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Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-Sitters Club #4 Mary Anne Saves the Day

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.07.14 am

Mary Anne Saves the Day

Ann M. Martin

Originally Published February 1987

 

If you recall, book 3’s co-plot (along with Stacey’s DIABETES) was about how the Baby-Sitter’s Agency honed in on the BSC’s turf and they had to throw down?  That the BSC proved that they were the superior sitters because of how awesome they were?  Even though they were younger, they were more mature?

Well, screw that.

BSC 4 is basically one long fight between the sitters so that Mary Anne can become friends with Dawn.  Without a massive war, she’s so timid that she would never do so otherwise.  There’s also all kinds of slut shaming patriarchal bullshit with her Victorian era Dad, but we’ll get to that later.

The book opens with exposition about the club and how it works as Kristy and Mary Anne walk across the street and are greeted by Mimi’s pleasant Japanese accented voice.  I’m starting to think we need an ongoing counter of how many times Mimi is referred to quickly followed by the words Japanese, quiet, soft, and accent.  Mimi asks Mary Anne how the scarf is coming along because of course Mary Anne knits like all good little girls on the prairie.  (Sidebar, this was before the hipsters claimed knitting for themselves–it’s supposed to be emblematic of how repressed and old fashioned Mary Anne is.)  Blah blah blah Kristy’s parents are divorced and her mom is engaged to a MILLIONAIRE.  Blah blah blah Claudia is an artist with flawless skin and a junk food addiction.  Stacey is from NEW YORK CITY and has diabetes.  It’s like BSC Bingo.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.02.09 amHere, I made a BSC bingo card for you

Why the book-long fight?  It’s all that bitch Mrs. Newton’s fault for having a baby.

“Yes,” Kristy was saying.  “Yes…  Oh, Jaime and Lucy.”  (Claudia and Stacey and I squealed with delight.)  “Friday…six till eight…  Of course.  I’ll be there.  Great.  See you.”  She hung up.

From there it devolves to Claudia is a job-hog (not like it’s her phone line and she has to do extra work or anything), Stacey has plenty of friends back in NYC and doesn’t need them, Mary Anne is a big baby, Kristy tells Mary Anne to shut up and she yells back at Kristy, Stacey’s diabetes are called dumb, and Mary Anne loses her shit on everyone.

Maybe I am shy,” I said loudly, edging toward the door.  “And maybe I am quiet, but you guys cannot step all over me.  You want to know what I think?  I think you, Stacey, are a conceited snob; and you, Claudia are a stuck-up job-hog; and you, Kristin Amanda Thomas, are the biggest, bossiest know-it-all in the world, and I don’t care if I never see you again!”

The rest of their argument is various retreads of this.  Book 4–have you read books 1-3?  A huge fight was also part of the plot of book 1.  There are over 100 books left to go–let’s not retread plots already.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.18.02 amWithout the introduction of Dawn’s mom, this would have been Mary Anne’s future.

As has been well established, Mary Anne’s mother is DEAD.  Of what?  Who cares!  We do find out that her name was Alma, though, which fits with the weird time-warp parenting style of Mary Anne’s father, Richard.  Since he acts like one, we’re just going to call Richard “Dick” for my own amusement.

Dick, having been left to raise this freakishly female creature, has decided that his worth as a father is to turn out the perfect Victorian/Edwardian era daughter.  Christian Grey had fewer rules for Anastasia—Life with Dick is 50 Shades of Patriarchal Bullshit.

  • She must wear braids at all times
  • She must dress well for dinner
  • She mustn’t say naughty words like gross, hey, and “a long list of other words”
  • Must have perfect table manners
  • Her room is pink and white, which are appropriate girl colors
  • The only picture in her room is Mary Anne and her parents on her Christening Day
  • The only artwork in her room is Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Wonderland prints

The relationship between Mary Anne and her father is so disturbing on so many levels.  Clearly, Mary Anne is supposed to be filling in for the “woman of the house.”  She cooks, cleans, is supposed to be dressed nicely for dinner and ask her father about his day.  She’s supposed to know what cases her dad is involved in at court and care about them deeply.

We also see the first mention of religion in the books.  Apparently, Dick asks God to watch over Alma before every single meal, which even Mary Anne thinks is overkill.  She mentions praying at night.  I’m not sure if the super strict is supposed to be tied in with religion, but it’s all kinds of Lurlene McDaniel’s level religiosity and appropriate female behavior (6 months to live review is here).

What does Mary Anne want in life?  To sometimes wear her hair differently, and to have a kitten poster and an NYC poster in her yellow and navy colored bedroom.  Also, to babysit a bit later, sometimes.  UNREASONABLE.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.36.27 amEnter Dawn

Since Mary Anne is fighting with her friends, she needs to find a seat in the cafeteria.  She sits down next to some other friendless loser, who turns out to be Dawn who is new in town.  Because Dawn is from California, she is blonde and health conscious.  She’s also a pretentious hippie and future vegan who shames the rest of us, but that develops over future books.

Mary Anne decides to befriend Dawn to get back at Kristy.  As they’re talking, Kristy looks over and is jealous, so Mary Anne really builds is up, going so far as to agree to hang out at Dawn’s house the next day after school.

Dawn’s mom Sharon is a flake.  She puts shoes in the freezer and can’t focus on a task for more than 5 seconds.  She’s like the polar opposite of Mary Anne’s Dad.  Gee, that’s interesting.

Dawn tells Mary Anne that they moved to Stoneybrooke because her parents divorced and her mom grew up here.  Hey, so did Dick!  What are the odds that they knew each other?  Is anyone thinking of that movie Parent Trap?  If not, Dawn and Mary Anne actually sit down and WATCH THE PARENT TRAP to get it into your mind.  Gee, I wonder what Martin is telegraphing here.  Maybe they could watch The Odd Couple next?

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.54.30 amI don’t think this is the kitty poster Mary Anne had in mind

BSC meeting, y’all.  Said meeting is hostile, lots of sticking out of tongues, hostility, blah blah blah.  Except Kristy isn’t there!  She blew off HER club.  When confronted about it, she suggested that the four of them take turns on phone duty during club meetings and the rest are at their homes.  Each girl can take whatever jobs she can handle offered to her during her shift and then has to call the others to find a sitter for the ones she’s not.  I wonder how well that will work?

On Mary Anne’s first day as the sole representative of the BSC she lines up a job with the Prezzioso’s–possible the only family in Stoneybrook that is more uptight and formal than hers.  For an afternoon at home, Jenny Prezzioso is wearing “a frilly white dress trimmed with yards of lavender lace and ribbon, matching lavender socks, and shiny black patent leather Mary Janes.  her hair had been curled, and was pulled back form either side of her face by barrettes from which long streamers flowed.”  Her parents call her Angel.  Yes, she IS a spoiled brat, how did you guess?

Mary Anne’s Dad loses a case, so obviously Marry Anne picks that moment to push for later baby sitting times, no braids, etc.  Dick shuts her down.  She’s emo because now she’s fighting with him, too.  Mary Anne goes to Mimi for soft spoken accented advice.  At some point in the conversation Mimi calls Mary Anne “My Mary Anne.”  I gasp at the outrageous faux pas.  Claudia overhears this and goes ballistic (AS WELL SHE SHOULD.  WTF, MIMI????).

The next time Mary Anne is the BSC, Claudia stays in her room and plays her music super loud.  Like I said, as they proved in Book 3, the BSC is a totes professional organization.  Then a series of phone calls come in forcing Mary Anne to call Kristy multiple times, culminating in the arranging of a joint babysitting job at the Pikes for herself and Kristy.

I’ll spare you the details but the Pike sitting job boils down to Kristy and Mary Anne only communicating via a passed message through all the Pike kids.

Mary Anne gets back from the Pikes five minutes late, and asks her dad for a later sitting time so she wouldn’t be late.   SHOCKER–Dick says no.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.13.16 pmGet to the point about Sharon and Dick

 

Dawn and Mary Anne go through Dick’s old yearbooks.  Not only did Dick and Sharon know each other, they were involved.   They find Sharon’s yearbook and Dick’s note to her.  Wow, if only things had been different, they’d be sisters!

That weekend Mary Anne babysits bratty Jenny Prezzioso, who morphs into high fever Jenny.  As this is the pre-cell era, Mary Anne has to call around, but can’t track down the parents.  After trying everything, she calls Dawn and then 911.  An ambulance comes to take Jenny to the hospital with Mary Anne.  Dawn is going to call and leave messages for Jenny’s parents (because again, no cell phone to call from while in the ambulance or while at the hospital).  The doctors are caring for Jenny when the parents arrive with the mom in hysterics for her ANGEL.  Mr. P gives Dawn and Mary Anne major cash for doing such a great job and drops them off at Mary Anne’s house.  What the hell did we do before cell phones?

Mary Anne and Dawn are looking at pictures in Dick’s albums.  They are magically seated such that Kristy looks over and sees them together.  Mary Anne puts her arm around Dawn and sticks out her tongue at Kristy.  Dawn catches her in the act and storms out when she realizes that Mary Anne has been using her to get back at Kristy.

Mr P calls Dick and tells her how awesome and mature Mary Anne is.  Mary Anne brings up those small things she wants and gets a later sitting time, the agreement that she can sometimes wear her hair down, AND that she can put up a poster on her wall.  Drunk with maturity, she writes Dawn and Kristy apologies for being such a bitch for the past 13 chapters.

Before the sitters can come back together, they have to ruin Jamie Newton’s birthday party.  Which serves his mom right for provoking the fight in the first place.  In fact, Mrs. Newton has been nothing but trouble since book 1 with her pregnancy and her spawning and her looking for responsible older sitters.  She dares to ask “one of them” to go check on the baby–which NATCH starts a fight.  Things escalate until punch is everywhere.  Way to prove that vaunted maturity, ladies. After the party Mary Anne orders everyone over to Claudia’s house and forces everyone to make up.

That night Mary Anne asks her dad about Dawn’s mom.  It’s all Romeo and Juliet–they were in love, her family didn’t approve, blah blah blah

Chapter 16–SIXTEEN!!!  WHAT BLASPHEMY!!!—Dick and Sharon finally meet again when she drops Dawn off at the house.  Stares and starry eyes, and he asks her out.  Mary Anne introduces Dawn to everyone and she is inducted into the BSC

Book Review: The Good Women of China by Xinrin

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.29 AMThe Good Women of China by Xinran

Rating 4/5 stars

I read a different book by Xinran earlier this year–Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother–that ripped my heart out and left me sobbing at various points.  I approached this book with caution because of that.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother tells one woman’s story per chapter.  Eventually, so does The Good Women of China.  However, the start is much slower, and less engaging.  I picked up and put this one down a few times, easily distracted by other books.  However, once I got to roughly 1/3 of the way through the book, I was sucked in and found myself crying time and time again.

Xinran was, for a time, a presenter of a highly popular radio show in China in the 80’s and early 90’s called “Whispers on the Night Breeze” which focused on the stories of everyday women (or rather, that is what it evolved into).  This is the source material for this book and others.  The stories she shares are most often those of her generation and that of her mothers–the generation that were children during the cultural revolution, and that of the mothers of those children.

My bachelor’s degree is in History.  I have a deep attachment to learning about race, class and gender history.  The thing about studying women’s history, though, is that for every fascinating and empowering story about women, there is often a much larger number of truly depressing stories.

One of the most common experiences that occurs in women’s history, and in this book, is that of rape.  To the point where I would firmly caution that this book needs a trigger warning for rape.  Girls are raped by their fathers.  Girls are raped in the cause of “re-educating” them during the Cultural Revolution.  Girls are raped in the chaos after an earthquake.  Girls who wish for death after rape, who are institutionalized, whose mothers commit suicide after they are raped. 

It is also the story of how a moment of deep change–the Cultural Revolution–impacted not just the wealthy or the well born, but the every day woman as well.  These are stories we almost never hear.  The Japanese expatriate who was in China to teach at a university, and is jailed as a counter-revolutionary.  The daughter of wealthy capitalists who gets to her family’s home too late–they have fled to Taiwan–and has to pose as the illegitimate daughter of her aunt, hoping that the truth will never be revealed.  The women who began an orphanage after their own children were killed by an earthquake–an earthquake the government didn’t find out about for weeks because there was no modern means of communication in the impoverished mountain villages.  A woman who was separated from her love by duty to the party, only to find him again 40 years later—and that he’d married after being told that she was dead.  Weaved throughout the other stories is Xinran’s.  Her parents were accused of being counter-revolutionary, and she and her brother were brought up by the party.  Peasant children were taught to insult them, and treat them as subhuman.  Her deeply complicated relationship with her parents, and with her own past is shown as the book progresses.

We also see Xinran’s growing dissatisfaction with trying to toe the party line as a media representative.  Stories must be edited, others not told (no need to embarrass the party with a story about highly educated women being given to party elite as new wives, or the village wives they left behind).

As an American, I learned very little modern era Asian History in any of my classes.  I was vaguely aware of how Mao had gained power, but I had no context for what that looked like for a woman living in China.  Xinran lends us those voices, which when paired with other resources can help paint a more complete pictures of the experience.

If you have an interest in Asian History, in women’s history, or in women’s studies, this book is definitely one you should make time to read.  But allow yourself to read as fast (can’t put it down) or as slow (too emotional, need a break) as you need.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read.

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #2 Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

This week we’re going back to Stoneybrook!  Pull out your hidden junk food and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30 pm.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.28.20 PMClaudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

by Ann M. Martin (not ghostwritten)

Published October 1986

Kirsten Dunst’s first job was modeling for the little blonde girl on this cover.  She says “I was a child actress/model.  I did it strictly for the money.” Given her enthusiasm, I’m guessing she has the cover framed and illuminated in the middle of her living room.

*****

Claudia wishes she could be in her room reading a mystery and eating candy, or dreaming about Trevor Sandbourne, or painting.  But no, she had to do her Math homework because her parents are facists.

At least Mimi is the one helping her and not Janine the NERD.

Mom has no accent (neither does my father, who also came to the United States as a small child) but Mimi has this pleasant, rolling accent that reminds me of a ship at sea.  And she is polite, polite, polite never speaking a harsh word.

Cultural sensitivity wasn’t really a thing in the 80’s, huh?

Mimi helps her with her homework, and sits for Claudia’s painting . They chat about the mystery book Claudia is reading and Halloween.

Claudia asks Mimi why she and Janine aren’t besties.  Mimi tells her that it’s because she’s a bitch who avoids and complains about her sister–except Mimi’s polite polite polite about it.  But that someday they’ll be friends.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.47.08 PMI wouldn’t hold my breath.

Claudia calls Stacey.  Claudia is all swoony over Trevor, the poet.  Stacey is still gaga for Sam Thomas (Kristy’s older brother).   Boys are sooooooo dreamy.

The next day at schools the girls have a three page discussion about a boy named Alan Gray.  They go on at length about a trick Kristy played on him and how now he feels the need to bother her all the time.  So they’ll be hooking up by the end of the book.

Mary Anne is “flipping through the Stoneybrook News.”  Because seventh graders casually read the newspaper when hanging out with their pals.  She shrieks, and drops the paper.  OHMIGOD you guys–Phantom Phone Caller On Rampage In Mercer!  Mercer is the closest town to Stoneybrook!

“Well it’s still 20 miles away,” I said

Wait, what?   Are they surrounded by 20 miles of virgin forest?  It’s Stoneybrook, CT, not Storybrooke, Maine, FFS.

The Phantom Phone Caller calls the house to see if anyone answers.  If not, he goes and steals their jewelry.  He apparently doesn’t take anything else, so your diamond encrusted chairs are safe, millionaires.

Claudia gasps because a few nights ago, the phone rang and no one was on the line!

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.04.11 PMHe wants your handcuff earrings and key necklace, Claud

EMERGENCY BSC MEETING Y’ALL.

The girls decide that the best way to handle a suspicious situation is to stack cans in front of the door or window on the inside, so you’ll know if he’s entered the house

Then there is the elaborate phone message system

  • If you think he’s in the house CALL ANOTHER BABYSITTER and say “have you found my red ribbon?”
  • The other sitter will say “No, the blue one.”
  • If you know he’s in the house and your are in danger say “Now I’m in for it”
  • If you’re not sure there’s trouble say “That’s okay”

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.19.28 PMBEST.  PLAN.  EVER.

 

We can’t get too hung up on this whole Phantom Phone Caller/Home Invasion thing–The Halloween Hop is coming up.  Claudia wants Trevor to ask her.  But–sigh–he doesn’t even know she’s alive.  “Faithfully” by Journey swells in the background.

Chapter 5 is all about a sitting job at the Newton’s, but there’s no entry.  I don’t know why I care, but I do, and I thought you should all know.  Everything is going okay until Claudia sees lights going on and off in the house!  The phone rings, but stops before she can answer it!  Then there are footsteps!  Claud peeks through a convenient hole in the fence and looks straight into another eye!  OHMIGOD IT’S THE PHAN—Kristy.  It’s just Kristy.  Kristy was looking for them, and the lights going on and off were all her, going through the Newton’s house looking for Claud and Jamie.

Not to bash your ribbon strategy, ladies….but maybe you should add lock the front door to your list of burglar management strategies?

Another night Claud is babysitting at the Marshall’s.  She creeps herself out and calls Stacey.  They’re talking about the Halloween Hop and boys when…

I definitely heard footsteps in the garage.  “Stacey, Stacey,” I said urgently.  “Have you found my b-I mean, did you see my–Have you found my…my…”

“Your red ribbon?” whispered Stacey.

“Yes!” I gasped.

“Yes, I did.  I mean, no, I found–I…”

“Did you find my blue—Oh, no, Stacey, someone’s at the garage door.  I can hear the knob rattling!”

“I’m going to call the police.”

“Claudia?” called a deep voice.

It was all I could do not to shriek.  “He called my name!” I yelped to Stacey

“Claudia,” said the voice again, “we’ve misplaced the house keys.  Can you let us in, please?”

That red ribbon plan doesn’t seem to work well under pressure.  Also, between two adults who presumably used a car to go somewhere (since Stoneybrook is surrounded by 20 miles of forest), why don’t they have a house key?

GASP!  Just as Claudia is about to leave, the phone rings, but when Mrs. Marshall answers, there’s no one there!  Does Claudia mention The Phantom Phone Caller?  Of course not.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.30.30 PMAt least this guy had the courtesy to talk to you before he committed a crime….

Kristy babysits Karen and Andrew.  Karen has new theories about Morbidda Destiny and her spooky spells.  At bedtime she insists Kristy read her new book “The Witch Next Door.”

Watson, I’m going to judge you for this.  If you’re trying to convince Karen that Mrs. Porter isn’t a witch, buying her a book called “The Witch Next Door,” isn’t going to help matters.

Watson’s house is huge (still waiting for the first time they call it a mansion), and Kristy is jumpy.  She gets a hang up call and then calls Claudia…but doesn’t even think about using the ribbon code.  She doesn’t remember it.  Ladies and gentlemen, your Founder and President.

Then there’s a tapping at the door!  IT’S MORBIDDA DESTINY!!!!!  Or, you know, Mrs. Porter, who is returning Boo Boo after the cat was eating a mouse on her porch.  Although Boo Boo’s so vicious that Mary Anne was explicitly warned not to touch him, he’s obediently sitting in Mrs. Porters arms.  Guys, Karen is on to something.  Mrs. Porter is a witch.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.44.16 PM

“He bothers me just by living!  Alan Gray is so horrible whenever he’s around me, that he’s all I can think about.” —- Kristy

Stacey suggests that Kristy ask her hot older brother Sam for help with this whole Phantom Phone Caller thing.  Kristy retorts that she’d never ask him for help.  He’s girl-crazy!  I mean, my god, last week he took some green-tipped hair, lace gloves with the tips cut off Freshman to the movies!  It’s just not a BSC book without Kristy being thoughtless.

Stacey starts to cry because didn’t Sam like her? (Remember how he called Stacey a “foxy chick” and she called him a gorgeous hunk?)  Stacey, this is only the first of a zillion older men you’ll have your heart broken by.  Get used it to it.

Claudia moans that the dance is only four days away and Trevor hasn’t asked her to go.

“I think you should talk to him,” said Kristy.

“I think you should ask him to the dance,” said Stacey.

I gasped.  “No way!  This isn’t the Sadie Hawkins dance.  I can’t ask a boy to go with me.”

“In New York we did it all the time.”

“Well, this isn’t New York, this is little Stoneybrook.  And I am not asking Trevor Sandbourne to the Halloween Hop.

Stacey should take her own advice and ask Sam out.

Claudia should remember that second wave feminism brought about women CEO’s, astronauts, and the ability to ask a boy to a non-Sadie Hawkins dance.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.04.46 AMMary Anne pouts as she’s reminded, yet again, that she doesn’t live in NEW YORK CITY.

Shit just got real, people.  The Kishi’s neighbors the Goldmans were just robbed!  Goldman because Martin was being ironic years before hipsters discovered irony.

Shocker, Mary Anne is suspended from baby-sitting.  Given that the robbery was right across the street, I’m surprised Mary Anne is allowed to go to school without her dad.

That night–in yet another babysitting job without an entry at the start of the chapter–Kristy and Claudia babysit for Jamie and his hellion cousins.  Same M.O. as book 1–the parents leave, and the cousins go nuts.  Kristy, being Kristy, puts two fingers in her mouth and gives an ear piercing whistle, which puts an end to the shenanigans.

Suddenly things get scary…not one, not two, but three phone calls without someone on the other end of the line.  Several bangs as trashcans are knocked over.  A shadow runs away from the house!

The girls thankfully skip the ribbon nonsense and call the police.  The cops show up and go looking for the intruder, and show up minutes later with Alan Gray.  Kristy has a lot to say about this.

“Alan Gray, you darn, sneaking rotten–“

….

“Alan, you are a rat!” she exploded.

They find out that every call without a person on the other end of the line at one of Kristy’s sitting jobs was Alan.  He knew where she was because he kept peeking at the BSC notebook.

“Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”

….(he mumbles, baby sitting charges tell him to speak up…

“I wanted to know if you’d go to the Halloween Hop with me.”

If I were Kristy, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my head about then.  But Kristy just said, “Oh gosh is that all?  Of course I’ll go with you….Thanks.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.20.44 AMAlan Gray knows how to woo a woman

After the sitting job, Claudia is in her room eating junk food (because of course) when Janine knocks on her door.  She saw the police cruiser on her way home.  Claudia is touched by her concern, and they talk.  Janine hides candy, too!  Bonding moment!  I’m sure that this will make it all worthwhile when the Kishis have to have their home fogged to kill the ant infestation.

The next day at school, Claudia is approached by Trevor, who has gathered up his courage and asks her to the Halloween Hop.  He was behind all of the calls when Claudia was sitting because Alan told him where Claudia would be.  Martin wasn’t getting paid enough to give him a different plot.

Claudia, much like Kristy, is completely unfazed by the whole stalking thing.  She happily agrees to go to the dance with him.  I feel the urge to stage an intervention and explain healthy and unhealthy relationships to all four of them.

The Halloween Hop was terrific.  Now I know we’re in a fictional universe–no middle school dance is ever terrific.  Ever.

Claudia got an 86 on her math test!  Her parents are so proud that they skip explaining that a B is an Asian F.

The Phantom Phone Caller was found trying to rob a mansion in that town 20 miles away (10 books more and it would’ve been in Watson’s neighborhood).

Life is great.  Several babysitters have earned in the neighborhood of 15 dollars over two weeks worth of baby sitting, and they clink their diet sodas together.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.31.26 AMTo attend the Alan Gray/Trevor Sandbourne School of Seduction call 555-2934

Advanced courses taught by Edward Cullen

Next Week–Sweet Valley High #4-Power Play (aka that one where the fat girl becomes thin and popular–I have a lot of FEELINGS about that book).