This Week's Reads

Rachel Greenwald, David Quammen, Pete Dexter, and Zoe Trope.


By Rachel Greenwald (Ballantine, $22.95) From:


Subject: stupid harvard-bizness-skool- grad-program book Never mind the bus; I had to take the jacket off this thing in order to read it in front of myself. Seriously, it's so awful. And embarrassing. It's embarrassingly awful. Having been wed once myself, all this "Ladies, we need to get ourselves married" crap really pisses me off. There's no chapter (never mind a book) about how having a husband doesn't make all your problems go away. kmillbauer: She lost me on the cover. "Using What I learned at Harvard Business School"? Since when were relationships reducible to statistics? And she calls her method a "simple" 15-step action program. Where I come from, 15 steps ain't so simple. And Greenwald treats being single after 35 as a code-red emergency. If I were unmarried after 35 (and I'm not there yet), I think I'd find her attitude insulting. She acts on the assumption that women are lost or empty without men. lcassidy: Then there's Greenwald's intro, the stupid instruction to literally "bury your baggage" and just forget all the unattractive things that make you who you are. I can't accept this. I strongly, strongly believe that you can't make a meaningful connection with someone unless you're honest about yourself and your past, baggage and otherwise. She might as well be saying, "Be someone you're not," or, "Assume a false identity." Is that what they're teaching at Harvard B-School these days? It might explain Enron. kmillbauer: It seems like she's asking women to be deceptive and manipulative first to themselves; then to their friends, mentors, and others in their "network"; then to men. The whole time I was reading this book, I got a really creeped-out feeling. Greenwald's program is so cold and calculated. lcassidy: In that regard, her program feels thoroughly completeif you're willing to abandon your heart and soul. Any empty shell of a woman should secure the mate of her empty, meaningless dreams via Greenwald's plan. If you're willing to trade in your personality, hobbies, friends, family, and past in order to get itI'm pretty sure this program will work. But what a house of cards. kmillbauer: But if you strip down her program, cut out all the telemarketing, branding, and interviewing, I think there is some simple, useful advice here. Her notions of "casting a wider net" and considering men beyond a woman's usual "type" or age range seem wise, as does a pared-down version of the program's marketing blitzjust casually letting friends and family know that you're in the market for a man. lcassidy: Don't tell me you're buying into this crap. kmillbauer: No, but in her "Man"agement chapter, her advice to regularly evaluate an existing relationship to determine whether it has marriage potential (and then dump him if it doesn't), so as not to get stuck in a long-term relationship that's not going anywhere, is sound, especially as the biological clock ticks away after 35. Her no-tolerance dating policydump him and move on if he forgets to do the dishes one nightis ridiculous, but a low-tolerance dating policy seems reasonable. lcassidy: Still, if I saw it on a girlfriend's bookshelf, I'd set it on fire and take that girl out for some stiff drinks and frank conversation. kmillbauer: Does that mean you're buying? lcassidy: See you at Rama in 10 minutes. LAURA CASSIDY and KATIE MILLBAUER Rachel Greenwald will appear at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333), 7 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 16. MONSTER OF GOD: THE MAN-EATING PREDATOR IN THE JUNGLES OF HISTORY AND THE MIND

By David Quammen (Norton, $25.95) Here's a book that ends with a thud. For 437 pages, David Quammen explores the rich, tangled, and not always malign role of what he calls "alpha predators"critters able to kill and eat humansin our history and culture. Then he seals his argument and rings the grand finale with . . . a glowing six-page synopsis of the Alien movies. The effect is deflatingdoesn't this sort of familiar pop-culture ploy belong at the start of a serious book, not at the end? And Quammen is a serious alpha-nature writer, whose Natural Acts column was for years the best thing in Outside. He can tell a yarn; synthesize complex biological and cultural data; and say interesting and important things about evolution, extinction, and the ways human evolution spells extinction for so much else. Yet he really does love the Alien flicks, from which he draws two lessons. First, we shouldn't forget the costs of living with alpha predatorsand who pays those costs. If you can't imagine yourself a Romanian shepherd watching for brown bears, an Aboriginal fisherman trying not to become a crocodile's next lunch, or a Maldhari herdsman sharing the woods (and an occasional cow) with Asia's last beleaguered lions, "at least try imagining yourself aboard the Nostromo [with] an alien that covets your bodily meat." And second, "the success of the Alien series, like the durability of Beowulf and Gilgamesh, reflects not just our fear of homicidal monsters but also our need and desire for them." I'd add a third: It's a sad measure of how far we've distanced ourselves from lions and tigers and the world they represent when the closest we can get to imagining Tennyson's "nature red in tooth and claw" are wire-and-latex space mantises in a creepy creature movie. To his credit, Quammen tries hard to bring us closer. Along the way, he falls into some stock tropes of natural-history travelogues and inscribes overlong profiles of the researchers who guide him to the alphas' haunts and explain their ways. Yet he doesn't spend enough time listening to the indigenous hunters and herders who've thrivedat least until latelywhile sharing the monsters' habitats. In their fascinatingly symbiotic relationship with their dangerous neighbors, the "man-eaters" help preserve traditional culturesfirst by scaring off outsiders, then by getting their shared habitat preserved for conservation. Compare that patience and sympathy to the American ranchers (tycoons by Carpathian or Gujarat standards) who want to nuke the reintroduced wolves and grizzlies that take the occasional calf (for which they're federally compensated). Quammen barely touches on "the murderous loathing" of many Westerners for grizzlies and not at all on their equal fear and loathing of wolves. In fact, he excludes wolvesclassic peak predatorsand hyenas, which sometimes kill humans, from his alpha list because they prey in groups, not singly. Surely that's an artificial distinctionhow can you talk about archetypal, consciousness-shaping predators and ignore the most archetypal of all? (Hasn't Quammen seen any werewolf movies?) Quammen does nimbly trace the myth of the monster-slayer and its repercussions from Gilgamesh to Sigourney Weaver. But he doesn't delve deeply enough into the current theory that predators didn't just shape our worldview but also drove our species' evolution. Some evolutionary theorists contend that we got smart, verbal, social, and tooled-up, not to slay mammoths, but to repel lions. The irony, of course, is that these formerly defensive strategies have made us global überpredators, busting the food chain and racing to exterminate everything that once preyed on us. In which sense, we're the alien now, and a few Alien pods might be the best thing for the planet, to restore its natural checks and balances. Still, pining for implications not pondered doesn't mean condemning a book as rich and readable as this one. It's a tribute to Quammen that he's bitten off plenty for others to chew. ERIC SCIGLIANO David Quammen will appear at Bookfest (Sand Point/Magnuson Park, Hangar 27, 206-378-1883), 3 p.m. Sat., Oct. 18. TRAIN

By Pete Dexter (Doubleday, $24.95) The most stylish island-dwelling writer in the Puget Sound region is not Bainbridge's David Guterson but Whidbey's Pete Dexter. Like his National Book Award-winning Paris Trout, Dexter's pitch-perfect new noir novel is about crime and punishment, race and murder, subtextually freighted black-white and black-black relations. It's also about lust, love, gambling, degradation, corruption, and . . . golf? Black teenager Lionel "Train" Walk is a natural; could've been Tiger Woods, only he lives in 1953 Los Angeles. So he has to caddy for an exclusive Brentwood country club, say "Yes, sir" to straight-up racist golfers who call all the black caddies "Leroy," and knuckle under to Sweet, the diamond-toothed, Cadillac-driving mulatto caddyshack boss. Sweet and another caddy get carried away robbing a Newport Beach yacht (double homicide, rape, mutilation, psychic torture), a bravura scene way more cinematic than Mulholland Falls, the L.A. noir movie Dexter co-wrote. The cop who busts Sweet's heist and saves the survivor, Norah Still, happens to be Miller Packard, Train's favorite golf-course customer. Train calls him "the Mile-Away Man," because he's always staring into the distance, half-smiling enigmatically, and doing perverse things, like baiting racists. Soon Packard and Still are enmeshed in hard-boiled romance, and Train is on the run for a crime he didn't commit. He got his nickname from Lionel trains, but he's also a runaway train of good intentions and bad luck. He doesn't get luckier when he hooks up with Plural Lincoln, a huge, blind ex-fighter inclined to fugue states and innocently intended mayhem. When Packard makes Train his golf- hustler protégé, with clueless Plural in tow (à la Of Mice and Men), fate takes hairpin turns. The plot and milieu are good, but the glory of Train is its style: in the shadow of Chandler et al., but distinctively syncopated. Dexter's sentences remind me of the Normandy landing scene in Saving Private Ryan: The colors are drained halfway to gray, and it's like every other frame's been snipped out, making the action faster and scarier than we can quite assimilate. Like Spielberg, Dexter uses absolute artistic control to create a sense of things getting quite out of control. TIM APPELO Pete Dexter will read at Seattle Mystery Bookshop (117 Cherry St., 206-587-5737), noon, Tues., Oct. 16; and at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Tues., Oct. 16. PLEASE DON'T KILL THE FRESHMAN: A MEMOIR

By Zoe Trope (HarperTempest, $15.99) Zoe Trope is a band nerd. She's editor of her high school's lit mag. She's a fag hag. She likes boys (a lot). She likes girls (a lot). She hates the word "bisexual." She feels she fits in best with people in their 20s. She pities her teachers and most of her clueless classmates. She wears rainbow Chuck Taylors. Zoe Trope is a pseudonym for a very real girl born in 1986, and she's offering you her journal to read. Expanded from a chapbook written during her freshman and sophomore years at an unnamed Portland-area high school, this memoir might seem the stuff of eye-rolling adolescent melodrama. True, the author is a normal teenager with the usual gripes, but her perceptiveness and intellectual maturity are alarming. She's the rare, precocious high schooler with the foresight to know that none of it will matter in five years. She's a sociologist with a curfew. Zoe has a Zen-like ability to detach herself from teen life even as she tumbles tumultuously through it, keeping a remarkably clear head above the mania. The result is a familiar peekif you were a smart yet socially peripheral high schoolerinto those ambivalent teen years when the naïveté of childhood is still a fresh memory and adulthood is still an impending threat. Zoe fondly remembers being 7, but she's anxious to turn 16 so she can driveeven more anxious to turn 18 so she can get laid legally. Yet she also harbors the requisite disdain for adulthood and its perceived tendency to squash creativity. She presents adulthood as both a sought-after license to live and an imminent bore. Her favorite recreational activity is a bus ride into Portland to visit her "temple," Powell's Books, where her original 45-page chapbook made it onto the store's best-seller list. Then Dave Eggers excerpted it in The Best Non- Required Reading 2002, making her a literary star before she could even drive. Even if you weren't so accomplished in high school, Freshman will revive plenty of high-school feelings you hoped you'd never reliveenvy perhaps among them. KATIE MILLBAUER

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