Books for Your Gift List

A couple of months ago, a friend, with whom I share a meal and hours of inspiring conversation every two weeks or so, mentioned a book title which I found amusing: Men Are Not Cost Effective. Once I finished giggling, she explained it was written by June Stephenson, Ph.D, a research psychologist who authored a number of other books in the feminist genre.

“I believe it’s out of print now,” my friend said, “But if you can track down and acquire a copy of it, I promise you will find the author’s premise intriguing.”

She was right, and I’ll be sharing that concept with you in a future article. What I bring you today is a related source of amusement from the site where I found and purchased the aforementioned recommended book, because in addition to the standard categories one would expect at an on-line bookstore – history, reference, cookbooks, novels, etc. – AbeBooks.com also has the “Weird Book Room.”

Scrolling through the offerings, I came across the ideally-titled epic for readers in Louisiana:

And that’s when I knew I had to share excerpts from the listings with y’all, because, with the holiday season upon us, who doesn’t have one or two hard-to-buy-for family on friends on their gift list?

For your MAGA hat-wearing uncle, this book could get him started with the ideal hobby to pull him away from wall-to-wall FOX News watching.

Have a sister who is a yarn-hoarder? You know the one– she is always working on a baby blanket for some pregnant member of her church. Now here’s a way to help keep her hands occupied and her mind and spirit focused on “the reason for the season”, as this includes the complete set of patterns for knitting her own Nativity scene.

For your mother-in-law, here’s a book that helps her create tree ornaments and other biblically-themed gifts based on this book’s illustrations. It also does double-duty as a book of bedtime stories to share when the grandkids come to visit.

Staying with the religion theme, I always thought I was well-versed in the Bible, but apparently there are some areas of study and stories from its pages that I utterly missed. For example, there are these two titles.

It is possible I missed the IBS cure and God’s gift of ice cream because I was using the wrong Bible study guide. Maybe if I’d had this all along…

Moving on from our relationship with the Divine, the Weird Book Room also has lots of advice about interpersonal human relationships.

Do you have an abject fear of commitment? Then this book is for you.

And if, somehow, that doesn’t work and you do end up married, there’s this invaluable guide to dealing with your spouse and/or in-laws.

If all else fails, prepare your significant other for your departure from your life and hers.

Please don’t construe that as a recommendation for suicide. You don’t have to REALLY be dead. Follow the instructions from this valuable little volume instead.

From the time I learned to read, I’ve always held some reverence in my heart and mind for book authors – especially those whose writings captured my imagination or provided me with insights to self and others. And then there have been those authors whose characters and storylines engaged me so completely that I could hardly wait to complete the day’s duties of “real” life, and escape back into the pages of that book.

And say what you will of the problems attendant with our omnipresent interconnectedness through social media platforms on the worldwide web, it has, for me, provided many opportunities to thank and chat with those book authors who have enriched my internal life.

When I went back to college in 1999, I was at McNeese, majoring in criminal justice and minoring in Women’s Studies. In the late summer of 2000, a job offer meant moving from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge and transferring to LSU for January 2001. (Since LSU doesn’t have a criminal justice program of study, it also meant changing my major to General Studies, with minors in Sociology, Women’s Studies, English, and History, in order to expedite my graduation date.) I’ve retained my fascination with criminalistics in particular, and police work, in general.

Also in January, 2001, a former Baton Rouge Police officer published a book of short stories about policing, from the female perspective. I encountered the book in 2004, after it came out in paperback, and I read it not long before starting my coverage of Derrick Todd Lee’s murder trials in West and then East Baton Rouge parishes.

Perhaps it was the timing – bringing together my personal interests with my job duties – that made Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, by Laurie Lynn Drummond, resonate so deeply with me. Certainly, her narrative regarding a crime scene exuding an aura of violence long after the police tape is shredded by the wind and the blood washed away by rain was something I had felt myself. From the time victims’ bodies were found until their killer was convicted, when driving across the Atchafalaya on I-10, at Whiskey Bay I’d hear in my mind the outcry, and feel waves of fear and sadness.

Yet more than where I was personally and professionally when I first read the book, it’s the caliber (pun intended) of Drummond’s word choices and sentence structure, and the ways she takes us behind the gun and the badge to remind us that – inside the anonymity and authority of the uniform – are human beings, replete with doubts and fears like our own.

Telling her stories through the voices of five female cops, Drummond, who spent five years on patrol with BRPD, succinctly writes from her experience walking that balance beam between being tough enough to be “on the job” and looking at the physical, mental, emotional and psychological marks that leaves on those who protect and serve. In one story, she writes of getting home and touching “the constant, steady bruise on the hip bone where my gun caresses the skin a deeper purple day after day.” It the voice of the same officer that gives, “Just the facts: I killed a man. I shot him at 1:33 am. He died at 1:57 am. That’s when I couldn’t get a pulse, a heartbeat. That’s when the EMS boys got there and took over CPR. When they said, “Shit, sister. You fucking flatlined him.”

Drummond, who has taught creative writing at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and at St. Edwards University in Austin, TX, now teaches at LSU. You can find her book here, or here.

(Full discolsure: Laurie Lynn and I met in person this summer, after a mutual friend shared Drummond’s Facebook post regarding a rental. As I was looking to downsize my household following my husband’s death, she became my landlord. It’s a nicely growing friendship, too, since she’s been a fan of my work, as I have been of hers.)

At the start of this decade, I left radio for awhile, and took a contract with public television, covering education issues for LPB. I had to learn to shoot my own stories, and while I had help from LPB’s expert videographers at first, after a few months, they weren’t with me on scene. Cameramen from the commercial stations were kind enough to answer questions when I had them, with Rick Portier from WAFB being the most helpful. Over the previous several years, Rick and I had stood side-by-side, covering innumerable news stories and press conferences, and he suggested I check out his blog, turdpolishertv,wordpress,com.

That’s where I found out about his first book, Shooter in the Crosshairs.

(Portier’s second e-book, published a couple of years later, is a succinct compilation of much that he shared with me regarding camerawork. His Broadcast Journalism Pocket Checklist should be downloaded on every J-school students’ and working reporters’ phone, and be reviewed daily.)

Portier’s novel is framed through the eyes of a videographer who feels he’s well past his prime, having been passed up and passed over, rather than being passed on to the networks. Despite that, he still takes pride in his art and endeavors – daily – to be a turdpolisher. (Turdpolishing is defined as “the act of trying to make something hopelessly weak and unattractive appear strong and appealing, which is often a futile effort.”)

Drawing from his own experience of (then) more than two decades shooting TV news stories, Portier’s protagonist reads – right down to the gritty language – as utterly authentic. Take his main character’s description of the sweet young newbie reporter with whom he’s been assigned to shoot.

“Every time her pouty lips parted, I half-expected to hear the ocean pouring from her empty head. The relaxing rhythms of crashing waves and sea gulls would have been a welcome change from the high-pitched voice she used in conversation.”

Yep. As newscast viewers, we’ve all groaned inwardly when Miss Perky Reporter strides forward to the camera in her stand up, and – as Don Henley put it in “Dirty Laundry” – “tells you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.”

Portier’s plotline premise, of arson fires killing the homeless, with business associations functioning as meeting points for modern klansmen, seems even more plausible today than when the book was first published in 2011. Since then, we have seen Baton Rouge make international headlines over the 2016 police shooting of Alton Sterling, and, less than two weeks later, watched in horror as a madman retaliated, killing three Baton Rouge area officers and then himself. Further, there’s been the whole St. George movement, pointing up the ugliness of racism that continues to simmer in the capital region.

So if you’re looking for a way to evade the post-Turkey Day torpor, may I suggest you immerse yourself in the fast pace of Portier’s plot development, or raise your consciousness through contemplation-provoking essays from Drummond’s book.

Better yet, read both.