Here are a few books that have come through the Book Room in the last few weeks that might make good Father's Day gifts.
NONFICTION The Man's Book: The Essential Guide For the Modern Man(Little, Brown, 229 pages, $23.99) by Thomas Fink. From the guy who brought you 85 Ways to Tie a Tie comes this handy little guide to manhood. A man can learn the proper ways to dress, the ins and outs of smoking, how to choose a best man, eight ways to tie one's shoelaces and, perhaps most important, how to properly carve meat. It covers not only turkey, beef and ham, but also partridge, grouse and mutton. There is an entire chapter on James Bond -- and before you go thinking this is some kind of old fashioned how-to guide, the very next chapter is on text messaging.
SPORTS The Golf Guru: Answers to Golf's Most Perplexing Questions(Quirk Books, 207 pages, $18.95) by John Barton. The author, who writes a column for Golf Digest, answers questions both general and specific about the popular pastime. For example: "Why do golf courses have 18 holes?" and "If Tiger Woods wears white socks with black shoes, why can't I?" Arnold Palmer wrote the foreword.
KIDS How to Talk to Dads(Collins, 47 pages, $9,99) by Alec Greven. The 10-year-old who last year caused a sensation with his How to Talk to Girls book now is cashing in on this little volume. In the introduction, young Alec tells us, "Don't worry. You will find out everything you need to know about Dad right in this book." Oh, if only it were that simple. (One must remember that the author is only 10.) I suppose this book would be better for kids Alec's age, but I could see youngsters giving this to their dads in hopes of pleasing him.
MILITARY MEMOIR Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime(Atlas & Co., 304 pages, $25) by Darrell Griffin Sr. and Darrell "Skip" Griffin Jr. The book is a tribute to the younger Griffin, an Army staff sergeant who was killed in action on March 21, 2007, during his third tour of duty in Iraq. He was 36 years old. After his son's death, Griffin Sr. persuaded the Army to embed him with Skip's unit in Iraq so he could experience the war firsthand with the men who fought beside his son. The finished book provides a glimpse into the conflict and includes Skip's e-mail correspondence, photographs and excerpts from his journals.
MEMOIR Go Ask Your Father: One Man's Obsession with Finding HIs Origins Through DNA Testing(Bantam, 227 pages, $25) by Lennard J. Davis. The author plays detective in the story of his own life. When Davis' father dies, his uncle tells him that he is his biological father, through artificial insemination in the late 1940s. The story unfolds into a personal journey for the author as he tries to unravel the truth, and also a history of sorts of artificial insemination in America.
FICTION The Nine Lessons: A Novel of Love, Fatherhood, and Second Chances(Center Street, 223 pages, $14.99) by Kevin Alan Milne. A man named August Witte is terrified when he finds out he's going to be a father. His mother died when he was a toddler and his father was seemingly happier on the golf course than at home. Nevertheless, August agrees to monthly golf lessons with his father, during the pregnancy, and ends up learning as much about life as about golf.
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.
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.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
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?
3. How much did the first Barbie cost in 1959?
4. Thus far, what's the most that's been paid for a mint-condition No. 1 Barbie?
5. Barbie's hair comes in how many different shades of blond?
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?
10. Barbie comes in how many different skin tones?
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
Often I get books sent to me that I glance at and say, "Who is the audience for this book?" or "Who would buy this?" I almost said that about The Order of Things: Hierarchies, Structures, and Pecking Orders (Workman Publishing, 615 pages, $9.95) by Barbara Ann Kipfer. But I had to stop myself.
This little stocking-stuffer -- it measures 4-by-6 inches and is an inch and a half thick -- is full of great information for people in my profession (editors and writers), so I intend to leave it on my desk, next to my dictionary. But I may go out and buy a few more -- one for my 11-year-old nephew, perhaps, who loves lists. He'll have a field day, learning not only the names of the British monarchy, in order, but also the rulers of many other countries. Plus, he can learn about Braille, sign language and Morse code.
It'll also tell you what birthstone corresponds with each month; the order of winning poker hands; military rankings, tornado and hurricane scales and much more.
A random opening of the book shows me a diagram of how a proper place setting should look, plus a dozen different types of glassware. Another random opening gives me the Twelve Days of Christmas, in order. I'd like to say that I shall never mix up days 9-12 again, but alas, the entry implies that days 10 and 12 are interchangeable. No wonder I get confused. So, it's either 12 drummers drumming and 10 lords a leaping; or vice-versa.
Both presidential candidates have been pretty good humored during the campaign. You saw John McCain on "Saturday Night Live" last weekend and Barack Obama dancing on "Ellen" a couple weeks ago. So, today, in a nonpartisan effort to gets some laughts today, before anything is decided, I offer up the following little paperbacks. Neither author appears to be taking a stand on the candidates either way; they merely seem to be poking gentle fun.
In a previous "Saturday Night Live" appearance back in May, John McCain said, "I have the courage, the wisdom, the experience, and most importantly, the oldness necessary." True, if elected, McCain, at 72, will be the oldest first-term president in history.
According to blogger/author Joe Quint, there are 72 Things Younger Than John McCain (Fireside, 113 pages, $9.99), including two-ply toilet paper: "In the year before John McCain was born, the Northern Tissue Paper Company proudly proclaimed its toilet paper to be 'splinter free' -- but it wasn't until he was out of diapers for about four years that the world was treated to the miracle of a second layer of paper."
Paging through the book, here are a few more things younger than John McCain (who knew?): Geritol, turn signals, Social Security, duct tape, Scrabble, area codes and zip codes, Spam, Alaska and Hawaii, Scientology, McDonald's, the ball point pen, Mount Rushmore, Bugs Bunny and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.
Matthew Honan first started putting together his humorous little collection of odd statements as a commentary on his wife's obsession with Barack Obama, which quickly overtook her other obsession: bicycling. So, Barack Obama is Your New Bicycle: 366 Ways He Really Cares (Gotham, 192 pages, $12) has become a calling out of many Americans' love affair with the young, charismatic candidate from Illinois.
Honan first started a Web site that flashes random phrases explaining Obamamania and it took off in popularity -- enough for him to put it in booklet form. Here are some of my favorites:
Barack Obama listed you as his emergency contact.
Barack Obama ...
...picked up the spare on league night.
...covered for you when you were late for a meeting.
...showed you how to tie a full Windsor.
...made you a mixtape.
...changed out the kitty litter for you.
...held your hair when you were sick.
...climbed Kilimanjaro and wrote your name in the logbook.
...shelled an enormous bagful of peas for your picnic.
....counted all your pennies and rolled them up in paper.
...sucked all the poison out of your snake bite.
From the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries comes the latest in the "100 Words" series, 100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces (Houghton Mifflin, 118 pages, $5.95).
While the book is fun to page through -- especially for someone who's worked with words her entire career -- I'm not sure who would actually plunk down six bucks for it. Some of the other books in the series would be worth buying as stocking-stuffers or gifts for graduates (100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know, 100 Words to Make You Sound Smart).
Two words in the new volume did grab my attention because their mispronunciation falls into the category of "my personal pet-peeves": mischievous and primer.
The first, "mischievous," is often mispronounced as such: mis-chee'-vee-us. There is no third "i" in the word yet lazy readers will see what they want to see and instead of looking up the proper pronunciation simply say it like they think it should sound.
The second, "primer," meaning a book that covers the basic elements of a subject, is commonly mispronounced with a long "i" rather then the short "i." The long-i "primer" is the first coat of paint you put on your walls. The instruction-booklet "primer" should be pronounced like the word "prim," as in prim and proper.
The 100 words are listed on the last page, so I went there first, to test my own knowledge. I did pretty well -- 95 percent. In my defense, I can honestly say I've never uttered in conversation the five words I got wrong. Here they are, in alphabetic order (correct pronunciations in parentheses):
Concupiscence (kon-kyoo'pi-sens) -- Sadly I'd never even heard of this word. It means "a strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust."
Living With Crazy Buttocks is an actual book title. Pretty funny title at that -- and my favorite among the former Diagram Prize winners vying for the oddest book title of the last 30 years. It's a contest organized by The Bookseller, a trade magazine across the pond.
It didn't win. The winning entry, crowned by an online voting public, is Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, published in 1994 by a British stamp-collecting organization.
Philip Stone, charts editor for The Bookseller, had this to say about the choice: "I sincerely believe that this title provides further proof to the current government that the British public are passionate about the maintenance and continuation of local mail delivery services."
I suppose he's joking here given the whole nature of the contest. And I've always enjoyed the British sense of humor, but come on! Not funnier than Living With Crazy Buttocks. Sorry. Here are some of the other competing titles:
People Who Don't Know They're Dead (runner-up)
How to Avoid Huge Ships (third place)
Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice
How Green Were the Nazis?
Reusing Old Graves
I'm thinking we here in the U.S. can come up with some funnier titles, so I'm going to start collecting them. Suggestions welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The people of Chicago have spoken — with their book-buying dollars. This week's Crain's Chicago Business is chock-full of charts and graphs and information in its Market Facts 2008 feature.
Among the findings under "Media & Culture," the mag lists the top five best-sellers in Chicago since Jan. 1, 2008. It's a curious little all-nonfiction list. Not surprising is that the No. 1 spot is an Oprah's Book Club selection.
1. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle (paperback)
2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
3. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (paperback)
4. Strengths Finder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup's 'Now, Discover Your Strengths' by Tom Rath
5. Eat This Not That: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds — or More! by David Zinczenko (paperback)
Do you think The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the best book of the last 25 years? Where do you think Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes ranks? Or The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown? According to Entertainment Weekly magazine, they rank No. 1, 36 and 96, respectively.
For the magazine's 1000th issue, the folks at EW came out with a bunch of lists they're calling "The New Classics," broken down into the 100 best movies, TV shows, albums and books, among other things.
I would argue that the books list would have been the most difficult to compile as many, many more new books come out in a given month than movies, TV shows and albums. And given that such lists are heavily subject to the tastes of those making the list, don't be surprised if your favorite from the last quarter-century didn't make it. That said, it's fun to read.
This is what EW's had to say about its No. 1 selection, the barely 2-year-old The Road: "We don't need writers of Cormac McCarthy's caliber to inform us of looming planetary catastrophes; we can read the newspaper for that. We need McCarthy to imaging the fate of the human sould if the worst really does come to pass."
No. 1: The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
No. 100: America (The Book) presented by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Interspersed throughout the list are little breakouts, such as "The 10 Longest Books," "Oprah Blessed Titles" and "Five Memoir Shockers," to name a few. EW.com's poll to elicit readers' favorite authors of the last 25 years ended up with:
1. (surprise!) J.K. Rowling (46 percent)
2. Stephen King (30 percent)
3. John Grisham (10 percent)
4. Cormac McCarthy (8 percent)
5. Toni Morrison (6 percent)
Here is my own Top 5 culled from EW's Top 100 (EW's ranking in parentheses):
1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (No. 73)
2. Cathedral by Raymond Carver (No. 75)
3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (No. 15)
4. Possession by A.S. Byatt (No. 27)
5. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (No. 11)
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.
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?"
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).