Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased from Hooray for Books
Paperback, 252 pages
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The best teachers are those that give of themselves freely to their students and their craft, and with reference books available on various ways to write, what to write, and when to write, many will glance at yet another writing reference and dismiss it out of hand. What does that mean? That those people are fools — for Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart, released today, is not a reference, it is a memoir about writing memoir (marking a 6th memoir from her). It is a reference guide written from the perspective of a teacher and writer on how to approach a genre riddled with scandal and debunked by naysayers.  Not only does she peel back the layers that can and should be part of memoir creation, but she also peels back her own experiences and perspective to shed light on the hard work memoirists should expect of themselves.

“Teaching memoir is teaching vulnerability is teaching voice is teaching self.”  (page xii)

“Some of the best memoirs are built not from sensate titillations but from the contemplation of universal questions within a framed perspective.” (page 10)

She shares her favorite places, her favorite music, her favorite memoirs, and her students’ work, and she begs that anyone interested in writing memoir do it because the story must be told and is relate-able to someone outside the self.  Writing the genre requires the writer to be as honest with herself as she can be and to fill the gaps in memory with facts from documents or cross-referencing conversations and moments with those that share the memory.  Reading this reference memoir is like getting to know Kephart on a personal level, but it’s also about getting to know the writer inside you — the one that wants to write the book but doesn’t know where to start.  Although this advice is geared toward those who wish to write their own personal histories, there is sage advice for other writers — fiction writers struggling with what tense to put their book in, for example.

On Mark Richard’s memoir House of Prayer No. 2, she says, “He does it because, in this case, the you is more intimate, more forgiving, more moving than the I ever will be.  It enables Richard to say things about himself and his ungodly circumstance that would be otherwise unthinkable.”  (page 46)

Readers and writers will love the explanations, which are peppered with examples from other writers’ memoirs to demonstrate why certain forms and styles are selected, because at Kephart’s core is a dedicated teacher.  It is these dedicated people who write the best reference books because they put more of themselves and more of their passions into writing them, making them innately more engaging and interesting than other reference guides that merely spout out bullet point advice and little else.  Kephart not only references the memoirs she loves, pulling apart the choices authors made in creating them, but also the ways in which she gets students (and now the readers of her book) to think about memoir and their own lives.  Writing exercises that not only focus on early memories, but also the backgrounds of photos (which can be like those fuzzy memories that have little detail) and poems (from some of my favorites like Ted Kooser).

“A way of eating passes away with your mother.  How you held the sugar on your tongue.  How you stirred the crumbled cheese into the oiled broth.  How you savored the sweet grit of flour in the gravy pot, and the thick pink of the beef, and the heated pear with its nutmeg top, and the brownies with the confectioner’s crust.  You will dig through the freezer at your father’s house, mad for one last frozen roll of checkerboard cookie dough, one Tupperware of thick red sauce, one crystallized slice of eggplant parmesan.  You will burn your fingers with the cold.  Your mother’s cooking will be gone.”  (page 92)

But at all costs, she reminds us that “writing is a privilege,” and that privilege should NEVER be taken lightly.  Effectively, she dispels the myths about memoir, explains what memoir is not, and ensures readers and writers look deeper than the memories and events in their lives to uncover the recurring themes, which could provide insight to others and generate empathy, if not understanding and connection.  More importantly, she reminds readers that memoirs by-and-large leave huge chunks of people’s lives off the page, despite the journaling, writing, and researching done into every aspect.  Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart is an intelligent, passionate reference that not only guides writers on how to tackle memoir writing, but also inspires them to read the memoirs of others and to learn from, as well as advising them on how to live with openness and curiosity.

***I don’t have too many writing reference books because I only keep the ones that speak to me and offer the best advice, and each of those is chock full of sticky flags, and Kephart’s book is going on that shelf.***

Also, check out how this book made me almost cry when reading it.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

My City, My Los Angeles by Jeryl Brunner

My City, My Los Angeles by Jeryl Brunner, author of My City, My New York (my review), is another book, published in April 2013, that offers some stunning sights and out-of-the way places for tourists to visit.  In Los Angeles, Brunner finds that the actors, actresses, and other celebrities that live there have a lot of advice and stories to share.  Shaun White and Luanne Rice are just some celebs offering their advice in the section on Beaches, Gardens, Hideaways, and Secret Spots, while Lisa Ling and Josh Groban are among those offering advice on the best places to eat.  There’s also advice from nocturnal places to stores, markets, and spas, and sexy spaces to saunters, sails, rides, hikes, and drives.  What’s interesting is that more than one celebrity has said that it takes about 20 years to get used to living in Los Angeles, including Ruth Vitale.

For a newbie to Los Angeles, Brunner’s guide will likely make them feel like an insider, while still ensuring that they hit all the top touristy spots.  In addition to information about each location discussed by the celebrities, readers are given an inside look into the impressions and reasons why celebrities enjoy a particular space and what that space provides them.  Molly Shannon says about the Annenberg Community Beach House, built by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, “I love the idea that I’m swimming in the mistress’s pool.” (page 4)  Readers will enjoy the back stories as actors and others talk about how they came to Los Angeles, and how they take stay-cations with their spouses to enjoy the sights around them that they normally don’t get to see because they are too busy.

Pink’s has the best hot dogs.  I like the spicy polish because I’m spicy Polish,” says Richard Dreyfuss.  (page 37)

From producers to city councilmen, Brunner has interviewed a wide range of Los Angeles residents to ensure readers get the most varied information possible.  What’s clear from all of these accounts is that LA is right in the middle of everything from beaches to mountains and hiking as well as museums, gardens, some of the best food, and more.  In the more category is the one story of how Celebrity Autobiography began with Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel just reading out loud at a fun space from memoirs of celebrities for fun, and then it grew organically from there.  This story and others seem to be a testament to how artists can create fun and a rewarding project without realizing it — all in a space devoted to nocturnal fun, mingling, and most likely drinking.

One of my favorite openings to a section is in Stores, Markets, & Spas, where Brunner quotes Patti Smith’s plea that we not abandon the paper book and Natalie Compagno’s connection to books from a young age and her determination to buy a closing bookstore devoted to books on travel.  Readers will want to sink into Mandy Patinkin’s Beverly Hot Springs and visit any of the farmer’s markets in the LA area, as well as the unforgettable The Cheese Store of Silver Lake.

My City, My Los Angeles by Jeryl Brunner will make readers’ mouths water for the food in the city and for the relaxation to be had on the beaches and in the mountains.  But more than that, she provides an insider’s look at an American icon.  It makes me want to visit LA, how about you?

***Now I’d love to see one about Washington, D.C.***

About the Author:

For author and journalist, Jeryl Brunner, a good interview is like a tango – complex, soulful, fiery, exciting and illuminating. And she’s been dancing for years, contributing to a variety of publications including O, the Oprah Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Delta Sky, Elle.com, ForbesTraveler.com, Four Seasons, People, Us Weekly, Brides, Parade, AOL and Huffington Post.

Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and Much More & 4×4 Dinner Giveaway/Challenge

Six Sisters’ Stuff:  Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More! is a flexible paperback cookbook that not only includes gorgeous photos of entrees, appetizers, and desserts, but also a variety of crafts to keep your kids occupied and to dress up the table.  Camille, Kristen, Elyse, Stephanie, Lauren, and Kendra are biological sisters and know what it means to have a busy life, but they still make time for family dinners and this book includes 100 easy-to-follow recipes using ingredients commonly found in your pantry.

The full-color photos in this cookbook will make your mouth water even if you’ve just eaten dinner.  From the main meals to the slow cooker meals, these women have made cooking for a family incredibly easy and simple with these recipes.  There are salads, sides, and breads, plus dessert — oh, the dessert.  (I made one for book club, see photos and reaction below)  But this book is not only about the food and having family meals together, but it also is about spending time with family whether it’s on a road trip or inside on a rainy day (I’ll be testing these out in the coming weeks).

There are projects ranging from creating simple decorations like a snowman out of blocks and felt bows to more complex projects like bookshelves made out of pallets.  These projects are sure to occupy family members and make the house look more beautiful.  The sisters also offer advice on spring cleaning, which may seem like common sense but for a first time homeowner with a new kid the task can be overwhelming.  There also are healthy snack ideas, fun date ideas to keep the romance alive, and a weekly breakdown on how to build a 72-hour emergency kit for the entire family.

Six Sisters’ Stuff:  Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More! is appealing to look at, create from, and learn.  It’s not only about cooking a healthy meal in a short amount of time with the ingredients on hand, but it’s also focused on ensuring that family time becomes a priority.  Readers will have no choice but to dig in and start creating.  Delicious family recipes ready to fill watering mouths and simple crafts to spruce up any busy home.

My baking experience with Mom’s Chocolate Marshmallow Brownies:

As is usual with me, I was pulled in a hundred different directions and had to improvise the recipe, though I do plan to make this recipe the way it is written at some point.  I wanted to make these for book club in February, but with little time, I turned to my favorite box brownie mix, Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Brownie mix, which never fails me.  And I quickly found the brownie pan I chose would require me to use 2 boxes, which met the hubby had to run out and get a second box.

But then I made the Chocolate frosting from the recipe for on top of the marshmallows.  The recipe called for 2-3 cups of powdered sugar, but I found out quickly that 2 cups was too little because the frosting was soupy, so I had to make it 3 cups for the right consistency.  Once I got the frosting made, i spread it on top of the marshmallows (which I really didn’t need the whole bag of).

The pan must have still been a bit warm because the frosting melted a little too much over the marshmallows, making it an even gooier mess than I expected, but it didn’t seem to matter to the book club members who were eager to try it.  I just had to have the first piece, and one of the corners, since those are my favorite!  I took a close up of one piece to share with everyone.  YUM!

Six Sisters photoAbout the Six Sisters:

In February 2011, we started our blog SixSistersStuff.com. After years of living close to one another, we were being pulled in many different directions- one sister moved to the West coast, another sister followed her husband to medical school, one moved away to college, and another sister had just lost a baby. We needed each other now more than ever and we used our blog as a way to stay in touch.

Before we started blogging, we were constantly calling each other for recipe ideas, craft projects, and ways to keep our children entertained during those long winter days. The blog was the perfect way for us to share those ideas with each other and we were having so much fun doing it. We are all busy, whether it’s with our kids, jobs, school, husbands, community involvement, or something else eating up our time, so all the recipes and projects you will find on this blog are quick and easy! Our recipes are family favorites that use ingredients that can commonly be found in your pantry and our crafts and home decor projects can be made with little or no money. We don’t claim to be amazing chefs- we just know the importance of feeding your family a home-cooked meal and sitting down to eat it together.


This is my 12th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.



About the 4×4 Dinner Challenge:

4X4 dinner challenge

  • Pledging to accept the 4×4 Dinner Challenge means the family will eat together at least four times per week for four weeks.
  • Families are encouraged to register online, and they will receive meal tips, ideas for family activities, and helpful recipes to make meeting the challenge easy.

To win a copy of this colorful cook book, do the following:

  1. Like the Six Sister’s STUFF Facebook page and join the 4×4 Dinner Challenge
  2. Click the 4×4 Family dinner banner on the Website (on the right sidebar) and leave a comment joining the challenge.
  3. Come back here and leave a comment on this post about what you’d like to check out in Six Sisters’ Stuff.

Deadline to enter is March 10, 2013, at 11:59 PM EST.

Everyday Writing by Midge Raymond

Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life by Midge Raymond is a slim volume with purpose — to get those writers back to the words on the page.  Raymond is a busy woman, like most writers, and she holds a full-time job in addition to writing.  Her advice is on point and should be taken to heart — by me especially.  The book is broken down into two main sections — tips on how to become a writer and stay in that mode and a series of writing prompts broken down my expected writing duration.

I’ve got a semi-unconventional review today.  This book offers me more motivation than ever.  With the toddler running around and the full-time job, plus the additional stress I’ve been under lately, I need a good kick in the butt to get me back to writing.

What I loved about Raymond’s book was her no-nonsense advice and her anecdotes about her own struggles with writing.  She even shares some of the best moments she’s experienced when she was procrastinating.  One major point that book bloggers already know, especially in this time of Twitter and other social media, that we need to disconnect from the Internet.  My book is overflowing with post-it tabs, but here are a couple of my favorite passages:

“Being an Everyday Writer is not about putting daily words on a page but about seeing the world as a writer and recognizing the myriad ways in which your everyday life informs your work.  And this, in turn, will put words on the page.”  (page 2)

“Writing exercises can help our writing in ways we don’t know until we do them.  They can, for instance, allow our minds to retreat from the puzzle of a current project and wander a bit, perhaps leading us back to the puzzle from a different angle and getting us closer to a solution.”  (page 6)

Some of her practical advice includes creating a schedule that works for you with your work and childcare schedule and that it doesn’t have to be every day.  Additionally, you have to remain open to revising the schedule and making sure that others in your life take your writing time as seriously as you do.  Writers also need to set bigger goals and break that down into more manageable goals, and these goals should be reassessed at least quarterly to determine how much progress has been made.  Another cool tool in the book is Raymond’s checklist for those writers who think they’ve finished a piece to make sure they’ve covered all the bases, including whether every scene is necessary and whether the point of view is consistent.

Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life by Midge Raymond is a slim book, just what writers need — practical advice, but not lengthy practical advice that causes them to procrastinate about their projects.  Raymond’s writing style as engaging as her advice, and the writing prompts can be used for any project.  What she offers most is the ability for writers to be flexible and not beat themselves up about it so long as they are meeting their own goals.

About the Author:

Midge Raymond’s short-story collection, Forgetting English, received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.

Midge taught communication writing at Boston University for six years, and she has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers and Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. While living in Southern California, she held writing workshops and seminars at San Diego Writers, Ink, where she also served as vice president of the board of directors.

Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.

Thoughts on Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson is a collection of essays, one sentence from a novel that he never finished, and a few short stories.  I’m not the typical audience for this book as I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, nor science-y essays.  As a result, I read a bit of the most recent essays in the collection, the introduction, and the short fiction pieces, plus the one sentence to the novel.  I can say that I see why he never went further with his novel; it wasn’t very attention grabbing for me, but hey, it might have been a sentence from a future chapter and not the book opener for all I know.

To say this collection is weird is an understatement; readers only need to check out “Spew” with its tech-babble and sci-fi tongue-in-cheek feel as Profile Auditor 1 skulks around the big brother system that watches everyone’s lives for a living, looking for anomalies.  I found the overwrought tech language and mysteriousness too much; I was kept too much in the dark for the beginning part of the short story.  However, by the end, I was intrigued by the hotel clerk and her suspicious profile and wondered what the profiler’s interest in her was, but it is clear by the end of the story that she’s got more gumption than he does.  While Stephenson brings up issues of big brother and what it could mean from a marketing perspective, the story also gave me pause about my own buying habits and whether I’m that gullible in my purchases — seeing it on television or the Internet is enough to make me buy it — but I also realized that is not all that he is highlighting, but also the factors that play into buying decisions from friends, recommendations, advertisements, and finances.

“Patch this baby into your HDTV, and you can cruise the Metaverse, wander the Web and choose from among several user-friendly operating systems, each one rife with automatic help systems, customer-service hot lines and intelligent agents.  The theater’s subwoofer causes our silverware to buzz around like sheet-metal hockey players, and amplified explosions knock swirling nebulas of tiny bubbles loose from the insides of our champagne glasses.”  (page 288, “The Great Simoleon Caper”)

The second short story, “The Great Simoleon Caper,” relies on a similar notion of a man behind the technology who looks in on customers through their set top boxes, but instead of profiling their likes and dislikes and buying habits, he is their customer service representative to iron out their problems.  In this scenario — which began with a “innocent” brother’s request for how many jelly beans would fill up Soldier Field — the customer service rep brother is suddenly thrust into an underground plan to circumvent government controls.  Investing in Simoleons, an e-money, is a campaign his brother wants to succeed, but how will his brother ensure that the deal goes off without a hitch.  Do you sense a bit of paranoia in these stories?  A bit too much over-the-shoulder watching?  Perhaps that’s a good thing — keeping people honest and on their toes.

Stephenson’s fiction was livelier and more inventive to me than the nonfiction essays about the dangers of sitting at a desk for your job and other topics, which seemed to try to hard to be humorous or witty.  Some Remarks is an interesting collection of essays, but for someone that reads mostly fiction and poetry, this is not a good fit.

About the Author:

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic “The Baroque Cycle” (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

This is my 64th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

My City, My New York by Jeryl Brunner

My City, My New York by Jeryl Brunner (my interview) is the perfect companion for a trip to the Big Apple — New York City — because it is a collection of hidden treasures from the celebrities, icons, foodies, and authors who live there.  Broken into seven sections — Secret Gardens & Hidden Spaces, Central Park: Acres of Green; New York Eats; Nocturnal New York; Saunters, Strolls, Sails, Rides & Rambles; Stores, Street Fairs, Boutiques & Bargains; and Superstar Structures, Sexy Spaces, Beatific Bridges & Arty Pockets — it is the epitome of an insider’s look at one of the largest and most intriguing cities in the world.  Clearly Brunner is right when she says in the introduction, “Most New Yorkers have rituals that connect them to their city in unique and personal ways” (page xiii); and we all have those rituals and personal connections to our home cities and even the cities and towns we grew up in.

“I’ll sit on a bench and get lost.  I always have a book with me — I usually have a little notebook for taking notes.  I’ll either think that I’m going to read or think that I’ll write in my notebook, yet so often, I’ll just get really lost in the rustle of the leaves overhead and the birds singing.  I’ll follow a bird and really watch it until I can’t see it.  Time flies by,” says author Luanne Rice about Clement Clarke Moore Park.(page 13)

“I love to walk in neighborhoods that I don’t know very well.  My husband is a very serious photographer and he has a really great camera, and the two of us will just walk and walk and take pictures together.  And we’ll look at something and he’ll take a picture of it and then I’ll look at the same thing and then I’ll take a picture of it.  He likes to say, ‘One camera and four eyes.’,” says Bebe Neuwirth of their walk to the American Merchant Mariners Memorial. (page 145)

Brunner includes stories from a number of well-known actors who either moved to or have always lived in New York City, plus directors, Broadway actors, activists, and more.  What’s interesting is that each section is prefaced with not only a quote, but a little explanation of something special found in New York whether its the forgotten origins of community gardening or a local restaurant’s take on the food in the city.  The Great Saunter is just one of those fascinating moments in the book.  Moreover, under each anecdote, there is a list of the locations discussed, their addresses, and phone number and/or Website to find out more information.  There are literally dozens upon dozens of hidden New York gems and more famous sight seeing spots, like Central Park and Strawberry Fields, but what makes this unique is the routines, stories, and habits of those recommending these locations.  It reads more like a conversation between friends about their favorite hideouts and places to ruminate.  One of my personal favorites is from Hugh Jackman about how his son treats Central Park like a forest and sets out in the morning with a full backpack and does not return home until the sun has set.

My City, My New York by Jeryl Brunner is a must have for those visiting the city, especially for Book Bloggers taking an extra few days to explore the city in June for BBC and BEA, but it’s also great for those who love to know what their favorite celebrities enjoy.  Looking for highly recommended restaurants, bakeries, and other food venues while you are in the city, you’ll have to pick up a copy of this book and try some of these recommendations out.  And of course, there are the great night spots for hanging out, dancing, and schmoozing with friends.  Readers will want to find out what location Robin Williams was in when someone asked who the homeless man was, and they’ll definitely want to find out where “Toss the Rice” is.  Excellent behind-the-scenes guide for anyone interested in taking their time to explore the Big Apple.

This is my 6th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller

Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller is a collection of knitting patterns from a diehard Twilight series fan, who was so inspired that she created a collection of patters for other fans of the series and vampires in general.  However, some of these patterns could just be knitted and worn by everyday, non-vampire fans and fans of werewolves/shapeshifters too.  The book’s font and design seem very appropriate for the vampire inspired knitting in these pages, which are broken down into sections:  Protect Me; Just Bitten; Vampire Style; Bloody Accents; and Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

There is a glossary of knitting abbreviations, which could help beginning knitters and a metric conversion chart.  The book also includes credits for contributing designers and a special skills section outlining what cables, stranded knitting, short rows, 3-needle bind off, and other stitches are.  For someone that doesn’t knit, this book is just pretty to look at, and if you have a friend who knits, this might be a perfect gift for them, especially if they knit you things for birthdays and holidays.  Each pattern offers step by step directions and designate the proper skill level for each pattern from beginner to expert.  There are scarfs, sweaters, hats, bottle cozies, purses, and even jewelery.

Looking through this book, readers could easily see Alice, Edward, and Bella wearing some of these designs, but there are others that would be perfect for the Goth crowd, like this Prim Reaper’s Corset.  Some of my particular favorite designs in the book are The Black Veil Scarf, Vampire Diary Protector (which you could use for books too), and Sitio Stockings.  The Tourniquet Scarf looks like something men would wear, and there are sweaters for kids with vampire teeth.

Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller is an excellent book for knitters looking for something a little different, and some of the patterns and stitches look lovely and fashionable — this is not your grandmother’s knitting.  If I could knit — which I can’t at all — I’d try out some of these patterns in a heartbeat.  I’ll definitely be passing this one along to a knitter, and maybe I can get a nice Black Veil Scarf out of the deal?!

About the Author:

Genevieve Miller was inspired to design her own patterns after reading Twilight. She is the mother of three and luckily married to a guy who doesn’t mind the house being taken over by a giant yarn stash. She lives in Pasadena, California.


This is my 4th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Mental_Floss The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory Edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, Mangesh Hattikudur

Before I get to today’s review, I want to wish all my U.S. readers a Happy Thanksgiving. It is a holiday that should be shared with friends and family, and if possible please consider volunteering some of your time or food to those in need this season.

I hope everyone has some great food and fun with friends and family. Have a great holiday. My family will be joining Anna’s for some dinner and fun.

Ok, now for today’s review, which would make an excellent gift for the trivia buffs in your life.

Mental_Floss The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, and Mangesth Hattikudur is a collection of lists that span the 10 years that Mental_Floss has been in the business of collecting information that is odd, off-the-beaten path, and just down right funny.  The Website has not only trivia games, but also quizzes, blogs, and amazing facts (Here’s one of my favorites, especially since Muppets are the order of the day in my house these days — particularly Elmo)

The lists included in this book range in topics from impressing diplomats, presidents or other important people to how to lighten the mood in the emergency room.  There are lists for nearly every occasion.  Naturally, readers and writers will enjoy the list entitled “Lists for People Who Can’t Write Good,” which tells a tale of writers betting that Ernest Hemingway (though it may have been another writer) could not write a six word sentence that was a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  In the end, the other writers lost when the sentence written said, “For Sale.  Baby Shoes.  Never worn.” (page 183)

Another of the most witty entries in the collection is “What 10 Fictional Characters Were Almost Called,” which includes anecdotes about Bram Stoker, Gone With the Wind, and other famous novels’ and authors’ characters.  The editors also have lists of alternate names for famous novels, like 1984 and The Great Gatsby.  There are also famous words that were created by authors, Latin terms that you think you understand the meaning of, and little known stories about some famous writers.  Another of my favorites are the phrases attributed to Mark Twain that he actually did not say, like “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt,” and phrases he did say, such as “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”

Mental_Floss The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, and Mangesth Hattikudur will whet anyone’s appetite for knowledge and fun facts to impress their friends with or to just have fun.  Trivia fans would love to add this to their collections, and readers should consider putting this on their wish lists this holiday season.  Flex those brains and join the fun.

More ways to Mental_Floss:

For more with mental_floss, become a fan on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and visit their website: www.mentalfloss.com.  And of course, don’t forget to take the quiz on their Facebook page!  Or take it below:

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Review of Quirk’s The Baby Owner’s Books

Normally, I don’t review three books in one post, but I’m making an exception for this set of baby-related books.  When the publicist at Quirk found out my husband and I were having our first child, they kindly sent us some reference guides on caring for her.

The Baby Owner’s Manual by Louis Borgenicht, MD, and Joe Borgenicht, D.A.D., can be used as a reference guide by all new parents and probably some who already have children.  The main approach of the book is similar to how a manual would talk about your new stereo or other consumer product by first describing its parts and functions and then discussing care and maintenance.  There are tips on how to perfectly swaddle the baby and how to deal with emergency situations.  Included also is a section on what accessories are not included, such as bottles and diapers, and a caution that some “models” may vary.  New parents don’t have a ton of time to read this book cover-to-cover, but it is easily dipped into for advice, particularly if they encounter a particular problem at feeding or bed time.

Readers will enjoy the instructional tone, but also the witty nature of the concept of baby as product, which eliminates the need for hard-to-understand medical jargon and other instructional nonsense that leave parents confused or bored.  Most of these tips are practical and easy to employ without incurring great expense, which is fantastic since most things related to babies are expensive and time-consuming.

The companion The Baby Owner’s Maintenance Log wasn’t as useful given that new mothers and fathers are merely scrambling around trying to find time to sleep, let alone write down each feeding and bowel movement.  Inside, there are spaces to record name, birth weight, eye color, bowel movements, feeding times and ounces, and of course developmental feats like rolling over.  To be honest, readers will not likely have time to write all of these moments down, though doctors will expect you to know roughly how many ounces the baby is eating, how frequently, and how long s/he sleeps.  It would be a blessing to have all of that information written down in one place, but from a practical standpoint, it is unlikely to happen unless the parents are super-organized and write down the details in the moment.

Finally, The Baby Owner’s Games and Activities Book by Lynn Rosen and Joe Borgenight offers a wide variety of activities to do with a baby and is grouped by specific age ranges to ensure proper development.  Again, this reference guide offers a fun and non-clinical look at development.  Surprisingly, I found myself doing some of the activities outside our daughter’s age range, but she seemed to just go with the flow and gobble up the knowledge.  The age ranges are not hard and fast rules/categories.

Babies tend to learn by modeling after activities done by their parents.  If you make a funny face, they will try it to — emulating you.  If you clap, they will try to clap.  Its fun to watch babies grow and adapt to new activities, even at ages younger than those outlined in this book.  There are probably activities that new parents will not have thought of or done that are included in this book, like having their child smell different flowers, etc.  These are merely exercises in development, but also in having fun with baby!

Overall, Quirk has an excellent set of baby manual books to help new parents that won’t be overly prescriptive or boring.  They will teach new parents and babies alike, but also be fun and enjoyable.  The only one in the set that seems least useful is the log book, but that’s just due to time constraints.  It could come in handy for parents who have nanny’s or babysitters and want to know what their baby did when they were at work or having date night.

This is my 40th-42nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates

The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates is an excellent resource for aspiring novelists, especially those that have full time jobs and are writing in their spare time.  Housed in a hard bound, spiral notebook format, the book makes it easy to find the best advice for the crisis of the moment for beginnings, middles, or ends of novels with its outlined table of contents.  Most writers are fond of taking notes or using sticky papers to highlight gems of information . . . what’s even better is that we color-code that information to keep it all fresh.

Some of the ideas in the book are those writers have heard a number of times, such as keeping a small notebook handy at all times when dialogue is too juicy to pass up or someone’s style catches the eye.  Story ideas always come from experiences and what writers see in other art or in other books.  What’s unique about this reference book is that it counters advice given to many writers that they should write what they know or write about things that have never been done before.

National Novel Writing Month participants would be wise to check out this book, but even those not engaged in the month-long marathon, should take a look at Bates’ advice.  From creating the three-act structure complete with conflict and resolution to ensuring the larger structure is supported by a smaller structure of action and development, The Nighttime Novelist offers direct advice about plot and point of view choices, differences between POV and voice, settings and description, and much more.

Overall, Bates provides a comprehensive outline for writing a novel and offers a “coffee break” to help writers assess their progress throughout the novel.  While the book is written in a linear fashion from beginning to end, writers can plunge into any section of the book and obtain excellent advice.  There are additional online and other resources listed in the back of the book, and appendices with empty worksheets, which writers can copy to use multiple times for multiple novels.  The Nighttime Novelist is a great addition to any novelist or writer’s shelves.

About the Author:

Joseph Bates’ fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.  He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

For more information please visit www.nighttimenovelist.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Also check out the excerpt from the book posted earlier in November.

***Thanks to Writer’s Digest Books, Joseph Bates, and FSB Associates for sending me a copy for review. ***

This is my 59th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Green Beauty Recipes by Julie Gabriel

Green Beauty Recipes by Julie Gabriel, with over 300 recipes, is an excellent reference guide for those seeking more eco-friendly ways of creating and wearing makeup, lotion, fragrances, deodorants, and more.  The introduction explains how these recipes are different and what types of alcohols and other materials to use in lieu of rubbing alcohol and other ingredients that are processed or contain artificial ingredients.

Another great find of the introduction is how to appropriately conduct a patch test to determine whether you are allergic to a particular compound or ingredient in each recipe.  For those with sensitive skin, this will come in handy, especially since many of the recipes include alternatives should they find themselves allergic to a particular material.  For those concerned about the shelf life of these products, not to worry because there are natural preservatives can be added to stave off bacteria, fungi, and other toxic elements that can render the products ineffective.

In the Handmade Beauty Basics chapter, Gabriel outlines what amount of space is necessary and what tools should be on hand to mix the minerals and other ingredients to make a variety of makeup and cleansing products.  Readers should be sure to ensure that their work space should be clean, using ethanol, and that tools are either stainless steel or medical glass, which needs to be cleaned before and after each use.  Most ingredients can be found in the grocery store, home cupboards, or drug stores; for those interested, many of these recipes are used to create products for Gabriel’s Petite Marie Organics line of cosmetics.

Since many readers will be trying these recipes for the first time, it is helpful that Gabriel included some FAQs to deal with common problems found when making these natural products.  From fixing moisturizers that are too runny to offering ten steps to finding and creating toners, Green Beauty Recipes offers a number of remedies, recipes, and advice.  Gabriel’s experience as a holistic nutritionist and mother dedicated to eco-friendly living shines through in this reference guide.  Readers can either jump in all at once or take on a few recipes to tackle their top beauty concerns.

***This book is published by a carbon-neutral, eco-conscious publisher, Petite Marie, and distributed by Ingram.***

About the Author:

Julie Gabriel is a holistic nutritionist educated at Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. A former magazine beauty editor, a television journalist, a weight loss coach, and a new mom, Julie Gabriel is a dedicated advocate of green living and holistic natural eating.

A Canadian living in Switzerland, Julie is a regular guest at Martha Stewart’s Living Radio and has been featured in USA Today, Washington Post, Toronto Star, Sun Sentinel, Natural Solutions, Body & Soul, and many other publications.

SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb (Earth Day Celebration)

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I try my best to celebrate Earth Day and its 40th anniversary.  What better way to take action in our homes to save the environment and become healthier than by heeding the advice in Aviva Goldfarb‘s SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue.

Before we get the actual cookbook, I wanted to let you know that each copy purchased includes a one-month subscription to the Scramble and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Environmental Working Group, which works to use public information’s power to help consumers improve their health and save the environment by offering resources to make better decisions and to affect policy change.

Goldfarb’s cookbook expands upon her popular Web site with its seasonal weekly meal planner subscription for busy families.  The introduction discusses how the organization of the Scramble and its weekly meal planning enables families to reduce their carbon footprint by:

  • limiting trips to the grocery store to once per week
  • reducing the use of takeout containers
  • limiting food waste
  • using highly sustainable fish
  • and reducing the heavy use of meat in our diets.

Following the introduction, Goldfarb outlines the items you need in your pantry at all times, with indicators next to those that you should consider buying in bulk (among others):

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • reduced sodium soy sauce

Once the staples are purchased and available to you, you should check out the break down of fruits and vegetables by season so that you shop for those items when they are in season.  Shopping for veggies and fruits in season reduces your carbon footprint, according to Goldfarb, because it reduces the need to truck those foods across the country or from another nation where they are in season.

The rest of the cookbook is broken down by season and includes a weekly plan of menus for families to try out and advice for keeping the menu plan on schedule, using canvas bags or reusing plastic and paper bags, creating healthy and tasty lunches for school, picking healthy snacks, and more.  However, the book does not include photos of the recipes, which novice cooks might want to check out to see how well they are doing with their own attempts at the recipes.

For busy, book blogger and other moms, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue is an excellent edition to your cookbooks.  Goldfarb’s book is more than a cookbook, it is full of advice on how to make healthy choices for families, how to reduce carbon footprints, shop locally, and more.

About the Author:

Aviva Goldfarb (Photo credit: Rachael Spiegel) is author and founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble®, a seasonal online weekly menu planner and cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2006) who lives in Chevy Chase, Md.  She has just released a new cookbook, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families.  Aviva is regularly quoted in popular online and print Family and Health publications. She is an advocate for healthy families, actively working with national nonprofit organizations and with parents to improve nutrition.

Thanks to Diane Saarinen and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy of SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb for review.

The giveaway details:  (I’m buying 1 copy and giveaway is open internationally)

1.  Leave a comment about what you are doing to celebrate Earth Day.

2.  Leave a second comment with a tip about how you live greenly.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, Stumble, spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline April 29, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 29th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip with Chevy Chase, Md., author Aviva Goldfarb.


Also check out today’s stop on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Necromancy Never Pays!