Friday, March 31, 2023

Book Review: Uncle Shelby's ABZ

Title: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ

Author: Shel Silverstein

Date: 1961

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 0-671-21148-X

Length: pages not numbered

Illustrations: large cartoons (suitable for coloring) by the author

Quote: “[A]lthough Uncle Shelby has never been blessed with children of his own, the little ones have always had a very special place in his tired old heart…I have heard them playing and laugh­ing outside my window while I was trying to sleep and I have thought about them…And so this book—to help all my little friends get all the things in life that they so richly deserve.”

In other words, this book is a collection of mean practical jokes people, mostly older children, have played on innocent young children. The publisher did not recommend sharing it with children. If a child does get hold of it, you’ll need to spend some time demonstrating why all its suggestions are mean jokes…and the suggestion that the child perpetrate any of these jokes on a younger sibling is the meanest of all. I’d break out the serious threat artillery in a case like this. If a niece or nephew of mine were cruel enough to play one of these jokes on a young child, I would go to that niece’s or nephew’s school and demonstrate disco dance steps.

It’s funny for those who are old enough to laugh at a collection of more than thirty mean jokes that wouldn’t work on adults, and that it would be cruel to play on children. They range from a drawing of a lion identified as a dog who likes to be scratched, to a suggestion that if you brush your teeth often and keep them bright and white a predator will find you first in the dark, to a certificate children are advised to turn in at the grocery store to receive a real live pony, to a joke about a travelling salesman who told the farmer “I don’t need to sleep with anybody, I just need directions,” to a recommendation that kids count their fingers while holding their hands over an outline of a six-fingered hand. There’s a smudge on a page identified as where a quarter was supposed to have been glued, if Mommy didn’t pull it off and keep it. Then of course there’s the scrambled alphabet.

The drawing of an oboe (a diabolical suggestion to make to a small child, all by itself) mislabelled as a “gigolo” is one of those multilayered comedic achievements that leave me in awe, like Rush Limbaugh’s famous TV show in which he started to call attention to a math mistake made by a left-winger who’d been laughing at Dan Quayle’s “potatoe” blooper, and then, in mid-attack, Limbaugh proceeded to make a second-grade-level math mistake too. No comedian can be funny on that many levels every day and one might, if inclined to envy, wonder whether either Silverstein or Limbaugh could have been inspired enough to plan such effects, or backed into them by accident. The ancient Romans called it genius, and recognized it as a sort of higher-than-conscious level of the mind.

Uncle Shelby’s ABZ is recommended to those for whom laughing-out-loud-as-therapy works well enough that they never feel all that mean. If you can be satisfied by imagining Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd playing these pranks on each other, this book is for you.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Mark Warner Brings Home the Pork

From U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-VA, obviously believing this will be received as good news: 


Friends,We’re getting things done for Hampton Roads and Richmond!On Monday, I was in Norfolk to celebrate an exciting investment in righting a historic wrong. Here’s the deal: when the interstate system was built in the 1950s-1970s, developers often sliced straight through Black communities. Vast concrete highways and negligent planning flattened or isolated African-American communities. In Norfolk, the development of I-264 cut off the St. Paul’s neighborhood from downtown and all of its grocery stores, schools, and jobs. That isn’t right, and sadly it’s a situation replicated across the country. That’s why when we negotiated and passed the bipartisan infrastructure law, we made sure there was funding to reconnect communities that had been impacted by historic discrimination.

ImageI’m proud that some of this money is coming straight to Virginia. In a small classroom overlooking the tangled I-264 interchange that isolated this community, I announced $1.6 million in infrastructure law funds to make it right – money that will help create a plan to reunify Norfolk and equalize opportunity. Read more from the Virginian-Pilot or 13 News NowNorfolk isn’t the only community that’s benefitting from this money – Richmond is also getting a share to reconnect Jackson Ward by creating a new bridge or freeway lid that would reunite transportation and public spaces.

ImageEqualizing opportunity means more than just reconnecting communities – it also means expanding affordable housing for all. I’m proud to be leading on this too, and I recently announced over $50 million to expand affordable housing across the Commonwealth. On Monday, I stopped by Richmond to hear directly from local leaders about how they’ll put their share of the funding to work. I always appreciate the opportunity to hear from residents and leaders alike about how we can keep up the momentum and get folks in stable, economical homes. Read more about this in the Richmond Times-DispatchTogether, we can build our cities and towns to be connected, affordable, and easily navigable. I’m ready to keep fighting for these priorities in Congress. If you want to get in touch with me about affordable housing or another issue that is important to you, you can send me an email anytime using the form on my Senate website. You can also find more updates on my FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.


[that signature graphic Google doesn't like]

Movie/Book Review: Ten Things I Hate

Reclaimed from Blogjob. Some people did like the movie Ten Things I Hate About You. My immediate reaction, the night my husband and I watched it, was to write a list of the ten things we most hated about it.  That list was slightly revised and updated into the Blogjob post, which has been re-revised and updated here:

Years ago, a Blockbuster Evening inspired me, the next morning, to list ten things to hate about this low-budget remake of The Taming of the Shrew. Why waste a review? Those who remember Ten Things I Hate About You may at least get a chuckle out of this list of ten things to hate about Ten Things I Hate About You.

The book was written by David Levithan. I didn’t buy it, but in the unlikely event that this review makes anyone want a copy of it I could get it from Amazon.

1. There’s more than one male character in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. There’s also more than one male character in Ten Things I Hate About You, but, since all the teenaged male actors except the star look, talk, and act alike, we have to see them as a crowd to be sure.

2. There are only two substantial female characters in The Taming of the Shrew. To round out the cast, two girl characters have been added to Ten Things I Hate About You. Katerina gets a best friend who is nice but stupid, just like Bianca. Bianca, here played as even a dimmer bulb than Shakespeare made her, gets a worst friend whose wattage is almost low enough to excuse her nastiness, but not quite. So, there are three kinds of teenaged girls: dumb, mean, or both. Even in a farce, teenaged girls deserve more options than this.

3. All the older characters in The Taming of the Shrew are stupid clowns, but by and large the young characters are polite enough to ignore this fact. (There are exceptions.) Mostly it’s the audience who get to laugh out loud. In Ten Things I Hate About You, this instructive bit of social commentary disappears. There’s no pretense of courtesy or even civility toward the older generation. The teenagers use up all the laughter at the adults, and leave very little for any adult viewer to enjoy.

4. In The Taming of the Shrew, no explanation is given for Katerina’s character. She’s a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, spoilt brat who beats her sister up just because she can. I've known real people like that, and think Shakespeare's play did a good job of showing what can be done about these people if they live to grow up outside of prison. In Ten Things I Hate About You, Kat becomes human, but wimpy: she’s depressed because she’s a rape victim. Recently. Shakespeare’s Katerina would have clobbered anybody who laid an unauthorized finger on her.

5. The movie looks consistently weird. The Taming of the Shrew is supposed to take place in Italy . All the characters are Italian. Although Ten Things I Hate About You is set in the United States, all the actors look Italian-American, except for Katerina and Bianca (who look Swedish-American) and Petruchio, here “Patrick Verona” (who looks Irish-American), and Bianca’s worst friend Chastity and one of the teachers, who are African-American. There might be legitimate reasons for characters having either Italian names or Italian faces but not both, and there might be casts of actors gifted enough to overcome this dissonant effect if they had to work around it; unfortunately, neither of these possibilities is fully realized in Ten Things I Hate About You.

6. The names and stage business allotted to Bianca and Chastity would be a cute reminder of Cher and Dionne in Clueless if they were the only reference to Clueless in Ten Things I Hate About You. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The second-rate remake refers to the brilliant remake constantly…to the extent that my husband, who hadn’t watched or read Clueless, had no idea where the verbal, non-slapstick comedy was found (or why I was laughing).

7. The Taming of the Shrew is a farce with no pretensions to redeeming social value or positive role models, though underneath the slapstick comedy the basic idea of how to help Katerina act like a normal adult with some empathy for other people can actually workTen Things I Hate About You is a farce with delusions of redeeming social value (the “statement” that rape victims are often depressed) and delusions of positive role models (who constantly insult all the older people they know and wreck their property). These delusions are an insult to the audience. 

8. The Taming of the Shrew has a plot that suggests, but does not require us to watch, scenes of gross violence or major property destruction. Everybody wants to marry Bianca, nobody wants to marry Katerina, local property transfer rules don't allow anybody to marry Bianca until some poor man has married Katerina, and Katerina refuses to marry anybody. While Petruchio undertakes, on a bet, to marry Katerina, Lucentio sneaks in and marries Bianca. Petruchio avoids fights with Katerina by abusing everyone else, ripping up new clothes, throwing food on the floor, and generally being a bigger jerk than she is. This spoils Katerina’s attempts to get her way by abusing weaker people and forces her to learn an unconvincing submissive act, which, in her case, is an improvement. Although Lucentio and Bianca are in love, they soon run into problems; Petruchio and Katerina, neither of whom knows anything about love, come to terms that allow them to live together.

In Ten Things I Hate About You, virtually all of this plot disappears behind the violence, property destruction, and general misbehavior. Bianca’s date–one of the generic Italian-looking boys–mistreats her, Chastity turns on her, it’s her turn to get depressed, and there’s also a brawl. Neither Bianca nor any of the male supporting characters gets an adventure of his or her own. Bianca doesn’t even end up with a date for the prom.

9. The Taming of the Shrew was, as noted above, about Italians. There was no obvious reason to bring African-American characters into Ten Things I Hate About You. (Black actors could just have been there, unexplained--y'know, people sailed around the Mediterranean coast then, too--as in real Renaissance Italy.) Assuming that the director just happened to know a couple of African-American actors who were about as talented as the rest of the cast, one might have expected that at least one of the two would get a decent part; say, Kat’s dull but supportive buddy. One would be wrong. The Black man plays a burnt-out, stressed-out, hopelessly incompetent teacher who turns every scene into a stereotyped racist-sexist rant. The girl is cast as tacky, two-faced Chastity. Right. This is a stupid, obnoxious, tacky, racist movie that misrepresents White American consciousness to an insulting degree, and as a legally White American I find it deeply offensive.

10. After viewing Ten Things I Hate About You, we went on to view a violent action-adventure movie about Ku Klux Klan idiots, in which fake blood and blank cartridges were extravagantly used. That videotape contained a money-back guarantee: any convincing portrayal of a bigot is inherently offensive but if, after watching the whole movie, viewers found the movie offensive, they could write to the producers and get their money back. That movie did not make me want to complain and get the money back. It wasn’t in either of my preferred movie genres—lighthearted comedies, and sweet family stories filmed in scenes of scenic beauty—but it didn’t offend me. Ten Things I Hate About You did.

Need the snarkiness stop here? Why? A Buzzfeed writer found ten plot details to hate about Ten Things I Hate About You but, since she apparently enjoyed the movie, she used them to construct the plot for a sequel. Somewhere, somebody may actually make this movie.

And here, courtesy of Thesuccess at Morguefile, is a movie-watching cat:

Blogjob tags were "Shakespeare, comedy." 

Red Dogs, Blue Dogs, White Dogs Too

While looking for a theme for this week's Petfinder dog post I read a news headline about a Florida dog adoption event called "Red Dogs, Blue Dogs," sponsored by their very popular First Lady, Casey DeSantis.

Somehow the use of a politician's name seems to suggest that dogs have partisan politics. I've never seen one that did. 

I think all dogs vote for pretty much the same things: food, walks, naps, scratches behind the ears, their humans. I don't think they know one TV talking head from another.

However, there are dogs, cats, sheep, and other animals whose brown or gray coats have reddish or bluish tones, who are known technically as red or blue animals. And of course there are white animals. You could put animal pictures together to form a flag image.

So this week we consider red, white, and blue dogs.

Zipcode 10101: Niko from Brooklyn 

He's described as a smart dog who will want to be trained for a job with some responsibility. He's looking for someone who can teach him as well as admire (and groom) his coat. A well trained Australian Shepherd dog can be as clean, quiet, and clever as a social cat, but they do need some help to get there. If you have some experience not just keeping, but training, superintelligent dogs, then Niko might be the perfect pet for you.

Bruce from New York City 

If the right dog for you needs to fit into a small apartment, consider 14-pound Bruce. He seems to be an older dog with some hearing loss, but he's described as puppyish, friendly, playful, and "a morning person. I mean, dog." Frankly his foster humans sound as if they're becoming attached to him so, even as you request a chance to meet Bruce, you might want to consider letting the breed-specific rescue group redirect you to a different dog of similar looks and charm. Bruce seems to get along well with all dogs and all humans, but not with cats.

Shimmer from Brooklyn 

There are different breeds of terriers, with different looks, different ear shapes and coat types...Shimmer is believed to be a mix of a few of these breeds. She's a terrier, but don't ask which kind! If you want to meet a cute, tough, clever, smallish dog, take the F Train to meet Shimmer.

Zipcode 20202: Benji Milford from Baltimore 

He's originally from North Carolina. As a shelter foster dog he bonded with another foster dog, and is said to be still wondering why he was separated from his buddy and shipped up to Baltimore. If he whines, he has reasons. He is described as a smallish beagle. 

Tofu from D.C.

Thought to be mostly Husky, Tofu hasn't been in the shelter system long. At two years old he's thought to have reached his full size--"Large." 

Shibo from Tennessee by way of D.C. 

The brothers came out of a high-kill shelter in Tennessee. (Grrrr...) Though they might have been too much for somebody to handle (I'm picturing an old man whose doctor just ordered him to give up hunting), they're valuable dogs, and the shelters want the full value out of each dog. That would be why they've been sent from Tennessee up to Washington. This kind of thing ticks me off. 

Anyway, for those who've read my wisecracks about the "Blue Tick Hounds" on Twitter and wondered about the origin of that phrase, this is what is known as a Blue Tick Hound. Good-sized, low-maintenance outdoor dogs, generally stable, sensible, and lovable. Each of the twins weighs about 65 pounds. Their black and grey coats should be good conversation starters and their friendly but protective dispositions should keep the conversations respectful. 

The "coon hound" type of dog was bred to thrive in conditions that border on abuse--living on table scraps and whatever rats they could catch, led out for long hunting trips when the master felt like it and left under the porch the rest of the time, and shot if they showed any signs of ill health. They do even better, though, on a regimen of regular meals, regular walks and work/play sessions, vet visits, and flea combing. They bark loudly when hunting and warning their humans of visitors, human or animal, and sometimes seem to believe that they can sing. 

Zipcode 30303: Ri Ri from Atlanta 

Two of the three Chihuahuas in this picture were adopted. The remaining one is Rihanna or Ri Ri. Do whips and chains excite her? Probably in a bad way. She can be b'y with other female dogs, too, and is recommended to families who have no other dogs or a male dog. Apart from that she's said to be a sweet and sassy, snuggly, lovable, typy Chihuahua, about six pounds. 

Bram from Fulton County 

Retrievers are usually black or yellow, but they can also be white. This white one has learned several commands and refuses to answer to the name the shelter stuck on her. Hears all those words, then makes the shelter staff wonder whether she's deaf? That dog is laughing at those people. 

Blubella from Marietta 

I'm not partial to the Weimaraner look myself, but sorting the Atlanta Petfinder pages by color is a major chore. She's one of the few dogs a search for "blue" pulled up that really is blue-grey. Anyway, Weimaraners are not for everyone. They're largish dogs that can play rough; they need a lot of attention in the form of structure, discipline, and firm but loving care. By "firm" we do not mean things like cutting off a dog's tail in the absence of medical reasons for it (there may have been a good reason; nobody knows). They insist Blubella's permanent home have a fenced yard, and recommend she be the only dog for a family without small children. On a more encouraging note, they say she likes to catch a ball, snuggle and watch TV with her humans, and go for long hikes or hunting trips. Good all-round pet for someone who can handle a big rough dog. Too many big rough dogs wind up in shelters after being bought or adopted by people who can't.

Bonus: Zipcode 33782, Pinellas Park, Florida: Maru from Largo 

He's not in a shelter, or wasn't at the time of posting. His human says she can't afford to keep him and is putting him up for adoption. He's not all that big a dog, either, only 45 pounds. He might grow a little bigger; he's only a year old. He's had basic training but is not yet educated up to his full Australian Shepherd potential. The owner hoped he'd be adopted two weeks ago, and with that picture I'm not sure how it's possible that he's not, but Aussies aren't for everyone either. 

Sugar & Ellie from Clearwater 

This pair of sisters (despite the different ears) are up for adoption together. They are thought to be mostly golden retriever and who knows what-all else. They sound a bit traumatized by having lost their home and human. They were outdoor dogs and may never have been fully housebroken. If you have a place for outdoor dogs, the sisters want to meet you.

Jackie & Lucy from Sarasota 

This pair of poodles have stayed close together since birth and are described as "velcro dogs" at the shelter. Adopt them together. The shelter staff think they might be all right in an apartment or row house if they get plenty of walks. They are older dogs, set in their ways, a bit possessive of their human, and recommended for families without children. Each poodle weighs about 45 pounds.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Some Doggerel for National Weed Day

How could this web site possibly ignore  a topic so delicious as "weeds"? This is long enough to be Friday's post, but I'll let it go live now, in honor of the occasion.

What gardeners need most seems to be a clearer way of thinking. The wild plants that sprout in the garden, and threaten to crowd out the vegetables and the pricey imported flowers, are mostly not nuisances after all. There are exceptions, like Bermuda grass, that are neither useful nor ornamental, but most of these volunteer plants are actually what a frugal person wants to eat in spring. 

Keep a few of these around;
No better salve or lotion's found
For bruises, cuts, scrapes, burns of skin;
Eat when the leaves are young and thin.

Though they're growing big and tough,
Leaves are smooth as burs are tough.
If last year's roots went to waste,
Here's a pleasant sour taste.

Once the flowers bloom, the leaves'
Bitterness the palate grieves;
But the sap removes all warts
And roots make a tea of sorts.

Though I've never cared for these,
They delight the Japanese;
Roots they pick, peel thick, and pickle
Lend steamed rice a pleasant tickle.

Dig the roots soon as you can--
Morning's work for a strong young man;
While they thicken sauces, they
Help keep heart attacks away.

None of this plant's fit to eat
Till a berry, yellow, sweet,
Shows where that husk splits and dries;
Berries make quite tasty pies.

Nothing's fit to eat at all
On the milkweed coarse and tall,
But its rather pallid flowers
Will be good for many hours
Of bees, birds, and butterflies,
Always pleasing to the eyes.

Dried and brewed with mints in tea
Boneset stimulates, we see,
And may speed recovery.

Cleavers trails along the ground
Till the stiff hairs that surround
Leaves and stems can cleave unto
Something upright, such as you,
This peculiar sensation
Is not pain, but education,
When the plants are brought inside,
In the chimney corner dried,
They become great flu relievers,
Because cleavers break down fevers.

Tasting this one, some agree
It's best left to please a bee,
Though a kind of mint it be.
But a few leaves do no harm
Anywhere mint flavors charm.

Though the stems and husks so hairy
Make this garden stray look scary,
Once the husks have pulled away
From the berries. people say
They're like raspberries to eat,
Only bigger, and more sweet.

Smilax vines are nuisance plants,
Trip us up or make us dance,
Really make our tempers shine,
Often known as "blaspheme vine"!
Yet, in times of hunger dire,
People have lived on green briar.

All Spanish Needles I detest
More than, together, all the rest
Of weeds shown here. Still, in great need,
One might eat even this ugly weed.

If there's an enemy whose brain
Of all his parts seems least,
And whether he's dead or insane
From him you'd be released,
Then friendship with him you might feign
And serve this at a feast.
(But he will surely spit it out
Unless great powers for it you tout,
And now that people know about it,
Can this trick work again? I doubt it.)
The Algonquins put this to the test
When Englishmen became a pest.
For them we see it did not work.
So jimsonweed from ground we jerk,
And then we burn it, in all haste,
Before poor innocent creatures taste.
Still, nothing's altogether bad
In nature. Some use this stuff's had.

Of all things found in any field
This is the vilest "weed."
Whatever else that field did yield
That he felt such a need
To poison, soon there's ten times more
Of it than there ever was before.
For "bigger fleas have smaller fleas
Upon their backs to bite'm,
And smaller fleas have smaller fleas,
And so ad infinitum,"
And so a balance is maintained
By which all creatures are sustained,
Until this fool who thinks he's wise
God's plan for nature to despise
Creeps in and kills the "smaller fleas"
That check the ones that us displease.
So such a feeble helpless thing
As the corn earworm loss can bring.
And still increases each year's grief
Of those who from loss sought relief
By spraying poisons on the land,
Now not a cornstalk can withstand
The hordes of corn earworms unchecked,
And nothing can the corn protect,
And every ear they pick's defiled
Unless it's been completely spoiled,
And each year's gain is less and less,
And sprays cost more, to their distress,
And soon men take them by the hand,
Lead ruined men from ruined land.
If so you've tried to keep a garden,
First beg God's and your neighbors' pardon,
And then all poison sprays forsake,
And seven years' loss you must take
As nature's toll for poisoned land,
And to some other work set hand.
When land's had seven years of rest,
Then once again you may be blest
With crops or flowers worth the time
To plant them, as before this crime.

Some of the Best Nonfiction Books

Extra post for the Long And Short Reviews blog challenge...

I don't think there is a true answer to the question "What's the best nonfiction book you've read?" 

Well, of course, there is: The Bible.

"The Bible doesn't count. Anyway it's not a book, it's a library. If you're going to count the Bible, which book in the Bible?" some people have been known to retort.

Then I say, "The General Epistle of St. James," because it's a relatively simple, understandable, short book with no battles or murders in it and with a sense of humor. James didn't indulge in pious waffling; he told people exactly what Christians ought to do more and less of. I appreciate that. Many people, especially those who want to do things James did not approve, hate the Book of James, so the emotional temperature in the room tends to drop noticeably if the conversation takes this turn.

But I understand what they mean, of course. By "book" they mean a book with no claims to special inspiration or spiritual authority, an ordinary book written by an ordinary person. Usually people don't ask this question if they have had a nonfiction book published, themselves. Usually they're hoping you'll pick the same favorite they would.

The trouble is, I've read hundreds of good nonfiction books, whereas some of these people have only really read one that they liked, out of a grand total of, say, eleven required reading books they actually scanned with extreme prejudice, eighty-nine other required reading books of which they read someone else's "notes" or review, three supermarket paperbacks they recognized as rip-offs, and this one book they liked. Possibly because it was a Reverend Doctor Feelgood sort of book with a vague Christian-ish atmosphere that made them feel virtuous for buying it and a lot of flattering verbiage that made them feel good about reading it. 

I have to say: "The best in which category? The best knitting book ever was probably Knitting Without Tears. The best cookbook, in my opinion, was Mary McDougall's original McDougall Recipes; the others are also good but readers have been paying for a lot of reprints and pictures to make coffee-table cookbooks it'd be a shame to use in an actual kitchen. The best field guides in all categories are probably Peterson's. The best book for today, which happens to be National 'Weeds' Day, is Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus..."

Come to think, one of the nonfiction books I've used and enjoyed longest also happens to be Stalking the Wild Asparagus. I liked it in grade four and I like it still.

There were a few substantial nonfiction books I was able to like, in some childish way, even before that. I can clearly remember that some nonfiction books I was supposed to have "read," as a child, I didn't like or understand or appreciate until I was older, like Silent Spring. I liked Helen Keller's Story of My Life because she wrote it before she was much older than I was when I read it, in grade three. I think I was still in grade two when I was able to laugh out loud at some of the jokes in Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat the Daisies. I remember understanding and liking just a few of Herbert W. Armstrong's short books and articles, but not most of them, in grade one. 

I don't remember understanding or liking any of the things I was dared to read out loud, as a pre-school-aged child prodigy, reading the words without even trying to figure out what they meant; they were words adults used. The first of those things I remember anything about, actually, was one of the last I read, when I was seven or eight and reading it didn't seem such a prodigious feat any more--something in The Lancet about hemoglobin in blood, but who had discovered what about it I had no idea then and have none now.

I think most early-reading "child prodigies" are, as I was, ordinary children whose eyes happen to mature early. Precocious development of any kind probably involves a slight excess of estrogen in the body. If the imbalance in favor of estrogen continues or becomes more pronounced, its overall effect on the child may do more harm than good. So, yes, although there's no correlation between talent for language skills and sterility, and there's only a slight correlation between sterility and various diseases that shorten people's lives, there is some connection among those three things for some people. There've been other early readers in my family, and most of them had a good long time to enjoy their talents. There have also been several early readers, not in my family or all clustered in any other family of which I've heard or read, whose hyperestrogenemia was caused by disease conditions. It certainly was not a matter of being "smarter" than the relatives who developed other talents first. Most early readers are reasonably intelligent but early reading and intelligence are two separate things.

And I would say, while I'm here, to the parents and teachers of other early readers: Let these children read grown-up books that interest them, unless the books would be too embarrassing for you. (The more clever children are about noticing adults' discomfort with observations like "No butter on my toast, please. I noticed a little steatorrhea this morning" or questions like "If pretending to be younger is a sin, and any sin a person has not repented of is unpardonable, does that mean Uncle Joe is gong to the Bad Place for dyeing his hair?", the more likely they are to exploit the "But she's such a little child, she can't possibly know how bad that sounded" reaction when they say these things in public. That's what you get for making the little beast turn off the TV show and go to bed. I was a child prodigy and I remember it well.) But don't brag about what they read as evidence of their intelligence, because a child's fascination with a book often means the child is still trying to figure out what it means. Don't push the child to read more serious or "impressive" books, either. When I was entertaining adults by reading Newsweek or Prevention or The Journal of the American Medical Association aloud, the books I was actually reading and appreciating were as challenging as--this was the precise cut-off point--Sarah's Idea by Doris Gates, but not Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. I read Charlotte's Web aloud at three and then reread it, as an almost completely new book, at eight. It was more fun when I was eight. Let children enjoy looking into the Bible and picturing coats ornamented with "a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate," which was an image I enjoyed at ages five and six, without expecting them to read the whole thing or understand its main themes. 

"Well, there you go on one of your tangents, but what is the best nonfiction book you've read?" 

"For what purpose? 

At the moment I'm reading Jin Lan McCann's Powered by Wellesley, about being a Chinese student at a big-name college in the United States. It's quite interesting and I look forward to posting the review of it. That's not to say that it's "better" for me or for anyone else than some other book is. I suspect that, the more good books people have read, the more they insist that there is no "best." Or, if there is a "best" nonfiction book, it's the Bible. (Or the Koran.)

I'm posting this after several other bloggers have answered the question in order to do a survey...Some bloggers were able to pick a book, though I'm sure that, in some cases, they must have been adding some clarification to the question like "the best nonfiction book I've read this year, so far." Makes an interesting list of books to watch for and read, anyway...

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow. Very timely. I distrust it on sight, because Christians have left the topic of prison reform to the Extreme Left and the Extreme Left can be depended upon to add some bad ideas to Charles Colson's good ones. But if prison reform is not done in the right way, or even the Right way, it will undoubtedly have to be done in the Left way, which will once again have many unintended and unwelcome consequences, just like desegregation.

Isaac Asimov, Beginnings. I disagree with him on many things but he was a very good writer. (And sincere in his beliefs. Others of that vintage dreamed of globalism while being revulsed by Stalin's and Mao's Marxism. Asimov headed up an organization for people who thought separating globalism from Stalin's Marxism was possible.)

Juliet Barker, The Brontes. The three shy little girls who wrote books so much better than so many of the adults they read, and their other siblings.

Susan Cain, Quiet. Yes, of the books my generation and the ones immediately after it most need to read!

Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl. This one also came at the head of a long list. Somehow I don't like the way people seem to overreact to...yes, when teenagers are forcibly isolated from chattering with one another, exposed only to the company of older people, forced to seek mental stimulation in serious books and current events, and when someone who feels responsible for educating them so far as possible sits down with them and helps them revise their diaries into memoirs of historical events, you can expect any randomly chosen teenager to write a serious, insightful reflection on growing up in interesting times. Anne Frank was by no means the only teenager who's demonstrated that. People act as if she was a freak. She wasn't. It is normal for teenagers to have more intelligence than most of them seem to be using at any given time. 

Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Let's let that stand as my pick for the day. 

Roger Hall, You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger. I'd never heard of it but the blogger who picked it makes a good case for it.

Stephen King, On Writing. Well, he ought to know. 

Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven. About the Latter-Day Saints, what can I say? I've known some very nice ones--saintly ones, even--but the LDS were criminalized, early in their history, for a few heretical views. Criminalize a religion and it will attract criminals. And the Mormons have had more than their share of those.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. This was at the top of the short list of someone else who was old enough to have a long list, and disciplined enough to narrow it down to a short list. I happen to have read and loved it too.

Helga Warren, The Enchanted Suitcase. History through a suitcase of souvenirs.

The Slovenlys of Cloverleaf Hill

And, while I was rummaging amongst the Blogjob files, why not reclaim a non-book post? 

[This story may need some explanation…While living together my family did pick up our “creative clutter” at the end of the day, but we grumbled about it. Early in my teens, I wrote a series of comedy stories about a larger, messier family who never picked things up and thus achieved surreal, preposterous clutter. This was the first one. It was typed, illustrated with cartoons by the author, and assembled as a picture book. Some young relatives of mine liked it.]

Once upon a time, on Cloverleaf Hill, there lived some people called Slovenly.

Mr Slovenly liked to make tapes.

Mrs Slovenly liked to cook, and sew, and paint pictures.

Peter Slovenly liked to play music.

Messalina Slovenly liked to read magazines and catalogues.

Sandra Slovenly liked to play with dolls.

Charlie Slovenly liked to whittle and make modern art out of wood shavings and Band-Aids.

Grandmother Slovenly liked to knit.


Most of the time Grandmother Slovenly stayed in her room. You can see why.

If you ever go to visit the Slovenlys, do not sit still.

Once a man went to visit the Slovenlys without knowing that he should never sit still in their house. He sat down and began telling Mr Slovenly about some encyclopedias.

You have a nice voice, young man,” said Mr Slovenly. “Let me get that voice on tape!”

The man felt pleased with himself. “As I was saying,” he said, “everyone ought to have an encyclopedia….” and he began telling Mr Slovenly all the advantages of having an encyclopedia.

I think we have one somewhere,” said Mr Slovenly, “but we don’t have one on tape yet. I see you brought yours along. Why don’t you just read me a bit from the encyclopedia?”

The Slovenlys were always buying replacements for things after forgetting who had used something last or where he had put it.

The young man wanted very much to sell Mr Slovenly an encyclopedia, so he opened the volume he was carrying and began, “A, the letter, from the ancient Phoenician, alef, an ox…”

Hold on,” said Mr Slovenly. “A voice like that deserves some Background Music. Where did I put that tape? Let me see, let me see,” and he rummaged around amongst various shelves and cases of tapes. The children began to wander through the room, looking at their visitor and leaving trails of their favorite activities behind them. Mr Slovenly found the tape he wanted and slotted it into Side A of his tape recorder.

The encyclopedia man began reading again, with soft, slow music playing in the background. “Thought to represent an ox’s head…”

Oh, hello,” said Mrs Slovenly to her husband, “since you’ve got him set up to record, dear, why don’t you peel some potatoes? You can let him hold the bowl.” She set a large bowl of potatoes on the encyclopedia man’s knee, behind his encyclopedia. “That way I can listen to you, and catch the afternoon light on the willow tree over on Railroad Hill.”

Hebrew aleph, a bull,” the encyclopedia man droned on, while Mr Slovenly peeled potatoes into the bowl on his knee. Mrs Slovenly set up her paints.

Sandra Slovenly pulled off the encyclopedia man’s boots and emptied Peter’s guitar picks into them. She wanted the box Peter kept his guitar picks in for a dolls’ wardrobe.

Who’s got my guitar picks?” called Peter Slovenly. He began wandering about, and wandered into the room where his father was recording. “I want to record along with the next song on that tape,” he told his father. After rummaging about in his room, he came downstairs with his violin and began playing along with the tape. He stood behind the encyclopedia man, propping his sheet music on the man’s shoulder.

Sandra Slovenly decided Peter’s guitar picks would be safer if she tipped them back out of the man’s boots and poured in a layer of styrofoam pellets from one of the packages Messalina had ordered from one of her mail-order catalogues, for insulation. Along with the pellets she tipped out a pair of shoes, which she left on the floor while she nestled the guitar picks securely in more layers of pellets.

Who’s got my shoes?” called Messalina Slovenly. She came in and retrieved her new shoes before Sandra could think of anything to do with them. “Hush, don’t whine, Daddy’s recording everything,” she told Sandra. “You can have my old shoes instead.” She changed shoes and sat down to listen to the encyclopedia man while she browsed through the new catalogue that had come with the new shoes.

Mrs Slovenly finished painting, picked up a sweater Peter had thrown over a chair, and began darning the sleeve. Charlie began whittling a stick, aiming the shavings into the encyclopedia man’s hat. Mr Slovenly popped in a new tape. Messalina put the potatoes on the stove. Peter got tired of playing the violin and left it on the chair beside the encyclopedia man while he went upstairs for his guitar.

Messalina shoved the violin under the encyclopedia and laid her schoolwork across the encyclopedia man’s knees. He was now reading about aardvarks. Peter played the guitar while, one by one, the others brought in bowls of potato soup and ate them. Then, one by one, they put their empty bowls in the sink, brought in plates of tuna salad, and ate those. Mr Slovenly popped in another tape. His children wandered about carrying various personal belongings and crumbly ginger cookies.

The UPS man came to the door to deliver some yarn Grandma had ordered from one of Messalina’s catalogues. Messalina signed for it, and rushed up to Grandma’s room, leaving the package on the floor and shouting, “Grandma, Grandma, your yarn’s here.”

Grandma Slovenly shuffled downstairs. The encyclopedia man did not realize what an appearance by Grandma Slovenly portended. He was now very warm, bundled up amongst the sweaters, schoolbags, papers, magazines, and other Slovenly clutter that had begun to pile around him, and he felt rather sleepy.

While a tape was still winding along in the tape recorder, the clock struck seven. All the Slovenlys got up, leaving their paraphernalia behind, and went out. The encyclopedia man thought that even a family as eccentric as they would come back in a few minutes, so he obligingly went on reading about the town of Aberdovey.

Little did he know that the Slovenlys were going out of town for the weekend. When the tape reached its end the encyclopedia man thought that, as long as nobody was paying any attention to him, he might as well get a drink of water. Ignoring a crash behind him he picked his way through the Slovenly clutter to the kitchen, where all the dirty dishes were still stacked in the sink. Whole, raw potatoes were strewn over the counter but there were no clean glasses in the cupboard.

The encyclopedia man held a half-cup measure to the faucet, but no water came out. He tried the bathroom, but no water came out there either. The Slovenlys had turned off the water and electricity and drained the water lines before they left, to make sure their clutter was not destroyed by flood or fire while they were gone. The encyclopedia man found nothing to drink but a bottle of cough syrup. After drinking it he felt inclined to lie down in the bathtub and rest.

What had crashed behind him had been the usual avalanche produced when anyone moved quickly in the Slovenly residence. A tumbling box of holiday decorations had started a cascade of quilts from the antique china cupboard, giving it an excuse to fall forward, as it often did. That was why quilts and afghans were stored there in front of the china. The china cupboard had tipped a bookshelf part way over. Between them the two pieces of furniture blocked the encyclopedia man’s way out of the house. As he picked his way through the house the next morning the encyclopedia man saw no other way out.

He might, of course, have pushed things aside and gone to a door or window…but you already know that the Slovenlys themselves intimidated the encyclopedia man, so you can imagine the effect of their Slovenly clutter, including the three encyclopedias they had bought in the past five years. He was afraid of breaking something, possibly a leg.

He might have found food and water if it had occurred to him to look for the Slovenlys’ refrigerator, which was kept in the basement to save expenses…but since this young man sat down in the Slovenlys’ house, you already knew he was not intelligent. Really it was a wonder the encyclopedia man survived.

Luckily for him the Slovenlys had only gone away for three days, so, although he was not able to get out of the house, he was able to eat raw potatoes and drink cough syrup until the Slovenlys came back. As soon as he heard the key in the lock, the encyclopedia man ran to the hallway. As the Slovenlys came in, pushing things aside and throwing their coats, boots, hats, and suitcases in the hallway, the encyclopedia man dodged past them and ran away.

Who was that?” said Mr Slovenly absentmindedly.

I thought he was a friend of yours,” said Mrs Slovenly.

Look,” said Peter Slovenly, “he’s drunk all the cough syrup.”

And stepped on my doll bed,” said Sandra, picking up a rather bent cardboard doll bed from the middle of the hallway floor.

And tangled up my yarn,” said Grandma, snatching a half-wound hank of wool off the sitting-room floor before any more of Charlie’s shavings mixed in with it.

He’s no friend of mine,” said Mr Slovenly. “He must be one of Peter’s friends.”

Who, me?” said Peter indignantly.

Please don’t invite him again,” said Mrs Slovenly.

No fear!” said Peter.

So, if you ever go to visit the Slovenlys, you have been warned, and I will not be blamed if you ignore this warning and sit down.

Blogjob tags: fiction, hoarders