Saturday, September 15, 2007

Winkie by Clifford Chase

Recommended by Jen

At the beginning of August, my husband, daughter, and I went up to cottage country for a week to hang out, read, swim, golf (you figure out who did what). I brought books. We stayed in two hotels. I left the books in the first one. D'oh. So we ended up in a little bookstore in Huntsville that had a great little selection, albeit it one with a clerk who had no social skills (my husband tried to engage her in a conversation about his own book, which they had featured as a highlighted title near the front, and she just stared at him, then said, "Did you write it? Huh." and went back to what she was doing, which was staring out the window). It was one of those great little independents where they'd gone through the thousands of books available and narrowed it to the ones they really liked.

And that's how I found Winkie. The premise? A teddy bear comes to life, is immediately labelled a terrorist, and is thrown into prison where he is tried as an insurgent and threat to the American way of life. It's a satire on the current war on terrorism and how anyone who looks a little different can become a suspect. It had a ton of reviews on the front and back and inside covers, all saying the same thing, "Hilarious!" The front cover was a blurb from Entertainment Weekly, one of the most trusted outlets for me, since they always seem to find quirky little books to recommend, and so far I haven't disagreed.

As you can see at the top, I recommend this book. However, not for the reasons those dozens of blurbs suggest. Maybe I'm too sensitive, or loved my teddy bears a little too much, but this book is not hilarious. The premise is definitely humorous, and there's a scene near the beginning where they are interrogating a woman about her involvement with Winkie, and because she's a lesbian they think they had some weird kinky sex thing going on (the authorities are convinced Winkie's a female because there's a single seam running through her crotch) and I laughed out loud at how preposterous this scene was, complete with the woman's eye-rolling and calm, "you are such idiots" demeanour, which was brilliant.

But the book is mostly Winkie's reminiscences in prison. He remembers the children who loved him and tossed him aside, being handed down from one generation to the next, the humiliation he'd endured, how he'd willed himself to life because he was conscious yet gathering dust on a shelf, the wonder he had when he finally did come to life, the death of someone close to him and how it made him feel, and his utter confusion and heartbreak at ending up in prison, with no one believing him. Does that sound hilarious to you? It certainly wasn't to me.

After the initial jarring sensation that this was definitely not a funny book, I enjoyed it a lot. It's a fantastic satire of the current political state worldwide (sadly, not just in the U.S.), and Winkie's memories of being loved, then not loved, are poignant and beautifully handled. Winkie tells his story in a quiet, sad manner, and it's a book unlike any I've ever read.

That said, maybe you'll find it hilarious. After all, I'm the same person who picks up my daughter's dolls every night and apologizes to them that she'd stuffed them in some inappropriate place during the day, so maybe I believe in these things a little too much to find them hilarious. ;) I would love to find out if the author felt the same way, since he actually enters the story as a traitor to Winkie's cause, or so Winkie believes.

You can buy online at Indigo,, or

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

Not recommended by Kulsum

The Secret is a horribly materialistic meditation on life. I have been reading it on the toilet. While it may contain some pearls of wisdom (like our body is an energy mass that we can use in a positive manner to effect positivity around us), it contains other long sections of utter tripe, like visualizing that you have money will make you get it. Er. . . there's something called "work"?

The ideas of effecting positivity by thinking positive and being proactive aren't new. Scores of self-help books are devoted to this matter. In fact, there's an entire sect of Buddhism devoted to this very ideal, and believe me, they do it better. Much of The Secret absorbs other people's ideas, rehashing them into a pastiche of anecdotes and dropped pearls of wisdom that read like cliches. It's hard for me to accept that Rhonda Byrne is the author of this work. To me, she is a washerwoman of words. She strung together a few paltry sentences of her own and hung them out like a line on which she pegged other people's ideas. Not a single original thought in this book comes from her own mind.

None of this to say that the book can't help people. It has some great ideas and techniques to handle stress, think positive, and reduce anxiety. However, the book operates on a tacky system of wish fulfillment and exploits the vulnerabilities (and stupidity) of magical thinkers, offering the most absurd promises of tangible riches and rewards for some deep breathing. All The Secret really has to offer, at the end of day, is one germ of truth: meditation. Meditation helps people focus. Focus helps us to go after our goals with a sense of greater purpose. Going after our goals helps us attain them. The end. It's no big secret.

The book is available online at or, or in the US at