Monthly Archives: August 2011

Issue of August 28, 2011

From bookshelves to golf to comfort books to research of the most difficult kind, BiblioBuffet has it all. Come with us and get to know the inside world of books just a bit better.

Pete Croatto finds that a trip to visit his (now) fiancee’s family includes a planned game of eighteen-hole golf. Recalling only a couple of inexpert visits to a driving range a long time before, he seeks out a book that will help him avoid “total embarrassment.” And he found it in an older book that proved to be as much a help as an aid to fitting in, in Drop the Book, Pick Up the Club.

When people are overworked and feeling stressed they often turn to “comfort” food, dishes that leave them feeling emotionally safe and satisfied. Readers are not immune to that, but often their comfort comes from books read as children. Gillian Polack returns to “the comfort end” of her scale with a list and description of books that help her through a difficult time in Replenishing the Bookish Soul.

Researching the subject of a biography means not only looking at their work but at their personal lives. Carl Rollyson’s experience for his upcoming book on one of Britain’s first successful female film directors shows how fraught with emotional tangles, lies, self-deceptions, personal agendas, old secrets, and developing relationships such research can be in Picking a Subject: Part Four.

There’s more in books than just words. In Dad’s Books, Lauren Roberts finds out just how much intimacy books that were passed along can hold when she decides to offer up a selection of her recently-given father’s books. What was kept, what was given away, and why? And how did it feel?

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Issue of August 21, 2011

What else can I say? From bacon to bookmarks to art, we have some good reading for you.

Nicki Leone has the owner of an Audubon print but for many years she didn’t know what she had. In Illustrating Eras: The Art of Thomas Bewick and John James Audubon, she talks about the two men, the book that initiated her journey into the art, and other books that highlight that art.

Bacon is always a popular subject with blogs, websites and even magazines devoted to it. It is no different with bacon bookmarks and bacon-themed bookmarks. Laine Farley revisits the issue of real bacon found, to every librarian’s dismay (and perhaps sense of humor), in books, as well as handcrafted bacon-like bookmarks, printable bacon bookmarks, and more in Bacon Bookmarks Rise Again.

How books fit into one’s home depends on one’s personality. But passionate readers almost surely have them all over the house, and not in an Architectural Digest manner. Lauren Roberts may adore looking through the famous magazine but when it comes to books their approach and hers take vastly different paths, a disagreement she explores in Too Neat for Their Own Good?.

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Issue of August 14, 2011

In this week’s issue, we have some fabulous reading for you—from serious to thoughtful and from fun to musing. We recommend not missing a single column!

Calendars represent time but what does time represent? In Time and the Jewish Past, Gillian Polack pulls together three very different books that all use time and calendars and Jewish history to illuminate not only the lives of European Jewry through the centuries but the European Renaissance as a whole.

Con men have been a part of American life from its beginnings. They fascinate both in their ability to con and in the price many have to eventually pay. In The Last, Great American Conman, Pete Croatto reviews a new book about one of the twentieth century’s great ones Evel Knievel, and finds a terrific, masterful read.

Being a biographer means digging into a subject’s life to pull out the person behind the legend. But what happens when the desired subject wields so much influence (and a willingness to be a kind of “literary gangster”) that even proposing such a biography is wracked with difficulties? Carl Rollyson details how he and his partner-wife tackled the obstacles they encountered in their pursuit of the person who became Susan Sontag in Picking a Subject: Part Three.

Lev Raphael has watched and commented on the fascination with all things Jane Austen, but something changed after he read a major mash-up. He found himself wondering What If? Not only “What if Austen had made the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice Anglo-Jews?”, but what if he were the writer to work out the implications? Readers, he made the plunge in Bitten by the Austen Bug.

Those “lazy” days of summer are hitting their stride and Lauren Roberts in Lazy Times shares why she thinks everyone should take advantage of them. After all, Harriet Beecher Stowe noted our tendency to be lazy, and if one does it right lazy can be a good thing.

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Valid Criticism or Mere Anger?

It’s rather a shame we can’t share some of the e-mails we at BiblioBuffet receive. Some are absolutely wonderful, others . . .  less so. The most recent was one of the latter. It was addressed to Pete Croatto who, in “The Athletic Supporter,” reviews sports books. Not much controversy there, right?

You’d think so, but Pete’s current column combined a book review with the story of its author, Paul Shirley. Shirley had been a ESPN.com columnist when he made a couple of controversial comments on sites other than ESPN about the Haiti relief effort and the Haitian people soon after the  massive earthquake in 2010. The fertilizer hit the fan of course, and Shirley was fired. Pete addressed both issues.

Yes, what Shirley wrote was tasteless, insensitive, and mean, but that he got dismissed for it should give every professional writer serious pause. The man was fired for doing his job.

Shirley, who’s not playing pro ball right now, had the misfortune of being a dissenting voice on an issue that united the world. Maybe he didn’t express his thoughts in the best way, but it wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t right. It was his opinion, and for ESPN, a journalistic enterprise, to punish him is unconstitutional. . . .

Is it possible for writers to represent a company and be themselves? Shirley already had that question answered for him. He won’t be the last writer who is unable to speak for himself.

Pete’s words hit sore spots with several readers, but it was one reader who furiously responded:

1.  Your right to exercise free speech only guarantees that you can say what you want, not that what you say be rendered immune from critique or other consequences. What you propose is the palin [sic] definition of free speech. Firing him is unconstitutional? You are way, way off.

2.  You presume that in saying something objectively awful, Paul was “doing his job.” Paul doesn’t get to determine whether doing that is his job or not. His employer does. He was employed at will, correct? Its not a gov’t job. Paul being shitcanned doesn’t “chill” the exercise of free speech. It’s more of a place and manner restriction. Paul is totally free to bloviate on his exerable blog and twitter about his nursed grievances against Mark Madsen, Jamaal Tinsley, black players in general, his crappy love life . . . and tiny penis. It wasn’t “misfortune” that he chose to write that crap and then double down with a non-apology apology.  It was Paul’s choice. How about some accountability for that assclown?

3.  It’s dumb for ESPN to fire him? You make this assertion but do not say why.  You want to have the tail wagging the dog. Sorry but in the real world, your private employer can fire you for almost any reason. You seem to be saying that Paul’s “rights” trump the people WHO ARE PAYING HIM. . . . Who cares if its marketing or why they did it. They have the right to.

Pete’s brief but calm response to him only appeared to anger him further so I suggested the exchange be discontinued on the grounds that neither one was going to change the other’s mind. Nicki Leone, however, had a far more eloquent response, and I quote it in full because it clearly defines the original problem and the reason why the firing should raise alarms.

I think your letter-writer is hiding behind technicalities. It’s true that freedom of speech is a constitutional right, and therefore, narrowly interpreted, means simply that you can’t be arrested for expressing your opinions. But a narrow interpretation of freedom of expression is a philosophically lazy position. I’d say that Shirley’s situation is more analogous to that of a whistle-blower. The question is not whether Shirley has a right to say something. But whether ESPN has a right to fire him for saying it. In our current near-laissez-faire capitalist culture, corporations work hard to maintain absolute control over their image, and since thanks to the Internet there is no longer a line between the “public” and “private” life, companies feel entirely justified in firing people over things they say on Facebook, for example.

Our collective response to this has been troubling: we self-censor ourselves in public forums because we know that now these are no longer places for personal freedom of expression. They are de facto public statements for which we will held accountable, and which will have farther-reaching repercussions than might be expected for a simple amusing post of the photo of the night you spent hanging out in a bar with your friends. We have ceded, almost without a fight, the encroachments of corporate interference into our social lives and their right to enact judgments upon us when our personal inclinations run against their perceived corporate interest. In its own way, it is not dissimilar to living in a religious state.  Somehow being a “good citizen” means being a good company man.

But freedom of expression shouldn’t be interpreted narrowly. Its power is in its universality. At the heart of the First Amendment is not a simple guarantee that you won’t be thrown in jail, but a promise to the country that an individual’s opinions will always be honored, and a recognition that in diversity of opinion is strength. And the First Amendment is founded on the assumption that we can judge for ourselves who is and isn’t worth listening to. Any governmental—or corporate—attempt to make those judgments for us violates the fundamental principle of Freedom of Expression.

Shirley’s case is a little more nuanced, because he is a reporter for a news organization, which by definition holds itself to certain standards of neutrality and objectivity. ESPN would never, for example, decline to report on an NFL team just because the team owner or manager cussed out the organization on THEIR Facebook page. They exist to report, not to judge. And in the case of Shirley, it sounds like ESPN is on even shakier ground because he was hired as an opinion writer—he was a blogger, with a specific abrasive style which the powers that be certainly knew about when they first offered him a contract. So unless that contract stated “thou shalt not give thy opinions upon any subject but basketball,” they didn’t have grounds to fire him. He wasn’t giving false information, he was giving his opinion. He was doing his job.

I think ESPN displayed a corporate cowardice in firing Shirley. They should have relied on the universal caveat I’m sure is printed somewhere on their site—that the views and opinions expressed by the writers do not necessarily reflect those of the organization. That is all they needed to say.

This country is on a disturbing road. Our constitutional liberties, which have defined the freedom America stands for, are under relentless if fairly quiet attack. I am not going to get into a political discussion, but the issues brought up here by Pete, by the letter writers, and by Nicki highlight what should be of concern to everyone. Certainly, Pete has the right to express his views. BiblioBuffet is not going to tone them down, or nor will the editorial team suggest that he stick to a straightforward review of a book and an author/commentator he cares about. Is the issue worth talking about? It’s up to you and me and Pete and ESPN. But it is not one BiblioBuffet is going to sweep under the rug.

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Issue of August 7, 2011

In this week’s issue, we have some fabulous reading for you with hot recommendations to match the weather. Check it out, then settle in with a good book from our list, some cold water or iced tea, and a porch chair or blanket under a tree.

Being that Americans are as a culture vastly overweight it’s not surprising that there are a lot of books out there on how to lose the excess. Lindsay Champion, in The Weight of My Words, reviews one that is not a self-help book, as most are, but is instead a memoir of a life remembered with honesty, if not intimacy. Despite that, she says, the book offers “a quarter ton of inspirational wisdom.”

Who, really, is the man called “the father of our country”? Was he more myth than real? Nicki Leone tackles the complex new biography of George Washington  and discovers  a dramatic book that, while it may be the part-time victim of an adoring biographer, still remains a “vivid, captivating, engaging, and enlightening” (and thoroughly researched) read in  The Man Behind the Myth.

Sometimes the best stories are not in a book. Lauren Roberts shares one story—a true one that happened just this past week in Santa Barbara—that combines horror, sadness, courage, strength, and hope for the whole world in A Story to Remember.

Katherine Hauswirth joins BiblioBuffet again with a superb essay  that looks at two books with a common theme: relationships with another person and with nature. You wouldn’t think that two books that came out of some of California’s most beautiful country could infuse and inform our societal relationships, but in fact they can as can be seen in How to Be Together; How to Be Alone.

Hotels often hold a mystique over us, especially if we stayed in them as children. One of the most stylish of hotels—the Hotel Commodore in New York City—gave its guests a special bookmark souvenir that is the focus of Lauren Roberts’s attention in Come Again!

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