So Much to Read
"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good."—Samuel Johnson

20 July 2000
Me Talk Pretty One Day
David Sedaris

If you haven't yet discovered David Sedaris, now is the time. The sardonic, somewhat detached observations of a man whose world seems entirely populated by lunatics include tales of being an effeminate young boy sent to a slightly sinister speech therapist to cure his lisp and of working for a self-defeating Marxist furniture mover who refuses to be hired by the wealthy. The title is a translation of some bad French Sedaris employs when he moves to France, where, constrained by his limited vocabulary, he comes off sounding like an “evil baby.” Sedaris's humor is edgy without being mean, making these stories of the paranoid, criminal, and cruel deliciously hilarious.
Also funny: Don't Get Too Comfortable

14 May 2000
Blue Angel
Francine Prose

Ted Swensen is a frustrated novelist and tenured professor at a small fictional Vermont college. Running a creative writing workshop that teeters close to being a group therapy session, he has thus far managed to avoid the sexual harassment charges appearing like land mines around campus. He adores his wife and, for the most part, his life. Then an exceptionally talented student shares with him a novel about a girl who seduces her teacher, and his complicated feelings for her draw him into a situation he doesn't fully understand. Prose's gift for creating complex, believable characters allow her to craft a novel that unfolds into a classic tragic tale as well as a wicked satire of academic life.

2 March 2000
High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian
Clifford Stoll

Politicians pledge a laptop computer for every schoolchild. Textbooks, and even teachers, are being replaced by CD-ROMs. The national love affair with technology is changing the classroom, and Stoll's is one of the few voices pointing out how these changes may be doing more harm than good. Not only is a computer program on magnets, for example, an expensive substitute for actually holding a magnet in your hand, it's ineffective. Moreover, the time that kids spend learning how to point and click comes at the cost of learning how to get along with real live human beings, which is a skill that they are certain to need every day of their lives. The author's incisive and witty criticism of a culture that prizes the latest toy over a solid education is a breath of fresh air, and a wake-up call.

29 February 2000
Home Comforts
Cheryl Mendelson

The line between obsessive-compulsive disorder and good housekeeping habits is a fine one, if it exists at all. My sympathies lie squarely with Mendelson, who knew her first marriage was over when her husband dumped his suitcases, wheels and all, onto the unmade bed. More than a housekeeping manual, this book is dedicated to the philosophy behind creating a pleasant and comfortable home, and to elevating housework from drudgery to an art and a science. The book is neatly illustrated and full of details—how to make hospital corners, which wineglass to use when—yet also invitingly instructive in the very basics of cooking and cleaning when you are working full time. You can't open this book without learning something (did you know that bread goes stale six times faster in the refrigerator than it does at room temperature?) and being at least a little bit inspired to make your home a nicer place. Whether you've never sewed on a button, or want to explore the difference between damask and dimity, there's something in here for you.

22 January 2000
Big Trouble
Dave Barry

Widely regarded as the funniest man in America, Barry brings to his first novel not only all the wit of his earlier writing but also, as he is quick to point out, an Actual Plot. Amidst the everyday chaos and corruption that is modern Miami, a failed advertising designer and his teenaged son become entangled with Eastern European arms dealers, a pair of bored assassins, bumbling cops, a herd of goats, and a pair of small-time criminals who unwittingly turn into international terrorists. Barry sneaks in some shrewd and hilarious digs at bureaucratic nonsense and human foibles, all while taking his readers on a roller coaster ride that they won't want to see end.

<—1999 reviews

2001 reviews—>

"There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breathgiving air...I was rather literary in college—one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the Yale News—and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the 'well-rounded man.' This isn't just an epigram—life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all."—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby