Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I saw my book for the first time today! My friend Neil (clearly a man of impeccable taste) had pre-ordered a copy and received it yesterday. This morning he brought it along when we met for coffee at the Pantheon. It’s a pretty cool feeling, seeing your book for the first time. I’m letting myself enjoy that feeling for a few days before I start worrying about what I’m going to do next!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Rome Marathon was yesterday. Allyson and I took part in the event’s four-kilometer “fun run,” which was neither much fun, nor much of a run. There were so many participants that you could barely walk, much less run, for the first kilometer or so. And the course was mostly uphill, which was definitely not fun!

Afterward, we watched the real runners. The marathon course went very close to our apartment building. I shot this video of the leaders passing by us, right at the 36-kilometer (22-mile) mark. (The leader in this video, Benjamin Kiptoo Kolum, went on to win the race in record time.) What impressed me is how fast these guys are running! I mean, I know they are world-class runners, but they went by so fast you could barely read their bib numbers - and they still had four more miles to go!

After the marathon, we worked on our terrace for a good two or three hours, pulling weeds, sweeping up a winter’s worth of dirt, etc. That was much harder than the fun run - but probably not as hard as running the marathon would have been.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Well, it's official: Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure has been published! The final bound copies arrived at the publisher’s warehouse last week and will soon be shipped out to bookstores nationwide.

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is already being hailed by critics, and it is widely expected to be this year's fastest-selling book about a road trip that Harry and Bess Truman took in 1953.

Don't miss out! Pre-order your copy today at your local bookstore (click here to find your local independent bookstore) or from on-line booksellers, including Barnes & Noble,, and Powell's Books.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We've moved quite a few times over the past five or six years, so we've been lucky enough to file taxes in several states. This year we have to file in Virginia since we "resided" there while Allyson was in training at the State Department. The Virginia tax forms are, by a considerable margin, the worst I’ve ever encountered.

Here are the instructions for Line 6 on Form 760PY (the form for part-year residents), which is actually the first line after the basic name, address, and filing status stuff:

"Part I on the back of Form 760PY must [emphasis theirs] be completed before you make an entry on Line 6. Complete Lines 28 through 32, then enter..."

So filers must complete Lines 28 through 32 before [emphasis mine] Line 6? If that's the case, why not move Lines 28 through 32 ahead of Line 6? Let's call them Lines 6 through 10, and renumber the following lines accordingly. And this, for all intents and purposes, is the very first line of the form. It's not an auspicious start. And it only gets worse. To wit: Line 32(a). On the form all it says is, "Net fixed date conformity modifications." Flummoxed? Well, here's what the instructions say:

"Virginia's date of conformity with the Internal Revenue Code was advanced from December 31, 2006, to December 31, 2007. The special 30% and 50% bonus depreciation allowance for certain assets under the IRC and the 5-year net operating loss (NOL) carry back..."

It goes on like that for another nine lines of gibberish, unintelligible to all but tax-preparation professionals (and I suspect even a few of them would be confused). It almost seems like a trap for the filer. Not only that, but the design of the form is abysmal. The type is so small it's hard to read. I don't have my pica ruler handy, but I'm guessing it's 10-point at the most. And the leading - the space between the lines - is so narrow that it's difficult to write in the numbers.

The federal form is, by comparison, a work of clarity and beauty. But nothing compares to the Maine income tax forms.

My, I remember them fondly: bold and colorful, with plenty of room to write in the numbers. If fact, there are designated spaces for each digit on a line. The instructions were clear, too. In the spirit of the Rome Bus Project, here are my grades for income tax forms:

Virginia: D-

Federal: C

Maine: B+

Monday, March 09, 2009

Publishers Weekly gave my book a very nice review today:

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip Matthew Algeo. Chicago Review (IPG, dist.), $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-55652-777-7

Public radio reporter Algeo (Last Team Standing) brings the 1950s into focus with a fascinating reconstruction of Harry and Bess Truman's postpresidential 2,500-mile road trip. “I like to take trips—any kind of trip,” Truman wrote. “They are about the only recreation I have besides reading.” Between 2006 and 2008, Algeo retraced their journey with stopovers at some of the same diners and hotels the couple visited. When Truman left the White House in 1953, he returned to Independence, Mo., rejecting lucrative offers he felt would “commercialize” the presidency. His only income was a small army pension. Acquiring a 1953 Chrysler, the Trumans set out with no fanfare and a curious notion of “traveling incognito.” However, reporters and newsreel cameras soon turned their vehicular vacation into an ongoing media event. The book benefits from extensive research through oral history interviews and papers at the Harry S. Truman Library, and Algeo's own interviews with eyewitnesses. With deliberate detours, this book is a portal into the past with layers of details providing unusual authenticity and a portrait of the president as an ordinary man. 20 b&w photos, 1 map. (May)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Obesity is a growing problem in Italy (no pun intended). One in three Italians is overweight. One in ten is obese. To better track the problem, the Italian Higher Health Institute has announced plans to create a national database of overweight and obese people. How will they do it? By sending doctors and nurses to supermarkets across the country to collect personal data from “heavier shoppers,” who will also be offered helpful “lifestyle advice.”

Hmm. I wonder how that would go over in the States...

Monday, March 02, 2009

My new book received a very nice review in Library Journal today:

Algeo, Matthew. Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip. Chicago Review. May 2009. c.272p. photogs. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-1-55652-777-7. $24.95. HIST

In the summer of 1953, back in Missouri after leaving the White House six months before, Harry and Bess Truman loaded up their new Chrysler and headed out, like thousands of their fellow citizens, on a summer vacation. Public radio reporter Algeo chronicles this unlikely excursion in great and wonderful detail. The Trumans drove to Washington, DC, to visit old friends and then on to New York to visit their daughter, Margaret. Along the way they caused a sensation at almost every diner and filling station at which they stopped. In addition to a detailed itinerary, Algeo, who retraced the Trumans' route, also provides many interesting side trips, including both press and government reactions and interviews with folks who'd met the Trumans on the trip. It was still a time when former Presidents received no pension or Secret Service protection, when there were no interstate highways or big chain motels, and travel was a much more intimate and haphazard affair. This enchanting glimpse into a much simpler age that is all but gone should appeal to anyone interested in the Fifties, Harry Truman, or unusual travel tales. Recommended for public libraries and undergraduate collections. —Dan Forrest, Access Svcs., Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green