The Death of Carrot Top


Jason, from the evening of December 31, 1995, to December 25, 1999, made a living (or at least tried to make a living) with prop comedy. He of course was a fan of Gallagher, which was rare for a non-working-class male attending graduate school for theoretical physics, but after seeing a Carrot Top show in Las Vegas at a New Year’s Eve party with his then fiancé, he fell in love. Prior to Carrot Top becoming a terrifying musclebound version of himself and part-time spokesman for AT&T commercials, he was just that awkward ginger with his twin steamer trunks of homemade props with too much time on his hands and no competent delivery whatsoever.

Jason tried making his own props, and take it from me, they were terrible. He took a page from Carrot Top and bought about two dozen fake NFL helmets for various teams, rigging each one into a tissue dispenser depending on which teams were performing poorly that year, the obvious joke being that fans of a certain team would be in tears for most of the season, so they might as well wallow in misery while at the same time showing their team spirit. After his fiancé left him, Jason tried inserting tissue dispensers into every item for as many occupations as possible. He started doing open-mic nights, a more composed Carrot Top without the showmanship of Gallagher, advertising nailguns, tablesaws, sewing machines, electric typewriters, cobblers’ benches, paint buckets, chainsaws, cutting boards, industrial-sized ovens, and movie cameras with tissue dispensers inserted in them. It was his only joke. He became absolutely consumed with it, even taking the joke to a meta-level by creating a prop comedian’s work bench that was nothing more than a giant tissue box.

Nobody applauded at his jokes/props (I still hesitate to call any prop an actual joke) but every once in a while they’d laugh at one of his helmets. Most people would think this lack of enthusiasm at his own act would dishearten him, but he wasn’t really passionate about performing prop comedy, he wanted to be a prop comedy scholar more than anything, the kind of person who couldn’t do it very well but who could teach it to pretentious young adults. The sad thing about Carrot Top, he theorized, was that he had little to no talent, charisma, or even stage presence. His seemingly nonchalant presentation (the twin steamer chests, his prop-comedy equivalent of one-liners, his act of letting his props fall to the floor after he’d sucked all the jokiness out of them as if to signify that he really didn’t give a shit about his act or the props he’d made) was undercut by his eagerness. He wanted to be the Mitch Hedberg of prop comedy, Jason claimed, but he lacked Hedberg’s charismatic lack of charisma and instead exuded the naive energy and cloying eagerness of a five-year-old who just wants to show his parents’ friends all his cool new toys. There was a certain charm to Carrot Top, sure, but that charm long outlived its welcome after he showed off his middle-finger-shaped envelope he claimed to mail to the IRS every April. And somewhere between that middle-finger-shaped envelope and the plush dog with the tube sticking out of its imaginary anus, the audience grew weary not only of Carrot Top but of the generation he was trying to represent, the people coming of age in the mid- to late-nineties who wanted something to be done for comedy that Dave Foster Wallace had done for literature and that Nirvana had done for music.

This all changed on the evening of Christmas, 1999. Unlike the beginning of his passion, which had begun at the end of a year, this ending was disappointingly anticlimactic because the ending began only near the end of the year and not at the proper end of the year, which would be understandably disappointing to a perfectionist or anybody who cares about the dates in one’s life holding significance, whether that significance comes from events simply being attached to those dates or for more obscure numerological reasons, like when tragedies in a particular person’s life all occur on months and days whose sequence in the year are all prime numbers. But even if Jason’s disillusionment with prop comedy didn’t come at the end of a particular year, it at least came on Christmas, and the disillusionment took place in Las Vegas, the same city and, in fact, the same hotel auditorium where his love affair with prop comedy had begun. So even if the time wasn’t significant, the place was.

Carrot Top was performing again, just as he had been almost four years prior. He produced a lamp made out of prophylactics from one of the chests, let it fall, and the lightbulb shattered. Usually, Carrot Top would have expressed a combination of shame and sadness at destroying his own handiwork. He’d even have a goodhearted chuckle at himself, laughing at himself instead of one of his own jokes for a change. But instead, he just shrugged and said, “Oh well, it wasn’t a very good one anyway.”

At which point, Jason stood up in his seat, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted for the entire lobby to hear, “Bullshit! You can’t just do that! You’re Carrot Top! Make us feel bad about ourselves for being here!”

The audience fell silent. Who was this man? Why did he care so much about Carrot Top and his mediocre act? Most of the patrons that night weren’t even there to watch Carrot Top for Carrot Top’s sake. They were just there for the buffet, and if a red-haired prop comic was the backdrop for their lavish, overloaded eating experience, so be it. This was Vegas, after all, the place where the luxurious, the banal, and the vapid all culminated in the kind of week-long binge that felt like a joint hosting effort by Dionysus and an IRS agent.

Carrot Top, meanwhile, laughed at himself again. That was all he knew how to do.

“What the hell’s the matter, man?” the comedian asked.

“You know what’s the matter,” Jason called again. This was no longer heckling. This was a challenge. Carrot Top, Jason felt, was no longer being true to himself or what his comedy had originally meant. “You pick that lamp back up and treat it with love!”

“I’m not doing that,” Carrot Top said, “I’ll cut myself.”

“What happened to you?” Jason screamed. “You used to be so genuine. Now look at you!”

“Security? Somebody? Can we get this guy out of here?”

Jason’s fiancé at the time (fortunately not the one he had lost so many years before) shielded her face from onlookers as hotel security gripped Jason beneath his armpits and carried him screaming out of the auditorium.

“Carrot Top doesn’t care anymore!” he kept calling toward the stage, never once breaking eye contact with his former hero/object of study.

As soon as Jason and his two escorts were out the door, he heard Carrot Top say, “Let’s hear a round of applause for that man, eh?” The audience, in response, erupted in ironic laughter and applause, grateful to be able to laugh at something that, they all knew, wasn’t worthy of either laughter or applause, but the fact that the situation was neither funny nor applause-worthy made it all the more entertaining. And as Jason sat on the street corner in front of the hotel, he knew part of the 90s had died (or was close to dying) in that auditorium. Carrot Top (the person, the bodily, physical entity) hadn’t died and probably wouldn’t die for many years to come, but his spirit had. With Mitch Hedberg dead, what was left? What would people pretend to laugh at now?

Prairie Dog Empire in Nebraska

If you haven’t picked up this book yet, it’s a title you should definitely consider if you’re interested in ecology.

UNP blog

Yesterday Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers tried to persuade fellow lawmakers to repeal a law that allows county officials to kill black-tailed prairie dogs on private property but the bill didn’t receive enough votes to pass.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are native to Nebraska and are the focus of Paul A. Johnsgard’s book Prairie Dog Empire: A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie (Bison Books, 2014).

This book tells the complex biological and environmental story of the western Great Plains under the black-tailed prairie dog’s reign—and then under a brief but devastating century of human dominion.

An introduction to the ecosystem of the shortgrass prairie, Prairie Dog Empire describes in clear and detailed terms the habitat and habits of black-tailed prairie dogs; their subsistence, seasonal behavior, and the makeup of their vast colonies; and the ways in which their “towns” transform the surrounding terrain—for better or for worse. Johnsgard recounts how this terrain…

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Without Layla, Part 8: X-Treme Edge Edition

It looks like in this post I was trying to further establish the “edgier” aspects of Freddy’s character. Something tells me I laid it on too thick, but we’ll see.


We also find out that his mother suffers from some kind of heart problem and that he has an obsessions with fedoras and atheism. No surprises there.

18/1/15: Day Eight Sans Layla

I managed to forget about Layla for a while. I spent my entire day downtown while my mom was picking up her heart medication at the pharmacist’s.

I purchased a new fedora with some of the Christmas money. It costed almost $100, but it was worth it. It has a red-silk band and also has a red-and-black plaid pattern. I might post a picture of it one of these days. Some people might think it’s odd to spend so much money on a hat, but fedoras have always been one of my favorite accessories. Plus, my other two fedoras are getting a bit old.

Meanwhile, I went to a bookstore to look at the new fantasy books. The selection was pitiful. The store stocked all kinds of old-school literature and modern poets (who the hell even reads poetry these days?) but had the same selection of Piers Anthony books they’ve probably kept on the shelves since 2002. But it wasn’t all bad. I had some fun. Just as a way to get back at them (all in good-taste, of course) I took some of the Bibles from the religion section and placed them in the fantasy section. I guess you could say I restocked their fantasy selection. 😉


In all, this was the only good day I’ve had since Layla left me. Plus, tomorrow’s MLK Day, probably my favorite holiday next to Thanksgiving. I still missed Layla today, although not as much as I’ve missed her before. My happiness is likely temporary. However, I think I’ve taken away one lesson from today: no matter what horrible things are going on in your life, whether it be ex-girlfriend problems, your favorite hats getting old, or even bookstores not catering to your tastes, there’s always something positive in everything.

Layla, until we get back together, I just want to let you know I’m strong enough to endure.

Without Layla, Part 7: Terrible Candy Edition

Here’s another shorter post. We find Freddy laying off the phone messages and emails for now, but he’s still obsessing over Layla. Here he reminisces about seeing The Avengers with her. Not only does he have bad taste in movies, he also has a terrible taste in candy when he mentions he eats Milk Duds.

Fact: Milk Duds haven’t been in production since 1967. Every box is just filled with old candy from a giant warehouse in Utah.

I’m also surprised to see to that I gave Freddy a certain poetical streak. At least, he seems interested in poetry. I have a feeling this whole poetry thing leads to something terrible, though.

17/1/15: Day Seven Sans Layla

For the last two days I have refrained from calling or emailing Layla. Already, the anticipation of waiting for a response from her is almost killing me.

I’ve never been much of a poet or a writer. But I suddenly feel like I should write something for her. Something to let her know how I feel and how she makes me feel. Before I can write something like that, though, I need to keep the concept of “Layla” clear and lucid in my mind. I need to focus on it, hone in on it to better understand my subject.

So I’ll write down another story about Layla.

It was our first date. We were both seniors in high school. Both of us were members of the speech and debate team, and Layla had just experienced a difficult break-up with a track-star at our school, another senior, Jake Matthewson.

As I’ve said, this was our first date. She’d taken a big risk deciding to give me a try, but believe me, she wasn’t disappointed.

She picked me up at my house at 7:00 on Friday night. We went to see The Avengers, as per my suggestion.

She purchased the tickets, I bought the Milk Duds. She smelled like strawberries and wore a green blouse that very much complimented her eyes. Earlier in the school year, I’d admired her beauty from afar and during practice. The small love notes I left in her locker throughout my previous years of high school and middle school weren’t a waste of my time (or so I thought; hindsight is always 20/20).

But now, that perfect portrait of young love that was Freddy and Layla has been destroyed. Layla, what in the world happened to us?

Without Layla, Part 6: Happy Birthday, Daddy

Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3, Pt.4, Pt.5

It looks like things are only getting worse for Freddy. It’s been almost a week since his breakup and to make matters worse he forgot his own father’s birthday! That’s okay, though, because at least he’s dedicated this blog post to his father.

If I were to expand this series of posts into a story, this is where the action would begin to pick up. Along with a disturbed mind and a sense of entitlement, Freddy now has to deal with a possible conspiracy against him. How will he find his way out of this one?

16/1/15: Day Six Sans Layla (Happy Birthday Daddy Edition)

Here I am, almost an entire week without my former girlfriend. And to think, Layla has taken up most of my thoughts this week. I didn’t even realize today was my dad’s birthday until my mom called me this morning to remind me.

He’s forty-five today. I’m surprised he’s already that old, because he doesn’t even look thirty-five. I called him a few hours ago to wish him a happy birthday, and I was surprised that we managed to get into a pretty long conversation. We talked for almost an hour. I was twenty minutes late for my only class of the day, but with the conversation my dad and I had, I don’t mind.

We started out with the typical greetings. Dad’s construction company is doing well. He’s hired two new Hungarian immigrants and he seems excited about having them work for him. Then he started asking about Layla. My parents still don’t know about the breakup. I’ll try to re-create the conversation as best I can.

Dad: So how are things with Layla?

Me: We’re fine, I guess.

Dad: Any plans with her over the weekend?

Me: Probably just dinner and a movie. I went to church with her family on Sunday, and for some reason I think her dad is annoyed with me.

Dad: Annoyed with you? About what?

Me: Who knows. Nothing really happened there, but Layla doesn’t seem to be taking it too seriously.

Dad: Huh. That’s odd. I’d heard somewhere you and her were having a falling-out.

Me: What? No, we aren’t. Where did you hear about this?

Dad: One of Layla’s cousins, his name’s Joseph, started working with me last summer. He’s a great guy, by the way. Anyway, he said Layla called him about three days ago. He told me Layla was afraid of you for some reason. He said she sounded really concerned.

Me: Hmmmm. I was not aware of this.

[we continue talking about what’s going on in town for a few minutes]

Dad: (loud male voice shouting behind him, I can’t tell what it’s saying) Sorry, Fred, they need some help back there. Thanks for calling. You gonna be around for dinner this weekend?

Me: Yeah, I’ll be coming home for the weekend.

I hung up and went to class. The whole time, my heart was pounding and I couldn’t concentrate. What had Layla been saying to other people? She’d already told people about what happened Sunday, so I can’t help but wonder if she’s been telling other people about the more intimate aspects of our relationship. But why stop there? What if she’s deliberately spreading lies and rumors about me? She’s already told her cousin Joseph she’s “afraid of me,” whatever that means. Needless to say, the possibility that Layla may be spreading vicious rumors about me is present.

Without Layla, Part 5: Foot Edition

Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3, Pt.4

Yeah, this is gonna get weird.

I’m glad I’m doing this retrospective. Usually I like to delete or destroy whatever I wrote a few years ago, but looking back on this series is surprisingly entertaining at times. Freddy is a lot more disturbing than I remember, so he might make a good character in a novel or short story in the future. I’ll have to see.

As the title suggests, this is the foot-themed. Sorry if this entry is even more “off” than the last one. Don’t blame me, blame my past self.

Also of note is that Freddy seems to change who he addresses in his blog now. Rather than addressing each blog post to Layla, he now addresses his readers, adopting the tone of a reporter in a war zone. It just so happens that the war is going on inside his brain and his brain is more dysfunctional than North Korea.

Again, sorry if this disgusts any of you.

15/1/15: Day Five Sans Layla

For this Weekend: Okay, I don’t know what to do anymore. My parents just told me that this weekend they will not be driving me to GameStop. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do this weekend. All my other friends will be out of town. Just my luck I make friends with only out-of-towners. Damn. So if anybody from Cleveland is reading this and wants to hang out, I’m open and down for anything.

I realized today one of my hats was missing from my closet. I spent all morning looking for it and even missed two of my classes. It reminds me of how I’ve been searching and wandering aimlessly for Layla these past five days. Already it feels like months have gone by.

While I focus on getting Layla back, it’s important that I focus on her as much as possible. I need to channel my energies whenever time allows me (which will be difficult, considering all the programming coursework I have this semester). So here’s some more information about Layla you may be interested in knowing. And since this is the Internet, I’ve put it in list form.

1. She always keeps two pairs of shoes at all times. No more, no less. When she buys or receives a new pair, she throws one of her existing pairs out.

2. Her shoe size is 7 1/2. From what she’s told me, her shoe size hasn’t changed since fifth grade.

3. Though she currently lives in Ohio, she was born in Indiana and lived there until she was five years old.

4. Layla was originally born with six toes on her left foot. She had the extra toe removed shortly after she was born. (Layla’s Mom told me this when she was drunk. She told me to never tell Layla or anybody else.)

5. Layla’s first pet was a ferret named Whiskey. Whiskey died in 2006.

I’ll try to keep you all updated.

Without Layla, Part 4

Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3

I started looking through this fictional blog I wrote over two years ago to see my creative process in action. So far it’s been embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as I’d expected.

2017 is coming closer to an end, and it’s that time of year when we have to reflect on how much (or how little) we’ve accomplished in the past year, and I can say just by reading these old blog posts that my skill and tact as a writer have definitely improved. I haven’t done much this year, but improving my writing is something to be proud of.

Anyhow, this entry seems like an attempt at backstory. For some reason, Freddy had a strange obsession with eating out hardwood floors when he was younger. He also doesn’t close the entry like a letter this time.


Seriously, I have no memory writing this. It sucks, but it’s mercifully short. And if it’s disgusting, forgive me. I’m a changed man now.

14/1/15: Day Four Sans Layla

When I was four years old my parents had a hardwood floor. This is a story my parents keep telling me, by the way. Anyhow, when I was four years old, my parents had a hardwood floor and it was in horrible condition. Sometimes, if I hadn’t eaten for a while, I would throw myself on the floor and lick it. Now, this is the part my dad especially likes to relate. Sometimes when I licked the floor, I would seek out a hole in it, a hole which used to be filled by a knot. And, according to my dad, I’d stick my tongue in it and I’d start licking it. My dad would say, “You’d say, ‘It tastes just like nuts!’”

That’s the kind of taste and odor I remember in the Thompkins’ house. That’s the kind of taste and odor Layla always had on her. Layla was the kind of woman who bathed too much, shaved too much, too, as I’ve said before. But no amount of soap and water could get rid of that hardwood-floor smell.

I’ve found it in other places as well. I once had Layla buy me a box of Turkish delight at Walmart, the kind with hazelnuts in it. That was a letdown. Big nuggets of jelly candy with one-and-a-half nuts per piece. And they tasted like a hardwood floor.

Layla, I called you again and you didn’t answer. Why are you doing this?

I drove by the Applebee’s you work at today. Your manager said you weren’t scheduled for today, and I thought he was lying. He said he wasn’t lying. I asked if you’d ever said anything about me. He responded in the negative. Somehow that didn’t convince me.

I’m halfway through the week. Usually this is a good time for me. But it isn’t. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, but somehow I feel guilty for no reason.

Are you going to respond just once, Layla? Are you going to show your face ever again? I know you’re avoiding me. This isn’t a matter of love anymore, this is a matter of facing the facts.

Without Layla, Part 3

Another day, another feeble attempt from Freddy to be “intellectual” and passive aggressive. Something I’d forgotten when writing this series two years ago was that a lot of the entries end like letters. It also looks as if Freddy is replacing “without” with “sans”again. No surprise there. Even back then I was trying to keep Freddy in-character as a pretentious young man trying to seem smarter than he actually is.

I remember writing this entry pretty well because it involves cars, specifically a 2006 Buick LeSabre.

It definitely looks like something a retired librarian would drive.

So far it’s been enlightening looking through my past efforts of trying to tell a story through a series of blog posts. These are essentially online diary entries that, depending on the narrator’s intentions, can inadvertently distort the truth. Even though my attempt here was to tell a humorous story with a laughable protagonist, I can still see other writers making good use of a medium like this.

So without further ado, here is Freddy’s lament.

13/1/15: Day Three Sans Layla

So far, I have sent thirteen emails to Layla. She hasn’t responded to any of them. Between Sunday and today, I have also left twenty-five messages on her voicemail. I don’t know if she’s listening to them, but I hope she does. Every voicemail, every email, every plea I’ve made was over an hour in prewriting and planning. Layla, I don’t think you realize how much you’re tormenting me.

You’re forcing ignorance upon both of us. You’re keeping your ears and mind shut to everything I’ve been telling you. And you won’t tell me anything about why you decided to break up with me. That one day at church with your family could not have been enough to destroy our relationship, Layla.

I’ve purposefully avoided the places in town you frequent, just to spare both of us. I’m trying my best to make this easy for you. I want to ease into this, let you know how I feel, what I think through email and phone first before we get into the heavier stuff.

You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, Layla.

Remember that car you bought last year? Because I sure do. I guess it’s just my rotten luck to still love you, considering how flawed you are, Layla.

A 2006 Buick LaSabre. Not the best car for a young lady, but it worked for you. I’m surprised you picked something so reasonable. You told me you bought it with your own money. It costed only $6000, because, in your words, “Nobody wants LaSabres. Especially younger people. A lot of people think they’re old-person cars, but they’re safe, reliable, and inexpensive.”

Looking back on your infantile banter now, I can’t help but laugh. Your attempt to sound mature the day you showed me your new LaSabre was just that: an attempt … a charade.

You picked me up at my parents’ house and wouldn’t even let me drive you home. Do you realize how embarrassing that was? You had to have known. It wasn’t easy having to still live with my parents. The humiliation and sense of defeat I have to live with every day is something I don’t think any young woman like yourself could understand or handle. Worse yet, you even made a point of saying, “Freddy, I can’t let you drive. You don’t even have a license.”

Don’t think I didn’t see you rolling your eyes. Once again, me not having a license is yet another symptom of me being confined to my parents’ house. As soon as the weekends arrive, I’m forced back to their house, losing a piece of myself every time I sleep in their basement. When you rolled your eyes, Layla, you seemed to think not having a driver’s license or proper I.D. was a sign of laziness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, not having a license is a sign of confinement, imprisonment by one’s own parents as they force you to love them and never encourage you to get a license. They never mentioned driving to me, or anything about employment or the outside world. My parents were and are a part of what’s ruining my life. And the way you humiliated me only ruined my life further.

How could a woman ever understand? A man, being forced to ride shotgun with his girlfriend. And his lady, too callous and immature to understand the struggles her master was going through.

Later, after you finally pulled into the Burger King drive-thru as I requested (it was late in the evening, and I was very hungry), you took figurative epochs to place your order. I ordered the classic Big King with extra onions, but you took the time to laboriously order a small cheeseburger, sans onions and sans mustard and pickles: ketchup only. I should have known then you had no taste. Your taste in food, your sense in impressing people were transparently pedantic and juvenile.

And then you ruined the rest of what could have been a pleasant evening. Instead of allowing us to eat our sandwiches in peace as you drove us to your house, you took the time to sigh and berate me for ordering such an expensive sandwich. This was simply petty, Layla. You know as well as I that my parents never encouraged me to find employment at that time. It wasn’t my fault I couldn’t buy a cheaper sandwich, or any sandwich for that matter.

And then you just drove me back home. I don’t know if you told your family about this episode, but I can’t help but think your parents and grandmother have been against me for a while.

For the rest of tonight, I will try to forget about you. Until then, I’m forever yours,


Story Telling With Food

An interesting look at storytelling from an unexpected place. This article made me look at both photography and cooking in an entirely different way. Plus, the photographs features are absolutely stunning!

7 Saffron Street

Storytelling with Food

Some of you know that I had this wonderful opportunity to speak at a ‘CTPPA (Connecticut Professional Photographers Association)’ about food photography recently. “Tell Your Food Story Stunningly” was the topic I chose to package my knowledge and experience with food photography and deliver to a group of very talented and accomplished photographers. The amazing response I received during and after the program encouraged me to create a few posts on some of the key aspects of food photography I covered during the session. Here’s the first one and it is very close to my heart.

Storytelling is the an essential component of any form of art, and food photography is no exception. It took a few years for me to understand the importance and value behind storytelling. I believed for a long time that beautiful props made impressive images. I used to amass fancy props like crazy even before…

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Ready Player One v. Vaporwave


Oh boy, a new movie. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read Ready Player One, but I’ve heard it has . . . mixed reviews. Half of my friends say it’s one of their favorite books while the other half says it’s 300 pages of corny 80s nostalgia and video game references. And with a film adaptation announced, it seems like I should take the time to read this novel, but I doubt I will.

Recently my wife, who runs the blog Pen and Penguin, published a review of Ready Player One which you can read here. In her critique she confirms that this is probably the kind of novel I won’t enjoy. It sounds presumptuous of me, but when it comes to scifi and fantasy novels, my wife has a pretty good idea of what I’ll like and what I won’t like. And the story of an edgy teenager who goes inside a video game to make pop culture references doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.

Besides critiquing the novel, my wife also drew an interesting comparison between Ready Player One and the Vaporwave movement. Both make heavy use of past media and technology to create a feeling of nostalgia in their audience. Vaporwave, however, is more ironic in its use of nostalgia. When a Vaporwave track samples an ad from the 80s, it’s usually for the purpose of critiquing consumerism. The movement is about nostalgia, but it also stands against the rampant capitalism that tries to profit from that nostalgia.

I could write about Vaporwave for ages, but that wouldn’t be very Vaporwave of me.

Ready Player One does the exact opposite. With a movie in the works, it’s obvious that its pop culture references are nothing more than a cheap cash grab. And that just feels dirty to me.

What do you think? Am I being too cynical? Is the book worth reading? Let me and my wife know.