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Bill Marsano (New York, NY United States)

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Eating My Words: An Appetite For Life
Eating My Words: An Appetite For Life
by Mimi Sheraton
Edition: Hardcover
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.04

5.0 out of 5 stars A Sharp, Short and Witty Delight, July 16 2004
By Bill Marsano. Years ago, in the slim hope of making myself useful on a certain magazine, I often volunteered to edit Mimi Sheraton's column. She was counted a tough cookie by the other editors, who preferred saps. My stock did in fact rise through self-sacrifice, and so did my free time, for the fact was her column was a breeze.
Of course, if an editor mucked around with her copy (and that, I can say without exposing any trade secrets, is what editors generally do), then it wasn't a breeze. So after reading her tight-knit prose, her well-reasoned judgments, her lucid thoughts, I'd call her about a couple of minor points and we'd agree on changing or not in about ten minutes. Then, with my door shut and no one in any case daring to approach Sheraton Control, I had the afternoon free. (Later, when other editors asked how it had gone, I just rolled my eyes.)
Keys to Sheraton's style were sticking to the subject and not showing off. Her judgments were measured, not designed to become sound bites; the meal was the star, not the reviewer. Here she does write about (among many other things) herself, and what an interesting self she turns out to be. She covers a lot of ground, including childhood before the war (i.e., World War II); college-girl adventures in New York City (especially funny: her story of breaking up with a civilian boyfriend while being attached to two other guys in the armed services); early work in home-furnishings journalism; plunging into food writing through a passion for travel; her ups and downs as a nationally known food critic for the New York Times (and other publications) and her attempts at improving what professionals call "volume feedings and mass management" and the rest of us call jail, airline, school and hospital food.
Sheraton has a fine line in dry wit and is always informative: Most readers will learn some surprising things about restaurants and reviewing. She lists the 20 most-asked quiestion and answers every one, and provides a good idea of the pressures applied to a critic by big-name restaurateurs--and by people who think they're critics just because they run a newspaper. (Odd--but I don't think the Times has reviewed her book. Odd.) But she isn't dishy. Anyone looking here for gossip, innuendo and the settling of scores has come to the wrong place. Sheraton conquers but she does not stoop.
And she does it all in 240 pages. One reason is that she writes tightly and tartly. (At least one other well-known "foodie" has published two books, totaling nearly 600 pages, and isn't finished yet.) Another is that she speaks often of wonderful dishes but gives no recipes. Good for her. Recipes are turning up in lots of places they don't really belong these days, including mysteries and popular novels. I usually suspect that means the author hasn't really got the goods, and knows it, and hopes I won't notice. (For much the same reason I resist nutritional puns traditional in this sort of review. I refuse to call this a "bubbling bouillaisse of a book.") The only time she comes close to such nonsense is with her brisk instructions (maybe a dozen words?) for how to make a Jewish chicken--or a chicken Jewish.
Sheraton's 240 pages go rattling by--there's no padding--and because even now I read as an editor, I ticked a few things: I disagree with her use of "ascribe" and "masterful," and former New York City Mayor John Lindsay would, if he could, on personal orthography. Once where she says Michelin I'm almost certain she means Gault-Millau, but that's about it. (Come to think of it, where was the copy editor?) In all, the experience was like those long-gone magazine days: great reading and effortless, too.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor.

Sixpence House
Sixpence House
by Paul Collins
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Books, Wit and Pleasure, July 15 2004
This review is from: Sixpence House (Paperback)
By Bill Marsano. This literate and literary book is an eccentric pleasure filled with sly fun and effortless surprise. Paul Collins was born in Pennsylvania to British immigrants, and the greatest of his inheritances is rootlessness: He has changed addresses as often as underwear and only now that he and his wife, Jennifer, have an infant son does he think to settle permanently.
Collins is a writer and also a lover of books. For him abandoning San Francisco is an easy choice because it's too expensive and because his neighbors, in their painstakingly restored Victorian houses, apparently never read. "All those beautiful built-in bookshelves?" Collins says. "They don't hold any books." Indeed his real-estate agent tells him "You have too many books in here. Home buyers don't like books . . . . Really. You should hide them."
So off they go to Wales, to the famous "book town" of Hay-on-Wye, to buy a house. Collins and wife investigate numerous houses in numerous neighborhoods (my favorite is Cusop Dingle), learn some scary things about British real-estate practices, and commence knitting themselves into the fabric of the community. Collins threads together many incidents and a few adventures; truth to tell, some are but flimsily connected to his narrative. On the other hand, he tells them so well, in such witty and inventive prose, that it hardly matters. It is a delight to hear Collins' explain that you CAN tell a book by its cover; his discussions of some of the wondrously strange forgotten books he's collected ("Hunting Indians in a Taxicab" is one of the best titles; I wonder how he missed "By Horse and Sledge to Outcast Siberian Lepers"?); and listen in on his new career as the "American expert" for Richard Booth, the reelingly eccentric anarchist-genius who made sleepy Hay a used-book capital (and also declared himself king of a secessionist republic and began issuing passports).
I say "hear" because you don't merely read this book: You hear it; it's as if Collins is talking to you directly, because there is that rare quality called "voice" in his writing. If you love real writing or know someone who does, buy this book right away.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor.

Sirio: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque
Sirio: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque
by Sirio Maccioni
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.39
35 used & new from CDN$ 2.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising and Fun, June 12 2004
By Bill Marsano. Can you see yourself reading a couple of hundred pages about the nation's best-known restaurant and restaurateur? Yes, it's all a form of glorified gossip, but if you're interested in the food world and a ton of big names for lagniappe, then you will have a lot of fun here.
Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque is a pretty good story-teller to begin with and he has the able assistance of Peter J. Elliott. The two combine in the early chapters to give an affecting account of Sirio's early life in wartime and postwar Italy ("we lived, we farmed, we got arrested") and then move neatly into his years of building a career, enslaving himself on passenger liners on the high seas and tony restaurants in Paris, New York and elsewhere.
Once he gets to Manhattan things begin to pop and the only fair thing to do is set down some of the notables who talk and/or are talked about in these pages. Stars? Siro's got 'em": Yves Montand, Lauren Bacall, The Burtons ("they came--but just to fight"), the Windsors, Sinatra, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford. Peter Duchin, Claudette Colbert, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren--my what a bunch of clods our present-day stars seem to be by comparison (Britney? J.Lo? Please!). Amonmg princes and politicos there are the Reagans, Nixon, Ford, most Kennedys, Juan Carlos of Spain, King Umberto of Italy, Ferdinand Marcos, Anastasio Somoza, Princess Grace . . . Glitterati: Mrs. Wm. F. Buckley, Babe Paley, Jackie O., Lee Radziwill. Writers: Colman Andrews, James Villas, Michael Batterberry, Truman Capote, Leonard Lyons, Cindy Adams, Liz Smith, Gael Greene, Bryan Miller, Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Julia Child. And more. Many more.
Ho-hum is what I thought when I picked this up, but it proved me wrong. It's fun.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tollerance Approach to Punctuation
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tollerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.18
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Pleasure--and Helpful Instruction, May 10 2004
By Bill Marsano. This charming and useful little (209 pages) book, a surprise best-seller in England, offers short, clear, effective instruction for those who have trouble with punctuation--and a great deal of fun (I laughed out loud at least four times) for those who don't

Lynne Truss sneakily addresses the former by way of the latter. She gives the punctuation-abled a lot of laughs at the expense of the punctuation-challenged, quoting signs, instructions and other items that can seem ridiculous--and even have their meanings made obscure or ridiculous--by poor punctuation. She's not mean-spirited about it, but she is pretty clear that although correct punctuation is something many people happily live without, not knowing how to handle apostrophes and commas and a handful of other simple marks is akin to lacking other basic but non-critical skills, such as tying shoelaces and telling time on a clock that has hands instead of digits.

Besides--the instructions and explanations take up only about half the book, so now you're down to only about 100 pages. And the pages are small, too. Don't tell me you can't handle this.

As for the rest, it's history and anecdote loosely wrapped in light-hearted prose. Truss is British and so is her book, so there will be a few references and locutions that give pause to Americans, but none I think are truly impenetrable. She has delightful stories about famous writers warring over punctuation: George Bernard Shaw hectoring Lawrence of Arabia, for example, and Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, at odds with James Thurber. My favorite chapter is on the semicolon, which is also my favorite punctuation mark. Truss quotes Gertrude Stein, who hated both comma (she called it "servile") and semicolon: "They [semicolons] are more powerful more imposing more pretentious than a comma but they are a comma all the same. They really have within them deeply within them fundamentally within them the comma nature." I have to hand it to Stein: She did a beautiful job of expressing her loathing and she did it with nothing more than the bare minimum: a pair of periods.

I advise reading only one chapter a day, and for two reasons. First, Truss's prose style is occasionally too rich by half (and sometimes ungrammatical). Second, there are only seven chapters, and if you get as much pleasure out of this book as I did, you'll want to make it last.--Bill Marsano, a professional writer and editor, is a devotee of the suspensive hyphen.

Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness --- and Liberalism --- to the Women of America
Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness --- and Liberalism --- to the Women of America
by Myrna Blyth
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Ugly Truths Behind the Pretty Pictures, May 5 2004
By Bill Marsano. Women protest against our culture's impossible standards of physical beauty but refuse to rebel against the women's magazines that promote and profit from them. The May issue of Vogue has Nicole Kidman on the cover yet again. Inside: 12 pages of photos in which she says not a word. Beauty is <that> important to Vogue. Now read the cover credits on page 42: "Actress Nicole Kidman in a Christian Lacroix Haute Couture oyster satin sheath dress. Lorraine Schwartz black-gold-and-diamond earrings. Munnu 18K-gold-and-silver double-strand diamond necklace. Fred Leighton 19th-century diamond flower brooch. Daniel Storto gloves. Makeup: Double Perfection Compact Matte Reflecting Powder Makeup SPF 10, Hydrabase Lipstick in Energy, Quarda Eye Shadow in Blue Notes, Precision Eye Deliner in Blue Jean, Instant Lash Mascara in Black, all by Chanel. Hair, Julien d'Ys; makeup, Stephane Marais for Cle de Beau Beaute . . . . Fashion Editor: Phyllis Posnik. Photographer: Irving Penn." With all that, <anybody> is going to be a knockout.
If that doesn't convince you something's fishy, maybe Myrna Blyth can. She was top kick at Ladies Home Journal for 20 years or so and founding editor of More (for "older" women), and now, plagued with guilt, fesses up to decades of exploiting her readers. What she and her media "sisters" did and do is tyrranize and terrorize women: shape their politics by uncritically pushing a liberal-left agenda; foster health scares; frighten them about their physical safety; bemoan stress; harp relentlessly about their looks and weight. The result is a media culture in which someone like Zoe Baird, Clinton's failed nominee for Attorney General, was painted as desperate and sympathetic, despite her hiring two illegal aliens as housekeeper/nannies (for a $11,000 a year!) and skipping tax and social-security payments. You have to admire the chutzpah--not Baird's but the media's. How desperate could Baird and her husband have been on a combined income of more than $800,000 a year?
The magazines' solution to almost all problems, Blyth says, is simple: Spend More Money. The goverment must spend more tax money on endless new "programs" for this and for that. Readers must spend more money on self-indulgent shopping and relaxing (sorry! I mean "stress relief"!). It will be noticed that a lot of the self-indulgent solutions are represented by four-color ads in the magazines.
Which woman are these magazines really interested in: the poverty-line single mom with two kids struggling with two dead-end jobs out in Podunk? Or the one who has two kids in private school, a supportive husband, a fabulous job, high income with lush benefits, help that at the very least means a nanny and may include a maid and a car service--and <still> complains about stress? Myrna gives a hint: It might be the one who can afford Jimmy Choo shoes, spa visits that cost $600 a day, and long, long baths enhanced by $25 L'Occitane lotions and $30 "aromatherapy" candles.
She fills us in on more--greedy, exploitive, hypocritical celebrities whose media appearances come at a price, both in dollars and editorial integrity, and she notes that those who disagrees with the magazines' political agendas are just not going to be heard from. You go along to get along in the women's mag world, or you do not get a byline.
Then there's photo fakery. It's amazing what can be done with artful lighting and shadowing, and if those don't suffice, digitized photos can be manipulated endlessly. (The most famous photo faker was recently profiled in the New York Times.) One reported example: Some years ago Cindy Crawford was posing for Vogue, in a bikini that had lots of straps going in all directions, and one of them was esthetically at odds with her belly button--which was ditigially removed. Yes--her belly button! No wonder Crawford is quoted as having said "Even I don't look like Cindy Crawford."
She doesn't spend much time on the most cynical of these magazines scams, which I call the Take-Back. First they remorselessly hype the latest fad breakthrough, running glowing stories month after month. Then, when the fad begins to die, they back off with second thoughts. Remember what happened to Quality Time? Well, now it's happening to Botox. Great Cure-All! Everybody's Doing It! You Deserve to Look Younger! Anybody Can! And now, in the same issue of Vogue, there's an article saying maybe Botox isn't such a good idea after all!
Blyth unpretentious, workmanlike prose is clear and brisk, and in the end her has but two flaws. One is that it won't change any minds. Like Bermuda Triangle fanatics, women's magazine addicts can't change. Their delusion means too much to them. The other is the unpleasant odor hanging about Ms. Blyth, who fed profitably at the same trough as her media sisters for twenty years and has been well paid for this book as well. She's as guilty as the rest. She broke no laws but she betrayed her readers, inflicting utterly unnecessary emotional pain, confusion and doubt--for a paycheck. I'm sure she expects to be forgiven.--Bill Marsano is a professional writers and editor.

Walking to Vermont: From Times Square into the Green Mountains -- a Homeward Adventure
Walking to Vermont: From Times Square into the Green Mountains -- a Homeward Adventure
by Christopher S. Wren
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 41.60
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Plodder Slogs Uphill, May 3 2004
By Bill Marsano. I wanted to like this book. I too am a walker, enlisted in the non-combat infantry. Of a proximate age to Wren, I walk all over Manhattan, weekly crossing the Brooklyn Bridge just for breakfast; I have walked in Tuscany and Liguria and on Cornwall's windy, sea-banged coast.

But this is not a book about walking, however much one-foot-in-front-of-the-othering occurs therein. It is about the change of life called retirement, and it is rooted in denial.

The author, age 65, has retired as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He refuses to be a retiree who can't let go, who hangs around to see "how things are going at the office." So far, so good; but I really got no clear idea of his plans other than to "walk into retirement" in that prissiest of New England states, Vermont. That's the one where faux-rustics think the NEW L.L. Bean is the REAL L.L. Bean. (And thank heaven for SUVs, hey?)

Wren's denial is of his age: 65. He doesn't rant and moan about it but he does intrude it at times and in ways that hit the floor like a brick. When he's grateful, for example, that younger hikers don't notice or at least mention his age, I'm embarrassed for him. A tone of defeat creeps in each time, when in fact some hint of triumph is deserved. It is not nothing, after all, to walk at the age of 65 some 400 miles from Times Square and up the Appalachian Trail, even if the destination is Vermont. It is an accomplishment at any age.

Denial damages his walk. He's out of shape, but won't exercise. He has a bad knee, but ignores it; for his arthritic ankle he buys a doctor-prescribed ankle brace ($80!) but leaves it in his pack unused, despite frequent pain. Now about that pack. It weighs 50 pounds! Wren takes far too long to realize that's far too much and even longer to do anything about it. And when a tick bite hints at Lyme disease, Wren dabs it with suntan lotion. That's not brave. It's dumb.

Despite some amusing or informative incidents, Wren's storytelling shows just how retired he and his reportorial curiosity are. He starts themes but doesn't finish them: "Yes, there are bears in the woods, but you don't need to meet them." (So . . . ?) What will the ex-marine he meets do in civilian life? "Go into the family business, sir." (Which is?) Readers seeking compensating tales of foreign-correspondent life will regret it. Wren has too many, most relentlessly dull and clumsily introduced: "Stretching back against the rock . . . . I sought out the Big Dipper . . . . These were the same glorious constellations I had studied one night in the Ogaden desert of Ethiopia, out with a band of guerrillas who were at war with the government." Then it gets worse. Much worse.

Wren convincingly paints the Appalachian Trail as a rather unpleasant experience. Even the young hikers he meets are usually dirty, smelly and exhausted. They use pseudonyms called 'trail names' and don't talk much: Some are social misfits or running from personal troubles, others are just too tired. One is so used up he eats uncooked oatmeal. The worst of Wren's fellow travelers talks too much, however; that would be America's original smug bore, Henry David Thoreau. In a real failure of imagination, Wren lugs some Thoreau along and frequently shares its dead weight with poor us, apparently unaware that this Waldensian faker was a freeloader always running home for a hot lunch cooked by mommy. Quoting him is prima facie evidence of having too little respect for your audience. Just remember this much: When college is over, so is Thoreau. OK?

Come we now to the writing and editing. With the latter we can easily dispense: The publisher evidently did. Surely there was no editor of this book; just someone who had lunch with the author? (Yeesh, what a racket. And all those years I worked for a living.) As for the writing, it never rises above the pedestrian, and I make no pun. It never gets as good as workmanlike and is often visibly worse. Wren inhabits a world in which "battered" taxis drive him to "ramshackle" towns; where the beers are "frosty," the sandwiches "scrumptious" and the steaks--oh my god, the steaks!--are "seared to perfection."
Walkers have a tradition of writing really fine works: RLS, Hilaire Belloc come to mind, as do Wordsworth, Coleridge and Hazlitt, among many others. But then this is not a walking book. It's a plodder.--Bill Marsano is a professional editor and an award-winning writer on travel, and wines and spirits.

A Return to Sunday Dinner
A Return to Sunday Dinner
by Russell Cronkhite
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from CDN$ 4.17

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Dinners for Beginners, April 28 2004
By Bill Marsano. Well! Not so many years ago the "futurists" whose job it is to see what the next few years will bring boldly predicted that Americans would soon eat fully half of their meals outside the home. I laughed; I scoffed; I failed to see the light. Here it is 20 years or so later and the futurists were right. We breakfast at McDonald's and IHOP; we lunch there too; and we eat dinner at "family restaurants" like Sizzler, Outback, Ponderosa and the Olive Garden. Of course when I say 'we' I don't include me, and that's not because I'm a snob who thinks the Rusty Scupper, Mario's Pasta Garden and the like are beneath him (although I wouldn't eat at any of them on a bet). It's just that I just don't like restaurants in general, even the tony and expensive ones. I like to eat at home with friends and family, and I wish more people did. They'd eat better and save a bundle besides.
A fellow who wishes likewise is Russell Cronkhite, who spent 12 years as executive chef of Blair House, the official guest quarters provided to international dignitaries visiting Washington, D.C. When Cronkhite says that what he cooked for important foreign guests was, essentially, "Sunday dinner," he means it in the traditional over-the-river-and-through-the-woods-to-grandmother's-house-we-go, Leave It to Beaver manner. In other words, the sort of dinner that too many of us don't bother with any more.
That's what Cronkhite gives us here, hoping we'll be brave enough to tackle something grand instead of ordering take-out again. The 20 or so complete menus presented run from the ceremonial to the casual to the celebratory, and although they include the occasional nod to the international or the up to date, they're basically all-American standards: roast beef and pan gravy, peppercorn steak, pork (sage-rubbed roast, or chops smothered or stuffed), glazed baked ham, butterflied lamb, chicken and dumplings. You get the picture--this is what the team 'meat and potatoes' was made for, and I doubt any diner will leave Cronkhite's table unsatisfied. Some won't be able to leave at all.
There are handsome and honey photos galore and lots of foodish quotations from notable writers and diners: Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Louis May Alcott and Washington Irving (there are also some quotations that oughtn't to have been quoted at all, but they're made up for by useful do-ahead tips).
It should be noted that this book is aimed at beginners, and the recipes proceed in a very basic, step-by-step manner. No way can anyone go wrong with this book, but cooks of some experience are likely to find that approach irritating, because it's so slow and cautious.So give this to the ambitious beginner--someone who's not afraid to tackle a fairly big project so long as she is assured of complete and reliable guidance. Or he, for that matter. Either way, there's a high probability of success.--Bill Marsano, an award-wining writer on wine, food and travel, cooks often for his family.

A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict
A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict
by John Baxter
Edition: Hardcover
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A Pound of Pleasure, Feb. 23 2004
By Bill Marsano. The very first thing you should know is that this is a book about collecting, not just book collecting. Collecting--the determined search for specific objects on a given theme--is pretty much the same kind of mania for all collectors, whether they're after vintage cars, rare stamps and coins or--as in this case--books, and whether the treasure they seeks are top dollar or bottom. Every kind of collecting develops its own little cultures and subcultures, its side streets and back alleys, its characters loved or hated or legendary. And, of course, its litany of heart-lifting successes and heart-breaking failures. So if you collect (as distinct from accumulate) or if you know a collector, this book is a definite buy.
John Baxter's collecting, which began with science fiction, made him into a short-story writer then a scriptwriter then a novelist and a teacher. He begins his trek in a desolate tank town in Australia, where things start slowly, but he soon moves on--and ups the pace and tension--to London, the U.S. (East Coast and West) and finally Paris. The whole journey runs along like a thrill ride as you join Baxter in a series of adventures and misadventures with his assortment of bookstruck ne-er-do-wells and genial lowlifes.
There are only pluses to this book. Plenty of amusing incidents and anecdotes, lots of inside information about book collecting (appplicable to collecting in general) and to top it all off, superb writing. Baxter writes vivid, imaginative, entertaining prose. He is a delight to read.--Bill Marsano is an award-winning travel writer, an editor and a desultory book collector.

Sicilian Odyssey
Sicilian Odyssey
by Francine Prose
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.20
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1.0 out of 5 stars For a Good Time, Don't Call Francine, Feb. 20 2004
This review is from: Sicilian Odyssey (Hardcover)
By Bill Marsano. This is a small book but a large achievement. In less than 40,000 words (about one-third the length of the average novel) Francine Prose commits almost every sin in, as the say, the book. It can't have been easy.
Prose is a novelist of some reputation, chosen probably because the editor thinks novelists are Real Writers who will lend credibility to travel writing, which is, after all, journalism's sandbox. (Also because they know travel books by novelists are routinely over-praised.)
Prose's passion for Sicily is dubious. Although she claims often and unconvincingly that she wishes to be re-born a Sicilian, she has visited but once before--10 years ago. Such devotion is a little on the cool side, is it not?
Does she have some insights to ipart? Indeed, she tells us traffic in Palmermo is 'homicidal'; that Catanians love sweets immoderately; that Sicilian life 'burns at a high heat'; that the Ancient Greeks wouldn't recognize Sicily today; the Sicilian food is not subtle; that Sicilians have a gift for overcoming tragedy that is specifically their own. Her silly comments on the Sicilian aristocracy are at least mildly amusing.
And her writing is both awful and lazy. She writes in the present tense--the lazy way of getting to the bottom of the page, of getting it over with, with a minimum of effort. ("Name" writers love book assignments like this because they pay well, but their work ethic often deserts them. They think they're on vacation.) Like so many other bad travel writers, Prose is short of imagination: She can't get past the first graf without reaching for "magical," the travel hack's favorite word.
She piles up words instead of really writing. For example, when she wants to tell us that 'many pilgrims in a religious procession carry candles' (that's eight words) she says instead that they "carry long yellow candles they will light in the course of their peregrination around the holy sites associated with the saint scattered through the old quarter" (that's twenty-six). What we want from a writer is some electricity in the words, some vigor, some sign of delight in mastery of language. Prose gives us prose, not poetry--drab, bloated, prosaic prose, comma-crippled and tedious.
She uses crutches so often I began counting them. Eternally indecisive, she says 'seems' more than 60 times, occasionally switching to 'perhaps,' 'almost,' 'maybe' and 'a little like.' She finds things 'disturbing' nine times and also leans on 'perilous,' 'upsetting,' 'alarming' and 'spooky.' Well of course: The Real Writer does NOT enjoy herself, especially because she is in Sicily "to discover what this island has learned and can teach us about the triumph of beauty over violence of life over death." (Really?)
Prose often mentions 9/11 as if she were the only one affected by it. She experiences "panic" at an old castle and again while planning to visit Mozia, a tiny island a few yards off the coast: ". . . what if the fisherman who ferries us out there gets distracted and forgets about us, and we're stuck out there all night? What if we're stranded, exposed to the elements, alone with the spirits of the Phoenician traders who first came to Mozia in the eighth century B.C. and who lived in harmony with their Greek neighbors until the Carthaginian wars, when Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse, using catapults, missiles and battering rams--state-of-the-art tools of fourth-century warfare--destroyed the settlement and much of its population?"
What if, indeed. This is drama-queen panic--she's still in her hotel. If stranded, she can just return to the island's museum and tell the attendant. And why on earth would she write or commit such a gross and clumsy sentence to begin with?
Apart from the awful writing, Prose misquotes Goethe and commits numerous grammatical and spelling errors. Everyone connected with this shabby performance should be embarrassed, copy editor included.--Bill Marsano is a professional magazine editor and an award-winning travel writer.

100 Best Ranch Vacations in North America: The Top Guest and Resort Ranches with Activities for All Ages
100 Best Ranch Vacations in North America: The Top Guest and Resort Ranches with Activities for All Ages
by Gavin Ehringer
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Just What You Need to Pick a Vacation, Pardner, Feb. 18 2004
By Bill Marsano. The lure of the Old West and the Open Range is as powerful for those who want to get back in the saddle again as for those who have never so much as fallen off a horse in the first place. And so the dude ranch was born--a place where city slickers could go to grow saddle-sore and be laughed at, made mock by the few genuine cowboys--sorry, that should be "hands"--still on the ranch. Or spread. Well, that was then. Dude ranches have grown up so much that few use the term any more. These days what we have are ranch vacations.
They're not all the same, and to tell them apart you need a guide like this, which covers 100 ranches in 19 states (including, oddly enough, New York) and two Canadian provinces. Now most anybody can fling together a lot of data--phone numbers, addresses, rates, etc.--but Gavin Ehringer has done a better and more complete job than most (in one entry he notes that a ranch accepts Visa but actually prefers personal checks). Ehringer gives a lot more. Each ranch is introduced by a one-page essay that captures the spirit of the place and helps you tell one from another. Do you want a family vacation, kids and all? A place where you break most of your broncos poolside? Or a real, tall-in-the-saddle spread that will make you earn your memories with a few blisters and sore muscles? Ehgringer helps you sort that out.
And if that's not enough, there's a beautifully shot photo essay of vacation-ranch life that will have you humming "Don't Fence Me In" in no time.--Bill Marsano is an award-winning travel writer.

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