BOOK REVIEW: ‘How to Write Anything: When Laura Brown Says ‘Anything’, She Means ‘Anything’


How to Write Anything jacketLaura Brown’s “How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide’ (W.W. Norton, 608 pages, index, $35.00) is the most comprehensive guide to writing I’ve seen. I wish the book had been available when I was in college more than 50 years ago.

As it happened, I was blessed with wonderful English teachers in both high school and college — teachers who inspired me to major in English, which led me to take up journalism as a profession.

Brown shows the reader how to write everything: from letters of complaint, thank you notes, invitations of all kinds, speeches, cover letters for resumes, letters of recommendations, college essays, even book reviews.

I liked the way she included examples of poor writing — “Don’t do this” — along with much better examples: “Do this.”

She also includes writing by contributors, including college students. Yes, the book would be an ideal gift to any student.

I’ve written about the need for classic style books, like Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” (, but that classic, published in 1959, needs to be supplemented by a book for the age of the Internet. Brown’s book is the best I’ve seen for today’s writer.

“How to Write Anything” has more than two hundred how-to entries and easy-to-use models organized into three comprehensive sections on work, school, and personal life.

It’s a book that’s written in a style that’s friendly and supportive. I’ve given a few speeches in my time and I agree with her statement that this activity is one of life’s scariest experiences! In the speechwriting section (pages 408-412), she gives great advice on how to write the speech that’s tailored to your audience, how to practice it before you get up on that platform (am I scaring you enough?) and how to have a friend critique it. In fact, having somebody you respect critique your writing is a great idea.

Let’s say you’re applying for college. Brown shows how to write application essays that will stand out. Somebody is hogging the parking in your neighborhood, blocking your driveway. Brown shows how to write a note for the offender’s windshield that won’t end up with your tires slashed. A neighbor persists in putting out his garbage containers days before the scheduled pickup. Brown shows how to write the proper note.

PowerPoint presentations are one of the most common tools in business, and Brown has spot-on suggestions on how to write effective PowerPoint slide copy. On point she mentions deserves singling out: Just because your Mac or PC has dozens of type fonts, don’t make the mistake of using too many in a slide.

“How to Write Anything” is at once a how-to guide and a reference book. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always improve you work and Laura Brown has just the book for you.

About the Author

Laura Brown, Ph.D., has taught writing to just about everyone—from corporate executives to high school students. Her expertise encompasses instructor-led training, individual coaching, classroom teaching, and e-learning development. She has more than twenty-five years’ experience providing training and coaching in business writing, and she has also taught composition and literature at Columbia University. She lives in New York. Her website:


PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare; Words and Phrases You Created Will Live Forever

shakespeareBrush up your Shakespeare / Start quoting him now / Brush up your Shakespeare / And the women you will wow -- Cole Porter, from his song “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from “Kiss Me Kate”
On this 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare (born April 23, 1564) I want to wish the Bard a happy birthday. It’s only logical from an English major!

NPR has a very good feature in its website reminding us that if ever there was a “word-nerd,” the boy from Stratford-Upon-Avon, England was one of the best:…

If you say “what the dickens!” instead of “what the devil,” you’re following the Bard’s example.

The article, by Eleanor Kagan and Anabel Bacon, points out that Shakespeare was among the first, if not the first, to use the phrases “hot-blooded” (In Merry Wives of Windsor, V.v.2) and “cold-blooded” (King John, III.i.49-50).

“Fashionable,” as in “For time is like a fashionable host,/That slightly shakes his parting guest by th’hand” (“Troilus and Cressida, III.iii.159-60) was a coinage from the pen of Shakespeare.

“Salad days” doesn’t refer to a Cobb salad, the story points, out, quoting Michael Macrone, author of the book “Brush Up Your Shakespeare!”

So was “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood, / To say as I said then!” (Antony and Cleopatra, I.v.73-75)

Macrone says:

By “salad days” Cleopatra refers to a time not when she had to eat salad, but when she was like salad. From the fifteenth century on, “salad” could mean any raw vegetable; metaphorically, the young Cleopatra was as “green” (inexperienced) and “cold” (passionless) as a piece of lettuce. At least, this is how she now explains her youthful affair with Julius Caesar…she portrays her “salad days” as a time of unreflective indulgence.

The NPR feature is a wonderful brief introduction to the Bard’s inventive use of the English language, perhaps our greatest inheritance from the mother country. I was surprised a few years ago to find that many English majors today aren’t required to take a semester-long course in the greatest dramatist and poet in our language, as I did as an English major at Northern Illinois University from 1957-1961.

Macrone used the title of a song from Cole Porter’s Broadway musical “Kiss Me Kate” for his book title. The musical was adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”, involves a cast and director creating a musical version of the play, and is one of my favorite musicals. Think of the marvelous songs Porter wrote (words and music) for this 1948 musical: “Another Op’nin’, Another Show”, “So in Love,” “Too Darn Hot”, “Kiss Me, Kate,” “From This Moment On,” and, of course, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”


BOOK REVIEW: Rejoice! Rejoice! Phlange Welder Is Back….or to be Exact: He’s Back in Print


Twenty years ago, in 1994, Los Angeles Times staff writer Evelyn De Wolfe compiled in a paperback volume the goings and comings, the to and fro, the hither and yon of one Phlange Welder, the equivalent in many ways at the Los Angeles Times of The New Yorker’s signature character Eustace Tilley.

41DzumkJGkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Her book has long been out of print, so it’s only logical that Evie would go to her computer and expand and update the book and publish it as “The Life and Times of Phlange Welder” (Ashlin Press, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2nd edition, 76 pages, large format trade paperback, available from, $8.85).

The late 1950s and early 1960s were a far different era than the grim newsrooms of today, where everybody seems to be waiting for the pink slip to drop.

Newspapers were prosperous and many; Evie notes that five daily newspapers covered greater Los Angeles and the world: the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Los Angeles Mirror, the Herald Express, and the Hollywood Citizen. In the ‘burbs there were dailies, too, in Glendale, Pasadena and the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. Long Beach — never a suburb, but a proud city by the sea, had its daily paper.

Reporters from the five L.A. papers competed for scoops and everybody in that Mad Men era wore a hat, the ladies of the press included.

The name Phlange Welder came from the unlikely source of a job advertisement in a government handout that landed on the desk of cityside reporter Ted Sell. Seems the government was seeking someone who could expertly weld flanges, described by Wise Geek as ” internal or external ribs or rims … may be used as a strengthening member, a guide, or indexing element or as a method of joining system parts such as pipes, tanks, valves, and blanking plates.”

As Evie describes in the book, Sell tubed the handout — in those vacuum tubes you see in old time newspaper movies — with the Flange Welder ad circled, to copy editor Carl “Pony” Swenson with the question: “Is this guy in the Blue Book?” Swenson replied that he was and he preferred to spell his first name “Phlange”. Thus a legend was born: Phlange Welder, man about the world and denizen of the L.A. Times Test Kitchen and the employee cafeteria.

“The Life and Times of Phlange Welder” at first might seem like too much inside baseball for non-newspaper people, but I think general readers will enjoy a look at an era that has sadly past, brilliantly chronicled by Evie De Wolfe. When Evie told me about the reprinting of Phlange’s saga, she said to not get too personal. I agreed, but I have to say I’ve reviewed her books on this site. And I worked with her on the Real Estate Section of the L.A. Times during my almost 15 years at the paper.

 About the Author

A native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Evelyn De Wolfe earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Brazil at age twenty and worked with the U.S. Embassy as a translator and consultant and later as a researcher for Walt Disney and still later as a journalist for a newspaper in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra CA and later the Los Angeles Times for 40 years in various reporting capacities. She lives in the Hollywood Hills.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Leadership Blindspots’: Management Consultant Shows How Executives Can Identify, Overcome Weaknesses That Matter

“Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march.” — Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, quoted on Page 164 of “Leadership Blindspots”

* * *

Reports that say … that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know. —Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration

* * *

Rumsfeld’s famous — or infamous — formulation, came to mind when I saw the “Blindspot Matrix” in Robert B. Shaw’s intriguing and readable book “Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter” (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons, 240 pages, appendixes, notes, index, $35.00).

According to Wikipedia, Rumsfeld was derided for his statement, but also defended by Canadian columnist and author Mark Steyn — whose books I’ve reviewed — linguist Geoffrey Pullum and 9781118646298.pdfAustralian economist and blogger John Quiggin.
Steyn called it “in fact a brilliant distillation of quite a complex matter”; Pullum said the quotation was “completely straightforward” and “impeccable, syntactically, semantically, logically, and rhetorically”.

John Quiggin wrote: “Although the language may be tortured, the basic point is both valid and important.”

* * *

In “Leadership Blindspots” Shaw presents (on Page 18) a Blindspot Matrix with Leader Capabilities: “Known Weaknesses; Known Strengths; Blindspots, and Unknown Strengths. He goes on to say Known Strengths represent “you know what you know.” Known Weaknesses represent “You know what you don’t know.” And Unknown Strengths include “You don’t know what you know.”

This doesn’t sound all that different from Rumsfeld’s formulation, which gave filmmaker Errol Morris a title for his 2013 biographical documentary about Rumsfeld “The Unknown Known.”

The blindspot risk is that leaders fail to respond to weaknesses or threats due to a variety of factors including the complexity of their organizations, over-confidence in their own capabilities, and being surrounded by deferential subordinates.

Shaw’s brilliant book provides a useful model for understanding how blindspots operate and why they persist, but at the same time suggests real, actionable steps to improvement. The book details a range of techniques that make blindspots stand out in sharp relief, so action can be taken before severe damage occurs –- to a leader or his or her company.

The one characteristic great leaders share is the constant desire for self-improvement. Good can always be better. These weaknesses and threats are called blindspots because they are invisible to the individual but have the potential to wreak havoc on one’s reputation and long-term success. Identifying and fixing crucial problems is the leader’s job, and sometimes the most debilitating problems are with the leaders themselves.

In “Leadership Blindspots” Shaw cites many executives by name whose blindspots prevented their companies from achieving their potential goals. One in particular is Steve Ballmer, who retired as CEO of Microsoft on Feb. 4, 2014, replaced by Satva Nadella. Shaw uses the Howard Schultz quote at the beginning of my review to point out the flaws of Ballmer “who failed to keep pace with more successful rivals in areas such as internet search, smart phones, and tablets,” he writes. Microsoft’s stock bumped up on Ballmer’s departure.

Shaw suggested that Microsoft’s chairman and co-founder Bill Gates should give the new CEO a photograph of Henry Ford “as a reminder of what needs to be done.” Gates has a photograph of Henry Ford on his desk.

Ford, writes Shaw, is a case study of a leader who “surrounded himself with sycophants who told the great man what he wanted to hear.” Ford’s failure to keep pace with automotive developments by continuing to build obsolete Model Ts led the company to the verge of bankruptcy as it lost its massive lead in automotive production to innovators like General Motors and Chrysler.

On page 97, Shaw writes that executives could benefit from a suggestion made by the great Peter Drucker years ago: “He thought that leaders could learn a great deal by writing down the reasons behind their key decisions, including their expectations of what would occur. Then, after a period of time, they should review the accuracy of their expectations and the lessons learned.”

I’m not a big fan of most motivational business books, but I have nothing but praise for “Leadership Blindspots,” where insights are found on virtually every page. If I were a business executive or entrepreneur, I would buy the book by the box full and distribute copies to my employees — including the grunts who do the actual work!

About the author

Robert Bruce Shaw is a management consultant specializing in organization and leadership performance. He has worked closely with leaders and their teams in a wide range of industries and is the author of several books, including “Trust in the Balance: Building Successful Organizations on Results, Integrity, and Concern”.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Risk Advantage’: Sports and Auto Racing Examples Can Help Entrepreneurs Succeed


“If your game plan doesn’t seem to be working, then go back to the fundamentals.” — Mauro Panaggio, veteran basketball player and coach

* * *

In his new book “The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Edge” (River Grove Books, Austin TX, 218 pages, $14.95 trade paperback, available from and other online booksellers) Tom Panaggio draws upon knowledge he learned from his dad, Mauro, quoted above; from other sports figures like Joe Namath and Vince Lombardi, and from his experience as an amateur sports car racer at Daytona Beach and Sebring.

The Risk AdvantageOne thing the book lacks is an index, and in this case, it might be intentional. Tom Panaggio wants entrepreneurs and others to read the book in its entirety, not cherry-pick topics from an index. When I finished the book, I realized that Panaggio had laid out a complete plan for entrepreneurial success; leaving out the index, whether intentional or not, turned out to be a good idea.
I have to admit that I was at first reluctant to read and review this book; there are many books that offer the easy way to success, but this isn’t one of them.

Panaggio stresses that there is no silver bullet to success. Well, maybe there is one: “Fail fast.” You’re going to have failures; even the best baseball players have several times more strikeouts than hits or homers, he says, so you must get used to failure. Only do it fast and get on to the next idea.

Panaggio says that the unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, then having the courage to take it.

Right from the start, Panaggio tells us that it’s only human to be risk-averse, to be cautious. To succeed as an entrepreneur, he says, we must get beyond “only human”, to be super human.

It’s easy to see where Panaggio got his wisdom from sports examples: His dad was for more than fifty years a basketball player and legendary coach. The race car driver examples that Panaggio prints as sidebars throughout the book came after he moved from his home in upstate New York to Daytona Beach, FL to start Direct Mail Express.

Daytona and adjacent Ormond Beach have been auto racing venues for more than a century (Ormond Beach was where race car drivers drove on the sand, including the Stanley brothers of Stanley Steamer fame), so it wasn’t surprising that Panaggio caught the auto racing bug there. His accounts of his successes — and failures — in the racing game are hilarious; but they’re also instructive to entrepreneurs and aspiring ones.

Panaggio tells how he and his business partners built two thriving companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). In “The Risk Advantage” he provides real-life examples to help entrepreneurs face the many situations, predicaments, and crises they’ll encounter during their life, and to help formulate their leadership style and business strategy.

When the right opportunities presented themselves, writes Panaggio, he and his business partners were willing to embrace the risk because they knew that it was the only way to get themselves in a position to win. And once in the lead they focused not on what was behind them, but what lay ahead.

“The Risk Advantage” is a story about an entrepreneurial journey that explores the relationship between opportunity and risk, two important forces that are necessary for success. If you have the courage to embark on your own entrepreneurial journey, you will need a unique advantage to succeed in such a competitive and unforgiving environment. You must have an edge.

The unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, and then having the courage to take it. In his book, Panaggio identifies those risks based on the experiences of his own journey.

Opportunities are always there for you to grab. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a daunting goal, or simply start your own business, you must be willing to embrace risk. Learning the lessons of “The Risk Advantage” is an important first step on that journey.

I don’t know how active Panaggio was in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) — which issued his racing license — but my experiences with the small Indiana Northwest Region (INR) of SCCA in the mid 1960s turned out to be vital in my later career as a journalist.

INR is one of the smallest regions (chapters) in the SCCA, encompassing several counties in northwest Indiana, adjacent to the gigantic and influential Chicago SCCA region that controlled Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. At INR, I was program chairman and later edited the newsletter. Back in those days, Studebaker dealers sold Mercedes-Benz cars, so I was familiar with the Studebaker media office in South Bend, where I borrowed films of M-B racing cars in action for showing at our meetings. (No DVDs or video tapes in those days, we had 16 mm movie projectors!) Enough about me, other than to demonstrate that you never know what experiences you have and how they affect your career. Embrace the experiences and embrace, not shun or avoid, risk.

About the Author

Tom Panaggio has enjoyed a thirty-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). As a result, he can give a true perspective on starting and running a small business. His practical approach to business concepts and leadership is grounded in the belief that success is the result of a commitment to embracing risk as a way to ensure opportunity.

Today Tom lives in Tampa, FL with his wife, Shemi. When he’s not speaking or advising entrepreneurs and small businesses, he’s spending time with his family — his three daughters, Ashley, Christine, and Elizabeth, are all pursuing their college degrees — or he’s out on a racetrack.

For more about the racing history of Ormond Beach:

Census Bureau Profile America Facts for Features: Mother’s Day: May 11, 2014

By David M. Kinchen, with information from a Census Bureau Press Release
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me. — Howard Johnson

* * *

The driving force behind Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis, who organized observances in Grafton, W.Va., and Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. As the annual celebration became popular around the country, Jarvis asked members of Congress to set aside a day to honor mothers. She was successful in 1914, when Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
How Many Mothers

4.1 million

Number of women between the ages of 15 and 50 who gave birth in the past 12 months.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 American Community Survey, Table B13002



Percentage of births in 2011 that were to unmarried women age 15 to 50. The metro areas with birth rates to unmarried mothers that were among the highest in the country included Flagstaff, Ariz. (74.6 percent), Greenville, N.C. (69.4 percent), Lima, Ohio (67.5 percent), Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C. (67.4 percent) and Danville, Va. (67.3 percent).

Source: Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011, Table 1


How Many Children


Decline in total fertility rate or estimated number of total births per 1,000 women in Utah in 2012 (based on current birth rates by age), which led the nation. At the other end of the spectrum is Rhode Island, with a total fertility rate of 1,592.5 births per 1,000 women.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports,

Page 66, Table 12 <;


Percentage of all women age 15 to 44 who have had two children. About 47 percent had no children, 17 percent had one, 10 percent had three and about 5 percent had four or more.

Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010, Detailed Tables, Table 1


Recent Births

3.953 million

Decline in the number of births registered in the United States in 2012. Of this number, 305,388 were to teens 15 to 19 and 7,157 to women age 45 to 49.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports <;


Average age of women in 2012 when they gave birth for the first time, up from 25.6 years in 2011. The increase in the mean age in 2012 reflects, in part, the relatively large decline in births to women in their teen years and their 20s.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, Page 7 <;


Percentage of women age 16 to 50 who had a birth in the past 12 months who were in the labor force.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301



The percentage of mothers who had given birth in the past 12 months who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301



Percentage of women age 15 to 50 who gave birth in the past year and who have at least a high school diploma.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301


Jacob and Sophia

The most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively, in 2012.

Source: Social Security Administration <;


Number of births in the past year per 1,000 women age 15 to 50 with a graduate or professional degree. The number was 56 per 1,000 for women whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301


Mothers Remembered


Number of florists nationwide in 2011. The 66,165 employees in floral shops across our nation will be especially busy preparing, selling and delivering floral arrangements for Mother’s Day.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 45311)



Number of employees of greeting-card publishers in 2011.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 511191) <;


The number of cosmetics, beauty supplies and perfume stores nationwide in 2011. Perfume is a popular gift given on Mother’s Day.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 44612) <;


Number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2011 — the place to purchase necklaces, earrings and other timeless pieces for mom.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 44831) <;

Stay-at-Home Moms

5 million

Number of stay-at-home moms in married-couple family groups in 2013 — statistically unchanged from 2012 and 2011. In 2013, 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother, up from 21 percent in 2000. In 2007, before the recession, stay-at-home mothers were found in 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15, not statistically different from the percentage in 2012. Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements, Table SHP-1


Compared with other moms, stay-at-home moms in 2007 were more likely:

· Younger (44 percent were under age 35 compared with 38 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Hispanic (27 percent compared with 16 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Foreign-born (34 percent compared with 19 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Living with a child under age 5 (57 percent compared with 43 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Without a high school diploma (19 percent versus 8 percent of mothers in the labor force).

Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007 <;

Taking Care of the Kids


Number of child day care services employees across the country in 2011. They were employed by one of the 75,059 child day care services. In addition, there were 747,436 child day care services without paid employees. Many mothers turn to these centers to help juggle motherhood and careers.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 NAICS 6244 <; and

Nonemployer Statistics: 201l <;


The percentage of the 37.8 million mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2004 who lived with their biological children only. In addition, 3 percent lived with stepchildren, 2 percent with adopted children and 0.5 percent with foster children. Source: Living Arrangements of Children: 2004


Single Moms

10 million

The number of single mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2013, up from 3.4 million in 1970.

Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements <; Table SHP-1

5.6 million

Number of custodial mothers who were due child support in 2011. Source: Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011, Table 1



Number of mothers who had a birth in the past 12 months and were living with a cohabiting partner.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table B13004


* * *

Editor’s note: For more about the strange history of Anna Jarvis — who never was a mother herself– and Mother’s Day:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Quick Guide to Freemasonry’: You’ve Got Questions: David Harrison Has the Answers

If you want information about Freemasonry, until now you’ve had the Internet — with a mishmash of information of dubious quality, not to mention all kinds of conspiracy theories — or a laborious search through dusty tomes in libraries.

quick guide to freemasonry

All this has changed as David Harrison, an author whose books on Freemasonry I’ve reviewed (see below) has written the perfect guide to the subject with his “A Quick Guide to Freemasonry” (Lewis Masonic, Hersham, Surrey, UK, 96 pages, black and white and color illustrations, $16.95, available for pre-order on

This quality paperback is beautifully printed on glossy paper in a handy double-column format and has the answers to just about every question a new member would ask. It’s also aimed at lodge mentors and established members, Harrison told me.

And, to make it useful for traveling Freemasons, it has information on the Craft as it’s practiced in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Harrison uses a Q and A format for his questions. If you want to know about the rolled up pants leg, you’ll find it here. Different colored aprons? Harrison explains their significance. White gloves and hats? It’s in the book. Harrison provides end notes and a bibliography. I found the FAQs to be very useful, and rituals in the UK and the U.S. are given proper attention — along with the aforementioned sections on Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Harrison covers the roles of the officers, the festive board, toasting, and an examination of all the current English Masonic rituals: Emulation, Bottomley, Nigerian, the Bristol, York and Hull working. Effectively, the handbook is an easy-to-understand beginners guide—a why, how, and when of Craft Freemasonry.

And, to top off an excellent work, Harrison includes reliable web sites for Internet searchers — a valuable resource! I recommend “A Quick Guide to Freemasonry” to members of the Craft, as well as those outside the Craft who want accurate information about Freemasonry. Did I say it’s beautifully designed and printed? Yes, I know I did! But it’s worth repeating; this is a handsome book that would make an ideal gift: a gift that would be appreciated.

David Harrison
David Harrison
Dr. David Harrison is a UK-based Masonic historian who has so far written three books on the history of English Freemasonry and has contributed articles on the subject to various magazines which deal with the topic of Freemasonry around the world, such as the UK based Freemasonry Today, MQ Magazine, the Square, the US based Knight Templar Magazine, Philalethes and the Australian-based New Dawn Magazine. Harrison has also appeared on TV and radio discussing his work.

Having earned his Ph.D from the University of Liverpool in 2008 — which focused on the development of English Freemasonry — the thesis was subsequently published in March 2009 entitled “The Genesis of Freemasonry” by Lewis Masonic, and his second work entitled “The Transformation of Freemasonry” was published by Arima Publishing the following year. For David M. Kinchen’s review: Both works received critical acclaim. His latest work on “The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge” was published by Arima in October 2012. For David M. Kinchen’s review:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha’: Delightful to Read Guide by Jolie Kerr Tells You How to Clean Everything


Could you, as a book reviewer, pass up an opportunity to review Jolie Kerr’s “My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha” (Plume trade paperback, an imprint of Penguin USA, 256 pages, index, $15.00)?

My Boyfriend BarfedI couldn’t and when I heard Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air interview Kerr, I had to read and review her book. Plume’s wonderful publicists obliged and I found the book to be the best and most complete guide to clean living I’ve encountered.

Kerr writes in a breezy and hip style that seems to be natural to her, making the book fun to read — as well as an essential reference work for anyone who wants to be a “Clean Person” like the author.

I don’t aspire to that status, but I want to keep the place as clean and odor-free as I can, given my use of Swisher Sweets Tip Cigarillos and the presence of our wonderful shelter cat Greta. This makes Kerr’s many methods for maintenance cleaning and cleaning up unusual messes, like the one in the title (it’s on pages 224-225) mandatory reading.

Boston native Kerr lives in a tiny clean apartment in lower Manhattan, so you can expect a wide variety of unusual situations that require her expert advice. How about a boyfriend’s “skid marks” on a woman’s favorite luxury sheets? Kerr has the answers! Could you ever imagining asking Martha Stewart or Heloise that one? Never!

Kerr is the author of the hit column “Ask a Clean Person” and provides cleaning solutions to every spill or mess you can imagine — and dozens even my fertile mind couldn’t conjure up.

First off, stock up on baking soda and white vinegar: It’s a staple in Jolie Kerr’s “Clean Person” life and should be in your’s, too. One use among many others for this combination (I buy generic dollar store versions of the two) is keeping drains in your bathroom and kitchen sinks clean and fast flowing. I’ve tried that one and it works and the mini-volcano effect is fun to watch.

There are dozens of other uses for these two relatively inexpensive staples. Kerr also likes OxiClean. Many other products are mentioned for cleaning various messes and she supplies the names of all of them. The index is very helpful; I’m glad Plume provided this essential feature.

Cleaning the cleaning implements, like toilet brushes (Ugh!) is important and Kerr tells us how to do that. When was the last time you cleaned your microwave or toaster oven? Really cleaned it? I thought so. My next project is to clean the two microwaves in the kitchen.

Kerr tells us how to use various kinds of mops, how to wash a car and how to keep the interior of the minivan from smelling like a nursery. How to remove bloodstains and other stains that I hesitate to mention in a family site. But Kerr mentions them all!

Speaking of car detailing, I didn’t see anything about cleaning the plastic cladding on cars like my Dodge Caliber, but everybody knows that ArmorAll Original Protectant is what you use for that job and I just did it. I applied it with a ripped open orphan wool stocking, which I will use again after rinsing it out. Shop rags are great, too.

The gray is gone and the cladding is a pristine black now. ArmorAll — available in drug stores, dollar stores (a favorite of mine), hardware stores, auto parts stores and just about everywhere — is also great on plastic dashboards (but don’t use it on the steering wheel!)

So don’t delay: Get your hands on this book and become a Clean Person. You might want to buy multiple copies and send them in plain brown wrappers to select friends. I think they’ll get the message.

About the author

Jolie Kerr is the author of the popular column Ask a Clean Person, which is featured weekly on Deadspin and Jezebel. Her work has also appeared in Fortune, BlackBook, the Urban Outfitters blog, Gothamist, The Hairpin, and The Awl. She has been featured as a cleaning expert in the New York Observer, O Magazine, InStyle, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, Health Magazine, and Parents Magazine. Kerr is a Boston native and graduate of Barnard College, now residing in a teeny, tiny, spotless apartment in New York City. Her website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘High Crime Area’: You Never Know Where Dread Takes Us, But Joyce Carol Oates Does

In her latest collection of stories, “High Crime Area: Tales of Darkness and Dread” (Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/ Atlantic Inc., 256 pages, $23) Joyce Carol Oates takes us to places where most people don’t want to go.

high crime area jacketThe title is somewhat misleading, because some of the stories — all published previously — are not set in high crime areas, at least as we understand them.

Take the exquisitely written (as are all of the stories; there is no better stylist alive than JCO) “The Last Man of Letters,” where 70-year-old world-renowned author X embarks on a grand tour of Europe. I’m thinking of a number of people who might deserve his fate (no, I’m not telling!) but let’s say he stands in for a whole class of literary celebrities who have money, fame, but not a whole lot of manners. Arrogance doesn’t begin to describe them.

X manages to insult a variety of women: A publicist (Never, never insult a publicist…what’s with the parentheses? Am I making fun of one of Oates’ stylistic quirks? what will happen when I use italics?).

Author X proceeds to insult a translator and he insults a journalist. All women of different nationalities. This guy is on dangerous ground…. doesn’t he realize which gender is the more dangerous? Could his whole life be in a high crime area? The story was originally published in Playboy….let your imagination run riot!

In the title story, “High Crime Area” (which is the last one in the book, not the first one) a prototypical Oates character, a nervous young white college teacher, is in a real high crime area, Detroit in 1967. That was the year of one of the worst riots in the nation (

Ms. McIntyre is a graduate of the University of Michigan, in her second year as an adjunct instructor teaching English 101 at Wayne State University and most of her students are minorities, most of them black. In the first person story, she states that she loves her students and clearly wants them to succeed in their continuing education course.

As she goes to her car one afternoon, she is convinced she is being followed. No need to panic—she has a .22 caliber Saturday Night Special semi-automatic pistol in her purse, just in case. But when she turns to confront her black male shadow, the situation isn’t what she expects.

In the longest story — really a novella — “The Rescuer”, Lydia Selden receives a call from her worried parents. Her brother, Harvey, has gone AWOL from his studies at a theological seminary and is living in a high crime area in Trenton, New Jersey. Lydia is a graduate student at a university 200 miles away — her parents are closer to Trenton than she is, Lydia pleads, to no avail.

Lydia reluctantly leaves the residence hall, drives her nondescript Mazda to Trenton and discovers that Harvey is a wreck. He’s aged measurably and seems to have shrunk from his previous size. He’s in hock to a black drug dealer named Leander, who is almost always accompanied by a pit bull and various companions, his posse.

Lydia stays with Harvey and fails to notify her university, where she has a fellowship and a monthly stipend. She visits a bookstore where Harvey has bought books. She accompanies several women friends of Leander to Atlantic City, where she manages to lose a lot of money. She discovers more about Harvey and his friends in a starkly told, chilling story.

“The Home at Craigmillnar” is set in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, not a high crime area — at least not when I was last there. But that was in the early 1970s. Iraq war veteran Francis Gough is an orderly in a elder care home who discovers the lifeless body of Sister Mary Alphonsus. The attending doctor rules the cause of death was cardiac arrest, but was it natural or something else?

Sister Mary Alphonsus was for two decades the director of the Craigmillnar Home for Children, a Catholic-run orphanage near Eau Claire. In 1977, the orphanage was shut down by county and state authorities, because of numerous cases of abuse. The death of the elderly nun stirs interest because of the many cases of sexual abuse by priests in the church, throughout the nation including a notorious and well publicized series of cases in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The Milwaukee Archdiocese declared bankruptcy at the beginning of 2011.

Did I say that Joyce Carol Oates is one of our best mystery writers? In past reviews I’ve called her an outstanding horror writer. Is JCO a master of genre as well as so-called literary novels? Or is she so good that she transcends labels? Why am I asking all these questions? I’ll go with the transcendence of labels. Read “High Crime Area” and prepare yourself for eight surprises, the number of stories in the book.

joyce carol oates_0



Joyce Carol Oates
About the author

Joyce Carol Oates, born in Lockport, NY in 1938, is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers “We Were the Mulvaneys” and “Blonde”. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

For my Jan. 3, 2013 review of her novel “Daddy Love”: For my Sept. 11, 2013 of her “Evil Eye”:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’: Marina Keegan’s Posthumous Collection of Essays, Stories


This is a review I didn’t want to write. Not because the essays and short stories in Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories” (Scribner, 240 pages, introduction by Anne Fadiman $23.00) aren’t good. On the contrary, I’m sad because they show so much promise and their 22-year-old author won’t write any more.

Opposite of Loneliness jacketShe died in a car crash five days after her graduation from Yale in May, 2012. Her boyfriend, who survived, on May 26, 2012 was driving the car to a celebration of the 55th birthday of her dad, Kevin Keegan, on Cape Cod, MA. Accounts of the accident vary, but the most reliable one is that her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel and the car rolled over. (;)

The title essay — 940 words written for the Yale Daily News — went viral, touching people of her generation like nothing before. It reached more than 1.4 million hits from people — mostly young people — around the world.

Here’s a YouTube of Diane Sawyer and others at ABC on the phenomenon:

It’s no exaggeration to say that Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at The New Yorker. Yes, a paying job for a college graduate, not something that is guaranteed these days, not even for a Yale grad.

As a non-fiction writer, I was drawn to the eight nonfiction essays — in addition to the title one. Even if you don’t particularly like essays — probably from being forced to read them in school — don’t skip Marina Keegan’s; I don’t blame the folks at The New Yorker — I would hire Marina Keegan in a New York Minute, too!

Marina writes about subjects as diverse as the joy of work for a Chicago pest control expert (“I Kill for a Living”) to the attraction of Yale graduates to the consulting or financial industry (“Even Artichokes Have Doubts”) to inheriting her grandmother’s pristine 1990 black Toyota Camry (“Stability in Motion”) and what a mobile trash container it became at the hands of a typical college student. (I wondered when I read this essay if this was the car in the accident….). When I started out in daily newspaper journalism at the beginning of 1966, feature stories were still a part of any respectable — and some not so respectable — daily newspapers. Today: Not so much.

The short stories — a form I love and one in which we need all the talented writers we can find — are crafted with the skill of a much older writer, but with the freshness of a young woman. I thought about other young women writers of the past, say Edna Ferber and Dorothy Parker (we think of them as old, but they were young, too) and what a great Algonquin Hotel “Vicious Circle” Roundtable it would be with Marina Keegan in it. Perennial college student and talented actor James Franco might be in my imaginary Roundtable. Sparks would fly.

Anne Fadiman (you older folks out there may remember her dad, Clifton Fadiman, I do!) in her must-read introduction tells of the fire and passion of Marina that she experienced at a Nov. 10, 2010 master’s tea honoring novelist Mark Helprin. I’ve read and reviewed Helprin’s works (Link to my review of Helprin’s novel “In Sunshine and In Shadow:

Helprin opined that making it as a writer was virtually impossible today. Let Fadiman tell the story:

“A student stood up. Thin. Beautiful. Long, reddish-brown hair. Long legs. Flagrantly short skirt. Nimbus of angry energy. She asked Helprin if he really meant that. There was a collective intake of breath in the room. It was what everyone else had been thinking but no one else had been brave (or brazen) enough to say.”

In a follow-up email, Marina introduced herself to Fadiman, born 1953, an accomplished, award-winning author and, since January 2005, in a program established by Yale alumnus Paul E. Francis, Yale’s first Francis Writer in Residence, a position that allows her to teach one or two non-fiction writing seminars each year, and advise, mentor, and interact with students and editors of undergraduate publications.

In the email, Marina said that “Hearing a famous writer tell me that the industry is dying and that we should probably do something else was sad. Perhaps I just expected him to be more encouraging hoping to stop the death of literature.”

It’s obvious throughout this book that Marina Keegan was determined to be one of those people! My wish is that her book will inspire others to escape the pessimism and do what they really want to do: write. If you have the talent and willpower of a Marina Keegan, you’ll be happy with your furniture from Goodwill or even rescued from a Dumpster!

Here are two appreciations of Marina Keegan by two of her teachers at Yale, Harold Bloom and Anne Fadiman:

“I will never cease mourning the loss of my beloved former student Marina Keegan. This book gives partial evidence of the extraordinary promise that departed with her. Throughout she manifests authentic dramatic invention and narrative skill. Beyond all those, she makes a vital appeal to everyone in her generation not to waste their gifts in mere professionalism but instead to invest their youthful pride and exuberance both in self-development and in the improvement of our tormented society.”

– Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English, Yale University

“Many of my students sound forty years old. They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial, and land on some version of polished adulthood without passing Go. Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one: a brainy twenty-one, a twenty-one who knew her way around the English language, a twenty-one who understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful. When she read her work aloud around our seminar table, it would make us snort with laughter, and then it would turn on a dime and break our hearts.”

– Anne Fadiman, Yale University Professor of English and Francis Writer in Residence and author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and Ex Libris.

About the author

Marina Keegan (1989–2012) was an award-winning author, journalist, playwright, poet, actress, and activist. Her nonfiction has been published in the New York Times; her fiction has been published on and read on NPR’s Selected Shorts; her musical, Independents, was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Marina’s final essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” became an instant global sensation, viewed by more than 1.4 million people from ninety-eight countries.

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