One-Minute Book Reviews

December 14, 2013

What I’m Reading … James Wolcott’s Comic Novel, ‘The Catsitters’

Filed under: Humor,Novels,What I'm Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:40 pm
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“What I’m Reading” is a series that describes books I’m reading that I may or may not review on this blog

What I’m reading: The Catsitters (HarperPerennial, 2002), the first novel by James Wolcott, the longtime cultural sharpshooter at Vanity Fair.

What it is: A light comedy about the romantic misadventures of an unmarried man in Manhattan before the hookup culture rolled in. Narrator Johnny Downs is a mild-mannered bartending actor who tries a desperate approach to finding love after being dropped by his latest his-and-run girlfriend: He takes advice by telephone from a friend in Georgia who, after spending her teenage years in New Jersey, blends “a Southern belle’s feminine wiles with a Northerner’s no-nonsense direct aim.” The title of the novel has a double meaning: It refers to the caretakers for Johnny’s beloved cat and to the women who eddy around a “cat” — as the Beats might have said — who hopes to turn himself into plausible husband material.

Why I’m reading it: I enjoyed Wolcott’s new Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs (Doubleday, 2013), a showcase for the virtues that have distinguished his work since his early days at the Village Voice: wit, moral courage, and a high style. That collection drew me back to this novel.

Quotes from the book: A priest describes an artistic sensibility he has observed in New York: “These days, any time I attend something cultural, I dread what might be in store. I don’t mind shock effects as much as I resent the notion that they’re  for my own good, to roust me out of my moral slumber. One thing I learned from my work as a military chaplain is that in real life, shock numbs people, and the worse the shock, the deeper the numbness. After a while, your response system shuts down.”

Furthermore: The Catsitters is, in some ways, Seinfeld-ian: It involves a nice New York man caught up in day-to-day mini-dramas — not turbo-charged conflicts — and abounds with witty one-liners and repartee, such as:

“I can’t picture the men of Decatur, Georgia, handing out understated cream business cards.” “You’re right, they don’t. Most men down here introduce themselves by honking at intersections.”
“You’re fretting about the cost of dinner and flowers? You’re not adopting a pet from the animal shelter, Johnny, you’re in training to find a fiancée and future wife.”
“I don’t think I could handle a threesome.” “You’re not ready to handle a twosome yet.”
“Would you mind if I took off my shoes? My feet are about to cry.”
“We continued chatting, and by the time the train pulled into Baltimore I knew enough about her life to produce a documentary.”

Jan is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button on this page.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved

February 11, 2009

Three Pick-Up Lines to Avoid If You Want a Date for Valentine’s Day

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:00 am
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In an age of hookups and friends-with-benefits, Valentine’s Day can inspire an atavistic craving for an old-fashioned date. If you’re looking for one, some pickup lines won’t help your cause, Caroline Tiger says in How to Behave: Dating and Sex: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged (Chronicle, 2006). Tiger suggests that you avoid:

1. Are you free tonight, or will it cost me?
2. Is it hot in here, or is it just you?
3. I’m going outside to make out. Care to join me?

There, now don’t you feel better-equipped to face the gym and bar?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 29, 2006

Judsen Culbreth Tells How, in Her 50s, She Found Love and Marriage on the Internet

A lively guide to finding a mate — or a New Year’s Eve date — online when you can remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a TV set with knobs

The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating: Date With Dignity. By Judsen Culbreth. Rodale, 230 pp., $12.95.

Think you’d have a better chance of winning a Pillsbury Bake-Off than lining up a date for New Year’s Eve this year? Feel sure you won’t find love until you lose the crow’s feet or the saddlebags?

Judsen Culbreth disagrees. Divorced at the age of 49, she expected her many friends to fix her up. After two years in the single lane, she’d gone on two blind dates. She had similar luck meeting men on her own, so she decided to try online matchmaking.

“Two days after posting on an Internet dating site and asking for matches within a 50-mile radius of Manhattan, I had 84 responses,” she writes. “Over the next year, I posted my profile on six sites. I screened thousands of men, corresponded with more than 100 of them, and liked 25 well enough to meet in person.” The result? She found and married “the man I prayed for.” And she tells how she did it in The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating, a lively how-to book for what she calls “the mature woman.”

A former editor-in-chief of Working Mother, Culbreth offers smart and practical advice on topics from the pros and cons of well-known dating sites to getting sexually involved after meeting online. In a chapter on how to write a compelling profile, she tells what doesn’t work along with what does. Among the nonstarters: taglines or other come-ons that are hostile or bleak: “NO HEAD GAMES,”“RU NORMAL?” or “MAKE ME SMILE AGAIN.” Would you want to go out with someone who had forgotten how to smile?

As for that New Year’s Eve date you know you won’t have, Culbreth encourages you not to be so sure. She believes online dating can work even if you keep telling yourself, “I want to get a face-lift first” or “I need to lost 25 pounds.” Waiting until you’re perfect may make you older, but not wiser. “I’m all in favor of self-improvement,” she says, “but your social life can move forward online while the metamorphosis takes place.”

Best line: “Almost every site will ask about your age, children, education, occupation, religion, ethnicity, height, and weight. Be absolutely honest. You can’t recover from misrepresenting yourself.”

Worst line: None. But this book came out before the surge in popularity of a new feature on some sites that lets members post comments about others. I agree that “you don’t have to reply to all the men who contact you,” but I would add that failing to respond could get you slammed on a site by people who expect a reply.

Recommended if … if you’re a woman in her mid-30s or older who wants recharge her social life. This book has useful for information for any female reader of a certain age, not just baby boomers.

Editor: Jennifer Kushnier

Published: August 2005. Author:

Conflict alert: Judsen Culbreth is one of my closest friends, I am in her acknowledgments, and I would no sooner give her bad review than I would ask Dick Cheney to be my friend on a social networking site. If I didn’t like a book Judsen had written, I wouldn’t review it. I like this one, and that’s why I’ve reviewed it.

Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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