Really Cool Women\'s Book Club

New books and dates! March 11, 2012

Filed under: dates and places — Susan @ 10:49 pm

The votes are in and we have 3 winners. Here they are along with the dates and places for our next 3 book clubs

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett at Karen’s house on April 18th

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks at JoLynnes house on May 30th

Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland at Ann’s house on July 11th

Happy reading!

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March 7th, 2012 at Lori’s house. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman March 8, 2012

Filed under: Past Meetings — Susan @ 2:25 pm

Cool Women in Attendance:

Heidi, Lori, Susan, Karen, JoLynne

Menu (all cooked in a microwave with chicken we smuggled in our pants)

  • Cheese spread
  • Cassoeula
  • Apple/Caramel pie

Memorable Moments (tough girl talk)

  • Lori will pop a cap in your ass
  • Susan will fire your ass
  • Karen words of wisdom: Don’t let the world be your gynecologist
 

Time to Vote March 7, 2012

Filed under: Nominated Books — Susan @ 4:18 pm

Please go to the link below and choose up to 3 titles by March 15th.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GBWPYMX

Here are the titles:

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks

A Slave in the White House:  Paul Jennings and the Madisons by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

An Accidental Sportswriter: A Memoir byRobert Lipsyte

Born for Liberty by Sara M. Evans

Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by Margolick, David

Instant City by Steve Inskeep

Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway

Pox by Deborah Hayden

Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

The Mineral Palace by Heidi Julavits

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre

Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America  by Albert Brooks

June 12, 2030 started out like any other day in memory—and by then, memories were long.  Since cancer had been cured fifteen years before, America’s population was aging rapidly.  That sounds like good news, but consider this: millions of baby boomers, with a big natural predator picked off, were sucking dry benefits and resources that were never meant to hold them into their eighties and beyond.  Young people around the country simmered with resentment toward “the olds” and anger at the treadmill they could never get off of just to maintain their parents’ entitlement programs.

But on that June 12th, everything changed: a massive earthquake devastated Los Angeles, and the government, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, was unable to respond. 

The fallout from the earthquake sets in motion a sweeping novel of ideas that pits national hope for the future against assurances from the past and is peopled by a memorable cast of refugees and billionaires, presidents and revolutionaries, all struggling to find their way.  In 2030, the author’s all-too-believable imagining of where today’s challenges could lead us tomorrow makes gripping and thought-provoking reading.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

 The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
A Slave in the White House:  Paul Jennings and the Madisons by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia, later becoming part of the Madison household staff at the White House. Once finally emancipated by Senator Daniel Webster later in life, he would give an aged and impoverished Dolley Madison, his former owner, money from his own pocket, write the first White House memoir, and see his sons fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. He died a free man in northwest Washington at 75. Based on correspondence, legal documents, and journal entries rarely seen before, this amazing portrait of the times reveals the mores and attitudes toward slavery of the nineteenth century, and sheds new light on famous characters such as James Madison, who believed the white and black populations could not coexist as equals; French General Lafayette who was appalled by this idea; Dolley Madison, who ruthlessly sold Paul after her husband’s death; and many other since forgotten slaves, abolitionists, and civil right activists.

An Accidental Sportswriter: A Memoir by Robert Lipsyte

Robert Lipsyte admits quickly in his memoir AN ACCIDENTIAL SPORTSWRITER that he never was much of a sports fan. What he wanted to be was a writer, and after he was given a foot in the door at the NY TIMES, he was able to write about what mattered to him most–the social issues of the day–through the vehicle of sports.

The best chapters of the book have to do with Lipsyte’s journalistic role models, Gay Talese and Howard Cosell. Known for being a “piper,” that is, flirting with the line on the truthfulness of his accounts, Talese represented the opportunity to go beyond the traditional boundaries of journalism. Talese would deliberately focus on the minority, the over-looked, and in doing so would always ask the question “why?” Lipsyte would run with this insight. Covering sports didn’t mean that he was stuck with covering sports. Lipsyte credits Talese not only with helping him see this, but also with giving him the confidence to do pursue this type of reporting. At a low point as a TIMES copy boy, Lipsyte wondered openly about his writing future to Talese who on the spot offered to sponsor Lipsyte’s writing career. Talese’s offer infused the young scribe with the boast he needed, but what Lipsyte realizes after approaching his old mentor for the first time in 40 years is that Talese had “piped” him in making the offer to finance his career.

Lipsyte’s other role model was entirely the opposite of Talese’s gentlemanly attire and attitude. Howard Cosell was a bull running wild in the open field of TV and radio media. Knowing that he couldn’t be both popular with everyone and still be accurate, Cosell sought out the truth as he saw it. Lipsyte soon adopted the same approach, and seemingly enjoyed offending in the name of the truth. But, as the memoir indicates, in retrospect, Lipsyte–like Cosell–could often be wrong about what was the gospel. And very unlikeable.

The athlete that dominates the narrative is Ali. Lipsyte sees him in all of his phyisical beauty. Bigger, quicker, faster than Sonny Liston, Lipsyte realizes immediately with a chance assignment to cover the then Clay/Liston fight that Clay was something special in every way. In the aftermath, athlete and scrible become linked and their careers take off together. Lipsyte sees Ali as a social reformer, but wishes for more than the image that Ali projected for public consumption. Turning his back on Malcolm X, openly disregarding the moral teaching of Islam, Ali frustrates Lipsyte, but Lipsyte is always drawn back to him just as American society would be.

Born for Liberty by Sara M. Evans

It is the view of Evans, director of the Center for Advanced Feminist Studies at the University of Minnesota and author of Personal Politics , that “to understand the force of women’s experience . . . we must adjust our vision so that we can see the world not only through the major male figures in the foreground but also through the eyes of female figures–a Puritan good wife, an African slave, an Iroquois matron, a westering woman, a female immigrant, a settlement house worker, a secretary.” She advances to this end by melding the stories of representative, sometimes well-known, women into the larger sphere of American politics and public life. Richly diverse accounts exemplify the challenge and struggle that have defined and continue to alter the roles of women in our nation’s development. In this respect Evans’s useful exploration of the participatory nature of women’s history in the United States differs from the majority of feminist literature.

Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago.

Conquistadora is many vivid things all at once, and for the reader, they happen in your body, imagination and soul. It’s a swashbuckling adventure, visceral and ardent; it’s a historical novel so seamlessly told that you don’t realize your heart’s pounding even as your brain’s amassing a wealth of fascinating new knowledge. This is a book that is like that one small island you’ve been longing for since the great adventure and pirate stories of childhood. But the island is real, and this novel tells a real story–an important piece of history–that has never been told before. It’s a story about Puerto Rico, Esmeralda Santiago’s birthplace, and it shows us the island in a way that we’ve never seen before.

Here also is a portrait of characters I came to know and to care about, far from the usual New World stock cast of rapacious and greedy Spanish plantation owners chasing after slave and Creole girls. I was especially intrigued from the start by Ana, whom we first meet as a teenager in a convent in Seville in 1826, bent over the yellowing pages of some journals. (I have an established proclivity for historical novels that begin in convents!) Ana’s story, as every feisty convent girl’s life story should, begins and ends with rebellion: those journals belong to an ancestor of hers who journeyed to Puerto Rico with Ponce de Leon, and when Ana travels there just after her eighteenth birthday, she is a señorita de buena familia rebelling against expectations–of her class, her gender, and the time period. By 1865, she’s rich: a wealthy plantation owner on the island. She’s lost none of her fire. But when the slaves on whom her sugarcane business was built catch the winds of change when Lincoln is elected in the US, she may lose it all. In the decades in between, Ana loves and loses, and finds her true home and her destiny. Puerto Rico, like many tropical “paradises,” turns out to be not the fantasy she’d dreamed on, but a harsh land with harsh realities–a place that rewards only the toughest. The surprising Ana is an irresistible heroine despite the history she carries. She is a woman of her time, for good or ill. A woman who by the end of this sweeping story, comes to define her life not just by all that she has conquered but also all that she has lost. Most importantly, she lives in the reader’s imagination.

Conquistadora is a novel that surpassed my every expectation. It brings a hitherto unknown swath of history alive through great storytelling and narrative verve.

Esmeralda Santiago has written a brilliant and blazingly alive novel, as engrossing and just plain fun as any I have read in a long while.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Hugely admired by Tolstoy, David Copperfield is the novel that draws most closely from Charles Dickens’s own life. Its eponymous hero, orphaned as a boy, grows up to discover love and happiness, heartbreak and sorrow amid a cast of eccentrics, innocents, and villains. Praising Dickens’s power of invention, Somerset Maugham wrote: “There were never such people as the Micawbers, Peggotty and Barkis, Traddles, Betsey Trotwood and Mr. Dick, Uriah Heep and his mother. They are fantastic inventions of Dickens’s exultant imagination…you can never quite forget them.”

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by Margolick, David

The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation—in Little Rock and throughout the South—and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.

In this gripping book, David Margolick tells the remarkable story of two separate lives unexpectedly braided together. He explores how the haunting picture of Elizabeth and Hazel came to be taken, its significance in the wider world, and why, for the next half-century, neither woman has ever escaped from its long shadow. He recounts Elizabeth’s struggle to overcome the trauma of her hate-filled school experience, and Hazel’s long efforts to atone for a fateful, horrible mistake. The book follows the painful journey of the two as they progress from apology to forgiveness to reconciliation and, amazingly, to friendship. This friendship foundered, then collapsed—perhaps inevitably—over the same fissures and misunderstandings that continue to permeate American race relations more than half a century after the unforgettable photograph at Little Rock. And yet, as Margolick explains, a bond between Elizabeth and Hazel, silent but complex, endures.

Instant City by Steve Inskeep

In recent decades, the world has seen an unprecedented shift of people from the countryside into cities. As Steve Inskeep so aptly puts it, we are now living in the age of the “instant city,” when new megacities can emerge practically overnight, creating a host of unique pressures surrounding land use, energy, housing, and the environment. In his first book, the co-host of Morning Edition explores how this epic migration has transformed one of the world’s most intriguing instant cities: Karachi, Pakistan.

Karachi has exploded from a colonial port town of 350,000 in 1941 to a sprawling metropolis of at least 13 million today. As the booming commercial center of Pakistan, Karachi is perhaps the largest city whose stability is a vital security concern of the United States, and yet it is a place that Americans have frequently misunderstood.

As Inskeep underscores, one of the great ironies of Karachi’s history is that the decision to divide Pakistan and India along religious lines in 1947 only unleashed deeper divisions within the city-over religious sect, ethnic group, and political party. In Instant City, Inskeep investigates the 2009 bombing of a Shia religious procession that killed dozens of people and led to further acts of terrorism, including widespread arson at a popular market. As he discovers, the bombing is in many ways a microcosm of the numerous conflicts that divide Karachi, because people wondered if the perpetrators were motivated by religious fervor, political revenge, or simply a desire to make way for new real estate in the heart of the city. Despite the violence that frequently consumes Karachi, Inskeep finds remarkable signs of the city’s tolerance, vitality, and thriving civil society-from a world-renowned ambulance service to a socially innovative project that helps residents of the vast squatter neighborhoods find their own solutions to sanitation, health care, and education.

Drawing on interviews with a broad cross section of Karachi residents, from ER doctors to architects to shopkeepers, Inskeep has created a vibrant and nuanced portrait of the forces competing to shape the future of one of the world’s fastest growing cities.

Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway.

This tender, revelatory memoir recalls the two years Holloway spent as an impressionable Peace Corps volunteer in the remote village of Nampossela in Mali, West Africa. It centers on her close friendship with Monique, the village’s overburdened midwife. When Holloway (now a nonprofit development specialist) arrived in Nampossela in 1989, she was 22; Monique was only two years her senior. Yet Monique, barely educated, working without electricity, running water, ambulances or emergency rooms, was solely responsible for all births in her village, tending malnourished and overworked pregnant women in her makeshift birthing clinic. With one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world, these Malian women sometimes had to work right up until and directly after giving birth and had no means of contraception. Holloway especially noted Monique’s status as an underpaid female whose male family members routinely claimed much of her pay. Monique shared her emotional life with Holloway, who in turn campaigned for her rights at work and raised funds for her struggling clinic. Holloway’s moving account vividly presents the tragic consequences of inadequate prenatal and infant health care in the developing world and will interest all those concerned about the realities of women’s lives outside the industrialized world.

Pox by Deborah Hayden

Today’s controversies over vaccinations pale beside the pitched battles fought at the turn of the 20th century, to judge by this probing work. Historian Willrich (City of Courts) revisits the smallpox epidemic that ravaged the United States from 1898 to 1904 and sparked a showdown between the burgeoning Progressive-era regulatory regime and Americans fearful of the new Leviathan state and the specter of “state medicine.” Anxious to stamp out the contagion, public health officials in the South quarantined African-Americans in detention camps if they were suspected of carrying the disease and vaccinated others at gunpoint; in New York “paramilitary vaccination squads” raided immigrant tenements, forcibly inoculating residents and dragging infected children off to pesthouses; their coercive methods sparked occasional riots and lawsuits that helped remake constitutional law. Willrich sees merit on both sides: draconian public health measures saved thousands of lives, but resisters did have legitimate concerns about vaccine safety and side effects, racial targeting and bodily integrity. He does tend to romanticize anti-vaccine activists, whose movement he associates with feminism, free speech, and abolitionism, styling them as “libertarian radicals” engaging in “intimate acts of civil disobedience.” Still, his lucid, well-written, empathetic study of a fascinating episode shows why the vaccine issue still pricks the American conscience.

Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman

When kings marry foreign strangers for dynastic or financial reasons and queens are trained in piety over sensuality, royal mistresses seem an inevitability. Kings had flings and extramarital relationships through much of European history, and in her first book, Herman offers, with relish and dry wit, a delightful overview of their sexual escapades. Her subjects are international, though France dominates and England gets a strong showing. It’s a lively account, organized by topic e.g., “The Fruits of Sin—Royal Bastards.” Herman weaves into a larger pattern the tales of recurrent figures, such as Louis XIV’s mistress Athénaïs de Montespan and Madame de Pompadour, who is perhaps more famous than her royal lover, Louis XV. Fashions, love potions and cheerful conversation kept kings enthralled while mistresses made themselves wealthy, husbands acquiesced or simmered, courtiers wooed the mistresses and the public admired or ridiculed. A striking number of these relationships continued despite arguments and even the lack of sex. George II even felt it necessary to keep a mistress for his reputation despite actually loving his wife. Herman ends on a modern note, recounting how Camilla Parker-Bowles famously introduced herself to Prince Charles by noting that her great-grandmother had been his great-great-grandfather’s mistress. Herman ends on a serious note, but her wit and perceptiveness will carry readers through this royally pleasurable romp.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Marina Singh gave up a career as a doctor after botching an emergency delivery as an intern, opting instead for the more orderly world of research for a pharmaceutical company. When office colleague Anders Eckman, sent to the Amazon to check on the work of a field team, is reported dead, Marina is asked by her company’s CEO to complete Anders task and to locate his body. What Marina finds in the sweltering, insect-infested jungles of the Amazon shakes her to her core. For the team is headed by esteemed scientist Annick Swenson, the woman who oversaw Marina’s residency and who is now intent on keeping the team’s progress on a miracle drug completely under wraps. Marina’s jungle odyssey includes exotic encounters with cannibals and snakes, a knotty ethical dilemma about the basic tenets of scientific research, and joyous interactions with the exuberant people of the Lakashi tribe, who live on the compound. In fluid and remarkably atmospheric prose, Patchett captures not only the sights and sounds of the chaotic jungle environment but also the struggle and sacrifice of dedicated scientists.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of research and imagination. Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Starred Review. Mosley (Known to Evil) plays out an intriguing premise in his powerful latest: a man is given a second shot at life, but at the price of a hastened death. Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old man, suffering from dementia and living as a recluse in his Los Angeles apartment. With one foot in the past and the other in the grave, Ptolemy begins to open up when Robyn Small, a 17-year-old family friend, appears and helps clean up his apartment and straighten out his life. A reinvigorated Ptolemy volunteers for an experimental medical program that will restore his mind, but at hazardous cost: he won’t live to see 92. With the clock ticking, Ptolemy uses his rejuvenated mental abilities to delve into the mystery of the recent drive-by shooting death of his great-nephew, Reggie, and to render justice the only way he knows how, goaded and guided by the memory of his murdered childhood mentor, Coydog McCann. Though the details of the experimental procedure are less than convincing, Mosley’s depiction of the indignities of old age is heartbreaking, and Ptolemy’s grace and decency make for a wonderful character and a moving novel.

The Mineral Palace by Heidi Julavits

It is the drought-ridden spring of 1934, and Bena Jonssen, her husband, Ted, and their baby move from Minnesota to Pueblo, a Western plains town plagued by suffocating dust storms and equally suffocating social structures. Little can thrive in this bleak environment, including Bena and Ted’s marriage, and the baby, whom Bena-despite her husband’s constant assurances-believes is slipping away from her.

To distract herself from worrying, Bena accepts a position at Pueblo’s daily newspaper, the Chieftain, reporting on the town’s elite club women and their “good works”-women such as Reimer Lee Jackson, with her plans to restore the town’s crumbling monument to the mining industry, the Mineral Palace, to its former grandeur. Bena is drawn to the Mineral Palace and to more of the seamy side of Pueblo-the lurid hallways of a brothel, where she encounters a prostitute, Maude, and Red, a brooding cowboy. Through these emotional entanglements, Bena exposes not only the sexual corruption on which an entire town is founded but also the lies enclosing her own marriage and the sanctity of motherhood. She returns again and again to the Mineral Palace; finally, within its eroding walls, she is forced to confront her most terrifying secret, which becomes her only means for salvation.

With gritty and magical prose, Heidi Julavits conveys the darker sides of wealth and status, and the intersection of parental love and merciful destruction. The Mineral Palace is a startling and authentic story of survival in a world of aridity and decadence.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

History is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress (2009), now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that “Hem had helped me to see what I really was and what I could do.” Much more than a woman-behind-the-man homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre

John Le Carre’s internationally famous hero, British Secret Service Agent George Smiley, has a world-class problem. He has discovered a mole–a Soviet double agent who has managed to burrow his way up to the highest level of British Intelligence. Under the direction of Karla, Smiley’s equivelent in the Soviet Union, the agent has already blown some of the most vital secret operations and most productive networks. Now-how can Smiley use a lifetime’s worth of espionage skills to ferret out a spy who posseses them as well?

Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland

In this disjointed memoir, Holland describes her nine-year odyssey as a doctor on the night shift at New York City’s Bellevue hospital, a name that has become synonymous with insanity. Holland met a bewildering assortment of drunks, sociopaths, schizophrenics and homeless people malingering in hope of a warm place to crash. As the physician in charge of the psychiatric emergency room, the hard-boiled Holland acted as gatekeeper, deciding who would be sent upstairs to the psych ward, to Central Booking or back to the streets. The book also covers Holland’s personal life from her student days as a wannabe rock star to her psychotherapy sessions, her sexual escapades and her marriage and birth of her children. Holland captures the rhythms and routines of the E.R. with its unbearable suffering, petty jealousies and gallows humor. She is less successful at maintaining any kind of narrative continuity. Chapters generally run only a couple of pages and often depict random anecdotes that most likely sound better than they read.