Displaying articles for: December 2011

Proof Reads


"In the evening, the 14th floor, featuring the Poetry Garden, Writer's Den, and magnificent granite bar, transforms into Bookmarks Lounge. Bookmarks serves such signature cocktails as the Great Gatsby and the Capote."


-- From the website of The Library Hotel


And may we also recommend:


A Sidecar Named Desire: Cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice, shaken well over cracked ice. Served by a kind stranger.


The Gripes of Wrath: A dusty glass of 1933 vintage California Zinfandel with a shot of bitters. To-go orders only.


The Turn of the Screwdriver: The appearance of a drink but is it? One part clear spirits and two parts juice of orange. Be sure to turn the glass 180 degrees clockwise before imbibing.


Catcher in the Rye and Ginger: If you really want to hear about it. Served with a splash of sour mix in a repurposed ashtray and garnished with maraschino cherries suitable for lobbing at phony adults.


The Tequila Sun Also Rises: A double-barreled shot of Tequila and orange juice, no adverbs. Served in a clean, well-lighted corner of the bar.


Martini Chuzzlewit: Mix, stir, and serve, in a 5 to 1 ratio gin and dry vermouth in a cocktail glass with a twist of Meyser lemon. Sit alone at the bar and drink while hoarding all the peanuts. Go on, you pig.


The Imperfect Storm: Vodka, rum, and tequila, shaken violently. Served in a schooner rimmed with salt and garnished with strands of seaweed.


Three Cups of Tea for Me: You're in the wrong place -- but okay, we'll accommodate. A shot of sherry in a strong cup of English breakfast tea. Served in a crock.




And in addition to our regular menu entrees, we offer these daily specials:


Tuesdays with Morrie: Smoked Salmon Rushdie on a stale bagel sprinkled with rue and served by a cranky old man who excoriates you for wasting your time in a joint like this when you could be busy finding meaning to your worthless life.


Lake Wobegone Wednesdays: Cheeseburger, apple pie, and a milkshake. An All-American meal served only to above-average customers.


The Dish That Is Thursday: Is it lamb or beef? Couscous or polenta? Is the waiter a waiter or is he just waiting? And are you a diner or a food inspector? Nothing is as it seems in this deliciously suspenseful mystery meal.


Friday Night Lights: Baby quarterback ribs, barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn bread. Available only on flatbed tailgates in the parking lot.


Me Talk Pretty One Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: A Channel-spanning platter of poisson et chips, or a mixed grill of boeuf avec bangers and mash, or Shepherd's tarte with a dessert of trifle flambé.


Brooke Sunny is Sheila Bilak, Ruth Bonapace, Patrick Dunn, Suzanna Filip, Eric Lehman, Janice Maffei, Ricki Miller, Robert Morris, Holly Preston, Patrick Redmond, John Rosenblatt, Dan Sarluca, and Daniel Menaker.  


Bad Narrative II: Books to Shun in 2012


Having reported on the worst novels of 2011, I feel it's my duty, based on advance galley proofs, to warn readers about which  novels to avoid next year.  Of course, these are just my opinions, but, then, it was just Alexander Fleming's opinion that Penicillium notatum might secrete a substance that could kill bad bacteria.                                                          

A Pillow for Sam, by T. F. Juniper


When young hot-shot journalist Samantha Collins is diagnosed with pink eye at the age of 27, she spirals into a state of depression and fear. How can she recover? Will she recover? How will her friends react? Can she have children? These questions are asked, but the reader is never given any reason to care about the answers. Oddly, Juniper tries to weave in bits of humor in this novel. As someone who has suffered through conjunctivitis, I can assure you it's no laughing matter.  This novel takes liberties with the science, and the "humor" is greatly misplaced (to the retina) and offensive.


Murder of Trust: A Jack Jordan Mystery, by Louis P. Gladstone


Every great detective needs a gimmick, and Jack Jordan’s well-known trait is that he really likes soup. That’s it. That’s the extent of his supposedly unique personality. The idiosyncrasy is obviously shoehorned into sentences such as, "I’ll get to the bottom of this, like a lentil sinks to the bottom of a bowl of soup."  Well, for one thing, by no means all lentils sink to the bottom of their soups, and for another it doesn’t help that Det. Jordan’s sidekick, Caribbean Pete, is only there to offer his catchphrase, "Uh-huh."


Dragon Tomb, by Arthur G. Guth


While Guth’s fantasy story has an intriguing plot, too much of the book is spent explaining where the various towns are located. A map would have been helpful. Instead, the reader must endure page after page of explanatory itineraries,  such as the following: "The hero traveled West, past some other towns. One of the towns was oval-shaped. And then he turned a little bit, and went kind of to the South. There’s a mountain there. Did I mention that? So then he keeps going, and there’s a valley that’s not that big. I mean, it’s not small, but it's OK. He doesn’t spend too much time there. There’s also an ocean, but don’t worry about it. Then there’s this path, kind of. And a hut. But the hut is on the right. It’s far."


The Long, Tepid Summer of Our Forsaken Love, by Lachryma Jones


A debut novel that shows it. Why on earth would Dori Mastroianni, the beautiful CEO of a large soft-drink corporation, fall in love with Nikolai, the fruit-stand vendor on the corner of the street where she lives?  Especially when he turns out not to be the head of a top-secret intelligence gathering agency trying to gather-- well, intelligence, about new methods of soda carbonation that can be used to make America's enemies explode one at a time? I said, not to be. He turns out to be a fruit-stand vendor who handles melons with particular grace. Maybe that's it. In any case, when Dori's board of directors get wind of their affair, they ask her to-- You know what? I'm not going to tell you what happens, because I don't know. I stopped reading when the language barrier prevented Nikolai from comprehending Dori's sexual demands and he just stood there.


The Treasure of Spider Island, by Richard Hawkes


This is nothing more than Finnegans Wake, but with pirates.


Like Immanuel Kant, whom he admires in some ways but not in others, Dan Bergstein takes a "constitutional" every evening.


Bad Narrative: The Five Worst Novels of 2011


Perhaps it’s petty to list the worst novels of the year, but I assure readers that this list has nothing to do with my inability to sell my novel, “A Prayer for Jonas” to a publisher.  (It’s "Indiana Jones" meets "The Help" meets the videogame Tetris. Looking for an agent or someone with a printer and plenty of ink cartridges.)


Here are the worst works of fiction of 2011:


Deathline, by Hank Knight


Horror novelist Hank Knight’s book is about a horror novelist, Jeremy Solad, who is writing a horror novel about a horror novelist named Gertrude Willow, who is suffering from writer’s block. The odd part is that while Knight’s novel is drivel, Gertrude’s book-within-a-book-within-a-book went on to win the Sacramento Publishing Award and is being turned into a Lifetime Original movie, much to Knight’s chagrin. Knight has said in several interviews, “Guys, you don’t get it! You’re totally missing the point. Come on!”


Love Isn’t Fare, by Gladys Jones


Chick Lit strikes again. The twist is that the protagonist, Alicia Flyrt, meets the man of her dreams when the two strangers share a taxi, but Alicia doesn’t catch his name. To find him, she takes a job as a cab driver in hopes that her Prince Charming will one day hail her. It’s a cute story, as Alicia deals with a wide variety of eccentric cab passengers on her quest for love. The troubling part comes with the unnecessary, though brutally honest, Euro-crisis subplot.


Tree Imperfect, by Eugene Prendergast


While most alternative-history novels prefer to ask, “What would happen if the Nazis won WWII?” Prendergast is more interested in asking the question, “What would happen if the US Wilderness Act of 1964 was never passed?” The answer, according to book’s author, is the formation of a lawless continent rife with sinister sex, rampant crime, and a race of cybernetic bears called H’liucks. While the concept is original, Prendergast’s prose becomes far too preachy toward the end when he finishes each horrific description of a violence and tragedy with, “See!? How messed up is that?!”


Vamp7re, by V. V. Eels


The world doesn’t need another vampire novel, but Eels attempts (and completely fails) to make something new by introducing a series of original rules for her creations. As explained on the fourth page, “Vamp7res can only feed on women during the three-quarter moon. Vamp7res are fast but cannot tie knots. They glow in the dark when they lie. They can’t tell time and hate the smell of boats. A Vamp7re cannot bite you if it’s almost your birthday. Vamp7res can only be killed with wheels or hoofs. They can go out in the sun, but if they say verbs in direct sunlight, they will die … as will their best friend. Vamp7res are good at kissing and can turn anything into a ladder. If a vamp7re touches milk, the milk will turn to glass. And they have great difficulty spelling the word ‘bureaucracy.’” When the author was asked why she spelled vampires with a 7, she answered, “Because of a love. Also, Vamp7res can communicate with clouds and tusked animals. And they can see the future of most water fowl.”


Storm Ranger: The Becky Rothschild Chronicles Book 18, by Tracy Sinclair


Eighteen books into the popular YA series and author Tracy Sinclair has run out of ideas. In this volume of supernatural babysitter Becky Rothchild’s adventure, the main character must fight an evil envelope, and she spends eight chapters describing how she would have changed the final season of "Frasier." As usual, Becky is helped along by a cast of new friends including Mr. Man (a man who "wears jackets") and a new love interest named Sex Joe. The reader gets conclusive proof that Sinclair’s heart isn’t in her writing during the final chapter, in which Becky defeats the evil envelope by using her heretofore unmentioned magical yam, which "does stuff that you can't even imagine."


Dan Bergstein writes a lot of funny humor writing.


A (Sour) Note on the Type


Death Punch: A Ted Iconoclast Adventure has been set in Pretenzi Refurbished, a typeface based on painstaking historical reconstructions of the original Pretenzi Moderne type used in the only three issues published of the London-based avant-garde magazine STAB! (April-June, 1924), which folded because it was unwisely launched in London, Missouri, where the proposed twelve-part series "A Denunciation of the Anti-Symbolists" was met with polite befuddlement.


Although to the untrained eye Pretenzi Refurbished bears a superficial resemblance to Sabon, the two typefaces could not be more different. While Sabon tediously employs the same width in both its italic and Roman forms, Pretenzi Refurbished wittily makes the italic and Roman letters the same width, but does so as an ironic protest against the insatiable demand for variety enshrined by our consumption-maddened culture


Also, the dot on the "i" in Pretenzi Refurbished is a mathematically precise hexagon (get a good magnifying glass). This is my own innovation, as Pretenzi Moderne sort of doesn't have the courage of its own convictions in the i-dotting department. If square-dotted "i"s are the sort of thing that makes you comfortable, though, feel absolutely free to go find yourself a book typeset in Sabon. Something full of simple declarative sentences and a lack of interest in rocking the boat.


Pretenzi Refurbished is emphatically NOT a "pathetically obvious copy" of Underbyte, as alleged by a recent and cowardly -- cowardly! -- anonymous letter you might have seen in November's Type Hype. (Personal to Jerry G.:   You made the same lame pun on "Arial" in your "Kerning Korner" column. EVERYONE TOTALLY KNOWS IT'S YOU.) Underbyte is the philosophical opposite of Pretenzi Refurbished. Pretenzi effaces itself, its graceful forms effortlessly gesturing in the direction of meaning. Underbyte is a seizure-inducing strobe of self-advertisement. Pretenzi is a brisk morning stroll through the park. Underbyte is a hungover walk of shame back from your co-worker's condo in the asbestos district.


Finally, if you are reading this on one of those electronic devices that encourages you to mess with the size of the type or pick your own font: don't even think about it. Let me just say that "painstaking" is no exaggeration. My hands are cramped, and I can feel a cluster headache coming on. Typesetting this book was an agonizing labor of meticulous love carried out in the face of braying opposition from a lot of people at the publisher's offices who you might think had better things to do with their time. It's a perfect marriage between an allegedly page-turning, high-stakes adventure that takes you from the peak of K2 to the depths of a Uruguayan lithium mine and beyond (so I gather, from the flap copy -- too busy with the typeface to finish the manuscript) and an elegant, austere work of typographical artistry.


If you do find that the type makes the words just a little hard to decipher, get yourself a pair of reading glasses. Or, better yet, download a book set in Simpleton Old Style. Between us, I hear that Death Punch isn't very good, anyway.


Bill Tipper is the Managing Editor of The Barnes & Noble Review.


Illustration by Thea Brine.



While so many news outlets and unmarried aunts will list their favorite fiction books of year, few have the courage to rank the very worst nonfiction titles. Lucky for you, courage is my middle name (in Sanskrit). Here are the least best nonfiction books of 2011:


Your Dog Has Fleas: A Veterinarian's Story by Dr. Michael Romano, available at most garage sales.


The rise and fall of Michael Romano in the cutthroat world of veterinarian science reads like an Academy Award Winning script, but this reader felt too much of the struggle was exaggerated. Do rookie vets really compete in underground "dog fixing" battles? Is there really such a thing as a swingers club called the Kitty Kats for high-rolling veterinarians? And do vets have that many dog-catchers and ASPCA officials in their back pockets? According to this book, "Duh!" The book comes with a CD of the author's son's band playing "Sympathy for the Devil" to accompany the brazen words.


Internet Directory (2011 Edition) by Judith Mitzmiller, available at Judith's craft table at the Richmond Craft Bazaar.


Once again Mitzmiller challenges the hotshots at Google and attempts to catalog the entirety of cyberspace in one single paperback volume. Sadly, as in years previous, she comes up short. While her section on "Peony Websites" is as comprehensive as you'll ever need, the quarter page section on "Russia Things" is more than a little lacking. Those interested in finding websites about "Petroleum Engineering" or "Lady Gaga" should look elsewhere. And Judith comes dangerously close to editorializing when she lumps all adult-themed websites in the "No!" section, often underlining the most intense and writing "Eww!!!" next to the entry. That said, perhaps we must commend her for finally including "Jewish Sites," though the obvious font change to something she calls Times Romanowitz seems a little questionable.


Johnny Carson: An Unauthorized, Unofficial, and Uncertain Biography by Sara Wallbert, available at the lost and found at many airports.


The timid Ms. Wallbert spent twenty years researching the life of the talk show legend for this book, but the author seems afraid of possible legal action. To her credit, the book is factually sound, but each sentence takes care not to be too sure of itself: "Carson first met Ed McMahon in Palm Springs, probably." "Carson kept to himself during these years, maybe." "He was, in all likelihood, about to more or less change the late night TV landscape."


Is It a Raisin? by Mark V. Ringer, with a Foreword by Julia Roberts, available in the garden section of most stores due to a computer error.


This book is part photo essay, part game in which the reader is shown a photograph of a raisin-like object and asked to guess if the object is, indeed, a raisin. The concept is novel, but with more than 90% of the book's 16 photographs obviously displaying small pebbles or rabbit feces, the challenge is too-easily won. Please note: the Foreword is written by a Julia Roberts, not the Julia Roberts, which explains all the mentions of "Mistic Pizza" [sic], a movie the writer did not appear in, and seems not to have even seen. She does, however, have quite a lot to say about the possibility of raisins on other planets.  


Famous Ducks by Cheryl Altman, Richard Stanwick, Steven Tobias, et al. Available at a few Dollar Stores or in covert verbal transactions with Tobias himself.


This book starts strong -- Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Scrooge McDuck, the Aflac duck -- but it loses steam around the fourth page, when it begins offering vague entries such as "That duck from Charlotte's Web" and "Duck Dodgers," who we all know is just Daffy in a new costume. The book's definition of "famous" is further called into question when the authors start listing such third-tier waterfowl as Donald's on-again off-again girlfriend Daisy, who was never all that famous. Finally, the book's definition of "duck" breaks down completely as one of the final pages lists "the Vlasic Pickle mascot." Hey -- Storks aren't ducks, et al.


Hollers and Cents: Understanding The 'Conomy by R. J. Lick, buried under the magazines in your orthodontist's waiting room.


The foul-mouthed R. J. Lick uses his unique voice to help simplify the economic crisis with such insights as, "Airlines? Don't even get me started." On the plus side: This book rhymes, mostly.


The Rothman Plan: Six Months to the Perfect Stomach and an Unoccupied Afghanistan by Dr. Phillip Rothman, available only early in the afternoon on Tuesdays.


Rothman's attempt to combine weight loss and foreign policy is noble but unsuccessful. Too much of the book is spent reminding the reader that the Rothman Plan isn't crazy if we all just give it a chance. The real meat of the book is far too idealistic, with no real-world practicality. Sure, eating only raw food and running eight miles a day should lead to weight loss, and Iranian leaders could indeed "honestly examine their own childhood anxieties," but the chances of either happening are, let's face it, slim. The pocket map/calorie calendar is handy, however.


Crisis of Shadows: Debunking the Missile of Truth by Siobhan Milton, available wherever sales associates are unapproachably smug.


This book has no real focus and exists only to stir up trouble and get its author on TV. Here's chapter four, in its entirety: "According to science, gay marriage leads to forest fires and low birth weights. Tom Hanks isn't a good actor. All dentists are pedophiles, statistically. There's nothing wrong with teaching children how to smoke. Jesus was just OK. We must tax dyslexia."  


 Dan Bergstein is available for weddings and other festive occasions.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.