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Saturday Book Review: Lydia Davis, The Dangerous Book for Boys, Betty MacDonald and much, much more

May 19th, 2007

Reviewed today:

“Varieties of Disturbance: Stories” by Lydia Davis

“The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

“For the Love of Letters: A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing” by Samara O’Shea

Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons (Ologies) by Ernest Drake and Dugald Steer

“Anybody Can Do Anything” by Betty MacDonald

“Behind the Scenes at the Museum” by Kate Atkinson

OK — everyone’s getting one paragraph apiece. (Just thought I’d let you know what you’re in for. Heh heh.) And if you’re looking for more reviews, check out Grandma’s Book Letter. Kaye does a great job — I used to love getting the printed copy when she ran it newsletter style. But she’s Bloggin’ Grandma now, so watch out!

Lydia — may I call you Lydia? I feel like you’ve been visiting at my house for a week, because that’s how long you’ve been in my head. You had me at “I think Mother is flirting with a man from her past who is not Father.” (From “A Man from Her Past,” short story included in “Varieties of Disturbance.” But when I got to your story “Idea for a Short Documentary Film,” well. Let’s just include the story in its entirety:

“Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.”

(Yes, that’s the whole story.) I was sold at that point. Did you love Don Delillo in college? And Donald Barthelme? I did. (She’s good, this Lydia Davis. Also, in her free time she translates Proust. Just so’s you know.) Lydia, that was more than one paragraph, I must go.

“For the Love of Letters,” by Samara O’Shea, is quite a lovely book — well-written, well-researched. As my mother-in-law put it so sweetly one time, “You write these lovely letters and no one ever writes back!” (Not true — both of my mothers-in-law and my father-in-law, one of my brother-in-laws and several of my cousins write me, on occasion. I appreciate this, especially as they all have nicer handwriting than I do.)

“How will I ever/
how will I ever/
get to Heaven now?”

— Dixie Chicks

You know how you get to Heaven? You keep in touch while you’re here is how. So please write a letter, jot a note, send someone a card, and revive this dying art of correspondence. No, e-mails with little animated bunnies do not count.

Most of you are familiar with the inimitable Betty MacDonald through her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. These books are, of course, brilliant — to the point, funny for adults and children alike, loaded with slapstick. But oh, there is so much more to Betty than this. Read about her trials and tribulations as a teenage wife and chicken farmer on the Olympic Peninsula in “The Egg and I.” Meet Ma and Pa Kettle. (They’re her creation.) Read about her TB woes in “The Plague and I.” She was scrappy, that Betty. My favorite of hers, though, is “Anybody Can Do Anything.”

“The best thing about the depression was the way it reunited our family and gave my sister Mary a real opportunity to prove that anybody can do anything, especially Betty.”

To her family, if they ever happen upon this — what a cool chick she was.

Now — I really shouldn’t review this one yet, because I have just started Kate Atkinson’s “Behind the Scenes at the Museum.” But I’m giving it a thumbs-up because I’m loving it. It’s written from the viewpoint of one Ruby Lennox, who starts telling us about her life from the second she is conceived. I like the format of the book — skip ahead to “Footnote (i) — Country Idyll,” go back to where you left off, start again. I’m liking modern novels and short stories nowadays because for years I’ve been thinking, damn. Loosen up, already! It holds my interest, when I know writers are having some freedom and aren’t stuck in some tiny little box. With no light or snacks. Maybe they have a bottle of water in there. So yes, I’m already planning on reading Ms. Atkinson’s other books, too. She’s written a stack of them.

Now, here come Conn and Hal Iggulden with this wholesomely-titled book, “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” and its whole premise of “remember the good old days when kids had FUN?” etc. I am somewhat opposed to this whole line of bullshit and have blogged about it before here because, you know, I grew up in the “good old days” and they sucked in a lot of ways. However, we didn’t have such huge fat kids then, or out-of-control childhood diabetes, or teenagers with heart disease. So it was better then, in that way. (Jesus H., can I be more flip? I’m sorry, but this topic works my nerves.)

ALL OF THAT SAID — This is a great book (do you even remember what book I discussing? The “Dangerous Boys” book) and my kids have been poring over it since it showed up in the mail a few weeks back. Learn about the Navajo Code Talkers! Make a Go-Cart! Skip a stone! Learn how to tie knots! (The author also included a Shakespeare sampler. This thrills me, of course.) But don’t talk to me about that “kids need to run wild in the streets” crap because no, mine don’t. You’re free to do whatever you want with your wild-eyed little munchkins, though. Have fun…

And our last book for today is “Dr. Ernest Drake’s Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons,” edited by Dugald A. Steer, B.A. (Brist), S.A.S.D. Whatever that means.

Ever since his sister scored Fairyopolis: A Flower Fairies Journal, Wacky Boy has been demanding equal treatment. The dragon book contains real dragon skin. And dust. That’s all I need to say, really.


  1. npdxparent says

    Love the book reviews and the link to Grandma’s BooK Letter blog. Thank you for reminding me to read, and write letters too. If the school district would stop screwing up our schools, I think I could actually make time for reading and writing again. Maybe things will improve now that the superintendent is leaving and Ruth has been elected.

    May 19th, 2007 | #

  2. WackyMommy says

    A big YAY for Ruth! Yes, I, too, am hoping for some good changes.

    May 20th, 2007 | #

  3. edj says

    We have pirateology and it’s lots of fun. I love “Anybody Can Do Anything”–I first read it at about 13 and re-read it semi-regularly. It’s sooo funny!

    May 22nd, 2007 | #

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