Book of the Day club: April 2008 Archives

Ginsberg in India

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It was 1961, and Allen Ginsberg was in search of life’s meaning.

His quest would lead him to the gurus and ashrams of India, to its streets and heady opium dens. It is a journey that Deborah Baker tells through journals, letters, memoirs and other documents collected for A Blue Hand: The Beats in India (Penguin, 243 pages, $25.95).

A Blue Hand

Ginsberg’s friends in New York insist that he travel to the East and explore the subcontinent with them, but he does not need much encouragement. Ginsberg had already heard the ancient voice of William Blake reciting poetry inside his Harlem apartment. He had looked outside the window and noticed how everything was created by a ‘‘living hand,’’ how the sky itself was ‘‘the living blue hand.’’

‘‘From that moment, Irwin Allen Ginsberg became a divining rod in the headlong and holy pursuit of God,’’ Baker writes.

A disillusioned look back

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Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee often seemed to be odd man out in Washington.

He was one of the Senate’s most liberal Republicans, bucking his party on big issues such as Iraq, tax cuts, abortion and the environment. His reserved, sometimes quirky personality was never a smooth fit in the clubby Senate, where friendships can mean more than political ties in making things happen.

In his new political memoir, Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President (St. Martin’s Press, 245 pages. $24.95), Chafee revels in his outsider status as he chronicles his disillusionment with the bitter partisanship that dominated his seven years in the Senate. He wields a broad brush, heaping blame on Republicans and Democrats alike for putting party loyalty and ambition ahead of the public good.

Against the Tide


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On the eve of Cynthia Ozick’s 80th birthday on April 17, four of her pessimistic but entertaining stories have been brought together under the title Dictation (Houghton Mifflin Company, 179 pages, $24).


It could have been Deception.

Ozick doesn’t write action packed page-turners and she allows herself more than an occasional literary or historical reference. But something is always going on — the book is hard to put down, even if you need to make sure the roast isn’t burning.

The title story fantasizes about two typists supposedly hired by two giants of 20th-century fiction: Henry James and Joseph Conrad. Miss Lilian Hallowes and Miss Theodora Bosanquet achieve what seems to them a bit of literary immortality. They successfully conspire to insert a few lines from a novel being written by one writer into the work of the other.

But nobody notices.

Death to All Sacred Cows

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Contrary to the book jacket might make you think, this books is not about cows that go "moo." Here's a review:


It’s easy to understand why business self-help books tend to sound the same.

After all, people won’t buy a book that tells them to keep doing the same things they’ve always done. So authors instead urge change, using variations of the same cliche: adjust your paradigm, think outside the box, cross the chasm, figure out who moved your cheese.

Then how do authors sell a new book that makes many of the same points executives have heard before? This comedic trio relies on a new paradigm of their own: irreverent humor in place of the stodgy business-speak more common to the genre.

David Bernstein, Beau Fraser and Bill Schwab, executives at advertising agency The Gate Worldwide, are co-authors of Death to All Sacred Cows (Hyperion Books, 224 pages. $21.95). This short book is amusing and easily digestible, although an impatient executive may tire of wading through irreverence to get to the main point.

Death to All Sacred Cows

'Hollywood Crows'

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In his latest police procedural, Joseph Wambaugh introduces a large assortment of quirky cops, each made readily recognizable by his own ‘‘handle.’’

For a start, there’s Doomsday Dan Applewhite, who lives ‘‘in constant anticipation of calamity.’’ There’s Compassionate Charlie Gifford, who finds street brutality amusing. There’s Nathan Hollywood Weiss, who is trying to break into the movies. And two surfer-dude cops, Flotsam and Jetsam, who’d really rather be at the beach.

Most of them are assigned to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Relations Office. Hence the title, Hollywood Crows (Little, Brown, 343 pages, $26.99). Dismissed by other officers as ‘‘the sissy beat’’ or ‘‘teddy bears in blue,’’ the Crows spend most of their time dealing with ‘‘quality of life complaints’’ such as loud music, barking dogs and illegal parking.

Hollywood Crows

But as they complain about their paperwork, hit on one another and mosey from one seemingly unrelated complaint to the next, they manage to bump into a number of real crimes including robbery and murder.
Nearly always, these crimes provoke attempts at cop humor that vary between distasteful and offensive.

‘‘No such thing as rape in Hollywood,’’ one observes. ‘‘Just a lot of business disputes.’’

About midway through the book, it dawns on the reader that a few of the incidents in this episodic book relate to one another in a way that vaguely resembles a plot.

Ali Aziz and his hot wife Margot, owners of an upscale strip club called the Leopard Lounge, are in the middle of an ugly divorce. They are fighting over money. They are fighting over custody of their son, Nicky. Independently, each decides it would be nifty if the other were dead.

On their routine patrols, members of the Crows keep stumbling over bits and pieces of the murder plots. But will they put it together before it’s too late?

Wambaugh knows this turf; he was a Los Angels cop for nearly 20 years. During that time, he wrote some of his best novels, including The New Centurions, and his nonfiction best seller, The Onion Field.

After 13 years without a new book, he returned in 2006 with the stylish police procedural ‘‘Hollywood Station.’’

Hollywood Crows has its moments, but suffers by comparison.


A Gen-X call to arms

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Jeff Gordinier is talkin' about my generation in his first book, X Saves the World. Here's a review:


As baby boomers blossom into senior citizens and coddled 20-somethings hog the rest of the spotlight, the generation that lies between those demographics is slipping through the cracks.

Generation X — as the 46 million stereotypically sarcastic, self-doubting slackers born between 1960 and 1977 are known — gets little attention. But its emphasis on open-sourcing, independence and irony has quietly transformed lives, and now ‘‘Xer’’ writer Jeff Gordinier is calling on his cohorts to step up their effort.

His first book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking (Viking, 224 pages, $21.95),’’ is a nostalgic, hot-and-bothered survey of what Gordinier calls the ‘‘Gen-X odyssey’’ from coffeehouse cynics to dot-com millionaires and social innovators. Xers are, bit by bit, ‘‘changing the world,’’ he says, even as that 1960s phrase makes most of them sick with suspicion.

X Saves the World

Born in the ‘‘leviathan shadow of the boomers,’’ whose ‘‘incredible shrinking values’’ Gordinier skewers, Xers honed a sharp sense of skepticism and separateness, ‘‘afraid to commit to their lives because they see so much of the world as a cliche,’’ he writes. He cites Beck, one of the generation’s hit singers.

Wary of canned idealism and false hopes but still drawn to the desire for change, Xers launched their own micro-revolutions instead, creating companies such as Netscape, Google and Amazon that empowered individuals and triggered a ripple effect that gave even small ideas huge potential.

Xers held the helm of pop culture for a short time — an era book-ended by opposing gym scenes in music videos for Nirvana’s anarchic ‘‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’’ and Britney Spears’ ‘‘regimented’’ ‘‘Hit Me, Baby, One More Time.’’

It girls in NYC

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In her first novel, playwright and screenwriter Theresa Rebeck skewers paparazzi culture and our national obsession with the hookups and breakdowns of the young and the beautiful.

In Three Girls and Their Brother (Shaye Areheart Books, 337 pages, $23.95), three gorgeous redheads are thrown into the celebrity machine when a famous photographer takes their portrait for The New Yorker magazine. The media attention sparked by the photograph becomes a firestorm after a public run-in between rebellious, 14-year-old Amelia and a lecherous movie star.

Three Girls and Their Brother

Suddenly, the Heller sisters are New York City’s ‘‘It girls’’ of the moment, their every move stalked and scrutinized by legions of paparazzi and press.

Ambitious 18-year-old Daria and wild 17-year-old Polly welcome the attention, but Amelia wants to go back to the real world of high school. But she soon discovers that casting off her celebrity status won’t be as easy as it seems.

It doesn’t help that the girls’ mother, a former beauty queen, is willing to sacrifice her daughters to feed the demands of agents, publicists, stylists and reporters.

‘‘Honestly, it was like being in some crazy prison somewhere,’’ Amelia says after a nasty encounter with a manipulative agent. ‘‘Psycho prison for teenage models, that’s what it was like.’’

What's another way to say...?

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I don't think a day goes by that I don't consult Roget's Thesaurus. It's different these days — I do it mostly online — but the thrill of finding the perfect word remains intact. There's a new biography out about the man who started it all. Here's a review:


If the instinctive snobbery could be set aside for a moment, the denizens of the literary world would probably acknowledge Peter Mark Roget’s lasting contribution to writing.

If they are being totally honest, they might even own up to consulting his magnum opus sometime during the last week, if not in the last hour. Or the last minute.

Roget’s life’s work — the English language’s most comprehensive and acclaimed thesaurus — has, for more than a century served as an equal opportunity literary enabler. More than 40 million copies have been sold. The weary college dorm rat trying to make a term paper sparkle and the uppity Great American Novelist in training alike consult its pages, and if they say they don’t? The suspicion here is that it’s a bit of a taradiddle (a fib).

The order and simplicity of Roget’s Thesaurus was a stark contrast — and, Joshua Kendall argues in his new book, a tonic — to the hurly-burly and chaotic life of the man who created it.

The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 304 pages, $25.95), Kendall’s solid new biography, offers a theory for Roget that could apply to any number of more conventional literary greats: For him, words were therapy.

The Man Who Made Lists

Peace out

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Peace, brother. Keep the peace. Peace and quiet. Peace, baby. Peace be with you. Let there be peace on earth. There are two, count 'em, two books out now to mark the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol: Peace: 50 Years of Protest by Barry Miles (Reader's Digest, 250 pages, $29.95) and Peace: The Biography of a Symbol by Ken Kolsbun with Michael S. Sweeney (National Geographic, 176 pages, $25).

Peace1 Peace2

Here's a review of the latter...

Waitress Waitress!

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Is it twice as nice when twins write a novel together? Here's a review of Turning Tables:


This novel will give you a new appreciation for what waiters and waitresses at fancy restaurants go through. And even if you don’t eat at fancy restaurants, you’ll be rewarded with a delightful story.

Turning Tables (Dial Press, 324 pages, $24) is written by identical twins Heather and Rose MacDowell, who drew on their own experience as waitresses at restaurants in New York City, Nantucket, Mass., and San Francisco. They’ve distilled those memories into the story of Erin Edwards, 28, who loses her corporate job in a downsizing.

Turning Tables

Desperate for cash, she takes a waitressing job at a chic Manhattan restaurant. Disasters ensue.

She has zero experience, and it shows in this high-pressure environment, ruled by her demanding and sharp sharp-tongued bosses. Early on, she’s flummoxed by the finer points of folding napkins at high speed, and sent sprawling in front of the temperamental head chef because her shoes weren’t designed for greasy spots.

Then there’s tackling the psychological challenge of reading and pleasing the high-roller clientele. ‘‘You have to be part of their fantasy,’’ her sympathetic mentor explains. ‘‘It’s all about controlling the guest’s experience, and that means adapting to every table. When I’m talking to guests, I’m not me any more. I’m ... whoever they want me to be.’’

Frankly, she’s told, none of her peers on the staff expected her to last more than a week. But she’s determined not to give in. She plunges on through traumas such as dealing with a shrieking child in the hushed dining room and waiting on a powerful restaurant critic. Throw in romances with a cook and a well-to-do customer — who furnishes a humiliating reminder of a waitresses’ social standing among his peers — and there’s more than enough to keep this story humming.

And it does. Surely there’s a movie in such a feel-good tale with outsized personalities, high-pressure action and an attractive young heroine. Until somebody makes it, the book will surely satisfy your appetite for a good tale.


Palmer & Nicklaus: Together Again

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The Masters tournament is over but golf season has just begun for many weekend warriors. Arnie and Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry is sure to be a hit among die-hards. Here's a review :


Legendary golf rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus couldn’t have been more different, both as people and in their approaches to the game that made them rich and famous.

Palmer, the son of a poor western Pennsylvania greenskeeper, was handsome, charismatic and approachable, someone who was adored by men and women alike. He won 62 times on the PGA Tour and captured seven of pro golf’s major tournaments with a short, fast swing that made it appear he was about to jump out of his spikes. He played quickly, aggressively and fearlessly, and always with his heart on his sleeve, which endeared him to many fans. Palmer was as beloved as any athlete of his time, with enough followers to form an army — Arnie’s Army.

On the other hand, it took a while for golf fans to warm up to Jack Nicklaus, as Ian O’Connor points out in Arnie and Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry (Houghton Mifflin Co., 368 pages, $26).

Arnie & Jack

Early in his career, Nicklaus, whose father was a well-to-do central Ohio pharmacist, was pudgy and cocksure and wore an unflattering buzz cut. His laser focus on his game during tournaments made him seem aloof to fans. But his upright, powerful swing became a model for generations of beginning golfers and helped him to win 73 times on the tour. Tiger Woods, who grew up idolizing Nicklaus, has repeatedly said his ultimate goal as a golfer is to surpass Nicklaus’ 18 majors titles.

Nicklaus played cautiously and deliberately, hovering forever over his shots, particularly his putts, and oblivious to the fans and the golf officials who wanted him to pick up the pace a bit. He almost always wore a poker face, allowing himself to break into his infectious smile only after a great shot or when he realized victory was certain. When he was around 30, he lost some weight, let his blond hair grow out and started becoming a fan favorite.

Palmer, who is 10 years older than Nicklaus, rose to fame first, but it wasn’t long before Nicklaus came along in the early 1960s to challenge Palmer’s greatness and spark a fierce rivalry that continued long past their playing primes and extended deep into their business lives.

Both earned millions of dollars winning tournaments, endorsing products, selling their apparel and golf equipment, and designing golf courses. They weren’t best buddies, O’Connor writes, but they liked and respected each other, sometimes flew together and occasionally enjoyed spending some leisure time together. Their wives, Winnie Palmer and Barbara Nicklaus, became extremely close friends.

Golf fans of a certain age will enjoy Arnie and Jack because it’s bound to stir some memories of televised Sunday afternoon charges and collapses, although they may be put off by some salty language that is better used after unleashing a snap-hook. Younger fans who are tired of waiting for a challenger worthy of being considered a near-equal rival to the magnificent Woods may find the book a satisfying alternative.


In praise of meat-eating

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On the back cover of Scott Gold's The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers (Broadway Books, 355 pages, $24.95), there is a multiple-choice quiz. Question No. 3 asks:

The following meat is NOT approved for retail sale in the United Sates, even with USDA inspection:
a) Armadillo
b) Kangaroo
c) Iguana
d) Island fox

The most alarming thing about that question is not which one is NOT approved but that the other three ARE!

You have to read the book to find the answer. I've been skipping around the book and haven't found the answer yet.

The Shameless Carnivore

Fair warning to vegetarians: You will not like this book. It is an unapologetic celebration of sizzling animal flesh.

"I don't get it," Gold writes. "Where at one point in American history a vegetarian would have been branded as a godless communist and advised to return forthwith to the CCCP, abstaining from the consumption of animal flesh these days is largely viewed as an enlightened life decision, even though it's not what most of us do."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Book of the Day club category from April 2008.

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