Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out Stealing Horses, quote from

..." I want to use the time it takes. Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking."

I missed this until someone pointed it out.  This is why I love Per Petterson.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Then Came the Evening, Brian Hart

This is a new book by a first time novelist, just released last week.  Bandy and Ione live near Lake Fork, Idaho;  this book picks up after their breakup when she leaves him and he ends up murdering a policeman (in the first chapter).  It goes through the chronology of their separate lives and that of their son Tracy, through numerous difficulties including disease, drug abuse, abandonment, and death.

Hart is masterful in his level of detail: I felt like I had actually visited the locations near Lake Fork that he described. None of his characters are typical, in fact, they are all unusually complex, which makes the reading very interesting. There's many surprises in this novel, as the story weaves through many different lives. I enjoyed the detail of it all.

However, the mood of the novel is hard to grasp. It's not just that it is depressing (it is) but also that I couldn't seem to focus on one character long enough to be drawn to them before he switches characters. It seemed like he jumped around characters so frequently that none of them were fully developed and I couldn't grasp a warmth or "pull" to any of them or their plight. And it frustrated me that there was never really any attempt to explain why the characters acted as they did (except for Tracy). I just felt like it was a bit disjointed, and wish there had been more focus on developing a single character or two, rather than placing so many complicated characters in without more depth.

While he is compared to Cormac McCarthy, I have to disagree. The style may be similar in the intense level of descriptiveness, but McCarthy made his characters come alive, and every thought and action became part of who they were, even if they were unsympathetic villains. In this, the characters were complicated but without as much depth as to feel completely real.

I look forward to more novels by this author, though, purely for the feel of the location and place as influenced by nature, weather, and people.

Thanks to Bloomsbury USA for the advanced copy to review!

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow

“So now all of that was public knowledge but what was the point except to indicate the decline of a House, the Fall of a reputable family, the shame of all that history in that it had led to us, the without-issue Collyer brothers lurking behind closed doors and coming out only at night.” (177)

This statement by the narrator, Homer Collyer, serves to summarize this historical fiction novel by E. L. Doctorow. The house is just as an important character as the two brothers, Homer and Langley, and all of them play off each other with detail and significance. As the 20th century passes by, Homer plays hide and seek with the world outside, while inside Langley is hoarding everything from newspapers to pianos to an old car. The way their life unravels from privileged children to hoarders lacking water and electricity is documented step by step. They stop paying their bills, and steadily begin an attempt to shut out the world, although this makes them become infamous in their neighborhood and an anecdote in the newspapers.

“For what could be more terrible than being turned into a mythic joke? …Our every act of opposition and assertion of our self-reliance, every instance of our creativity and resolute expression of our principles was in service of our ruination.” (200)

The novel is fascinating in both how the brothers relate to each other as well as how differently they interpret world events. At a few points, it seemed a bit too Forrest Gump-ish in the style where everything seems to relate to them, as if they featured in each significant event. Part of that comes from Langley’s compulsive collection of newspapers; his goal, to write one newspaper that would be applicable to any day.

Knowing that the Collyer’s were real people makes this fictionalized novel more interesting, but I would take it a step further and suggest before reading it to read a short biography of them online. I did it in reverse, looking them up after, and wish I had done so before. Their story is fascinating, and seeing both the true and imagined makes for a dynamic read.   I didn't love it as much as I expected to, but it was fascinating and a sidelong view into the habits of the hoarder.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Thanks to NTIUpstream Press and Bloomsbury USA/Walker Books for the Advance Readers copies to review...they look great!

Also, great job at Islandport Press in MA for going to such lengths to support their treasured author/artist Dahlov Ipcar!  The Cat at Night is a publication to be proud of!  Hardscrabble Harvest looks like another great read as well.  Hopefully more people can discover these treasures...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

City of Thieves, David Benioff

City of Thieves, David Benioff:  historical fiction, no spoilers!

I've read many books about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust over the years, but I was completely unprepared by this book by Benioff.  It really knocked me around emotionally, in part because it contained so much tragedy and so much humor. 

Background:  this is based on the author's grandparents and their "how we met" story as Nazi hunters in Russia circa the end of WWII.  It is true to the extent that his grandfather dictated it to him, with the instructions to his grandson to 'make stuff up' if he needs more information.  His grandfather, Lev, was a Jew living in Piter, who was inadvertantly caught out during curfew (when he was trying to rifle the pockets of a dead German).  He ends up in jail where he meets a blustery blond soldier, who was also inadvertantly caught absent without leave (he was making a quick trip to visit his girlfriend and stayed too long).  Both face firing squads the next morning.

They get lucky, or so they think.  They are taken to a powerful General who agrees to free them if they first find him a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding the following week (supplies are nonexistent).  Sounds easy, and it isn't.  This is the tale of their search.  It is appalling, graphic, and funny.  Weird combination.

What surprised me was the detail to which the Russians suffered.  For example, food deprivation.  I knew that cannibalism took place, but the idea that they ate dirt from below a candy factory (the dirt was infused with sugar) or peeled book bindings to eat the glue (i.e. "library candy") shocked me more.

This book has genuine surprises and you really don't know what is going to happen at any given time, in fact, the more you assume the bigger the surprise. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fingerpainting Dinosaur

Sometimes I have to catch my breath when I see this sweet little face!  Mommy's sweetheart...

Monday, December 14, 2009


Susan Faye print, see her great stuff at!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

To Siberia, Per Petterson

I finished this yesterday with a sense of sadness, as it's the last of the Petterson books that I have.  I know he's written more, but they are yet to be translated. 

This is an amazing book, and pretty much different from any of his other novels (or most fiction for that matter).  Imagine placing four characters into a setting, describing the location, and leaving it at that.  You are told of different things that happen, but from the outside.  You really have no internal view of why they are behaving as they are.  There's very little dialogue to clue you in, and most of the strange occurences come and go with no explanation.  The details from place to place are incredibly vague, there are few references to their work, their daily habits, even their friends.

For example, the two children, from childhood on, appear to parent themselves.  Their father is extremely distant, and their mother is pretty much devoted to God and no one else.  The brother and sister are extremely close, to the point that it crosses your mind that something may be off.  But then again, they essentially have no parents, so all their interaction is with each other.  They talk about a vague future but they never have a connection to the current, it seems.  The isolation is unsettling.

One thing this book really taught me was how ignorant I am about history from a perspective other than US History...this took place in Denmark prior to WWII and I had no knowledge of any of the activities that were going on before or during the war. 

Really good, although I still favor Out Stealing Horses.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The "Giveaway", Lakota tradition

I recently read an article about a woman who began giving away her precious items, per the tradition of the Native American Lakota tribe.  I can't remember where I read it, but it was fascinating because the items she gave away were not castoffs or unneeded trivial things.  She gave away her favorite and most treasured items.  What a concept!

When I read it I couldn't wrap my head around the idea.  At first I thought it was a subtle idea of simplifying life by giving away clutter.  But to give away the very finest things one owns?  Wow.  The premise was to give away something loved so that someone else could feel that love.  I did some research on the Lakota Indians, and generosity is one of their four main tenets. 

To try and understand, I tried to evaluate my most precious possessions, and sadly couldn't really come up with anything other than my children.  Sure, there's photos of family and friends that I treasure, and always my stacks of books.  In terms of heirlooms I don't have much:  an unfinished quilt from my Grandma Bessie, a tiny little pair of leather crib shoes of #3, some drawings of birds that #2 made, and a couple of handmade items I made when my boys were little.  That's it.  And in reality, those are precious only to me.  I could live without them.  Strangely, that felt really good to realize.

It made me think of all the people out buying gifts right now, willing to stand in lines overnight to purchase a gift that may hold no sentiment to the recipient.  Really, they are only giving 'stuff'.  How to know if a gift has real meaning?  If one followed the Lakota tradition of the "Giveaway", what if you gave something you loved to someone who stuck it into a drawer and never looked at it again? Or got any sense of what you gave them?  Is that the point?  That you simply don't know?

I once did an intricate embroidery stitched nautilus shell for a friend who collected shells.  It wasn't cutesy at all, or tacky.  It was based on an actual scientific drawing of the nautilus.  It was classy!  Ha.  I had it framed for her.  She smiled kindly and said a hearty thanks.  A few years later, there it was, on a table at her garage sale.  And yes, she charged me 25 cents for the frame (the embroidered piece was free with purchase, LOL).  She must have forgotten (I can only hope) that I had given it to her.  So I got it back with a sense of humor, but never forgot that I had labored for so many hours on it and that was a waste.  Or was it? 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lit, a memoir, by Mary Karr

Confession is one of the main tenets of Catholicism, and this memoir by Mary Karr seems to be both the confession and the penance she pays in her late conversion to Catholicism at the final third of the book.

Is there such a thing as being too honest?  Karr confesses to her lifelong addiction to alcohol, and all the ugly events that occurred during her life because of her alcoholism.  She's brutally honest, which takes a ton of guts, because I really couldn't stand her as I read it.   She wrote this as a form of atonement to her son for her years of poor mothering and distance. 

Essentially she had a tragic childhood filled with ugliness and pain.  She longs to be a poet, to find a way to make magic with words and leave her mark on the world.  But given that, she spends very little time discussing her actual development of poetry, instead she professes her love for the 'look' of poets:  the starving artist, the tortured soul who is misunderstood and unappreciated, almost like she's reaching for the costume.  It seems like she wants to join the poet's club rather than actually be a poet.  Maybe her real gift is in this form of writing, the memoir.  It's her third.  She has no trouble with words in this respect.

She writes well, in a witty, self-deprecating way.  She doesn't ask for sympathy or pity, and in many ways that would be hard to give.  Is it wrong to say she's selfish and rude, when she's gone so far to be this honest?  Because that's the impression she gives.  She does have her conversion at the end, which I found a little bit offputting, because again she seems to want to join a club rather than really feel a spiritual connection.  And yet she points out the all people have a spiritual need, and I do agree with that.  But her roller coaster ride with finding sobriety makes her unpleasant and irritating.  No doubt some of it had to do with the alcohol.

It's just very difficult to tolerate her reeling off stories of how often she drove drunk with her son in the car, how she avoided caring for her sick son,  and how being alone with her child was boring and a chore.  I don't get that, alcoholism or not.  So many times she put him in danger, when she had the resources to get help and refused it.  When counselors told her to count her blessings, she couldn't think of any:  not the sweet little boy she had, nor the home, the loving husband, etc.  When asked what she wanted in life, her answer was "more money".  And while she complained about being judged unfairly, she was the most judgemental of all.  It seems so out of touch. 

In all, it was a good read in terms of learning about alcoholism and the recovery process.  There were a few gems of wisdom in it, as when a counselor told her if she worries she will be judged, she should ask herself 'what do you base that on?'  If she admits it's her own imagination and worry, than it has to be dismissed.    She's repeatedly told to stop imagining what people think of her, and to realize that everyone is worrying about their own problems, not hers.  All her worries about not measuring up or fitting in, which she used alcohol to mask, had to go in order for her to not feel the need for the alcohol.

I admire her candor, and respect her efforts to make amends.  I don't agree with all her premises at the end, but I'm glad she got her life together.

In the Wake, Per Petterson

In the Wake by Per Petterson...

I'm sleep walking today as I ended up sucked into this book all night long and ended up with maybe an hour of sleep.  A sleep filled with images from the book.  Which is really appropriate given that I'm in a similar state to the main character of this book, Arvid.

"Wake" can refer to three things, and all are fitting for this novel by the Norwegian writer Petterson.  First, it can mean wake as in not asleep, awake:  which is something that happens fairly rarely as the protagonist is sleepwalking through his days haunted by both memories and dreams that seem to keep him out of a fully awake coherent state.   It can also mean a vigil held over a corpse before burial, and this fits too:  the main character has lost most of his family to tragedy at sea and the remainder of them to divorce and an attempted suicide.  He is unable to bury his family, so to speak, as his memories of his father keep pressing at him.  Lastly, wake can represent the wave that spreads behind a boat, or the consequences of an event (what is left behind spinning out of control).  This again fits as the tragedy at sea is from a burning ship. 

All of these forms of "wake" fit into the puzzle of the novel without being overly clever or trite.  The character Arvid  is complex, and Petterson fills him out into a human that fascinates me yet still leaves me questions unanswered. 

For one thing, there's no seeming explanation for the distance from Arvid and his brother throughout their childhood, both emotionally and geographically.  Additionally, his relationship with his father seems based on pleasing his Dad even to the point of his own suffering.  What does he get out of that?  He doesn't seem to care for his Dad, and acknowledges in several places that at his father's many requests, he could have declined at any time.  He didn't.  He pushed himself to live up to his father's expectations, and yet seemed to have no discernable love for him.  Towards the end he concludes that if he knew some of his father's own struggles, revealed after his death, it might have made him closer to him in life.

Another big question for me was why, after his divorce, did he spend so little time with his daughters?  He mentions that maybe he's had enough of family and family connections, yet he chides his suicidal brother for not considering what his son would have felt had his suicide succeeded.   Throughout the book Arvid goes through his fog of memories (literal fog too) and nearly kills himself numerous times in different ways, albeit without the conscious decision.  I wonder if he intentionally tried to dissolve his own role as father so as not to traumatize his daughters with his own death, one that seems lurking behind every corner.

I really liked this book, and the character is someone I could see having coffee with.  It asserts that everyone grieves differently (no kidding) but also that grief never fades.  It may move into another corner of the mind, as if in a spare room with the door shut, but it is still in residence.

One thing that sort of rattled me was that this book was a translation from Norwegian, and there were a few phrases that seemed really out of whack.  I know nothing of language or translation, but I'm curious if that was an intention of the author or a glitch in the translation.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Books, New Treasures!

Some new goodies to keep me warm in winter:

Shyness and Dignity by Dag Stolstad
In the Wake, and To Siberia by Per Petterson
The Kindly Ones by Littell
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Barbery
Lit by Mary Karr
My Mother Never Dies by Castillon
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
Guardains of Being by Tolle
also four by Lawrence Durrell (Greece)

and for Baby 3:
The Cat at Night (based on a rave by Dave Eggers)
Harold and the Purple Crayon (ditto)
Katy No Pocket
Angus Lost
Jesse-Bear, What Will You Wear?
David Smells


Being Choosy

"Sometimes it takes the darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you"

David Whyte

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tennessee Williams quotes

I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.

A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This and that...

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

How is it that no other news organization addresses this stuff? Last night he points out how Fox News and Hannity knowingly used footage from a two month old political event and said it was from earlier in the day. Isn’t that significant? Years ago Cokie Roberts and her news organization (I think it was CBS) was heavily chastised for her standing in front of a green screen and saying “from the White House” instead of actually being there. This is much more problematic in that Fox was trying to show “overwhelming opposition” to health care reform that didn’t exist.

Monday’s show had similar complaints about the health care debate, with Rep. Victoria Foxx stated that the health care bill is “an exercise in the tyranny of the majority”. What? I had to TIVO back to see what she said. Isn’t popular vote a fundamental democratic principle? Does she prefer a ‘tyranny of the minority’? Is it that people who want health care are tyrants? I realize most of this is an exercise in futility but it just seems like such foolishness and scare tactics.

Along the same note, I had internet issues over the weekend and had to wait for Tuesday for a repairman. He shows on time, which should have been a clue that something was amiss. He comes in and first says “Coffee smells good” so of course I offer him some. Then he insists he needs to see every room and their phone jacks, including the bathrooms? The whole time he walks around he is just staring at everything…books on shelves (turning his head to see titles which I do too at people’s houses but more subtly), food in cabinets, just continual eye roving. X says he was looking for wiring issues but I thought he was prowling. Anyway, he mentions he just moved to our town and I asked him if he likes it, and he responds “we feel so blessed”. Oh. Just that one word and his intonation “blessed” and I knew him by heart. Fundamental redneck conservative. And as if reading my thoughts, he said, completely out of nowhere, “it’s so sad that Obama is going to turn us all into Socialists.” LOL WHAT? I ignore him and X giggles a little because he knows I’m annoyed. I go and do my passive aggressive bit by putting on the TIVO with an episode of Jon Stewart, loud, because I really have nothing to say to him and I don’t want to irritate him because he’s IN MY HOUSE and staring at our stuff. Funny thing (or not?) is that when he repairs it, our internet speeds seems slower than before. Coincidence? I think not.

It's just so completely wrong that health care is such an issue, it seems so fundamental.  My brother is terribly sick and he can't even get a second opinion on his health issues because he can't afford it.  Without children he can't qualify for some of the low income programs.  He has no income and no options. 

Watched STATE OF PLAY last night with X. Pretty good flick. It was pretty tightly done, lots of suspense, until at the end they had to throw in one more twist that just was too much, made it seem kind of silly. Worth the time though. I laughed when Russell Crowe’s snarky reporter says sarcastically “I have to read a few blogs before I can form an opinion on that.”

Started a new book today Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq. I was sent an advance copy to review before it is officially released. So far, I like it. I don’t want to cry though. Somehow I have enough trouble with the words pediatric and surgeon, adding in Iraq tells me there may be tears. I am such a marshmallow lately.

Played a bit of tourist today just for fun. X had an appointment in San Luis Obispo so we hit the park with baby, as well as the pier at Pismo Beach, the Monarch Grove, and out to lunch. Sort of refreshing to be at the beach, I don’t know why we don’t go more. It’s right there and so often we forget how great it is.

Big news in the yard: we had a Stellar blue jay visiting one of the oak trees. Not a local, unless something is up with his habitat and he’s looking for new digs. Usually the furthest south I’ve seen them has been Atascadero or in the Los Padres Forest. But he was behind the garage, scaring the regular birds to death and grabbing up all the peanuts we tossed on the garage roof. I hope he stays. He’s very handsome. We might call him Spike. And the Ring Tail Dove count this morning, at 7:am, was 52 at just one location. They are eating us out of house and home. A few years ago it was a big deal to see one or two of them around here.

X just brought me an ice cold beer. Tecate. Nice.  End of grumbling.

Marcus Aurelius

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The History Teacher, Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.
— Billy Collins, from Sailing Around the Room

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday fun, Christopher Walken performs Lady Gaga

LOL  A spoken word poet!

Billy the Kid, a film by Jennifer Venditti  See the trailer here!
"I know I'm unique, but I won't let it go to my head," says Billy, the subject of this 2007 documentary by Jennifer Venditti.   He has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, and the film follows him from home to school and into his first romance. 

Son 2 hated it, he thought the movie "sucked the soul out of him", meaning the boy and the exposing of his condition and his personal wishes and dreams.  Of course, he may have been referring to his own soul, as he quit the movie 2/3 the way through. 

It was great in that it was enlightening without being preachy or offering false hopes;  it was sad in that viewing it you realize he's not likely to achieve any of his dreams.  The film was honest, they didn't sugarcoat the condition. In fact, at times it was brutal in that it showed that he was angry, self-absorbed and unreasonable.  It seemed harsh that he opened his life to the camera and perpetua, could he have ever really consented to the invasion of his life?  This movie will follow him whether he likes it or not.  Will that be for the best?  Or will they film a sequel, showing him ten years from now?  That might work...

Significantly, no mention is made of the causes of Asperger's;  although Billy himself reveals a compulsion to tell everyone about the absence of his biological father.  Nurture vs. nature?  His mom seemed genuinely open and real, incredibly patient. 

It's a great film just to use to discuss how all of us have dreams and fears and misplaced hopes, and we all have situations to face that test us.  Great flick!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Scission, Tim Winton short stories

Thanks to an online friend in Australia, I have a link to some hard to find Winton novels to complete my collection.  Yay!

Scission came in the mail today.  It's his first collection of short stories, before he was ever on the map.  It's seriously wonderful.  I haven't read it all, but the stories I've read so far are amazing and complex, even though the longest are only five or six pages.

"Wake", my favorite so far, has had me transfixed while I read it three times over this afternoon.  It is so nuanced, so subtle.  It appears to be the story of an abandoned husband, and you'd think that if you just breezed through the story.  But upon reading it again, clues are found to show that there's much more to it.  While the wife never appears, Winton manages to make her so visible by how the husband behaves.  The things he does while she's gone, and more importantly, the things he doesn't do.  I had put it down after the second time, then about an hour later I remembered something from it and had to retrieve it once more.  On the third go around, yep, there's still more to it!  Wow. 

The lesson from this afternoon was to savor this collection slowly.  Not to rush through and miss the details that turn the story inside out.  Kind of like life?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Shawshank Redemption and Body of Lies, two movie treats!

I normally don't have the concentration required to watch an entire movie in one sitting, but this week I managed two.

The Shawshank Redemption, written by Stephen King, is a pretty horrifying prison story.  It was edited for TV so I imagine unedited it would have been brutal.  In any case, King can tell a story like no one else.  If only for watching Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman interact, it's worth watching.  It had an ending none of us could predict, and we were all left in awe.  If you watch it, consider what subterfuge and the art of distraction has to do with it.

Body of Lies, starring Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.  They make Crowe look heavy, grey, and old and damn if he doesn't still look good.  What seemed amazing though, was how he completely became another person.  Ten minutes into this thriller, you forget he's acting and he simply becomes Ed Hoffman with irritating tics and mannerisms.  I think I know why this bombed in theatres, I don't think people really want to think that hard about what is going on in the Middle East.  This too had an unexpected ending and the whole viewing had us guessing for what would play out (and we were all wrong too).  Great movie.  Sadly, I seem to be getting to be less frightened of violence, as long as it's movie violence and not reality. 

Both movies were thinking films, and I plan to rent State of Play next.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I may be wrong...

I think I'm wrong.  I said two posts ago that it shouldn't matter what an author's personal beliefs or actions are if they are writing fiction and the tale itself is enjoyable.  Yet the more I think about Hamsun, from what I learned in the paper today, I can't help but feel cheated. 

The subject is just too complicated to give a decisive answer to....

I know as a kid not being allowed to read Sylvia Plath because she had committed suicide.  But then when I did read her as an adult, my mind kept going back to what she had done and colored it all differently. 

I don't know what I think!

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book came out ages ago and I've finally got around to reading it.  I really loved Middlesex by the same author, so I had pretty high expectations.

The story didn't disappoint, but it was a quicker, shallower read than I had expected.  The premise is the suicides of five sisters in the span of a year.  That's not a spoiler, it's pretty much on the blurbs and explained in the first chapter.  What it deals with is the relics of their life and what significance they carried and attempts to find a connection between their external lives with their disturbed (obviously?) interiors.  Learning the personalities of each girl is interesting, and more fascinating is the pull these sisters exerted on every young man around.  

Two things bugged me about the book, and I'm thinking maybe that's what Eugenides had in mind.  First, he doesn't explain much about why the parents behaved the way they did, and how that could have influenced the girls.   Maybe by not delving into that he's challenging the thought of 'nurture' being to blame when children are dysfunctional?  It seemed the most obvious direction to head in examining why it all happened, but he doesn't go there directly.  By not mentioning their influence, and then not offering any other explanation, is he trying to place all the blame on the indirectly?

The other unexplained (I'm sure on purpose!) aspect was who made up the "we" that serves as the narrator of the story.  It's clearly a pack of boys who are fascinated by the whole tragedy, but who was their voice or was it a compilation of all of them?

Los Angeles Times article on Knut Hamsun

Today's Times:,0,5345383.story

Fascinating and a bit disconcerting....I wonder how much of what you enjoy about an author is affected by what you know of his personality off the pages?  Does knowing that a favorite author was a Nazi sympathizer change things?  It has to, to some extent.  That Hamsun sent his Nobel Prize for Literature to Goebbels in tribute?  Ick.

"Here, one imagines, {Zcaron}agar is pointing not to Kolloen, who doesn't shy away from Hamsun's most dangerous impulses, but to the type of critic who has sought to pry the accomplishments of "Hunger" from the moral failings of its creator. The same impulse can be found in recent writings on Ezra Pound and Louis-Ferdinand Celine: a separation undertaken not necessarily in the name of postmodernism -- the "reclaiming" of the text -- but simply because it makes it easier on the reader. Such a strategy belies the challenges of any of these writers: to see them whole, their lives and work as part of the same continuum, which makes for an uncomfortably complicated moral and aesthetic response.

In this way, "The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance" and "Dreamer and Dissenter" are daring, frightening books. What if instead of attempting to separate Hamsun's politics and his art, Kolloen and {Zcaron}agar seem to be hinting, we took it for granted that the two were inextricably intertwined -- that one would never have been possible without the other? Where would we be then?"

I'd never really thought of this before. I really don't think I would have enjoyed Hunger as much if I had known this information before.  Much less Growth of the Soil, a favorite of mine, in view of what I know now.  It definitely changes things.  But do I have to dismiss them completely?

An author's personal life obviously affects what they write, but is it necessary to be examined in concert with their work?  If someone wants to read Hemingway, should they have to review a biography first?  Of course not, because their personal feelings might bias them against accepting the work as is.  Does an author need to even divulge their personal views?  Do they have to be that open or are they allowed a degree of privacy?  Obviously Hamsun was public in his viewpoints, so considering what he said and did is open to discussion, but is it vital to understanding the actual writing?  I don't think so...if it's fiction.  If it was his personal bio I'd be unlikely to pick it up, but as long as it's a 'story' I don't have a problem with reading his words.

If I read of an author who liked to stomp kittens or shoot at birds, yes, I'd avoid them for sure.  But could they still tell a story?  Their writing has to be separate from their lives, because who knows what people really are?  Should have an author have to manipulate their personal information to avoid exposure for what might be deemed unappealing by whatever demographic they appeal to? It reminds me of the James Frey disaster on Oprah...his story appealed to so many until it was discovered to be fictional rather than autobiographical.   He would likely have found success with a fictional offering.  The fact he was a confessed liar changed it all, but should it have?  It was an interesting read regardless.

It seems timely that today's paper addressed the Hamsun issue as well as more of the Roman Polanski drama.  Is he less of a visionary director because of his personal life and all the nasty allegations?  To me it's easy to separate the two aspects of his personal and professional life.  Do I like him?  No.  Should he be punished? Absolutely.  Does that make his work trash?  I don't think so.  I'll never pay for a biography but I may just rent The Pianist

X is currently reading a collection of Oscar Wilde, a compilation of most of his work and a biography and interviews all in one.  He's learned that Wilde was in many ways a jerk:  selfish and arrogant among other things.  But in spite of all that, the short stories are amazingly funny and spot-on in reality.  His personal life explains much of it, but is not necessary to enjoy the stories themselves.  X keeps trying to juxtapose the differences, but why?  Why not accept it as is?

What about an author whose personal life is public before they write?  Would anyone take a Paris Hilton novel seriously?  Not a chance.  But does that mean an unknown author who just appeared out of nowhere is somehow more legitimate or more morally acceptable (until proven otherwise)?

I think I'll use a pseudonym if I ever get published.  I'll make up a really pretty name (Rainn?) and photoshop my picture for the blurb to look intelligent and approachable (and thin and pretty!), and maybe even make up a really happy biography ("lives with her thirteen cats"). 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blueback and Minimum of Two, a Tim Winton double play!

I had two Tim Winton books to enjoy this week, I felt rich!  Better yet, I now have an Australian source who is going to look for the remaining Winton books to complete my collection at hopefully a cheaper price!

First off, Blueback.  It is described as an adult fable.  It deals with a single mom and her son on the Western Australia coastline.  It was a short read and it disappointed.  I loved the setup, but it dissolved into a rather preachy ecological lecture on global warming and the overharvesting of the ocean.  I can't disagree, but felt it a bit pushy from one of my favorite authors.  I couldn't figure out who he was trying to reach:  is whaling still a problem in Australia?  Or was he going for the women-who-poach-abalone demographic?  Just sort of disappointing. 

Minimum of Two was an ordinary paperback that I spent an ungodly amount of money on, as it is out of print.  I feel like it needs its own safety deposit box.  However, once I began I was not disappointed, it was flawless.  It is similar to his collection of short stories, The Turning.  But this selection is a bit different.  All but two of the shorts deal with the same family, and as always he shows differing viewpoints of different events and times.  It starts with a young boy dealing with his parents divorce, then the other stories are from the standpoint of the father at different points in his life:  dating, newlywed, out of work, dealing with his father's illness, etc.  They aren't in any chronological order, so it takes reading them all to see the complete story of the family.  I like that there are gaps left unexplained so you can ponder what actually happened. 

It's never a happily ever after story with Winton, and this too has it's sadness and poignancy.  What I liked though was how, as I already know how fast life can change, as an individual I can only look back and forward in my own life.  In this set of stories, I could see his life, backwards and forwards, and see what the main character couldn't see:  all his options and choices and how they turned out.  Great book!!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Object of My Affection

About a year ago I was on vacation, trying to escape some dark times here at home. I felt strong and powerful for what I had been surviving, but at the same time I felt like much of it was surreal, like a bad TV movie. As I browsed shops and boutiques, I had this sense of needing a ‘souvenir’ to remind me of surviving such difficulties and remaining (somewhat) sane.

It was in one trendy little boutique just off State Street that I found a heavy stone with the word “Believe” intricately carved into it. It seemed to fit: I needed to believe in myself and believe in the idea of justice and moving on. I bought it and gave it a place of honor on my dresser. I remembered all of this yesterday as I was dusting the dresser: moving the lamp, my one perfume bottle, the assorted photographs, and the candy dish from my mom. As I picked up the rock, I realized with a start, that it was just a rock.

Not that I had attributed any powers to it other than a memory point; it certainly wasn’t my personal talisman. The word “Believe” seemed so insignificant and trivial for all that I had imagined it would mean to me. For one thing, I needed no souvenir, it’s not like I could ever forget. I knew I was strong without needing the rock to tell me so. And “believe”? Of course I believed in the future, isn’t that why I keep getting out of bed every day and moving forward?

It was there, next to the vacuum and with the dusting rag still in my hand that I realized, for all my intentions, I had been mistaken. That object, the silly gray rock with the blue granite veins swirling through, was something that pushed me backward. It pushed me back into remembering things I had hoped to leave behind in the effort of moving forward. It was just a rock.  It now sits in a box on a closet shelf.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


full disclosure:  not always a good thing

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Every time I drive the main drag in our little town, I get terribly annoyed by a sign for a small business: The Smoker’s Hut. Granted, most people have important things on their minds and probably don’t notice, and I do get annoyed at weird things. I have actually found myself irritated by a font in a sign, which is just wretched. Anyway, when I first saw the sign all I could think of was “Wow, a lot of thought went into that business name!” I mean, was The Smoker’s Shop or The Smoker’s Store already taken? What do they mean by Hut? Were they going military like a Quonset hut or more of a Caribbean tiki hut thing? I can picture them sitting around the office, throwing names around, and coming up with Smoker’s Hut! Brilliant! Someone should get a bonus!

I realize it’s trivial, but I can’t be the only one who notices names and what is clever or definitely not. As in, Ye Olde Medicine Shoppe, which is a local pharmacy chain. What were they thinking? Are they trying to tempt the customer with expired meds, or was it more of trying to reach the ‘where do we buy leeches’ demographic? And the old fashioned writing? Don’t evene gete me startede.

It’s not always annoyance: I really love it when there are cool business names: the Frog and Peach Pub in San Luis Obispo is an example. I love that name. I have no idea why. The combining of two unexpected elements? Maybe. The herb shop that is called Out of Thyme? Love it. The scrapbooking seller Rock Paper Scissors, or the paper supplier Papyrus? Great. The coffee shops Daily Grind and Higher Grounds? Again, much better than The Coffee Hut.

Along the same lines are commercials that are either painful or silly or both. Just for Men is selling a men’s hair coloring treatment that allows a man to look neither too old nor too young, by taking away just some of the gray…leaving a nice salt and pepper look. I ignored the commercial when it was on simply because I can’t imagine anyone who would give a damn, until the parting line had all of us laughing out loud. The spokesman gave a knowing wink and said “Now I look like I know what I’m doing, and I still can!” BWA HA HA!

Verizon also did a little touché commercial as a take on Apple’s “We have an app for that” logo by showing their phones and the catch phrase “we have a map for that” showing their superior coverage. Cool!

I usually agree that simple is better and less is more but in this case, clever always wins!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The House, by Richard Wilbur

Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In a sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow's walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.

Is she now there, whereve there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

Richard Wilbur, 31 August 09 New Yorker magazine

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yes, please!

Getting Away...

I just returned from a few days out of town.  Something about a quiet and anonymous hotel room is bliss to me.  Santa Barbara is at its finest this time of year.  The weather was perfect and I shopped for a few treasures.  Mostly I walked.  The beachfront has paths all the way from the zoo up and over Cliff Drive and you can walk forever.  The best walk was through the harbor and out onto the breakwater...looking back at the city and the boat reflections on the water was beautiful.

Hearing my baby gasp at seeing the elephants at the Zoo, about 15 feet away, was a huge joy.  His complete shock and awe. Then when he saw the giraffes, he audibly sighed.  A different recognition since he was there last.   It was also heartening to see all the graduate kids from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (it was our reunion) doing so well...I've never seen so many multiples before!

My only moment of discontent was discovering on that first afternoon of quiet, with the baby sleeping soundly, that the Book I had brought to enjoy was one I had read before.  Damn it!  I tried re-reading it, and wondering how I took such care to select a book for the trip and messed up this bad!  I ended up reading all the crap that they leave in the hotel drawers just for something to read...I wasn't about to watch TV and mess up the quiet.  So, I am well acquainted with area restaurants and their menus, I know just when the polo club will be practicing, and I was confident to know all exit strategies in case of fire, earthquake or tsunami.

One thing that was sort of weird/cool was running into an old acquaintance that I hadn't seen since 2002.  We were both happy to see each other, and tried to find the best way to summarize the last few years in the few minutes we were out on State Street.  Too much has happened, so we just generalized:  I mentioned
my husband's illness and the new baby.  She had two children as well in that time.  Thing was, we had so much to say but nothing really stood out.  We were sort of mute at that point (beyond all the 'we have to keep in touch' blather) when she said something interesting in her best Oprah voice:  "well then, what have you learned about life in the last few years?"  I sort of laughed and said "Trust no one."  Her response was similar.

The rest of the trip I kept thinking of her words, considering just how much has happened in that time and what, if anything, I've learned from it.  It's going to sound cynical to say this, but I came up with a few things.

My little rules:
1)  don't overshare your life to people, because then you will feel like you owe them an explanation for what choices you make, and you really don't need to worry about what people think***. 

2) take care of yourself even when you feel like you are living in the shadow of your errors and faults...value yourself enough to not let people hurt you or challenge who you are.  That means dump the toxic friends, put on the sunscreen and moisturizer and eat your veggies, only watch Citizen Kane if you really want to and not because you are supposed to (same with Gone with the Wind and Casablanca), don't keep reading a book you aren't enjoying just because you feel obligated, give away things you don't need that just take up space and use Caller ID. 

3) Be nice.  Don't be a doormat or a robot, and don't pretend to be something else.  Be a nice person, make someone smile (they say it makes people nervous!), and just keep moving forward past all the crap that lingers around.  Be friendly to the cashier, the teller, the taxi driver. 

4) Don't set up huge expectations for what you think other people should do or say or be.  Let yourself off the hook too.  So many things are disappointing, instead just find a simple way to look ahead and be pleasantly surprised rather than let down. 

5) Do your best, even if others think it's not enough.  Or if they say it's too much.  Ignore those other voices and just do what is in your heart.

6)  Take at least two books on every trip.

Off my soapbox...
***It may sound strange to say "don't overshare" in a blog where I actually do overshare, semi-anonymously, but the people who know me get it.  I hope.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The new hive!

I just found this hive in the oak tree behind my garage.  This is all real, even though the honeycomb cells look like plastic.  It's stunning.  Check out how the hive attaches to the branch.  Wow.  Some badass bee engineers!  More amazing is that this wasn't here last week, or at least not large enough to notice.  This stood out distinctly because of it's yellow/cream color.  I thought it was a paperbag stuck in the tree. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bill Bryson "In a Sunburned Country"

Bill Bryson must be one of the best people you could travel with:  easily amused, witty, with a curiousity that makes him seek out the world's largest (fiberglass) lobster just as avidly as any highbrow museum. 

I have read four of his books, all on different locations, and each time I crack up about the observations he makes about people and their cultures.  Right now I'm finishing In a Sunburned Country about his travels around Australia.  Ever the smart ass, he makes you want to get off the beaten path and really see things rather than hit the most tourist destinations in one short trip.  I wish I had the luxury of travelling as widely and as lingering as he does.  Someday! 

I've read Paul Theroux who writes travel in a similar way, but he's not nearly as much fun.  He does discuss more facts and details about the locations, while Bryson seems to fixate on humans and their silliness (along with the more outrageous facts, as in how many ways nature wants to kill you in Australia).  I'm starting Notes on a Small Island (about the UK) soon, but I got myself off track on an Australia tangent thanks to all-things-Tim Winton.  I have The Fatal Shore (more history) and The Long Green Shore (fiction related to WWII with Japan and Australia) next in line before I go back to Great Britain.  I did finish The Kingdom of the Sea last week, Theroux's UK adventures, and all this travel is making me crazy.

I have a small local trip next week, and I'm more worried about what books to take than what to wear.  Sort of a sad, silly life in a way, but damn if I don't love it!

September 30, 2009

Today was the kind to make up for lots of bad days throughout the year.  It was gorgeous and peaceful and clean.  For one thing, the light has changed.  Fall arrived last week but today was the first I could see of the change in the sunlight outside.  Somehow it was crisper and clearer.  The weather was warm but with a crisp, cool wind that couldn't decide whether to blow from the south or the east.  Then it would quit completely for a few minutes and then resume.

I had an afternoon outside in the cool light, with a good book and a cup of coffee and the view to enjoy.  I watched as the dogs seemed edgy and nervous at the wind, while the cats didn't give a damn either way.  A doe and her fawn were in the khaki colored field across from me on the other hill, nonchalantly working their way towards the lake.  They were hidden in the grass but the dusty green oak tree behind them gave away their location.  On the road below a line of eight green tractors went by, while a wildfire plane rumbled overhead back and forth,  likely dealing with the fire in Lompoc. 

I watched one of the homes down below, where a man in a bright pink shirt was puttering around in his yard, kicking a soccer ball to his kids and looking up at the sky.  I imagine he felt as wonderous as I did, looking at the light and feeling blessed.  Even the dog collar on my father's border collie sounded musical, as she wandered around the yard, pausing to remember things as she stared into the eastern sky.

Having the time to read is essential;  have the time to read in such a setting is luxury.  I can't imagine things much better than this!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Today, September 26 is....

National Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Day!

photo by Lilypink123 on Flickr....lovely mustang!

Read about the BLM's disasterous policy....

Friday, September 25, 2009

Linked on Nathan's blog, very cool if you have the time!

Another Cloud Reel... from Delrious on Vimeo.

It's not a cat, window, or book...

Milk train arriving in New Delhi
Manan Vatsyayana / AFP/ Getty Images / September 24, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fascinating Site--What are your Dreams?

This is a journey through the US with 4 1/2 minute interviews with random people about their lives: their hopes, dreams, and thoughts. Up close and personal. No script, no moral-of-the-story presentation; just an intriguing look at people through their eyes. We are all so much deeper than we appear.

For the Record

Just for today, I have some requests:

I don't want to discuss the economic theory of George Soros vs. William Buffett
or whether Steve Jobs is smarter than Bill Gates.
I don't want to debate about ACORN, HMO's, the NRA, the VMA's, my VISA or that damn FOX.
I don't want to relate to Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, or Balthazar Gracian.
I don't want to hear the names Rushbaugh, Beck or Hannity.

I don't want to think hard thoughts.

I want to spend my idle time trying to distinguish between the five hummingbirds
waging war in the yard.
And then name them.
Last year we had Zipper, Harley, and Marlin.
I want to focus on how the dog is lying down in the frog pose
and the cat looks like a snail.

I want to figure out which plants need watering
and then give them a drink.
I'd like to figure out why that new little oak tree
is taking root in the juniper.
So I can encourage him and his acorn friends to stay
and multiply.

I want to watch the clouds that are scattered
like sand dune shapes.
I want to watch the dogs sniffing the ground
searching for a lost tennis ball.
I want to watch the towheaded baby squat
to peer at the lady bugs.

I don't want to think about what needs to be done
or what I should be doing.
I don't want to have to furrow my brow
or squint in deep thought.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Small Moth by Sarah Lindsay


She's slicing ripe white peaches
into the Tony the Tiger bowl
and dropping slivers for the dog
poised vibrating by her foot to stop their fall
when she spots it, camouflaged,
a glimmer and then full on-
happiness, plashing blunt soft wings
inside her as if it wants
to escape again.

From Twigs and Knucklebones, Copper Canyon Press

No, "plashing" wasn't a typo....need a word? Make one up! It fits.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rumblings and Rants

Whine time! I've tried not to complain, but some things are getting to me!

Netflix: Hate it. The pressure! You have to pick a title, then it comes and everyone gives you the evil eye until you've watched "your" movie so that it can be sent back for the next one in line that they are waiting for. And you never know which ones are coming in what order so if yours comes you must drop everything or face said 'evil eye'. Argh.

Food Network: I've come to realize how wicked these shows are. For one thing, you are immediately hungry for whatever they are making as nothing looks bad on them. So, instant diet wrecker. Then, whoever is watching them gets very cranky because nothing that is available to eat at home is remotely desirable compared to what they've just seen. Major cranky.

Lady Gaga: I know it's all self promotion, her way of getting attention. And that by simply complaining about her is giving her some of my attention, therefore she is getting more than her 15 minutes and the circle continues. At what point will this stop? Do people consider her a talent or a sideshow? I don't get it. And on the VMA awards ( I had to watch as my teen sons commandeered the living room), what's with Madonna's tribute to Michael Jackson that was somehow all about her?

The phrase "a slippery slope." It used to be Law & Order had the franchise on this term, but I'm hearing it everywhere. It's annoying me in the way that "a paradigm shift" and "at the end of the day" used to.

Today the guys are watching an old (1995!) western, The Quick and The Dead. Respectable cast (Hackman, DiCaprio, Crowe, Sinise) except for Sharon Stone. I'm sorry but I'm not a fan. She utters the line "I'm gonna kill you if I have to ride all the way to hell to do it" with a straight face, and then "the Law's come back to town". Worst dialogue ever. Lame. It did make me ponder, on all the scenes of gunfights that happened throughout the movie, did the townsfolk really come out to watch? You see it in all the Westerns, everyone gathers to watch the duel. Me, I'm too chicken. I'd be hiding out at home under my bed. Or conveniently out of town. Why go watch? Was that historically likely? Same with hangings...did people really go watch? WHY?

Lastly, I must gloat. Got a TON of books this week. A huge box from Perceval Press (14 books!!!! Woo hoo!), I have it stashed for the perfect quiet moment to sort through and escape. One of the books is a Scott Wannberg book of poetry Strange Movie Full of Death: can't wait to open it! If there's anything like "Agony River" I'll be in heaven. Then from Alibris, where I had to buy some textbooks for middle child, I got two old out of print Tim Winton books (Minimum of Two and Blueback) as well as The Long Green Shore (about Australia in WWII? I think?). They were cheap, it was just shipping that killed it but since I had to get the textbooks anyways (that's how I justify it, don't knock it!).

Finally, YAY to Jon and Stephen being back after hiatus. They can't ever complain about not having material! And YAY to Kanye West for inspiring so many great internet parodies. And YAY to my parents: today is their 54th anniversary. Wow.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

I loved the book Mystic River, so much so I reread it once I finished it. I refused to see the movie because I didn't want to be disappointed. Time has passed, so I gave in and watched it recently. I didn't love it but damn, Sean Penn did exactly personify the main character as I imagined. Wow. Gave me chills.

I picked up Shutter Island recently by the same author, Dennis Lehane, and didn't realize it was being made into a movie (apparently coming out soon) until I'd started it. Bugged me a little, as I like to picture my own characters and since the movie trailer showed Leo Dicaprio and Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley Jr., well, I was stuck picturing them. But, whether it is visualizing them or not, SHEESH this is a good book. I can't turn the pages fast enough. It is a super fast read too, not as complex as Mystic River but still deep.

It's so Hitchcock-y in the suspense...I literally had the hair on my neck stand up at one point. This would be a perfect beach read if summer weren't winding down. I'll have it finished today, and am actually putting it off because then it will be over. Will I see the movie? Hmmm.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Too many bedtime stories!

Okay, so my 2 1/2 year old adores stories. I have books and music for him at bedtime, but lately he wants to hear me tell stories rather than read them. We've covered all of the exciting details of his birth, strange and funny family anecdotes, etc. The other night I was so tired I had no inspiration for a creative bedtime story.

However, I had just watched A History of Violence (edited, but sheesh! Mega violent). So, I retold him the story in a toddler friendly bedtime story way. I've included it below. It made me think how cool it would be to have a series of books (I know, copyrights and permissions would make it virtually impossible to get permission) based on Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, etc. Just simplified and cleaned up, but still enough for the parent to enjoy.

Without further ado, here is the cleaned up, sanitized version of A History of Violence; may the actual writer forgive me. Spoilers alert!

Once upon a time, out in a small town, there lived a nice man named Tom. Tom had a nice family. He had a diner that people liked to eat at. He made good coffee and everyone loved the pie.

One day some bad men came in to the diner. They wanted to steal the money. Tom said no and told them to go away. They were very bad and he had to put them in time out. Everyone in town was happy because the bad men went away.

But on another day more bad men came to town. They came into the diner and said “Hi Joey” to Tom.
“My name is Tom”, he said.
“No, you are Joey” they said.
“I’m sorry but my name is Tom”.
“Oh no, silly! We know you are Joey!”
Tom was very mad at the bad men, for coming to his nice town and calling him the wrong name.

One day the bad men came to his house to talk to him, and they told him to get in their car. Tom knew that you are never supposed to get into a stranger’s car so he said “No!”. The bad men didn’t like that and everybody ended up with a boo boo and these bad guys had to go to time out too. Tom got an owwie.

Then Tom told his wife that his real name was Joey. She got mad. He told her he used to be a bad guy but now he’s a good man but she was still mad.

He went to go visit his big brother Richie, who was still a bad man who lived far away. His brother was not nice to him at all, and bossed him around. They played hide and seek for awhile until Richie had to lie down and Tom went home. The bad men were all gone.

His family was happy he was home and he was back to being Tom.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Robert Heinlein quote

“In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” – Robert Heinlein
Quote from the blog "Bane of Your Resistance"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lewis B. Smedes on memories

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future."

Bridge on the Rio

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sherman Alexie "War Dances"

Sherman Alexie makes you laugh out loud. Then think. On The Colbert Report he had Stephen Colbert speechless with a joke about smallpox blankets and "Indian Giving". The short story "War Dances" published in New Yorker has his amazing insights and some killer metaphors....I read this and laughed but when it was all done the tears lasted a little while longer. Alexie's writing does that to you.

a too-thin blanket is "more like the world's biggest coffee filter."

a coffee house, "a spotless place called Dirty Joe's"

the hospital hallway is "like a beehive with colony-collapse disorder."

"no one ever wants to read the word "malignant" unless you're reading a Charles Dickens novel about an evil landlord, but "benign" and "majority" are two words that go well together."

"...right now temporary is enough."

Lines like "Vodka straight up or with a nostalgia chaser?"

"I remember how my dad spent a lot of time in MRI tubes near the end of his life. So I was wondering what kind of music he chose. I mean, he couldn't hear...he still must have chosen something. And I wanted to choose the same thing he chose."

All his work resonants with insights from his Native American heritage (he says he's an Indian), but this story managed to capture his biting humor and irony while discussing a dying parent, cancer, MRI's, Trader Joe's, and a visit to the Vatican ("plant an eagle feather and claim that you just discovered Italy").

Excerpts from the August 10, 2009 New Yorker magazine: Sherman Alexie's fictional short "War Dances".

Kay Ryan poetry

Fool's Errands

A thing cannot be delivered enough times:
this is the rule of dogs for whom there are no fool's errands.
To loop out and come back is good all alone.
It's gravy to carry a ball or a bone.

Kay Ryan (featured in New Yorker magazine)

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

I almost missed the treasure of The Year of Fog, simply because the wording on the book cover made it look like the sibling of every other 'chick lit' book I've seen. It had the words "for fans of Jodi Picoult or Jacquelyn Mitchard". Since I have never cared for their books, I nearly passed on this one. I'm so glad I didn't!

This is a really suspenseful story strung around the msytery of the brain's memory capabilities, the symbolism of fog (that softens hard edges but also hides details) and made dazzling by the sparkling gem of San Francisco's scenery and culture. I've been learning about hooks and actions that make a reader keep going and interested in a book. This one had so many perfect examples. Foreshadowing was a big factor. I could not put it down, as it kept moving forward so quickly that it felt like running down a hill, dangerous and hard to control.

I could rave on and on but I most liked how she brought her characters to life with minimal words, just little snippets of descriptions and dialogue that were so telling that it was like reading their biography first. Great read.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Favorite Titles for Toddlers

Forgive me if I am missing author names...

These are some favorites that we can't seem to get enough of, ages 2-4 mostly.

Caterpillar Pillow Fight
Edward the Emu
Martha Speaks (plus others in that series)
I Love My Mama
I Love it When You Smile (McBratney)
On the Night You Were Born
Llama Llama Mad at Mama
Llama Llama Misses Mama
Little Pea
Little Hoot
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
Baby's Boat
The Big Red Barn (Margaret Wise Brown)
Oops David
No David
David Gets in Trouble
The Deep (Tim Winton)
Hondo and Fabian

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This could work...

The Book Room!
Love it!

Mad Men??

I watched my first episode last night. Having heard non-stop positive chatter about it, I had to see what all the fuss was. I don't get it!

Yes, the clothes are cool. The vintage 'look' is great. The main character is incredibly handsome. The cool nonchalance of it all; the roomy pauses and significant looks. All true. But the story? I don't get it. I couldn't find one.

I'm sure there is more to it, all I got out of it was that the style of it all overshadowed the substance. Philandering husband, catty secretaries, competitive coworkers and a devious boss? That's it? Surely an afternoon soap opera contains the same. Isn't the saying 'form follows function'? This seems all form. Style. Hip, because none of the fan base is old enough to remember the reality that existed apart from the impeccable suits and business trips?

I am so uncool.

Saturday bliss

It's cold and overcast. The boys are all in their pajamas/sweats, laying on the couches watching Star Wars (for the 1902929th time) with the baby. Trying to explain to the 2 year old who Chewy is. They've quietly made lightsabers out of baby toys while they watch. All three, playing quietly while they, blue, and green lightsabers.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Growth of the Soil, Hamsun

I just finished this epic novel last night. Beyond amazing. Hamsun's work is so simple and straightforward, but then it reveals these unexpected complexities that make you pause. His characters are so vivid that I began imagining them as real people that I know. I found myself thinking of Oline while I did dishes, irritated at her big mouth. And any time Barbro entered a scene I groaned out loud. Layers. Just so many layers to these characters that make them real. Inger is so hard to describe that Hamsun's simple description is the only one that makes sense: "a strong woman full of weakness".

The book is basically a love affair with the earth, given the few people in this unbroken part of Norway that makes up the setting. Their lives revolve around earth and sky and seasons. Simple work, simple food. They don't spend time analyzing why they are unhappy or seeking remedy for their bad childhoods. They live forward, moving ahead.

Again, I had to try and control my isolation inclination as I read this. When they finally get other settlers up near Sellenara, inwardly I cringed because I'm thinking, what? Neighbors? Sheesh. Get rid of them! Make them move! And yet these people were happy for the company. I am so anti-social when I think living in the wilds with 8 other people within 10 miles is too much!

This also was a very peaceful book. It had tension and action and sadness and pain, but overall it felt calming and restful to read it and imagine this kind of life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Lost Art of Reading, LA Times article,0,4905017.story

Great article by David L. Ulin that sums up why so few people read these days. The only thing I would add is that many times kids are pushed to read for information rather than pleasure, so it becomes a chore. Few people have been taught to enjoy the journey rather than just the destination.

So what happened? It isn't a failure of desire so much as one of will. Or not will, exactly, but focus: the ability to still my mind long enough to inhabit someone else's world, and to let that someone else inhabit mine. Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves. This is what Conroy was hinting at in his account of adolescence, the way books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.

Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.

...What I'm struggling with is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of the age.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The business of learning to write? Did Hemingway have research texts on how to build a character? Did Hamsun need help with his plot? I think not. But then again, did they have Amazon?

True compulsive procrastinator that I am, I went looking on Amazon for some suggested titles from another blog on better writing skills. I justified it as needing to improve my work, and who could argue with that? I tried and evaded the entire argument by clicking on more. Before I could listen to my rational self my shopping cart had gobbled up:

"Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.)"
"The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life"Noah Lukeman;
"Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life"Anne Lamott;
"The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers"John Gardner
"The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile"Noah Lukeman; "On Writing"Stephen King
"Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)"James Scott Bell

(the messy text was from cut and paste, I was too lazy to retype).

So this begs the question, why? When will I write if I am reading these? Are they going to distract me from my original ideas? I know I need tons of work, just doing my own editing has shown me how my writing needs to be more concise and clear. But I have buyer's remorse, and feel dumb for spending the money and the time. There were actually more in my cart that I weeded out. So much for that. Dumb dumb dumb.

One interesting discovery was Amazon Shorts; Noah Lukeman had a 26 page Short on paragraph sections and breaks. Kind of neat.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Crazy Day

My head is aching. Too many hours at the computer today.
I spent several hours today trying to select excerpts of my "novel" to have edited. I was amazed at how I was able to edit out tons of unnecessary words on my own. One section started at 490 words and I got it to 249. It's hard when you are a wordy birdy! Now it will be edited more by a professional and hopefully become crisper and stronger. It's difficult but at the same time strangely satisfying. It makes my pathetic attempt at writing seem more real. See that? Psycho-babble experts would say that I am always mocking my efforts at writing to hide my fears of rejection, somehow preempting any criticism of it before it ever happens. Maybe. I don't have much confidence in my writing except when I read crap like "P.S. I Love You" by Ahern and realize I can't possibly be THAT bad! That one made my teeth hurt.

I do know that I use certain phrases way too much: such as "way too", "always", "so", "really","anyway", and "she (or he) felt". Must work on that.

Today my oldest son turned 20. Wow. No longer a teenager, though he really hasn't been much of a teenager since he was 16. He grew up too fast, partly due to matters beyond his control and his own personality. It is difficult to learn to treat him as an adult and stop bossing him around, while still maintaining some sort of parental image. He's a good egg though, on the cover of the college course catalog!
Then there was the community college hassle that we endure EVERY semester. Middle child has been going to the local CC since his freshman year, part time. This year he's a high school junior, and all the registration and admission requirements have changed, and there are less courses offered with more students enrolling. So we had a stressful afternoon finding courses that fit his interests, his schedule, and that were still open. Since he's a high school student he has to jump through extra hoops and complete more ridiculous paperwork, even though he's already in their system. It's only half over, tomorrow we go and try and make all this 'official' at the walk-in registration. I deserve a martini at lunch.
Now I have a hot date with Tylenol PM.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The significance of running out of shampoo!

Okay, no significance, right?

BIG DEAL to me. I've spent the last few months, actually well into last year, trying to use up all those items I've stockpiled over the years. Back when I had more disposable income (as in, was not broke!) I would stock up on just about anything if it was on sale. I had one cabinet filled up with all sorts of bottles of personal care goo: shampoos, body washes, scented lotions, bars of soap.

Then there was the cabinet of vitamins, supplements, etc. Three bottles of Motrin and tons of cough medicine in still sticky bottles, all half empty, just making a mess.

So, I dumped what I could and have diligently been using up the rest. For some bizarro reason, which I can't quite ascertain yet, I feel better having less. Not that I'm giving up soap or shampoo, but I just find that the excess was unnecessary and not really comforting. What was I stocking up for? Was Target going to go under? Of course, they tell you to stock up, it is supposed to save money. But I always over-did it, grabbing stuff all the time. Some weird sort of anxiety/hoarding instinct? Did having 20 bars of soap equal security?

Somehow the idea of having an actual need, shampoo, is neat and weird. I've never, ever ran out before. But how much do we buy of anything is an actual need? The purpose of actually needing to go purchase a specific item, how often does that happen?

Now the cabinets are nearly empty, but clean. The open space is soothing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Genius! I'm weeping with jealousy!

So I'm about 40 pages into GROWTH OF THE SOIL by Knut Hamsun and I can barely stand it, it's so good. Thing is, he keeps foreshadowing terrible things happening, and then they don't happen, but instead of feeling all relieved I am actually in agony now knowing something really bad is going to happen. His writing is amazing. There was a good reason for this getting the Nobel Prize in 1920. I liked HUNGER as well, but Tales of Love and Loss, not so much.

The desire to hide and continue reading it appeals to me, but I like the people and the place so much I don't want anything tragic to happen. He has pages and pages just on setting up a house and the little details (we bought a clock! woo hoo!), and somehow it reminds me of being a little girl and reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder's book when she married Allonzo (was that his name??) and it described her kitchen, the bins of flour and sugar and all those tiny details that I adored. Neat and orderly. Simple.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Perfect Day?

What would be the elements of my perfect day? Yours? So many worries would have to be dealt with first, but here's an estimate:

First, most crucial, the kids are healthy and well, located somewhere else, each with their own personal EMT and protector as well as my parents (might as well get everyone out of my hair!).
That leaves an empty house. Empty house is clean (spotlessly!!!!) except for an box filled with two new Tim Winton novels. Kitchen is stocked with AkMak crackers, hummus, yerba mate tea, and a Thai Chicken pizza for later. Weather is warm but not hot. Slight breeze. The scale says "Ideal".

My gorgeous ginger cat Rico is actually friendly and sociable, rather than his usual sullen demeanor. The dogs also went somewhere, so no barking is heard. TIVO has a unseen Law & Order on hold for me, as well as an episode or two of In Treatment, if I need a break from the books. My Internet is screaming fast in case I want to go online.

No, wait! The pizza must be delivered, so that the opportunity exists for Viggo Mortensen to deliver it (he's really getting into the research for a future role as a misunderstood, sociopathic, poet-pesto-pizza driver). He expresses genuine interest in my yard and my as-yet unpublished novel. Actually, it really doesn't matter if his interest is genuine or not, is it? He IS an actor, so I don't care if he's faking it.

I'll end it there, except to add that Cherry Almond Fudge ice cream will be devoured later, and the mail will deliver an acceptance letter and massive advance for my book.