Tag Archives: true story

Working 9 to 5

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $14.95, 240 pages)

The Receptionist

Then there was the shame of the writer who doesn’t write. The me who carried within my breast in equal shares the conviction that I could write and the certainty that I could not.

Longtime fans of The New Yorker magazine are the perfect audience for this memoir. Ms. Groth writes of her 20+ years as a receptionist on the 18th floor of the building where the magazine offices were located. The floor housed 40 writers and six or more cartoonists. The reception desk can be likened to a ringside seat at a much-loved and revered weekly publication.

The opening chapters serve as a low-key introduction to Ms. Groth, a newly-minted graduate of the University of Minnesota with aspirations of becoming a writer. The move to New York City was like going to a foreign land after living in the Mid-West. These slowly-evolving vignettes are strung together to illustrate her rather humble beginnings at the magazine.

The vignettes offer the reader glimpses into a world of art and literature based in Manhattan where the game of six degrees of separation can be traced back to Ms. Groth’s earliest years – beginning in 1957, right up to her “graduation” to the world of college teaching in 1978 after earning a PhD in literature from NYU. Her grammar is impeccable and the evenly-paced narrative becomes remarkably open with many elements of her life that are both risque and expected for life in Manhattan during the sexual revolution. It is as if the reader is delving into all aspects of Ms. Groth’s life after getting to know her.

A young woman whose job is receptionist in a rarefied circumstance sees and hears rather remarkable things. She can become indispensable to the staff and literally become part of their lives outside of work. This is especially true when she is a constant presence in an otherwise changing array of personnel. Clearly, some of the long-time and revered writers and editors form the nucleus of the staff and their interactions with Ms. Groth are fascinating.

Today it would be unusual for an employee to maintain a receptionist position for such a long time in one department or company or area of an organization. To her credit, Ms Groth provides the reader with an even-handed account of her ownership of what transpired over her two decades at The New Yorker. It is a sui generis true story.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Win a copy of Huck!

We recently posted a review of Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder.   I gave Huck our highest rating as a read, Highly Recommended.   This one is so good that David Letterman said, “You’ll feel better about everything after you read this.”

Now, thanks to the publisher (Broadway Books), we have three (3) copies of Huck to give away to our readers.   This trade paperback is 301 pages long – with a new Afterward – and has a retail value of $15.00.   We’re also adding two additional copies of Huck that we picked up, and a hard-to-find pre-publication galley (Advance Review Copy) that we located; the latter version runs 295 pages in length.   So, if Sasha the kitten is right – she’s counting on her paws – we’ll have not 1, 2, 3 or even 5 winners, but six (6) winners in this contest!

To enter this giveaway, tell us why you would like to win a copy of this particular story.   This is open-book, so feel free to read or re-read the review (“The Pick of the Litter”) that I posted on this site on October 30, 2011; and/or any other reviews or information that you can locate on the internet.   Post your response as a comment below including an e-mail address where you can be contacted, or send your reply as an e-mail to: Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.

For a second entry, tell us about the most important or unique animal you’ve encountered in your life.   This can be an animal that you or your family owned, or one that was owned by a neighbor, or even one that you visited in a zoo.   What did you learn from this animal?   Again, you can post your response below or submit it as an e-mail message. In order to be eligible to enter and win this contest, you must live in the continental United States or Canada and be able to supply a residential (street) address if contacted.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or business-related address.   You have until 12:00 p.m./midnight on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.   However, the winners may be selected and notified before then depending on the quality of the entries received – so don’t delay!  

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Let’s hope that you’re one of the readers that will soon be adding a copy of Huck: The Remarkable Story of… One Lost Puppy to your library!

Joseph Arellano

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The Pick of the Litter

Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder (Broadway; $15.00; 301 pages)

“…our little dog, our Huck, had from the very beginning made all of us forget about cancer and its debilitating emotional and physical effects…   From the moment he arrived, Huck brought a lot of love into all our lives.”

I happened to pick up this true tale while encountering a bit of rough sledding and it was the perfect choice.   This is a book that will restore your faith in both humanity and the Universe, with a capital “U.”   I’m not the only person who feels this way – comedian David Letterman said about Huck, “You’ll feel better about everything after you read this.”

Janet Elder and her husband Rich, who live in New York City, finally give in to their son’s pleas to have a dog; pleas which began when Michael was just four.   Years later – after Janet has survived a battle with cancer – they get Michael a red-haired toy poodle named Huck.   Huck appears to be the answer to many prayers until he’s left at a relative’s home while the Elders vacation in Florida.   A neighborhood car accident creates a situation in which Huck gets loose and runs away from the house in Ramsey, New York.   Ramsey is a bucolic rural community with woods populated with coyotes, raccoons and other dangerous predators (possibly even including bears).   It also has high-speed roads that cut through the area, making the odds of survival for a lost animal even slimmer.   Since Huck had never been to Ramsey before, the odds of him returning “home” are extremely unlikely.

Twenty-four hours into their much-needed vacation trip, the Elders learn that Huck has gone missing.   They speed back to Ramsey to look for the lost dog.   The details of the long hunt for Huck are best left for the reader to discover; however, what’s amazing about this true story is the way in which an entire community elected to help the Elders by attempting to find a very small dog lost in a large and dangerous, lightly populated wilderness area.   Each of the volunteers involved brought different skills to the search, with one in particular deciding that they needed to think like an animal (e.g., animals generally re-cross their earlier paths) in order to locate Huck.

“Huck…  is a constant reminder of the simple virtues that matter most in life – loyalty, humor, patience, companionship, and unconditional love.”

Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat or other animal go missing will definitely identify with the Elders, although you need not currently own a pet to relate to this wonderful, highly life-affirming, amazingly true story.   Need your spirits lifted?   If so, Huck may well do the job!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The trade paperback version of the New York Times Bestseller contains an Afterward updating the story’s events since its original publication.

“Elder shows us humanity in its best light and we are uplifted.”   The New York Times

“Your faith in humanity – and dogs – will be restored.”   Lincoln Star Journal

“This dog book actually makes you feel better about people.”   O, The Oprah Magazine

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder.

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The Man Who Couldn’t Eat – Event Notice

What happens when a man who is obsessed with food is denied the taste of it?

“I have spent years of my life obsessing about my weight, feeling guilt over every mouthful.   Jon Reiner’s magnificent and devastating memoir accomplished the impossible.   It made me shut up and enjoy my food.”   Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road

“An engrossing and candid memoir…  fearless and singular.”   Publishers Weekly

On February 13, 2009, Jon Reiner – a James Beard Foundation Award-winning food writer – had just returned home with the week’s groceries (a task for this stay-at-home dad) when a near-fatal complication from his chronic battle with Crohn’s disease left him writhing on the floor in pain.   He was in desperate need of medical attention.

After emergency surgery to save his life, Reiner was placed on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), meaning he was to receive nothing by mouth for 3 full months…  No food, no water, nothing but nutrition delivered by intravenous means.

“For a hospital patient, a (TPN) order is a condemnation.   It translates…  to: ‘starving on intravenous drip while your roommate groans over the vulcanized chicken, limp penne, and lumpy custard on his tray.'”

This memoir is the story of how Reiner’s body and his marriage – which had suffered from the stress of a chronic and potentially fatal illness – came to be healed at a difficult time in his life.   Kirkus Reviews called it, “An amazing, incredible tale.”   John McEnroe said, “I will never take eating for granted again.   Wow!   What a roller coaster.   All I kept thinking was, you cannot be serious!   But he was.”

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat: A Memoir (Gallery Books; $25.00; 320 pages) was released on September 6, 2011.   Readers in northern California who are interested have a chance to see Jon Reiner on Monday, October 17, 2011, at The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco.   This reading and book signing event begins at 7:30 p.m.

You may want to eat dinner before you attend!

Joseph Arellano

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