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Happy Birthday Barbie

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It's been far too long since I've posted a "Book of the Day," so in honor of Barbie's 50th birthday week, here we go.

This Barbie I speak of is the doll and yes, she does have a last name (see quiz below). You'll find out all sorts of things about Barbie's backstory by reading her biography, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her (Collins Business, 258 pages, $24.99), by Robin Gerber.

Barbie and Ruth

Ruth Handler was the brains behind Barbie, but what you might not know is that the prototype for the doll was based on something called "Bild-Lilli," which was a sex toy based on a European newspaper cartoon character who was a prostitute.

Also, Barbie and Ken were named after Handler's own two children, who hated the dolls. Ken Handler was especially embarrassed.

"Despite ordering prototypes with varying degrees of bulge in the crotch, the male designers resisted all but the barest hint of a penis," Berger writes in the book. "Underwear was painted on the nearly flat surface of Ken's genital area and buttocks. As Ruth predicted, he looked unrealistic in the zebra-striped bathing suit that was his first piece of clothing. Ruth's son, Ken, who was fifteen at the time, resented the flat-crotched doll that bore his name."

Gerber had access to recently archived documents and personal papers, plus she interviewed surviving family members, Mattel personnel and others close to Handler.


Do you think you know Barbie? Take this quiz. (Scripps Howard News Service)

1. What is Barbie's full name?

a.) Barbie Priscilla Robertson
b.) Barbie Henrietta Wilson
c.) Barbie Millicent Roberts
d.) Barbie Abigail Carter

2. Who isn't Barbie's sister?

a.) Skipper
b.) Kelly
c.) Midge
d.) Tutti

3. How much did the first Barbie cost in 1959?

a.) $1
b.) $2
c.) $3
d.) $5

4. Thus far, what's the most that's been paid for a mint-condition No. 1 Barbie?

a.) $7,580
b.) $10,241
c.) $27,450
d.) $51,386

5. Barbie's hair comes in how many different shades of blond?

a.) 10
b.) 7
c.) 20
d.) 5

6. The look of the first Barbie mirrored the glamor of what Hollywood star?

a.) Marilyn Monroe
b.) Rita Hayworth
c.) Elizabeth Taylor
d.) All of the above

7. What's the best-selling Barbie to date?

a.) Superstar Barbie
b.) Totally Hair Barbie
c.) Malibu Barbie
d.) Day to Night Barbie

8. What percentage of girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie?

a.) 50 percent
b.) 75 percent
c.) 90 percent
d.) 98 percent

9. What's Barbie's favorite eye-shadow color?

a.) blue
b.) brown
c.) lavender
d.) green

10. Barbie comes in how many different skin tones?

a.) 3
b.) 5
c.) 11
d.) 20


1. c - Barbie Millicent Roberts from Willows, Wis.
2. c - Midge, Barbie's best friend.
3. c - $3, and 300,000 were sold that year.
4. c - $27,450, in a May 2006 auction held by Sandi's Doll Attic.
5. b - 7, woven in various combinations to create highlights and lowlights.
6. d - All of the above. The first Barbie featured high arched eyebrows, pursed red lips and a sassy ponytail.
7. b- Totally Hair Barbie, with locks 10-1/2 inches long
8. c - 90 percent
9. b - Brown
10. c - 11

Sources: Mattel and eBay

Starbucks picks new featured book

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Starbucks has chosen another memoir by a West African to feature in its stores nationwide, according to the Associated Press.

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, 425), by New York Times reporter Helene Cooper, is a memoir about growing up in Liberia during that country's civil war.

Helene Cooper

Ishmael Beah's Long Way Gone, about being a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, was picked last year and became a best seller despite questions over how long Beah actually fought.

''I remember going into my local Starbucks on K Street in Washington for my morning coffee on my way to work, and seeing Long Way Gone on the counter,'' Cooper said in a statement released by Starbucks. ''I was thrilled for him as a fellow West African -- and so envious myself at the same time! I'm not ashamed to say that I stood in line daydreaming that one day it would be me. I'm absolutely thrilled."

Publisher's Weekly had this to say about The House at Sugar Beach:

"Journalist Cooper has a compelling story to tell: born into a wealthy, powerful, dynastic Liberian family descended from freed American slaves, she came of age in the 1980s when her homeland slipped into civil war. Cooper combines deeply personal and wide-ranging political strands in her memoir. A journalist-as-a-young-woman narrative unfolds as Cooper reports the career path that led her from local to national papers in the U.S. The stories themselves are fascinating..."

Dine at your own risk

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This week I've been reading Waiter Rant: Thanks For the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (Ecco, 302 pages, $24.95) and here is my unabashed recommendation: If you eat out with any regularity, read this book!

Waiter Rant

It's written by a New Yorker who calls himself "The Waiter," and he's the creator of the popular and award-winning Waiter Rant blog. This week, however The Waiter was outed as Steve Dublanica and though it's not been confirmed, the restaurant in which he worked -- which he calls "The Bistro" throughout the book -- is the Lanterna Tuscan Bistro in Nyack, N.Y., according to New York magazine.

Dublanica also appeared this morning on the "Today" show and announced his "retirement" from waiting tables. (Probably a good thing, since he also disclosed that one of his favorite retaliation moves was to pass gas near rude customers and then walk away.)

The book is hilarious and disgusting and very insightful. Dublanica not only tells tales about what servers might do to you if you're rude -- spit in food; fill coffee with regular instead of decaf; play hockey with meat if it's sent back; tell the customer his credit card has been denied -- but also gives good tips for diners: "If a restaurant's bathroom is nasty," he writes, "the odds are good that the kitchen doesn't bother maintaining Health Department-mandated levels of hygiene either."

Appendix A -- "40 Tips on How to Be a Good Customer -- should be studied and committed to memory. I've always thought of myself as a pretty pleasant restaurant patron, and as I read through the list my assumption stands, except for Rule No. 4: "Sit where you're seated!"

"Please let the hostess do her job," Dublanica writes. "She's only trying to seat customers evenly so that everyone gets the best service possible without overwhelming one server. And trust me, when your waiter overhears you whining about your table, he or she will know that you're an annoying table snob who thinks you're entitled to underserved rock-star treatment and that, in all probability, you're a bad tipper to boot."

I have a restaurant pet-peeve, and if I had a blog dedicated to restaurant pet-peeves, this would be my first entry: Getting seated next to the bathroom or the kitchen door, or the restaurant entrance door, or the busing station -- when the restaurant is FULL of empty tables! Obviously in that situation I don't think it's obnoxious to ask for a better table, but of course now I'll be much less likely to do so.

Island of Eternal Marketing

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Daina Chaviano's The Island of Eternal Love (Riverhead, 336 pages, $25.95) has been translated into 20 languages around the world, including English, introducing Chaviano to English-speaking readers for the first time. Her story of "three families from opposite corners of the world — from Africa, Spain and China — that spans more than a century" is a dreamy tale of love and loss.

Island of Eternal Love

Read M.E. Collins' Sun-Times review of the book.

And if you're still unsure of what it's about or whether to read it, check out this bizarre "trailer" I stumbled upon on YouTube. There is no commentary, only imagery, music and text. I've never seen such a thing and am wondering if it helps sales?

Just plain wacky

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If you were a kid in the mid-'70s, it's likely you collected Wacky Packs, as we all referred to them. (Officially they were/are Wacky Packages.) They came packaged like baseball cards — complete with the not-so-fresh, sugar-coated stick of bubble gum — and for a short time were more popular.

The famed Series One through Series Seven (from 1973-74) have been put together in book form to celebrate the phenomenon's 35th anniversary. Wacky Packages (Abrams, 239 pages, $19.95) will perhaps take you back to a time when you started looking at life askance — and never looked back.

wacky2 wacky1

wacky4 wacky3

As you can see here, the Topps company tapped into our most depraved sensibilities with their product parodies. And the accompanying artwork by guys like Norm Saunders, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman and Chicago artist Jay Lynch became embedded in our brains.

Spiegelman and Lynch provide the introduction and afterword, respectively. "The dopey gags came easily. This was a dream job," writes Spiegelman. "Yessirree — I am proud to have been a worker in the debased basement of the great temple of commerce that is America's popular culture."

Lynch sums it up: "Thirty-five years later, they're still funny. What more could we hope for?"


Trash find turns into literary treasure

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Chicago native Lily Koppel went Dumpster diving in her Manhattan neighborhood and came up with a treasure trove of memories in the form of a diary from the 1930s. Koppel tracked down the writer of the diary, Florence Wolfson, who is now 90 and living in Florida. Through interviews with Florence and entries from the diary, Koppel has crafted The Red Leather Diary (Harper, 336 pages, $23.95), a story of a curious, creative Upper East Side young woman in Depression-era Manhattan.

Red Leather Diary

Check out the video of Elizabeth Brackett's conversation with Koppel on WTTW-Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight" last week.

What your stuff says about you

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A coworker of mine has a miniature curling stone on his desk. Next to that are four fake ice cubes. I'm not sure what that says about him but if I started scrutinizing all the other things on his desk — toy Tigger, "Star Wars" characters, rubber creepy things, press pass to David Letterman appearance (not that I'm snooping while he's on vacation or anything) — I could probably come up with some kind of psychological profile.

Author and noted psychologist Sam Gosling says the stuff we own and how we arrange it can say more about us than even our most intimate conversations with our closest friends. And he's written a book about it: Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You (Basic Books, 250, $25).

What Your Stuff Says About You

Gosling and his team of researchers looked not only on desk tops but also through closets, iPods, refrigerators, Facebook profiles, underneath beds, in purses, bookshelves and more. Through their snooping, we readers should be able to figure out things like how committed our co-workers are and how reliable our new boyfriend or girlfriend is.

Good luck!


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A Los Angeles woman, who until recently was known only to the scientific community as "AJ," has come out of the laboratory closet to talk about herself — a subject she knows intimately. Jill Price is an autobiographical Rainman. She can tell you what she had for lunch on any random day 15 or 20 years ago. So precise are her memories that leading experts on human memory have been studying her for eight years.

Price has written a book, with Bart Davis: The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science (Free Press, 263 pages, $26).

The Woman Who Can't Forget

It is the story of an ordinary woman, now 42 years old, whose brain began working overtime when she was 14. Price says her life plays out like a split-screen in her head, with all her memories continually swirling around.

Here is her first television interview:

Strummin' a tune, writin' a story

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What are country singer/songwriters if not storytellers. Heck, most country songs tell a story with their titles. Who can forget: "I Gave Her the Ring (She Gave Me the Finger)"? Or how about "If My Nose Were Full of Nickels Then I'd Blow It All on You"? Or "My Phone Ain't Been Ringin' So I Guess it Wasn't You."

I'm not sure those are true song titles, but they sound good, don't they?

Robert Hicks, a New York Times best-selling author (The Widow of the South), along with singer/songwriter John Bohlinger and writer Justin Stelter, have put together A Guitar and a Pen (Center Street, 256 pages, $23.99) — a collection of stories by "Country Music's Greatest Songwriters," as the subtitle states. Vince Gill provides the foreword.

A Guitar and a Pen

There are some recognizable names in the bunch — Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Hal Ketchum, Janis Ian and Charlie Daniels, to name a few — and some not so recognizable names. If I hadn't seen Bohlinger's name on the book cover, I wouldn't have known who he was. One name, likely recognizable only to Chicagoans and fringe country fans, is Robbie Fulks...

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.