“Another book?” the child says, as the doorman hands her one of the thick, padded envelopes that arrives each day. I wish I had a Flip video of that moment, because she’s as withering as Bette Davis. I find her comical — it’s no surprise that she thinks what I do is ridiculous and that I’m a “buffoon” to sit here reading and writing, writing and reading. And all the writers we seem to know? They’re “buffoons” too.
I have a different reaction to the tsunami of books that washes in six days a week. In a word: overwhelmed. Very simply, we’re drowning in books here. So my first priority isn’t figuring out what to read and when — it’s deciding what to give away after reading a page or two.
The dirty little truth of the home office: I have to live here, I can’t have books stacked to the ceiling. So, every weekend, when I retrieve the car from its garage, I put a bag filled with books in the trunk. And then, every few weeks, I make a dropoff at Goodwill or Housing Works.
And even then, I’m swamped — pinioned by requests from friends and friends of friends to deal with their books. These people have a stack all their own. I recently observed that it’s as tall as the child — and the child is now 8 years old, and leggy.
So, with apologies for brevity, here are brief takes for books I’ve wanted to write about — or, worse, promised to write about — for months and months.
A Life Undone: A Father’s Journal Through Loss
Barry Kluger (friend of a friend) was a hotshot at MTV and a loving father to his only daughter — though divorced, he’d drive hours to see her. Erica was no Westinghouse winner; she was a regular kid, energetic, funny, loving. She ran into some of the usual teen problems, and she solved them, and then, at 18, just when she was coming into her own, she died in a car crash. Happens all the time. And it often happens that their parents write about their loss. What’s moving about this: the unvarnished mourning, the intimate family story, the understanding of grief as a “team sport.”
Anne. C. Heller (friend of a former girlfriend) tackles the founder of Objectivism and the author of “Atlas Shrugged,” favorite book to many. I’ve never read Rand; I think I’d rather read about her. (After all, this is the woman who convinced Alan Greenspan that corporations act in the national interest — imagine his surprise, all these years later, to learn of the existence of greed.) But this is the definitive biography.
Gar Ryness (and Caleb Dewart, son of my brother’s college roommate) started demonstrating stances on a website, which became a YouTube hit and is now an old-fashioned book — the new paradigm in action. Analyzing 50 batting stances gives them a way to present a unique history of baseball.
Barbara K. Richardson (pen pal) is someone I admire. After a batch of careers (teacher, landscape designer, sailboat refinisher), she taught herself to write, and she’s come up with a novel about an unlikely woman and the even more unlikely people she meets once she steps out of her life. Then she found a regional publisher and made a video. I tip my hat.
Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love
Justine van der Leun (daughter of a friend, for starters) is a young American writer who traded New York for a tiny town (population: 200) in Italy. There she found love, lost it and replaced it with an abandoned English pointer. Marcus becomes her friend and teacher. Dog lovers will lap this book up.
Shift: How to Reinvent Your Business, Your Career, and Your Personal Brand
Peter Arnell (husband of a friend and former colleague) has always been brash and brilliant. He also weighed, at his peak, more than 400 pounds. He is now 256 pounds lighter. It’s not that he’s lost weight — he’s transformed himself. And in this slim volume, he suggests how you can.
Stew’s collaborator, Scotty Reiss, became one of my favorite editors when she sent me to Milan to interview Muccia Prada. This book’s more down home; Stew Leonard is the guy who made grocery shopping so much fun you don’t mind having to walk through many aisles to get out.
The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids
Todd Christopher (we did time together at AOL) created the Green Hour web site for the National Wildlife Federation. For many, taking kids outsides involves ball, teams and competition. There’s much more — gardening, hiking and exploring, for starters — and Todd’s the world expert on those activities.
Phyllis Theroux (friend of a friend) has produced a memoir that is at once a chronicle of a smart, unhappy woman turning herself into a writer, a writer coming to terms with age, a daughter taking care of her mother, and more — women of a certain age will relate. And be inspired by what she learns: “Lean toward the light.”
The Mermaid’s Tale: A Novel of Love, Fear, & Misogyny
Ann Medlock founded the Giraffe Heroes Project, which, in the wayback years, gave a shout out to my mother. In this novel, a woman confronts every issue of the 1960s and 1970s with wit, smarts and — of course — courage.
This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
Marilyn Johnson and I were AARP.com’s book bloggers, a sweet gig we both miss. She consoled herself with an amusing book about obituaries. Now she’s written a fascinating — and timely — book about the importance of librarians.
Stephanie Pierson (who contemplated buying a house we owned) and Barbara Harrison deal with issues of millennial etiquette. With the help of opinionated experts, they ask: Should you admit you’re getting your MBA online? Is it okay to text bad news? Is phone sex “cheating”?
What to Wear For the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style
Kim Johnson Gross was co-creator of “Chic Simple” and, decades ago, an instant friend. Impossibly, she’s divorced, she’s 50, her youngest daughter’s in college — and her body’s changing. Great stylist that she is, she finds a way to look good and real simultaneously.