history sounded right up my alley, and I had heard of Mizuki, a noted folklorist who specializes in the study of yokai.
Why I finished it: Mizuki is a talented artist, storyteller, and historian. Some of the history is told through pen-and-ink renditions of old photographs, while his personal and family history is related in a more cartoony manga style that keeps the story flowing.
It's perfect for: Lexie, who has a rosy view of Japanese history, but should probably know about some of the country’s more troubling moments, like the political assassinations in the Japanese government and massacres of Chinese prisoners during the Second Sino-Japanese War. She’s also a Mizuki fan, so she’ll enjoy the inclusion of some of his characters from other books, especially Nezumi Otoko ("Rat Man”) from GeGeGe no Kitaro, a half-human, half-trickster yokai who tells some of the history.
The North American Soccer League (NASL) was in operation for sixteen years from 1968-1984. Like most new sports leagues trying to make names for themselves, it used different rules and attracted more daring owners than its more established counterparts. The teams engendered fierce love from the fans, but clubs came and left (due to bankruptcy), making a league that shifted divisions and playoffs yearly. Fans trying to follow along got whiplash as the number of teams, the rivalries, and the composition of the playoffs were never the same back-to-back. The New York Cosmos were the Yankees of the league, eventually signing the man considered the greatest soccer player ever: Pelé. Other teams followed their lead by poaching European stars in an effort to keep up, but huge salaries could only be justified by huge crowds and most clubs couldn't draw enough fans.
Why I picked it up: I found and read this book during the United States' World Cup run. Plus, I come from Seattle, home of the Seattle Sounders football club, one of the most successful professional soccer franchises in the U.S. People here are always posting on Facebook about games, offering tickets or having watching parties. I thought that I might understand the attraction better if I read about the U.S.’s first go-round of professional soccer.
Why I finished it: The NASL was willing to do anything to bring people in. I loved the young league’s manic marketing. Some teams offered twenty-five cent beer, others armadillo races, and still others had official uniforms with leather fringed tassels on the chest. There were even teams in Hawaii and Las Vegas, but Hawaii caused travel challenges and in Vegas the heat was oppressive, so neither lasted long.
Also, the author knew what he was writing about, as he played for one of the teams: the Tampa Bay Rowdies. His closest brush with stardom was when Pelé intentionally gouged him with a fingernail, drawing blood, while making an ostensibly friendly gesture by rubbing the top of his head.
It's perfect for: My former student Cole Clearman, a soccer player in college and a serious World Cup fan. He would love reading about the four ways the NASL pioneered changes in the way soccer is played, including three substitutions and passes back to the goalie. Cole would revel in descriptions of action from that time period, too, as the play was much rougher; players weren’t penalized for offenses that would get them red carded today.