And now, some special-interest books.
C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson's Law and Other Studies in Administration: Parkinson's Law is that work expands to fill the time alloted, an insight that among other things explains why expanding a bureaucratic workforce doesn't decrease the burden on any one employee but may even increase it. This trifle of a book contains little else of lasting value, though if you're interested in when the powerful people arrive at and leave cocktail parties, at least circa 1957, Parkinson's got some data for you. Parkinson's other law remains of interest: a committee can only exercise power if it is between 5 and 21 people. Fewer than that, it's not really a committee and can't reliably get a quorum; more than that and it's too big to function. This, unlike Parkinson's views of Chinamen, remains pertinent today.
Cynthia Heimel, Advanced Sex Tips for Girls: This Time It's Personal: I think Cynthia Heimel is a very funny girl, especially in bite sizes, which this collection of columns (many for Playboy) is. There are actually very few sex tips, though there are a lot of observations about what she might call the "police action" between the sexes – we're not supposed to be having a war any more, right? Her writing reminds me a lot of eliade's. Heimel on peanut M&Ms:
But that sugary crust keeps appearing in my fantasies. How I would warm a handful of M&M's on my tummy, then slowly break each one open with my teeth, suck out the melting chocolate, let my tongue play lightly with the shards of sugar coating, then slam that peanut against my molars.
This is not normal food, even normal junk food. People who hate ice cream, who can easily bypass homemade children's birthday party chocolate cake or even creme brulee, will screech to a slavering helpless halt for peanut M&M's. It is the eggness of them. A shell, chocolate placenta, proteiny peanut baby.
That's a little over the top even for her, but you get the idea. [NB: I was taught in law school that "M&Ms" is the correct form, because it's not a possessive. Maybe the rules are different outside of lawyerland, but I scoff at your lawyerless rules, your ignorance of the subtle yet profound difference between Cf. and But cf., your inability to see what is wrong with See, e.g., and right about See id.]
In that vein, Rodney R. Jones & Gerald F. Uelmen collected Supreme Folly, excerpts from actual court cases. Amusing but not terribly original. I was most interested in things I didn't think were very funny, such as the case where the judge fell asleep during a witness's testimony and was unable to be roused when the defense attorney objected to the prosecutor's cross-examination. The conviction was affirmed on appeal on the ground that the judge hadn't missed much anyway. What state court of appeals did this? I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count, as my debate coach from the great state of Texas used to say. When I was clerking, we had a similar case, where the judge left the room, the defense attorney objected to something in the prosecutor's summation, and when they determined the judge was missing they just said "oh well" and continued on. The panel reversed the conviction on the ground that, without a judge, there can't be a trial. This seems to me entirely correct, and not terribly funny. (Texas is, as you may have heard, also the site of a case where a defendant was sentenced to death after his lawyer slept through penalty-phase testimony. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit initially refused to grant relief on the grounds that being asleep isn't the same thing as being ineffective, but, perhaps realizing that this would be hard for Justices Kennedy and O'Connor to swallow, managed to reverse itself en banc instead of letting the Supreme Court do it for them and potentially create a stronger precedent on how competent counsel needs to be in a death penalty case.) I'm also not a big fan of opinions written in poetry, like the one by a judge recently dismissing a lawsuit against Eminem with a "rap," or studded with the names of baseball players or movie titles. I think it's disrespectful to the litigants.
Dominick Dunne, Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments: The first essay in this collection is about the murder trial of the man who killed Dunne's daughter, and it reads like a scream of pain, remembered after the pain has passed but not really faded. The third is about Claus von Bulow, and highlights that the facts of the case aren't really bizarre in the context of the very strange lives of the principals, several of whose close relatives had been kidnapped for various reasons. The von Bulow article, unfortunately, heralds a name-dropping, gossipy (X said Z to Y, and Y then snubbed me, while Judge Q gave me a front-row seat at the trial) style that slowly takes over from Dunne's description of the cases, the criminals and their victims. This trend continues in a piece about the Menendez brothers, but the bulk of the book is about OJ Simpson, with details that might have mattered at the time but are hardly relevant now. I don't really care who in LA society was on whose side and which parties the defense lawyers went to as guests of honor. The collection finishes up with a few more crimes, but Dunne has decisively shifted the focus away from crime reporting onto his status as the guy into whose ear tidbits are whispered by those in high society, and I was really bored by the end. This is hard to do with material so salacious, but it turns out to be possible.
Dan Savage, The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant: If you read Savage Love, you probably have a good idea of what this book is like: frank and occasionally outrageous. For example, Savage lists the reasons he and his partner decided to adopt, and some of them are really, really bad reasons. He's joking when he says he wanted an excuse to get fat, but it's not completely a joke, and I admire him for his honesty. People tell you that there are a lot of bad reasons to have kids, but it's surprisingly hard to think of a good one. This is also a fascinating chronicle of an open adoption, including poignant observations about the other couples in the adoption pool, who have failed at something Savage and his partner never thought they could do – have biological children of their own – and whose relationship to the process is therefore different.
Susan Estrich, Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women: I read this because a colleague said I had to read it – Estrich is a law professor and approaches weight loss from a lawyer's perspective, discussing concepts such as negligence and strict liability (we treat eating as a negligence regime, as if eating when we don't mean to is not our fault, but our hips think it's a strict liability offense). The book is unusual in saying that women should feel guilty about needing to lose weight, and should want to look good as defined by current culture. The kind interpretation, and what I think Estrich really means, is that no matter what a diet book tells you, you're likely to feel that way anyhow, and it would be better to admit it than to pretend you don't care, all the while suffering because you really do care, and if you're reading her book you probably do care. In other words, she says, fish or cut bait, but don't fish and yearn for bait, because that helps nobody. The really weird thing about the book is that it's explicitly targeted to upper-middle-class women (the blurb says "How to apply the skills that make you great at your job to a diet that works"), and urges readers to substitute shopping for eating as a reward to themselves. Better 19% interest than fat! If you react well to a certain firmness, like a momma cat biting the back of a kitten's neck to get it to behave, this book might be helpful – it at least offers a way of making major changes that might work if you're sick of the other well-meaning advice books – but I found it a tad bizarre.