Book Review July 2011

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This month brings with it a beach bag of books—a fun summer read and a very funny memoir about the coolest job you could ever get right out of college!

Let’s start with the non-fiction—Dog Days: A Year in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile by Dave Ihlenfeld.

Dave was a college senior at the University of Missouri with no clear idea of what he wanted to do after graduating with a broadcast journalism degree. When Oscar Mayer recruited on campus for Hotdoggers to spend a year driving around the country in the famous Weinermobile, he figures he’ll give it a shot and gets hired, much to his amazement. Interspersed with his stories of training at Hot Dog High, meeting his travel team, and touring the back roads, state fairs, and grocery store parking lots of America are fascinating snippets of the history of the Oscar Mayer family, the origins of the Weinermobile, and the genesis of two of the most famous advertising jingles ever.

This is not On the Road or Blue Highways, but if you are looking for a fun road trip story to take along on your own road trip, this is perfect. Most entertaining is finding out what goes on behind the scenes during promotional tours; what looks like fun when you stop by the Weinermobile for a whistle is a little less enjoyable when you are the person distributing whistles all day in the hot sun. Despite his minor gripes (dealing with laundry, conflicts within his team, an overheating Weinermobile), the author’s writing is upbeat and cheerful. He obviously enjoyed his stint with Oscar Mayer and he’ll make you wish you had spent a year getting paid to travel the country after college. One caveat: This book is not vegetarian friendly!

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo is one of my favorite books, so I was interested when I saw he had a new novel, The Talk Funny Girl. The new novel is different from Breakfast with Buddha, but Merullo’s compassion for humanity shines through in the same way. Marjorie Richards is the title character—she has been raised by her isolated, paranoid parents in a house miles from the closest economically–depressed small town. Her family is so cut off from the community that they speak in a peculiar familial dialect; she is punished if she speaks any other way at home. Marjorie’s normal is anything but—the strange language, her parents’ abusive behavior, and the family’s adherence to a backwoods church led by a sadistic preacher make her existence a harsh and lonely one.

An opportunity for change comes when she is offered a job helping a stonemason build a small “cathedral” in the center of town; her family needs the money, so she is allowed to take the job. Merullo beautifully limns her growth in skill and confidence as she realizes her life does not have to be circumscribed by her parents’ ignorance and viciousness. There are subplots and family history that add texture and substance to the story, but it is Marjorie’s blooming that keeps the reader hooked. If you enjoy tales of human resilience, read this.

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.
 

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