These are things I know about people I have never met:

Islands of Privacy by Christena Nippert-Eng. 360 pages. University of Chicago Press. $22.50.

I know a former writer for Jezebel accidentally left a tampon in for several days, and I know what the discharge looked like when she finally got it out.

I know what a memoirist and blogger ate today, and also what her cat looks like sitting up, lying down, chasing a bug, and hiding under the bed.

I know the sexual proclivities and preferences of a work colleague’s wife, because her husband announced them at a cocktail party. I was not at the party, but a friend called me mid-way through to relay the information.

I know about random people’s drug habits, eating disorders, cutting, menstrual cycles, and fetishes, because they wrote… More…

When I was 14 I wanted to be a private investigator. I had watched television shows about them — Simon & Simon; Rockford Magnum, P.I. — and it was clear from my research that this was an exciting job with shootouts, fistfights, sexy women, and fast cars. The P.I.s on television weren’t like the adults I knew: They were sardonic; they charmed information out of people; they picked locks. P.I.s were on the right side of the law, but just barely.

After graduating high school my P.I. fantasy was replaced with others, and more than 20 years passed before an attorney friend of mine asked me to do some criminal defense investigation work for him. Suddenly I had a new job. One day I was the facilities manager at a small acupuncture college; the next I was a licensed investigator with several incarcerated clients to interview.

My new job quickly… More…