Featuring Books by Danny Evans, Spencer Quinn, & icanhascheezburger.com
By Douglas Lord — Library Journal, 11/05/2009
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First, a word about the term dude: I know it’s passé. I know that, and I hope you do, too. That’s partly why I love it. As a guy I wear pants and shirts, but as a dude I slip into my slacks and blazer. It’s way funner. Then I commute to the office, where my girl gets 1) my coffee and 2) my editor on the horn.
On to bidness.
Other than the Sunday paper in bed with coffee and croissants, what do all you couples read together? When the girlfriend and I aren’t on safari or poring over The Official Scrabble Dictionary, we like to read books. Usually, we parallel read: she her selection, me mine. But we sometimes tackle the same title. Read-togethers have included F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Blueprints for That Missile Silo Up on the Hill*. Good choices that appeal both to men and to women abound. Consider Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance, or Alexander McCall Smith’s The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs.
I also highly recommend a pragmatic relationship option or two for unmarried-but-close-to-it dudes. Something like Corey Donaldson’s Don’t You Dare Get Married Until You Read This! The Book of Questions for Couples and David and Claudia Arp and Curt and Natalie Brown’s worthwhile 10 Great Dates Before You Say “I Do.” (Nothing in there will change your mind, but your eyes might open a wee bit wider.)
Puzzle books, like Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery, Mind Hacks: Tips & Tricks for Using Your Brain, or Evelyn McFarlane and James Saywell’s If…(Questions for the Game of Life) can be fun as well, but doing a mutual crossword is something that has always annoyed me.
And the self-help aisle’s range of working-on-the-relationship titles will score you lots of points for trying. I mean, simply having David and Teresa Ferguson’s The One Year Book of Devotions for Couples or Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages: How To Express Heartfelt Commitment will up the nookie quotient by quite a little bit, don’t you think?
Beware, though. Some books are just not for couples. Cases in point: Sports Illustrated: The Complete Swimsuit Portfolio and those chick-specific titles where nothing happens. At all. They’re just talking. About feelings. The whole book. Also, it’s good to avoid certain authors, such as Andrew Vachss. When Marilyn Manson and Rachel Evan Wood curled up with Another Life, it ended their relationship.
And now, my real picks for read-togethers. Don’t miss this column’s extra-special Extra Credit.
De Jour, Belle. Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Grand Central. 2008. 304p. ISBN 978-0-446-54082-7. pap. $13.99.
Initially an anonymous blog, this darned good diary takes sex (duh) as its overarching theme. But it’s not the sole focus, and the text, while overly long, compels with De Jour’s workaday details of hooking for a high-class escort service and the insight she lends on her motivation and confidence: “I know my place in sex work is a privileged one, as far as having sex with strangers goes. Many—though not all—prostitutes are addicts, in damaging relationships, abused by clients, or all of the above.” (De Jour manages to be unscathed.) Now why would a woman read this side by side with you in the bed-temple of your love? Well, the lack of intimacy is stunning. I mean, most women have that oxytocin thing going on. As a result, we compartmentalize the author as an aberration, a freak show. And the sex isn’t implied, kids, it’s X-rated (nipple clamps, hot wax, third parties, and David Spade). Yet somehow she manages more than mere prurience or pedestrian descriptions. For you prudes out there, the flipside read is Kathie Lee Gifford’s Naked?! You’re Never Seeing Me Naked Again, Mister!*.
Evans, Danny. Rage Against the Meshugenah: Why It Takes Balls To Go Nuts. NAL: Penguin Group (USA). 2009. 352p. ISBN 978-0-451-22711-9. pap. $15.
Evans’s heartfelt, charming chortle-fest relates a lifetime of therapy, Jewishness, and depressive fun en route to redemption. I coined a new term for our Jewish dudefriend: djewde, one who is both shaped and deformed by his faith. For instance, Hebrew school kept him out of baseball, and your heart feels it when he describes his baseball debut (and finale) at age nine—age nine. Evans’s solidly average (a Fresno State alum, for G-d’s sake) life replete with wife, kids, success, and crazy urges typifies the whole “modern life” conundrum. Which is to say, despite having it pretty darned good and knowing it, he’s depressed. And he knows how stupid that is in the face of all that happy. Therapy, both funny and wrenching, is the key. Evans found his visits akin to completing a “giant puzzle, and over time the picture grew a little clearer.” As with many other people, Evans’s ultimate salvation comes from parenting his own children, from giving them the empathy, love, and guidance that he, in fact, needs. Not only will couples share guffaws, they will get all simpatico with Evans’s discoveries.
Frankel, Valerie. Thin Is the New Happy. Griffin: St. Martin’s. 2009. 272p. ISBN 978-0-312-37393-1. pap. $14.99.
Scarred by an image-crazed mother, Frankel went on what became the first of many diets at age 11. Childhood bullies didn’t help. Neither did the portion of her career spent at Mademoiselle magazine (like a fat guy working at Men’s Fitness). And this is only the external stuff affecting her in terms of her weight. Frankel also reveals her profound inner struggles with image and her obsession with shape and calories. Dudes will feel for her, unless they are monsters, and that’s why it will appeal to couples—dudes will walk in women’s shoes, absorbing the full brunt of cultural pressures they face relating to family, food, perception, self, love, worth, addiction, and mania; women will appreciate dudes’ strides toward empathy. Frankel had to break the connection she had made between her weight and how she felt about herself and make a new one. Her success at doing so is really a great thing. I was happy for her, especially after finishing her rather bitterly titled I Like Pizza and I’m Fat but You’re Ugly*. This complemented Reggie Bush’s Loving for Couples: Kim’s Ass Is FAT!* quite well.
Gill, Michael Gates. How Starbucks Saved My Life: How a Son of Privilege Learns To Live Like Everyone Else. Gotham: Penguin Group (USA). 2008. 272p. ISBN 978-1-59240-404-9. pap. $13.
This is a story of a nondude who became a dude. At the onset, we see that Gill is from the well-to-do side of the tracks. He and his wife coread titles like The Jewelry Buying Guide for That Special Lady and Her Mannequin with a Wallet. Not just a Yale man but a Skull and Bones Yale man, Gill prospered as an advertising executive until he was fired, mostly for being too old, and then failed at consulting. Next his girlfriend gets pregnant, his wife finds out, and he develops a brain tumor. What’s a man to do other than take an entry-level job at Starbucks? Cue the sappy music; the Tom Hanks movie is set to come out in 2012. Y’all might bond over his triumphs, or make fun of the book’s syrupiness, but it’s quite readable. Gill clearly isn’t faking it—he comes to see life in a new way and develops a sense of purpose, empathy, and camaraderie through people whom he wouldn’t look at twice in his earlier life. (See LJ’s original review.)
Horowitz, Alexandra. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner. 2009. 368p. ISBN 978-1-4165-8340-0. $27.
Thoughtful and considered, this book takes the science of canines, removes the abrasive bark, and presents readers with a palatable, rather loving portrait of the inner lives of dogs. Far from anthropomorphizing canines, however, Horowitz instead describes them in their own terms and places them in their own culture (their umwelt). Readers learn about dogs’ senses, how different dogs see differently depending on their breed and the length of their nose, and how important smell is for them. Not as breezy a read as Napoleon Hill’s Live Broke, Die Broke: My Ladyfriend Likes Velour*, the book is sometimes dense, especially when Horowitz uses big, science-y words, but it succeeds admirably at illuminating the dog’s world. The two of you will ooh and ahh at your view. (See LJ’s original review.)
Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food. Norton. 2009. 256p. ISBN 978-0-393-06595-4. $24.95.
Author of a bazillion books, including the remarkable The Emperor’s Embrace: Reflections on Animal Families and Fatherhood, Masson is an unabashed vegan and here convincingly champions the practice as healthful, ethical, and critical to the well-being of our planet. Like the film Food, Inc., Face turns a cynical eye on modern factory farming and its pollution of air, water, and land. But it’s more than “feedlots are gross”—Masson takes pains to show the environmental impact of all that nasty and conveys animal welfare considerations. The title presents an interesting conundrum: the more I read, the less I wanted to know because in order to be a responsible person, I’d have to change my entire big, fat American diet. Going vegan would prove difficult for most burger-loving dudes, akin to giving up sex or showering. Also, not that it’s a deal breaker, but Masson proclaims chickens “funny, curious, affectionate, stubborn, ingenious companions.” Now listen: I do not want to piss off the chicken union, but my personal experiences have very much been the contrary. Still, Masson is a powerful, provegan voice who also manages to prove that pet chickens are cool. Thinking, greenish couples will eat him up. (See LJ’s original review.)
Quinn, Spencer. Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery. Atria: S. & S. 2009. 320p. ISBN 978-1-4165-8583-1. $25.
Few blisses are as deep as a well-constructed murder mystery, that mythical world in which the drama is real but the danger is not. This buddy story with a twist features as hero (and narrator) Chet the dog, critical to Bernie Little’s success as a private detective. They are a team, even though Bernie doesn’t realize it. Quinn nails Chet’s character—he’s all dog: direct, resourceful, and, most important, observant. Chet notices, for example, things that we only dimly realize: “[h]ands are the weirdest thing about humans, and the best: you can find out just about everything you need to know by watching them.” And also fascinating things, like a room being messy. Bernie is hired by attractive, divorced Cynthia to find her missing teenage daughter. Is the kid a runaway, or is the father involved in something nefarious? At the very least, you and the missus will agree on the dog’s undeniable charm. This is an excellent first book, though I must point out that it does not match the brilliance of my as-yet-unpublished Charlie the Talking Lizard novel. Any chance for Bernie and Cynthia? You’ll have to read Guy Ritchie’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Batshit Crazy* to find out. (See LJ’s original review.)
Somer, Mehmet Murat. The Gigolo Murder: A Turkish Delight Mystery. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). 2009. 272p. ISBN 978-0-14-311629-5. pap. $14.
This variant in the amateur-detective genre manages to be at once familiar (bumbling narrator, slow plot reveal) and quite alien (everything else). The author is Turkish, the mystery is set in Istanbul (not Constantinople!), and the narrator is a transvestite. All aspects that take you pretty far from your average bowling night or Magic Chef party. Names are unfamiliar, manners are peculiar, and customs are weird, as when our hero spits on a mirror to ward off the evil eye. Sporadic action, fennel tea, and the almost complete inscrutability of the narrator might put you off, but for something different, this shoe fits like a pair of Manolos. Plus, the sentiments are familiar no matter what your ethnic, sexual, or culinary orientation (e.g., “I’d imagined us growing old, shaving side by side in the morning, dozing in front of the TV, taking a long cruise together”). Another bonus: sex permeates the entire book. Other titles do this, too, like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s “Dark-Hunter” books, and your sister’s diary. Unlike that last tract, however, Somer isn’t gross, leaving quite a lot to the imagination via a constant undercurrent of sex, something you just don’t get in your typical Spenser-for-hire or 77th Precinct novel. (See LJ’s original review.)
Gasteier, Matthew. F U, Penguin: Telling Cute Animals What’s What. Villard. 2009. illus. 240p. ISBN 978-0-345-51816-3. pap. $15.
Perhaps the logical upshot of my Extra Credit reads, this features more sweetly charming pictures of cute animals coupled with foul and totally inappropriate rants against the pictured species. “I’ve got news for you, Penguin. Just because you have tiny little flightless penguin wings that you are spreading like you want to give me a big bear hug and I can see your cute little penguin feet peeking out from under your penguin belly and you are an emperor penguin which is like a king does NOT mean that you are the king of the world, jerk.”
Greive, Bradley Trevor & Rachael Hale. Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats. Andrews McMeel. 2009. illus. 224p. ISBN 978-0-7407-8513-9. $19.99.
This is in a similar vein as the LOLcat guide below, but it has many more of those squiggly lines known as words. It argues the titular case at book length and puts it quite simply: dogs are social; cats are sociopaths.
McCall, Amanda & Ben Schwartz. Grandma’s Dead: Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals. Harper: HarperCollins. 2008. 88p. ISBN 978-0-06-167376-4. pap. $9.99.
This book does just what the titles says. One page, for example, simply reads, “Dreams don’t come true” over a picture of an adorable bunny. This puts humor books on some sort of new plane. And I’m not sure it’s a healthy one.
Professor Happycat & icanhascheezburger.com. How To Take Over Teh Wurld: A LOLcat Guide 2 Winning. Gotham: Penguin Group (USA). 2009. 192p. illus. ISBN 978-1-59240-516-9. pap. $12.
They made a book of the LOLcats, who make me nose up my coffee all the time. But seeing them in book form points out to me that I am, perhaps, only one step away from looking at cutesy pictures of animals with bows in cutesy animal books or Anne Freaking Geddes.
*I recently started my own publishing company, Deceptive Press. It will be sort of an iPublish thing. If you believe me, I’d also like to talk to you about an absolutely fabulous offshore business opportunity that involves you paying me an exorbitant sum each month. Not in dollars, but Icelandic krona.