Lisa Scottoline

51rNRrrH2cLIf you’re a follower of Book Barmy, you may have surmised I’m not always a high-brow reader.  Yes, I read important books and am working through several classics (Trollope you’re killing me, buddy), but some evenings I just want to zone out, with some plain light-hearted fun.

You may know Lisa Scottoline as the Edgar-Award winning author of twenty plus NY Times bestselling crime novels. I’ve never read any of those, instead I know her for her series of humor books. I’ve Got Sand In All the Wrong Places marks the seventh in this very funny series.

I find it impressive that Ms. Scottoline can write both page-turning legal thrillers (she practiced as a lawyer before becoming a writer) as well as this series of hilarious and witty books.    The material for these laugh-out-loud books derives from a Sunday column that Ms. Scottoline and her daughter, Francesca write for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Each short chapter is a column from the paper written separately by either mother or daughter and each year a new book is derived from the year’s columns. (Obviously Ms. Scottoline is not only a best-selling writer, she is also a canny business person.)

Ms’s.  Scottoline and Serritella are strong, funny women who take on the subjects of daily life: love, dating, sex, no sex, pets, food, clothes, writing, traveling, health, hair, and more. No subject is off limits.

Ms. Scottoline’s love of family is apparent on every page and cause for humor as she describes her relationships with her mother, brother, and daughter.  Mother Mary (her dearly departed mother) was often the funniest subject matter.

Mother Mary is out of the hospital, and recovery lies ahead.

For the hospital.

Her honest love of her menagerie of dogs was especially funny in her book Why My Third Husband with be a Dog ~ on her Golden Retrievers:

Here is what the Goldens are like: fun, easy, friendly, happy, and loving, on a continuous loop. You could have three Goldens in the room and not know it. They love to sleep. They love everything. Honestly, I kept adding Goldens because I forgot they were there. You could be sitting in a roomful of Goldens and think to yourself, “You know, we need a dog”.

However, I find the best thing about Ms. Scottoline’s humor is her normal-ness and self depreciation. Graduating from a top law school with honors, she decided to become a crime novelist and succeeded. Got give that some respect.

Anyway, my head was full of these thoughts the other afternoon, as I was hurrying in a downpour through the streets of New York City, there to take my author photo. I know that sounds glamorous and it would be if I were ten pounds lighter and ten years younger, but take it from me, the best fiction in my books is the author photo.

This latest volume again is both humorous and poignant as it deals with daughter Francesca’s life in New York city which includes a brutal assault. But like the other books I found it funny, warm, down to earth, and, at times unpredictable

There’s an essay on the holiday season and how in the past, Ms. Scottoline found it all too stressful, and resorted to holiday shopping on-line.  The news of a bookstore closing, has her vowing to shop in actual stores — especially bookstores (hail comrade!) – and that maybe it’s supposed to be stressful.

It may be obvious as an abstract matter, but I realized that many other types of stores could go belly-up, if I keep shopping on my butt.  So I taught myself a lesson:  Vote with my feet. If I want to live in a community that has bookstores and all other kinds of stores, as well as local people happily employed in those stores, I have to out and buy stuff.  I’m putting on my coat and going shopping .  I look forward to the cranky shoppers, the waiting in lines, and the fighting over the parking space.  And I’m wishing you and yours a happily stressful holiday.

The terrifying CNN storm predictions for New York City has Ms. Scottoline texting and calling her daughter in a panic:

I became Hurricane Mom.   First thing in the morning, I called her, vaguely hysterical:

“Honey, did you see the TV? There’s going to be a big storm!”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Francesca answered, too calmly for my taste. “What are you doing?  Did you go food shopping?”                                      “I’m working. I don’t need to go food shopping. I have food in the fridge.”

“But do you have canned goods?”

“Canned goods?” Francesca asked, chuckling softly. “What are you talking about?”                                                                                                “Canned goods, canned goods!”

Francesca replied, “I think I have a can of beans…

“You need more beans, right away!”

“Why, what are you talking about? Please, you need to calm down.”

“I can’t! You need canned goods in case of a power outage! It’s going to be a giant, epic, historic, emergency, monster blizzard storm!”

“They always say that.”

“But they’re right! This is CNN talking! Wolf Blitzer!”

“I’m OK.”                                                                                                  “No,you’re not! You’re going to DIE!”

So you know where this is going. Drama ensued. Voices were raised. Things were said. Tears were shed. Mistakes were made.

Bottom line, there was a lot of passive voice happening, which is never a good thing, whether it’s a federal government or a mother-daughter relationship.

But it had a happy ending. There was no epic winter monster blizzard storm. I apologized to Francesca for terrorizing her. Francesca apologized, happy that I loved her enough to terrorize her.Meteorologists apologized for their predictions.

As for Wolf Blitzer, we’re not speaking to him.

So, there’s just a small taste of the Scottoline-Serritella humor.  Their complete list of books can be found HERE.

I highly recommend having this volume or any of the wonderfully-titled humor books by your bedside to dip into just before going to sleep.

Take it from Book Barmy, go to sleep with a loved one’s kiss and, after a few life observations from Lisa and Francesca — with a smile.


A digital review copy was provided by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley.






















Michael Dirda ~ Part Deux

Dirda Reception1

Michael Dirda


I received an email from one of my  legion of  loyal few Book Barmy readers regarding this post on the book of essays entitled Browsings by Michael Dirda.  This reader wondered why, as a declared Anglophile, I had failed to mention his essay called Anglophilia or perhaps I had skipped it?

Well, this sent me scurrying back to the book because I frankly didn’t remember said essay.  After reading it I realized that I must have skipped this one — you see, I did not adhere to Mr. Dirda’s introductory rule of reading his essays in order.

I hung my head in shame, and as penance, last night I again browsed through Browsings (sorry for that phrase, but you knew it was coming, didn’t you?).  I ended up re-reading several of my favorites and finding a passage or two I had fogotten.

The neglected essay Anglophilia was written during Queen Elizabeth’s 60-year jubilee and should be read in its entirety, as it is chocked full of British greatness.  Mr. Dirda admits his secret fantasy of being picked for a knighthood or an OBE.  He feels he may have earned such an honor given his lifetime of dreaming of Harrods Christmas hampers, box seats at the Grand National and pub lunches of shepherds pie.

In real life, his Anglophilia is limited to a Harris Tweed sport coat, a few Turnbull & Asser shirts (picked up at a local thrift shop) and watching Miss Marple mysteries on television.

(I watch them) less to guess the identity of the murderer than to look at the wonderful clothes and the idyllic Costwoldian village of St. Mary Mead.  My wife tells me I should check out Downton Abbey, but I gather that series might be almost too intense for my temperate nature.

Of course, most of Mr. Dirda’s Anglophilia is bookish, and he imagines his very own country house library – (my imagined room is quite the same):

…lined on three walls with mahogany bookshelves, their serried splendor interrupted only by enough space to display, above the fireplace, a pair of crossed swords or sculling oars and perhaps a portrait of some great English worthy.  The fourth wall would, of course, open on to my gardens, designed and kept up by Christopher Lloyd, with the help of Robin Lane Fox…There would definitely be a worn leather Chesterfield sofa, its back covered with a quilt (perhaps a tartan? decisions, decisions) and its corners cushioned with a half-dozen pillows embroidered with scenes from Greek mythology.  Here, I would recline and read my books.

Photographers Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg stay at the historic Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, GA

I found a few other passages I must read out loud to you…okay you can read them yourselves.

He ruefully muses about his book buying expenditures:

It’s true that even $5 book purchases do add up.  Yet, what after all is money?  It’s just this abstraction, a number, a piece of green paper.  But a book — a printed volume, not some pixel on a screen — is real.  You can hold it in your hand.  Feel its heft.  Admire the cover.  Realize that you now own a work of art that is 50 or 75 or even 100 years old.  My Beloved Spouse constantly berates me for failing to stew sufficiently about money.  For 30 years I diligently set aside every extra penny to cover the college educations of my three sons.  I paid off my home mortgage long ago.  I even have some kind of mutual fund.  Nonetheless, it’s hard for me to feign even minimal interest in investing or studying the stock market.  What a weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable – okay, make that profitable — way of life it is to think constantly about the bottom line.  Keogh plans, Roths, Schedule C, differed income, capital gains, and rows and rows of little numbers…The heart sinks.

And finally, I’ll leave you with more about his plan to travel around the US visiting second-hand bookstores.

(In addition to stopping at bookstores) …I’d naturally take the time to genuflect at the final resting places of writers I admire. Come lunchtime I would obviously eat in diners and always order pie for dessert, sometimes à la mode.  During the evenings sipping a local beer in some one-night cheap motel, I would examine the purchases of the day and fall asleep reading shabby, half-forgotten novels.

Thinking  I would not need or want to re-read this book, it almost went into the library donation bag.  See what I almost missed?  I stand vindicated in my board hoarding collecting.  I’m giving Browsings its permanent and rightful place on my bookshelves.


Browsings by Michael Dirda

,204,203,200_Browsings by Michael Dirda

A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books

What prompts me gravitate to books about other books?  They only add to my long lists and piles of books I want – nay, must read.  It’s a sickness I tell you – a real sickness.  You may remember this post, when, after doing the math, I soberly realized I’ll never read all the books I want to read.  But like a moth on its death journey towards a hot light, here I go again.  Send help…

I just finished reading Browsings, Michael Dirda’s collection of essays about – you guessed it — books and reading.  Mr. Dirda, a weekly book columnist for the Washington Post, is no slouch, he received the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished literary criticism.

These essays come from his writings for The American Scholar.  I’d never heard of this journal and after some sleuthing (OK, a bit of Google searching) it turns out to be the quarterly magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.  (No wonder I never heard of it.  Way above my mental pay grade.) Lest you fear, these essays are down to earth, funny and nowhere near as pretentious as “The American Scholar”.  Just read this from the back jacket cover:

He was once chosen by Washingtonian Magazine as one of the twenty-five smartest people in our nation’s capital  – but, as Michael says, you have to consider the competition.

In the introduction, Mr. Dirda recommends reading his essays no more than a few at a time, and also reading them in order.  I obeyed the first advice, but not the second.  I admit I did leap around a bit, but in the end, I read them all.  Browsings was my constant companion for that soothing half hour just before falling asleep.

The essays in Browsings are eclectic and seemingly random…from his sad musings of his mother’s nursing home to the loss of cursive penmanship – but the connective tissue is books, reading books, collecting books, finding books, talking about books and writing about books.

In fact, many of the essays are interspersed with reading lists (thus my ever expanding TBR titles).  We share a fondness for Christmas books — he lists and summarizes his favorites – (taking notes, taking notes…)

Another essay starts with a rant against his local power company when he was without power for three days during a DC area heat wave.*  By the third day, he blissfully escapes to a cooler, more northerly-located bookstore.  Mr. Dirda, naturally summarizes the numerous books he acquired.  (Come right this way folks, see the idiot making yet more lists of books…)

He has a love of older books – eschews bestsellers and feasts his eyes (and his wallet) on the vibrant dust-jackets of the 1940’s and 50’s.   There’s a divine essay dedicated to the golden age of detective novels – trust me readers, you, too, will be jotting notes.  Mr. Dirda, in another excerpt, reflects upon the bookshelves, favorite notebooks and writing implements of various great authors — what reader can’t resist picturing Colette writing with a beloved Parker fountain pen?

After reading an article about millionaire author and Law & Order producer David Wolf, who owns a home in Montecito, California — “where God would live if he had the money.” –he ponders excessive wealth and Tolstoy’s lament – “how much (land) does a man need?”  Mr. Dirda reflects on his own excess — books:

It’s certainly not as though I need any more books. Just yesterday I was up in the attic creating neat stacks of those I would like to read Right Now.

Of course the author speaks fluent French and taught English in Marseille.  He tells of a hunch-backed dwarf who cut hair in a garage, where one had to climb down into a pit so he could circle around and cut the hair.  I don’t do the tale justice, you must read it for yourself.

When I read the following passage, I wondered if Mr. Dirda was a ghost here in my home office, silently judging me hunched over my computer:

…I’ve discovered, you have to get out, you do need to see other human beings.  You can’t just read and write all day, much as I’d like to.   After a few hours in a chair, my body grows achy, my brain feel even mushier than usual, my tired eyes start to hurt.  To refresh myself I usually go for a walk, or if I’m feeling virtuous and resolute, I’ll hike over to the gym.  (Thanks much, how to be superior Mr. Dirda.)

I just love this guy, he’s a charming, quirky book nerd.  How could I not fall for a guy who dreams of traveling around North America in a van visiting secondhand bookstores. (Question, would a van be large enough for both of us and our book purchases? — Time to re-think the vehicle Mr. Dirda.)

After finishing the final essay, and in addition to the wildly optimistic new list of books I must want to read, I jotted down some quotes from Browsings – you bibliophiles out there will relate:

I also think of some books as my friends and I like to have them around.  They brighten my life.


The world of books is bigger than the current best-seller list.


Books don’t furnish a room. A personal library is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much more you’d like to know.

What fun it was to spend time each evening with a witty, engaging and off-the-charts-smart booklover whose reading covers a surprisingly wide breadth of interest and expertise.

Look for his other books which include Book by Book (own it), Classics for Pleasure (want it), and Readings (just got it).


(*N.B. He’s talking about Silver Spring, Maryland, where I grew up and summers were indeed brutal.  I spent those hot, humid days with Nancy Drew in front of a cooling fan until I was forced to go out and play. That says a great deal don’t you think?)


This captures it ~~ for me anyway ~~ Happy 2016.



Holiday Graphics Gone Wrong

7594037 Days Until Christmas

This is a collection of reproduced vintage holiday graphics which I bought used at the Friends of the SF Public Library bookstore (where I volunteer).  My plan was to cut it up for holiday package tags, but once I turned the pages, I realized it had to stay intact and part of my holiday book collection.



Let me show you why. OK, front cover looks innocent, what could go wrong with “Vintage Holiday Graphics”?


(Click to view larger)

444  Back cover —  still fairly innocuous.





But upon further investigation….


There’s creepy Santa






Then there’s stalker Santa






Awkward family Christmas photos






Festive pasta holiday decorations






Armed children.






Holiday advertising, because what could be a better gift than a new thermos?





Obviously Santa enjoys a drink or two






As do the villagers.







Finally, a charming book of matches, perfect for enticing the little ones to burn down the house.








See why I couldn’t cut this book up?  I leave it out every year for unsuspecting visitors…who pick it up and inevitably say “What the ___ ?”