Saturday, September 08, 2007

Recommended reading from the last few months

No special theme right now, just books I've read recently and would recommend to others.

Wolk, Josh. Cabin Pressure: One Man's Desperate Attempt to Recapture His Youth as a Camp Counselor. 1st ed. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
The funniest book I've read in a long time--laugh-out loud funny. The summer before his wedding, Wolk goes back to the all-boys camp in Maine that he adored when he was a camper and eventually a counselor. He hasn't been there in 10 years. The camp hasn't changed much, and in some ways he hasn't...which is part of the book. One of the counselors with whom he shares responsibility for his cabin of 12-year-old boys is "the ultimate counselor," who intimidated Wolk a decade earlier. And Wolk is still intimidated.

Wolk is a swimming counselor (bonus for me). He writes about his own insecurities, his relationship with his fiancee as they plan their wedding, and how he feels about entering the world of grown-ups via marriage. He also describes the camp, and the counselors and campers, wonderfully.

Wolk captures 14-year-old boys, their innocence, energy, and love of all things gross, quite well. (There's some gross-out humor in the book.) I never went to a sleepaway camp, but this book almost makes me wish I did. It also reminded me of what I like about summer times spent at cabins.

A cool radio program to listen to if you like hearing about summer camp: This American Life's show Notes on Camp," #109, originally broadcast August 28, 1998.

Rosett, Sara. Moving Is Murder. New York, N.Y: Kensington Publishing, 2006.
A mystery featuring a new mother/wife of an Air Force officer. Ellie and her husband have just moved to eastern Washington State for the husband's new military assignment. They live just off-base, but it turns out most of the squad lives within a block radius. There's lots of detail of living near a military base, and there are moving/unpacking tips spread throughout the book. The book starts in a heat wave in late summer, and wraps up in fall. I enjoyed the protagonist, the settings, and the insight into the life of a military spouse.

For a non-fiction (and more depressing) book about military spouses, there's Tanya Biank's Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage , which I reviewed, under its old title, Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives, on December 1, 2006. Biank's book served as the inspiration for a Lifetime TV series, Army Wives.

Danziger, Danny. Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, N.Y: Viking, 2007.
Danziger interviewed all kinds of people connected with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, from cleaners to curators to trustees. There's even a chapter featuring a man who sets up in a gallery every day and copies a work of art. Danziger subtracted the questions, and formed the ansers into 3-6 page 1st-person narratives. Some people talk about their jobs, others about their hobbies (unrelated to the art world). Some talk about how they got into a particular field. There are a few stories about acquiring particular pieces. Quite a few of the curators give mini-overviews of their fields (I learned a lot about tapestry in just a few pages). A great behind-the-scenes book, but it doesn't just talk about everyday life in a museum. It's an engaging, quick read.

Wheeler, Tony & and Maureen Wheeler. Unlikely Destinations: the Lonely Planet Story. Singapore: Periplus; North Clarendon, VT; distributed by Tuttle Pub., 2005.
This is a bit of a schizophrenic book (and not because of the dual authorship--most of it is written in Tony's voice). As reviews have said, it's a blend of regular autobiography, business biography, and travelogue. I think it works least well as a travelogue, because, being travel writers and publishers of travel books, the authors have travelled a LOT, and it feels like they mention every trip they've taken, at least in passing. They have some fun stories to tell, but if I wouldn't really recommend this as a travelogue. What worked best for me were the descriptions of the business of publishing travel books. I read all kinds of travel books, even guides to places I don't have plans to travel to. So I was very curious to learn about things like how they decide when to publish updates, and how they decide to cover places at all. When they publish books on a country, region, and city, how much overlap is there between each book. Some of my favorite chapters dealt with the occasional errors that made their way into books, how the books are received in different countries, and how writers dealt with on-the-road upheavals. There's another chapter on some of the political and ethical questions that have come up with publishing various guides. All this comes later in the book, so if you get tired with the surface accounts of travel, hang in there! (or skip to the later chapters.)

Weber, Anne N. Upstaged: Making Theatre in the Media Age. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Weber set out to write this book after watching the Tony awards on TV one year. The message of the broadcast seemed to be: now that film and TV stars are appearing on Broadway, it's worth paying attention to Broadway again. This attitude angered Weber, and so she set out to interview a number of actors, writers, and directors (with the odd producer and agent thrown in) who've worked in theater, film, and tv. Like Danziger, Weber edited out her questions and presented the answers as first-person narratives, but in this case, with subject headings for sections.

I first checked this out from the library, but enjoyed it so much I bought my own copy. I learned a lot: how acting on stage and before cameras differs, how the schedules differ, why actors in Britain can work across media more easily than those in the U.S., and how the experience of theatergoing is different than watching TV or movie. These points got a bit repetitive, but each person had a little something different about their viewpoint. While nearly everyone interviewed seems to prefer live theater, they do see positives in the other media. One thing I liked about the structure of the book is that in one chapter, an actor would mention a director they particularly admired, or enjoyed working with, and then that director would be featured in the next chapter.

Other theater books I've reviewed:
The Nicholas Nickleby Story: The Making of the Historic Royal Shakespeare Company Production, on July 9, 2007.
Several "year in the life" books on August 26, 2006.
Backstage at Stratford on August 8, 2006.

Selditch, Dianne. My First Year as a Journalist: Real-World Stories From America's Newspaper and Magazine Journalists. New York: Walker and Co., 1995.
One of a series of books in which professionals write about their first years in a given profession (My First Year as a Teacher by Pearl Rock Kane; My First Year as a Doctor: Real-World Stories from America's MD's, by Melissa Ramsdell; My First Year as a Lawyer: Real-World Stories from America's Lawyers, by Melissa Ramsdell and Mark Simenhoff; and My First Year in Book Publishing: Real-World Stories From America's Book Publishing Professionals, by Lisa Healy).

The title explains the premise: it contains first-person accounts of My First Year as a Journalist. Some of the names I recognized included Helen Thomas and Dave Barry. All are established writers now; some started as early as the 1940's; maybe one or two started in the 1980's. It's heavier on newspaper reporters than magazine reporters (though one person started working for the Time-Life book series), and most, though not all, talk about general reporting, not specialties. There is a good variety, though. I don't know that the experiences described here are typical of beginning journalists any more, though, given the decline of newspapers.

Related books:
Aamidor, Abraham, ed. Real Sports Reporting. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, c2003.
Also first-person accounts, specifically by sports reporters, covering different kinds of beats, and ethical issues in sports reporting. I recommended it to a college student who was writing about sports for a college newspaper, and hoping to make sports reporting his career. He loved it.

Terry, Wallace.
Terry, Wallace. Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers: Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2007.
I'm just a few chapters in, but I love it so far!! Ethel Payne, the first black journalist to ask a question at a presidential press conference (Eisenhower) had such a great chapter I immediately looked to see if there was a biography of her (haven't found it yet). CBS television's first black reporter (sorry, forgot his name) had a fascinating experience writing an undercover report on the black Muslims in the 1960's. I learned a lot about Carl Rowan, and his experiences working for Lyndon Johnson.

Another journalism-related book:
The Pulitzer Prize: The Inside Story of America’s Most Prestigious Award., reviewed May 2, 2007.