August 22, 2011

Republican Autism

Earlier today I read about a link between autism and anorexia. Anorexics often display behavior that those who understand the Spectrum might recognize, including rigid thinking that revolves around rituals. Which made a great deal of sense a few moments ago when I read a piece by Roger Lowenstein in the new issue of Newsweek that as a result of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, "the government has suffered from self-induced anorexia."

Think about all those wacky Republicans who signed Grover Norquist's No New Taxes...Ever pledge, and the "magical thinking," as Fareed Zakaria calls it, they exhibit, in believing the deficit can be reduced entirely by cutting spending. If the U.S. is suffering from anorexia, it seems to me that these no-tax Republicans (ie, just about all Republicans, btw), are exhibiting Spectrum behavior. Full blown autism or simply Aspergers? That I can't say, but I sure wish I could shake a snow globe and make it all go away like a bad dream.


August 17, 2011

John Hodgman on Bookstores

Last night John Hodgman appeared on The Daily Show to discuss with Jon Stewart the End of Borders...and how brick and mortar bookstores might compete in the digital age with Amazon. Although I take exception to being called a snarky nerd (I left the snark at home when I worked at B&N), this is brilliantly funny.


August 16, 2011

Most Eligible Dallas

Where do I begin in my assessment of the premiere last night of Bravo's Most Eligible Dallas? Craptastic? Eye-gougingly obnoxious?

As a result of last night's debut, I'm even more embarrassed than usual that I live in Dallas. Let me introduce the cast of characters:

  • A one-time third-string quarterback from UT whom I believe now works for his daddy
  • A free-agent football player who's been on so many NFL teams in a decade he can't keep count, now looking to jump-start a modeling career (he's gorgeous—and boy, does he know it!—but his abs are actually scary)
  • A gay ex-fattie who takes bragging about wealth to a new level and also injects himself daily with so much female hormone (to stay thin) he could pass a pregnancy test
  • A woman in denial about her love for the third stringer
  • Another woman, this one with the redeeming quality of loving animals, unfortunately mitigated by her tremendous pride in living two blocks from George W. Bush
  • A single mother who had the temerity to go out on the town and enjoy an evening with [supposed] grown-ups rather than her one-year-old baby, leaving the woman in denial in a state of apoplectic seizure.

It seemed very odd to me that the sub-text of that last related to how many of the adults the single mother knew. Turns out she only knew one of the five because she's newly back in town. According to these Brilliant Lights of Dallas, a single mother may only leave her baby with a sitter if she knows everybody at the table, leaving me to wonder whether these personages ever had baby sitters when they were young, or if their moms and dads never left the house after dark.

Rachael loved Most Eligible Dallas. I hated it, so much, in fact, that it made me long for the return of Rachel Zoe, perhaps the whiniest, most annoying toothpick on the planet. Harold...somewhere in the middle.


August 15, 2011

A Web-Based Transition

My desktop blew up a couple of weeks ago. It was just about seven years old, and though it was built for power and speed, I put it through the ringer during my years at the helm of AAR. Serviced several times in the last couple of years, I knew it would go at any moment, so when it died, I wasn't altogether surprised.

The biggest pain in the ass associated with its loss was coping with iTunes. It took an entire weekend to make it work properly via my laptop from its backup on an external hard drive, but because my laptop is itself several years old and not in the best condition, until iCloud becomes fully functional this fall and I can move all my music (including non-iTunes music) online, I'm being smart and keeping the library on that external hard drive rather than chancing my music to my laptop.

Frankly, because my laptop seems to also be on its last legs, and because I often resort to using our "family desktop," which is old and slow, I need to move as much as I can into web-based applications. Copies of all my PW reviews beginning with this year are now a part of Googledocs, and rather than maintain a database that tracks the assignment of a book through publication and payment, I created a Googledocs spreadsheet to do so. While I can't make the form for PW invoices work properly in Googledocs, I can for Macmillan (Heroes & Heartbreakers), and so I have. My PW invoices are saved both to my laptop and a flash drive (my Calibre library and a copy of my Kindle files are also on flash drives); the same goes for my H&H articles, which also don't save correctly in Googledocs.

As of today I've translated my reading database into a Googledocs spreadsheet. I'd initially tried to create a database elsewhere online using a "free" application, but the app charges $240 a year to create backups. Ain't gonna happen. The spreadsheet isn't as detailed or quite as useful, but as I've begun to use my husband's netbook to conserve my laptop for those things I cannot do using web-based applications, it'll have to do.

Because of Google's meltdown a few months ago during which time thousands of user accounts were unavailable, I'm making sure to mail myself copies of certain documents to a web-mail account entirely outside of Google's system...or saving them to a flash drive. After working with computers for so long, I know it's imperitive to have at least one backup of everything.

Making use of cloud computing makes sense if using more than one computer, as many of us already do. I'm not entirely comfortable with it, but apparently it's the coming thing, and I know I must adapt. Doing so requires giving up some control as far as design is concerned, but at this point, accessibility and convenience win out over perfection, particularly as it's perfection only important to me.

At some point I will need to replace my laptop, but refuse to shell out the money to buy one right now. Ever since my days at the City of Dallas, when I scrounged my computer out of the trash of a department with an actual technology budget, I've learned to make do. Although it's been a lifetime since then, it's still my M.O.. When I absolutely need to buy a new computer, I will. Hopefully the prices will have fallen by then. My guess is that that time is coming sooner rather than later, but if I can make the transition to The Cloud between now and then, so much the better.


August 13, 2011

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

Withering Tights

Louise Rennison

Young Adult/Chick Lit for Teens

Grade: B

"As an avid fan of the first several Georgia Nicholson books, I jumped at the chance to read and review Withering Tights, which kicks off a new series by Louise Rennison. Although my daughter and I both outgrew the original series by the time we'd finished book five, I hoped for the best, and was not at all disappointed."

Read this Amazon Vine review in its entirety at Amazon.


August 7, 2011

New at H&H: Anne Stuart and My Fair Lady

Online today from me at Heroes & Heartbreakers: Anne Stuart and My Fair Lady.

Years ago, at an RWA conference in Atlanta, I sat down for breakfast with Anne Stuart, and invited Megan Frampton to join us. It was one of many author meetings during the conference, but along with a spot of tea with Linda Howard in her suite and a Diet Coke with Jill Marie Landis in the lobby, it was my favorite. Both Megan and I are Anne Stuart fangirls, and this was initially to be one half of a column, with Megan writing the other half. With all her editorial and writing duties at H&H, she simply didn't have time to do that second half, and because—as usual—my part is quite long enough, it's gone up on H&H by itself today as a solo article.

Click here to read Anne Stuart and My Fair Lady, then post a comment over at H&H.


August 6, 2011

You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl by Celia Rivenbark

You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl

Celia Rivenbark


Grade: B-

"If Joe Bob Briggs and Libby Gelman-Waxner had a love-child (improbable in more ways than one, not the least of which is that both were invented characters) who grew up Southern and wrote a book, she would be Celia Rivenbark and the book would be You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl. Filled with colorful, inventive and often invented prose, pop culture-infused content that remains unconcerned with political correctness, mockery of self and others, the book is breezy and easy to read fun."

Read this brief Amazon Vine review in its entirety at Amazon.


August 3, 2011

New at H&H: Lauren Dane's Troubled Heroines

Online today from me at Heroes & Heartbreakers: Lauren Dane’s Troubled Heroines and Their Sexual Freedom. I'll let you know up front: It's pretty long, but it includes discussion of half a dozen books. Initially it was a full third longer, but I trimmed down the excerpts to the bare bone, and Megan assures me it's not too long. She's a great editor, so if she says it's good, I accept the compliment. It begins:

"When I worked at the bookstore, I once helped set up a “thought-provoking read” table, and to my surprise, a book by erotic romance author Lauren Dane was on the list to include. The titles to include on display tables and end caps are determined by The Powers On High, and never before had I seen an erotic romance included, so my interest was definitely piqued."

Click here to continue reading Lauren Dane’s Troubled Heroines and Their Sexual Freedom, then post a comment over at H&H.


The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands

The Philosopher and the Wolf

Mark Rowlands

Grade: B


The eleven years philosophy professor Mark Rowlands spent with Brenin the wolf at his side profoundly impacted his life. He came to see himself less as an owner or guardian to the animal than as his brother—generally older, but sometimes younger, depending on the lesson learned, and which of them learned it.

The author immediately learned, for instance, that he could not leave Brenin alone or within moments the wolf would make his displeasure known in severley destructive ways. An adjunct to that lesson: If you keep a wolf, you must add $50k onto the price of your home, to cover the damage. Lesson number two? Well, as a result of lesson number one, Brenin accompanied the professor to class. Over time that required him to adjust the class syllabus with a warning that unless students kept foodstuffs in their backpacks thoroughly locked up, they could expect a visit from a foraging wolf. A third lesson: Brenin’s natural, ahem, exuberence could only be overcome by fatigue, so Rowlands learned to tire him out each day through long, long runs. And a fourth: It’s possible to teach a wolf to heel, but you must out-alpha a wolf, and vigilantly maintain that stance throughout the relationship.

The most important lesson learned, though, was one Brenin taught Rowlands while still a pup. It’s predicated on the author’s thesis that as a result of evolution, the worldview of man is simian in origin. As such we rely on social intelligence, so that our subsequent civilization is built upon scheming, plotting, and lying. That's a condensed, bald description, but I think it's an accurate one. After all, in the review of the book by O, the Oprah Magazine, Rowlands is referred to as misanthropic. Which, frankly, is what drew me into requesting the book from @NetGalley for review.

Rowlands proves his point, at least to a degree. Think about it: We are here as a result of natural selection...survival of the fittest. Our ancestors didn’t stand in line for this or that—they made sure they went to the head of the line, or were the ones to create the line. They weren’t the nice ones or the meek, and the author describes in detail how a congregation of apes maintain their cohesion—through intimidation, side-deals, lying, and covering up—all of which makes his point rather nicely. His discussion of sex in the simian world versus the canine and lupine world fascinated me, and helped prove his point as well.

If apes rely on social intelligence, wolves rely on mechanical intelligence, and in ways that didn’t entirely carry through the process of domestication to dogs—did you know a wolf will learn how to open a door more quickly than a dog? Wolves are big on mechanical thinking while dogs accept a more magical form of thought, which he describes in a funny vingette about telephones.

There’s no subterfuge or grudge-holding in the wolf world; I kind of imagine, in reverse anthropomorphous, that Denis Leary would be a wolf. You see what you get, without any bullshit or sugar-coating.

When Brenin was around two months old...Rugger [a pit bull] lost his temper, grabbed Brenin by the neck and pinned him to the ground. Most puppies would have screeched out in shock and fear. Brenin growled. This was not the growl of a puppy, but a deep and calmn and sonorous growl that belied his tender age. That is strength. And that is what I have always tried to carry around with me, and I hope I always will. as an ape, I will fall short of this; but I have an obligation, a moral obligation, never to forget it and to emulate it as far as I can.If I can only be as strong as a two-month-old wolf cub, then I am a soil where moral evil will not grow.

An ape would have scurried away to darkly plot his revenge; to work out ways of manufacturing weakness in those who are stronger than him and who have humiliated him. And when that work is complete, then evil can be done. I am an ape through accident of birth. But in my best moments I am a wolf cub snarling out my defiance as a pit bull has smashed me into the ground. My growl is a recognition that pain is coming, for pain is the nature of life. It is the recognition that I am nothing more than a cub and, at any time, the pit bull of life can snap my neck like a twig. But it is also the will that I won’t back down, no matter what.

When the shit hits the fan, you will believe. When the shit hits the fan, people look for God. When the shit hits the fan, I remember a little wolf cub.

The Philosopher and the Wolf is filled with wonderful vingettes of Rowlands’ years with Brenin, interspersed with various philosophies, among them Sartre and Nietzche, to explain or justify various aspects of taking a wild animal and domesticating him. I’m not entirely sure his justification is 100% solid, but there’s no way I’m taking on a philosopher, who could talk a ring around me and lock me in within five minutes. In the end I'm satisfied Brenin's life was a happy one.

The book comes alive during those remembrances of Brenin, and occasionally falters when the philosophical or scientific sections seem to prattle on. It’s worth the prattling, because at the end the author does reach his point.

I love wolves and the idea of wolves, but this book is not solely for the wolf-obsessed. For the most part it's well-written, although the author's prose during the preface tended toward the purple. But as soon as Chapter One begins, with his bookending of Brenin's death and their first meeting and first hours together, I realized I was crying and laughing almost simultaneously. The lessons Rowlands imparts engross the reader because as all good teachers do, he provides vivid examples to accompany them. Because in the end what leaves the biggest impression for those who cherish animals, whether wild or domesticated, is the impact Brenin left on his brother.


August 2, 2011

A Remembrance of Pets Past

I've been reading the utterly fascinating The Philosopher and the Wolf today, and though I'll be reviewing it tomorrow, one of its themes is downright Proustian: Animals are at our mercy in the civilized world.


One day while driving to the library in graduate school, I came upon an injured bird in the middle of an intersection in a residential neighborhood. Though I'm not a bird person, I felt I needed to save this poor little creature. After it was gathered up gently in a jacket, I drove to our nearby vet, and with tears streaming down my face, handed him the bird as though it were some sort of chalice, and begged him to save it.

The vet knew the bird didn't stand a chance, but he gave it a valiant effort anyway. My day at the library doing research shot to hell, I drove home instead, and shared my story with my husband, who could see how shaken I was by the experience. It's been nearly 30 years, but I tear up even now when thinking about that fallen bird.

A couple of years later, I visited my family in Los Angeles, and met my sister's new dog Joshua, some sort of miniature Samoyed. I loved this beautiful dog, and the feeling was mutual, so much so that by the time I left L.A. a few days later, it had taken a protective stance toward people moving too quickly in my direction. I think some sort of strange animal imprinting had taken place because Joshua never bonded with either my sister or her first husband and they eventually returned him to the breeder.

Joshua was one of many "off" animals in my life. Though I'd grown up a dog person, my husband and I had only owned cats. Our first, the first of many strays, was Praline, although I called her Kitty. Not very original, I know, but she was my first cat after a lifetime of dog ownership. I used to open the door and call, "Kitty, come home to mama," and she did. But only for me, and if she'd gotten stuck on the roof, extra coaxing was involved. When we moved from Dallas to L.A. at the end of the year, we had to leave Kitty behind with my eventual brother-in-law, Jack. I don't know what happened at this point, only that when we moved back to Dallas a year later, Kitty was Miss Strin (my maiden name), and the opposite of the sweet, loving pet I'd known.

We came back to Dallas with Raindrop, the first of our true rescue cats. Incredibly loving, playful, and snuggly, she was the first "she's not really like a cat" cat we owned. She suffered some major medical issues. Indeed, she may have been the first cat to have interferon treatments after a case of exposure nearly destroyed her little immune system. The shots worked, and she lived a very long and happy life.

We'd only been back in Dallas for a couple of years when we adopted Satchel, an injured, jet black stray. Satchel had a remarkable sweet tooth—he once ate an apple pie sitting on the counter. Raindrop really didn't know what to make of such a scaredy cat, but our vet actually called me after Satchel had been with us several months, and told me the story of a man who'd lost his cat and was desolate. Our vet knew we already had a cat, and asked if we'd let this grieving man adopt Satchel. After meeting up and taking his measure, we agreed, and gave Satchel over into his care.

Next up was Boo Boo, a cat who'd been abused. When my husband brought him home, his feet were burned, and though we needed another cat like a hole in the head, we nurtured him back to health, and gave him the love he needed and deserved. Boo Boo was the scardiest cat ever, and while I was pregnant with Rachael, and maternal hormones raged within me, his liver failed. The vet warned us that Boo Boo was on his last legs, but I was having none of it. If he wanted to eat a teaspoon of food at three a.m., I gave it to him. I sat with him, loved him, and willed him back to life, and his liver regenerated. The vet called it a miracle.

Right before my pregnancy with Rachael, I had a miscarriage, and during my recovery two stray cats appeared in the atrium outside my bedroom. I felt these cats had been given over to my protection—a baby had been taken away, but these were two new lives I needed to save—yet as we already had two cats, I was in no position to keep them. I did, however, feed them and coax them into accepting my touch, so that after awhile, I was able to hold them. At which point I took them to my vet, told him my story, and he agreed to take them in and find them homes. And he did.

On Mother's Day when Rachael was six, we woke up to a swimming pool of baby ducks. They were amazingly quick in the water, and Rachael and I needed to don our swimsuits to catch them. Chlorine isn't good for baby ducks, so animal control took them after we nabbed each one. It was an exhilarating experience, and the officer vowed the ducklings would be taken to Samuell Farm, a city-owned farm open for urban school-children to commune with "nature." I can only hope she did because to contemplate anything else, particularly on Mother's Day, was, is, and will always be abhorrent.

A year later Raindrop finally died...she was into her 20s by then...and we went to adopt a new cat. Our new vet had an animal rescue within her practice, and an entire litter to choose from. Bob (you know, Bob The Cat), was the sweetest of the group, and after he came home with us, his little paws rarely hit the ground because Rachael and her friends carried him so much. It turns out Bob had IBD, which meant a shortened life as a result of cancer, but also because of the lifetime of steroids he had to take on a daily basis. They made him eat like mad, and gave him a mild case of the jitters, so that he became a scaredy cat around anyone he didn't know. He wasn't with his mother long enough to know how to "knead the dough" (cat owners, you no doubt know what I mean), but he loved to be carried and cradled in my arms like a baby, on his back, and to have his belly or ears rubbed. He was the most handsome of cats and very nurturing, with that instinct some animals have to provide comfort and succor. Whenever one of us was sick, he knew, and in his own way, tried to nurse us back to health by sitting vigil on the bed. Bob loved a good nap with his mom...there will never be another Bob.

Perhaps a year after Bob moved in, Boo Boo died. Although my husband said, "No more cats," one day while Rachael and I were at the mall, the ASPCA's Christmas Adoption campaign was in full swing. Rachael found Baby, my heart melted, and Harold capitulated. Though tiny in stature, Baby has always been the princess of the house. She's the healthiest cat we've ever owned, but unfortunately, the loudest as well. She goes into a state of mourning every time Rachael leaves for school, and it's obvious she still misses Bob, her big brother. She comes when called, and like all our cats, she's very un-catlike. I say that with some pride because I can't stand aloof cats. None would dare live in our house.

It's funny...every time we've lost a cat, even with another one at home, I've felt the sole-deep urge for a new one. Bob changed all that. Baby remains young and healthy, with many years ahead of her. She'll be the last of our cats, but I feel we've done the job we were meant to do.