You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop by John Scalzi – Book Review

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing by John Scalzi
Published by Subterranean Press

If you want to learn how to craft a sentence, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop (henceforth known as You’re Not Fooling Anyone) is not the writing guide you’re looking for. If, however, you want to know what life is like as a full-time professional writer, and how to actually accomplish such a life, You’re Not Fooling Anyone is a great guide.

The essays in You’re Not Fooling Anyone are culled from Scalzi’s popular blog Whatever. Scalzi is a well-known author of science fiction, but he writes on Whatever about a broad range of topics.  He has a tendency to not categorize his posts in any way, so compiling so many of his pieces on writing into one place is very helpful, because if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for you might not find them otherwise. There is some repetition occasionally between essays, but that is to be expected as they were written to stand alone and, frankly, sometimes the same question comes up more than once.

Perhaps the most interesting and refreshing thing about You’re Not Fooling Anyone is Scalzi’s willingness to detail what he makes (well, made, this book is nearly six years old and many of the essays even older, and in the meantime he has become an increasingly prominent and – theoretically – well-paid novelist) and how he cobbles together a living from his writing. Many readers have the idea that novelists have the ability to work solely on their fiction, but for most that is not true, unless they have a partner who basically makes enough for their whole family. Most authors have to keep a day job of one kind or another, but for Scalzi that day job is freelance writing, including ad copy. Scalzi encourages would-be writers not to be romantic about the writing life. Certainly there may be some projects with which you would not want to be associated, but by and large, if it will allow you to pay the bills and you can do it, Scalzi advises that you do so. That is, if you want to be a working writer and actually pay the bills.  There is practical advice on the tools to help you find paying freelance gigs (although, again, they may be slightly dated), and the timeless advice about making sure you actually get paid for said writing.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone would be a worthwhile book for writers just for the practical and forthright information and advice, but when combined with Scalzi’s distinctive and entertaining voice, it becomes a must-read.

Buy this book from:
Somewhere online, it seems to only be available as an ebook at the moment.

Source: Personal copy.

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Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale – Audiobook Review

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale, narrated by Wanda McCaddon
Published in audio by Tantor Audio, published in print by Bloomsbury USA

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Headstrong, high-spirited, and already widowed, Isabella Walker became Mrs. Henry Robinson at age 31 in 1844. Her first husband had died suddenly, leaving his estate to a son from a previous marriage, so she inherited nothing. A successful civil engineer, Henry moved them, by then with two sons, to Edinburgh’s elegant society in 1850. But Henry traveled often and was cold and remote when home, leaving Isabella to her fantasies.

No doubt thousands of Victorian women faced the same circumstances, but Isabella chose to record her innermost thoughts—and especially her infatuation with a married Dr. Edward Lane—in her diary. Over five years the entries mounted—passionate, sensual, suggestive. One fateful day in 1858 Henry chanced on the diary and, broaching its privacy, read Isabella’s intimate entries. Aghast at his wife’s perceived infidelity, Henry petitioned for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Until that year, divorce had been illegal in England, the marital bond being a cornerstone of English life. Their trial would be a cause celebre, threatening the foundations of Victorian society with the specter of “a new and disturbing figure: a middle class wife who was restless, unhappy, avid for arousal.” Her diary, read in court, was as explosive as Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, just published in France but considered too scandalous to be translated into English until the 1880s.

Thoughts on the story:

Kate Summerscale clearly knows both her subject and her time period well. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace is a rich tapestry of a book that tells the story of much more than just one woman’s scandalous diary. Summerscale goes into great detail about a number of elements of period culture, including medical theories such as hydropathy and phrenology. It does seem at times that Isabella’s story is overshadowed by all the other things that Summerscale wants to share about mid-19th century Britain, but she does manage to bring it all back together again and create what is, overall, a very edifying story.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Wanda McCaddon does a very admirable job narrating Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, but it is a difficult task. McCaddon has good inflection and tone to keep the listener interested, but this book simply doesn’t seem to translate very well into audio. Summerscale goes into so much detail about so many different topics, and there are so many people involved in this whole affair, that it is simply difficult to keep track of everything in audio, despite the skill of the narrator.

Overall:

A very interesting book, but if I were starting it over again I would choose print.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

 

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The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne – Book Review

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
Published by Gotham, an imprint of Penguin

Raise your hand if your favorite librarian is a weigh-lifting Mormon with Tourette Syndrome.

Nobody?

Then clearly you have not yet read Josh Hanagarne’s memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian.

Josh Hanagarne is the 6’7″ librarian working for the Salt Lake City Library. Between his height, his Tourette’s, and the fact he is a weight-lifter, he isn’t exactly inconspicuous. The World’s Strongest Librarian is a bit of a catch-all memoir, encompassing everything from Hanagarne’s family, to his faith, to his attempts to overcome his Tourette’s.

Hanagarne has a fascinating story and he tells it with a fresh and extremely engaging voice as his love for books intertwines with his attempts to literally (and I swear I’m using this word the correct way here) be stronger than his disease. Readers won’t be able to help but to become involved in Hanagarne’s story, told as it is with wit and wisdom. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss – Audiobook Review

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, narrated by Scott Brick
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Random House

Synopsis (partial synopsis from the publisher):

Moss takes us inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing campaigns designed—in a technique adapted from tobacco companies—to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: Dial back on one ingredient, pump up the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt.” He talks to concerned executives who confess that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality. Simply put: The industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. Just as millions of “heavy users”—as the companies refer to their most ardent customers—are addicted to this seductive trio, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.

Thoughts on the story:

The one thing I’m really still stuck on from Salt, Sugar, Fat is the part where Coca Cola refers to people who consume a lot of its product as “heavy users.” The drug analogy continues throughout much of the book, as Moss explores our physiological and cultural addictions to  the titular ingredients. Moss does a fabulous job covering exactly how we got to where we are and just why it is so problematic. I was continually astounded by the prominence of Moss’s sources in the food industry; he clearly did his research and it is evident in the wealth of very well-presented information in the book. There was only one thing I did not love about Salt Sugar Fat, and that was how much my OCD self was bothered by the fact that  these building blocks of processed food are discussed in a different order than the title: sugar, fat, then salt instead of salt, sugar, then fat. It drove me a little crazy, particularly during section changes, but Moss’s astounding work still sucked me back in immediately

Thoughts on the audio production:

Scott Brick, I have finally listened to you! Besides Simon Vance, Scott Brick is the only audiobook narrator I know who has his very own superfan. Audible has close to 500 results for Scott Brick’s name, but despite the number of audiobooks I have listened to over the last few years, I have never heard him until now. Nonfiction narration is generally not what inspires superfandom, but Brick does a wonderful job with Salt Sugar Fat. Because Moss inserts himself in his research from time to time, the book often has an almost conversational quality (if you have conversations with REALLY SMART people who know an awful lot about nutrition and food science), and Brick translates this wonderfully straight into the listener’s ear. He does that thing where you forget that you are listening to a narrator speak someone else’s words and tricks you into believing that he is the author and he knows ALL THESE THINGS AND MORE. Really top-notch.

Overall:

General nonfiction caveats apply here: if you want to really study the material and be able to easily go back and reference things, you are probably best served either with print or a combination of print and audio. However, if you just want to be exposed to Moss’s research, the audio production of Salt Sugar Fat is wonderful and one I highly recommend.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

 

 

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Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart – Audiobook Review

Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart, narrated by Jef Brick
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper Books, both imprints of HarperCollins

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

On April 6, 1940, explorer and future World War II spy Theodore Morde (who would one day attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler), anxious about the perilous journey that lay ahead of him, struggled to fall asleep at the Paris Hotel in La Ceiba, Honduras.

Nearly seventy years later, in the same hotel, acclaimed journalist Christopher S. Stewart wonders what he’s gotten himself into. Stewart and Morde seek the same answer on their quests: the solution to the riddle of the whereabouts of Ciudad Blanca, buried somewhere deep in the rain forest on the Mosquito Coast. Imagining an immense and immaculate El Dorado–like city made entirely of gold, explorers as far back as the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés have tried to find the fabled White City. Others have gone looking for tall white cliffs and gigantic stone temples—no one found a trace.

Legends, like the jungle, are dense and captivating. Many have sought their fortune or fame down the Río Patuca—from Christopher Columbus to present-day college professors—and many have died or disappeared. What begins as a passing interest slowly turns into an obsession as Stewart pieces together the whirlwind life and mysterious death of Morde, a man who had sailed around the world five times before he was thirty and claimed to have discovered what he called the Lost City of the Monkey God.

Armed with Morde’s personal notebooks and the enigmatic coordinates etched on his well-worn walking stick, Stewart sets out to test the jungle himself—and to test himself in the jungle. As we follow the parallel journeys of Morde and Stewart, the ultimate destination morphs with their every twist and turn. Are they walking in circles? Or are they running from their own shadows? Jungleland is part detective story, part classic tale of man versus wild in the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Lost in Shangri-La. A story of young fatherhood as well as the timeless call of adventure, this is an epic search for answers in a place where nothing is guaranteed, least of all survival.

Thoughts on the story:

I’m not always keen on authors inserting themselves into stories, but Stewart’s combination memoir/history is extremely effective. I’m not sure that either his own story or Morde’s would have been enough to fully interest me, but combined they definitely kept me listening. Morde’s story provides the background, as well as some interesting spy games – including a plot to assassinate Hitler. Stewart’s story provides the heart, the human interest. I mean, this guy misses his daughter’s fourth birthday to gallivant around the jungle! It is his drive and his need to find the lost city that keeps the reader going, and then Morde’s story that provides the color and interest enough to break things up.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jef Brick does a really great job, I generally had no problem discerning whether we were listening to Stewart’s story or Morde’s. There was one odd moment where I wondered whether I had been confused and there had really been two narrators the whole time because he sounded so different for one of Morde’s sections, but that seems to have been an odd bit of stray editing, or a different recording venue, or perhaps a trick of my ears and not an issue with Brick’s narration.

Overall:

I found Jungleland to be a nice change of pace and an enjoyable audiobook. I think I would have liked the print, but am fairly certain that I enjoyed it more in audio than I would have in print. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

 

 

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