Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book 11 of 52: Oh the Humanity! by Jason Roeder

Book 11 of 52 is an excellent example of how asking your friends for help is not a shameful thing to do. Jason Roeder is friends with a member of Freelance Success, which is a fabulous and invaluable freelance writer group (if you freelance and are not a member, sign up pronto -- worth the money. It's how I got my book deal).

Anyway, Roeder's friend posted on our message boards about this book, and that if anyone could possibly write about it, to let him know. I let him know. Roeder emailed me right away, sent me a copy of the book, and now I've placed it in two different articles. One is a book round up and the other is a straight newspaper review. I never would have heard about Oh, the Humanity!: A Gentle Guide to Social Interaction for the Feeble Young Introvert if not for that post on Freelance Success. Why? Well, because I'd never heard of Tow Books (the publisher) and I rarely write about humor books.

Humor's hard, especially to review. While someone might think that Larry the Cable Guy is hysterical, I think he's a one trick pony. I love flat, dry British humor ("Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!" -- I was DYING), but I know a lot of people can't stand it.

I feel the same way about reading humor, which is why I'm sometimes uncomfortable passing judgement on it, but I liked the concept of Oh the Humanity! since I have little patience for self help books (yes, some are useful, but most are crap), and this book makes fun of the genre.

My college boyfriend and I joked that there was a magical "cool list" and that I was on it and he was not. So whenever I mentioned something that he didn't know about (which had more to do with the fact that I was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper than me being cool -- my three-day long Star Trek the Next Generation binge with my roommate would dispel the cool rumor), I'd say that it was a memo put out to the "cool list," which is why he didn't get it. Roeder writes as if there really was a "cool list," and he's the writer of the memos. The persona he adopts is very Stephen Colbert -- all swagger and no substance.

Roeder hits the funny bone about half the time. Sometimes the jokes ring out like a church bell on a cool crisp morning, and sometimes they splat like lettuce on the kitchen floor (talk about odd humor -- my mom once dropped a head of lettuce on the kitchen floor and I laughed for 10 minutes because I thought the sound was funny).

That's why I think that Oh the Humanity! is a classic bathroom book. It's something you can pick up and read for short spans of time without overtaxing your brain, and it will entertain anyone visiting your house who would pick up something that, if in a bookstore, would have been "flagged." But it's not a book I would recommend curling up with on a cold winter night.

I would have rather read it in short chunks because when you string it all together, the humor grows cloying, like a pixie stick. Sure, they taste good, but you get sick of the taste after you pound the first two.

The moral of this story? Let your friends pimp your book, and Oh the Humanity! is best read in small bites.

P.S. I went to college at the University of Tampa, and Roeder's first short story was published in the Tampa Review, the school's literary journal. I ran a 5K on Saturday, and one of the participants was a UT grad as well. Small world, isn't it?


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Book 10 of 52: Salty Dogs by Jean M. Fogle

I debated whether or not I should include Jean M. Fogle's Salty Dogs as one of the 52 books in this project. Why? Because it's a photo book. Would it really count as something I read?

Then I remembered that this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, so Salty Dogs it is.

Salty Dogs came at just the right time, too. Friday is a very special day in the Miller household. It's my Jack Russell Terrier mix's sixth birthday, and Saturday marks our two year anniversary.

First, the book. Fogle found me through my Down the Shore with Jen blog. I had posted about my trip with Emily, my dog, to Cape May, NJ. Since that trip involved a dog and salt, and I have this book blog, she offered to send me a copy of the book. And what an adorable book it is. It has dogs of all stripes playing on the sand and in the water. Fogle also has a Jack Russell Terrier (hers is named Molly), so a lot of the shots are extra adorable, like the one of a JRT on a boogie board.

It's a fun, cute book -- a great gift for any dog and beach lover. I also ran it by Regan Tighe, owner of Joey's It's All Gone to the Dogs, which is where I buy Emily's food, and she gave it a thumbs up. She sees dog products all the time, so I count hers as an excellent endorsement.

Now, my dog. This freelancing writing thing can get a little lonely every now and again. I knew I needed some companionship when getting the mail was the highlight of my day. So when I moved out of my teeny Haddonfield apartment into the second floor of a house in Collingswood -- one that allowed dogs -- I went fido hunting. I would have liked one of the Seeing Eye's fabulous flunkies(e.g. dogs who are raised by puppy handlers but don't make it to Seeing Eye level), but my landlord said no German Shepherds. So I started scoping out local animal shelters.

One thing I did not want was a puppy. I didn't think I had the patience for one, and I knew there were a lot of adult dogs who needed good homes. The first dog that caught my eye was a lhasa apso named Bop (who I would have renamed her Xena Warrior Princess, FYI). I wasn't keen on a little dog, but I had been looking for three weeks without finding that 30-ish pound lab mix I'd envisioned in my future. She was cute, and seemed to like me, so I put my name down as a possible adopter.

Bop-to-be-renamed-Xena was so small that she was kept in the puppy room. Also in the puppy room was an adorable eight pound Jack Russell Terrier mix. Every time I visited Bop, I'd play with the little white and brown dog. She was cute and fun, but I dug in my heels: NO PUPPIES.

Well, Bop was adopted out from under me (the Animal Welfare Association will not 'hold' a dog for you, which makes sense). I was put second on the list, and decided to visit her one more time. That's when I realized the JRT's information had been updated. Emily wasn't a puppy. She was four years old -- just small (and, as I later learned, not eating because she was scared out of her wits by being around so many other barking dogs).

I bent down to Emily's cage to take another good look at her. She licked my fingers, then backed away. Well, fine, I thought. If you want to be that way. She went back to her blankets, dug out a Milkbone, and dropped it at my feet. Sold.

So two years ago Monday, I brought Emily home. I thought for a long time that I was a terrible dog owner. I hit her in the face with a tennis ball while we were playing; she fell of the landing to my apartment stairs; I didn't pay enough attention to her, I thought. But over the last two years, I think we've formed a working partnership. She's my buddy. When I went started house hunting, one of the things I wanted was a fenced in back yard so she could run around and bark at as many squirrels as she wanted (something she likes very much at the house I bought in May, FYI).

Even though we hit a big slump this summer (I was away for most of it working on my book, and she didn't like it) she's my best four legged friend. I try to take her wherever I go, which is why I took a mini vacay in Cape May -- because she was welcome to stay with me.

Right now, Emily is snoozing on the big fake fur sack I bought her for Christmas last year. In about an hour and a half, she'll run up the stairs to beg for her mid-morning walk, and I'll be happy to take her.

So to get back the original point of this book -- Salty Dogs -- if you feel like I do about your dog, or know someone who does, it'll make a great holiday gift. And at $14.99, it's a steal.

Read more at and

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Interview: Chris Grabenstein, author of the John Ceepak Mystery Series

Click on over to my "Down the Shore with Jen" blog for an interview with Chris Grabenstein, author of a series of mysteries that take place at the Jersey Shore. I've never been a huge mystery fan, but can get into them for a quick, intense read. So check it out!

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Update: Book 6 of 52: The First Campaign by Garrett M. Graff

On Saturday, I saw the final copy of Garrett M. Graff's The First Campaign, which was number 6 of 52 in this Book a Week series. If you remember from my first review, the last pages were not printed in the preview copy because Graff was trying to be as up-to-date as he could be, so left the ending for the real end.

I'm happy to say that the ending was as good as the rest of the book. It's also reviewed in the December issue of Wired. I texted with Garrett this weekend to tell him I saw the review (which is positive) and that I got the final book. I agree with what he said (or texted) -- the cover looks better in final form. Still not my favorite, but not as cheesy as it looked on the galley cover.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Book 9 of 52: The Threesome Handbook: A Practical Guide to Sleeping with Three by Vicki Vantoch

"Oh, no you didn't!"

Oh yes I did review a book about threesomes.

Before you check "perv" on your "opinion of Jen A. Miller card," let me ask you this: if someone sent you a free book about threesomes, wouldn't you be tempted to take a peek? I'm not saying you would read the entire thing. I wouldn't have if I didn't have this book-a-week project, but I figured, what the heck. Maybe I'll learn something.

I did. I learned a lot of things, like the proper way to stick your finger up someone's bum, a new meaning for "club sandwich" and that a lot more people are getting it on triad style than I thought. After all, Vantoch's book isn't the only one out there about threesomes. Click on the amazon link for The Threesome Handbook: A Practical Guide to SLEEPING WITH THREE and you'll also be directed to Threesome: How to Fulfill Your Favorite Fantasy by Lori Gammon and Bill Strong; Threeways: Fulfill Your Ultimate Fantasy by Diana Cage; Three: The Art of the Menage a Trois by Sadie Johnson -- among others.

If you've clicked on those links (and you know you want to), you'll notice something in common about all three covers: they feature two girl and one guy (though if you're looking for instruction on handling a two guys/one girl trio, never fear -- Vantoch covers that as well). There's this new acceptability of girls making out with girls for the sake of guys. Was I the only chick who didn't make out with girls in college as a sorority stunt? Because Vantoch says it's popular and that most girls at least fool around with other girls in college, usually with a guy watching. I can't even tell you the number of times a guy has suggested that I kiss my friend, or told me that if I ever flipped to the lesbian side, that I need to film it and send it to him (I mean, really. If I were to discover I was a lesbian, do you think my first thought would be "Wow, I really need to get this on tape so I can send it to a straight male?")

Why's it acceptable? Who knows. You've got just-about-naked chicks on the cover of 70 percent of men's magazines. It might have more to do with the fact that "porn" isn't such a dirty word anymore, and a lot of porn involves girl-on-girl-action. Porn stars are working their way into the mainstream, and a lot of people think it's okay. Well, at least some people do. The Christian right would probably explode first before saying Jenna Jameson's a pretty lady -- or was before she lost all that weight and turned into a skeleton.

But don't think I'm a prude I reviewed a porno and a sex manual for my college paper. I've written about sex. I've had sex (sorry mom and dad if you're reading). But trio? Call me old fashioned, but I think I'd have issues with the emotional baggage involved, no matter how many times Vantoch writes that you can get over that. I have enough trouble forming a duo as it is. So reading The Threesome Handbookwas more a sociological study for me than something I studied and highlighted.

If you're digging the trio vibe, then by all means, go ahead and pick up the book. Vantoch covers all the bases, from how to get over the "this is wrong" hump to trio-rific positions to how to pick up a third to how to form a long lasting three way bond. She gives buckets of tips on communication and how to make sure no one freaks out after the experience. I admit that it started to get boring at the end where she went into the specifics of forming a long lasting threesome bond. I won't be trying it, so it's not interesting to me. But I imagine that it's crucial information to people who want to go the three way route.

I like what Cindy Lu, author of The Four Man Plan (also book 2 of 52) says about the subject: the only way to do it is as an the invited guest. I think relationships are complicated enough. But adding a third? I can't even fathom how you'd do Christmas gifts let alone everything else.

One other thing about The Threesome Handbook. I carry a book with me just about everywhere I go. I read on trains; in line; in waiting rooms. I even read Harry Potter in my car while waiting for a wedding to start. I did not carry The Threesome Handbook with me, and I felt like I was missing something, almost like I forgot to wear socks. I did bring it with me to Cape May (read about that here), but triple checked that it was in my bag at all times. Threesomes maybe be considered a-okay in a lot of circles, but I don't think a B&B owner would be too jazzed about inviting three way love into one of their guest rooms.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book 8 of 52: How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore

Here's a fun exercise: go to your local bookstore and check out the writing section. You'll find two kinds of books: instruction books and fun books.

Instruction books show you the nuts and bolts of how to be a writer, whether it's something like The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, which hows you how to make this freelance writing thing work (a book I highly recommend) to On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels, which is a guide to writing romance novels (I haven't read this one, but I've thought about it -- more about that later in this series).

Fun books about writing would be something like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which, yes, does offer writing advice, but is more about being a writer than a straight writing guide.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore is a fun book about writing. Yes, she (and the many many MANY people she interviews) offer advice, and the book includes writing exercises. But it's more a book about what being a writer is like than anything else.

It focuses on becoming a fiction writer, which is why I almost didn't read the book. I don't do fiction. Sure, I'll read it, but I'm not a novelist and have no aspirations to be one -- at least at this point in my life. I've tried it. I know it's a lot of work for something that no one other than a slushpile reader might skim over and then reject, and I don't have that fiction writing fire that my fiction writing friends have. When people ask me when I'll write a novel (or "When will you become a real writer?" which I don't deign with an answer), I tell them this: writing fiction and non-fiction are two different things. Yes, we use the same tools, but so does a woodworker and a carpenter. Same stuff, different results.

But I've learned a lot from fiction writers, like how to punch up your writing and set a scene. Lamott's book is, for the most part, about fiction writing, and I use the "one inch picture frame" exercise, where you get out of writer's block by picturing what you could see within a one inch frame, when I'm in a writing pinch.

For the most part, I enjoyed Gore's book. She walked a fine line between offering advice that would work for everyone and advice that worked for HER. I wouldn't recommend that you start freelance writing by getting a Master's degree in English Literature first, even though that what worked for me. Gore gives enough of her life experiences to make her a narrator worth following through a guide to writing without seeming to pompous -- there isn't any "this is what I did so you should do the exact same thing, too," which I liked.

The interviews with other writers are interesting, too, especially the imagined interview with Haruki Murakami. Her advice re: deadlines is spot in (turn it the piece no matter what you think of it because it's better to be on time with something that's not perfect than late -- even if that late piece is perfect, it might not be published because it was late) and her advice on using bad stuff for good ("When bad things happen to writers, there's always a silver glimmer of a good story. Damn, we think when we're face-down on the rain-wet pavement, nose broken and bleeding, coughing betrayal. This is gonna make a good story." My version is "I'm so getting a column out of this." )

BUT -- by the end of the book, some of those interviews drag on, and seem out of place. As much as I like Margaret Cho, I didn't think her interview belonged in this book. I like Dave Barry, too, but it seems to me that guy didn't want to be part of the book. Why print the sliver of an interview here?

But don't let that stop you from getting the book. Gore is a funny writer, and she tells it like it is. I haven't tried any of the writing exercises yet (non-fiction writer here, remember?), but I've dog eared the page on a few of them where I think they'll help me tighten up my writing. It'll make a good gift for a budding writer, too, especially of the college age.


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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Essay: Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp

Here's a link to an essay I wrote for the September 2007 issue of Paste Magazine about Caroline Knapp's Pack of Two. The book is about dogs, and so is the essay. An excerpt:

"Like Knapp, I lived by myself. Like her, I had just gotten out of a relationship that I knew would never work. I was lonely. I needed a friend. I didn’t go to the shelter expecting to find Lassie or my other half in the form of four legs and fur—just an animal to wag its tail when I walked in the door, and something to take the edge off of loneliness by being in my own pack of two. And while Emily—the Jack Russell Terrier who wound herself around my life—and I are less than perfect companions, she has changed me, hopefully for the better. Even when she tinkles on the carpet, yaps at a squirrel or nudges me while I work, she brings me a serenity I haven’t found anywhere else."

I read Pack of Two in graduate school; before I adopted my dog; and I read it after. The book took on a different meaning every single time. And that, I think, is one of the reasons it's a great book. I want to go back to it and read it all over again.

I was shocked and deeply saddened when I learned that Knapp died of cancer in 2002. She was such a wonderful talent, and every one of her books has left a big stamp on my brain. If I'm going to write another non-fiction book, I hope it's a sliver of what she's produced.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Interview: Lord Whimsy, author of The Affected Provincial's Companion

Click over to my Down the Shore With Jen blog for an interview with Lord Whimsy, author of The Affected Provincial's Companion.

You'll have to go through the interview to "get" what it is Whimsy does. It's worth the read! To go directly to the interview, click here.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: Of a Feather by Scott Weidensaul

As promised, here's my review of Book 4 of 52, Scott Weidensaul's Of a Feather. This review ran in Sunday's St. Petersburg Times -- St. Petersburg as in St. Petersburg Florida, NOT St. Petersburg Russia.

I went to college at the University of Tampa, so even though I live in NJ, and have lived here most of my life, it's not that odd for me to be reviewing at the St. Pete Times!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book 7 of 52: Smart Girls Like Me by Diane Vadino

Smart Girls Like Me by Diane Vadino is the perfect example of a book that I judged by it's cover. It's pink, and the cover image, as you can see, is of a rack of clothes. Even the jacket copy wasn't too promising -- 24-year old who works at a fashion magazine afraid of 1999 turning to 2000. Boy trouble. Wedding trouble. Drugs, sex and rock and roll.

Yawn. If it looks like chick lit and talks like chick lit, it's chick lit, right? I am not a fan of the genre. I have no patience for Jennifer Weiner, or her commentary on the subject (which I liken to a Catholic priest defending the church while molesting the alter boy). I gravitate toward non-fiction, but if I'm in the mood for a good story, I seek out books by young women for young women that reflect what our lives are actually like, not some technicolor mock up filled with martinis and shoes we can't afford, and, if we could, shouldn't buy because there are plenty of other places to put $500.

So Smart Girls Like Me stayed on my shelf until I got an email from Vadino. She'd read on Galleycat that I was looking for people with Jersey Shore ties to interview on my other blog, Down the Shore With Jen. The main character in her book, Betsy Nilssen, is from Margate, one of the towns I write about in my book (which comes out in May -- read the other blog for more information about it). After a very pleasant email exchange, I decided to give Smart Girls Like Me a shot. After tearing through The First Campaign, I figured I could use something a little lighter.

I'm happy to say that I was wrong about Smart Girls Like Me. This is not chick lit, and even though Nilssen works in fashion, this novel is not a rip off of The Devil Wears Prada, a book so bad that I would urge you not to even pick it up off a bargain table (the movie had very little to do with the book, which is why I think it's a good movie). In fact, Smart Girls Like Me so captured 20-something life and hit so close home that I almost stopped reading it.

Nilssen works at an online fashion magazine in one of those dreadful editorial assistant jobs that are the reason why I did not zip up to NYC to work the life out of myself for $30,000 a year (in NYC, that'll get you nowhere). She's 24, hasn't had a serious boyfriend in years, and her best friend is getting married. Been there, done that. Things start to turn around for Nilssen when a guy she's pined for returns from Japan, freshly single, and asks her out.

Yeah, been there, done that, too. Not the Japan part, but finally locking lips with someone I'd had a stupid crush on for a long time. I don't think it's giving away too much to say that things don't exactly go as Nilssen planned, and the same thing happened to me. If there's one relationship that's going to really do you in, make you hurt for longer than you thought could hurt, and rip away any sort of positive feelings you felt about relationships, love and happily ever after, it's usually this one -- the one you know is wrong from the start, but you try out anyway because you think you can make it work.

My split with this person happened twice -- first, a year ago this month. Second, in March. I hung in too long, and I let him control the timbre, the tone, the pace, the EVERYTHING that happened between the two of us because I thought if I just waited it out, or became the person he wanted to be with, that he'd finally give me the kind of relationship I wanted. We'd drug it out to the point where he met someone who he said did 'that thing for him' that I couldn't do. There is no more painful phrase in any language to me. It knocked me flat. It still does. Sure, since March, I've dated. I even had two wonderful guys tell me they loved me. But on Saturday, at a particularly low moment, as I laid on the floor of my grandparents house, crying, trying to tell my mother why I was so low, I finally admitted that part of my problem was that I wasn't over him. Yes, I believe that I've moved on, and I am out 'on the scene' and having a great time dating (a wonderful, fun and exciting time, actually), but in those quiet moments where I wonder where my life has been and where it's going -- especially in the weeks after my high school boyfriend got married and my brother got engaged -- remembering that person, those words, and that phrase knocked me on my ass again. It didn't help, either, that on Friday night, I was at the same bar where the whole saga started (no, it was not my choice to go there). And my work situation, plus the broken washer and leak in my new house, aren't helping. There's nothing like the memories of being so carelessly tossed aside to amplify everything that's not going right at a particular moment in your life.

Smart Girls Like Me didn't exactly help at first because I saw myself in Nilssen, and it hurt. I wanted to reach out and smack her out of making the same choices I did. I wanted to reach out and smack my 25-year-old self, too. In Nilssen, I saw the same mistakes, the same self-assurances that everything's fine, and the searing pain when you admit that everything's wrong. But that is why this is a book worth reading, and why it's one of those books I look for by a young woman for young women. Because this is what life is like. It's hard. It's messy. And sometimes it sucks. But you can get back up again and keep going. I know I have.

I think that things pop into your life at just the right times. The Four Man Plan happened just as I was thinking about re-energize my dating life. Smart Girls Like Me came along at a time when it felt like someone hit "refresh" on my hurt over this guy. I heard "Big Casino" by Jimmy Eat World at the time when this guy emailed me to say hello for the first time in eight months, a song with the lyrics "I'm the one who gets away / I'm a New Jersey success story" -- a song that I now play when I'm getting ready to go out. Plus, November's Psychology Today is dedicated to getting over it. I cut out a passage from one of the articles and stuck it to my fridge:

"The best way to soothe the memory of a painful final to think about the ways in which you have gained closure on the event. Maybe it's not as bad as it was last month, for instance...remember that over time people come to regret inaction more than action -- so take comfort in the fact that you were able to act. And finally, though it's not always a given, keep in mind that many memories close with the passing to time."

I did act. I was the one who severed the cord -- for some reason, this guy thought that me, him and this girl who did 'that thing for him' that I couldn't do would all hang out and be friends. I told him to leave me alone. And I don't feel nearly as bad as I did eight months ago. Not at all, and I can look back now and see how wrong that whole situation was, and learn something from it. I still haven't erased the sting of that rejection from my life, but I'm past it, accepted it as part of my personal history, and learned from it. Not to get all quote-y on you, but, as the Kayne West song goes, "That that don't kill me / Can only make me stronger." There's a reason it's on my running mix.

I wish more young women would write books like Smart Girls Like Me, and that more young women would read them instead of the crap that publishers are trying to stuff down our throats. Maybe I'll find a few more like it through this reading project. If I do, I'll be sure to let you know.

And if you want to read Vadino's opinion about her book's cover, click here.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Interview: Caroline Leavitt

Click on over to Down the Shore With Jen to check out my interview with Caroline Leavitt, author of eight novels, including Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me. She's an Ocean City gal -- not a bad kind of gal to be!

You can also check out Caroline's blog at

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Review: Brainiac by Ken Jennings

It's been a while since I reviewed Brainiac . So why am I highlighting it again right now? Because the paperback just came out, and my review from The Philadelphia Inquirer is blurbed on the back of the book!

This is the first time (that I know of) that this has happened with one of my reviews, and it couldn't have happened with a better book. It was, hands down, my favorite book of 2006. Yes, it's by the guy who won all those Jeopardy! games. But it's also a history of trivia in America, and it's hysterical.

The blurb's not that long, but long enough that, when I saw it Monday night, I did a little dance in Barnes & Noble. Here's what I said: "Keen characterization, pithy commentary, and pop-culture associations . . . make Brainiac a sharp and witty read."

And I don't care what kind of look that guy in the other aisle gave me. It was a good little dance.

Read more about Brainiac at

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Book 6 of 52: The First Campaign by Garrett M. Graff

Book 6 is a political title: The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.

I will be the first to admit that while, yes, I do have an interest in politics (I think anyone who votes should educate themselves about it, and everyone who can should vote -- good cycle, right?), I get most of my information from the news, whether that be from TV, newspapers or the internet. But pick up something book length? Not likely.

So how did this book end up as part of my project? Simple: I know Garrett.

Before Garrett ever put pen to paper for this book, he helmed FishbowlDC, one of Mediabistro's city blogs. I was new to freelancing then and educating myself about the business by poking around content on the site. From the day FishbowlDC launched, I was hooked. I liked Garrett's informal yet informative style, and his knowledge of what seemed to be everything going on in the media world down there. I was also writing for DC STYLE magazine and, being located in New Jersey, relied on his updates to see how the magazine was being received by media folks in the city (not too well if you consider that it's no longer in print).

Anyway, Garrett decided to get himself credentialed as part of the White House Press Corps, arguing that he was a valid member of the media. He recorded his attempts to, as a blogger, be seen as such. It was hysterical. His run arounds with the friendly-sounding interns who did everything they could to keep him out read like a "Who's on First" routine. But it was real, which made it that much funnier.

Garrett did make it into the White House, and got himself a lot of media attention. It was also around this time that I went to DC STYLE's launch party (I wrote for the Philadelphia version, and my brother lives in that area). I had no idea what Garrett looked like, but I wanted to meet the man behind the blog. So I made friends with the PR person for the restaurant where the party was being held, and she pointed him out. I went up to the tall blond man from Vermont, said hello, and we've been friends ever since. I even wrote an article about him, which you can read here.

When Garrett told me about this project, I was shocked. Not because someone would buy this kind of book from him, but by what a really big deal it was. It's a major title being published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux -- one of my favorite publishing houses -- and Garrett's only 26 years old. For him to leapfrog to the head of the pundit pack is amazing but, in retrospect, not a shocker. He worked for Howard Dean when he was 14 years old. He was part of the campaign, and started his own company soon after. He used FishbowlDC to get his name out there, and he eventually landed an editor job at Washingtonian (full disclosure: I write for him and that magazine).

After reading The First Campaign, I can say that FSG made the right call in bringing Garrett on board.

The First Campaign is about how technology will effect the 2008 presidential election, and all the issues that surround that election. This might sound like simple statement, but those issues, like healthcare, education and the environment, are biggies. Each one would be tough to tackle in one book each, but Garrett has managed to boil each one down to its core and how the 2008 presidential candidates (and we're talking everyone in the primaries right now) will have to address these issues. He also delves into the history of the blogosphere and its affects on politics -- something he's been a part of for a long time.

I really liked the book, and no one's more relieved by this than I am. Not only would I hate to have to tell Garrett that I didn't like The First Campaign, but I will admit that I was intimidated by its heft. When I scanned my shelf looking for what would be book 6 in this project, I kept skipping over The First Campaign. It's not that I didn't like Garrett's writing, but he's so damn smart and so mature as a writer that I thought the book would go over my head, and that reading it would be a mental struggle. With all that's happened to me this year (between a death in the family, heart break and a long bout of "where do I want this writing thing to go"), I didn't want to feel like the kid who got left behind. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got through chapter three and wanted to keep going. I stayed up late three nights in a row reading the book because it's so interesting, and so well written. He has a writing style that makes me a pinch jealous, but not entirely since we don't write the same things. I called him last week, too, to tell him my opinion, and I'm so glad that it was an easy call for me to make.

He's not going to get off scott free, though -- it's not a perfect book. He writes about his involvement on the Dean campaign, but does not write about "the scream." I would have liked to know more about how the campaign collapsed even though Dean built up such a presence in the minds of the American people, largely aided by the web. I also don't like the cover. I know that's not Garrett's fault but I hope that FSG will change the cover from the galley to the final version, as they did for Cathleen Schine's The New Yorkers. And if you're a die hard Republican, you will probably not like a lot of what Garrett has to say, though it might change your mind. Or at least get you to look deeper into the subject, which is what any good book on politics should make you do.

I think this will be the first step in a long career for Garrett. I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a regular on cable TV news shows. I remember the first time he was on CNN because of FishbowlDC. It was so exciting to tune in and see someone I knew. I don't know if I ever could have guessed the roads that either of us would travel after we first met at that magazine party. But you know what? It's better than I could have imagined, for both of us.

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Review: Backyard Giants by by Susan Warren

I wrote a review for today's St. Pete Times. Normally, I would post about that here, but the book is so bad that I would not recommend it to anyone (if you're curious, that review is here).

So, instead, I'm going to refer you to a fantastic book I reviewed for the Philadelphia City Paper: Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Susan Warren. That review is here (fourth item).

I like reading non-fiction books about strange topics, and this is example of the perfect book for me. It's fascinating, from how people grow 1500 pound pumpkins, and, even more so, why. I'm not really a garden person, but the people who take on this quest every year were ripe for a character study as Warren writes, so it'll be interesting to anyone who is interested in people and the odd things they do. My interest in quirky non-fiction books is the same reason why I consider Ken Jenning's Brainiac my top book of 2006 -- yes, it's about trivia, but it's also about the people who care so much about it.

I just finished what will be book 6 of 52 and hope to post that review tomorrow...

Read more about Backyard Giants at

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