Book Report: Dave Barry’s Gift Guide to End All Gift Guides by Dave Barry (1994)

This book, originally published in 1994, reads something like a Lileks book. But before Lileks started with his books. And with more whackiness than general wit, which marks the difference between these two authors. In 1994, comparing a writer to Dave Barry would have been a great compliment; over a decade later, a blogger compliments Dave Barry by comparing his book to James Lileks. Meanwhile, somewhere in Indiana, a small blogger-reliant blogger has been compared to Brian Noggle, and no one noticed, and the blog disappeared shortly thereafter.

At any rate, this book looks at some things you can buy and makes some general mirth about them. Items include a pound of simulated human fat, a wire nose-opener, a can of pork brains, and a cutout of a police officer. Hilarity, Barry-esque hilarity, not Lileks-esque hilarity, ensues.

On a side note, Dave Barry makes one snarky remark about ubiquitousness of cellular phones. In 1994. Brother, you have no idea what’s coming, do you? Not even in your most fevered Floridian dreams could you guess how well that quip would hold up at least a decade into the future.

Books mentioned in this review:

Guess That Party, Republican Edition

Headline: Former state rep sentenced for fraud. Lead:

Former State Rep. Nathan Cooper, somber and tearful in federal court, was fined $6,000 and sentenced to 15 months in prison today for an immigration fraud scheme that derailed his political and legal careers.

Oh, yeah, sounds like the same old game, ainna? We don’t get the party affiliation until paragraph 8.

The Cape Girardeau Republican pleaded guilty in August to one count each of visa fraud and making a false statement to the Department of Labor.

Has AP paid attention to the right-leaning blogosphere’s game, or has it always let the party affiliation fall into the lesser paragraphs on some stories?

Weaker Dollar Hurts Manufacturers

Foreign manufacturers, that is:

Missouri exports hit $12.8 billion last year, up 22 percent from 2005, and experts predict this year’s export sales will be even higher. Illinois exports totaled $42.1 billion in 2006, up 17 percent from the year before. Canada, Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom and China are the top export countries for both states.

Oddly enough, the story’s headline, Local companies moving deeper into exporting, doesn’t mention the effect the lower exchange rates have. The story itself does mention it, though:

LaBounty and others attributed the recent growth in local exporting in part to the weak dollar, which has fallen more than 10 percent against a basket of currencies in November compared to the same time in 2006. What that means: The cost of U.S. goods is cheaper for companies and consumers abroad.

Still, one can see that this is a “good” economy story instead of a “bad” one, which no doubt would have mentioned the lower dollar in the headline.

Book Report: Spill the Jackpot by A.A. Fair (1941, 1962)

Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, used the pseudonym of A.A. Fair to write the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam series (a small set of 20+ books). This is somewhere early in the series, written in 1941 and re-released in the 1960s to capitalize on Gardner’s grown popularity.

The book has all the earmarks of 40s pulp: a hard-boiled detective working on a convoluted plot involving a wealthy young man whose fiancee runs off before their marriage. The father, who disapproved of the marriage, might have had a hand in it, and he hires Cool and Lam to find out why the woman disappeared. The paterfamilias plants evidence he wants the detectives to find, but they go beyond the simple decoy to find the woman, much to the father’s chagrin.

Not before a murder occurs, though, so the detective (Lam) needs to figure out who did it and square it to the best of his belief in justice.

The book’s cock-eyed enough to make it interesting. The main character, Lam, isn’t a good fighter, and every scrap he gets into, he loses. He also doesn’t figure out everything just right, but he makes things as right as he can given his limitations.

This looks to be a cool series that I’ll pursue in the future.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: It’s Pat by Julia Sweeney and Christine Zandar (1992)

I don’t know why I did this to myself. It’s a book based on a Saturday Night Live skit that I didn’t find particularly amusing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hold onto SNL skits beyond normal bounds of sanity–after all, I saw Night at the Roxbury on its opening weekend and Ladies Man as soon as I could, but the Pat thing? Nah, I have dodged that particular movie with aplomb.

As you know, gentle reader, the Pat thing is a skit by Julia Sweeney, an SNL alum I remember fondly up until the point that I deconfuse her with Jan Hooks, who I thought was hot. The gag in the skit, the movie (I presume), and the book is that you don’t know if Pat is a male or a female. So innumerable hours of skit time, movie time, and fictional decades in the book are spent by people trying to pin Pat down metaphorically or literally to find out.

I guess everyone needs a hobby.

So the book’s schtick is that it’s a scrapbook of Pat’s life, written in such a way to avoid all pronouns. Um, that’s it.

Well, it didn’t take too long to peruse, anyway, and I probably only spent a quarter on it.

Why do I do this? So I can serve as a warning to you, gentle reader, and I hope you’ll learn the lesson and not bother with this book.

Apparently, an ad at the back indicates that a similar book exists for Wayne’s World. Oh, my.

Books mentioned in this review:

Dog Joke

Dog walks into a telegraph office and writes out his telegram: “Woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof.”

The clerk says, “You can add another woof, since you’re charged the same price for ten words.”

The dog says, “But that wouldn’t make any sense.”

(I don’t know why dog jokes get to me, but they do.)

Book Report: The Book of Lists 1990s Edition by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace (1993)

I have been a fan of the Book of Lists series since my middle school days, when I bought the first Book of Lists as a paperback at a flea market just up the hill from the trailer park in which I lived. I’ve even read The People’s Almanac, for crying out loud.

From a name that includes The People’s Almanac, you can guess that the authors lean a little left of center. Now that they’re flogging more recent history, it becomes more apparent. For example, the following list:

Presidents of the latter half of the 20th Century who were The Devil:

  1. Ronald Reagan
  2. Richard Nixon
  3. George Bush
  4. Ronald Reagan
  5. Ronald Reagan

Well, perhaps that list didn’t appear in the book, but it could have. The authors rely a lot more on Exclusive for Book of Lists as their source material, which means that now that people have heard of it, the authors could send out a questionnaire instead of doing research. Not that all of the lists are like that; just a lot more than in previous editions, as I recollect.

For those of you not familiar with the concept, essentially the authors come up with chapter titles and then coalesece lists around them. Or vice versa, they come up with a bunch of trivia lists and make chapters to reflect it. Regardless, it’s just a pile of trivia on a bunch of topics.

The book best serves as a sort of brainstorm for further research, as it’s probably foolish to cite this book as a comprehensive or even correct source. Which could serve, ultimately, as the beginnings of many, many essays or articles if I don’t just throw the book on my read shelves and forget about it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Enforcer by Andrew Sugar (1973)

This is not the paperback rendering of the Dirty Harry movie (this is). This is the first in the Objectivist-themed 70s paperback pulp series The Enforcer (I read the third book in the series, Kill City, in July).

It’s more of what that one was about:

I mean, imagine Atlas Shrugged if, instead of a cipher for Ayn Rand’s fantasies of the perfect man, John Galt was an author who died somehow and was now living in a series of cloned bodies that deteriorate in 90 days while he works for the John Anryn Institute using his wits, his special power over his own life force (ki), and judo to take on all the Tooheys of the world (sorry, wrong book). But it’s pulp fiction with a definite Objectivist theme.

In between bursts of violent action, we have Penthouse letters sex scenes, the most graphic I’ve seen depicted in any paperbacks I assume were sold at drug stores. I mean, in some pulp, you get the “they’re going to have sex” paragraph, “they’re having sex” paragraph, and then the “it was good” paragraph. In this book, you get the he did that and she did this to his that and it was good thing. It starts graphic to the N-degree and then goes into the metaphorical several paragraphs later. Conforming with Ayn Rand’s theory of sex, I reckon.

Also, we get the speechifying, but in small doses, where the protagonist and his Institute compatriots go on about the power mongers who would rule over men. Nothing comparable to Galt’s Speech, though, so the narrative is not impaired too badly.

What fun!

Author Alexander Jason is dying of inoperable stomach cancer at 38, but the John Anryn Institute has a solution and a means for him to cheat death (the aforementioned cloning). On his first of his indentured service Enforcer missions, he’s sent to a Caribbean island to blow up some oil wells, but the training wheels come off in a big hurry as he is inserted on the wrong beach and is captured right away. He awakens from weeks of torture to endure weeks more of torture before a second Institute mission arrives with a change in plans; instead of the oil wells, their primary focus is a secret lab in the jungle. And Jason has to deal not only with the new mission, but also a traitor in the midst and the breakdown of his clone body.

Probably the most possible fun I can have with this sort of pulp book, but your mileage may vary if you’re not into Objectivism.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Momisms by Cathy Hamilton (2002)

I bought this book earlier this year at a garage sale here in Old Trees at the same time as I bought my Triumph TR books and New York At Night. So I got it cheap, which is good, and in an gluttonous frenzy of book buying, which is also good, for this is not a book I would have liked to have spent a pile for and to have bought by itself.

It’s a little gift book, and a slightly amusing one at that. The author takes individual clichés uttered by mothers, places them one up on each page, and writes a couple sentences of exegesis. I would have said humorous exigesis, but it’s mostly wry. I guess if you’re looking for something for your mother for Christmas and cannot think of anything (especially if, unlike my mother, you cannot simply stick to power tools), perhaps you can share some warm memories and smiles with the Hamilton book. It’s a gift book, that’s what it’s for. Not great insight into the origins of the Modern American-English language.

Think of it as Lileks without the photos and without the depth. Speaking of whom, he’s got a new book out, Gastroanomalies: Questionable Culinary Creations from the Golden Age of American Cookery. Buy two copies today, and send one to me care of this station.

Books mentioned in this review:


It’s Only Tricky In 2007

Here’s an obvious Constitutional crisis in the making:

Either way, a two-story mural decrying eminent domain is testing the boundaries of the First Amendment, sparking a federal lawsuit that challenges the city’s intricate zoning code.

At issue is a tricky constitutional dilemma — fighting clutter versus protecting free speech — that experts say could force St. Louis to rewrite its laws regarding outdoor signs.

When your basic Bill of Rights freedom runs counter to a municipal regulation applied to a political message advocating the limitation of government power, which should win? In 2007 America, apparently it’s a toss-up. At least according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Wish I Was There

The Milwaukee Rep is going to stage all three parts of The Norman Conquests simultaneously. (Story.) Man, I wish I was in Milwaukee to see them; I love the plays.

How do I know about them?

This is not the first time the company has staged “The Norman Conquests.” The Rep did the trilogy in the smaller Stiemke Theater 13 years ago.

I saw all three of them my senior year in college. Better yet, in the high point of my girl-chasing career, I took three different women to see them.

Unfortunately, a scheduling error made it so that I scheduled two of them to see “Table Manners”, so I saw that one twice and had to take one of them to see a second play. Also unfortunately, they all wanted to be “just friends.”

At Least It’s Not Written In Text Message Speak

I haven’t offered much commentary on the Scott Thomas Beauchamp Baghdad Diarist thing going on at The New Republic because I haven’t found it that interesting, but apparently the editor of the magazine offers a long-winded reasoning for why they thought the fabulous, though disputed, claims were not untrue (Fog of War, link seen on Instapundit).

What strikes me most about the piece, though, isn’t the tone or the high-handedness, but rather the sad indicators of what passes for shoe-leather journalism and fact checking by senior staff at a national magazine.

We’ve got Instant Messages rife with obscenity, written in the gibberish that passes for the communication by most people in that medium:

TNR: where did you see the crypt keeper?

Beauchamp: are you there?

TNR: yes

Beauchamp: the last thing i got was “where did you see the crypt keeper”

TNR: yes

Beauchamp: the dfac on falcon or chow hall, as it IS commonly called

TNR: what about kuwait?

Beauchamp: brb [be right back]

Nine minutes of silence

TNR: you there?

Ten minutes of silence

Beauchamp: ok just did a sworn statement

TNR: about?

Beauchamp: saying that i wrote the articles

TNR: ok

Beauchamp: theyre taking away my laptop

TNR: fuck is this it for communication?

Beauchamp: yeah and im fucked

TNR: they said that?

Beauchamp: because you’re right the crypt keep WAS in Kuwait


this is bad isnt it

TNR: yes

where in kuwait?

Beauchamp: it did happen in kuwait

Camp Beuhring

tnr: why didn’t you tell us that?

Beauchamp: i thought it was on falcon

till somebody here convinced me that it wasnt i just talked to [Soldier A] and he convinced me that it was in kuwait when i thought it was on falcon fuck

TNR: if what you’re saying is true it’s not the end of the world

Beauchamp: ok

TNR: as long as we can confirm it

Beauchamp: good

i have to go like NOW though im so sorry

TNR: are you gonna be able to talk again?

Beauchamp: i hope so but i dont know

thank you again for everything

TNR: i didn’t do anything

what did you sign?

I mean, I know I am one of the six people in the world who use complete sentences and punctuation in IM conversations, but do we have to see how simpleton national media players can be?

Then, there’s this bit:

We’d left messages on his MySpace page for him to call.

Oh, goody. Postings on MySpace. Just like Woodward and Bernstein, except without the effort or the result.

Maybe I’m holding them to too high of a standard for effort or for actual journalism as I would expect it in a national magazine of purportedly lofty reporting and commentary; that is, I didn’t expect it to read like how two teenage girls discuss the latest pop idol.

But it probably is just me. After all, Foer says that the goal of the fact-checking was not to find out if the thing was true, but rather, if it was plausible:

Facing the difficulties of verifying the piece, but wanting to ensure its plausibility before publication, we sent the piece to a correspondent for a major newspaper who had spent many tours embedded in Iraq. He had heard accounts of soldiers killing dogs with Bradleys. These accounts stuck with him because they represented a symbolic shift in the war. Iraqis regard dogs as annoying pests. At the beginning of the conflict, Americans made great efforts to befriend these mistreated mutts. It seemed telling that Americans now treated dogs with as little regard as Iraqis did. He considered Beauchamp’s dog- hunting anecdote plausible.


Among others, we had called a forensic anthropologist and a spokesman for the manufacturer of Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Nothing in our conversations with them had dissuaded us of the plausibility of Beauchamp’s pieces.

Not implausible and based on the finest Internet gleanings available, they ran with the story.

Pardon me if I further assume that anything that appears in a national publication is only as reliable as a blog account or Wikipedia entry. Or if I don’t bother to read national publications.

Book Report: Downtown by Ed McBain (1991)

I originally heard this book on audio book about a decade ago, when I spent a lot of time in my car. Ergo, I remembered the conceit of the book, but not much about the plot. I guess that happens, the details (that is, the whole plot) falls from your memory faster from audiobooks than from books you read, but that’s because reading is more engaging than listening while you’re doing other things, such as avoiding other people on the roads not content to merely listen.

This book is similar to Candyland in that someone who’s not a native New Yorker gets caught up in the crime-ridden life in New York. Instead of a randy architect, we get a mild-mannered orange grower up from Florida who has some time to kill before his flight leaves for home, so he talks to a woman in a bar. The woman is a con artist who, along with an accomplice, steals the contents of his wallet. A sympathetic ear at the bar listens to his story, and then steals his car. After he talks to the police and gets subway fare to the airport (in the days where you didn’t need ID to fly, apparently), he fights back in a mugging and is confused for the agressor by a cop. He flees, following the would-be mugger to a Chinese gambling den and catching a news upate that indicates that a film director, the sympathetic ear from the bar, was murdered in the car stolen from the protagonist and that the protagonist’s wallet was found on the scene.

So it’s a tour de force, absurd bit, but it drags you along.

It’s a good book, as you might guess would deem a McBain novel. Again, it’s a departure from the police procedural bread and butter, but it’s amusing as long as you take it as sort of a camp. You cannot help it, which attests to the skill of the writer. And although I enjoyed the audiobook, I probably enjoyed the actual book more. Hopefully, I’ll retain the plot a little longer in my memory.

Books mentioned in this review: