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Summer Reading Choices

Placerville is a town in the hills east of Sacramento. It used to be called “Hangtown” because of the harsh way the locals dealt with various miscreants – and that was the cleaned-up name! Before that it was called “Blood and Guts.” It kind of makes you nostalgic for the romantic days of the Old West, doesn’t it? Today the place serves as a tourist center for people interested in Gold Rush days. Many of the old buildings remain. We were there for a wedding, which was a delightful success.

Placerville has a cool little bookstore, The Bookery, complete with a genuine bookstore cat. It’s too bad a smug rich suburb like Carmel Valley can’t have a nice place like this. This Placerville bookstore had a wealth of interesting books from many different fields. There was a surprisingly big religion section, with a nicely diverse selection of sacred texts and plenty of scholarship and commentary. I was drawn to a big serious book about the Papacy of John Paul II. This is a book I’d read a lot about. The author makes an allegedly compelling case for why JP II shouldn’t be made a Saint. The author wrote an earlier book I’d read about the death of Pope John Paul I that was both highly troubling and widely admired.

I found myself standing in the nice little bookstore with my arms folded across my chest and my left foot tapping the floor nervously. Why do I need to read upsetting books about hugely important public institutions that are collapsing amid the coarsest and most appalling criminal scandals? In particular, why do I have to read such a book while I’m supposed to be enjoying a nice little family holiday? No, I would have to find something else. Surely a cool independent bookstore would have something suitable for my purposes! All I would have to do is look a little while and be patient.

As so often has been the case, my patience was rewarded. A book title caught my eye. Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank, by somebody I’d never heard of called Celia Rivenbark. OK, I thought, this is much closer to what I had in mind. Just a quick skim through the table of contents suggested that Ms. Rivenbark was going to be able to offer me some insights about modern reality that I could relate to. She did not disappoint me. I spent quite a while laughing out loud as I turned the pages, something I doubt I’d have done nearly as much while reading investigative journalism about how corrupt and awful the Vatican is.

Because I am a loyal reader to authors who please me, I immediately went out and bought several of her other books, including We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier, Belle Weather, and my candidate for book with the best title in recent years, You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning. Yes, there is a lot of uncommon wisdom in these pages.

It turns out that Celia and I are roughly the same age, and both got into parenting comparatively late in life. Accordingly we have had some similar experiences. She writes about how her cool suggestions for her kid’s school science fair project were rejected. In these pages I wrote about my own experiences in that situation – a splendid idea by me for a science fair project about the alcohol absorption capacities of all the adults in the family! Yeah, Ms. Rivenbark understands what it’s like to be an unappreciated genius.

It also turns out that this is an author who has been living a pretty soft life for a while, working at home writing a newspaper column and putting out these books. As a public service, and to score my own cynical cut of the pie, here is your chance to stop what you’re doing and buy all of her books right now. It pleases me to think that while Ms. Rivenbark is slaving away at home, dressed to kill in attire more appropriate for the gym than the office, she is working at least a few minutes for money that will be paid to me. I will use that money to buy more of her books myself.

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