The Blog Identity


My blog’s name is You Can Learn From Books, whose inspiration comes from a scene in the 1964 Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The scene involves an exchange between Paul McCartney’s grandfather, played by actor Wilfred Brambell, and Ringo Starr, played by Ringo.

I found the exchange on IMDB and I’m sharing part of it here.

Grandfather: Would you look at him? Sittin’ there with his hooter scrapin’ away at that book!

Ringo: Well, what’s the matter with that?

Grandfather: Have you no natural resources of your own? Have they even robbed you of that?

Ringo: You can learn from books!

You can go to YouTube to watch a clip of the scene.

I’ve learned a lot from books and my favorite writers, who include Eve Babitz, Anna David, Joan Didion, Tim Ferriss, Malcolm Gladwell, Pete Hamill, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Hornby, Leslie Jamison, Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, Michael Lewis, Norman Mailer, Ed Sanders, William Styron, Gay Talese, Amber Tamblyn, Hunter S. Thompson, James Thurber, Calvin Trillin, Lynne Truss, Rob Walker and Tom Wolfe.

I use this blog to post reviews, observations, opinions, analysis, humor, satire, views and news, and I share what I have learned.

I started You Can Learn From Books in 2019, two years after my retirement from the Biloxi-Gulfport newspaper on the Mississippi Coast, where I worked for 45 years.

This is a new version of the blog. It became affiliated with DreamHost on Tuesday, 1-12-21, which gives it SEO, redirected servers and a cleaner look.

I’m happy with that and I’m certain DreamHost will point this blog in the right direction.

Image credit: YouTube screengrab of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr reading a book in “A Hard Day’s Night.”



How do you get someone to read your book? Give it away and call it the worst


I received a Goodreads email Thursday night (1-7-21) and the subject line was “John Rachel has invited you to the event: FREE READ … The Worst Book Ever Written!”

I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to see what this was all about from an author I knew nothing about.

I blocked out five minutes of my valuable 24/7 downtime for research as a warm prospective customer, a marketing term I learned from Mella Music.

Rachel’s Amazon page says that he “has written eight novels, three political non-fiction books, and a fantasy/travel/cookbook about the dietary preferences of mermaids.”

This is the pitch he delivered in the Goodreads email:

Date: January 08, 2021 12:00PM

Venue: Everywhere bad books are read! (US, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand)

Location: The United States


The worst book ever written is now available.

I’m giving away free ebooks to the first 100 people who send me a message here at Goodreads. Put ‘Free SEX. LIES & COFFEE BEANS’ in the subject line.
Specify EPUB, Kindle or PDF.

Tell me if you think it’s worst book ever written. If not, I’d like to know what could possibly be worse.

Have a nice day!

Your Response:




I hope you saw the humor. I did. I laughed

Imagine consciously branding your new book as the worst, a line basically stolen from Adam Weinstein.

You’re at risk for a great blunder like the one a New Orleans pizza chain made in the 1960s.

Mr. Pizza was the name of the business, which had TV ads and its slogan was “World’s Worst Pizza.”

“It wasn’t the worst, really,” New Orleans restaurant critic Tom Fitzmorris wrote in 2010. “They threw their own crusts and baked their pizzas in the classic Blodgett stone-floored ovens. But it wasn’t the best, either.

“The chain fell apart in the 1970s, but some of the restaurants kept going for years. VIP Pizza in River Ridge started as a Mr. Pizza and has never closed, although it’s not much like Mr. Pizza anymore.”

I never went to Mr. Pizza. I was never interested. I was young and gullible. When Mr. Pizza said it had the “World’s Worst Pizza,” I believed it was true. Back then, I was serious about pizza and I’m more serious about it now in my late 60s.

Rachel is joking about his own work. I recognize a really smart self-deprecator and self-effacer, and you’ve got to be careful spelling deprecator because you might make an embarrassing mistake.

As I edit this post, maybe those self words are incorrect.

On further review, I think Rachel is practicing the not-so-subtle art of self-amusement, being playful and having fun to get attention.

He had me at “Coffee,” so I did what he said to do and emailed him immediately that I would appreciate a free copy of “Sex, Lies & Coffee Beans,” though I left out my preferred ebook format. That was fixed Friday morning (1-8-21) after I heard back from him.

I received my copy Friday night (1-8-21) and I’m excited to start reading it this week.

I took a look inside “Sex, Lies & Coffee Beans” and was entertained Friday night at Amazon, where the Kindle edition is just 99 cents, which is almost as good as free. Literary Vagabond is the publisher of the book, which came out on Dec. 20, 2020. You know, 20-20. Five days before Christmas. Merry, merry.

“Sex, Lies & Coffee Beans” is an American satire and work of fiction in which the main character is Dr. Joy Smothers, the folk-singing psychologist who played a major role in self-help in the 1980s and 1990s.

Joy Smothers. I like the sound of her name. I wonder if she believed that joy smothers. I wonder if she was related to the Smothers Brothers. I wonder if Dr. Joyce Brothers inspired her.

It doesn’t matter.

A Thursday night email can be the highlight of the week.


Great songwriter, bad signer


See the autograph that is in the image at the top of this fine piece of journalism?

It appears in one of the Barnes & Noble 2020 Black Friday editions and I was interested in buying the book until I saw the awful signature at the Gulfport store on Tuesday. I was stunned, but that didn’t stop me from taking a picture to show you, oh reader, how bad it is.

Anybody want to guess the signer?

Maybe these clues will help you.

  • An American songwriter, musician, author and record producer wrote the book.
  • An Esquire reviewer says the book is “one part manual for composing a song, and one part philosophical inquiry into the human desire—the human need—to create. It’s also an easy, delightful read.”
  • The author’s previous book is a memoir published in 2018.

OK, I think the clues will lead to someone identifying the writer. Really, I think I have offered too much information.

The first person with the correct ID will win a prize and that will depend on whether I’m still in the holiday mood.

Happy New Year.


The coolest book event of all time


Something that brought me immense joy in 2020 was the magical convergence of New Orleans, Melba’s, books and Matthew McConaughey on Nov. 24, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

McConaughey was on Facebook Live and Zoom from Austin, Texas, for a lively Q&A with fans who went to Melba’s to receive a free copy of his memoir, “Greenlights,” which was published in October.

It was the coolest author event of all time because of the excellent questions and the entertaining answers, a 60-minute exchange during lunchtime at the 24/7 restaurant on Elysian Fields. All time means all my time since 1951, the year I was born, so all time to you probably means something different.

And if you need to know what makes McConaughey cool, I’ll quote Joe Gross of from a story he wrote in 2019:

a casual charm embodied by the phrase he adopted from his breakout role in “Dazed and Confused” — “Just keep livin.’ ”

I’ve had dinner at Melba’s a few times, just not this year because of home isolation in the pandemic, and I always order baked chicken, corn grits and baked macaroni. The next time I go there, I’m going to make room for the 9th Ward gumbo.

My last meal at Melba’s was on Dec. 19, 2019, and at my table I took a picture of my usual bountiful choices served in a to-go tray.

Melba’s is one of my favorite places in New Orleans, not only for the tasty food but also for its Lunch & Literacy initiative, a program the restaurant’s owners, husband and wife Scott and Jane Wolfe, established in recent years.

Here’s a Melba’s Facebook post I enjoyed seeing on Nov. 27:

Did you know? Melba’s is the only place in the world where you can- Buy a book – Get a Free daiquiri. Eat and Read at Melba’s.

I used my Amazon gift card, one Patty gave to me for my birthday on Nov. 20, for my copy of “Greenlights,” and though it remains on my long list of unread books, I intend to read it soon.

Perhaps one day, I will bring it to Melba’s and read it while I’m there, paying homage to that special day the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2020.

The video of the McConaughey book giveaway remains on the Melba’s Facebook page and I plan to watch it again.

Featured image: Screen shot of Melba’s customers at the Matthew McConaughey virtual book event


Take a guess. Walt Whitman Shops in New York has how many bookshops?


I received a Tourneau catalog in the mail at home in Gulfport, Mississippi, two weeks ago, not that I wanted one, and I had planned to trash it immediately.

Instead, I looked at it from front to back for a minute or two and saw nothing that would entice me to buy a rich person’s watch from “the preeminent purveyor of fine timepieces.” That’s how Tourneau describes itself.

The only thing that interested me was the list of locations in the back of the catalog. I saw that one of the Tourneau stores is at Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, New York, the Long Island birthplace of the great American poet, essayist, journalist and humanist. The mall is across from his home, the site of a Whitman interpretive center since 1997.

Until I saw the Tourneau catalog, I never knew about Walt Whitman Shops. Wow, a mall named after the man best known for “Leaves of Grass,” published in 1855.

As a guy who loves books, I have been fascinated by Whitman’s work, his life and his influences, so I went to the Walt Whitman Shops website to check out the store directory. I was expecting a mall of American literature with a Whitman shop, a Ralph Waldo Emerson shop, a Henry David Thoreau shop, an Emily Dickinson shop and an Allen Ginsberg shop.

I was disappointed to learn there are no such shops.

The mall is a high-end destination with stores like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Saks. All told, there are 96 businesses at the mall and that number includes restaurants.

OK, now it’s time to ask the question posed in the headline of this fine piece of quality writing.

How many bookshops are at Walt Whitman Shops?

Take a guess. I will welcome any and all.

Featured image credit: “File:Walt Whitman Shops -South Huntington, New York.jpg” by Jkingny is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0