Deanna Larson

Who else but Anna Quindlen could make the short life of an ordinary Labrador retriever so profound? Good Dog. Stay. is a short, elegiac book of black-and-white photographs sprinkled with text, based on a popular Newsweek column by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author (A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Object Lessons).

Barely touching upon the predictable shoe-chewing antics of Lab puppy Beau, a 40th birthday present, she dwells most movingly on the more difficult aspects of aging alongside her dog, noting creaky legs, clouding eyes and the fleeting bittersweet arc of a life that follows children growing up and leaving home. When it comes time to say goodbye, Quindlen lays Beau on their patterned carpet favored as it hides the dirt that a sick, old dog creates surrounded by her now grown children and watches as the dog is put down while her husband's tears fall like raindrops on her head. "Occasionally someone will tell me that they won't have pets because they're messy, and I suppose there's some truth to that," Quindlen writes. "I have to choke down the temptation to respond that life is messy, and that its vagaries go down hardest with those who fool themselves into thinking that they can keep it neat."

STREET SMARTS
The messy, brutal and random lives of strays is the compelling subject of fine art photographer Traer Scott's latest book, Street Dogs. Scott, whose previous collection was the bestseller Shelter Dogs, shot her captivating sepia-tones on the streets of Puerto Rico and Mexico, revealing enigmatic expressions on the faces of animals that reproduce, roam and forage on the streets due to overwhelmed animal control agencies. Scott captures more than 90 close-ups including an exhausted young dog digging a hole in the sand to keep cool on Puerto Rico's Dead Dog Beach and a litter of puppies huddled at dusk in a lot in San Felipe, Mexico (whose rescue caused Scott to get bitten). Despite abuse, neglect and illness, the dogs still wag their tails. While it should be depressing, Scott's work reaffirms the decency of all living beings, the daily miracles worked by shop owners and rescuers who feed, water and rehabilitate the dogs for adoption in the United States, and the indefatigable canine spirit. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

HELLO KITTY
Cats live on a higher plane, of course, and now they have their own Planet Cat. More than 400 lists of head-scratching and fascinating feline facts, advice and trivia are packed into this entertaining cat-alog, illustrated with line drawings and black-and-white photos. The culture of cats through history, including feline saints, famous cat lovers (and haters) and cats in ancient art is followed by short useful sections and sidebars about cat anatomy, behavior and training, from how to read a cat's eyes, ears and tail, to the reason Chloe bites, has litter box problems, or hates swallowing a pill (Chloe being the most popular female cat name, according to the book). Tons of amusing trivia, including famous cartoon, television and film felines, British pub signs featuring cats, and the nine kitties that have won acting awards, round out this fun blast through Planet Cat.

When you can make yourself vulnerable by lying on your back in the sun then curl and bite the hand that pets your soft tummy you know you're a cat brought to life in a cartoon drawn by Suzy Becker. This updated version of her best-selling All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat (and Then Some) features old favorites plus nearly 50 new cartoons drawn by Binky, Becker's mischievous kitty sage. The delicate, one-panel drawings contrast with dry and sometimes wicked captions, from a cross-section of the place where no one can find you (under the bed) and a time-lapse of litter box antics, to illustrations of how to drink from the toilet ( Challenge yourself ), recycle trash, commune with the birds by splaying yourself across a window pane, build your own bed out of warm, clean laundry and recognize the toy in everything. With advice on helping with the dishes (insert sandpaper tongue here) and accepting the fact that not all company will like you, Becker's cartoons are subtle enough to win the hearts of sophisticated literary magazine readers, and funny enough to win the hearts of animal lovers everywhere.

HORSE SENSE
Owning land and a few horses is a common city-dweller fantasy, but learning to care for livestock can come with a steep learning curve for those not raised in the country. Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac: The Essential Month-by-Month Guide for Every Horse Owner puts a metaphoric arm around novices on the way to the barn. Hill, who runs Long Tail Ranch in northern Colorado, covers every aspect of horse ownership, broken down into tasks for each month and season, including buying, conditioning and feeding a horse, lifting a hoof and calling the vet, dealing with muddy pastures and electric fencing, stable flies, flooding, trailer loading and foaling, and setting up the tack room and farm office. Add illustrations and fascinating sidebars on horse history and trivia and you have an indispensable resource for any new or aspiring horse owner.

NEW TRICKS FOR OLD DOGS
These days, domesticated dogs are more likely to dine on organic kibble and be toted about in frilly pink satchels than to roll in dead skunk or chase down prey. Present and former staffers at satirical online newspaper The Onion, writing as Rex and Sparky, come to the rescue of these pampered pooches in The Dangerous Book for Dogs: A Parody, illustrated by Emily Flake. Advice for uncovering latent canine rebellion includes chapters on Things You Can Chase; Begging: A Primer; and Poop: An Indelicate Discussion. Rex and Sparky also take canine wimps through building a doghouse (clue: a hammer won't be involved), escaping fenced areas, picking a pill out of peanut butter, handling a thunderstorm, escaping humiliating costumes, managing territory and taking epic walks. Bound in a retro library binding and dripping with faux-nostalgic tone, these observations are driven home with a wicked funny bone, buried correctly, of course (see page 72, How to Bury a Bone ). Owners who long to let their pets roam free or feel a twinge of guilt over a box of $10 designer biscuits will wallow in this ode to old-school dog.

Who else but Anna Quindlen could make the short life of an ordinary Labrador retriever so profound? Good Dog. Stay. is a short, elegiac book of black-and-white photographs sprinkled with text, based on a popular Newsweek column by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author (A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Object Lessons). Barely touching […]

One day, we won’t need to set aside a month to honor women’s contributions to history, since their accomplishments won’t be considered exceptions. Until then, we’ll wait each year for March to bring new histories and biographies to savor. This year, new books highlight the diverse lives of three exceptional women.

ON MADISON AVENUE . . .

The Lucky Strike-puffing, martini-fueled “mad men” of the glamorous heyday of advertising are sexy again, thanks to the hit TV show. But “mad women” were also making their mark in the testosterone-dominated advertising industry of the 1960s and ’70s, producing sharp copy, courting big clients and making shrewd business moves while the other hand slapped away the pinches and grabs. In Mad Women, advertising exec Jane Maas dishes the juicy details of a long career that began in 1964 as copywriter at the legendary agency Ogilvy & Mather. After rising to O&M creative director and moving on to other storied agencies, eventually running her own shop, Maas capped her award-winning career by directing the famous “I Love New York” campaign (she still works as a consultant for the industry). With zany dashes from tidbit to tangent in sections including Sex in the Office, Get the Money Before They Screw You and The Three-Martini Lunch and Other Vices, Maas is the embodiment of Kay Thompson’s character from Funny Face, a woman who can say, “I was the first woman to wear a pantsuit to the office. It was 1965, and I caused quite a stir,” yet doesn’t hesitate to admit that her husband selected all of her clothes for her. Part respectful homage to a glamorous and golden age, part good gossip over lunch at 21, Mad Women proves that behind every man’s career, another successful woman is pedaling even faster to get where she is today.

. . . AND ON THE FRONT PAGE

Privileged and politically connected men controlled the influential newspaper and magazine businesses of the 19th and early 20th centuries. So it was quite surprising to find a woman at the helm of two major English-language papers. Enter The First Lady of Fleet Street. Rachel Beer’s fascinating story begins as a descendant of the House of Sassoon, a Jewish Indian family that made its fortune in opium and cotton. Born in Bombay in 1858, Rachel Sassoon later moved with her family to England, where they became one of London’s most prominent immigrant families. In “a union of the East and West in flourishing Victorian London,” she married Frederick Beer, whose family came from the Frankfurt ghetto to make their fortune in railroads and telegraphy. Contending with a climate unfriendly to Jews, the families found that “money was a powerful tool for breaking down the barriers of the class system.” Rachel Beer became owner of the Sunday Times and the Observer during the rise of the “so-called New Woman” who emerged on the verge of the 20th century asking for equality and the vote. She ran her papers “with the woman reader in mind,” yet wrote challenging editorials on weighty world affairs—even getting involved in a scandal of the time—while still fitting in a lavish social life and philanthropic work. With The First Lady of Fleet Street, authors Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren illuminate a small but fascinating period of Jewish and British history.

SCOUTING OUT A NEW PATH

There are few American women who didn’t experience formative times as a Brownie or Girl Scout. In the delightful new biography Juliette Gordon Low, historian Stacy A. Cordery peeks into the life of a cheerful, imaginative, slightly dotty girl who became an accidental reformer, feminist and leader of one of the most influential organizations of the 20th century. Juliette was the daughter of a proud independent mother and rebel soldier father who moved back and forth between Savannah and Chicago during the Civil War. She grew up to make a bad marriage to philandering British/American aristocrat Willy Low, who died before she could divorce him, then remained in Britain, looking for a way “to do good in the world.” Enter the dashing General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, whom she met in 1911 after he left the British army to form the Boy Scouts. His great experiment to teach boys “soldiering” modeled after samurai and chivalry inspired Low to become involved in the British female version, the Girl Guides. She brought the idea home to Savannah the following year, under the name Girl Scouts. Cordery traces how Low’s peripatetic upbringing formed her patriotism, practicality and love of fun, adventure and the outdoors, and her grown-up leadership skills and passion for the potential in all young women made her uniquely poised to embody Scouting values for generations of women around the world.

One day, we won’t need to set aside a month to honor women’s contributions to history, since their accomplishments won’t be considered exceptions. Until then, we’ll wait each year for March to bring new histories and biographies to savor. This year, new books highlight the diverse lives of three exceptional women. ON MADISON AVENUE . […]

New books on healthy living emphasize workouts and eating plans for different lifestyles and goals—whether you want to lose inches fast, make better choices at the drive-thru or simply minimize stress.

SHORT, EFFECTIVE WORKOUTS
Women’s Health and Men’s Health magazines are known for their bold design, clean layouts and solid information. The Women’s Health Big Book of 15 Minute Workouts and The Men’s Health Big Book of 15 Minute Workouts are chunky little powerhouses that feature those same elements while promising “433 ultra-effective exercises, 1 hard body: yours!” Recent research shows that brief workouts can be just as effective as pounding away at the treadmill or spin class for hours at a time; these books are packed with 85 super-fast workouts and hundreds of exercises that banish boredom and maximize results. Each exercise is clearly described with step-by-step photos that make it easy to achieve good form. From the Super-Fast Weight Loss System Workout and  Cardio Interval Training to exercises for Healing, Sports Training and Better Sex, these books target every possible fitness goal a man (see: Iron Glute, Deltoid Definer, Six-Pack Abs, The Flat Butt Fix workouts) or woman (see: Hourglass Body, Pushup Bra, Belly Pooch, Michelle Obama Arms workouts) could ever desire.

BETTER EATING ON THE GO
The influential Eat This, Not That! franchise introduced readers to the nutritional disasters hidden in supermarket aisles and behind restaurant menus, and the small swaps that promote better health and lower calories without dieting. The updated and expanded 2012 edition of Eat This, Not That! The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution features still-shocking entries in the Not That category (The Cheesecake Factory’s sautéed spinach side has the fat equivalent of 14 strips of bacon). However, it also includes new Eat This items offered by restaurants, thanks to shaming and pressure from anti-obesity crusader David Zinczenko, who co-authors the books with Matt Goulding. Back are the compact, color-coded spreads with product and menu-item comparisons in categories like fast food, chain restaurant and supermarket foods. Also included are Holidays and Special Occasions; foods marketed to kids; and an excellent Cook This section, with recipes for healthier versions of restaurant favorites. Zinczenko also shares Eat This success stories and a list of America’s 20 Worst Foods. While the best approach to eating healthfully is cooking from scratch, the book arms a typical American—who grabs breakfast from the drive-thru, lunch at a chain restaurant and dinner from the freezer most days of the week—with vital information they can use to find the health bonanzas and bombs.

GOOD STRESS AND BAD
Dr. Mehmet Oz and his sidekick Dr. Michael Roizen, authors of the best-selling You series (You on a Diet, You Staying Young) are back with You: Stress Less. This brief, useful and easily digestible book looks at good stress and bad stress—and provides tips beyond chocolate and bubble baths to minimize its destructive effects so you can live a happy, healthy life. Starting with the science behind stress, the docs take readers through healthy lifestyle basics including recipes for delicious healthy food, or “nature’s best medicine.” Stress management techniques are covered in sections on activity, relationships, pain management, good communication, managing anger, workplace stresses and the “Big Picture” of spirituality and giving, ending with a guide for developing your own stress plan—making this slim volume a mini-doctorate in preventative health care.

A SPUR TO GET ACTIVE
Working Out Sucks! (And Why It Doesn’t Have To): The Only 21-Day Kick-Start Plan for Total Health and Fitness You’ll Ever Need is an audacious approach to the challenges that keep people from getting fit. “Working out is a chore that ranks somewhere behind window washing, gutter cleaning and dog poop scooping,” writes author Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness, a chain of 1,600 health clubs across America. Aided by colleagues Brian Zehetner, a registered dietitian, and Rebecca A. DeRossett, executive coach and owner of Stillwater Psychological Associates, Runyon lays out the connection between good health and exercise, and the reasons the average person should develop fitness goals. Less a workout book and more an entertaining, kick-in-the-backside companion, Runyon “deprograms” fitness “brainwashing” of bad information, destructive attitudes and habits. His good-natured rants are followed by a section on changing defeatist attitudes, plus a 21-day kick-start plan including daily meal and workout suggestions. “While vanity may provide the initial motivation,” Runyon writes, “it’s the internal reward—the regular dose of accomplishment and pride—that turns regular people into fitness addicts.”

DANCE-INSPIRED FITNESS
The Physique 57® Solution isn’t for sissies, but the subtitle does promise “A Groundbreaking 2-Week Plan for a Lean, Beautiful Body.” Authors and dancers Tanya Becker and Jennifer Maanavi were devotees of the Lotte Berk Method, a strengthening and stretching technique created by Russian ballerina Lotte Berk. After her studio closed, the pair adapted her methods as Physique 57®, a combination of interval training, isometric exercises and orthopedic stretches that aims to lengthen and sculpt muscles for a lean body. Aimed at women with a promise to help them “lose up to 10 inches fast,” the regimen uses a process called “Interval Overload” to bring muscles to the point of fatigue—“where it starts to burn and shake”—to provide “the greatest possible stimulus” for greater results with fewer reps. The book’s 57-minute workouts are illustrated with black and white photographs, and the exercises are followed by a “kitchen diva” section with nutrition tips and recipes for a “macro-nutrient-rich approach to weight loss.” Those familiar with Pilates and other dancer-inspired workouts won’t shy away from this challenging path to an enviable body.

New books on healthy living emphasize workouts and eating plans for different lifestyles and goals—whether you want to lose inches fast, make better choices at the drive-thru or simply minimize stress. SHORT, EFFECTIVE WORKOUTSWomen’s Health and Men’s Health magazines are known for their bold design, clean layouts and solid information. The Women’s Health Big Book […]

Each year, nearly 20,000 young people “age out” of America’s foster care system, and many of them have nowhere to go. Writer Vanessa Diffenbaugh has transformed this sad statistic into an extraordinary debut novel.

The focus of a fierce bidding war among publishers, The Language of Flowers tells the visceral and deeply touching story of Victoria, a teen who has been discharged from foster care, leaving her alone and emotionally barricaded. It’s also a compelling story about spiritual hunger and the power of nature—and human connection—to help heal hearts.

“My book is helping to tell a story that needs to be told.”

“It came pouring out of me,” Diffenbaugh says of the six-month process of writing the book. “It was about a year and a half from the time I started it to the time I sold it. Pretty quick for a first-time novel and a bunch of kids in the house,” Diffenbaugh laughs, as she juggles a bit of background chaos, plus kids and a babysitter’s schedule, at home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Set in San Francisco and Napa Valley, The Language of Flowers draws heavily on Diffenbaugh’s upbringing in Northern California, with its fertile farms and vineyards, as well as her experience as a foster parent. Born in San Francisco, she studied creative writing at Stanford and taught art and writing to young people in low-income communities before becoming a full-time parent. She and her husband, PK Diffenbaugh, have two biological children, and have fostered children throughout their marriage. They recently moved from California to Cambridge, first dropping their foster son Tre’von, 18, at New York University, which he is attending on a Gates Millennium Scholarship.

In the novel, Diffenbaugh takes two strands—nature and created family—and spins them into an absorbing story that is as complicated and exhilarating as any human relationship. But instead of reading like a polemic disguised as fiction, The Language of Flowers is full of startling and masterful dialogue, intense, emotional scenes that crackle and come alive as they unspool, and flawed yet sympathetic characters.

“As you can tell, I’m passionate about two things: writing and helping kids in foster care,” Diffenbaugh says. “I could recite statistics that would blow your mind about what is happening to these kids, especially as they emancipate from the system—25 percent become homeless within two years—but you’re not going to . . . feel empowered to do something about it if you haven’t had some kind of connection with a story that helps you feel on an emotional level. My book is helping to tell a story that needs to be told.”

Narrated by Victoria in flashbacks, the novel follows her life as she bounces from one foster situation to the next until she’s emancipated from foster care at 18. Her most significant relationship is with Elizabeth, a gardener who grew up on a Northern California vineyard and is now estranged from her family. Elizabeth introduces her to the Victorian-era symbolism of flowers and their secret meanings, and Victoria embraces it as a way to express difficult emotions to the adults in her life. She describes the situations that led her to become an often abrasive young adult, the self-sabotage that left her homeless in a San Francisco park, and the twists of fate that lead to her work with a high-end city florist and her guarded relationship with a Napa Valley farmer who understands her secret language like no one else. 

From the smell of warm summer fruit to the sounds of a busy farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, every scene in the novel feels authentic and immediate. (Red Wagon Productions has optioned the book for a film adaptation.)

Diffenbaugh says the truth about foster care lies somewhere between the frequent demonization of foster children in the media and the rosy picture of fostering a child portrayed in the film The Blind Side

“We’re all human and we’re all struggling. I didn’t want to end the story tied up with a ribbon, but it’s possible for people to change, it’s possible for people to overcome, it’s possible for people to reconnect even when they’ve been so hurt,” she says. “I wanted to show the whole picture.” 

While she’s already working on her next book, Diffenbaugh is also launching a new organization, The Camellia Network, to help build support for young adults leaving foster care. “I think it’s one of the most pressing and most disastrous issues facing foster care right now,” she says.

“In the language of flowers, camellia means ‘my destiny is in your hands,’ and the idea is that we’re all interconnected. The destiny of our country lies in the hands of the youngest citizens.”

 

Each year, nearly 20,000 young people “age out” of America’s foster care system, and many of them have nowhere to go. Writer Vanessa Diffenbaugh has transformed this sad statistic into an extraordinary debut novel. The focus of a fierce bidding war among publishers, The Language of Flowers tells the visceral and deeply touching story of […]

When you bite into a burger, a steak sandwich or pile of juicy wings—and sauce drips down your wrist and your jaw aches from opening wide—you’re having a classic Guy Fieri moment.

The restaurateur, author and top-rated Food Network personality is best known for his hit show “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” and the best-selling cookbooks of the same name, in which he travels the nation in his ’67 Camaro in search of the best hole-in-the-wall joints with “good food by good people.” 

But long before “Triple D” (as Fieri refers to it), his quirky rock-’n’-roll, adrenaline-fueled food philosophy helped him win season two of “The Next Food Network Star.”

“I didn’t want to do ‘The Next Food Network Star,’” the very busy Fieri says in a phone interview. “I had no interest—go on national TV and lose? But I always had this mantra in my company: Take that hill. Be all that you can be. That’s the challenge.”

He sized up the competition and realized that most of the contestants were younger and had been to culinary school. He decided to focus on “having a good time, and maybe I’d get to meet Emeril and hang out with Bobby Flay.”

Fieri ended up winning the whole thing, and made his Food Network debut with “Guy’s Big Bite.” Ditching the traditional chef’s coat and bandana for bowling shirts, spiky dyed blond hair, tattoos and man-bling, he created a big, bold, in-your-face food category that he has made his own.

“I’m comfortable with who I am and how I cook and what I do,” Fieri says. “I don’t believe in luck. I think it all comes back to surrounding yourself with good people, surrounding yourself with information and, more importantly, feeling comfortable in your own skin.”

On May 3, Fieri moves a bit beyond his bad-boy, rock-’n’-roll image with his first cookbook of original recipes, Guy Fieri Food, which includes more than 125 recipes, plus color photos and cooking tips. The same goofball humor and big flavors are there, and the same emphasis on quality ingredients and expert preparation, whether it’s a hot dog or filet mignon. But this book focuses on how he cooks at home in Northern California, where he also owns and manages a small chain of fusion restaurants.

“I’m very into ethnic food, fresh food, vegetables,” Fieri says. “I’m a huge texture person. Love BBQ, love stuff that has to cook for 12-16 hours, love Asian food, love complexities, love French food, Italian food, love making pasta, love making food and working with it.”

Guy Fieri Food features twists on everyday classics from appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza and pastas, to main course meats and seafood, vegetables and sides, sauces and marinades, a smattering of desserts and drinks, all with a funky fusion of flavors (Irish Nachos, anyone?).

“The recipes are out of bounds,” Fieri says. “Everything from Asian to All-American to cooking with your kids, to homemade whole wheat pizza dough to juicing fresh vegetables, making chicken stock, tomato sauce and meatballs—not that I’m trying to be everything to everybody. I just opened up my Rolodex to the 150 recipes that I’ve been cooking at home and this is what you get.”

While Blackened Sesame Salmon with Cellophane Noodle Salad, Caramelized Leek and Apple Pizza and Lamb Loin Chops with Mint Pesto could be at home in any California restaurant, Fieri adds Bacon Jalapeno Duck Nuggets, No Can Beato This Taquito, and Good-to-Go Pizza Dough to the mix. It’s the high and low he’s known for.

“There are some steak sandwiches, there is some crazy food in there,” Fieri says of the new book that aims to teach as well as make cooks salivate. “But what you’re going to see is a lot of fresh ingredients. I broke down all the vegetables, cuts of meat. I try to give some insight. Chili from dried beans—that’s just the energy. It’s the life of Guy with food.”

Long before he became known as a fearless rock-’n’-roll chef, Fieri fell in love with food as a 16-year-old exchange student in France. Today, he shows great respect for all the cooks he visits on his “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” show. “The guy making the burger, that’s what he wants to make, how he wants to live. That’s his domain,” he says. “When you walk into somebody’s castle, you’ve got to respect that. That’s how I was raised.”

Fieri’s new cookbook reflects the way he and his family really eat. His children have never been to McDonald’s.

“Probably the last thing you’ll ever see me eat is a hamburger,” Fieri says. “I’d much rather have a tri-tip sandwich—I can’t even tell you the last time I had fried food, and not because it’s wrong. I love a good french fry like anybody [else], but I have to keep a balance.”

“I’m not saying I’m a purist—you can look at my petite 215-pound structure and tell I’m not some dietary wizard,” he says. “It’s about eating good food by good people. Make a french fry the right way, use good beef, fresh baked buns, lettuce that wasn’t sliced two weeks ago and packed in a bag in Schenectady. Keep it real.”

It also reflects how Fieri spends his off-camera time. He helped draft California legislation proclaiming the second Saturday in May as “Cook With Your Kids Day” and just launched Cooking with Kids, a program that promotes healthy eating habits and encourages families to share quality time in the kitchen. Fieri has also visited military bases as a guest of the U.S. Navy, entertaining troops and consulting with their cooks.

Whether he’s cooking for family, hosting hopefuls on the hit game show “Minute to Win It,” “bustin’ down” another best-selling book or cooking show, or hitting the culinary highway with “The Guy Fieri Road Show,” his focus is always clear: quality food and maximum fun.

 

When you bite into a burger, a steak sandwich or pile of juicy wings—and sauce drips down your wrist and your jaw aches from opening wide—you’re having a classic Guy Fieri moment. The restaurateur, author and top-rated Food Network personality is best known for his hit show “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” and the best-selling cookbooks […]

Betty White has been on a roll—a tear, really—for decades. Her show business career has only paused a few times since the late 1940s, when she debuted at the dawn of television with the ad-libbed “Hollywood on Television,” then moved to her own pioneering sitcom “Life with Elizabeth,” which she co-created, co-wrote and produced in the 1950s at the ripe old age of 31.

“I didn’t know any better,” says White, who is now 89. “There wasn’t an alternative—the job was there to be done and you did it. I was so lucky to get in television on the ground floor when it was starting out. I was on five and a half hours a day, six days a week, so it was like going to television college.”

"I have been so blessed. If you ever hear me complain about anything, throw me away!"

While attending “television college,” White hosted classic TV game shows and starred in many award-winning sitcoms including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls.” Last fall she hosted “Saturday Night Live” and now she stars in the cable television hit “Hot in Cleveland.” All the while, White was writing books about her time in Hollywood and her love of animals, beginning with Pet-Love: How Pets Take Care of Us in 1985.

“The bottom line is: I’m the luckiest old broad!” White says by phone from her Hollywood home, her beloved Golden Retriever Ponti on her lap. “I have been so blessed. If you ever hear me complain about anything, throw me away!”

Her new book, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), has the scoop on her white-hot career and latest projects, including impressions from the sets of SNL and “Hot in Cleveland” and her work on films like The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and The Lost Valentine with Jennifer Love Hewitt.

White also touches on her childhood, her funny parents and her charmed early days in show business, as well as her present popularity, with anecdotes about the perils of typecasting and fascinating stories from her long performing career. Chapters include Body and Mind (“Somewhere along the line there is a breaking point, where you go from not discussing how old you are to bragging about it.”); Love and Friendship (including being a stepmom and dating when most interesting prospects are “much younger men—maybe only 80”); and Animal Kingdom, with touching but unsentimental stories about the animals she has rescued, loved and lost. The final section, Since You Asked, features White’s spirited ruminations on integrity, aging, keeping your head on your shoulders and remaining relevant in a “tough business.”

“Right now I’m doing ‘Hot in Cleveland’ with the greatest gals in show business,” White says. “We all adore each other! From the word go, we fell in love. I’m having the best best time. But that’s a whole different experience from going home and writing.”

White and husband Allen Ludden (who died in 1981) were good friends with John Steinbeck, and she was inspired by the author’s work ethic, right down to his habit of writing with a dog lying on his feet. She writes all of her books in longhand and finds that a fresh pack of paper is her greatest incentive to write. This funny, gregarious lady can think of nothing better than being alone with her animals, writing.

“It’s such a private thing,” White says. “You work it out in your head and you can work anywhere. All of a sudden, if something hits you that you want to put down on paper—it’s just a lovely experience.”

White wanted to be a park ranger or writer when she grew up and jokes that her first book was written at 14. “I wrote it with a pen dipped in ink, in longhand. It was a wonderful original story,” she deadpans. “A girl on a ranch and her brother was sick. I didn’t know quite how to finish it off. It was 106 pages. Finally I had an idea: It turned out to be a dream. She woke up and her brother was well and everything was fine. I just thought it was genius.”

If You Ask Me is White’s sixth book (her recently reissued book, Here We Go Again: My Life in Television, “is the closest to an autobiography”) and she has another one planned for next summer, a photography book with anecdotes about the animals at the Los Angeles Zoo, where she was zoo commissioner for three years and an active board member for 47 years. The little girl who collected blown-glass animal figures rather than dolls has been a lifelong advocate for animals, also spending 48 years on the board of the Morris Animal Foundation. The organization funds studies into specific health problems of dogs, cats, horses and wildlife, including gorillas in Rwanda.

In the book, White tells about her up-close visits with Koko the signing gorilla at the zoo.

“She’s my baby!” White says. “I had the privilege of visiting with Koko three times. She knows me now—she calls me ‘Lipstick.’ When she sees me she runs her fingers across her lips. She’s so magnificent, I can tell you.

“That’s my love—my animal work,” White says. “I have to stay in show business to pay for all my animal work!”

From her 1950s TV appearances to her recent SNL skits, Betty White has been the very definition of a trooper, throwing herself into making people smile. But this feisty octogenarian refuses to take credit for her incredible likability with audiences across generations.

“Have I got you fooled,” she says. “But I’m not going to talk you out of it.”

Betty White has been on a roll—a tear, really—for decades. Her show business career has only paused a few times since the late 1940s, when she debuted at the dawn of television with the ad-libbed “Hollywood on Television,” then moved to her own pioneering sitcom “Life with Elizabeth,” which she co-created, co-wrote and produced in […]

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