pensive woman

Today, we have an afternoon rescue for an urgent letter:

Dear book doctor,

I’m in the jury duty waiting room and I’m reading the most delectable book, The Fractalist by Mandelbrot. It’s so fun to sit in near silence and feel as though it is my job to read. But I’ll finish it today and if I come back I need another title stat!




Dear Frederique-

I like your style, as I dream of jury duty for just this reason. There is nothing like a guilt-free day of reading in the middle of the week. However, given that it’s only Tuesday, you might need more than one book. You could potentially be reading all week.

These should keep you good and occupied should you need three more days worth:

  • The Poisoners Handbook, Deborah Blum. full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet, but a friend just recommended it with such intensity over lunch that I feel confident. Given that this is about the birth of forensic medicine in the Jazz Age, you may be able to learn enough to be disqualified as a juror for too much expertise? Worth a shot…
  • Gangsterland, Tod Goldberg. A hit man has to go underground after a job spirals out of control. Where does he go? To Vegas. To pose as a rabbi. Even though he’s not Jewish. A page turner and perfect to fantasize about as a backstory for the case you may be in the jury seat for…
  • On Mexican Time, Tony Cohan. This is the escapist wildcard to dive into when you get a little claustrophobic and really want out. This memoir outlines a couple’s decision to up and move from L.A. to San Miguel Allende in the 80s. Both artists, the descriptions are lush and immediate. You’ll feel like you’re on vacation instead of trapped in a government building.

I have given you links to Kindle books and have kept to eBook options, since I know you don’t have time to get to a bookstore or the library tonight. Good luck with jury duty- if you end up on the sot of case they put you in a hotel in isolation for, write back! I’ll make you a much longer list…

Happy reading,

the book dr.

  • June 3, 2015 - 08:14

    Claire - I think I’d go for On Mexican Time, the escapist option…ReplyCancel

    • June 3, 2015 - 14:45

      caroline - It’s a really good one. Let me know what you think if you check it out, Claire!ReplyCancel

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This week’s issue of the Ephemera Almanac was dreamed up while I was by the beach in Mexico…

Here’s what floated into my head:

  • Another podcast that makes my little word nerd heart sing.
  • This lady’s site makes a reader have a braingasm. (Full disclosure- I found her on an episode of On Being. I do love that show)
  • This was my #1 go-to hairstyle for the beach and, I expect, for much of the summer. This will be #2. I assure you, I could not do anything more advanced than a ponytail before I discovered this site. One year “learn to do my damned hair” was on my list of goals. If I can do it, anyone can.
  • Some good old page-turner beach reading. I can’t say it was the most profound thing I’ve read recently, but it was fun.
  • And last, but certainly not least, my 8-year-old self wants to go to this event so badly she might actually start crying and running in place. I watched Splash a lot as a kid. It might happen…
  • June 1, 2015 - 21:20

    Kat - Dear Dr. – sending a boat load of thanks for a handful of very groovy links I like your taste!ReplyCancel

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One of the gifts of signing myself up for a formidable number of books for my goodreads challenge for 2015 (100 books for this year) has been the introduction of more poetry into my day-to-day reading.

I do enjoy poetry. I am luck enough to have a number of poet friends, who have steered me in the right direction over the years. I’m sure Billy Collins isn’t anything new to those who read poetry as a regular practice, but I still love him. I think it was how I first discovered him, riding in the passenger seat of the car, driving through Berkeley on an unusually hot day just about ten years ago now. Poetry was coming out of the radio. We had NPR on, and there was Billy Collins. (I’m not sure this is the same episode, but it was this same year.)

I kept saying his name over and over in my head so I’d remember and be able to find him again. There weren’t yet show notes and podcasts of NPR shows with show notes. There was just that moment to catch him before he was gone.

Thankfully I did. And it is a joy to come back to him with this book of new and collected works. I love Collins because he has humor, lightness and dark moments and is so sharp and so soft, all in the same poem.

I sat in the shade of the Japanese garden this past Sunday at the Huntington on the quilt I made for myself the summer before my sophomore year of college and fell, headlong into this book.

It’s like a vacation into a mind that feels like a place I could feel at home. Like little moments that pile up like letters from a place you’ve been waiting to visit.

I just loved it.

I hope you do, too.


  • June 3, 2015 - 14:17

    Dal - Definitely a poet to look in to. I’ve not heard of him but I would like a vacation to my mind that feels like home….oooooooh that sounds so tantalising.ReplyCancel

    • June 4, 2015 - 18:03

      caroline - Dal- you must read him. Let me know how it goes. I can’t promise everyone’s mind will relate to his as much as mine did, but I think we might be on the same wavelength here.ReplyCancel

  • June 4, 2015 - 05:56

    Katherine - The Beauty Of Life - The book sounds wonderful, but sitting in the Japanese garden on a home made quilt reading it just sounds like PERFECTION.ReplyCancel

    • June 4, 2015 - 18:04

      caroline - It is a magical place. If anyone ever gets to Los Angeles a must-visit is the Huntington Library. I have been a member for years- it is the best membership I have ever gotten. I go at least once a month. It might be my favorite reading spot ever.ReplyCancel

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IMG_6966 2

This was our view out the window flying home from Mexico.

As a child, I was incredibly influenced by The Neverending Story. Seeing a thunderstorm as we flew by was so much like the opening sequence of that film. When I saw it the first time, my mother took me and I was so distressed by [SPOILER ALERT] the scene with Artax, the horse, in the Swamps of Sadness that she yanked me out of the the theater.

We tried to sneak into Gremlins, but that was too scary so we just went home.

It wasn’t until fourth grade, when my teacher made us watch the entire thing in class, that I saw the whole film. This teacher wasn’t afraid to put us through a tough story. They read us Where the Red Fern Grows, which is a traumatic childhood memory for anyone who had to read it. Please share your experiences in the comments.

We don’t get many thunderstorms in Los Angeles. One a year, if we’re lucky. We had them every summer on the east coast, and I used to wake up at the beach in Delaware to the sound of thunder and huddle on the screened-in porch with my brother and my parents and listen to the rain and the booming.

I was scared of storms at first, and then I came to love them. Now my dad calls me on the phone when they have a storm and hopes that I can hear it over the line. I have insisted he does not go outside for this maneuver.

Reading and inclement weather seem to be a perfect match. I have dreams of a rainy Irish cottage or a fogged in stay at the Edinburgh Air BnB I shared last week. I love the grey days we get in LA this time of year, since I feel justified staying at home with a book.

And now, because I know it’s been in your head the whole time:

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I had the great luck to spend this weekend in Mexico, traveling to a wedding. While I was balancing the time meeting my boyfriend’s extended family and lazing on the beach, many books were consumed. Oh yes.

Since White Teeth, Zadie Smith has been a favorite. I have heard hear give several interviews, in podcasts, as I recall, and her voice is so beautiful I wish she read the audio version of her books. Perhaps she does… but I have always read her from a text version. I tend to stick to one form for authors. They are either audiobook authors or written version authors. Zadie Smith is definitely a written form author for me.

So, cut to her nonfiction, Changing My Mind specifically.. I have read an essay or two of hers before, one in particular about Joni Mitchell among other things, stuck with me. I loved her confessions about her relationship with her husband and her secret language and the fact that it took quite a while for Joni Mitchell to grow on her.

That said, I was expecting something similar when I started this book.

For those of you who aren’t Postdocs in literature, the first portion of this book may be somewhat heavy lifting. (I do not hold a postgrad degree in English, or even a BA to think of it, since mine was in Art History. This was heavy lifting for me) If you love very detailed literary criticism and have recently read Middlemarch, which I now want to reread, then this might be exactly what you are looking for.

I myself was grateful when we moved on to talking about the process of writing novels and Liberia and the ramifications of an education on class in England as well as David Foster Wallace’s collected works. The last 3/4 of the book flew by and I was happy to get to dive in to so many topics so thoughtfully. It is a group that certainly is faithful of the idea of an essay as a try, or an essai.

Zadie Smith has the ability to create images within thought-provoking writing that stick with, allowing the ideas to percolate much longer. Her discussion of “Forever Overhead” in the piece about DFW was particularly memorable, as she quoted from the story where a young boy climbing the ladder to dive into a pool sees the woman ahead of him squeezed into her bathing suit, her thighs “like cheese.” Now, perhaps this image sticks with me because I am terrified of being described this way, but it did take me back to pools of my youth and the feeling that learning to dive would change everything.

If you haven’t yet read this, I would. It was a brainer treat to enjoy by the beach. Not that I didn’t indulge less intellectual impulses, Perhaps I will review those next time…

Happy reading. Do let me know what you’ve got on your nightstand at the moment.

  • June 3, 2015 - 08:20

    Claire - I’ve never thought of ZS as a non-fiction writer…I’m particularly intrigued to read her criticism of Middlemarch…ReplyCancel

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