With everybody getting offended, it’s hard for creative people to find bad guys

We all know that the entertainment world, deprived of Islamist bad guys for its movies (since real Islamists might respond with real killing), having been reduced to demonizing corporations, recycling Nazis and, when all else fails, dragging in space aliens.  Books, too, are feeling the pinch.

I was trolling through Kindle’s free books the other day looking for stuff to read. Unless I’m quite obviously not going to read the book (Paleolithic cook books aren’t my thing), I click over and check the best and the worst reviews for a book. The best reviews tell me about the book; and the worst tell me about its flaws. Any book that gets scathing attacks because of bad grammar, wooden dialogue, whiny heroines, etc., never finds its way onto my Kindle.

Today, I found a “one star” review that raises a point I’ve never thought about before: the book is unfair to witches. As best as I can tell, the book is a sweet, but silly, romance/ghost story but, somewhere in the book the writer said something mean about witches and got this negative review:

5 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointed, April 15, 2013
By GW Alumna (Planet Earth) – See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: Keep Me Ghosted (Sophie Rhodes Romantic Comedy #1) (Kindle Edition)

Let me first say that I’ve enjoyed Cantwell’s books immensely. And I enjoyed this one for about the first third. Then the problems started. The problem in this book, the malevalent ghost, was identified as having been evoked by witchcraft. I don’t take insults to my religion lightly, and this is the last Cantwell book that I will ever read. Just imagine if some dastardly ghost had been invoked by islam or judaism. We didn’t even get the dignity of a capital letter for our religion. I am very disappointed in Cantwell. I thought she was better than this. It was just a cheap shot that was totally unnecessary. Surely she could have created an antagonist without insulting people.

Book Review: Karen Robard’s “The Last Kiss Goodbye” — a different kind of ghost story

You all know my fondness for a good romance novel, especially when it’s mixed with suspense.  Karen Robards has been a reliable writer in that regard, whether she’s writing historicals or contemporaries.  Too often romance novels are claustrophic books with the central pair waltzing around each other in a sea of misunderstandings.  Robards, however, has a knack for writing taut thrillers that are genuinely enjoyable, entirely separate from the romance part.

With the recent passion for vampires and other supernatural characters, Robards has decided to try her hand at the genre as well.  Her first paranormal book was The Last Victim: A Novel (Charlotte Stone). The heroine is Dr. Charlotte Stone, who witnessed a serial killer — the “Boardwalk Killer” — in action and who went on to become a psychiatrist specializing in what makes serial killers tick. She also sees dead people.

The plot gets going when Stone is at a prison interviewing a serial killer named Michael Garland, who has God-like looks and a dirty mouth. Garland gets stabbed by another inmate and, despite Stone’s best efforts, he dies. Garland’s ghost immediately attaches to Stone and won’t go away. While she’s adjusting to this haunting, an FBI team, led by a good-looking agent, approaches her for help.  The FBI believes the Boardwalk Killer has returned and Stone is their best bet to stop him. The rest of the book has Stone and the FBI racing to catch a killer, while Stone finds herself torn between the FBI agent and the good-looking ghost of a convicted serial killer.

As the book goes on, it becomes very obvious that the serial killer is winning Stone’s heart — which means either that Robards has become one strange lady as a writer or that the serial killer was falsely convicted. And that’s kind of where Book 1 ends: with Stone losing her heart to a ghost we can no longer believe is a serial killer (although there’s no evidence to the contrary) and, of course, with the whole team solving the crime.

Book 2 in the series is The Last Kiss Goodbye: A Novel, which comes out in August (I was able to get as a preview copy).  The book picks up immediately where the last one left off, within hours of Stone having successfully solved the previous murder.  Garland is still a ghost, Stone is still conflicted, and the FBI still needs Stone because there’s another serial killer out there.  In other words, there’s nothing new about The Last Kiss Goodbye.  If you enjoyed the first book, which had Robards’ trademark pacing and sizzling romance, you’ll like this one, which has Robards’ trademark pacing and sizzling romance.

I wouldn’t rank The Last Kiss Goodbye as one of Robards’ best books but, in her defense, I’m not a fan of the whole paranormal genre.  I prefer it when my romantic heroes are real people, not vampires, or werewolves, or ghosts.  I just don’t see where a romance can reasonably go when the hero’s instinct is to suck your blood or dismember you or when, as here, he’s dead.  Believe it or not, though, Robards does manage to work around the whole sex thing, which gives hope that, in subsequent books, Stone and Garland will get to live (or die) happily ever after.

Overall, I don’t regret reading this book.  I never regret reading Robards’ books.  I just can’t rave about it because (a) the premise is a little too strange for me and (b) Book 2 has a slightly recycled feel to it.  I will certainly read Book 3 in the series (I assume there’ll be one), because even when she’s a little disappointing, Robards is still a cut above the rest.

Alice Walker — a vile antisemite whose books are read in schools throughout America

I never liked Alice Walker’s writing.  The Color Purple was a poorly written pulp novel that got traction because it was marketed as a black woman’s rising up from the chains of racism.  Others have written the same, only better.

Walker has now confirmed that her bad writing comes about because she’s got an evil soul.  When Alicia Keyes planned a trip to Israel, this is the letter Walker penned this marginally literate screed to her (emphasis mine):

Dear Alicia Keys,

I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there. It is our only nonviolent option and, as we learned from our own struggle in America, nonviolence is the only path to a peaceful future.

If you go to my website and blog alicewalkersgarden.com you can quickly find many articles I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own. Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.

This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil. You can spend months, and years, as I have, pondering this situation. Layer upon layer of lies, misinformation, fear, cowardice and complicity. Greed. It is a vast eye-opener into the causes of much of the affliction in our suffering world.

I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world. Please, if you can manage it, go to visit the children in Gaza, and sing to them of our mutual love of all children, and of their right not to be harmed simply because they exist.

With love, younger sister, beloved daughter and friend,

Alice Walker

Walker is incapable of opening her mind to reality, which establishes that Israel is the only representative democracy in the Middle East, allowing all races, faiths, and sexual orientations to live there in freedom, while the Palestinians are a totalitarian state that work hard to be Judenrein, as well as Christan-free; that terrorizes its own citizens; that routinely slaughters women, gays, and those deemed to be “traitors” supporting Israel; that targets Israel’s children; and that teaches its own children to seek Israel’s destruction through conquest and genocide.

Here’s the truly nasty thing about Walker.  Our American public schools teach children to revere her.  They’re not reading Shakespeare or Faulkner or Dickens, they’re reading Walker’s slopping, bathetic, ill-informed, badly written insult to English and American literature, and are being told that it’s worthwhile and says important things.

The only saving grace in all of this is that so many of America’s English teachers are boring, ill-informed pendants (that’s what Leftism does to academics, with the most Leftist gravitating to English and social studies).  Their students routinely conceive a life-long hatred for the books imposed upon them in English class.

Book Review: Ray Zacek’s “The Taxman Cometh”

As I’ve told many people who have offered to send me books to review, I’m a desultory reviewer.  The spirit really has to move me for me to write a book review.  I’m always happy to receive free books, but I do think the authors or publishers or publicity agents ought to know that I don’t guarantee to write a review.

I think this vaguely procrastinatory feeling I have about writing book reviews goes back to junior high and high school, when I read books I usually disliked and was then forced to write 750 words about them.  That was bad enough, but I was always miffed when the teacher later graded my opinion.

The end result is that, if I love a book, I’ll definitely rouse myself to write a review, while if a book offends me deeply either morally or politically I might be moved to write a negative review.

As for books in the great middle — eh, it’s hit or miss.  If someone was kind enough to send me a freebie or I know the author, I’ll write a review only if I really liked the book.  If I didn’t like it, I just don’t mention it at all.

With those confessions out in the open, let me say that I really liked Ray Zacek’s The Taxman Cometh(which I bought myself, rather than receiving a review copy).  Here’s the review I posted at Amazon:

I found this black comedy a peculiarly mesmerizing little book. Usually, within a chapter or two, I can predict a book’s outcome. On those rare occasions when I can’t predict the outcome, I’m often peeved because the author “cheated” by blatantly betraying his own plot trajectory and going somewhere stupid.

Zacek’s book, however, is a marvelous little gem. Every time it takes off in a wonderful, often macabre direction, Zacek deftly reveals an appropriate new fact, or explains a preexisting one, creating a seamless little book that’s full of surprises.

Because the book is short (novella length) and because it has so many unexpected twists & turns, while still maintaining overall narrative coherence, I don’t want to spoil any surprises by saying “It was great when THIS happened,” or “The scene with THAT event was side-splitting.”

It’s enough, therefore, for me to say that Zacek is a superb writer. He’s managed to take an IRS agent and turn him and the ghost that haunts him into worthwhile literary protagonists.

As an added pleasure, I really appreciated that Zacek is an excellent grammarian and that he (or his editor) carefully proofread the book before publishing it. Too many Kindle books have imaginative plots and interesting characters, but are impossible to read because they don’t quite cross the literacy threshold. Zacek doesn’t have that problem.

If you’d like a few enjoyable hours with a good book, I highly recommend “The Taxman Cometh.”

An unexpected moment of insight from an early Jayne Ann Krentz novel

Jayne Ann Krentz, aka Amanda Quick, aka Jayne Castle, is one of America’s most prolific romantic mystery writers.  She writes contemporary (Jayne Ann Krentz), historical (Amanda Quick), and sci fi romances (Jayne Castle).  She is like a machine, grinding out novels year after year.  Her template is a trusting, intuitive, bright woman and a strong man who is capable of love and who instantly recognizes the heroine as his soul mate, but is afraid of leaping into a relationship.

One of the things that makes Krentz’s books appealing is that she’s big on intelligent communication.  This means that her romances don’t revolve around idiot protagonists who operate on unfounded assumptions and constantly leap to stupid conclusions.

Of late, however, even though Krentz is still grinding them out, you get the feeling she’s tired.  She still has a lot of plot and dialogue, but the plots are identical to each other, and she’s pretty much given up on the heavy lifting of description.  As a reader, one feels that Krentz is no longer on a creative, literary adventure; it’s just a job.  I also find her current books, even when they’re set in the Victorian era, just too PC.  Krentz has bought into the modern intellectual ethos hook, line, sinker.

Still, when one of Krentz’s earliest novels, 1986′s Sweet Starfire, appeared on the Kindle free book list, I grabbed it.  (You can still buy it for just $1.99.)  Reader reviews said that the book, which was one of her first futurist novels, was fresh and imaginative, showing the Krentz sparkle that earned her legions of loyal fans.

The reviewers were right.  Sweet Starfire an delightfully imaginative book set in the future on a planet that earth colonized.  This is no rote romance.  Krentz clearly saw in her minds eye a complete society.  Her premise is that, because the colonizing ship had a crash landing, the planets’ residents managed to cobble together a little earth knowledge, but basically had to make it on their own.  They eventually colonize planets — Lovelady (the main planet), Renaissance (a primeval jungle), and QED (a desert planet) — in this new solar system. A fourth planet, Frozen Assets, has yet to be colonized.

The colonists realized when they arrived on Lovelady that they were not the planet’s first occupants.  The prior occupants, whom the colonists named “the Ghosts,” had left some remnants of themselves, but not enough for the colony’s occupants to know anything about them beyond the fact of their existence.

On Lovelady, the humans morphed naturally into two castes:  Harmonics, who are incredibly sensitive, telepathic, intelligent people who constitute the colony’s upper caste; and Wolves, who are the ordinary people who make things happen.  They’re the miners, and traders, and travelers, and hotel keepers.  They respect the Harmonics, admiring their purity, kindness, and grace, as well as benefiting from the Harmonics’ business acumen, but that’s about the sum total of the two castes’ interactions.

The books’ lead characters are Cidra, who was born to two Harmonics, but lacks their telepathic abilities, and Severance, an alpha manly wolf.  Cidra has left her peaceful Harmonic home to try to find a Ghost artifact that she believes will enable her to become a true, telephatic Harmonic.  Severance recognizes Cidra for what she is:  a true, earthy, sensual Wolf in Harmonic’s clothing.

I’m not giving anything away when I say that these two fall in love.  From here on out, though, there are plot spoilers so, if you’re planning on reading the book, stop now.

[Read more...]

A friend has written a book!

One of my friends has written and published a book on Amazon and it promises to be good:  The Taxman Cometh, by Ray Zacek.  Don’t be scared off by the fact that the protagonist is an IRS revenue officer.  Ray Zacek, who wrote the book, is one of the wittiest writers I know, with a marvelous, mordant sense of humor.  Even though things involving taxes usually make me feel a little uneasy, I’ve already bought my copy  and am looking forward to reading it.

We got your bargains today on books about bargains!

An internet friend of mine, Michelle Horstman, has worked with her husband to write a book about getting the most out of garage sales — a useful skill at the best of times, but a real winner during an endless recession. It’s a fun, easy-to-read, very practical guide and, today only, the book is free.  If you have a Kindle or Kindle apps, you really have to get yourself a copy.

Jane Austen and Lena Dunham — sisters under the skin?

Pen and ink portrait of Jane Austen

I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1976, when I was in high school. In those days, the book was popular, as it has been since its first publication two-hundred years ago (January 28, 1813), but it wasn’t yet trendy. I didn’t care about trends. I fell in love — with an author’s voice, with her characters, and with the time and place in which those characters lived.  Since then, with the exception of Northanger Abbey, which I appreciated as a spoof but never liked, I’ve read Austen’s books repeatedly.

I don’t know if it’s boast-worthy or cringe-worthy that I’ve read my two favorites — Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion — at least fifteen times each. I view the books as friends. Just as I enjoy meeting my friends for lunch or a walk, during which time we hash and re-hash the same conversations about children and life, so too do I love rendezvousing periodically with Elizabeth and Anne. Austen’s genius is that, two hundred years later, both of them are real people with whom I enjoy spending time.

Vittorio Reggianini

One of the things that I love about Austen is that she’s a moralist, although never a preachy one.  Modern readers recognize the more obvious lessons she preaches:  don’t let the pride of your rank blind you to a good person’s virtues; don’t let your wounded ego allow you to seek out “the wrong guy”; and don’t think you can manage other people’s lives if you can’t even do a good job with your own.

What too many modern readers (including those who should know better) miss is that Jane Austen was also an old-fashioned, middle-class, religiously driven cultural moralist.  Austen never rebelled against the lessons she learned growing up in her father’s parsonage.  She preached many of those same lessons when it came to personal morality, only she slipped them into frothy, amusing, tart confections.

Think about it:  In Pride and Prejudice, Wickham isn’t just a vain or boastful man.  He grossly violates middle-class morality.  He begins by attempting to convince a fifteen-year-old girl to marry him, although he’s foiled in that effort.  Rather than learning his lesson, he sinks further into debauchery.  After he runs off with another fifteen-year-old girl, this time with no intention of marrying her, it’s also discovered that he routinely cheated people out of money.  Wickham isn’t just a jerk; he’s a truly evil man.  He’s not evil in a big Hollywood way, with guns and drugs.  He’s something worse:  he’s a corrupter, one who uses his charm to destroy the moral decency of lonely or foolish young women.  Austen does not redeem him at the end.  He marries Lydia, but only when bribed to do so, and Austen makes it clear that Wickham continues to be as profligate and destructive as ever.

In her most starkly moralistic novel, Mansfield Park, Austen is open, not convert, when she condemns loose modern morals. Fanny is a rather uninteresting lead character, but she deserves her role as an Austen heroine because she is unfailingly faithful to true religious teachings, both at a doctrinal level and as those moral teachings reflect upon her day-to-day life. Austen has nothing but disdain for Henry and Mary Crawford, two charming and sophisticated young people. Charming and sophisticated they may be, but they use those characteristics, not for good but, as with Wickham, to corrupt innocence. And again, as with Wickham, Austen denies them redemption. Both of them, even when they fall unwillingly in love with Fanny and Edmund, are unable to break free of their vices.

I won’t bore you with summaries of all of Austen’s novels. I’ll just note that each of them contains characters who reject middle class morality, who hurt both innocents and fools along the way, and who lack any sort of moral core that would allow them true redemption.  Austen’s major characters — Darcy, Elizabeth, Marianne, Capt. Wentworth, Emma, etc. — have foibles, but not vices.  Each grows and learns throughout the course of the book.  They go through purgatory, but are redeemed.  But the evil men, the Willoughbys and Wickhams, are irredeemable.  Austen casts them into Hell without a second thought.

Contrast Austen’s stern and unforgiving morality with Lena Dunham.  You may remember Dunham as the woman who wrote and starred in a video likening voting for Obama to losing one’s virginity.  Ick.  If you don’t have HBO, though, you’ve never come face-to-face with Dunham’s major creation, a TV series called Girls.  I watched the first episode, and it made me nauseous.  Dunham showcases a nihilistic world of unhappy, empty young women who hook up with vacuous men or, as Kurt Schlichter describes it:

Girls is about four young, aimless college grads living in New York. Think of Sex and the City, except Sarah Jessica Parker has doubled her weight, dresses like a potato sack and fancies herself the voice of some undefined generation. There’s sex and nudity – just not hot Homeland sex and nudity. This is the first show in the history of cable television where male viewers actively root for the heroine to keep her clothes on.

[snip]

The characters seem to live in a minority and Republican-free bubble (though a black Republican (!) shows up as a character this season). There is no reference to religion – that wouldn’t occur to them.

Questions of traditional morality never arise – of course you should consider an abortion! Instead of facing questions of morality, the characters face questions of behavior along the lines Seinfeld parodied – who has “hand” in a relationship, or the social faux pas of the “close talker.” To put it bluntly, these are not the big questions that the great thinkers of Western civilization have pondered over the centuries.

When it comes to core values — indeed, any values — it is impossible to imagine two writers more different than Austen and Dunham.  One is a strict, traditional moralist; and the other is a modern irreligious nihilist.  Austen is pre-modern, living in a world defined by good and evil, moral and immoral.  Dunham, by contrast, has gone a step beyond post-modern, because she doesn’t even have an inverted morality, one that celebrates vice, not virtue.  Instead, she has abandoned morality entirely.

Why then do I name my post “Jane Austen and Lena Dunham — sisters under the skin?“  Because that’s what NPR would like to have young women believe.  Maureen Corrigan, who corrupts . . . er, teaches young people at Georgetown University, and who has a prominent, long-standing book reviewing gig at NPR, thinks that Austen and Dunham could be good buddies, because they’re both witty.  No, I’m really not kidding.  After discussing an orangutan that is supposedly an Austen fan, Corrigan has this to say (emphasis mine):

What does Albert the orangutan hear in Pride and Prejudice, I wonder? Maybe the same thing my students hear when I teach survey courses on the evolution of the novel. We start our voyage out with Robinson Crusoe and often go on to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy — fine, weird novels that seem to hail from a civilization a million light years from our own. Then we arrive home, on Planet Austen.

The relief in the classroom is palpable; the energy of class discussion spikes. It’s certainly not that my students mistake Austen’s world for our own. After all, her novels revolve around the make-or-break perils of a highly ritualized marriage market. Rather, it’s Austen’s smart-girl voice: peppery, wry, eye rolling — that seems so close to modern consciousness. Austen could be gal pals with Tina Fey and Lena Dunham; she talks to us directly, bridging time and custom.

Implying that Austen, Fey, and Dunham are sisters under the skin is the ultimate form of literary deconstruction. Corrigan, a product of and a contributor to our modern education system, refuses to acknowledge Austen’s actual messages about personal growth and irreparable moral failings.  Instead, the only thing she sees is snark.  And if Austen gives good snark well, then, she’s a ready-made companion for Fey and Dunham, both of whom inhabit a moral universe that would cause Austen to draw back in revulsion.

Austen was no innocent.  The late Georgian era in which she lived was a cesspool of debauchery, and Dunham certainly would have fitted well into the seamier side of Georgian England.  For all their surface charm, Austen’s books delve into such unsavory subjects as affairs, illegitimate children, gambling, premarital sex, etc.  Unlike Dunham (and even the softer Fey), however, Austen doesn’t celebrate these activities as normal, nor does she withhold judgment because “she has no right to judge.”  Instead, these people suffer.  And they deserve to suffer.  They have violated societal norms and religious strictures, and done so without compunction.  Their regret over the consequences of these acts is irrelevant, because they do not regret the acts themselves.

I don’t believe Corrigan’s position is mere stupidity.  This deconstructionist approach to Jane Austen is a deliberate effort to minimize her moral impact on modern readers.  One cannot denounce Austen for being a prude, because her work is too witty and charming to function under that label.  But one can encourage young women to ignore her moral strictures by pretending that her societal comments have as much meaning — or lack of meaning — as the empty, sad scenes that make up Dunham’s and Fey’s intellectual and creative worlds.

Can a romance novel get the NRA seal of approval?

Pink Walther pk380

I did a Costco run the other day and, as I always do, I glanced at the book display.  This time, they had two books by one of my favorite junk/romance novel writers:  Linda Howard.  Both of the books were at prices comparable to what I’d pay for them on my iPad’s Kindle app so, yielding to an impulse, I put both in my cart.

The first, Shadow Woman, Howard wrote herself and, I’m sorry to say, it’s not one of her best. Not bad, but not good either. As I read it, I had the feeling that she was dealing with a deadline, rather than enjoying the writing process. In her better books (e.g., Kill and Tell, Open Season, or Mr. Perfect), you feel that she likes her characters and wants you to like them too. In this latest, Howard just seemed to be moving people through plot. So it goes. Even the best novelists aren’t going to hit a home run every time.

The second Linda Howard novel I bought is one she wrote with another Linda — Linda Jones.  The book, Running Wild, is a cowboy novel, which isn’t a genre I particularly like, and it has a bare-chested male torso on the cover, while I like my romance novels more discretely packaged (which is one of the virtues of the Kindle app). Still, with Linda Howard as the main name on the cover page, I thought I’d give it a try.

The book is a mixed bag. Linda Howard always writes romantic thrillers, but the thriller part of Running Wild isn’t very exciting. Our heroine flees a murderous stalker and ends up on a Wyoming ranch where, of course, she finds romance. For the most part, the book is just about her worrying about the stalker, rather than doing anything about the stalker. And when she’s not worrying, she is (of course) lusting after the rancher who is (of course) lusting after her. Worrying and lusting, lusting and worrying — not my idea of the most exciting book in the world.

Scary cop

The book suddenly picks up energy, though, when it comes to guns. You see, Carlin, our heroine is being stalked by a rogue cop — he’s armed and she, because she’s on the run, is not. Part of the reason she’s on the run is because, as far as she knows, her life under the radar precludes her from buying or carrying guns.  Imagine her relief when she discovers that, in Wyoming, things are different. Her enlightenment begins when, after a pathetic punch at the rancher when he scares her, she learns that she can be armed:

“That’s twice you’ve panicked,” he said sharply. “The first time you tried to run. This time you managed a swing that a ten-year-old could have ducked. Considering your situation, why the hell haven’t you taken some self-defense lessons?”

What he said was so far from what she’d been expecting that, for a moment, she scrambled for a reply. She opened her mouth, couldn’t think of an answer, closed it again. Then she shook herself, literally. There were reasons, a couple of very good ones.

“Money.  Time.  And knowing how to punch someone won’t protect me from a bullet.”

[snip]

Zeke’s jaw set, his mouth as grim as she’d ever seen it, which was plenty grim.  “You need shooting lessons.”

“Why?  I don’t have a gun.”  And she couldn’t buy one, either, because the background check could possibly alert Brad to her location.  She didn’t know enough about background checks, whether they were state or federal, or how easily accessible the data was.  She could find out, using Zeke’s computer, but buying a gun would still be problematic.

He gave a cold smile that in no way alleviated the grimness of his expression.

“Getting you a weapon isn’t a problem.”

“But the background check –”

“Doesn’t apply to private sales.”

“Oh.”  Suddenly faced with an option that a second ago had seemed impossible, all she could do was swallow.  (Running Wild, p. 185).

The message couldn’t be more clear:  when the government — or a rogue element in the government — is after you, the only protection you have is through the private marketplace.  Close that private marketplace and you, the citizen, are a sitting duck.

The book gets energized again when the ranch owner and his ranch hands give Carlin shooting lessons.  After a gun safety lesson, she gets to practice with a shotgun, rifle, revolver and semi-automatic.  The semi-automatic (that would be the kind that Democrats want to outlaw) works for her because it’s easy to use.  Even better, she can have it with her at all times.  She learns this important fact when one of the ranch hands tells her that a pistol will be the most practical weapon for her:

Concealed carry purse semi automatic

He lifted a pistol, one that looked as if Wyatt Earp would have been proud to haul it around.  “She needs something that’s easy to carry, and easy to handle.”

That was easy to carry and handle?  Good lord, it was a foot long!  The mental picture of herself was so ridiculous she burst out laughing as she pointed at the pistol.  “If I wore that in a holster, it would reach of the way to my knee!  And it sure wouldn’t go in my purse.”

“Get a bigger purse,” Kenneth advised, which, when she thought about it, was, from a man’s point of view, a completely logical solution — but then, men didn’t carry purses.  Neither did she, anymore.  If it didn’t go in the pockets of her TEC jacket, or her jeans pockets, then she didn’t carry it, which brought up another issue.

“Wouldn’t I have to get a permit to carry a pistol?”  Anything that required a background check was off the table.

“Not in Wyoming,” Zeke said.  “Concealed carry is legal.”

Holy cow.  That changed everything.  She eyed the pistol with renewed interest.

The book’s message isn’t subtle.  In California, which has just about the strictest gun laws in America, our heroine would be a sitting duck.  In Wyoming, she can buy and have upon her a weapon that will at least give her a fighting chance against an armed assailant.

Unless you’re super picky, Running Wild is a good way to while away a few pleasant hours in romance-land.  More than that, I encourage every one of you to spend the $6 or $7 at Costco or Amazon (or wherever) to buy it, just to make a statement that you approve of books that highlight why our Second Amendment rights are so important.  And if you know someone at the NRA, maybe you should tell them to put this on their approved NRA fiction list (assuming they have one).

(Also, if you like romantic thrillers, give Linda Howard’s other books a try.  I never dislike any of her books, but there are some, such as the ones I listed at the top of this post, that I really love.)

Book Review: Allen Mitchum’s “28 Pages”

One of the things that makes it very difficult to write a conservative-oriented thriller is that you cannot simply assume that your audience will understand your references.  In a standard pot-boiler, written for an American market brought up in public schools and addicted to Hollywood movies and television shows, there are so many shortcuts you can use to keep the action moving. For example, the phrase “corporate executive” equals “bad guy,” and everyone knows it.  Likewise, conservative politicians are malevolent hypocrites, who are usually in bed with the corporate executive.

On the other side of the good guy/bad guy divide, if the character opens his morning New York Times, you know that he’s good, smart, and has the right values.  People of Middle Eastern extraction are always good, even though wrong-thinking people enliven the plot by stereotyping them as bad, and blacks and Native Americans have surreal insights into the human soul.

The only good members of the military are the ones who are emotionally tormented by their service.  If you enjoyed your service, you must be a psychopath.  (Jack Reacher is anomalous in this regard, although Lee Child, the author, makes it clear that the military generally is run by greedy fools.  The military background is useful only to establish Reacher’s investigative, physical, and artillery expertise.)

Standard thrillers are, in a word, predictable.  But they’re also satisfying, because right (or, I should say, Left) triumphs at the end, after the hero has survived hair-raising gun battles (“Crazy people, don’t do this at home or school”), and then shot the conservative politician or corporate executive through both kneecaps before flinging him off a tall building.

Writers with a conservative perspective have two choices:  they can also rely on shorthand references, but that means they’ve got a very small audience, because most readers have been fed on standard media fare and don’t understand nuances that make sense to those with a broader knowledge base.  Or they can turn their books in boring treatises, with more preaching than action.  For this reason, it’s always a great pleasure to come across a thriller that’s got a conservative orientation, but that is neither preachy nor too dogmatic.  Allen Mitchum’s 28 Pages: A Political Thriller is such a book.

Mitchum’s protagonist, Heather Grahl, is a sharp young lawyer who’s good at what she does, but incurious about the world around her.  This changes when she receives a phone call notifying her that her sister’s beheaded body was found on a yacht in Bimini.  The evidence points to a Saudi conspiracy to destroy forever 28 pages that were omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report.  Soon, Heather finds herself on the run, a target of a Saudi hit squad.  Help comes to her from two people:  an expert in Saudi’s involvement in the worldwide jihad, and a shadowy figure who may have been complicit in her sister’s death or, perhaps, was a victim himself.

Mitchum’s book, of necessity, has didactic interludes, since the plot make sense only if he can educate the reader about Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, which is the most aggressive form of Islamic jihad in the world.  Overall, though, Mitchum keeps these passages short and sweet, all the while developing the book’s characters and increasing the tension level.  Indeed, when I was about three-quarters of the way through, I got so nervous, I had to put the book aside and take my dog for a walk.  By my standards, that’s a pretty darn good thriller.

Another appealing thing about Mitchum’s writing is that he avoids the standard literary clichés I mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this review.  People are defined by their actions and beliefs, not by their racial or national identity.  Further, Mitchum isn’t partisan insofar as he believes that all Washington administrations, Democrat and Republican, have fallen prey to the siren song of Saudi money.  Because Mitchum isn’t a blind partisan, the core idea driving his novel — namely, that the Saudis are not our friends — is more credible than it would have been had he attacked a specific politician administration.

28 Pages is quick, enjoyable read, and one I highly recommend for those who like thrillers, but not the standard politics that go with so many of them.

Robert Avrech’s funny, moving love letter to his wife is finally available for purchase

Robert Avrech, who blogs at Seraphic Secret, flattered me tremendously when he asked me to read his e-book How I Married Karen and, if I felt so inclined to write a pre-publication blurb.  As it turned out, I felt very inclined, because the book was a pleasure from beginning to end.  Or as I wrote:

I’m a little at a loss as to how to review “How I Married Karen,” because I’m afraid that giving it the extremely high praise it deserves will sound fatuous. Surely a book can’t be this good? Well, yes it can. Within 164 light, bubbly, moving, funny pages, Robert J. Avrech packs in so much: the abiding wonder of finding one’s true love; the academic woes of a square peg in school’s relentlessly round holes; life as an Orthodox Jew in New York in the 1960s and 1970s; the way in which movies provide so much of a backdrop to and reference point for our lives; adolescent angst; morality; and patriotism. That Mr. Avrech manages so gracefully to crowd so many ideas into one small book is a testament to both his skill as a writer and to his transcendent love for his wife, Karen Avrech. After I gobbled up the book, I felt lighter and happier for the rest of the day.

If you are interested in brightening your holiday by learning where to buy How I Married Karen, or if you’d just like to read all the other rave reviews Robert’s e-book garnered, go here.  The book isn’t yet available on Amazon, but I’ll let you know when it is.

Public libraries are wonderful things

For our Thanksgiving drive to L.A., I went to our local library and got several books on CD.  Since our small family manages not to have any overlapping areas of interest, this is always a challenge.  One wants teenage hero spy books, another wants high school romantic dramadies (half drama, half comedy), another wants books on computer technology, and I like history books.  Fate favored me because , on the day I went to the library, the only available books on CD that would meet any of those parameters were the history books.

The kids were not amused.  In a compromise, we ended up spending half of each drive listening to the videos they got to watch from the back seat (fyi, The Simpsons is fun to listen to), and half the drive listening to David McCulloch’s 1776.  My husband was so delighted with this book that, upon our return, he put it in his own car so that he could listen to the rest of it while driving to work.

I, meanwhile, put Joseph Ellis’ American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic in the CD player in my car. Since I drove about 100 miles yesterday to go to my pistol class, I was able to listen to the first disk.  It’s a delightful book, because Ellis shares my approach to American history:  it’s not about plaster saints or blinkered, evil white guys.  It’s about real people, in real time, dealing with real issues.  And yes, the Founding Fathers were special.

The Founders’ unique abilities came about by virtue of the particular historic time they occupied (what one might call the culmination of the Enlightenment), the incredible bounty of the American continent, their one hundred plus years of freedom as the British government ignored them (right up until the French-Indian War), and the education and class freedom that distinguished them from their European peers and from modern man. Despite these benefits and virtues, they still made mistakes, their personalities interfered with their decision-making, and they punted on the hard decisions because they wanted their own nation more than they wanted to free the slaves.  Those nuances are what make history interesting.

Ellis has a nice turn of phrase and a good eye for historic details, so the book is an effortless listen (or read).  I also detect in his tone a decided disdain for the Howard Zinn school of history, one that throws away the baby with the bath water.  Characterizing the Founders as racist, sexist hypocrites not only obscures their great accomplishments, it also diminishes Americans’ ability to understand their past, to control their present, and, in some small measure, to affect their future.

Listening to the book reminded me that one of the things that makes the Founders so fascinating is that they were men of truly catholic tastes.  Everything interested them.  No man from the Colonial era better exemplifies this quality than Benjamin Franklin.  (Thomas Jefferson loses first place because he was a bit too Southern elitist.)  Franklin was feted the world over for inventing the lightening rod, a device that drastically reduced a terrible scourge.  He also invented the Franklin Stove, bifocals (bless his heart), and the public library.

Before Franklin came along, libraries were reserved for rich people.  Even with the advent of the printing press, books were still expensive, and it was the fortunate man indeed who was both literate and capable of putting together a library of his own.  Now of course, we take libraries completely for granted.  In my community, we have ten public libraries, all of which are clean, well-stocked, well-maintained, and have wonderful on-line resources.

In a historical irony that Ben Franklin would fully have appreciated, modern Britain also has a splendid public library, one that includes a suburb on-line system.  The aristocrats of old might be rolling in their graves, but Ben Franklin, who was also an entrepreneur extraordinaire would especially appreciate the fact that the British library has a department devoted to business planning.  Yup.  That former bastion of intellectual and class exclusivity now has a great resource for British residents who want to see if they can make it on their own.

As a confirmed bookworm, I feel blessed to live in era that not only has public libraries, but that also puts so many resources on-line, so that one doesn’t even have to go to the library to experience the library’s benefit.  Is this the best of all possible worlds or what?

(BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about Benjamin Franklin, I highly recommend Benjamin Franklin’s own quite delightful autobiography, and Walter Isaacson’s slightly more honest look at Franklin’s life as a whole.)

Book Review — Greg Gutfeld’s The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage

I have some very exciting news: I have found my long-lost identical twin. It’s amazing, really. Like me, my twin grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 60s and 70s. Like me, my twin went to UC Berkeley and found Leftist antics revolting. Like me, my twin now does conservative commentary, with lots of self-deprecating parentheticals peppering observations about the illogic, hypocrisy, and mental sterility of the Leftist intellectual universe. And like me, my twin is short (or at least, claims to be short).

Okay, I’ll admit that there are a few differences. My long-lost twin is somewhat younger than I; Catholic, rather than Jewish; and, of course, he’s male. Other than that, the only really significant difference is that he’s famous, and he’s much more brilliant and amusing than I am — two qualities he amply demonstrates in his most recent book, The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage.

I often start reading books that focus on the way the Left has taken over America’s intellectual universe, substituting emotion for reason and intellectual bullying for genuine political discourse.  Sadly, with many of these books, I stop reading about halfway through.  It’s not that the books are badly written or that I disagree with the premise.  The problem is that I end up so depressed that, despite applauding the author’s data and insights, I just can’t make myself pick the book up again.

There are a few exceptions, of course:  Jonah Goldberg and Ann Coulter spring to mind.  In addition to being informed and insightful, their books are also quite amusing. Even if I don’t agree with all of their conclusions or if I find their facts and conclusions depressing, I’m still laughing as I face ugly truths about the bankruptcy the Left has visited upon America’s marketplace of ideas.  With the publication of The Joy of Hate, I can add a new author to the list of those whose books I read right to the end, even though a part of me is practically weeping about the vast and angry intellectual wasteland he describes.

Gutfeld’s target is the Left’s habit of using the cloak of “tolerance” to justify turning manufactured outrage on anything that is inconsistent with Leftist norms.  In other words, as used by the Left, tolerance is a euphemism for grossly hypocritical.  A good example is Gutfeld’s chapter on the American military, in which he analyzes the professional Left’s (i.e., the media’s and Hollywood’s) outrage with a video purporting to show Marines peeing on a corpse.

Gutfeld acknowledges that peeing on a corpse is not a nice thing to do.  Reasonable people of good will might think that a good military kills its enemy, but it needn’t sink to the vulgarity of peeing on its enemy.  So the Left could have a point, except…

But you won’t find that sensible understanding from the left.  Which I’d accept — if they were consistent about all types of atrocity.

Here’s where the tolerant left falls apart once again.  You never see them express outrage when our enemies behead, mutilate, or hang our soldiers.  You never hear them express outrage over what these beasts do to women, gays, and whomever else they consider worthless, according to their caveman mentality.  They are vicious, backward, murderous assholes — but according to the left, our guys are worse because they peed on those assholes’ corpses.  (By the way, here’s another bizarre inconsistency:  How is pissing on a corpse worse than turning that guy into a corpse?  I mean, we accept that our troops go there to kill people, and I can safely say that being killed has to be worse than getting splashed with urine.  It defies logic that drones are preferable to water sports.)

Likewise, in his chapter on “Unreal Estate,” Gutfeld takes sharp, effective jabs at the way the Left uses faux tolerance to create an intellectual environment in which banks were afraid to say that giving loans to people who cannot afford them was an economic disaster waiting to happen:

The banks were encouraged to approve the loans, and for a while everyone was happy, or at least not in foreclosure.   But what would happen if some banking dude had said that this practice [of giving loans in such a non-discriminatory fashion that the ability to repay wasn't even considered] might be a bad idea:  that approving loans to millions of people who can’t afford them spells disaster?  That would be discriminatory.  Clearly, Mr. Evil Banker (who must look like the mustachioed Monopoly guy) doesn’t want blacks or Hispanics to own homes.  Yep, if you don’t approve of that loan, you’re probably a racist, Mr. Moneybags (never mind that whites got nailed, too).

For those of us who are political junkies, there are no new facts in The Joy of Hate.  What makes the book interesting, is the way Gutfeld follows the common thread binding such disparate characters and entities as Sandra Fluke, ESPN, Bill Maher, Robert Redford, and Janeane Garofalo, among others — all of them, under the guise of a vast tolerance, use nuclear-powered outrage to quash any views or beliefs that don’t fit within their anti-American, anti-capitalist, victim-centric world view.

Much of what Gutfeld does is to validate your and my common sense.  No, we’re not crazy if we think corporations are useful enterprises for getting things done on a larger scale than individuals on their own could accomplish.  Likewise, we’re not delusional if we think it’s appropriate for banks to make decisions based upon business considerations and we believe that deadbeats with expensive Womyn’s Studies or Puppetry degrees should be censured, more than pitied.  Put another way, Gutfeld is the antidote to cognitive dissonance.

Importantly, because it preserves him from being charged with hypocrisy, Gutfeld also isn’t afraid to turn his fire on conservatives.  We conservatives don’t help this overheated atmosphere by being “outraged” at things that are stupid or merely offensive.  We need to save the outrage for outrageous things — and use logic and intelligent sneering for the other stuff.

To begin with, without heat, and possibly with humor, we should also call the Left on its hypocrisy.  Clashing outrage convinces no one, but it does tend to favor the side with the bully pulpit (newspapers, TV news shows, movies, etc.).  Rather than weeping and wailing about Bill Maher’s tacky habit of affixing four letter sexual epithets only on conservative women, we should be asking him why he isn’t affixing those same purely sexual descriptions on any Leftist women.  I mean, considering that the Left won the election, in part, by focusing on women’s lady parts, isn’t he engaging in gross discrimination when he doesn’t call Babs Streisand or Cher a c**t?

As someone I know says, “Don’t get furious, get curious.”  Which leads to Dennis Prager’s preference for “clarity over agreement.”  Asking polite (or sarcastic, that’s okay too) questions does two things:  it forces people to examine their own beliefs, and perhaps change their minds, or it forces them to speak truths that they know make them look ugly.

Knowing all of you as I do — funny, informed, somewhat cynical, and intelligent — I think you’ll genuinely enjoy The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage, and that you’ll like it from beginning to end.  It also has the virtue of being the kind of book you can give to your liberal friend who is a Jon Stewart fan.  Gutfeld’s somewhat rough, scatalogical humor (okay, so we’re not quite identical twins), should appeal to the same people who like Jon Stewart’s foul-mouthed encomiums to Leftism, and it might open their eyes a little bit.  They may not change their minds, but they might start questioning the hypocrisy that underpins the Left’s perpetual outrage.

By the way, if you’re in a book buying mood, don’t forget my books, which aren’t half as good as Greg’s, but may still while away a few idle hours (assuming you have any of those):

Greg Gutfeld’s book about the “Tyranny of Cool.”

Thanks to a handy-dandy Amazon gift certificate, I just bought myself a Kindle copy of Greg Gutfeld’s The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage.  It sounds like a book that is simultaneously important and enjoyable.  I’ll be reading it with a close eye, because his ideas about challenging Hollywood’s pop culture feed into the ideas that Lulu and I are playing with.

Let’s talk of pleasant(ish) things

I discovered that I was too nervous about the election even to read my usual round of blogs this morning.  After I saw a post about shenanigans in Pennsylvania, my stomach did a little slip-sloppy thing, and I closed all the political blog tabs I had open.  Until I get my equilibrium back, I thought I’d make this a book post.

I’m reading Dakota Meyer’s Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War, which he wrote with Bing West.  I’m about halfway through and can already tell you a few things about it:  First, it’s extremely well written.  In the beginning, West’s voice was a little too strong, as he set the scene (making it more West novel than Meyer story), but either I got used to that voice or West sublimated his own writing style as the book went along.  Second, it’s very interesting.  This is a very different take (for me) on Afghanistan.  Meyer was stationed in Afghanistan for quite a while before he found himself in the fight that earned him his Medal of Honor.  Meyer describes the slightly dysfunctional relationship American troops have with Afghani troops, the difficulty dealing with Afghani villagers, and the terrain that allowed the Taliban to hold off both Soviets and Americans for so many years.

The only problem with the book is that I know how it ends:  good people die.  That’s why I’m reading it more slowly than usual, despite its being interesting and well-written.  I just keep putting off those chapters where real people die real, painful, lonely deaths.  That’s the problem with true war stories.  In a novel, you can remind yourself that a fictional creation bit the dust.  When reading a true war story, though, you can’t get out of your mind that a father will never again see his children or that a mother back home has lost her child forever.  It’s rather pathetic that, sitting in my comfy reading chair at home, I’m less courageous than the men and women on the front lines, but that probably explains why I’m in my living room and they’re in Afghanistan.

On the subject of books, I continue to be fascinated by that Folio Society website I told you about.  The link I just gave you is to another war story, although this one is fiction:  Erich Maria Remarque’ All Quiet on the Western Front.”  This is another book I’ve been meaning to read forever, but somehow haven’t gotten around to.  After reading Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, I’m as emotionally cowardly about WWI as I am about events in Afghanistan.  Still, maybe I’ll be brave and try to entice myself into reading the book by buying a copy that’s aesthetically pleasing.

That’s the thing about these Folio Society books — they are so beautiful.  They also make me feel kind of bad about getting rid of childhood classics.  One of my craven secrets is that I never really liked Charlotte’s Web.  I liked Stuart Little and The Once and Future King but Charlotte’s Web never worked for me.  So, I got rid of my copy once I left my parent’s house for good.  Too bad I didn’t realize it was a first edition.  You can get a gorgeous Folio Society reprint of that first edition for only $40 at the Folio Society.  My copy probably cost $3 back in the day.  Oy!

Are you reading anything interesting today?  Funny would be good.  I need a funny book in my life.

Book Review — Striker Jones : Elementary Economics for Elementary Detectives

Although few academics would want to acknowledge this, economics is, at bottom, about human behavior:  rational humans respond to incentives and shy away from disincentives.  If you understand that, you’re more than halfway to understanding the marketplace.

Maggie Larche does understand the human connection to economic behavior, and she also understands that it’s never too early to start teaching children the logical outcomes of their decision and behavior.  To this end, she’s written a perfect book for older elementary to younger middle school aged children: Striker Jones: Elementary Economics For Elementary Detectives, Second Edition.  (There’s also a teacher’s companion book, which you can find here.)In several short, enjoyable chapters, Striker Jones amazes his friends by solving a series of mysteries.  Striker has two advantages that his friends do not have:  he pays attention and he understands those basic economic principles of incentives and disincentives.

If you would like to give your child an easy, fun introduction to economics, one that counters the fantasy numbers and plans that Progressives generate and that they teach in schools, I highly recommend this book.

Also, if you’re interested in helping Maggie share with a wider audience her ideas about teaching economics to children, check out her Kickstarter page.

Today is your last day to get a free copy of “The Bookworm Turns : A Secret Conservative in Liberal Land”

Just a reminder that today is the last day that my book, The Bookworm Turns: A Secret Conservative in Liberal Land, is available for free at Amazon.  As one very nice reviewer said:

When I stumbled across Bookworm Room in the vast blogosphere of political chatter and rants, I knew I had found something special. The first post I read was thoughtful, passionate, intelligent and eloquent – all at the same time, and I began to find myself being drawn back again and again to see what Bookworm might be thinking about any number of the political events that had occurred during the week. Soon Bookworm had a place on my browser toolbar with the handful of other websites that have earned a place there.

Part of the reason that I found myself drawn to Bookworm was because I, too, live and work in an environment where conservatism must be suppressed due to very real fears of being blacklisted both socially and in the workplace. However, the main reason I keep returning to Bookworm is to read her brilliant analyses of the continual problems that face us as individuals and as a nation.

I downloaded this book as soon as I found it and was delighted to find that it was absolutely packed with essays on so many subjects that matter. Nothing gets a light going-over from Bookworm. Every topic is placed under her analytic microscope and examined thoroughly and thoughtfully. One of the most fascinating things to me is Bookworm’s ability to explain how and why liberals think about certain things, which she is able to do enormously well because of her own former liberalism combined with her deep curiosity about how and why people believe what they believe.

I have found myself passing along more than one of Bookworm’s proposed solutions to the problems of the day, from her brilliant idea for what tax-payer-funded tuition in the UC system should buy, to her desire to abandon the terms Left and Right for the more descriptive terms of Statist and Individualist, respectively.

If you want to read elegant, passionate, meticulously-thought-out insights about politics and other things, you will not be disappointed by this book. For the price, it is an absolute steal. I only wish that every liberal I know would read this book – but you will have to read this book to find out why it is not likely that any of them will!

Please keep it coming, Bookworm!

There’s no downside to getting a free Kindle book, so there’s no reason not to give the book a try.

If you like The Bookworm Turns (or my other book, Easy Ways To Teach Kids Hard Things : The fun way to teach your children important life principles, which sells for $1.99), I would appreciate it if you would let other Amazon readers know by leaving a review.  The corollary, of course, is that if you don’t like the books, you don’t need to bother with a review.  ;)

My new book — “Easy Ways To Teach Kids Hard Things : The fun way to teach your children important life principles”

I am very pleased to announce that I have published a new Kindle book called Easy Ways To Teach Kids Hard Things : The fun way to teach your children important life principles ($1.99 on Amazon). In it, I distill the parenting knowledge I’ve acquired over the years as I’ve worked my way towards raising children who are truly decent, principled human beings.  Or, as I say in the introduction:

This short book summarizes what I’ve learned over the years as I’ve worked to cultivate my children’s personalities, their values, and their practical approach to life. It won’t tell you how many minutes a time-out should last or what type of punishment you should give a child who hits. Instead, it will share a life philosophy that I’ve applied to my parenting, one that has resulted in my having children who respect me and who frequently tell me that their friends think I’m the coolest parent around (and that’s not because I’m a pushover).

Parenting in the twenty-first century, while less physically debilitating than ever before, is still hard work. Popular culture and myriad advice books tell us that we’re no longer responsible just for feeding and sheltering our children or for teaching them the basic principles and rules that enable them to function as decent adults. Instead, we’re responsible for turning our children into adults who are practically perfect in every way. To that end, we have to be endlessly hands-on; relentlessly consistent; perfectly behaved ourselves (we are, after all, role models); and completely in sync with modern educational techniques.

In theory, these are all excellent ideas, especially the consistency bit. In practice, they are exhausting, demoralizing and, sometimes, as is true for so many things when the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, counterproductive. Parents who are too hands-on deprive their children of opportunities to make their own decisions or stand up for themselves; and parents who believe they are actually capable of being perfect are either delusional or heading for a nervous breakdown.

After struggling for too many years to be the perfect parent, I gave up and settled for being a pretty darn good parent. My philosophy is that, whether I am sharing my values with my children, helping them with their school work, or generally giving them tips about navigating their way through the world, if I hew to a few basic principles, rather than following dozens, or even hundreds, of modern parenting rules, parenting is less work and more fun. Happily, once I stopped trying so hard to control every aspect of my children’s lives, and started focusing more attention on overarching principles, not only did parenting get easier, my children also became nicer people.

With my approach, you get to ignore your children occasionally, talk a blue streak about the things that matter to you, and dazzle the children with your brilliance. While your children will not instantly become rocket scientists or even the best-behaved kids in your community, they will listen to and like you more because you’re interesting and helpful. They will also be more self-sufficient and, with luck, have a strong moral compass and analytical abilities that enable them to deal with many of the difficult situations life places in their paths.

As for why I am qualified to offer this kind of advice even though I’m neither a trained child psychologist nor a credentialed educator, the short answer is that I’ve trained in the trenches, not in graduate seminars. My children are decent people who manage simultaneously to like and respect me. They’re not perfect – far from it – but I can honestly say that they are good people in the areas that count. On any issue, even if their judgment is immature, their moral instincts are spot on. My kids are also good students, which is a testament not only to their discipline and intelligence but (as they will freely concede) to the practical tips and insights I’ve given them over the years.

The foundation I’ve put in place is what informs my children’s decision-making, both practical and moral. I’ve actually put my theories into practice and seen them work.

There’s one other reason I feel qualified to write this book. Without fail, every time I’ve offered my children the advice I’ve set out here or explained to them the principles I apply to parenting, one or the other has said “Mom, you should write a book.” So I did.

Those who find themselves responsible for raising children in today’s world might find this book quite useful — or at least they’ll find it interesting and thought-provoking.  It’s especially help for people who are trying to raise principled conservative children in a world that sees the two greatest influences on our children (that would public schools and Hollywood) deluge our children with a non-stop barrage of Progressive lessons.  My child-rearing suggestions let you arm your children with behavioral and analytical skills that help them stay true to core moral and ethical principles, no matter what messages come their way.

I’m also happy to announce that, starting on October 15 and running through October 19, you can download for free the Kindle edition of my earlier book, The Bookworm Turns: A Secret Conservative in Liberal LandThe Bookworm Turns is a collection of essays I wrote between 2007 and 2011.  Surprisingly (to me, at least), it’s still timely.  Barack Obama is still campaigning as if it’s 2008, the media is still biased, education is still geared towards turning out knee-jerk little Leftists, Hollywood still hates conservatives, Israel is still in the cross hairs (only more so), and our military is still getting the job done.  If you haven’t already gotten around to buying The Bookworm Turns for yourself, or if you’d like to give it as a gift to a friend, now’s the time.

What people have said about Bookworm’s writing and about The Bookworm Turns:

“Bookworm has become one of my favorite bloggers. She lives in California and writes on intellectual and domestic political issues, always with a fresh angle.” — Barry Rubin

***

“Reading Bookworm’s essays is like intellectual chocolate – highly addicting, except it expands your mind instead of your waistline!” — JoshuaPundit

***

“I’ve been a follower of Bookworm for years and am reading the book now. Her writing is thoughtful, smart, and always entertaining.” — Right Truth

***

“One of the best blogs out there is the Bookworm Room – no question. Trust me on this one – I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands come and go since I came online in 2001. I became friends with Bookie in an online forum years ago and I have voraciously read her posts at every opportunity. Witty, intelligent, reflective and often touching, her writings are what we all aspire to accomplish – a connection with others out there and a gift that we wield to express our thoughts in a manner that encourages others to do the same. [snip] Bookie has just put together an e-book on her posts that have occurred over time. It is some of the best writing you will ever read. Riveting and compelling, it is absolutely addictive.” — Noisy Room

***

“I just purchased your book. I haven’t been able to put it down since downloading it last night. *** Thank you for such thoughtful, passionate and elegant writing, and for putting it out there in book form.” — Another secret conservative living in the deep blue.

***

“Yes, I’m 12% in already, have highlighted several passages, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Woo-hoo!” — elc

***

“Bookie is a friend but that’s not why I am recommending this read. I am recommending it because it is an interesting look into the world of a San Francisco Liberal who found conservative values. That is exceptional enough to deserve your attention.” — Pierre’s Pink Flamingo Bar

***

“I got it and I am enjoying reading it very much! Congratulations!” — D Wheeler

***

“I am working my way through my Kindle copy and savoring every word. Very entertaining and easy read with great personal narratives. It entertains, illuminates and instructs but does not hector. I shall put this on my Christmas list for my Lefty friends.” Danny Lemieux

***

“I started the book last night, and it is fabulous. I am about 1/3 the way through and can’t put it down…you are an outstanding writer with such incisive arguments! I am going to let my friends know that they should order a copy. *** It is a wonderful read…and I mean that….it should be a NYT best seller!!” Michelle F., Houston Texas

***

When I stumbled across Bookworm Room in the vast blogosphere of political chatter and rants, I knew I had found something special. The first post I read was thoughtful, passionate, intelligent and eloquent – all at the same time, and I began to find myself being drawn back again and again to see what Bookworm might be thinking about any number of the political events that had occurred during the week. Soon Bookworm had a place on my browser toolbar with the handful of other websites that have earned a place there.

Part of the reason that I found myself drawn to Bookworm was because I, too, live and work in an environment where conservatism must be suppressed due to very real fears of being blacklisted both socially and in the workplace. However, the main reason I keep returning to Bookworm is to read her brilliant analyses of the continual problems that face us as individuals and as a nation.

I downloaded this book as soon as I found it and was delighted to find that it was absolutely packed with essays on so many subjects that matter. Nothing gets a light going-over from Bookworm. Every topic is placed under her analytic microscope and examined thoroughly and thoughtfully. One of the most fascinating things to me is Bookworm’s ability to explain how and why liberals think about certain things, which she is able to do enormously well because of her own former liberalism combined with her deep curiosity about how and why people believe what they believe.

I have found myself passing along more than one of Bookworm’s proposed solutions to the problems of the day, from her brilliant idea for what tax-payer-funded tuition in the UC system should buy, to her desire to abandon the terms Left and Right for the more descriptive terms of Statist and Individualist, respectively.

If you want to read elegant, passionate, meticulously-thought-out insights about politics and other things, you will not be disappointed by this book. For the price, it is an absolute steal. I only wish that every liberal I know would read this book – but you will have to read this book to find out why it is not likely that any of them will!

Please keep it coming, Bookworm! — W. Maite

That out-of-tune brassy sound you hear is me tooting my own horn

Real Clear Politics, Sunday, September 30, 2012:


I’m excited not only for myself, but for Laer Pearce, whose book, Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State – How California is Destroying Itself and Why it Matters to America, is the subject of the post that RCP picked up.  It’s a great book, and as many Americans as possible should read it, so that they can fully understand what Progressive politics will do to the American landscape.

Florence King reviews Naomi Wolf’s latest book

The one good thing about bad books is that they can give rise to brilliant book reviews.  Such is the case with Florence King’s review of Naomi Wolf’s latest offering, Vagina: A New Biography.  This may well be the funniest book review I’ve ever read.  Admittedly, Wolf provides a reviewer with lots of material for satire and ridicule, but King is brilliant:

If you thought there was nothing new to say about female sexuality, you don’t know Naomi Wolf’s gift for saying nothing new about anything. In her 1991 bestseller, The Beauty Myth, she revealed that attractive women are luckier than homely women. A human shoehorn, she used her subsequent fame to ease herself into the role of political consultant in the 2000 presidential race and reveal that Al Gore has the personality of a tree. She took charge of his wardrobe and revealed his true nature as a resplendent autumnal tree by making him wear socks in warm, earthy colors and teaching him to cross his legs so that they showed.

Now she has uncrossed her own legs and written the life and times of her vagina.

Please, please, read the whole thing.  Just make sure you’re not drinking coffee when you read, or you may find yourself liberally spraying your keyboard and monitor.

There was only one part of the review that dismayed me, and that was King’s (accurate) observation that Wolf is a lousy writer:

At least a few feminists of the Seventies wrote well, but Naomi Wolf is a very sloppy stylist. Two brief examples will suffice: “The G-spot is actually part of the clitoris — the back of the clitoris, essentially — which in turn turns out to be much bigger.” And: “By lowering their blood pressure, men’s stroking the women they love regularly can even help protect the women from heart disease and stroke.”

Naomi and I shared the same high school English teacher, and Flossie would never have countenanced this kind of sloppiness.  It just goes to show that the Ivy League experience (Naomi went to Yale), can undo even the best education.

Have you ever heard of a book called “The Master and Margarita?”

I was doodling about on that Folio Society site I told you about, and I came across a book I’ve never heard of:  The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov.  Here’s the product description:

‘Well, as everyone knows, once witchcraft gets started, there’s no stopping it’

On a hot spring afternoon in Moscow, a poet and an editor are discussing the non-existence of Jesus. A polite, foreign gentleman interrupts their debate, claiming to have known Jesus in person and to have been present when he was condemned by Pontius Pilate. Moreover, he predicts the editor’s death – a bizarre accident which happens exactly as the foreigner foretells. The Devil has arrived in Moscow and, along with his demons and a large black cat, he carves a trail of chaos and destruction through Soviet society. He exposes the hypocrisy and greed of those around him, their willingness to inform on neighbours, their urgent scrabble for power and their fear for themselves. One man seems different: a writer known as ‘the master’ who, in despair, has burned his unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate and has been incarcerated in an asylum. His lover, the passionate, courageous Margarita, will do anything to save him – including serving the Devil himself.

Writing The Master and Margarita in secret between 1928 and 1940, through the period of Stalin’s purges, Bulgakov was already deemed anti-Soviet; his plays were banned, and he had few illusions that anyone would publish this highly satirical work. Like his main character, he destroyed a draft in despair. Yet, as the Devil tells the master, in a phrase which went on to become a watchword of hope: ‘Manuscripts don’t burn’. In 1966-7, more than 25 years after Bulgakov’s death, The Master and Margarita was published with relatively minor cuts. Smuggled past the censors, its subversive message, dark humour and lyrical force combined to make it an instant success and a beacon of optimism and freedom that spread through Russia and the world. Peter Suart’s dramatic illustrations provide a fitting accompaniment to what is one of our members’ most requested titles.

Have you heard of  The Master and Margarita?  It seems like a rather amazing book, along the lines of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books, which were also smuggled out of the Soviet Union.  Solzhenitsyn’s books were important, because they breached the walls built, not just by the Soviet Union, but also by the Walter Duranty’s of America — apologists who deliberately deceived the American people abut the true horrors of Soviet statism.  Although he is writing satire, Bulgakov also seems to be one of those who was willing to challenge statist orthodoxy, even at great risk to himself.

If this is indeed a Solzhenitsyn-esque book, I think it’s worth reading, not just for its content, but because of what it represents.  I was speaking with a friend today about the abject cowardice that inevitably characterizes people in police states, whether those states are Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Zimbabwe, or the Muslim World.  You’d like to think that you’re brave but, when an act of bravery means that the state will brutally and casually destroy, not only you, but every member of your family and all of your friends (and possibly your acquaintances too), most people, even good people, discover that the cannot be brave.  They’d like to be, and maybe they would be if only their lives were at stake, but few have the courage to sacrifice everyone in their world.  This is especially true in statist situations because the state entirely controls the machinery of communication.  Under those circumstances, sacrifices tend to be in vain.  Each dead person is a tree falling in an empty forest or one hand clapping.

A few years ago, these thoughts about individual courage were purely hypothetical for most Americans.  Things have changed, however.  In the last week, our current government showed that it does not value free speech:

Our media, which ought to be entirely supportive of free speech brutally castigated the only famous American politician (that would be Romney) who was willing to voice approbation of our American right to challenge religious belief.  The LA Times ran an op-ed piece claiming that First Amendment law, which does indeed prohibit the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, should be applied to insults to Islam.  In other words, because all real or perceived insults to Islam are the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, insulting Islam, by accident or on purpose, is not protected speech.  Voila!  It’s sharia through the back door.

When free speech ends, it’s the Bulgakovs and Solzhenitsyns of the world that stand between citizens and perpetual servitude to the state.  If I do read The Master and Margarita, I’ll let you know what I think.  And if you have read the book, please let me know what you think.

“Crazifornia”: A book that reveals the insane truth behind America’s most Progressive state

Those of you who were lucky enough to have started using the internet a few years ago probably remember Laer Pearce, who blogged at Cheat-Seeking Missiles.  Laer was one of my first blog friends, meaning that we corresponded by email and, eventually, we met.  He is precisely what you’d imagine him to be from his blog:  informed, analytical, brilliant, witty, and just an all-around great guy.

He stopped blogging a few years ago to devote his free time to writing a book about the insanity that is California.  Well, the book came out today!  It’s called Crazifornia. Here’s the Amazon book description:

When the agency responsible for state roads spends $4 million on new cars and trucks, then parks them unused for two years, that’s Crazifornia. When cancer warnings are required on buildings because they may contain estrogen or testosterone, that’s Crazifornia. And when a full-frontal governmental assault on business drives enough people out of a state in ten years to double the population of Oregon, that’s Crazifornia, too. Through tale after outrageous, funny, tragic tale, “Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State” explains why California is crashing, making it a must-read for all Californians and for anyone who fears California may be coming their way soon. That’s why nationally syndicated radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt called Crazifornia “The most insightful book on California’s perilous condition – ever.” Part One provides history and perspective, explaining how the PEER Axis – Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators and Reporters – took over the Golden State and work to keep it a leader in Progressivism, generation after generation. Part Two looks at the current state of affairs in the Tarnished State – bureaucratic ineptitude, anti-business policies, a failed education system, entrenched environmentalism, unsustainable pensions and a perpetually unbalanced budget, and considers California’s options for the future. “One rarely reads such a funny account of such a sad subject,” said California columnist and author Steven Greenhut. “This is a great book to read, tearfully, as you pack the house in Orange County and wait for the moving van to take you to Nevada.”

I haven’t read the book yet (I’m buying it as soon as I finish this post), but I can tell you in advance what you’ll find: it will be extremely well-informed; easy to read despite it’s serious subject matter; as Steven Greenhut said in the review above, it will be funny despite the depressing subject matter; and you will get a glimpse into America’s future if Obama is elected and he gets a Democrat Congress. Also, if you look carefully, you made find some references to a certain Bookworm you know.

It’s such a joy when a friend completes a major, and important, project, and is able to share it with the world.  So you can imagine the pleasure I have in sharing the good news with you.

(The link above is to the Kindle version of the book.  If you prefer to feel the weight of the paper book in your hand, you can find the print edition here.)

Book Review — Frank Fleming’s “Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything”

I regularly troll the Kindle book “Bestseller” page in search of free books.  Usually, free is more than they’re worth, because they are so poorly edited or written that it’s a waste of my time to read them.  The exception occurs when a publisher prices at zero an author’s earlier published work, in order to entice people into buying a newly published book by the same author.  So it was that I found myself the proud owner of Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything. Although published in November 2011, Fleming’s book is still as timely as it was back then — and it’s clearly a perfect lead-in to his newly released ebook How to Fix Everything in America Forever: The Plan to Keep America Awesome (which I haven’t yet read).

Fleming writes Obama : The Greatest President in the History of Everything from the perspective of a naif who is overwhelmed by Obama’s almost supernatural genius, even when he can’t quite explain how the genius works or why its effects, more often than not, are completely counterproductive.  For example, Fleming describes the stimulus as follows:

What a benevolent act the stimulus was — Obama took hundreds and hundreds of billions of the government’s hard-earned money and shared it with the common folk through government spending.  And here was the miraculous part:  It was money the government didn’t even have — yet somehow he still spent it!  Obviously, to accomplish such an act, Obama has economic knowledge that we can’t even comprehend with our small minds.

And here’s Fleming playing Baghdad Bob to Obama’s deficit spending:

If you found out you were spending too much, what would you do?  You’d reduce your spending.  It’s the simple solution any moron would gravitate to.  But Obama is no moron, so his way to reduce the deficit is much more clever:  Increase spending.  Yes, he is going to reduce the federal deficit by increasing government spending.

It blows your mind, doesn’t it? Once again, aren’t we so lucky to have someone who thinks so far outside the box?

The book is short (the equivalent of about 30 pages) and that’s just fine.   It made a quick delightful read.

I especially appreciated the way Fleming attacked Obama front, back, top and bottom with such good cheer.  This is not a vicious take-down of the President.  Instead, it’s something better — with its wit, good cheer, and brevity, Fleming’s book perfectly applies three Alinsky’s against an Alinsky acolyte:

“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

“A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time….”

I enjoyed Fleming’s book so much that, the next time I’m buying books, I’ll definitely put How to Fix Everything in America Forever at the head of my shopping list.

There are some nice romances out there

Last week, I wrote a post about relationship porn, in which I argued that the sex in romance novels is the least interesting part for romance readers.  The most interesting part, I said, is that the heroes like, respect, and support the heroines.  I also said that there are few writers who even try to do what the great Georgette Heyer did, which was to write a cleverly plotted, true romance, one with no sex.  (Indeed, many of hers don’t even offer a chaste kiss.)  Moreover, those few who do write non-erotic romances tend to write Christian romances.  Those Christian romances can be very nice, but they don’t suit me too well.

After I wrote that post, I got an email from Judith Lown, who said that she not only reads my blog (yay!  thank you!), but that she’s written a couple of traditional romances, one of which is available on Kindle.  I immediately looked up the Kindle edition and, low and behold, I’ve already read it:

Not only did I read A Sensible Lady, I liked it. It involves a young woman who moves into a new home, ends up adopting her orphaned nephew, and is pursued (in a genteel way) by three very different men.  I read it some months ago, so I cannot give you a more detailed plot summary than that — nor would I want to.  Romances all have the same plot anyway, because the whole point is boy and girl meet, fall in love, and get married.  Where they differ isn’t so much in plot as in style:  witty or flat, funny or maudlin, porn-y or romantic.  Lown’s book, as I recall, is often witty and — and this is why I liked it — very decent.  The characters are genuinely good and interesting people.  It was a pleasure to spend time in their company, which is the nicest thing I can ever say about a book.

The joy — and sorrow — of books

Jeff Jacoby wrote a lovely column that I’m sure will resonate with many of you, entitled “A Slow Reader’s Lament.”   In it, he talks about the ineffable joy of owning wonderful books, and the concurrent frustration that comes with lacking the time to read all of them:

But above all there was the delight of anticipation. I snapped up books that intrigued me, that I thought would be good reads, that got great reviews. Alas, I was like a kid whose eyes are too big for his stomach: I kept helping myself to more than I could possibly finish. It didn’t help that the older I got, the less time there was for pleasure reading. Or that my ability to acquire books faster than ever — hello, 1-Click! — didn’t come with the ability to read them any faster.

Ah, if only I could read books as fast as I acquire them! Even half as fast would be a blessing. Even a quarter as fast.

I suspect that Jacoby also struggles, as I do, trying to keep up with the wonderful information available on the internet.  I am a fast reader, but my reach always exceeds my grasp when it comes to reading material, whether internet articles, ebooks, or paper books.

Hat tip:  My friend Greg, at Rhymes with Right