American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Shadow, recently released from jail, meets Wednesday, a strange old man who offers him a job running errands and protecting him. As he works his way around the Midwest, he finds that he is working for an old god who is trying to rally other old gods, some forgotten, some unfashionable, to fight for their survival against the new gods of American life. If you don't mind that it's a fantasy, this book is worth a read.

Complete Stories, Dorothy Parker

I should quit falling in love with dead writers, shouldn't I?

Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender,

Ralph Nader

This one got me riled up. We didn't get to see Nader in the debates. Why was that? Oh, because he didn't have enough support in the polls, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. And what is the CPD? It's a private, non-profit organization that was created in 1987 by the Republicans and Democrats to elbow the League of Women Voters out of the debate business. (That'll keep those pesky John Anderson-types out of the process.) Nader details this and quite a bit else as he chronicles his run for the presidency in 2000. Excellent read.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,

Eric Schlosser

A lot of people have read this book. And that's a good thing. I haven't had a fast food burger since I read it and I'm not sure I ever will. Schlosser documents how nearly everyone gets screwed by fast food, from farmers to consumers. McDonald's and Burger Kings are still closing all over the place. Da Mons thinks fast food is a thing of the past, something for the Boomers that even they're giving up as they age. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco

Like a lot of people, I am somewhat fascinated and definitely amused by secret societies. My grandmother was in Eastern Star and the Rebekahs. My great uncle was a Mason (or was he just a Shriner?). I'm quite sure I'll be content to be a member of the Leinie's Lodge. Uh, anyway, this is one complex book. As three editors invent a Plan involving every occultic group and idea (Templars, Rosicrucians, alchemy, Jesuits, etc.) they can think of, the Plan seems to take on a life of its own. It's not a quick read, and I found it very enjoyable.

Hoot, Carl Hiaasen

Some lady brought a young adult book onto my bus! I was kind of excited about that because, as you might know, I focused on YA librarianship. This book was a 2003 Newbery Honor book and the folks that award those things know a lot more about books than I do. But I didn't really like it. I've wanted to read some of Hiaasen's other books, but never got around to them. And I still think I will, but not based on this one. I suspect that I'll think he should stick to writing for adults. Hoot seemed to me like a YA-by-numbers book. The kid's the new kid in town and kind of a loner. There's a mystery of sorts. There's a social message. (Yeah, it's borderline didactic- something to avoid with any children's book...) Etc. etc. etc. Mostly, I just wanted these people to tell each other what they knew. I didn't think the interaction between the kid and his parents and their interaction with everyone else was consistent at all. Anyway, enough of that. Don't bother.

The Land-Grant College Review no. 1

McSweeney's no. 12

These are literary journals, but they're like little paperback anthologies, right? I spent my gift certificate from two Christmases ago on these at Ruminator Books. I guess I don't have a lot to say about them, other than I enjoyed them enough to subscribe to both. McSweeney's had a bit that I really enjoyed. They got twenty-nine authors to each write a story in twenty minutes. And the Land-Grant College Review features interesting and beautiful title pages for each of the stories.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Dava Sobel

This is a story about the race to find a method for determining longitude, with a focus on John "Longitude" Harrison's clocks. While Harrison ultimately received most of the promised prize money, his story is full of setbacks and disappointments. Basically, The Man did His best to keep him down. This was a quick read, and while I certainly recommend it, I do so with the caveat that once again, I was not fond of the author's writing style.

Mandricardo, Lin Carter

I found this book on my bus. I turned it in, and got it back a couple weeks later. No one claimed it. Huh. Apparently, some folks regard Carter quite highly and I think he's relatively well-known in fantasy circles. However, this book is full of the worst writing I've ever laid my eyes on, and I've read Louis L'Amour. At least L'Amour's stories are decent; this story is boring. The book is also full of stupid names and colloquial writing that really annoyed me. Here's a sample sentence, found at the end of a chapter:

And it was time for everybody to get back aboard the Magic Flying Carpet and get back to Bongozinga, or do I mean Zingobonga?


Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

Here's a book I've been planning to read for a while. I've read some of Sedaris' other books and enjoyed them thoroughly. When I stopped in to see Ross in Iowa City, he lent it to me. David Sedaris is hilarious and this book frequently made me laugh out loud. If you haven't read it already, consider it.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe

I probably shouldn't write about this one before I even finish it, but I make the rules around here. I read Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly in my Resources for Young Adults class at Iowa. I think it was the first teen romance novel. And it's pretty painful. It's long, way too wordy and has no plot. The Mysteries of Udolpho is a Gothic romance. It's also pretty painful. It's long, way too wordy, but at least there's a plot. I'm on page 398 out of 632 after about six months. It's just not very engaging. Oh, and there's all kinds of flowery poetry thrown into it. I don't have much patience for that, so I skip it.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,

Barbara Ehrenreich

I got this book at the same time as Fast Food Nation and read them back-to-back. This is one that I had wanted to read for quite a while. Barbara Ehrenreich is an author and homemaker who decided to investigate the conditions of the working poor by becoming one of them. She took jobs at Wal-Mart, a restaurant, a cleaning service, a hotel and a nursing home and then tried to live on the wages she made. Her experiences as a waitress were similar in many respects to my own experiences waiting tables. My only complaint with the book was the ease with which she quit some of the jobs. It was pretty easy for her to return to her upper-middle class lifestyle when she needed to. My good friend Manda, who was the one who reminded me that I needed to read this, said she doesn't view the Target workers in the same way at all. Read this book.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

I must confess that I'd never read anything by Jane Austen until now. Why didn't anyone ever tell me how witty she was? I laughed out loud while reading this one. Austen tells the story of Catherine, a relatively simple girl who goes to Bath with family friends. While in Bath, she meets a brother and sister who invite her to visit their home, Northanger Abbey, about which Catherine has many fantastic ideas. Austen piles on the social commentary and satire in this one, and that's fine with me. Some of Catherine's wild ideas come from reading her favorite book, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. So I bought it.

A People's History of the United States 1492-Present, Howard Zinn

I really liked this one. Zinn details the history that you didn't read about in school, and as the title suggests, it's from a socialist perspective. Revisionist? I guess that's what this is, but while you might argue with his conclusions, it's tough to argue with the historical facts he presents. I really don't have too many problems with his conclusions. For example, he gives a plausible explanation for the "I Got Mine, Screw the Poor" mentality that's pervasive in the outer 'burbs here in the Twin Cities (and I'd assume elsewhere). This is one of the best books I've ever read.

Savage Justice, Ron Handberg

I was on call one day and forgot to bring Foucault's Pendulum to work with me. I looked around the garage and found three books. There was no way I was going to read two of them, so that left this one. It has the kind of cover one sees in the supermarket checkout line, featuring a gavel with blood dripping on it. Ooh, the justice will surely be savage! Well, especially with my lowered expectations, it turns out I liked this book. Alex Collier is a news anchor who investigates a pedophiliac judge. It's not earth-shattering by any means, but it's a good story. And it happens to take place in Minneapolis. I don't recall ever reading a novel that takes place here. I think I read it over the course of about four days; it's a quick, entertaining read.

Stupid White Men... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! Michael Moore

I sort of think of Michael Moore as the Rush Limbaugh of the left. He might stretch a bit, but he's always entertaining. And unlike Rush, Mike's got a sense of humor. I liked this book. Big surprise, huh? It's a good read, but the next book is an important one.