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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: Deborah Netburn

Dr. Seuss and new e-book apps for kids

This week e-book publisher Oceanhouse Media released its 22nd Dr. Seuss app for kids. It's a lesser-known title from the Seuss canon, "Oh, the Thinks You Can Think," and marks the first time the company has incorporated animated images and interactive scenes into its ebooks. 

I'm sure my 3-year-old son will love it, but to me it still feels like the precursor to something awesome. The animation is generally static images of Seuss' wacky creatures sliding across the screen, and the interactivity mostly involves tapping on floating question marks to see the next image. One plusBloogs for budding readers — touching the sky or hill or tree or city in the scene and the word itself comes floating out. It could be helpful in strengthening word recognition (or something like that).

For those who want to taste the future of children book apps now, check out "The Monster at the End of This Book" starring lovable, furry old Grover (my favorite "Sesame Street" character). The animation actually helps the story move forward rather than getting in the way of it. And for those who fear that exposing your children to books on the iPad may lessen the appeal of regular-old paper books, I say don't worry. My son likes to read both versions at the same time.


The 1970s classic 'Once Upon A Potty' goes digital

Apple App Store policty change is good news for publishers

Is Richard Branson's Project magazine the future?

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo credits: Oceanhouse Media and Deborah Netburn

A reading list for Natalie Portman: five new mom books (and one blog)

Natalie Portman gave birth to a boy yesterday. If she were my friend I'd send her a congratulations card, but I would wonder (as I always do) if I shouldn't send a sympathy card instead. Being a new parent -- as I have been, twice -- is exhilarating, but it's also traumatizing. Because Portman is a celebrity, she will have access to all sorts of help that most of us can only dream of, but that doesn't mean she will be spared the hormone-induced self-doubt and anxiety that everyone feels right after they give birth.

To ease any pain of brand-new motherhood, I recommend the following books:

1. "Operating Instructions: A journal of my son's first year": I devoured Anne Lamott's 1994 book about her first year as a single mom. My first baby was very difficult, but Lamott's was worse. I took comfort in that, and grinned with deep delight every time she related a fantasy of hurling her screaming infant against a brick wall. (Like Lamott, I would never actually do it, but I sometimes kind of wanted to.)

2. "Bossypants": It takes a while for Tina Fey to get to the mothering stuff in her recent memoir, but when she does, it's so good. Fey, like many modern moms, had trouble breastfeeding and rails against those moms with freezers full of breast milk who make women who can't nurse feel really bad about themselves. At one point she challenges a self-satisfied breastfeeding mom to a contest 13 years in the future to see whose child is smarter. Totally inappropriate and totally awesome. Bonus: It's available as an audiobook, so you can listen to it and feed your baby (by breast or by bottle) at the same time.

3. "Life Among the Savages": This breezy 1953 memoir of raising children in Vermont is by Shirley Jackson, the writer behind "The Lottery" as well as the novel "The Haunting of Hill House." Here she shows a lighter side--as a mother of four at her wits' end. My favorite line in the book comes after she has just described a house overflowing with children, books and toys: "I cannot think of a preferable way of life," she writes, "except one without children…." I hear ya, sister!

4. "The New Basics: A to Z Baby and Childcare for the Modern Parent": As a new parent you need a place to turn (besides the Internet) when you notice a bumpy rash on your baby's arm, or are worried about that coat of white stuff sticking to his tongue (it's not milk, it's thrush). My favorite book in this category is by Dr. Michel Cohen, a TriBeCa pediatrician with a celebrity clientele and an attitude that can best be described as laissez laissez faire. His suggestion for how to get your kid to sleep through the night? Put them down at 7 p.m., shut the door and get them up at 7 a.m. Ignore all the crying in between and have a glass of wine instead.

5. "Happiest Baby on the Block: The new way to way to calm crying and help your newborn sleep longer": I'm not breaking any new ground here, but this book is a bestseller for a reason: It works. (And if you don't have the brainpower to read the book, watch the DVD.)

And the blog: The Longest Shortest Time: The title of this blog is so right on. Having a new baby is the longest shortest time; when you're going through it, it feels like it will last forever, when it's over you realize it went by in a blink. Author and radio producer Hilary Frank created this blog to reassure new moms they are not alone.


Natalie Portman's Lolita clutch

Exclusive audio excerpt: Tina Fey reads from 'Bossypants'

Ninth edition of 'Baby Bargains' is essential reading for new moms and dads

--Deborah Netburn

Photo: Natalie Portman at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 30. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Samuel L. Jackson reads 'Go the F --- to Sleep'

Writer Adam Mansbach's childrens book parody "Go the F--- to Sleep" is the gift that keeps giving. Digital galleys of the book, which was released on Tuesday, went viral in early May helping it to shoot to the top of the Amazon best seller list before it was even printed. And now Samuel L. Jackson has recorded an audio version of the book, which is available, for free, on Audible.com.

Why all the hullabaloo around this book? Because any parent who has tried to put a toddler down to sleep has inevitably felt the need to curse, a lot. As Jackson says in the beginning of the recording, "Everyone tells you that reading stories will put kids to sleep, but it never works. It didn't in my house.... I did say go the 'F' to sleep to her a lot. And then she would look at me and say, 'Go the F to sleep, daddy?' And I would say, 'Yeah. Go the 'F' to sleep.' "

As if that weren't awesome enough, Gothamist has a video of comedian Judah Friedlander reading "Go the F--- to Sleep" at a party for the book's release earlier this week, and the site is reporting rumors that Werner Herzog has also expressed interest in making a recording.

Will more celebrities get on board? We'd like a woman's voice to get in the mix -- after all, moms can get just as frustrated as dads when their kids won't go to sleep. Our vote is for Karen O.


From fatherly frustration to bestseller

Keith Richards' "Life" wins top award at the 2011 Audies

The 1970s classic 'Once Upon a Potty' goes digital

-- Deborah Netburn

Image: The cover of "Go the F-- to Sleep." Credit: Akashic Books.

Photo: Samuel L. Jackson at the 65th annual Tony Awards. Jackson has recorded and audio version of the book. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press

A memory book for dogs (and the people who love them)

Today my heart is swelling with love for Dolores Hestad, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and -- most important -- devoted caretaker of the 5-year-old Shih-tzu Shadow. She's also the author of "This Is My Doggie Life" and "This Is My Kitty Life" -- two self-published memory books similar to the ones people make for babies. In this case, however, they're for dogs and cats.

On the Official Blog of Dolores Hestad, she writes that she conceived of the animal memory book while on her way home from a vacation with her husband and Shadow.

I thought wouldn't it be nice to have a book to write all of Shadow's adventures.  He had taken a plane ride from Seattle to California, went to the beach for the first time and tasted the salt water.  When we got home I started to do some research and writing things down and I thought, why not write a book like a baby book but only for dogs and cats?

The result is a book that has space for devoted caretakers to record their furry friend's medical history,  Dolores microchip number, favorite things, least favorite things and tales of their four-legged adventures. And, of course, there's  room for photos too.

I haven't gotten around to making a baby book for my 3-year-old, so it's unlikely that my dog's adventures and health will receive this level of attention. Also, I'm not a huge fan of the cover or the title font on the interior pages. It has a saccharine, cutesy vibe -- but it's hard not to love a great-grandma so enamored by her dog that she was inspired to make a memory book for him.

And for other dog lovers to purchase  too, which they can at major online retailers through links on Hestad's website.


New N.Y. Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson's upcoming puppy book

The 1970s classic 'Once Upon a Potty' goes digital

Kafka meets kittens in 'The Meowmorphosis'

-- Deborah Netburn

Photos: Courtesy of Dolores Hestad

The 1970s classic 'Once Upon a Potty' goes digital


The 1975 potty training classic, "Once Upon a Potty" by author/illustrator Alona Frankel, has gone digital. The book, which I remember from my youth, is totally '70s fabulous with cute retro flowers on the cover and the mother character dressed in a super chic Pucci-esque maxi dress.

And now it's been turned into an iPhone and iPad app for $2.99 by Oceanhouse Media.

Frankel's original book comes in separate editions for each gender and the app does too. The girl version tells the tale of Prudence, who has been going "wee-wee" and "poo-poo" in her diaper since she was 2 days old. The boy version is the story of Joshua, who has been doing the same thing, but with different anatomy. Both children get a potty as a present from grandma, and after trying to figure out what it is (a flower pot? a hat? a milk jug for the cat?) they begin to learn how to use the potty themselves.

This morning my nearly potty-trained son (still wearing pull-ups at bedtime) and I swiped our way through the "Once Upon a Potty: Boy" app on the iPad. We had the story read itself to us in the admirably sedate voice of Joshua's mother, and then we listened to the unexpectedly jazzy potty song. (In keeping with the book's obvious 1970s influences, I was hoping for something more in the vein of "Free to Be You and Me.") My son liked the story, unfortunately seeing lots of humor in the part when Joshua accidentally poops on the floor, but he didn't think much of the Potty Song. To be fair, we'd been listening to a Bob Dylan CD earlier. Retro morning!


From fatherly frustration to besteller

Beverly Cleary on her 95th birthday

A new book by Maurice Sendak

-- Deborah Netburn

Images: "Once Upon a Potty," the girl edition, top, and boy edition, below. Credit: Oceanhuse Media Inc.

Paul Jury's 'States of Confusion' book trailer gets a million views on YouTube


Los Angeles-based writer Paul Jury's new short video, "50 State Stereotypes in 2 minutes (or something like that)," has already racked up more than 1 million views on YouTube -- not bad for what is essentially a video advertisement for his new book, "States of Confusion: My 19,000-Mile Detour to Find Direction."

The memoir, which came out in mid-May, chronicles Jury's adventures as a recent college grad who drives to all 48 contiguous states in 48 days. And can you believe it? Mayhem ensues.

The book is being packaged as a spirited gift for graduating college seniors -- not the kind of thing I'd normally be interested in, but this video is really funny. Some of my favorite state descriptions include "Alaska: I can see seasonal depression from here," "North Dakota: Somehow even worse than South Dakota" and "Maryland: Have Jeeves bring the lobster boat around." (It's funny because it doesn't make sense!)

When he isn't writing books, Jury works as a viral-video producer, so it's his job to know what will get attention on the Internet. The takeaway?  Be brief and controversial.

Maybe the folks nominated for the worst (and best) of the Moby book trailer awards can copy his super-successful approach.


Stuff white people Like in Los Angeles

Is this the best book trailer of the year or not?

-- Deborah Netburn


Recent books on parenting suggest new parents are obsessed with themselves

A stack of new parenting books has been accumulating on my desk, and together they tell a story of the state of parenthood -- especially motherhood -- in 2011. Some are funny, some are serious, some are complain-y, but the one thing they have in common is a tendency toward serious navel gazing. This leads me to surmise that the one thing women with children share is wanting to talk about being a woman with children.

Radio personality and cultural commentator Teresa Strasser titled her humorous take on pregnancy and childbirth "Exploiting My Baby: Because It's Exploiting Me" and included this joke on the book's back cover: "Teresa Strasser made her baby a spleen and some eyebrows. Her baby got her a book deal." 

Best bit: A series of chapters beginning with "People I want to punch," including the people who feign to not care about whether they have a boy or a girl, and the people who tell you your life will end after the baby comes.

"Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think" argues that parents should mellow out, have more kids and pay less attention to them. It's a welcome departure from the spate of articles about how deeply unhappy parents have become, but I need to point out that the articles about how hard it is to be a parent are generally written by women, and this book was is by Bryan Caplan -- a man.

Best bit: "In any case, once you know how laborious modern parenting has become, making parents happier is like finding hay in a haystack."

In the motherhood-is-kind-of-a-bummer department, the 10th anniversary edition of Ann Crittenden's classic "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued" is incredibly compelling -- a new preface explains how much (and how little) has changed in the last decade.

Best bit:  The validation every working mother wants to hear: "Even the White House has proclaimed that parents need more flexibility to meet their responsibilities at home, as employers demand longer hours and greater efforts from those who still have jobs."

The anthology "Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood" presents a choir of mom voices -- 47 contributors in total. The essays come from different perspectives, but each addresses the challenge of finding a balance between career and parenting.

Best bit: "It's an unpopular view, but no, young ladies, you really can't do it all."

On the super serious writerly end of the spectrum, Lisa Catherine Harper's lyrically written memoir of her pregnancy, "A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood," relates one woman's experience in enormous amounts of introspective detail. 

Best bit: "The spring I was pregnant began bitterly with a terrible, roaring wind. For two weeks straight the wind howled apocalyptically across the city and raged along our small stretch of coast."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, "The Hot Mom's Handbook" by Jessica Denay provides lightweight tips to new mothers, such as "stay away from sharp corners" when decorating a baby's room, and "lip gloss is a great way to keep a natural look while adding fullness and shine to your lips."

Best bit: "No matter where she lives or what she does, every Hot Mom needs a great pair of jeans."


Work and motherhood: Can you really not do it all?

Ninth edition of 'Baby Bargains': Essential reading for new Mom and Dad

 -- Deborah Netburn

Found photography drives 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

The best part of the new novel "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," (besides that deliciously gothic title) is a series of black-and-white photos sprinkled throughout the book--a young woman carrying a black parasol with a net over her face; two little boys in eerie clown make-up, one of them with a streamer coming out of his mouth; a little girl standing over a pond in a cemetery, her image reflected in double in the water below.  And of course, the amazing cover shot:  a little girl in white stockings hovering about 6 inches off the ground.

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is the first novel by Ransom Riggs, an L.A. based writer and filmmaker. It's a gothic tale with a teenage protagonist, which is why the publisher is marketing it as a young adult novel, but I read it and liked it, and I'm in my 30s. The book came about when Riggs started collecting found photography at flea markets and swap meets about three years ago.  He kept coming across strange creepy pictures of kids and felt like he wanted to do something with them.  "I was thinking maybe they could be a book, like [Edward Gorey's] 'The Gashlycrumb Tinies,' " he said. Double_reflection "Rhyming couplets about kids who had drowned. That kind of thing."

Riggs had just completed his first book, "The Sherlock Holmes Handbook" for Quirk Books and asked his editor what he could do with the photos. The editor suggested the pictures might inform a novel. "I was like, that sounds like something I kind of always wanted to do," Riggs said. The title came to him immediately and he started constructing a story about a home for children with special powers. He would cast the characters in his novel from the photos that he came across.

Really great found photography is hard to come by, so Riggs started contacting the big guns in the found photography world, including Robert E. Jackson, a collector whose photos were featured in a show at the National Gallery. Jackson and others opened up their archives to Riggs and allowed him to borrow whatever images he needed (a list of images and the collections they are from are in the back of his book).  After looking at close to a 100,000 photos, he eventually amassed a pool of 300 to 400  usable pictures and whittled that down to the 44 images he used in the book.

 "There were a lot that I didn't get to use, but I'm hoping they can be in future books," he said, "a giant league of peculiar children."

If you'd like to know more about "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," you can read the prologue and the first chapter of the book at Quirkbooks.com.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photos: "The Snacking Ballerinas," top left, the book's cover, top center, "Miss Peregrine," top right, "The Reflecting Pool," bottom. Credits: The collection of Robert E. Jackson; Quirk Books; the collection of Ransom Riggs; the collection of Peter Cohen.


Work and motherhood: Can you really not do it all?

Torn_bookcover Are you sick of books on the stress and inadequacy most women feel around the work/mothering issue?

If the answer is yes, you are probably not a mom.

For those of us who live in a constant state of anxiety about how we've compromised our careers for our kids or the other way around, books about the the work/life balance and how other women have dealt with it remain perennially  interesting.

Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood” is a welcome addition to this body of work. The book’s editor, Samantha Parent Walravens, assembled 47 essays by women of different ages, income brackets and in various stages of their careers. What binds the writers together is that they are all mothers, and (almost) all of them struggle with the choices they’ve made.

In an essay titled “A Letter to the Next Generation,” Karen Sibert writes: “It’s an unpopular view, but no, young ladies, you really can’t do it all.” Sibert, an anesthesiologist, has a successful career but admits she made sacrifices at home to achieve it. “Luckily I never set my sights on the award for “Mother of the Year,’” she writes.

In “Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom” (also published in Salon), former journalist Katy Read is refreshingly candid about how her decision to leave journalism when her sons were little led to a personal financial crisis after she and her husband divorced.

Although it doesn't sound like it, the book also contains some happy tales. In “From Harvard to Homemaking,” Bracha Goetz champions her decision to drop out of medical school and stay home to raise her six children instead. “We live simply, but with a much higher quality of life than most harried families, who are always rushing about with no time to enjoy what they’re hurrying after,” she writes.

And in “High Heels and Highlights,” Kathryn Beaumont, a lawyer, writes that while she occasionally fantasizes about spending her days in yoga pants, hanging out with her young daughter, “by the time I get to work, high-heels on, Starbucks in hand, gazing out past my computer screen at the sweep of the harbor thirty-three floors below me, I’m feeling pretty good.”

However, most of the essays underscore what modern moms already know --  achieving a balance between career goals and parenting goals is generally impossible, and all you can do is your best. It’s not a new thought, and Walravens admits she had trouble selling the book. “The big publishers were like, motherhood’s been done and anthologies don’t sell,” she said. But the point that nobody actually has it all is made all the more compelling when it is made by a choir of voices.


Ninth edition of 'Baby Bargains': Essential reading for new Moms and Dads

'Tiger Mother' hits Chinese bookshelves

 -- Deborah Netburn


Exclusive audio excerpt: Tina Fey reads 'Bossypants'


Near the end of Tina Fey’s audio recording of her book “Bossypants,” the actress, writer and comedian discusses the last six weeks of the 2008 election when she regularly portrayed Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live.” The second time she appeared as Palin on the show, she was slated to do the scene "in one," which means by herself, talking straight into the camera. Instead, she requested that her friend Amy Poehler be included in the scene as Katie Couric.

 "...my background is improvisation not stand-up," Fey explains. "I really prefer the buddy system on stage."

And this is why listening to Fey read her memoir might not be as hilarious as one expects. The ability to humorously, incisively spill your guts into a microphone, the quality that unites the greatest stand-ups, is not her strength, and she never pretends it is.

Still, there are reasons to hear Fey rather than read her -- especially for what it's like to be a normal looking person at a fashion magazine photoshoot (listen to our exclusive clip, below) or for her Palin impression.

Audio clip: Click here to hear Fey on being photographed for fancy magazines

Fey includes the whole audio of the first sketch she ever did as Palin, when she stood alongside Poehler who portrayed Hillary Rodham Clinton. As she talks about this time in her life she switches back and forth between her own voice and Palin's distinctive accent.

This audio book also includes a moment when Fey makes a pretend phone call away from the microphone, and another when her voice is altered to sound like it’s coming over a loudspeaker. Aside from these, however, Fey makes little use of the audio format, which is too bad. Instead, imagine Liz Lemon reading from a memoir: It's funny, sure, but probably not as funny as one might hope.

Audio clip: Click here to hear Tina Fey on meeting Lorne Michaels


-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Tina Fey at a book signing of "Bossypants" earlier this month in New York. Credit: Jim Spellman / Getty Images




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