Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book 16 of 52: My Little Red Book

I've been in two car accidents in my life -- the first the summer I turned 13.

My dad and I were driving to the Jersey Shore in his 1988 dark blue Oldsmobile, a company car he liked so much that he bought it when the lease was up. I didn't mind waiting to ride with him -- the other option was to go in my mom's big blue Dodge Caravan, which was loaded up with supplies and my siblings. Since dad and I left late, we took the backroads, which cut through miles of farms, road side stands and tiny towns I'd never visit otherwise.

I knew we were half way there when we passed through Buena, a dusty, lonely town with what I thought was an odd name in a state where most towns were named after European-sounding families and Native American tribes. We stopped at a red light in Buena, and I turned my head to look at my dad in time to see him scream "Hold on!" He jerked the steering wheel to the right, and we were jolted violently in our seats, and my head hit the dashboard.

A truck behind us hadn't stopped. My dad had glanced into the rear view mirror, saw him coming, and turned so that we wouldn't be rammed into the car in front of us. We were stopped by a curb instead. I don't remember getting out of the car, but I do remember staring at very green grass that was encircled by the curb we'd slammed into. My dad ran over to check me, and I insisted I was fine. Still, when the ambulance came, they put me on a stretcher, my neck in blocks. How strange, I thought, that I had to lay back down to be put on the stretcher. I thought that they only used it for people who couldn't get up on their own. All I wanted to do was get down the shore, but they were worried about internal injuries and my head.

I started crying when I got into the ambulance because I thought I was going to die -- not because I hurt but because I was that victim of a car accident being rushed away. My mother met us at the hospital. I remember still being in blocks and staring up at a fluorescent light fixture that had dead bugs in it while my parents cried.

I was OK but with a healthy dose of whip lash, so the doctors gave me a big foam collar to wear around my neck. At first, I thought it was neat -- I was in a real car accident and everyone would ask me what happened! But that novelty wore off soon after. The collar was hot and itchy, and I thought I looked like one of those dogs with a cone collar around its neck.

When we finally got to our place down the shore -- a trailer at a campground -- I wanted that collar off. I was also punchy and wiped out by the ordeal and all the crying. The trailer was small for six people so the next day, I went outside and asked my mom if I could take the collar off for a bit to give my neck some air. She said OK, but only for a bit.

Freedom! I took the collar off and rotated my neck a few times to see how stiff it felt (very). Just as I felt cooler air wash over my sweaty neck -- ZING! a blinding pain on the back left side.

A bee! I'd been stung by a bee! Yes, on my neck that would have been covered with the neck brace. I screamed and ran back inside to my mom, who sighed, took out the stinger and patted my neck with a wet meat tenderizer.

It was a horrible, long day. My face was dirty and salty from all the crying, so I went into the bathroom to wash my face. I might as well go to the bathroom while I was in there, I figured. So I pulled my pants, sat down and saw another disaster: my first period. The wailing started once more.

My Little Red Book is an anthology of such stories from women ages 16 to 100, though none of the stories involved a car accident or a bee sting, and certainly wrapped together and combined with that passage to womanhood. Most of the stories are funny, some sad, but entertaining.

Though watch who you show it to. I spent most of yesterday on a train, and my friend asked me what I was reading. I showed it to him, and he handed it back after reading half the first sentence on the back cover, saying just one word: "No." I guess he feels the same way about those things as my brother, who I'd torture by leaving unopened boxes of tampons on his bed to see him run out of his room screaming (payback for making fun of my foam collar, brother boy).

The book won't be published until February 26, but you can read more at www.mylittleredbook.net. Want to feel bad about the state of your career? Editor Rachel Kauder Nalebuff is 18 years old. Oy, these children :-)

My second car accident, in case your wondering, happened when I was 17. I was hit by a drunk driver on my way home from a dance. That car, like my dad's, was totaled. I was fine, but I was close to not being fine -- he almost hit my gas tank, and a window shattered but fortunately not the one next to my head. So don't be stupid by doing that drinking and driving thing.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

For She's a Jolly Good Fellow

Happy Birthday Harlequin! At 60, you still look ravishing, worth ravaging, and we're sure your long locks are still blowing in the wind.

To celebrate, Harlequin is giving out free ebooks. Check out www.harlequincelebrates.com for details.

Harlequin started during the Great Depression -- flourished from the start and hasn't slowed down since. I don't think they'll be hurt by the recession, either, because more people will be looking for escape. At least that's what these chicks told me, and I agree.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

"Bookaweekwithjen.blogspot.com: Author Jen A. Miller reads it all, without the snobbery."

That, readers, is the kudos given to this blog by AM New York. Thanks for the compliment! And thank you to reader Maureen for spotting it and mailing me a copy.

I have another good piece of news: The fine folks at The St. Petersburg Times have asked me to review health, fitness and beauty books for a new -- well -- health, fitness and beauty section they're launching at the end of February. So expect some nonfiction books to be popping up on the blog soon.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Book 15 of 52: The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

What a wonderful, WONDERFUL book. If you've ever mocked romance novels or the people who read them, give The Forbidden Daughter
by Shobhan Bantwal a whirl. It'll knock the socks off your stereotype.

I interviewed Bantwal, who writes Indian-American romance novels, for an upcoming article, so of course I had to read one of her books. It's an example of a romance novel that is not heavy on the sex but focuses on a love story and, as it must have to be categorized a romance novel, ends happily.

It deals with some heavy issues, too, specifically selective abortion. When Isha and Nikhil Tilak find out that they are going to have a girl, the doctor recommends an abortion. Nikhil's parents insist on it.

Seem far fetched? Hardly. In 2006, the Lancet reported that nearly 10 million fetuses could have been aborted in India (where the book is set) over the last 20 years -- COULD. Many think that those numbers are far too low.

And even though this kind of selective abortion isn't as common in the U.S. (as far as I know), there's still a bias for some people. Just this weekend I watched In Good Company. As soon as Dennis Quaid's character finds out his wife is pregnant, he asks "Does it feel like a boy?" My father jokes that the first child to produce a grandchild will win a monetary prize -- doubled if it's a boy (and even more if it's a left handed boy). So, no, the premise of this novel is not far fetched.

Things get really ugly when Nikhil is killed while trying to report that doctor to the police. His parents blame the unborn female baby for the murder, insisting that if the couple had gotten rid of her in the first place, their son would be alive. Isha flees their home and rebuilds her life from there.

Not EXACTLY the stuff of bodice ripping romances, right? That's because the industry and the novels it produces has changed. This book becomes a romance novel, I promise you that, but The Forbidden Daughter is the perfect example of how big and encompassing the genre can be.

"Every other genre of literature exists with a romantic element and every other genre of fiction exists in romance," Sarah Wendell of www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com and Book 12 of 52 said today when I interviewed her about the genre. The Forbidden Daughter has elements of literary fiction, mystery and suspense, all wrapped into a work in a genre form -- and in India! What a great reading escape while we're stuck in this deep freeze. Well done.

Wendell also pointed out that Harlequin, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, became so successful so quickly during the great depression and that she thinks romance novels will see a huge spike in sales because people now more than ever want the guarantee of a happy ending. I think she's right.

Here's a book trailer for The Forbidden Daughter if you're interested in learning more:

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Book 14 of 52: Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends

While caught in the land of lurrrrrve's sweet embrace, a friend joked that I'd have to read a book about kicking puppies to balance my brain out.

He was right. Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Diby Kris Waldherr is that book. Nothing wipes the bloom from the rose like tales of murder, suicide and a lot of head chopping.

Doomed Queens is exactly what you think it would be about: queens done wrong. Waldherr starts with Athaliah, daughter of Queen Jezebel, who was executed in 835 BC, runs right through Henry VIII's wives and ends with Princes Di, covering 50 queens in all.

It's an interesting book, but about too many people. That 50 is an albatross -- some queens are only given a page or two, and we learn so little about them that I got them confused and was left thinking "What's the point?" Plus, the book is set up chronologically, but is about queens around the world, so interconnecting stories are interrupted.

Perhaps this would have been a better book with fewer queens, allowing Waldherr the space to tell us more about queens who mattered most or had the best stories. Francine Prose's The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspiredstrikes a better balance by focusing on just nine women. You learn enough about them to care and read more if you wanted (which I did) or not instead of a glossing over of their lives. These queens never seem like they were real people.

The book isn't a total wash, though. If you're feeling spited by a man (or woman), reading a book about poisonings, beheadings and death via childbirths can help you realize that it could be a lot worse. Waldherr is also an illustrator and made some lovely drawings for this book. You can see a few on her site and through this book video:



But the narrative suffers from trying to cover too many queens in too short a book.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recommendation: Shakespeare Retold

Welcome, AM New York readers! A few people alerted me that this blog was mentioned in your morning paper, so I hope you like what you see.

Tired of the romance novels yet? It's not that I'm tired of them, but I need a change of pace (and boy, is the book I'm reading now a big change of pace). But until I get to that review, chew on this: Shakespeare Retold.


I'm a bit of a Shakespeare fan. I studied the Bard while at Oxford University (just one semester...I'm not that much of a smarty pants) and am not ashamed to admit that I keep a Complete Works in my nightstand. Around the holidays (right around the time I fell on my rear and could do little more than whine about the welt on my bum), I Netflixed a slew of movie versions of his plays, and Netflix, being the smart folks they are, said I might like Shakespeare Retold, a 2005 BBC project that took four plays (Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew and Midsummer Night's Dream) and remade them without the iambic pentameter and in modern settings.

Two big thumbs up. The adaptations are spot on, and the settings in which the plays were placed are, for the most part, fitting -- Much Ado About Nothing in a local news station, Macbeth in a high end restaurant, Taming of the Shrew in British Government and Midsummer Night's Dream in a vacation spot. The Midsummer setting wasn't a stretch, but I don't know how you could do the play without a forrest.

Hunk factor? Yes please -- a young James MacAvoy plays Macbeth and Rufus Sewell as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew? Perfect.

Taming of the Shrew was my favorite -- it's a tough one to put into modern sensibilities given that the play is about breaking down a woman into submission. Making Katherine an ambitious politician who feels she needs to marry in order to increase her chances of being elected to even higher power helps. And Sewell plays the perfect brash playboy who has the one thing Katherine wants: a title. His scenes in drag are worth buying the entire set, as is him running around screaming "Kiss me Kate!" If you get a chance to see it, let me know what you think about Katherine's final speech. Interesting what they did with a controversial topic.

The best casting was Shirley Henderson as Katherine in Taming. She's a tiny woman, and was able to rev up such fury for everything that I laughed just looking at her (American moviegoers will remember her as one of Bridget Jones' friends and Moaning Myrtle -- yes, a student -- in Harry Potter).

If Shakespeare scares you (let's face it -- he can be intimidating), these DVDs are a great entryway into the plays. If you love the works like I do, they're a real hoot, especially when lines from the original plays are sprinkled into the dialogue (thank you, BBC for making sure the line "I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is that not strange?" stayed in the adaptation).

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book 13 of 52: Seduced by Magic

I have been known to blush easily. I finished Stephanie Julian's Seduced by Magic last night and my cheeks are still burning.

Holy heck, that's one saucy novel! Just look at the cover! I've read saucy romances before, but this is straight up erotic romance (the publisher calls it Romantica), and it starts with a bang. Of course, the subject of this book is tame compared to some of the video porn you'll find online, but the romances I've read haven't been so descriptive.

Seduced by Magic also falls into the paranormal genre, which I didn't mind as much as I thought I would. The story's about Scarlata, a folletta (a fairy -- with wings!) who lives in the woods of Pennsylvania. Justin Johannson is a scientist on assignment holed up in said woods to track migration patterns of birds, but he's really looking for proof that fairies exist. Scarlata wants to kill him for invading her space and, so she thinks, trying to trap her. He wakes up with Scarlata on top of him.

And it rolls on from there.

I knew what I was getting into since I interviewed Julian earlier in the day. She's a wonderful woman, and we talked at length about freelance writing, which she also does (albeit under a different name). She's perfect for my article about how romance writers aren't cat ladies wearing fanny packs pining for the men they create. Julian is also a skilled fiction writer. Yes, there's a lot of sex, but the writing is crisp, clear, and the plot moves along at a perfect pace. If only all genre fiction was so well written.

But this is not a book you can read and then try to go back to work. Spicy!

This is also the first ebook I've reviewed on the blog (though I did print it out and put it in a binder. Sorry, eco minded friends. I just couldn't read 122 pages on the screen). It's not an ebook in the sense that you read it on an electronic reader but that you buy a PDF file that you download right to your computer. You can buy it here. The Smart Bitches addressed ebooks and their role in publishing erotica in Beyond Heaving Bosoms (book 12 of 52 in this series), and I can see the benefits -- lower production costs and all. Seduced by Magic only costs $5.20, and it doesn't take long to read.

In high school and college, I worked at a Walden Bookstore (RIP), and whenever the store ran a "Buy 2 books get the 3rd free" paperback special, women of all ages would come into the store and load up on romance novels. If you've got a voracious reading appetite like Julian, who said she'd read a book a day, being able to buy and download right to your desktop can be a big money saver if the price is right, and I think it is. Plus, you don't have to go to the bookstore and put a book with that sort of cover on the check out counter. I've had to do so for bachelorette party gifts, and it's embarrassing. Same thing about being on the other side of that transaction. But that, and my other adventures at Walden, are a whole other story. Let's just say trying to track down who kept putting copies of Playboy and Hustler in the children's section wasn't fun.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book 12 of 52: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels

Over the last week or so, I have been working on two features about the romance novel industry (as regular readers well know). One thing these stories must have is the all knowing 'expert opinion' from someone who is not biased (e.g. doesn't work at a publishing house) and critical (e.g. doesn't run Romance Writers of America).

Imagine how lucky I got with Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels(pub date April 14) by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan -- luckier still because the book is everything I hoped it would be. It's a history and overview of the romance novel industry written by the women behind www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com. The book covers e v e r y t h i n g from the old stereotypes of readers that no longer apply (the cat lady/fanny pack drawings are priceless) to genres within the genre to what the heck is up with all those Fabio covers.

It's also incredibly funny. If you've poked around their website, you can guess the tone that this book has. My favorite part, even above the Q&A with my favorite author Nora Roberts, are the words and phrases that they've either altered or made up.

If you've got kids in the room, shield their eyes because here's a few of my favorites (and they're not exactly PG, though I have edited things down to PG-13):

man titty
shit#uckton of people
holy ##ntmonkeys
dickotomy
bug #uck
#uckcakes of crap
bitch money
fizznuckin'
hymn to the hymen
alphole
man root
chest pillows
rumpy pumpiness
heroic wang of mighty lovin

FUN! As someone with a BA and MA in English literature AND enjoys the occasional romance novel, it was a relief to read a book that defends the genre for what it is: a genre that's not much different than mysteries, thrillers of John Clancy novels -- just with more, um, man titty. Plus the book lead me down a few author paths that I might follow up on for this blog.

I didn't even realize until the end of the book that Wendell and Tan were at the center of a major publishing controversy. A year ago, they published a post about how one of their readers found passages of romance novelist Cassie Edwards' work were lifted from other sources. The thing snowballed and lead to Edwards getting dropped by her publisher and Wendell and Tan being both celebrated and reviled within the industry for speaking out of turn.

I'd read about the controversy when it happened last year, and never put two and two together. This book marks the first time they're speaking out about the controversy. They write, "We don't care if you like us or you like what we say. It should not matter who says it at all: plagiarism is wrong." Yes, yes it is.

Now, the timing of this book being published isn't perfect just for me, but for a major publisher in the industry: Harlequin is turning 60 this year. In honor of their birthday, they're giving out free books (well, e-books) to anyone who signs up to this site. Downloads start on January 29. They'll also be having a gallery show in New York City of 60 years of covers (I'll pass along details when I have them). Can't get to New York this spring to see them? Get yourself a 2009 Harlequin Vintage Cover Calendar.



I got mine from a kind soul who was getting rid of hers via Freecycle.org. I'm guessing it was a promotional item because it's not for sale other than on ebay.

Goodness, these covers are saucy. My favorite, based on the title and sheer oddity, is Virgin with Butterflies by Tom Powers.



Let's analyze, shall we? We've got a woman sitting on a chair that's only drawn in outline. Her skirt is hiked up around her waist so we see her thigh high stockings and garters. The stockings appear to be fishnet, and paired with red peep toe pumps. That's a bit silly if you ask me, but it's nothing compared to what is around her: heads. Floating heads. Floating heads that are floating because butterfly wings are coming out of their ears.

W

T

F

?

Fun calendar, eh? It's been some 60 years for Harlequin.

Anyway, back to the book actually being reviewed: I liked it. I could have done without some of the final chapters, like the make your own romance and coloring guide, but overall, it's a great read, especially if you like the genre and are tired of being made fun of for it.

I try to post a review of a book as soon as I finish read it, but that didn't happen this time. Why? Check it out.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meet the Author

Today I met Beth Ciotta, author of Book 11 of 52: All About Evie.



What a lovely woman! We had a great conversation about romance writing, romance reading and the Jersey Shore. You'll read all about it in the article I'm writing that'll come out around Valentine's Day. You can read more about my shore trip today on my other blog, too.

Beth's got a blog, too, which I've now added to my blog roll. Check it out!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book 11 of 52: All About Evie

Ain't love grand?

Well, it isn't in All About Evie by Beth Ciotta, the first romance novel I'm tackling for my two assignments about the industry.

This one starts out not at the "I just got dumped" point but a year after the fact. Evie, an Atlantic City performer, isn't having the best time of it lately. Not only is she having a tough time finding work, but her husband left her for a younger woman -- a husband who also happens to be her manager. She reaches her wit's end when she flashes a group of casino executives who didn't really hide the fact that they were looking to hire someone with more boobs than experience (e.g. a 41 year old has no place in even teensy tiny AC show biz).

That's when the ex/manager get her a last minute gig on a cruise ship playing a giggly newly wed. Except this isn't a stage performance. It's a 24 hour act. Her partner? A dashing Scotsman with a lot to hide.

You can imagine that it gets zanier from there on out, and as far as romance novels go, it was pretty damn steamy. My favorite line? "I hadn't partied with the one-eyed monster in over a year. I'd never partied with a John Thomas as daunting as Arch's."

Zing!

Ciotta, who was a show gal herself, portrays an accurate picture of Atlantic City, too: "I drifted as he launched into a sales pitch, nothing that most of the other guests were seniors. I felt oddly at home. Although the Atlantic City casinos were currently angling to hook the younger generation, the meat of their revenue, minus high rollers, came from the over-sixty crowd. The blue hairs that bus in and drop their disposable income into the slots and buffet food into the purses."

Zing again!

As far as light, fluffy reads go, this fits the bill. I read most of it while tucked under blankets on the couch on this freezing cold day. The appearance of cold three of the season kept me down and out, and this book kept me occupied. Plus, I'll be meeting and interviewing Ciotta next week. Not a bad way to spend a working Saturday.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Lurrrrrve is in the Air

Put this youtube video at 3:05, play and read while it continues:



I'm about to travel a barely touched route here at Book a Week with Jen, one lined in bare chests, billowing hair and Fabio: I'm going to read a few romance novels.

I say that, of course, in jest -- well, the chests, hair and Fabio bit. Romance novels aren't your grandmom's smut anymore, as I hope to show.

But why the romantic bent? Because I'm writing not one but two articles about the Romance novel industry, which sells over a billion dollars worth of books a year. In fact, one of every four books bought is a romance title. And I'm not lying about those numbers -- I wouldn't make that up even if I were the bad guy who broke the heroine's heart at the start of a book that ends in lots of sex and a ring by the final chapter.

So while I finish the first title on my list, let me ask you: What do you think of romance novels? Do you read them? If so? If not, why not? Or do you have a favorite memory? I remember the first one I read, as given to me by my grandmother. I was shocked at the language -- shocked! And, OK, a little bit intrigued.

Oh and check out www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com for more on the biz in a tone that doesn't take itself too seriously. Seriously.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Book 10 of 52: My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon

The timing of this book is right, eh?

The galley (e.g. preview copy) of Bart Yasso's My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon was handed to me by someone who knew I was a journalist at the running expo for last year's Ocean Drive 10 Miler/Marathon (which I blogged about at length). Cool! A book about running! But I never quite found the time to fit it in. And like the last book in this series, it sat on my 'to use' book shelf, just waiting for the call and narrowly escaping the donation bin dozens of times.

I'm going to start training for the 2009 Ocean Drive 10 miler soon, so why not now? It was the perfect book to kick off my efforts (plus I read it quickly).

Bart Yasso is a running icon. He's Runner's World magazine's "Chief Running Officer." As such, he heads up Runner's Worlds efforts at races and, before Lyme's Disease limited his running ability, ran crazy races. I mean stuff I would never dream of doing.

The first races he writes about seem extreme enough -- the Badwater Ultra through the desert, learning how to dodge rhinos in Asia. But it's when he gets to the wacky races that the writing (done with co-writer Kathleen Parrish) shines. I laughed throughout his chapter on the "Bare Buns Fun Run" and then dropped to book because I was laughing too hard when the next chapter started with a picture of Yasso running with a burro (burro runs are popular in Colorado, apparently).

And through it all, his love of running is evident, as is his high tolerance for pain. It almost had me lacing up to run in the sleet today. I mean, if this guy can run with a stubborn burro, I can surely run in a little cold, right? The welt on my rear reminded me that I have a tendency to slip on ice, though, so I spent the rest of the evening finishing this book.

Need inspiration, too? Well, of course you should read the book. But here's some great quotes:

"And when I started running, I started dreaming. It couldn't be helped. The mind works as hard as the body does during exercise."

"What's the difference? Mules are the domesticated offspring of a female horse and a donkey, and a burro is a small donkey. A jackass is a wild donkey or someone who runs a race with a burro."

"The acceptance of all abilities is what differentiates running from every other sport. In football, there are 22 people on the field and 60,000 in the stands. It's the opposite with running. Everyone's on the field and in the fold."

The first quite is why I run. I still believe I'm a much better writer because I run. I picked the second quote because it's funny, and any runner needs humor to get through long boring runs. And I picked the third quote because it's a great statement about the sport. I remember coming home from a 5k and seeing the last people to cross the finish line. Yes, they were slow, but my God were they happy to cross the finish line, and proud. And why not? Crossing any finish line is an accomplishment. It's not the time that matters to me, or to a lot of other people who run, or cycle, or swim. It's all the preparation and, for me, what I learn about myself while out on the road, all the problems and issues that I work through. That's what matters. Crossing the finish line is the icing on the cake (or whipped cream on the strawberry waffles at Dock Mike's in Cape May).

Training starts January 19. And I can't wait.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Book 9 of 52: Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden

I've had Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden by Perdita Buchan for a while now -- I believe for over a year. Before Frank Wilson left the Philadelphia Inquirer as book editor, I picked out a lot of books from the book room, all of them marked with a colored star for what I would believe to be their filing system. This book has a blue one.

I could never quite bring myself to donate the book, even when I'd get rid of just about everything not nailed down in my office book wise. Why? Because of the title. How interesting does a book about New Jersey utopias sound?

And it was interesting to read, if uneven. That's not a knock against Buchan, but some of these utopias were more interesting than others.

Take, for example, the case of Free Acres, a colony set up in 1910 in Berkley Heights. It was a single tax community with a heavy focus on keeping the land as is (with houses in between, of course). How fascinating! Then there's Upton Sinclair's Helicon Home Colony in Englewood that ended when the house literally burned to the ground.

Those are the first two chapters of the book. The rest...well, if I wasn't doing this blog series, I might not have finished the book, or have read it later in pieces, one utopia at a time.

As a whole, though, I learned a lot about the state that I didn't know before, and the book would be a good volume for someone who makes fun of New Jersey to read. I've lived here most of my life, which some would say makes me biased. But I've also explored a lot of areas of the state (i.e. away from the New Jersey Turnpike), and it's achingly beautiful in spots, like Sunset Beach in Cape May:


The fact that so many people tried to set up their slices of heaven here is not a surprise (geography also helped, of course). And why else would people flee Philadelphia and New York to head to the shore every summer weekend? There's a lot of beauty to be had here.

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