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Books: The Fiddler in the Subway

June 11, 2016 | Authors,Books,Gene Weingarten,Journalism,Writing

fiddlerinsubway

Title: The Fiddler in the Subway (Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 2010)
Author: Gene Weingarten is a nationally syndicated humor columnist and writer for The Washington Post. He is the only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. With his son, Dan Weingarten, and cartoonist David Clark, he is the author of Barney & Clyde, a daily newspaper comic strip launched in June 2010. He lives in Washington, D.C.

What happens when you pick up the last book you will ever read? When the writing is so good that it will ruin everything else for you? Gene Weingarten’s writing did that for me. This book — The Fiddler in the Subway — is a collection of feature writing he has done at The Washington Post. Two of the pieces won Pulitzer Prizes.

Only three stories in — The Great Zucchini, The First Father and The Ghost of the Hardy Boys — and I thought, “If you want to write, read this book. If you want to teach others to write, use this book. When I write, I want to write like this.” It is beautiful, masterful stuff.

Reading further, I thought, “I can’t recommend this book. I just can’t. It will ruin every other writer for you until the end of time. I don’t know if I can read anything else after this book.”

Then I mustered my best Jimmy Dugan voice and yelled, “There’s no crying in journalism! Why is he making me cry?”

I read “Pardon My French” on the 72nd anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. It’s the one that made me laugh out loud. Then giggle at how delicious it was that he found just the right way to get the most honest responses from French folks. He calls it the Machine. I call it hilarious.

Every paragraph in “Fatal Distraction” is a punch to the gut. I almost couldn’t bear to read it. But I let Weingarten take me by the hand and gently lead me through the horrific experiences of the people in this piece.

Weingarten quotes Franz Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it ends.” This is the heart of everything he writes. This is what breathes life into every word.

Is this the last book I’ll ever read? Well, no. I could no more stop reading than I could stop breathing. I will, however, measure everything else I read against Weingarten’s writing.

——————————————–

Thanks to Jeff Sharlet, who suggests so much good writing. He led me to Weingarten. “Thanks” is not enough, but it will have to do.

 

Posted by Becky @ 10:33 am | Comments  

Books: Stephanie Kallos

July 20, 2011 | Books,Iowa,Iowa City,Iowa City Book Fesstival,Stephanie Kallos

My husband reminded me recently that, with Nebraska now in the Big Ten conference, I’d better get used to hearing more about UNL and football rivalry here in Iowa.

I put up my talk-to-the-hand hand and said, “I refuse to participate.”

Let me explain.

I don’t care about football. Any football. I have gotten unwillingly sucked in to other people’s football drama over the years, and it makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve been threatened with physical harm by fully grown strangers — men and women — for not wearing what they thought were proper colors on game days.

When ordering the new alligator postage stamps at a Tallahassee post office years ago, the woman behind the counter squinted her eyes, leaned in and asked, “Yer not a Gator fay-an, are ya?” I could swear I heard the click-click of a shotgun cock behind the counter. Or maybe that was the sound of my dry throat as I tried to swallow.

“Oh, no! No, ma’am! Not at all!” I said. (And I certainly didn’t tell her I’m originally from Nebraska.)

I recently had a slip-up where I went out in public in a red UNL sweatshirt. It was covered by my coat until I got warm and unzipped it a bit. That was just enough for someone to see it and give me a hard time. The teasing was all in good fun (I think), and I said something like, “Don’t worry, I wasn’t on the football team. I just graduated from college there.”

So? What in the world does any of this have to do with Stephanie Kallos and the Iowa City Book Festival?

Kallos read a passage from her book, Sing Them Home, in which the Nebraska fight song is mentioned. Then she did something I’ve never seen before and don’t expect I’ll ever see again.

She got an auditorium full of Iowans on the University of Iowa campus to sing There is No Place like Nebraska. Not once but twice. Wow, that took some guts. I have to admit, I was a little nervous for her. Folks take their football seriously. But it was all in good fun (I’m pretty sure). Besides, she also asked them to sing the Iowa fight song, too. Whew!

Kallos also read her essay, “How to Write Your Second Novel or if You Want to Make God Laugh, Show Him Your Outline.” It was brilliant. I can’t wait to read her book.

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 1 Comment  

Books: Reality Bites Back

April 9, 2011 | Advertising,Books,Ethics,Feminism,Jennifer Pozner,Journalism,Media,Media literacy,MTV,Television,Women

She had me at, “I call bullshit” (on p. 14 of the Introduction.)

“She” is Jennifer Pozner, and the book is Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. This is actually the last book I read last year. Yes. I’m that far behind. So let me get to it.

Pozner set out to explain our “social beliefs” and how networks, advertisers and media owners exploit them for profit through reality television — and what we can do about it. I must say, she did a mighty fine job.

She drags reality television, kicking and screaming, out into the light of day and shows it for what it is. I can’t help but think of this page of photographs of women arrested for prostitution.*

On the surface, reality television looks all sparkly and pretty and maybe even a little princess-y. (That’s my nod to Peggy Orenstein. More on her book in a later post.) Or, at the very least, clean and presentable. It’s all the soft lighting, candles and makeup. (Well, until we get to Jersey Shore.) In the harsh sunlight, though, reality television looks more like the last picture on each row of photos (their eighth arrest) than the first.

Pozner doesn’t admonish anyone for watching reality television. Instead, she wants to educate everyone about media literacy, critical thinking and healthy skepticism.

She covers everything from “twisted fairy tales,” in which humiliation is the flip side of “happily ever after,” to supermodel shows, eating disorders and battered self-esteem.

She mentions a red-carpet moment at the 2009 Emmys, where Ryan Seacrest told Jenna Fischer, “Congratulations on being a size 0,” as if that were a laudatory achievement — disappearing into nothing. (Now I know why it bothered me so much how Seacrest fawned all over Jennifer Hudson this year, after she showed up everywhere thinner than ever, thanks to a contract she signed with a weight-loss company.)

Pozner only mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple of times in the book, but I knew she was a fan, believing Buffy to be a strong, positive female character. A feminist, even. Wow, I thought. I’ve never had the slightest interest in watching that show. I was far enough removed from high school that a cast of high-school students had little appeal. (OK. So that doesn’t explain why I enjoy Glee now, although there is a tiny Joss Whedon thread there, I suppose.) Besides, I cut my eye teeth on Stephen King. I figured I’d had enough ghoulishness to last a lifetime.

But the topic kept popping up, and I started to wonder, should I at least watch one episode.

Nah. Why should I? I don’t need to waste my time on that. (*cough*)

Apparently, my possessed dvr had other ideas. (Yeah, I think I’ll start calling it Christine now.) I sat down one night in my comfy chair, checked my list of recorded shows and chose RuPaul’s Drag Race. (OK. Now you know. RuPaul is my guilty-pleasure TV.) There were several episodes, so I thought I’d settle in and catch up. Guess what came on? Buffy. I swear. On every single RuPaul show. Somebody thought I should watch some Buffy, so I did. And I could see what Pozner was saying.

She also covers everything else — from embedded advertising to unapologetic misogyny, racism and violence. She watched hundreds of hours of reality television … so I don’t have to. She went behind the scenes to explain how things work and whose interests drive reality television. Guess what. It’s not your interests. She ends with a section of media literacy and a ton of great resources.

It really is a must-read.

“If we care about independent thought, artistic integrity, and cultural diversity, we must demand that programming improve, not accept its erosion with a yawn.” (p. 295)

Amen.

*This is a copy of page 246 in Carolyn B. Maloney‘s book Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting Any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters, which I wrote about a while ago. It was originally published by Prism magazine in 2007, and Maloney said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.
Posted by Becky @ 9:53 am | Comments  

Books: Astrid & Veronika

September 11, 2010 | Books

I recently read Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson, a Swedish writer. I’d heard about this in Norway this summer. It’s an amazing story by an amazing author!

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | Comments  

Books: Women Under Glass

September 9, 2010 | Books

I recently read Women Under Glass: The Secret Nature of Glass Ceilings and the Steps to Overcome Them by Eric Shoars, and I got to meet the author at my local bookstore. This book actually fits together with a couple other books I read over the summer. I’ll be working on a roundup of sorts.

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 1 Comment  

Books: 2009 in review

January 18, 2010 | 2009,Books,Stephen King,Stieg Larsson

Here’s what I read in 2009.

I made a list of Iowa books and authors.
I also participated in a SHE WRITES call to action.

Books I haven’t read yet but should.

Any other suggestions?

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 10 Comments  

Every day SHE WRITES the book

November 13, 2009 | Books

Look! Books by women!

I went to Bookadee, my local bookstore, today. I was inspired by Gloria Feldt, who planned to buy 13 books on Friday the 13th for the She Writes Call to Action. Kamy Wicoff, founder and CEO of She Writes, put out a call to action to protest Publishers Weekly all-male Top 10 of its “Best Books of 2009 List.”

So I bought 11 books today and two others just recently, Zillah’s Gift by Lois West Duffy and Bellbina, Queen of Weed Park by Laura Juszczyk, which brings me to 13 on Friday the 13th.

Thank you, Tora, for all your help!

Here are some books I read in 2009 and before.

Posted by Becky @ 11:55 am | 7 Comments  

Books: Growing up Country

August 5, 2009 | Books

I met Carol Bodensteiner in April, and I recently read her book, Growing up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl.

What a treat! Bodensteiner is a wonderful storyteller. She shows readers what she saw as a girl growing up on a farm in Iowa in the 1950s — from learning how to drive a tractor to the meaning of making a promise and keeping your word. Even if you didn’t grow up on a farm, this is a great coming-of-age story.

Posted by Becky @ 3:28 pm | Comments  


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