Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review: Hottest Heads of State

Remember when you were a preteen/teenager, and you'd pore over magazines full of heartthrobs, absorbing everything you could about their favorite songs or snack foods and then tearing out the photos and taping them all over your walls and ceiling?

What if I told you there's a new fan magazine like that, only instead of a magazine, it's a book, and instead of focusing on Kirk Cameron or Jason Priestley, it features U.S. presidents? It's not just a dream anymore! If Tiger Beat and Barron's AP United States History, 3rd Edition fell deeply in love, their baby would be Hottest Heads of State Volume One: The American Presidents.

You might already be familiar with Hottest Heads of State, especially if you read this blog because I've written about it a few times, particularly the posts on The Presidents of the United States: In Order of Hotness and Presidents of the United States: When They Were Young and Hunky. Now the folks who run that blog have expanded their vast media empire by giving us this book, a guide to winning the heart of your favorite president(s) and finding out which one(s) might already be in love with you! If only this book had existed years ago, back when I had a childhood crush on George Washington/Ronald Reagan.

While I am constantly entertained by the things Hottest Heads of State churns out, I was concerned this book might not live up to the standards of their previous work, like The Presidents of the United States: In Order of Best Eyebrows. I didn't have an actual reason for that concern; I'm just sort of a pessimist at times. But I needn't have worried. This book is funny. It's really funny. Even the acknowledgments are hilarious.

The book goes through each president chronologically. Each one gets an introduction and a ranking of his looks, physique, and charisma, plus one other category that varies by president ("nickname," "spitting," "pants," "filial devotion"). There are explanations for why you'll love them or how good they are at keeping promises. There are also tips on how to win them over. (Franklin Pierce: "Be shy, sickly, and kind of a downer.")

Scattered throughout the book are fun features like "Presidential Trend Report: Best Beard," "Are You Bill Clinton?" and "Which President Has a Secret Crush on You?" (I got Rutherford B. Hayes! Score!) There are also "Match the Mistress to her POTUS" games. That would be overwhelming to do all at once, so these games appear three times throughout the book, each covering a different timeframe: One for 1789-1960, one for 1961-1963, and one for 1963-2018.

There are also features explaining things like the Gold Standard and the Iran-Contra Affair. You won't come away with an in-depth understanding of any of these issues (unless you already had one), but you'll probably know more than you did before. And don't worry: You will not get bored. ("Can you explain it in the form of a dumbed-down analogy?")

At one point early on in the book, I snorted out loud about something I'd read. I thought I'd been quiet, but I guess not, because suddenly my children were demanding to know what was so funny. So I read to them:

"Adams's pen name when writing a constant stream of strident op-eds to Boston newspapers was 'Humphrey Ploughjogger.' So try going into the bathroom, turning out the light, looking in the mirror, and saying 'Humphrey Ploughjogger' three times. Maybe John Adams will appear! Or maybe your spouse will say from the toilet, 'What the hell are you doing?'"

My kids immediately went running to the bathroom to try to summon John Adams. (Spoiler alert: It didn't work. That we know of.)

Anyway, a small sampling of other amusing bits:

In describing Millard Fillmore's physique: "One account described Fillmore as having the 'chest of a woodsman.' We're not sure whether this means a heavily muscled chest or a chest full of axes. Either way, it's something we'd like to see."

About Chester A. Arthur: "He's a gourmand. That means he likes fancy food, not that he is some kind of half-man, half-gourd. Although that would be pretty great, too, if you like decorative gourds."

The section titled "Remember the Maine" explains how the Maine blew up ("So in that respect, it's similar to the Death Star"), causing Congress to declare war, "which is something Congress used to do when the U.S. went to war with another country."

The "Did You Know" portion of the FDR section tells us that "The F stands for Franklin," which the authors observe would be an excellent title for an FDR biography.

The authors, hard at work
Best of all, they point out that the letters in "Gerald Ford" can be rearranged to spell "frog ladder," which I'd like to think they learned from my post about presidential anagrams. On second thought, maybe I should sue for intellectual property violations. I guess we'll call it even since they just gave me a name for my FDR biography.

As to the real information contained in the book, like I said, there's quite a bit of it. It probably won't help you score a 5, or even a 3, on the APUSH test, but what does that matter when this book can help you land a powerful, successful man like James Garfield? And let's be honest: You've been out of high school for too long to be worrying about AP tests anyway.

I consider myself a pretty serious presidential scholar (stop laughing), and even I was unfamiliar with some of the facts in the book. Among the things I googled:

ulysses s grant dead parrots
woodrow wilson hindu nun
fdr arrested germany
american eel

I also had to check to see if anyone had taken the Twitter handle @cryogenicsleepr.

I didn't really notice any factual errors, except maybe in the section "Special Investigation: Which Presidents are Also Sexy Vampires?" The book claims that, while sexy, Andrew Jackson is not a vampire. However, this post from another favorite blog of mine (Plodding Through the Presidents) makes a compelling argument for why he might be. Perhaps more research is needed.

In summary: This is a legit book. It winds up achieving the perfect balance of amusing and educational---my favorite kind of balance! It's funny, it's smart, it has photos of Schuyler Colfax, and it will be an invaluable resource if you ever need to call the Mayor of Buffalo. What more could you need? Oh, right! There's also a Dwight D. Eisenhower mask.

Hottest Heads of State Volume One: The American Presidents will be released on January 30. (That's next week!) You can pre-order your copy at Amazon now, or you can go stalk your local bookstore or whatever.

I received an advance copy of this book, but I was not compensated in any way for my review and all opinions are my own.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sean Spicer Fan Fiction: Chapter 4

(If you missed Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3, make sure to read them first. Also, dislaimer: This is fiction.)

Among the Bushes

Things are About to Get Spicey

Chapter 4

Caroline stormed out of the restaurant and waved a $20 bill in front of the valet. "Get my car here in less than a minute and this is yours," she told him. The valet was able to retrieve her car before Sean Spicer had finished paying the bill, and Caroline sped off toward home. 

First she was mad. Controlling men pissed her off, and if someone could be that controlling over dessert, what else was he capable of? In a way, she was relieved to have seen the real Sean Spicer so quickly. 

But at home that night, she started to feel dejected. Yes, she had dodged a bullet, but she couldn't stop thinking about running her fingers through his tufty hair that made him look so much like Ryan Gosling, if Ryan Gosling were clean-shaven, less attractive, less fit, and ten years older. She imagined dancing with him in a style far too risqué for Dancing with the Stars. She imagined him dressing as an Easter Bunny to hide eggs for their future children. 

To take her mind off Sean Spicer, Caroline made herself a cup of tea and sat down to watch a movie, but no matter how hard she tried to pay attention, she kept finding herself looking out the window at the elephant topiary, which was illuminated by the moon and her pool lights. It took someone with very special talent, or very deranged obsession, to make something like that, and he had made it for her. “Oh, Sean,” she whispered to herself. 

But then she thought about the cheesecake and got angry again. And then hungry. She realized she should have gotten a slice to go. 

When her movie was over, she went upstairs to bed, alone and lonely. She tried to cheer up by reminding herself that within a month she'd likely be dating the head of a Silicon Valley start-up or an attorney for the pharmaceutical industry. That was more her style anyway. She tried to imagine showing up at a dinner party and introducing her date as, “My gardener, Sean Spicer.” Ridiculous!

She laughed, then she started to cry. 

Caroline had just fallen into a restless sleep when she awoke to something striking her window. She heard a rustling outside, then a few seconds later something hit her window again. 

She got up and tied a robe around herself. She looked out the window and saw the silhouette of Herbert Hoover.

She opened the window and yelled down, “Sean?”

“I'm sorry to wake you up, but I need to talk to you,” he called up.

“So you decided to throw rocks? Are you crazy? This is a $500 window!”

“You don't have any rocks down here,” he said. “I’ve been throwing my American Flag pin! I'm glad you finally heard it because it was really difficult to keep looking for it in the dark.”

Caroline rolled her eyes. 

“Look, Sean, you seem like a decent guy, and you're clearly the sexiest White House Press Secretary since Ari Fleischer, but I just don't think things would work out between us.”

“Please, Caroline! Come down and give me a chance to explain!”

Despite being angry, sad, hungry, and tired, Caroline decided to hear him out. She closed the window and carefully walked down her winding staircase, then out to the garden.

There in the moonlight, in the shadow of the elephant shrubbery, Sean Spicer took her hands.

“I am so, so sorry,” he began. “I know it seems like I was trying to tell you what to eat, but that was never my intention.”

“It sure seemed like it!” Caroline spat at him, while at the same time tingling from the excitement of his touch. 

“I'd never tell you not to eat a certain dessert…except for Dippin’ Dots.” he laughed a little but then muttered something that sounded like, “tiny balls of frozen communist tears.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “The truth is that I'm trying to work through a lot of issues surrounding my time at the White House. You have no idea what it was like there: the yelling, the whining, the verbal abuse, the tiny, tiny hands reaching out for my neck...” He looked off into the distance and shuddered. 

Caroline softened a bit but was still cautious. “What does this have to do with cheesecake?”

“There are a lot of things that trigger me these days,” he said. “The scent of hair gel makes me see visions of Eric Trump. The smell of cheap whiskey makes me feel like Steve Bannon is right there. But the greatest trigger of all is the color orange.”


“Orange. Orange things, like sweet potatoes and pumpkin cheesecake. Do you see?”

“I guess?” Caroline said. “Is that why my marigolds are gone?”

“Yes, exactly!” Sean sounded relieved. “And also they're just really ugly flowers.”

“But they keep the rabbits away.”

“You don't want to keep this bunny away, do you?” Sean gave Caroline’s hands a squeeze. She tried to keep her composure.

“I appreciate what you're saying, but I can't go through life without orange things,” Caroline said. How could she live without her tangerine LaCroix? What would happen the next time the terror alert level was raised? What if she needed something from Home Depot?

“I don't expect you to,” he said. “I'm already in counseling for it and I've actually come really far. The other day I saw a woman wearing a pair of Ivanka’s shoes and I didn't put my fist through a wall! Please give me another chance.”

Caroline thought for a moment. On one hand, this guy was dealing with some pretty serious issues and it might be better to keep her distance. On the other hand, it felt like this relationship was meant to be, even if it might be a while before they could do romantic orange-tinged things like watching a sunset or cuddling in front of a fire.

“Okay, Sean,” she said. “I'll give you another chance, but you have to promise to keep going to therapy.”

“I will,” he said. “As long as Obamacare stays in place so my insurance continues to cover it.”

That was good enough for Caroline. 

Sean Spicer pulled her closer and took her into his arms. His embrace was just like she had imagined: warm and pillowy. Caroline relaxed into him and sighed. 

“I'm glad you came back to explain this to me,” she said.

“I'm glad you let me.” Sean kissed the top of her head. 

“Just think,” she said. “This all started because you were hiding in my bushes.”

“I wasn't hiding in your bushes,” he said. 

Caroline started to protest but Sean put his finger to her lips and held her tighter. 

“I wasn't hiding in your bushes,” he repeated. “I was hiding among them.”