David Shields is the master of the unclassifiable book, but sadly with How Literature Saved My Life he is nowhere as successful as with The Thing about Life is That One Day You Will be Dead, which I thought was a delightful mix of personal anecdotes, literary quotes, and reflections. This time, we get the personal anecdotes, and we get the (often wistful) reflections on life and time running out, but unfortunately served with a gigantic helping of literary references that alternates between tedious (as in, an annotated list of 55 books he loves — 17 pages long!) and annoyingly exclusive for those of us who have not read the works. Too bad!
Monthly Archives: April 2013
The Boyfriend is the villain of the book, a killer for hire who murders escorts on the side, and the hunt for him is fast paced and masterfully twisted — but the escorts are so stupid in their eagerness to fall in love with the “boyfriend” that it’s hard to believe that they would be so dumb (they do run their businesses quite shrewdly otherwise, after all). Indeed, dumbness seems to infect all the women in the book, so they all need rescuing by the great detective.
Before you dismiss To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others as a boring business book, pause and think about all the situations in which we attempt to “move” people, as the subtitle indicates, or convince them to change their behavior. All of us are in the convincing business, and some professions that seem quite removed from selling (teachers, physicians and others in the health care field) are all about behavior change. With that, the author launches into a series of fast-paced observations, some trite but many enlightening, about how to sell better, including often neglected topics such as how to write a good email subject, and always with the view that respect is tantamount. No hard sell here!
Hildy Good, she with The Good House, is a realtor who drinks too much but must hide it from her daughters who disapprove (and sent her to rehab) and, as much as possible, from her clients. In her small New England town where everyone knwos everyone, except for the rich newcomers, it is a challenge. She speaks her mind, she invokes the spirit of her witch ancestor, she gets along well with her gay ex-husband, she is jealous of her grandson’s other grandmother, whose sober status means she has more access to him. A solid, fun story without pretensions to greatness.
If, like me, you are a little afraid of the aisles in the center of supermarkets, where the boxed foods are, you will find your apprehension validated in Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. In a blistering, extensive examination of the food industry in the US, the author shows how it exploits our natural tastes for salt, sugar, and fat to concoct products that are entirely unhealthy, and sell well. This is no conspiracy theory. After all, the food giants are not exactly forcing us to buy Pepperoni & Three Cheese Calzone Hot Pockets (I certainly would never consider it), but they find it convenient to pile on the sugar in kids’ cereals while removing the word sugar from their names, to hire the best chemical engineers to mix pyrophosphates and orthophosphates (don’t wince: it’s Jello!), and to deftly customize salt flakes to match the food they will adorn (thank you, Cargill). All that while the executives of said companies follow healthy diets and exercise regimens.
Perhaps the euphemistically called health classes forced upon high school students could review the effects of high-fructose corn syrup or the differences between food and treats?
Meanwhile, stay away from the center aisles!
It is not my habit to post about books I have not read all the way through. True, I sometimes find myself turning pages a little fast when the book doesn’t grab me, but I feel a duty of reading to the end, more as a courtesy to the author (what if there is an amazingly good ending to a so-so story?) than as a badge of honor for myself.
I did not finish Umbrella. I could not. I gave up on page 119, enough to tell you that it’s a supremely clever story, written in a stream of consciousness style that smoothly moves from the psychiatrist hero to one of his patient, exploring the horrors of mental illness and especially its ill-defined treatments, alongside two extended families. A braver soul than I can try wading through the challenging presentation. I wonder if the swooning critics actually read the book. A page or ten is dazzling. Beyond that, it feels like eating a bowl of sugar.
Until I read The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, I thought that Rosa Parks was the tired seamstress of her legend. In fact, she was an inspired activist who was hobbled by her gender as well as her race (and should have won a Nobel Prize with Martin Luther King, not to mention should have had a chance at a real education). The book, written by a historian, gets into minute and rather tedious details of her life in the second half, after the Montgomery bus boycott, but the first part is enlightening.