Leap Year: A Love Story


Dear February 29th,

Boy, I miss you so much! Where have you been? Having a blast, I'm sure! Smiley face!  

This month felt really short without you by my side. Why don't you return my calls? I hope you're not confusing me with some other hot "date." Ha-ha. I hope you're not pretending to be September 31st again. Wasn't that so funny? That was so funny. We laughed so hard!

Those were the days, and now these are the days.
February 28th 

Dear February 29th,


Are you getting this letter? Is my mail caught up on some federal holiday? It must be. 


God, being in a long-distance relationship is the pits. Sometimes I look across to January 28th and 29th and think, wow, you guys have got it so easy. I broke all of my resolutions this year just to spite those ungrateful lovebirds. They don't understand our love, how it lasts for really long intervals of time.   


March 1st heard a rumor that you went to New Year's Eve's big party this year and danced with the hostess herself. But I told him that was impossible. You were observing the Jewish calendar this year, celebrating New Year's in September.

Shalom, baby!       

February 28th
Dear Febby 29th,

Nothing is new here. Everyone says hello. Last night I played cards with Valentine's and Groundhog and March 1st. We were going to invite President's but everyone always forgets that guy. Groundhog says HEY! He says you better be careful, leaving your girlfriend all alone with these choice once-a-year occasions. Ha-ha! 

Oh my god, I just called me your girlfriend! I think we're really moving to the next level.   

I know that you need your space, but I would share a diagonal calendar square with you if it meant you could stay forever.
Winter Love,
Dear February 29th,
Sometimes you fit into my schedule, sometimes you don't. But that doesn't mean our commitment was a one-month stand. I know what you did last winter, and I'm contacting the Ides for advice. And don't ask me if it's "that time of the month." It's always that time of the month -- the time that it happens to be. What is that anyway? Philosophy?
Seasons Greetings,
February 28th
Dear February 29th,
Today, March 1st and I spent the night together. We were hanging out and it was getting late and then we just suddenly meshed around midnight. I'll spare you the details -- no "in like a lion" jokes. After all, he's been close to me all along, literally a second away 75% of the time.


Anyway, I thought you should hear it from me. March 1st and I know you'll need a place to crash in four years. You can come between our shared vertical from time to time, but never between our hearts.  
Your Ex-Girlfriend,
February 28th


Hilary Leichter teaches in the undergraduate creative writing program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Butterscotch Dust


What follows this Introduction is not a traditional cookbook. There are no recipes, the measurements are imaginary, and the photographs, as you will soon discover, are gruesome images entirely unrelated to food. But ever since my first combination bakery/exotic zoo opened in an abandoned spaceship in 1996, I've been asked by literally tens of diners to put together a guide they could use at home to re-create some of my most edible culinary creations. This is the first of eight incorrectly-numbered volumes.


I never intended to write a cookbook. I'm functionally illiterate, and allergic to the gluten that makes up a deliciously crusty yet still chewy sheet of paper. But ever since I was weaned from my mother's milk at age eleven, food has been a tremendous part of my life. My great-grandmother was eaten by Prussian nobles. My uncle laid his own eggs. Mealtime in my house growing up, there was a series of culinary debates: jelly versus jam, micro greens versus macro greens, whether to remove my sister from the pickling liquid. We foraged for berries in the local parks. We dug for truffles under the railroad tracks. We slaughtered animals in the pet store at the local mall. It was perfection.


I first learned to cook as an indentured servant peeling string cheese at a labor camp for convicted money launderers. I discovered the joys of finding an earthworm in your applesauce, or a bloody sock in the cavity of a Cornish hen, trussed with the hastily-removed vocal cords of a retired opera singer and stuffed with a mixture of moisturizer and marbles. I went to culinary school on a barge off the coast of the Czech Republic, harpooning underwater Al Qaeda operatives and turning them into both sweet and savory miniature cupcakes. These experiences led me to my first restaurant, Gristle, where I served nine-course breakfasts at midnight and spent the rest of the day ghostwriting college application essays for the Somali pirates who hand-pounded our pots and pans from sheets of only the finest radioactive scrap metal.


You need no special equipment to cook the food in this volume, just a centrifuge, a Bowflex exercise machine, and a food-grade elasticized polyester hairnet. Much has changed since I began in the industry. Now most local supermarkets sell many of the ingredients that used to require mules to smuggle them across national borders.  From whole-grain milk to butterscotch dust, the entire culinary world is at your fingertips for as long as they haven't been sliced by a knife-wielding robot sous chef. I'll show you how to preserve your own artisanal body hair and inject flavor directly into your veins, with barely a scar left behind.


From pink peppercorn sausage marmalade to tree stock, and a petrified duck who will scare the filling right out of your peanut butter ravioli, this book will offer a step-by-step guide to creating meals that only the instructions in future volumes will enable your guests to forget. You, too, can caramelize your most valuable possessions, in the comfort of your home kitchen. Enjoy, and happy emulsificationing.


P.S. Many thanks to my book agent, whom I would never have met if not for the introduction from my leavening agent.


Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.


Burn Notice


Dear BBA Members,

I write to you with great concern. Like much of the print-book world, our existence is being threatened by the rise of e-books. And while the media covers this issue as it affects publishers, booksellers and authors, they ignore the plight of people like us, the loyal and devoted Book Burners of America. As we approach our Annual Bonfire Gala, proudly celebrating the 80th anniversary of when Brave New World was first set aflame, we offer a guide with answers to your most frequently asked questions about how e-books will affect our mission.

1. What are e-books?

E-books (short for "evil-books") are electronic versions of books that can be viewed on computers, many cellular telephones, and a variety of stand-alone devices, none of which are nearly as flammable as mass-market paperback editions of Lolita.

2. Why are e-books so dangerous?

E-books are dangerous because they cannot be destroyed by conventional means, like a campfire or a warehouse explosion. If print books that we find offensive are like Green Eggs and Ham, easily flushed down a garbage disposal, think of e-books as the mutant, flesh-eating creatures I can only assume populate something that would be called an Animal Farm, complete with adjustable font size and a built-in dictionary.

3. I usually use a thick black marker to cross out the objectionable words in books I read, so that I can safely enjoy great works like Cabin, The Verses, and Moby. Can I do that with an e-book?

No. While ink will indeed black out parts of your screen, skilled amoral e-book users will be able to scroll up and down to see the hidden text. The only way to truly ensure that dangerous material cannot be seen is to black out the entire screen. This, of course, has the side effect of making it impossible to read anything -- a long-term goal of ours, but one which, for now, remains unrealistic.

4. Can't we simply print out copies of our e-books and burn those printouts? There's nothing I would like more than to toss a few copies of Ulysses into the fire -- I expected a presidential biography about a serial adulterer, not smut.

We can, but because e-books exist in computer files, burning one printed copy of an e-book does nothing to change the overall supply of that book--which is, sadly, inexhaustible.

5. I wrote an offensive book about Mark Twain fornicating with a unicorn, and the only copy of that book exists on my flash drive. So can't I destroy my own book by burning my flash drive?

Yes. If no copy of that file exists on any other device, you can indeed destroy your own book by burning your flash drive. However, if you are in the habit of writing about fictional creatures having relations with animals, it may be more effective for us to burn you than your flash drive. Our new Exploratory Committee for Author Incineration may be in touch.

6. I accidentally bought an offensive e-book -- I didn't realize what George would be so Curious about -- and would like to symbolically burn it. May I print the receipt from my purchase and toss that into the fire?
We're sorry -- you "accidentally" bought an offensive e-book? This unfortunately triggers an automatic forfeiting of your membership in the BBA. We'll have someone else bring the potato salad to the after-fire barbecue.

7. I can bring potato salad, but I don't have a recipe. Are we allowed to read cookbooks, or are they on the list of objectionable works?


It depends. We've been burning the ones with recipes for deviled eggs, chicken breasts, and grapes (of wrath or otherwise), but aside from that, you should be fine.


Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.


With Child With Child


Russian Nesting Doll: So, doctor? Am I...am I, you know?

Doctor: (looks upset) Yes. Yes, you're pregnant.

Doll:  Oh, that's just wonderful! That's just the most wonderful news. What’s wrong?

Doctor: (glances at his chart) Well, there's more. Would you like to have a seat? 


Doll: I can't. I can't sit down.


Doctor: Oh, right. Well, I want you to brace yourself.


Doll: Oh God.


Doctor: I don't quite know how to say this.


Doll: Oh God.


Doctor: So I'll just say it. Your baby is pregnant, too.


Doll: Excuse me?


Doctor: It's mind-boggling.

Doll: Doctor, what are you saying? I’ve heard of teen pregnancy, but...

Doctor: There's more. Dear Lord, there's more.

Doll: Oh goodness.

Doctor: Your baby's baby is...well, pregnant, too.

Doll: If it could, my jaw would drop.


Doctor: It's truly mind-boggling!


Doll: <Russian expletive>!


Doctor: Exactly. Before we can know anything for certain, we must unscrew your waist and empty everyone out until you are completely hollow.

Doll: (small voice) Will there be pain?


Doctor: Of course.


Doll: Will there be side effects?


Doctor: (nodding) Absolutely.


Doll: Will there be drugs?


Doctor: There is always vodka.


Doll: My husband is in the waiting room. He needs to know about his child, and his child’s child, and his child’s child's...


Doctor: Yes, I think he should come sit down and talk with us about the situation.


Doll: But he can't...


Doctor: (opens door to waiting room, takes a good look at husband) Oh no!


Doll: Sit down.


Doctor: Okay. I'll sit down for the both of us (collapses on exam table). 


Doll: And my three sisters are parked outside with their kids, waiting for the good news.  


Doctor: Good God -- it must be a clown car!


Doll: Actually, it's a hybrid. They're all very compact. My mother fits in the trunk. Should we write that down?


Doctor: I think you need to consult a specialist.  


Hilary Leichter teaches in the undergraduate creative writing program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Blurb Rules

A guide to the art and artifice of writing blurbs for books.


1.  Use "I should have known" at the start of any quote you decide to give.  As in "I should have known Meghan Askew would write the best vampire-leprechaun novel of the decade." Or "I should have known that I should have known that 'Maura's Tears' would sweep me away into a maelstrom of [whatever]."


2. To keep yourself somewhat closer to being honest, use "of the decade" only for books published in years ending in 1. Or 2, at a stretch.


3.  Use "thrilling," even if the book is about nucleopeptides that mimic topoisomerase. "Thrillingly" is OK, too.


4. Ditto "prodigious" except for books about child prodigies.


5.  Come up with a clever variation of "I couldn't put it down." Some ideas: "I should have known that you wouldn't be able to put it down, and neither would your aunt." "It's so thrilling, you'll be afraid to pick it up. And when you do, you won't be able to put it down." "Go ahead--try it! Go ahead. I dare you. Try to put it down. Oh, you're sure you can? You are? Well, let's see it, then. What's stopping you? Go ahead. There's the table, and there's nothing else on it--plenty of room. No one's looking. You're alone. So go ahead, by all means. See? I thought so!"


6.  Make grand comparisons.  Here is a menu of just some of the many books that may be used for grand comparisons: "War and Peace," "The Joy of Cooking," Deuteronomy, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Tropic of Cancer,"  "Gilgamesh," "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," "Peyton Place," any book by Sinclair Lewis or John Irving, "Catch-22," "A Brief History of Time," "Go the F___ To Sleep." 


7.  Always describe the process of becoming absorbed by the book. Some examples: "Fred James is one of the few writers who keep trying to set sail upon thrilling narrative waters alone, only to find readers swimming alongside and clambering to get on board."  "If the prodigious James Fredericks were a literary-journalistic shark, anyone who has started 'The Agony and Ecstasy of Isometrics' would instantly become his pilot fish."


8. "Not since" is always good. 


9.  If you didn't have time to read the book, open it completely at random, read whatever sentence your eye falls on--I just found "The man walked sideways, toward the corner of 7th and A"--transcribe it, and then say "Now, that's what I call writin'!"


10. For funny books, always say, "with an undercurrent of plangent melancholy."


11. For sad books, always say, "with a prodigious comic undertone that in some measure redeems the melancholy."


12. "Redeem" and "redemption" are always good. "Redemptive" is the best. 


13.  Assuming you are a writer, be bitter, as in "I might just as well string myself up--'Damien's Curse' is that good." Or "I threw my computer into the furnace after I read 'Some Statistical Variations in the Populations of Small Towns in Central Nebraska.' " 


14. "Howlingly funny" is always good.


15. "Kafkaesque" is so good that the American Association of Publishers is considering making it mandatory for blurbs for all books--including cookbooks and the Bible. 


See also:  Flap Rules.


Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.


The Slow and Mindful Reader

"[The Slow Movement] ... emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life."--The New York Times

Don’t rush into it, but we hope you’ll join us at The Snail's Page, the literary program at the carefully-paced vanguard of the Slow Reading Movement. We believe that as with every other activity these days, reading has become rushed and frantic--wedged into the five minutes of the subway from 96th Street to 72nd, or in ten-minute audiobook snatches on the morning commute to downtown Austin or in the short time your grouchy husband or wife allows you to leave the light on in bed at night.


We believe the time has come to slow down the very act of reading, to stop tearing through books as if they were time bombs or a Milky Way.  As a guide to the practice of Slow Reading, we offer the following suggestions about how to read the first sentence of Charles Dickens'  A Tale of Two Cities:


"It"--OK, this is a good place to pause. Close the book and look at it, pick it up and inhale the odor of your basement room in the freshman dorm where you first read it. Remember the lovely visit from Tawnee, the yogic freshman cheerleader. Oh, Tawnee! Take some deep, calming breaths, and consider the incredible utility of pronouns. Do we thank "it" and "he" and "which" and so on? Not nearly often enough. Thank them all now. See? We just used "them." And then "We." Thank all pronouns. Appreciate the brevity of  "it" and sympathize with this word for all the antecedental burdens that it must bear--including, in this sentence, itself.  Try saying something  of any length without using it, or other pronouns. It's very difficult.  Just try it. We can wait. You just go ahead and give it a whirl.  Then wonder who first used the word. Imagine some Angle or Saxon in the Midlands of England in the Sixth Century yelling at his  son, who is trying to set the thatched roof of his hovel afire, "Cut it out!"  Where did that come from, he wonders, and you wonder too.... Where did "it" come from?  


For that matter, how can it be that words in any language actually work to represent things and actions and ideas? How did that sentence about the Angle delinquent manage to conjure in your  brain a picture of a snotty-nosed Angle eight-year-old with filthy hair and a demonic grin already featuring a few rotten teeth, dressed in burlap or whatever they wore back then, in the mud just over a sty reaching up toward the low-hanging thatch roof with a torch made of a small sheaf of reeds he lit from the pathetic peat fire in the fireplace of that one-room hovel with his mother hunched over trying to patch burlap garments with dried scrub from a fen? For that matter, when you say, "I'm eating some cake," how does that work? Why don't you have to actually eat some actual cake in order to let someone else know that you're eating some cake?


It's a mystery. Just like "it." Say "it" over and over again--itititititititititititititititititit--until you achieve what Buddhist monks call samprajnata. It is not merely empty-mindedness but a  vast stillness that is indescribable to the typical level of waking state--in other words, in .... other .... wordzzz zzzz. 


Tomorrow--or maybe the next day: "was"


Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic.


How to Write


Writing is not easy. A good writer approaches the job with the utmost sincerity, knowing that it's rarely as simple as putting pen to paper, finger to keyboard, or chalk to sidewalk. If you're a first-time writer, or a veteran looking for help, here are the seven steps every writer must take in order to capture his Muse.


Step One: Free your mind.


The journey begins with a single step. Relax and focus your mind only on today's work -- not necessarily the first word, but even the first letter of the first word, or even just any old letter you're fond of -- instead of tackling the entire project.


Step Two: Seltzer.


Doesn't a tall class of icy cold seltzer sound delicious right now? Maybe with a slice of lime? Your lack of seltzer is no doubt what's holding you back from greatness. If only you had seltzer, then the words would pour out of you…like seltzer out of a seltzer bottle and maybe just as bubbly. Check the fridge. Maybe there's still some club soda from the New Year 's Eve party. Is club soda the same as seltzer? What club served it first? That's a pretty boring club. Am I right? Hahaha…yeah.


If you're out of seltzer and/or limes, consider taking a trip to the store and procuring some. You should buy a few bottles in case your writing hits a hot streak. It's strange that the store is never out of seltzer. Does seltzer go bad? It's probably a recession-proof industry. Talk to your financial manager about this. If a runner is one who runs and a camper is one who camps, is a seltzer one who seltzes? Look this up when you get back home; it may be just the thing your first paragraph needs.


It seems silly to have driven all the way to store just for some bottles of seltzer and a lime. Don't let the trip go to waste. Buy two or three limes and some other items you need. You know what goes great with seltzer? Everything. Go ahead and pick out some snacks, but nothing with cheese powder. Get some of those pickles you like, too. It's OK if they're not on sale. Treat yourself. A good writer will buy the lesser pickle; a great writer will demand to be satisfied. Which are you?


The pickles can be your reward for all the writing you're about to accomplish. And the pudding. Get some pudding. Reward yourself with a six-pack of pudding cups -- the packages that look like they have only three and then -- surprise! They have six, three of them upside down. Ingenious! But the pudding-cup treat is ONLY if you finish writing 2,000 words today. Well, OK -- if it's past 3 o'clock, go ahead and adjust your word-count goals accordingly. Any deficit can be made up this weekend, or over President's Day.


Seltzer should only cost about 79 cents a liter. Ever notice that the number 79 appears, like, everywhere? You will now. There should be magazines at the checkout. Buy some. A great writer must stay relevant. There is nothing sadder than an out-of-touch author unaware of trends in movies and in Sudoku puzzles.


Make the checkout line move faster by shifting your weight from one foot to the other and sighing impatiently. (This is what a lot of writers do.)  


While waiting to check out, you can also use the time to formulate ideas and characters. The people in line with you could be the inspiration for you fiction. It's OK to stare. This is how Fitzgerald would develop his characters, maybe. There's this old lady fumbling in her purse for her Club Card. She has on sunglasses! Come on -- a character bonanza wrapped up in an outsize winter coat that smells of mothballs. Figure out a mnemonic so that you won't forget to put her in Chapter 2. How about "What a card! She probably doesn't even like club soda. Or seltzer. The only way to figure out how big a moth's balls are is to examine them in the sun…"?


When you get to the cashier, you and your seltzer, buy some batteries too, because you never know. Keep the receipt because you feel in your heart that you can adequately explain to any IRS agent that if ever there was a business expense, this is one. But be prepared to retreat to only the seltzer as a deductible.


Return home and move on to step three.


Step Three: Pudding cup.


Go ahead and eat a pudding cup. The sugar rush will inspire. There are five left, don't forget -- not just two, as a less observant individual might surmise.


Step Four: Check your email.


You may have missed something while you were out preparing to be a writer. Who knows -- maybe Groupon is offering 50% off on a literary agent's commission. 


Step Five: Become aware of your surroundings.


You'll want to pay careful attention to any noises in and around your work area. In particular, keep your ears open for clicks or hums and spend the required time first investigating the sound and then abolishing it by turning something off or going back out to the store to buy earplugs. It will no doubt be a different store, more than a mile away.


Step Six: Pudding cup (part 2).


Eat a celebratory pudding cup. If you didn't write anything today, you should still enjoy the pudding. Simply deduct one pudding cup from tomorrow's reward.


Step Seven:


Invite some friends over -- fellow-writers. They will all be as ready as you are to watch the NFL League Championship games, even if they are a few days away. You will almost certainly get some great insight into human psychology and innovative cursing. 


This one took Dan Bergstein three pudding cups to write.


The Social Networke


It has long been known that, during their political careers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were bitter rivals, frequently dueling with competing ideas, slashing verbal attacks, and, on one occasion, butter churns. But toward the end of their lives, the two became the closest of friends, who bonded over their love of both Enlightenment philosophy and designer shoe-buckles. Through the efforts of our tireless historical research team, Grin & Tonic has obtained some of the hard-to-find letters that these two fathers of our country wrote to each other in the autumn of their lives.


My Dear Thomas,

Greetings from Massachusetts! Weather here is pleasant enough, and the family is in excellent health. It is still most tremendous to think of the tireless work we committed to the building of this great nation. What young men we were, and what lofty dreams did we capture. On a separate note, I have enclosed several random Renderings. Many are of dogs. Some are of infant newborns. Yet more are of these very same infants dressed to resemble dogs in costume. And still others depict small children dressed in dogs' apparel.


I have the Honor to be &c

J. Adams



My Good Friend,

I bid you salutations from Virginia. Upon glancing at your excellent likenesses of babies, dogs, and babies dressed as dogs, et seq., I was compelled to Laugh aloud. In fact I am doing so at this very moment. I have enclosed to you a humorous list that you may find of interest: The Paramount Ten Ways To Know if Your Neighbor Is a Federalist. I think you will find it illuminating. I particularly commend Number 5, which reads "Every other sentence they utter contains the phrase 'concurring testimony of experience.'" Too true!


I hope I may call you a close friend in perpetuity,
T. Jefferson



My Good Fellow T.J.,

Touché, old friend! Your wit is ageless. To pass the time, I have begun a new project -- one wherein I establish a new and bountiful Farm, bursting at the seams with produce fresh from the Earth and livestock healthy as the day is long. Virtually the best part of this new Plantation is that it exists purely as a conjecture! I believe that I will name my new estate Farm Towne.

May peace win out,


Dearest Adams,

A cheery shout of  "What's afoot with you?,"  kind Sir! For my own part, I have included a Survey that I recently took part in, entitled: Which Delegate of the Continental Congress Are You? I filled it out and it said I was Alexander Hamilton! What the flummery is that, I ask you?

Wishing you a beneficent day,

T. Jefferson


Jefferson, my man,

A most exalted greeting to you. Truth be told, there is no actual reason for this Missive. I have sent this foot messenger through rain, sleet, and snow, from Virginia to Massachusetts, in order to "give you a Poke," so to speak. So poke me back!



Dear Jefferson,

Poke! There is something about our correspondence that appears to have led us both into a kind of lax frivolity, but there is no denying the easy Gratifications thereof. 



After this point, the two men began simply exchanging engravings  of  Canadian tourists in humorous situations, minute descriptions of how they spent each day, ( "swept the hearth clean -- twice!" and "At the Olde Inne, purchased two tankards of ale at supper @25 cents each!") and complaints about the courier service's "villainously convoluted Policy of  Confidentiality." In even the most subtle ways, our forefathers remain an inspiration for "TLOTF and the THOTB" to this very day. 


Josh Perilo has written extensively for print and television. His credits include stints at The Fine Living Network, FX, and MTV. He also writes a weekly column on wine called "The Penniless Epicure" for the Manhattan-based Our Town and Westside Spirit newspapers.


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.

Flap Rules

(A brief guide to writing the book descriptions that fill the space where, if you were to take the jacket off the book and lay it out flat with the outside of the jacket down, it would be the part that is farthest to the left, unless the book is in Hebrew and then, to be honest, I'm not sure where it would go)


  1. Always use "stunning," except when the book is about the history of the stun gun.
  2. Pair -- as in: "In this thrilling and dramatic story, about a brief but passionate affair between a brilliant and stunning movie star who is also a track and field champion and an expert and charming bow-and-arrow hunter and gatherer and a handsome and debonair backgammon and kung-fu master who comes and goes between the mysterious and dangerous jungles and rivers of Brazil and Argentina and the grand and glittering avenues and skyscrapers of New York and Hong Kong, you will be swept up and carried away by the dynamic and emotionally taut relationships and fates of the characters and their families and friends. "
  3. Always use "deeply."
  4. For that matter, always pair "deeply" with another adverb, except "profoundly." In No. 2, come to think of it, it should be "…about a brief but deeply and feverishly passionate…" etc.
  5.  Use items in a series as often as possible.  "In this stunning, deeply passionate, and thrilling tale of guns, gangs, and gambling…"
  6. Use alliteration.
  7. Infinitivize at least once per flap -- as in: "To read this stunning and deeply moving and thrilling novel is to be swept up and carried away …" etc.
  8. Use one or two but no more than two direct quotations from the text. They may be full sentences -- "'He was a genius, a stunningly evil genius'" -- or fragments -- "He was a 'stunningly evil genius,' we are told at the beginning of this deeply and dramatically thrilling novel." But in any case they may take up no more than 10% of the flap copy.
  9. Use "we" at least once per flap.
  10. In addition to "stunning," use at least three of the following adjectives for every flap: "Enthralling," "gritty," "original," "remarkable," "magical," "ground-breaking," "arresting," "dazzling," "heartbreaking," "compelling," "devastating," "captivating."
  11. Find a way to work in "best-selling," even if it has to take the form of something like "Often compared to the stunning best-selling novelist _________..."
  12. "Backdrop" is always good. "Against the stunningly dark and somber backdrop of pre-war Latvia," or "With the stunning backdrop of Oahu in the early Twentieth Century," or "We are deeply and dramatically moved by this stunning narrative and its remarkable and brilliant backdrop of Hollywood at its most dazzling and compelling."
  13. You may continue from the front flap to the back flap but only if the book itself is more than six hundred pages. (Not sure how to work "stunning" into this rule.)
  14. Use one and only one interrogative per flap. "What will the stunning and compelling climax of this deeply and subtly thrilling drama told against the backdrop of the amazing Maori culture and mythology of southern and central New Zealand?" or "'Why twenty and not twenty-one or twenty-two?' we may go so far as to ask." or "Where will the gritty treachery and betrayal end?"
  15. Try to end the flap with the word "resolve" or "resolution."  ("Stunning" should always be placed near the beginning.)
  16. Forget "subtly."

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin and Tonic. His most recent book is A Good Talk.



Life can be difficult, according to the new novel Beach Wave: The Wizards of Keys by first-time novelist/computer program Heather T. T. Brightbee. The Brightbee Fictioneer program was created by [REDACTED] Publishing in order to bypass the sluggish and costly steps of hiring writers to create books. Using a complex algorithm which closely studies today's best-seller trends, the Brightbee has constructed what [REDACTED] is calling "the perfect novel."


The book tells the story of Persephone Solitary, the new girl at a wealthy prep school. She is dealing with the death of her father, the death of her secretive Uncle who owned an underground mansion and launderette, and the death of her best friend, who now talks to her via a divine telephone that only Persephone can answer.


The quiet and intelligent Persephone ("Sephy") is quickly seduced by the dark and handsome Noah Ravenlion, another new student. Together – andwith the help of three other new students, one of whom is (spoiler alert!) a Freemason, plus an English teacher who can travel backward in time but only about three seconds -- Sephy and Noah race to find the secret of the thirteen keys.


The story clunks along awkwardly at first, but things pick up in the second chapter, when Sephy inherits her grandmother's attic. What follows is a scene dripping with tension, mystery, sex, spiders, and regret. It's difficult to review the novel without giving away certain plot points, but at the risk of being coy, I will say this much: the roguish werewolf vs. sexy were-lobster battle left nothing to be desired. Who wins the fight? Answer: The reader.


Some may object to Noah's subsequent chapter-length self-help monologue in which he describes how to live a fulfilled life without GPS. But the speech's impact is brilliantly heightened by that fact that Noah delivers it while he and a completely nude Sephy are trapped in a mannequin/puppet factory that, ten years ago to the day, was involved in a suspicious fire related to a local Kingsford charcoal cult.


In any case, "author" Brightbee knows what her readers want, and her readers want dragons, psychic children who were right all along, and a sassy elderly woman who offers harsh advice with a shovelful of sugar. This last would be Mrs. Happley, the raunchy, tell-it-like-it-is, 76-year-old Sunday school teacher who follows Sephy and the gang around saying her charming catchphrase, "Me-oh-my! Sweet potato pie!"


The dragons may seem shoehorned into the story, as they appear only during one car chase when Sephy and Noah race to the museum to locate the Sixteen Phantoms of Rembrandt, but there are hints that the dragons will play a larger rule in future books, as will the mermaids, Billy Todd (the orphan without a home who possesses prodigious piano skills), and the monstrous Man Frog who wants only to be accepted. Still, there are enough dragons, mer-people, talented orphans, and frog folk to keep even the most diehard genre enthusiast satisfied.


But this novel boasts more than just sex, secrets, non-threateningly attractive monsters, self-help, and short words. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by Chapter 16, which jettisons traditional prose for the sake of a challenging but not too difficult Sudoku puzzle. (Hint: Find the 6's first.) And toward the end of the novel, there is a seamlessly integrated three-page interview with the cast of Mad Men.


If I have one real complaint about this book, it's that the cover is TOO good. True, the evocative image of a child's hand offering a broken yo-yo to the ocean may be -- just may be -- as powerful an image as ever created. But no ocean ever looked as ocean-y as this one. Still, the recipe section in the back is a godsend, and the complementary pedometer can change a life one step at a time.


Has the Brightbee program succeeded in generating the perfect bestseller? According to the blurbs on the back of the book from such literary heavyweights as Jonathan Franzen and "Jane Austin," the answer is yes.


Dan Bergstein now leads in most polls.


Live-Blogging the New Mead Unveiling


10:00AM: The lights are down in the Dayton Convention Center, where hundreds of journalists await Mead CEO David Woodman's unveiling of the latest glittering product. Rumors swirl: five-color pen? A no-rip spiral-bound notebook? Or, as Woodman has coyly suggested, an improvement on the company's flagship sheet of paper?


10:02AM: Woodman takes the stage to a rock-star ovation from the paper-geek crowd, dressed in his trademark relaxed-fit chinos and short-sleeve white collared shirt with a wacky Mead-product tie -- today's is a cascade of expanding files.


10:05AM: Woodman spends a few minutes crowing about Mead's successes the past year: sales of 2-inch binders are up 27%; they've opened their first iconic Mead Store in China, employing two dozen "Mead Notables" to handle customer questions; and Mead has just sold its one hundred millionth 1.5-inch binder. Yes, yes, we know, Mead owns the paper-products industry, get on with it…


10:07AM: "What we are unveiling today is a paradigm shift in information processing," Woodman intones. "It will change the way you present and receive data; it will change the way you think."


10:08AM: From the ceiling descends an opaque rectangle haloed in light, with the new product obscured behind it. It might be a sheet of paper -- yet, from my seat fifty feet back, it seems a tad small…


10:10AM: Whoa. *rubs eyes, pinches self* My estimate of the size wasn't inaccurate. Mead has created the SlimPaper, the world's first 8.25-by-10.75-inch piece of paper, shrinking the preexisting letter-size sheet by a full quarter inch. The crowd's collective intake of breath is audible. Woodman beams; the iconoclast lives for moments like this. Um, anyone not buying Mead stock right now?


10:17AM: Okay, what you're all waiting for: the specs. In addition to the length-width minimization, Mead's engineers have thinned the sheet from 0.1 to 0.08 millimeters -- breaking a barrier no one thought possible. For a 500-sheet ream, this translates to a full ten millimeters. And formerly twenty-pound bond paper now weighs nineteen pounds, fourteen ounces -- with no loss in sheet density. I've been covering the paper industry for twenty-five years, and I'm flabbergasted.


10:25AM: So it looks good, as we say, "on paper." But how's the performance? Woodman demonstrates with a standard ballpoint, scrawling some words: "Who wants…" The pen glides effortlessly over the surface, with sparkling crispness and enviable ink receptivity. Woodman's full sentence takes shape: "Who wants my old laptop?" It garners hearty laughter from the journos. Next, Woodman whips out a four-color and clicks on the red. Then the green. Then the blue. The primary colors pop. One imagines it's what it felt like gazing upon a Mondrian at the Met in 1942. And that's not all; Woodman says the SlimPaper backgrounds will come in pure, cloud, downy, ivory, cream, and off, with the Christmas rollout of a special-edition U2 sheet in pitch-black.


10:32AM: Woodman draws concerned gasps when he slides his index finger along the SlimPaper's edge. But he holds it up: Look, Ma, no blood. "At Mead, we're very concerned about safety," he says. "That's why we've invented revolutionary MicroRounding™ technology, to virtually eliminate paper cuts." He receives a standing O; there's not a single parent in the room who hasn't lost sleep over what we assumed were the necessarily intrinsic perils of paper.


10:38AM: Enough boring office work; how does the SlimPaper handle the fun apps? Woodman doodles, and doubts about the sheet size vanish -- the 88.6875 square inches easily accommodate stick figures, dialogue balloons, and "three-dimensional" cubes. Then he plays a glorious full-page game of Hangman, calling on the crowd for letters. "K-I-L-L-E-R-A-P-P." Good one, Dave.


10:45AM: Woodman ticks off the other advances: 105% recyclability; thirty-year non-yellowing shelf life; enhanced airplane constructability. "But what we're most excited about," he says, as he folds a fresh SlimPaper in half, "you'll have to see to believe." He counts aloud with each new fold -- two, three, four -- as the sheet thickens. He reaches eight, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "Hmm," he muses, "I sort of feel like folding this piece of paper a ninth time." My colleague Victor Lassiter, of the New York Record of Paper, can't control himself. "If you can fold that paper again, I'll eat it," he shouts from the front row.


10:48AM: Woodman grins and, with the ease of a seasoned origamist, folds the paper a record-breaking ninth time. The room bursts into applause. Lassiter shakes his head, a smile on his face, and walks on-stage to eat his words. "Fortunately for Vic," says Woodman, "the SlimPaper is completely edible, with hints of rosemary and tarragon." He unfolds the piece and rips it in two, and the men -- sometime-nemeses infamous for sparring in the press -- enjoy a late-morning snack together.


10:50AM: Sales of the SlimPaper will commence tomorrow, at three different price points depending on ream size; the cost of the now-obsolete BrightPaper is expected to drop accordingly. And Woodman announces an exciting new partnership sure to shake up the musty world of paper: The SlimPaper will be sold in a packaged deal with the scorching-hot Microsoft Zune.


Teddy Wayne is the author of Kapitoil.


The bReader


Introducing the new bReader reading device! It includes everything the popular eReader offers, and so much more. The bReader combines the nostalgia for printed books with the power of technology and the lust for unnecessary though impressive add-ons!


The first thing you'll notice is that the bReader feels "real." To those who miss the smell and feel of a real book, the bReader is made from brand new library books that no one was going to read, and each device has been manhandled by 130 random strangers with sticky fingers, to give it that authentic, library feel. The case was also dipped in the tears and palm sweat of librarians.


Older customers often have a difficult time navigating the user interface of some eReaders, but the bReader has dealt with this problem head-on by hiring twenty-five members of our greatest generation to design and tweak the interface. Thanks to the wonderful designers, such as Edith Monroe (87) and Mort Sanders (84) the bReader now features the Assisted Living App (named by Mort himself). From the main page, users can use the app to easily find books, movies, very nice music, recipes, photos of grandchildren, produce prices, and, finally, reasonable shoe stores. But unlike other mobile devices and gadgets, no button pushing or even touching is necessary. The different items just pop up randomly, and without rhyme or reason. Stare at it long enough, and the item you're looking for is sure to appear eventually. 


The new bReader recommendation app, Sir Picks-a-Lot, is also top-of-the-line and on the bleeding edge of technology, using an algorithm so complex that eight men died during its programming. Once you finish a book and rate it, the app will offer finely tuned suggestions for other books, and more. For instance, depending on how you rated the latest Jonathan Franzen novel, the app will advise: "You may also like Neil Gaiman's American Gods, cedar wood, the first twenty minutes of Ghostbusters, breaking up with your significant other, eggs for dinner, getting a haircut that suits your age, the ocean, women with hearty laughs, helmets, clock radios that have those flippy number tiles instead of purely digital readouts, and, finally, buying that turtle. Also, you have a little something on your chin. No -- other side."


Reading can be difficult, but the bReader alleviates all literary stress with the Buddy app. Having trouble with a particular sentence? Switch the Buddy into "Knowsy" mode and the voice of Sir Ian McKellen will help you sort it out, and read it to you slowly and with great patience. (Warning: Ian may sound condescending. It's just his way.)  Or, switch to "Best Friend" mode and the friendly voice of Amy Adams will offer words of encouragement such as, "Wow. That sentence really is a toughy. I can't even figure it out, and I'm a computer. You're so brave for getting as far as you did. Why not watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey? Heard it's a good one! I love Teresa! Squeeeee!"


Reading in a noisy restaurant or at a party? Simply rotate the bReader in a counterclockwise motion and the polite but firm voice of actor John Goodman will say, "Shhh," so you won't have to. If you don't like John Goodman's voice, you can switch to Gary Sinise, Helen Mirren, or "Cockney Chimney Sweep". And for large crowds, switch to "Angry Tommy Lee Jones."


Children can enjoy the bReader too, thanks to the Lil' Book Worm app. The app will turn even the densest prose into easy-to-read children's literature by adding in fun elements of magic and adventure. Here's a sample from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: "The little girl grabbed the wizard's treasure map and ran for the giant boat called The Phantom Whale! Her best friend, the talking kitty, ran after her. Oh, and addiction takes many forms, from addiction to drugs to addiction to athletics. Anyway, the wizard's map began to glow…."


Along with the features mentioned above, the bReader includes thousands of fun apps. The Sownd Trakkkk app provides fitting background music for any book. (Creepy, detuned music box sounds for horror novels. Swelling orchestra numbers for romances. Slide whistle noises and tuba toots for self-help books. Flemish techno for non-fiction books about Flemish techno.)


And say so-long to lugging around book pedestals and lecterns. The Mag-Nut app applies a high powered magnetic field around the bReader, allowing it to float three inches above metal surfaces, thus saving your hands from purely mechanical toil. (Note: Activating this app will erase all data on computers within a 3-mile radius. May cause atrophied hands and spontaneous pregnancy.)


Yet more apps: The Smart Ass app will read books to you with sarcastic, ironic inflections. Example, "Call me Ishmael. [Duh!]" The Camo app hides the title of the embarrassing book you're reading and every so often will chirp, "Now turning the page of Dante's Inferno." Add your own haughty smirk for best results. The Gordon App is based on our friend Gordon who reads a lot. Activate the app, and Gordon's not-annoying-at-all voice will say, "Oooh. This is a good part. You're gonna like this," or "Get it? Did you get that? It's funny. Let me read it to you again." The Falconer's Glove app will call any and all birds of prey in your area! (It is recommended that you cover the bReader in a real falconer's glove before activating. And stand back.) 


Finally, two more unique and crucial apps. The Annotated Buscemi app will add Steve Buscemi's annotations to just about every book. Curious to read his thoughts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, or The Brother's Karamozov? Of course you are. And for those who fall asleep while reading, turn on the Priva-C app. The bReader is then is guaranteed to not silently judge you while you sleep, nor will it contact robbers online and alert them of your weariness. Can your eReader make that same pledge?


With so many apps, including the HapApp – an app that changes sad endings (Example: Marley the Immortal Dog and Me), this is the only bReader you can't live without. Why is it a bReader instead of an eReader? There's an app that will explain it.


Dan Bergstein is no longer a lineman for the Steelers or the county.


Press Release


Today, I am announcing that Gabriel (Gabby) Rafsonmunjon, Publisher of Narhwal Books, will be leaving the company on June 30th to devote more time to covert data mining and developing his electronic punctuation headband. Gabby will be weaned from his corner office gently, using the Tawnee Li Technique, which involves Taser reconditioning followed by the attentions of a pretty Korean Grief Counselor. We will also create large photographic reproductions of his current panoramic city view, tape them to the windows of his apartment, and then have them removed one-by-one over the course of thirty days. He will have closely supervised visitation rights to Narwhal when it proves unavoidable.


Gabby played a crucial role in the integration of Pants on Fire Romance Books and Narhwal when we joined forces two years ago. His installation of a public-address system which played "I Could Write a Book" every hour on the hour instantly united the staff in annoyance. In working with his colleagues and trying to mentor younger editors, he has demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of sycophancy. Gabby’s own list of books, while varied and eclectic, has a kind of organic unity not often found outside mycology. He acquired and edited Your Best Day Is Tomorrow: How to Take the "FU" out of the Future by the Reverend I. P. Daley; Man Alive: The Great Boise Lead Pit Mine Fire Disaster Rescue and Salvation Thing by Billy BeJesus; Lacey: A Novel of Unmentionables by Teddy Ceaucescu; the recondite For Smarties series (Parathyroid Pathology for Smarties, Rule Utilitarianism for Smarties, etc.), in cooperation with the Mononomial Press, founded as a charitable tax shelter on Grand Cayman Island by Iman, Bono, and Stimpy; Your Best Day Might Have Been Yesterday: The Pleasures -- and Pitfalls – of Nostalgia by His Holiness the Rama Lama; Just Another Dame: The True Story of a Media Bust by Jane "Jane" Bobane; Your Best Day Is Today: How to Carpe the Ol' Diem by Professor U. B. M. Weakliegh; Nuke Anbar Province: And I Mean Now! by Generalissimo Macho Picchu; The End of the Last Day of the Twilight Hour of Our Late Summer Love by Lachryma Duct; and Your Best Day Is Never, a posthumous work by Samuel Beckett.


Gabby is also the author of two volumes of minimally acclaimed short stories, Tea Service Afternoons and Miracle-Gro Days, the second of which the Newark Star-Badger included in its 2004 "Remaindered for a Reason" list. His epic novel, Let Me Out of Here!, written under the pseudonym Frieda D. Tayni, was made into a MeTooTube Mini starring Tom Cruz, Lovey Pryce-Pointe, DeBoss McGuffin, and Pferdy (who also directed), and screened exclusively on the transcontinental flights of Airbrush Airlines. He is co-founder of Partners for a Generally Pretty Good World and devotes much of his free time to being a Big Second Cousin Once Removed to inner-city ragamuffins. I hope you will all join me in wishing Gabby an enthusiastic and long overdue farewell.


Replacing Gabby, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Gilgamesh, formerly King of Urik, as Publisher of Narwhal Books and also as He Who Has Dominion over the Armies of the Vengeance of the Gods. Though not deeply acquainted with editing or publishing, Gilgamesh has many impressive credentials. He is the subject of what many scholars consider the first book ever written. So there's that. He also slew Humbaba, and he refused the advances of Ishtar. He has completed his court-mandated course in anger-management and has become a world-renowned tatter. I feel certain that Gilgamesh will bring to Narwhal the kind of focus and energy on new initiatives that we need in order to energetically focus our energies on new initiatives. You had better join me in welcoming Gilgamesh to Narwhal Books. 


Norah Jott


Narwhal Books

A Division of Hao Yubin International


Oliver Twisted


Dear Chuck (if I may):


Have read your ms. -- the one about the orphan boy who falls in with the ring of pickpockets? -- and I see some real potential here. It needs work, though -- in my perhaps not that humble opinion, given my history with Patterson, Rendell, etc. That character Nancy, for example. The bimbo? (I wish there were another way of putting it.) We need more specifics, I believe. You write that she wasn't pretty exactly, but that she had good color in her face. Great, great! But, well, what about the rest of her -- her "lineaments," as you might say? Can you, er, fill them out a little more?


I was thinking, for example, that there could be a scene where she is partially, well, unclothed, shall we say, and the orphan boy is an unseen witness to this accidental display. He is overcome by the sight of her breasts, the blue veins pulsing underneath the lovely skin, and -- sorry, sorry. It's your book, of course, but maybe you see what I mean.


But that's not the main problem. First things first. Do you know how long this opus is? You may be thinking of the bearable lightness of an e-book, my friend, but I want to sell some hardcovers that our customers don't have to take out of Costco in a wheelbarrow. And I'd rather not run the risk, a la the scalding-hot-coffee case, of some litigious jerk's saying he was reading in bed one night and the book crushed his ribs. So as your publisher, I won't hear otherwise: we have to make Oliver even skinnier, trim a lot of the fat -- so that the bones at least appear from time to time. All that stuff with Mr. Bumble. A clever name for him, all right, but who cares? Let's get back to Nancy.


Speaking of lawsuits: the villain character, the head of the pickpockets, the one you keep calling "the Jew"? What the Dickens! You can't be serious. Listen to me: he's a non-denominational villain. Maybe a Unitarian, if you must.


Or, of course, we would probably all be better off, in terms of commerce, if he was a non-denominational alien or even just a supernatural type. Have you seen the kind of numbers the vampire books put up? The thing is, they have this very powerful sex drive, only they often have to have sex with minds, not bodies. It's like putting your cellphone in the microwave. A lot of these characters have to be physically chaste, even though they're throbbing with, you know, urges to mind-meld or whatever it is they do, and maybe that's why your guy becomes a pickpocket in the first place. You can weave a fabric out of these two threads if anyone can. Oliver (could he maybe be named after the other one -- Chad? Or maybe Ian?) could be seen as a sort of tragic character, really.


One more thing about Nancy. Do you think that one night, when the orphan kid is lonely and miserable, she should maybe take pity and comfort him a little? I'm not talking a whole initial scene, but, you know, she hugs him, and she gives him a little -- well, rub. Just a suggestion. As I keep saying, I'm not the writer here. But it could be a sweet little moment, don't you think?


That's all for now, except that I love that pen name, Boz. Love it. But if you don't mind, I'm just going to add an extra "z." Bozz. A little gangsta, you know? Fits in with the pickpocket motif. Trust me on this one.




Ken Clappitt

Editorial Director

Excelsior Press


Charles McGrath, former Deputy Editor of The New Yorker and Editor of the New York Times Book Review, is Writer-at-Large for the Times.


A Farewell to Pigskin


Huddle up. Arms around shoulders so the enemy cannot eavesdrop. Inhale the scent of men and sweat and clear-gel deodorant.
Charles McLaine, your opponent in the "Co-Ed Naked Twister" T-shirt is as full from deep-dish pizza as a woman with child. Sprint for three seconds, then button-hook for a pass that is good and true and tightly spiraling. Yes, my brave comrade, drink deeply of your Arctic Shatter Powerade.
Wilson, run past the New Jerseyan with vigor and manliness in a post pattern. You will be served by your agility gained playing soccer in the streets of Madrid and your dexterity from rolling cigars in Havana. I know you have not been to either place but there is not the same brute economy of language in "playing tennis on the courts of Darien" and "rolling marijuana cigarettes at Middlebury."
Billy, streak past the plane of the end zone marked by the Old Navy sweatshirts. You may be guarded by a woman but she has a masculine name and a short haircut and superior footwork. Do not ask for the ball; the ball asks for thee. If it arrives it will be accurate and lobbed and hurt your chest because you have butterfingers.
O-line, I need torrents of time, not just up to Seven-Mississippi. I am like an aged yet wily matador, and the nose tackle is a lusty bull, and you are a castrated picador without his lance, and Billy is the rodeo clown who creates a diversion. I no longer have the grace under pressure of my youth because of the accident. I seldom talk about it but in the company of huddled men I feel comfortable making oblique references. Rehab was cold and ruthless. I will never again ski in the Alpine mountains of Switzerland. Okay, you all had a good laugh last week -- once more, while selecting the color of my knee brace on eBay, I clicked erroneously on "Hot Pink."
Charles McLaine, within the huddle there is no texting! I do not care if you had a fight with your girlfriend. Women will distract you on game day with their long dark hair that would get in their eyes if they ever crouched in a three-point stance.
As official quarterback I have made a separate peace with both the savvy McLaine, Wilson & Weinstein Legal Pads and the fearsome Green Visors of the CPA Flag-Football League. Therefore, it is immaterial to me which side first reaches 49 points during this three-day weekend festival of Columbus and wins a postgame round of beer that is cold and refreshing and low-carb and earns them the right to speak about themselves in the third-person.
That you have already forgotten your assignments makes me question if that really is Powerade inside your wineskins. You are all a generation of lost wideouts. I will diagram the play in the brown and sterile earth with this retractable pointer. We are the Christlike figure of "X"; they, the feminine "O". The receiver routes intersect like Edenic vines. The offensive line drops back into pass protection like the Praetorian Guard -- that is you, Weinstein.
We are summoned to action by Phil's obnoxious fake snoring. Behold the plan. Commit it to memory. Execute it with precision and an absence of holding penalties. Break!


Teddy Wayne is the author of Kapitoil.


Occupy 24th Street


Attention fellow-writers:


We are taking back our craft and our lives! Next Saturday at 3:00PM join me as we stage the biggest literary protest since that time we met at Roger's house and agreed that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn't all that great.


Inspired by our fellow freedom fighters marching on Wall Street, our protest will be a grassroots effort promoted through various social media outlets. However, due to the grammatical errors, not to mention the thematic clichés and pacing problems found on Facebook, I never use that pedestrian website, or any website. Instead, I use the Area Arts bulletin board at Java Kate's Coffee X-Press to connect with friends and followers. As is no doubt obvious, if you are reading this, I've posted this notice there, next to the flyer advertising the gently used bike.


I also don't use Twitter because I think we all agree Twitter is simply the CB radio fad of the 2000's. We can easily reach the same number of people using brightly colored buttons worn on hats or pinned to canvas bags or, if -- like so many in our trade -- you're young and a bit deranged, pierced through the nasal septum. Speaking of CB radios, I'm using one right now! I find comfort in analog radio technology. The sound and experience is much warmer and truer than Internet communication. So far I have attracted two people to our cause, but unlike the "people" you meet on Twitter and Facebook, the folks you connect with through CB radio are real. That's marketing penetration no website can match. 


Please use similar methods to help spread the word. We will need to seek out other writers suffering during this most difficult time. Places to find writers include coffee houses, high schools, therapists' offices, and other high schools. Also, if you see anyone riding a bike and wearing a scarf, that's a writer. Get the word out!


Once organized, we will march on 24th Street -- a site we've chosen because like life itself it has no meaning until we writers give it meaning. There we will show the world that we're mad as hell, and taking it any more is no longer an option. I'm sure you are as angry about the current state of publishing as I am, and together we, unlike the books many of us write, will not be ignored! 


Our demands, like those of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, are a bit unfocused at the moment. That doesn't matter. First we march! Then we decide what, specifically, we want. Holding back these emotions will only make matters worse in the long run. It's time to yell! Yell words -- which also just happen by a fortunate coincidence to be the raw material of our craft.


And here are a few chants you should yell: 


"The Left is Right" -- This slogan obviously reflects our feelings regarding the desire to begin a book on the left hand page. For far too long our art has been hindered by the fat cats at the printing houses who tell us that every first page of a novel must be on the right hand side. It's 2011! If I want my novel, House of Glass: Book 17 of the Whisper Chronicles, to begin on the left-hand page, then that should be my…well…right! Get your laws off my book!


"E-crooks!"or "E-overlooks!" -- E-books have made it too easy for readers to skip over the Acknowledgments page of our books. We demand new technology to prevent this. All the hard work put into crafting elegant ways to thank people goes unnoticed. This may not mean much to the rich e-publishers, but they're not the ones fielding the angry phone calls from my under-appreciated editor, fact-checker, dentist, medieval-cape expert, accountant, bee historian, wood specialist, and Aunt Clara -- without whom my novel, "Bees," would never have been published or as medically accurate. 


"Rights Ahoy!" -- We demand to retain not only all movie rights but, almost as important, statue rights. If the book is made into a statue, we must have full creative control of the project. 


"Review Boo!" -- Those who post online reviews must prove they have read the book by taking a simple exam. And all negative reviews must end with, "But hey-- what do I know?" Can we also control the type size of reviews, with a 9-pt. ceiling, maybe? And restrict the font to Dingbats?


"No more ghetto!" -- Our work cannot simply be confined to one specific area of the book store! We want all our books treated equally -- suspended from the ceiling via stretchy rope that will dangle and wave the books in front of customers' faces. Or maybe a little higher, so that they have to jump to get them. I think that's called incentivizing. But of course we will demand that stores provide hydraulic lifts for the disabled.


To the ramparts, ye scribes. Thee hath nothing to lose except maybe a little dignity, which thee can go some distance in restoring by using old-fashioned nouns and pronouns.


Dan Bergstein is a writer for SparkNotes.com and (O.K., O.K., obviously) Grin & Tonic. 


Revenge of the S&P


This has been a turbulent month for stocks as Standard and Poor’s continue to downgrade companies and countries. S&P are now on a path to reevaluate more than just corporations. Are S&P undervaluing the economy or are they finally willing to admit that all is not well in the world?

Last week the famed financial watchdog announced that Moby-Dick is no longer a brilliant novel but merely “tolerable.” This sent shockwaves throughout the literary and financial world. Things worsened when S&P formally announced that they don’t quite “get” James Joyce’s Ulysses, causing some experts to quietly whisper, “It’s about time.”

According to new values announced by S&P, The Scarlet Letter is not a perennial classic but “OK, if you like that sort of thing.” Book sellers have since seen sales decrease by a significant 0.07% as a result.

Orange juice futures plummeted on fears of what S&P will say about Ethan Frome. (The connection between Ethan Frome and oranges is storied and complex.) The tech market was volatile after news leaked that A Tale of Two Cities would be downgraded to, “Not bad.”

Industry analyst Mark Harrison said, “It’s a scary time. I’d hate to be a literary icon. Rumors are floating around that the annual report on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes the phrase ‘adequate at times.’ That’s not exactly the phrasing one would hope to hear when discussing Twain.”

Despite recent trends, not all books have been downgraded. S&P surprised Wall Street and booksellers by saying, “Jurassic Park still holds up.” And Stephen King’s The Stand has been officially described as, “Sooooo good!”   

Yet Harrison is quick to point out that the positive rankings are too few and far between. “The government needs to step in. The president needs to say that Of Mice and Men is unequivocally great. Failure to do that would be catastrophic.”  Washington is leery to act after an attempt three years ago to call Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix, “Good,” backfired amongst young voters who wanted the president to say it was, “Really good.”

A Washington insider who demanded we call him Mr. Cosmic, said, “We know The Great Gatsby is great. Of course we know it. But there’s an election year looming and no one wants to make waves by artificially boosting a book’s score. Once you go against S&P and say Gatsby is great, then the Gravity’s Rainbow people start arguing for their book to be reassessed as a classic. It’s a snowball effect. We don’t have the manpower needed to read Gravity’s Rainbow.”

(At the time this article was filed, S&P had downgraded The Great Gatsby to, “Pretty dull, especially in the middle.” Gravity’s Rainbow was downgraded to, “Weird,” but was briefly raised to, “Kind of cool,” before plummeting back to, "Totally bonkers.")

Experts agree that the market will repair itself eventually. "People will start calling Catcher in the Rye a classic again,” said Harrison. “But it won’t happen overnight. The damage done was extensive. We’re talking years and years of reputation building. Hopefully James Cameron will make a movie about Catcher in the Rye to remind everyone that it’s good."

The storm clouds are gathering over products besides books. S&P recently called “Hey Jude” by the Beatles, “Alright, I guess,” and when asked about The Godfather they simply shrugged and said, “Meh.” Of course, S&P might be going through some stuff at home, causing them to be disinterested in popular items. Or maybe they’re just being difficult to get attention. That would explain why they recently all got earrings and called The Grand Canyon, “Lame.”

Tomorrow S&P will announce new values for sandals, the first Matrix movie, and their Senior Prom. Wall Street, the world, and Samantha Jameson who went to prom with one of the S&P guys, anxiously wait. 


Dan Bergstein is a freelance writer who lives in Pennsylvania, just as the prophecy foretold.


Signing Off




     "I don't want to trouble you--just your name is great. Oh--in blood, if that's OK. And yours and mine mixed."

       "Could you sign this 'To Deborah, from Michael Chabon, on behalf of his good friend Jimmy Mathers, who as I understand it you've dumped for that idiot Norman, who thinks that Michael Chabon is a mediocre middleweight UFC fighter. He really does. Jimmy told me he actually heard you say that at the Dew Drop Inn last Saturday night.' --Michael Chabon. Oh, and date it, please, so that 'Last Saturday night' will make sense. Thanks."

     "I just loved your book. You are Kathryn Stockett, right?... Oh, sorry, Ms. Hocking. But could you sign it 'Kathryn Stockett' anyway? I'm betting it will be worth a fortune on e-bay."

     "Your book spoke to me in a way that nothing has spoken to me since I was an angsty teen, when I was assigned The Catcher in the Rye in school, and blew it off, and instead listened to radio-commercial jingles for a week. Man, those tunes changed me."

     "I really liked it, until the last fifty pages. Could you try a little rewrite in my copy when you go on your break?"

     "I normally find reading difficult, but your book was written at such a low grade level, it hardly felt like reading at all."

     "We're going to spread the word and let everyone know how much we loved your novel 'Born Elsewhere.' Even though the book has nothing to do with the President,  your name will be inseparable from the Birthers Book Club."

     "Decent book, but would've been much better with more emotions. Whoops, I misspoke: not emotions--emoticons."

     "It must feel great, to be a published author, even if you have to realize that you're making less of an impression on the national psyche than a contestant rejected from the first round of The Bachelorette."

     "What's your Twitter handle? And Facebook fan page? And email? And home address? And phone number? And social security number? And age at which you lost your virginity? And your feelings upon losing your virginity? And anything else you care to share about the experience of losing your virginity? I mean, what's it really like?"

     "Just draw me a funny picture, like a photorealistic depiction of the Sistine Chapel. Something wacky like that."

     "Where do you get your ideas from? They're pretty lame, to be honest, so I want to know to avoid that strategy."

     "How many books have you sold so far? Maybe you think that's just another way of asking how much money you make? OK--how much money do you make?'"

     "So brilliantly meta, the way you criticized American culture in your book and wrote an
intentionally bad novel. Kudos, sir--kudos."

     "When does the video-game version come out?"

     "I have a great idea for a book. Want to write it for me on a shoestring advance--some free shoestrings, I mean--and if it sells, you'll get a ten percent cut? This is, by the way, pretty close to how regular publishing works."

Teddy Wayne is the author of Kapitoil.


The Grin & Tonic Archive on the Web

Although there are no new daily Grin & Tonic features currently being produced, you can find and enjoy all the past Grin & Tonic pieces in our web archive,  at the following address:




-James Mustich

Editor, The Barnes & Noble Review


The Department of Homeland Humor Security has asked us to discontinue Grin & Tonic. We ourselves don't quite know why. All they said to us was "Please stop--you're killing us!" We ourselves also have recognized that there is no way a humor feature can compete with the elections, being held today, for hilarity. We know when it's time to quit--when the real world is funnier than comedy. 

We hope you've enjoyed Grin & Tonic, and we also hope someday to return, as some sort of zombie phoenix, pouncing on ridiculous prey whenever we spot it. In the meantime, thank you for your readership and your nice comments, and Joe, in Tucson, we are sorry we never had a chance to use any of your parodies of medical-insurance fine print, and Mary, in Bloomington, Indiana, ditto your satire of the CNN crawl.  Good idea, though.    


Daniel Menaker is-- no, was -- the Editor of Grin & Tonic. Waah.

Holiday Spirits

          (A Russian Doctor Describes the Only Correct Way to Drink Vodka)  
Americans do not know how to drink vodka. Perhaps that is because the true, Russian technique has never been formally laid down on paper. I would like to correct this omission.

Russian men drink vodka shots. They drink vodka with gusto while making loud breathing noises. They drink vodka as if their manhood depended on how loud those noises are. After these shots, Russians eat. They eat small morsels of food, chewing pensively, their gaze directed inward like that of a woman in late stages of pregnancy. In fact a good prix-fixe Russian dinner is a twenty-course affair, seventeen courses of which are hors d’oeuvres in small portions. During such dinner a Russian may down seventeen shots followed by seventeen different hors d'oeuvres while giving seventeen toasts.  With Thanksgiving approaching, I'm sure that this technique can be adapted to the traditional holiday meal, with excellent results. Americans are so creative!

The social purpose of rapid-fire vodka shots is to get as much alcohol in you as quickly as possible to get the party going. The gastronomical purpose of drinking vodka at dinners is to enhance the flavor of the food. Vodka is 40% ethyl alcohol, which is an ideal solvent for the small-molecule chemicals that give food its taste. Most of the taste is sensed not by the tongue but by the nose, and alcohol dissolves the flavor components and vapors and delivers them to their destination, making the food taste stronger.

Two other steps must be taken.  First, you need to prevent the burning in your mouth that comes with all hard liquor. The burning likely comes from the oxidation of alcohol to acetaldehyde and acetic acid in the presence of digestive catalysts in the mouth. Thus, Russians evacuate oxygen by powerfully breathing out before each shot.

Second, the vodka must have no or minimal taste of its own. For example, cognac, which is an antithesis to vodka, needs to be savored in the mouth. This allows the complex flavor components to be vaporized to the taste buds in the larynx and the nose. Since vodka’s main function is to deliver the taste of the food that follows, flavored vodkas must have very simple background tastes – pepper, lemon, horseradish -- which the best of them do. (The now unavailable Stolichnaya Pertsovka was the best in this regard.)

All of the above leads to a multi-step vodka drinking ritual choreographed and perfected by Russian revelers over millennia. To be more specific:  

     1. Pour a half an ounce of vodka into a shot glass (preferably made of Czech crystal). This amount is optimal for both fully experiencing the drinking process and for extending it through four to six toasts (2-3 drinks).
    2. Pick out a spicy and salty hors-d’oeuvre of your choice and smell it. High-brow: caviar, smoked fish, selected marinated mushrooms. Low-brow: pickles, herring, salami.
    3. Breathe out loudly through your mouth emitting an animal noise. No air should be left in your lungs.
    4. Drink your vodka in one swallow. DO NOT BREATHE IN. Breathing in will let the air into your system and will negate steps 1-3, and your mouth will burn.
    5. Put your food in your mouth WITHOUT BREATHING IN and chew it pensively for 15 seconds, trying to direct your gaze inward like as if you were a woman etc.
    6. Finally, breathe in.

If you have done everything right, you should be feeling tender warmth deep in your chest, spectacular tastes in you mouth, and no burning anywhere.

Before you begin, however, make sure that you are hungry and remain hungry as long as possible. Two centuries back, Russian aristocrats would get up before dawn and hunt until mid-morning. At that point they would proudly barge into the main hall of the estate with unlucky specimens of game hanging from their belts. Next they would approach an impeccably laid table with three or four different carafes of ice-cold vodka and seven or eight varieties of high- and low-brow hors d’oeuvres consisting of several types of red and black caviar, mushrooms, pickles and smoked fish. The starving aristocrats would then follow the above steps several times with different combinations of vodkas and hors d’oeuvres until they no longer felt the pangs of near-starvation, at which point, still hungry enough, they would proceed to the dining room for breakfast.

Trust me--the breakfast was not cereal.

I suggest that you, like Russian aristocrats, enact the whole ritual three times before your Thanksgiving meal. I have been doing it with my American friends for twenty years with wonderful results.


Igor Galynker M.D., Ph.D. is the Associate Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. His Ph.D. is in Chemistry.

Rock the Vote -- Part V

               Why Won’t You Woo Me?

"Mich. Candidates Woo Young Voters"

          – Detroit News headline


Attention politicians, I demand to be wooed. For far too long my demographic has been ignored as you chase after the Latino vote, the black vote, the young vote, the elderly vote, the Christian vote, and the women’s vote. When will you chase after me? Do you not care about the Dan vote? Obviously not.


I assume you’re not wooing me because you think I’m fat. Would you woo me if I were thinner? What if I wore nicer clothes? I’m willing to change, but damn it, you have to tell me what you want. If I lost 10 lbs. and stopped wearing so much denim, would you woo me then? I’m not asking for a major woo. You don’t need to give me a shout-out during a speech. Just Tweet about me a few times next week or if I come over to your campaign headquarters, say Hi instead of turning out the lights and pretending you’re not home.


I see my friends get wooed all the time. My old roommate Tyler Barrish is currently being courted by eight different candidates. It must be nice being a young black Christian. By the way, you should know that Tyler lost my favorite shirt and when I asked him about it he said, “What shirt?” Is that really the kind of guy you want voting for you?


There are many things about myself that make me woo-worthy. I’m tall, I know how to swim, I don’t have allergies, and I already had braces. I also went to college and I’m pretty good at Tetris. Don’t you like college educated Tetris players? Why won’t you woo me?


Maybe if I join a group you would woo me. For instance, if I become an Olympian you would probably woo the crap out of me. Olympians are ambassadors to the world, and you would desperately want an Olympian’s support. Maybe I could be flood victim. Politicians are always trying to woo flood victims. If I became an Olympic flood victim, you’d be so desperate for my vote that you’d buy me a turtle. And then when I become an elderly Olympic flood vicitim, why, you’d probably slap me on the cover of your webpage and take me out for pizza. Lobster pizza.


But then it would be too little too late, bub. Don’t come crawling back to me when I become part of an important demographic. Perhaps I’ll become upper or lower class. Or I’ll be a powerful businessman who worries about taxes and economics. Then you’ll woo me.  Or what if I become a famous movie star who has both mass appeal and critical success? Then you’d have to buy me three turtles, and even after that, I would deny your woo.


So now’s your chance, Washington. Either you start altering your campaigns so that is speaks directly to me, Dan the average guy who can swim, or you can kiss my vote goodbye. This isn’t a threat. I have a list of things I need to do on November 2nd, and voting doesn’t even crack the top 10. But if you woo me just a little bit, I may squeeze in a vote or two between my trip to the store to buy socks and making hotdogs and rice. Thank you and goodbye.


Dan Bergstein is going to take some much needed time off so that he can spend more time with your family.

Rock the Vote -- Part IV

                                                                 Luring the Virgin Vote


Polling data don't always speak the truth. This is why some candidates in this election are ignoring the polls and going after voters who, according to surveys, don’t even exist. Political analyst and former political athlete Martha Jones explains, “If you ask a male virgin if he’s a virgin, he will say no. And then the polling data say all male voters are sexy people who have sex. But the reality is some voters are virgins. Some have never even kissed a girl, and it’s important for a candidate to ignore the surveys and go after these secret folks.”

This new tactic called The Virgin Ploy explains the recent rise in ad slogans such as, “Girls are scary,” “Stop Stressing About Sex,” and “It’ll Happen When It Happens.” While polling data show these ads are hurting the campaign, candidates are hoping that when the voters are alone in the voting booth, they will be honest and vote for the candidate who spoke to them when no one else would.

Richard M. (last name redacted, but it rhymes with “dump truck”) said, “I thought I was the only one who has never seen a nude lady. But then I saw the ad on TV and now I know who I’m voting for.” Richard is referring to the Democrat’s ad listing famous men who did not experience sex until later in life.  And while some may argue that it’s tough, if not impossible, to prove that Moses, Attila the Hun,  and Sammy Davis, Jr., didn’t see a naked lady until they were in their late twenties, the ads are reaching people nonetheless.

The Virgin Ploy strategy extends beyond sex. Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida has publicly admitted that he enjoys Ziggy comic strips, even though such a comment is unorthodox at best and off-putting at worst--if you believe the polls.  But Sally T. of Kentucky loves this approach, saying, “When someone asks if you like Ziggy, of course you say no. Reading Ziggy isn’t cool. But now I’m not alone. I won’t admit it to my family, but Ziggy means the world to me. This is why I’m now a Republican. But don’t tell. You promised.” Too bad, Sally T.  You don't even live in Florida.


Representative Matthew Zeller of New York has said on several occasions that he not only enjoys the music of Enya, but once saw her in concert and it was amazing - a claim that was welcomed by secret Enya lovers around the country. The polls say he will lose by a significant margin because he gave up the “cool vote,” but according to the Virgin Ploy theory, he may just walk away with a win.


The Virgin Ploy is not without significant problems. Some candidates are now lying about their guilty pleasures and secret pasts in hopes of luring potential voters. Rumor has it that a certain congresswoman who said she always thought John Goodman was sexy was later overhead saying, “Goodman is ugly and I can’t believe anyone would kiss him,” thus breaking the hearts of secret, hidden Goodman fanatics.

And the Governor of Oregon once said he didn’t enjoy "The Breakfast Club" and thought it was pretentious. At first it rallied the heretofore unknown community of folks who also disliked "The Breakfast Club,"  but after a photo leaked showing the governor owned the film on DVD and Blu Ray, his secret supporters vanished. He tried to win them back by saying Avatar was overrated, but his statement fell on deaf ears, because we all sort of agree on that now.

So the Virgin Ploy is a dangerous game to play. It could backfire, as it did when one Congressman wrongfully assumed everyone would secretly love a candidate who admitted to digging cartoon pornography. And when the Pennsylvania governor shouted, “I’m afraid of birds,” it did not have the intended response.

That said, this election is too important to rule out any tactic.  And some candidates are trying it all. A Democratic representative who will not be named said he enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons one day, only to say the following night that the game was for “virgin geeks living in their parent’s basement.” He then tried to look cool by smoking a cigarette.  This is the Confusion Ploy, which is intended to attract confused voters. We'll soon find out if it works.

Dan Bergstein is going to the bakery. If you need anything, let him know now, but be sure it’s something bakery-related, because he’s not making two stops.

Rock the Vote -- Part III

                    Harnessing the Political Power of the Cats

It’s a good time to be a cat owner in Pennsylvania. As the Senate race between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey comes down to the wire,  both candidates are trying to woo the cat owning citizens with bold promises and flashy ads. A new poll shows that 87% of cat owners in the keystone state are undecided, compared to 14% of dog owners, 8% of lizard owners, and 3% of Presbyterians. That’s a number no campaign can pass up, and it’s no surprise that desperate candidates are using everything in their war chests to capture the elusive vote.


After the poll was released, Democrats struck first by giving all Democratic members of Congress a kitten that was to be worn either on the shoulder or around the politicians’ necks in a tiny cage like a necklace as a sign of support. These fashion-cats started a trend, and a poll taken that day showed cat owners were in favor of Democrats, three-to-one.


That number quickly changed later that night after the Republican group Americans for American Freedom in America donated three tons of cats to local schools in Pennsylvania. The cats, many of which were adorable and not at all nasty, are now roaming school hallways and brightening everyone’s day. A poll conducted seven minutes after Operation School Cat was announced showed that 68% of cat owners were ready to vote for a Republican senator, and staggering 99% wished rainbows could talk.


Democrats tried to retaliate by giving area hospitals a few dozen lions, but according to a very speedy poll conducted in a matter of minutes, cat owners are not necessarily lion enthusiasts, and the plan backfired. Plus, the hospitals were ill-equipped to deal with lions. The lions were rounded up and taken to a farm, except three lions that escaped and now dwell in the sewers, thus prompting the Republican TV ad calling the Democrats “Sewer Lions,” a term that doesn’t really mean anything, but when said in a condescending manner is rather effective.


Looking to even the playing field, Sestak used his skills as an amateur veterinarian to cure a few sick cats on The Tonight Show. Polls showed that cat owners enjoyed this, but not nearly enough cat owners watched the show, as 45% of them were sleeping and 33% didn't care for their cats.


Toomey, meanwhile, went on The View last week to promote feline osteoporosis awareness. And it probably would have helped put him over the top, if only he hadn’t stumbled over the words, “feline osteoporosis awareness.” He tried to recover by calling it, “bad cat bones,” but the damage was already done. And the cat owner vote was once again, up for grabs.


In a last-ditch effort to nab the cat owner vote, the Sestak campaign paid a reported $400,000 to have Sestak drawn into a Garfield comic strip. Garfield author Jim Davis rarely uses his comic strip for political purposes, except for that one instance in which Garfield took a stand against the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994.


With only days left before the votes are cast, and some polls showing there are only minutes remaining, the candidates have big stunts planned to win over the cat lovers. Rumor has it Sestak will announce a dog tax later today, and Toomey volunteers were seen shoving small, thin kittens under the doors of potential voters.

Will it be enough? Cat owner Lisa Gunkle said, "I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay home. It’s all so busy."


Dan Bergstein cannot tell the difference between candy corn and regular corn.

Rock the Vote: Part II

                    Luring the Lithuanian-American  Vote

                    Leaked Note Campaign Headquarters:

  Attention Staff:   This election will be won or lost based on the will of the Lithuanian-American population. I don’t need to tell you that the candidate who holds these citizens in his hands controls not only the election, but all major U.S. politics and some Canadian politics too. The problem is how to get the mighty Lithuanian–Americans to the polls?


Step one is to  stop using the nine-syllable nomenclature of "Lithuanian-American." It's too long. "Lithuanians" will do.  Step two is to identify Lithuanian-Ame--Lithuanians. This is very difficult because they look just like some of you and maybe me. For the sake of the campaign, we should treat all potential voters as if they are Lithuanian until we figure out some sort of identification protocol. Do all Lithuanians wear hats? That would make this easier. Once we find a few Lithuanians, we must follow them back to their secret lair and study their common denominators from a safe distance.


The next phase involves tailoring a speech specifically for this group. We must press the issues that concern them the most. Where do they stand on environmental issues? Are they for or against big government? Can they see in the dark? Is it true that they have lightning for blood and how does that relate to universal healthcare?


With these questions answered, we will craft the perfect speech, even if it means redefining our campaign. If Lithuanians think birds are evil, guess what--we’re going to crack down on birds. We need to speak directly to them, even if that requires us to ignore every other race and gender. (Can Lithuanians be women? I assume so, but let’s not jump to conclusions and make an ass of ourselves. Carl, look into this. Have Margret help you if you’re swamped collecting data on possible Lithuanian tunnels.)


Then we will pour all of our resources into direct mail. We’ve already worked on a few slogans for a flyer. Such as:


-Don’t hurt us with your mind-powers, ye powerful Lithuanians.


-Lithuanian? More like Rich-uanian, after we’re done with ya! Vote!


-Our opponents want to hurt you and imprison your baby. For reals! Vote for us, or else.


-You are very attractive and tall.


The week before the election, we should probably take as many Lithuanians to the movies as possible. They’d probably really like that Secretariat movie. And then we can slip them each $5. I think there’s some money left in our marketing budget, and it’s only illegal if we make eye-contact with them, right? Carl, look into this.


To lock up the vote, we must make sure our opponent doesn’t find out about the precious and numerous Lithuanian voters. We need hide them at Jerry’s house. (Jerry, talk to Pete in accounting. He’ll hook you up with some petty cash for food and bedding.) If our opponent gets suspicious and asks where all the Lithuanians went, we just whistle and say, “Lithuanians? They’re not real. They were made up, like leprechauns, Santa Claus, and Michael Jordan.”


On Election Day, we will each take turns driving the Lithuanians to the polls. I can fit four people in my car.


Folks, we didn’t come all this way just to come in second place. With your help, and the help of the enigmatic Lithuanians, we will win this election. Then we can suck up to the Scandinavians and take over the world!


Dan Bergstein has never gone fishing, and hopes the fish appreciate and remember this during the coming Fish Wars.

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey into Night to his wife, Carlotta.

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.