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“Being Miss America : Behind the Rhinestone Curtain” by Kate Shindle
c.2014, University of Texas Press $24.95 / $30.95 Canada 236 pages
Elbow, elbow, wrist-wrist-wrist.
It’s like icing a cake with your hand, they say, and you practiced that wave aplenty when you were young. You never knew when you might find yourself walking down a long stage with roses in your arms and a crown on your head.
Millions of young women try. Only one per year becomes Miss America – most of the time. In “Being Miss America ” by Kate Shindle, you’ll peek behind the brocade curtains to learn more.
Growing up in New Jersey, in a family that often volunteered for the Miss America Organization, Kate Shindle had a first-hand, on-the-ground look at making a pageant. That knowledge obviously didn’t scare her: she later entered a local Illinois pageant, won, and won again to eventually become Miss America 1998.
Pageant fans know that the first Miss America was crowned in 1921, in an effort to keep tourists on The Boardwalk a little longer. Only one woman won the title twice (1922 and 1923). There’s been one Jewish winner (1945) and one Native American title-holder (1927), but no Muslims or lesbians (yet) to wear the crown. Scholarships weren’t given until Miss America 1943 suggested them. The pageant schedule, originally set for mid-September-ish, has often been in flux; in fact, it was completely cancelled for a few Depression-Era years.
In the beginning, there was no “platform” (it seems to have “become a thing of the past” today). Swimsuit parades clashed with feminism, racism quietly lingered as “an ugly underbelly,” countdowns were tweaked, and the pageant once endured an attempt at reality TV. Political maneuvers and corporate rules now determine things.
Today, Shindle still gets the “What was it like?” question, and it’s complicated.
At first, travelling was fun and receiving gifts was interesting. Both became tedious pretty quickly. She was happy to have a chance to work with HIV awareness, but was often instructed on what she couldn’t say. Winning the pageant was empowering, but with the growing popularity of the internet then, it was too easy to find forums filled with vitriol and even easier to fall into an eating disorder…
It’s very safe to say that the majority of us never were Miss America material. That never stopped us from dreaming, though, which is why a behind-the-scenes book like “Being Miss America ” is so fun to read.
Author Kate Shindle takes the (elbow-length) gloves off in this book, and tells the truth as she knows it: the good and bad of wearing the crown, the humor and difficulty of being an “ideal” woman, changes that title-holders have made within pageant workings, and the struggles some have endured. She does this with wit and passion, as well as with sadness; Miss America ’s future, as Shindle sees it, isn’t quite so rosy but, with work, “she can become something greater than ever.”
I liked this book for its lightly-scandalous humor and its tarnished-crown honesty, and if you’re a pageant-watcher, I think you’ll like it, too. Grab “Being Miss America ,” and you can wave the hours good-bye.
“Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love” by C. David Heymann
c.2014, Emily Bestler Books $27.00 / $32.50 Canada 438 pages
Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.
That’s apparently, according to headlines, what your favorite star thinks of her first, third, and next husband – who happens to be the same man. It’s kinda silly. You can practically set your calendar by their splits and reconciliations. You shake your head.
Can’t live with him. Can’t live without her. It happens, as you’ll see in the new book “Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love” by C. David Heymann.
The first time Joe DiMaggio met Marilyn Monroe was on a blind date. He’d began “thinking” about Marilyn once he saw publicity photos of her with another ball player, and he asked a friend to set them up. She pretended not to know who the great Yankee ballplayer was. He sat mute nearly the whole evening.
And yet, Marilyn (born Norma Jeane Baker) thought he was “different” and wanted to spend more time with him. He was equally smitten and, on an after-date drive, he opened up to her like he’d never done with any other woman. He was reserved and gentlemanly. He called her again the morning after, and romance blossomed.
But there were problems. Joe “didn’t know if he could deal with her voracious appetite for public exposure.” For Marilyn, being center of attention was as necessary as oxygen and, though she said she wanted to settle down and “have a boatload of babies,” she was, down-deep, not willing to give up her career.
Part of the problem, says Heymann, is that there were “two Norma Jeanes” – a little girl who craved love, and a mercurial and complicated woman who’d do anything for the limelight – even if it meant sleeping around.
Another part of the problem was that Joe was hot-headed and controlling. He grew to detest publicity, and resented that his star had fizzled while hers was rising. Marilyn was more famous than he, and it rankled Joltin’ Joe aplenty.
She called him “Pa,” and warmly embraced the son he mostly ignored. He advised her in the career he hated. They fought, reconciled, fought more, and wed in early 1954.
It was a marriage that wouldn’t last the year.
Let’s start here: I liked “Joe and Marilyn.” I really, really liked it because, while rabid fans of either DiMaggio or Monroe won’t find much new here, I did and I liked the way it was presented.
The late author C. David Heymann was, in telling this long, scandalous saga, balanced and informative without being sensational. Readers become privy to private issues, as well as behind-closed-doors activities that led to even more issues, yet we come to see the deep devotion that lingered for the lifetimes of DiMaggio and Monroe, even though they clearly couldn’t ever live together.
That makes this an excellently-heartbreaking love story, a juicy gossip piece, a slice of culture, and sports – all rolled into one. And if you’re a fan of those, of DiMaggio, Monroe , or Hollywood of yore, then “Joe and Marilyn” is a book you really can’t be without.
“Shots Fired” by C.J. Box
c.2014, Putnam $26.95 / $31.00 Canada 288 pages
Trapped in an elevator, office, front seat of a car, wishing you were someplace, anyplace, else. The people with you are getting on your last nerve. You’ve heard the same phrases over and over and over and you want to scream.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all lived through the irritation, but what’s funny is that it’s not at all chafing to read about it happening to someone else. And that’s just one of the themes in “Shots Fired,” a book of short stories by C.J. Box.
Throughout the years, says Box, fans have asked where they could find some of his shorter works, wondering why there wasn’t an anthology.
Now there is, with favorite characters and a few new faces.
Take, for instance, “ One-Car Bridge ,” in which a ranch owned by a big-city bully is on the edge of Game Warden Joe Pickett’s territory. Joe has bad news for the owner, but it could be worse news for the ranch’s manager: he could lose his job over something that’s not his fault. Could help come from the U.S. Mail?
Pickett, of course, is one of Box’s best-loved characters – maybe because Joe cherishes his neighbors so much. In “Dull Knife,” one of Wyoming ’s finest basketball players is dead. Joe remembers the girl, and he mourns what she could have been. How she died is an even bigger issue.
Joe’s friend, Nate Romanowski also appears in this book and he’s loaded for bear – or, in this case, for a rich Saudi who seems to think he owns the rogue falconer and can buy what he demands. In “The Master Falconer,” fans will be surprised to see that Nate tows the line. Or not.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say, but not necessarily in a canoe. In “Every Day is a Good Day on the River,” a long-awaited fishing trip turns into a nightmare when something unexpected shows up on the waters.
And in my favorite story here, “The End of Jim and Ezra,” two trappers are caught for the winter in a cabin high in the mountains. It’s 1835 and it’s been Three. Long. Months of living practically on top of one another.
Stir-crazy ain’t the word for it…
You know how it is when you want a book, but not the whole book? That’s when you reach for this: with its ten short stories, “Shots Fired” will just fill that nagging want-to-read hunger.
And yet, what’s nice about this book is that you can make it last. Most of author C.J. Box’s tales are short enough to read in one sitting, but not so involved that you won’t feel bad putting a bookmark in them for a minute. And that’s about how long you’ll need a bookmark – a minute – because these mystery-western-human-interest tales are awfully addicting.
If you’re a Box fan, this is a must-have. If you’ve never read his works, you’ll be a fan in short order because what’s inside “Shots Fired” will have you stuck to your seat.
“The Norm Chronicles” by Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter
You hadn’t seen your old classmate in years.
He was never at reunions or any events. He never called you, either, and truth be known, you kind of forgot about him – until his name came up on Tuesday and on Wednesday afternoon, you spotted his face in the background of a stranger’s online photo.
Total coincidence? What are the odds? Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter say they’re actually pretty good, and in “The Norm Chronicles,” they explain.
Congratulations, your lottery numbers all came up. You missed being in an accident. You were in the right place at the right time, but you didn’t “defy the odds.”
That, say the authors, is impossible.
“Odds,” they explain, “simply describe how many people are expected to be on each side of a possibility.” Something good happened in the above situations; you were on the positive side, which is “meeting the odds.” And chance, of course, “always plays a part” in everything we do.
From the moment we’re born, we risk: infants have the “same level of annual hazard” as do middle-age adults. Get to age 10, though, and you’re good to go for awhile, since that’s the approximate age of our lives, roughly speaking, when we’re safest and have the lowest relative units of “MicroMorts.”
Or take, for instance, disease. You might think that everything causes cancer, but numbers can be deceiving. Is a specific risk relative or absolute? The former can “make the numbers seem scarier than maybe they should be.” Furthermore, the “nature of news” is that “things that are… likely to get you are not reported nearly so often as others that are rare.” Yes, some behaviors seem to invite disaster, but others “fall… into the same category of philosophy” that should include data on values and traditions. Alcoholic consumption is one of those.
Is it chancy to get immunized? To lose a job? To eat 5,000 bananas? Yes, but what we need to remember about risk, chance, and probability is that there is no average. You can be “average for some subset” of people but that can change – and besides, it’s all about perception anyhow, since probability is a “recipe for muddle.”
Through a mixture of fact and fiction about a regular Joe called Norm, “The Norm Chronicles” is an informative book that’ll tickle your funnybone.
Or, as much as you can understand it, anyway.
Authors Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter sprinkle wit all over their chapters and fill them with asides and silly stories that illustrate risk throughout life and in all aspects. The thing is, the facts and stats just don’t let up, which can be overwhelming for some readers. We learn one thing that seems contradictory elsewhere (the nature of possibility), and the numbers just keep on coming…
Now, that’s not to say that this is a bad book; quite the contrary, it’s good entertainment, but it’s just going to need some digesting-time, that’s all. Give yourself that, and I think “The Norm Chronicles” is a book you’ll probably like.
“A Wolf Called Romeo” by Nick Jans
c.2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $26.00 / $33.00 Canada 267 pages
Your dog just can’t get enough of “catch.”
Yes, he has plenty of toys, and just picking one up incites a glint-eyed round of the game. Nothing, apparently, is better than snatching something from the air. He’d play til he dropped, if you’d let him.
Some dogs love a ball. Some dogs love squeaky-toys, while others crave complicated playthings. And in the new book “A Wolf Called Romeo” by Nick Jans, some dogs have unusual playmates, too.
Nick Jans was astounded at the size of the pawprints.
They weren’t ordinary, dog-sized prints; these were huge, indicative of a wolf prowling near the city limits of Juneau , Alaska . It was a late afternoon in December 2003 and, though most residents of the Last Frontier “spend a lifetime” without ever spotting a wolf, here one was, almost teasing Jans with its bold presence.
Days later, while walking their dogs, Jans and his wife encountered the wolf. He was full-coated, black, in the prime of his life, tipping the scales near 120 pounds – and before they could stop her, their Lab, Dakotah, dashed out to meet him, and to play. The wolf seemed smitten with the yellow (spayed) dog, a puppy-love that ultimately gave him his name. Though the Janses tried to keep Romeo under wraps, other dog owners also noted throughout that winter that the wolf interacted happily with their pets, too.
From a handful of neighbors, Romeo’s fan club grew. When he returned for a second, then a third winter to the edge of Juneau , so did people who enjoyed his friendliness but often disregarded that he was still a wild animal. That made some Juneauites clamor for the wolf’s removal. Others, believing him a danger, wanted Romeo dead.
But, as Jans noted, fatal wolf attacks are extremely rare. “You have to be… unlucky – right up there with being struck dead by a piece of space junk – to be killed by a wolf.” And so Romeo stayed because “there was no basis for action unless something actually happened. And then it did.”
There’ll be two camps that will read this review: those who love wolves and the natural history behind them, and those who think they’re varmints and want them eradicated. “A Wolf Called Romeo” is for the former type of reader.
And yet, author Nick Jans offers his readers balance: in his basic overview of Canis lupus, he admits that attacks happen and that the presence of a wolf can be problematic; indeed, Romeo reverted to his natural behavior more than once, and may have killed a pet dog or two. Still, what happened to him, the controversy that swirled around him, and the aftermath of his unfortunate death are things that no self-respecting animal lover will want to miss.
In addition to the wolfish tale here, I also enjoyed the travelogue that’s inherent in a story like this. I think that if you love wildlife, if you love nature, or you enjoy spending time outdoors, then “A Wolf Called Romeo” is a book to catch.
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