Sunday, August 31, 2008

Movies out of season

Eleanor got a bit of facebook "flair" on Friday that said
"July 9? Why not just cancel Christmas?"

I was glad to know that there are other people out there who had been looking forward to seeing the new Harry Potter movie at Thanksgiving. But now the release date has been moved to July. Who wants to see Harry Potter in July? The atmosphere of the book (this one is the Half-Blood Prince) is just right for late November, not for a bright, American summer.

I also liked the way the flair was worded, because I'm pretty sure it's a conscious echo of the actor who plays Snape (Alan Rickman) at his villainous worst as the Sheriff of Nottingham, snapping "and cancel Christmas" as he stomps out of the room. Yes, it was in that Robin Hood version with Kevin Costner. What do I care if Kevin didn't do an English accent? Go pick on the studio that did the story with animals.

Or better yet, send your letters of outrage to the Harry Potter studio, Warner Brothers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Little Things

I just found a poem that illuminates, for me, one of the pleasures of reading Jane Austen novels that Ron doesn't enjoy--how, for a woman, concentrating on the details of getting through the day can conceal her emotions and keep her from being overwhelmed by the building crisis of her existence. Or something like that.

By driving our kids to school in the mornings, Ron has just saved me from multi-tasking overload. I reach a point where I can't keep any more of other peoples' details in my brain. It's kind of like when my friend Ben makes a shopping list; he says that when a list reaches three items, he has to begin writing it down. And please don't suggest any supermom listing strategies for me. While I hate to see a kid go without lunch, it's ultimately that kid's job to remember to take it. And if I could list all the things I have to do on any given morning, I'd have done it the night before. Sometimes, in fact, I wake up at 3 am and scrawl whatever I've forgotten on a pad I keep by my bed for that purpose.

But the little things in this poem are the person-shattering kind. They're the pattern you trace on the ER curtains, the way vacuuming the rug makes a design in the nap inside an empty house, the stranger who gets out a pair of sunglasses just like his. The poem is by Shoshauna Shy, and it's entitled Bringing My Son to the Police Station to be Fingerprinted:

My lemon-colored
whisper-weight blouse
with keyhole closure
and sweetheart neckline is tucked
into a pastel silhouette skirt
with side-slit vents
and triplicate pleats
when I realize in the sunlight
through the windshield
that the cool yellow of this blouse clashes
with the buttermilk heather in my skirt
which makes me slightly queasy

the periwinkle in the pattern on the sash
is sufficiently echoed by the twill uppers
of my buckle-snug sandals
while the accents on my purse
pick up the pink
in the button stitches

and then as we pass
through Weapons Check
it's reassuring to note
how the yellows momentarily mesh
and make an overall pleasing

When I got to the end of this poem the first time, I was startled. I looked at the page for more. That's it. And that's when the tears rose, because that's all. Anything else would mean drama, action, a mother making a scene. It's the absence of the scene that's the heroic effort.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Not Tired of Summer

We've had an almost unprecedented string of warm, sunny days in Ohio lately. The forecast says we're due to get some Fay rain (say that ten times fast and you'll think of a big monkey), but right now the sun is streaming through the leaves of a nearby tree and it's making me think of the delightful indolence of this poem, one of my perennial favorites, James Wright's Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota:

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and come on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Isn't the resonance of that last line wonderful? I read it as ironic, because the poem is not full of regret.

The end of August can be a season for regret, especially if you didn't spend enough time lying in hammocks. Personally, I didn't spend nearly enough time floating on an air mattress on the lake. But what if I did spend enough time doing that? Then I'd be tired of it. The speaker is not tired of lying in the hammock. Maybe the word "waste" comes from someone else, someone who wants him to get up and have supper and take out the trash and sort the laundry so there can be something clean to wear to school tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Entertaining Aliens

Do you know the old science fiction quandry? That it's hard to come up with an alien who doesn't have something that humans also require, like a mouth? One of the ways to get around that is to base the aliens on different kinds of animal life. For entertaining aliens, I like to read a Stardoc novel, by S.L. Viehl. She has a blog with writing advice called Paperback Writer.

I've told you about my car books before--the ones that come from my friend Amy's mother that I keep in the car so I'm never without a book when I have to wait for a kid. Originally, Amy was passing on these books to me because we were both home with preschoolers and there were months it was hard to get to the library; these were easy reading, even for a sleep-deprived mother of two asthmatic preschoolers. Now she passes along only the best of them, and occasionally I find one I like enough to bring in the house. One of these was one of the first three Stardoc novels, by S.L. Viehl. I don't remember which one it was; often books in a series come out of order from Amy's mom. But after the first one or two, I started searching for more of them on my own and trying to read them in order so some of the continuing plot elements would make more sense to me. This is roughly the order in which I ended up arranging them:

  1. Stardoc (2000)
  2. Beyond Varallan (2000)
  3. Endurance (2001)
  4. Shockball (2001)
  5. Eternity Row (2002)
  6. Rebel Ice (2006)
  7. Plague of Memory (2007)(previously Clanson)
  8. Omega Games (2008)
  1. Bio Rescue (2004)
  2. Afterburn (2005)
  3. Blade Dancer (2003)
So the newest one I've read is Omega Games. Now, it's been years since I first brought a Stardoc novel in from the car, and I find that I've forgotten how some of the continuing plot elements happened and what all they mean in the world of the novel. On the other hand, this is not a series that compels me to go back and figure everything out. There's some stuff about how the main character, the Stardoc, was artifically created and named Cherijo, an acronym for something, and then she found out she couldn't die when she was shot point-blank in the head on an ice planet, but she lost all her memories and now calls herself Jarn. Some of this continues to be important because she and her humanoid husband are essentially immortal, and they're figuring out what this should mean for their daughter, who is mortal. Okay, whatever.

The interesting part of these novels, as I've said, is the variety of alien species and the way the Stardoc relates to them. There's a great romance/scifi mix in Omega Games where Jarn puts on some kind of virtual reality goggles that belong to a humanoid woman and is treated to a recording of foreplay from the woman's tentacled husband, an Omorr: "Prehensile gildrells slid around my throat and into my hair like a bunch of long white snakes, while three muscular pink arms tugged me back against an equally hard body." That's something you just don't get in many other scifi novels--interspecies sexual attraction.

To add to previous descriptions of the lizard-like aliens called the Hsktskt is a being who takes over the body of a Hsktskt while retaining her own identity as a shape-shifter, an Odnallak. The Hsktskt-shaped Odnallak helps Jarn and Reever defeat a "parasitic life-form that invades a host body with its embryonic form" called a Sovant. They also have help from a man with one arm and no legs who has built himself a custom battle drone to fit around his body, and a cooperative and powerful pink slime alien who can never be allowed to reach the next stage of its development because then it would be "virtually indestructible...the gigantic, vicious, mindless, planet-eating bogeyworm of myth."

Also, my favorite alien species in the Stardoc novels is the sentient cat called a Chakacat, although unfortunately none of them say anything nearly as bloodthirsty and self-involved as what I would imagine if a cat could speak!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Turning Fifteen

My first baby was born fifteen years ago today, and what a long, strange trip it's been! As her party guests gather for the obligatory sleepover, I'm thinking of previous parties; ones where I filled up the wading pools and we had a backyard waterslide, and more recent ones for which my major role was to provide chips, pizza, soda, cake, and ice cream. It's no longer acceptable to order pizza. The fifteen-year-olds in Eleanor's social circle now prefer chinese food, and I have brewed three jars full of various kinds of tea for today's ten guests.

The biggest change I've had to get used to in my career as mother of a teenager is that she now gets almost all of my jokes, even the sly, quiet ones. I think this started about the time we were in one of those butterfly gardens where the butterflies can fly around you, and we saw one lying quiescent on a leaf. "It's sleeping" I said, with an exaggerated expression. Eleanor's face immediately registered recognition--it's what I've always said to her about those quiescent butterflies, but she suddenly understood that I meant the big sleep. And she enjoyed the joke on her former self.

I used to always put money in those mechanical horses and wait for Eleanor to ride at the end of a grocery or "mart" shopping trip. It always seemed to me the least I could do for a toddler who had put up with all the shopping that had to be done. But I exaggerated other dangers (like germs on the handle of the shopping cart and the mechanical horse) quite as much as the mother in this poem, Outside the Mainway Market, by Catherine Doty:

Every day, our mother says,
kids die on those goddamned things,
and she nods at the lone yellow horse
with the red vinyl bridle
and four black, shining hooves
like police hat brims.
Not only do we stop our five-part
begging, we walk wide around the beast,
though Mary brushes the coin box
with her sleeve.

Rigid in flight, the great horse's legs
flange out toward us. Not one of us argues.
We hold onto our mother's coat, cross
several streets, touch the dog we always touch
when we walk home, fingering
his freckled snout. Then we scream
and run in the yard while supper cooks,
and the sky shudders pale for some seconds
before it darkens, as if in that lavender moment,
three blocks away, a child drops
the reins and gasps as his shoes fly off,
and plumes of smoke rise
from the crown of his hand-knit hat.

What is charming about having a fifteen-year-old like mine is that even though I can no longer exaggerate dangers, she's internalized most of what I'd warn her about, anyway, so the manner of old warnings becomes an inside joke. I'm becoming the mother voice inside her head, and so will never really die. BWA-HA-HA-HA!!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Books For Frittering Away Your Time

The dust is settling at my house today because there are no kids here to stir it up. They're back in school. We all got up before sunrise to get them there (and I discovered that I have a sore throat and a cold). The cats are drifting around confused, and the birds are squawking that it's too quiet for their taste.

As we frittered away the last of summer, Eleanor and I read the latest Georgia Nicolson book, Stop In the Name of Pants, by Louise Rennison. I found it no better or worse than any of the previous ones, although the neologisms are fewer on the ground (necessarily, if the language is to remain even nominally British English). These are the previous ones, in order:
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging
On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God
Knocked Out by my Nunga-Nungas
Dancing in my Nuddy-Pants
Away Laughing on a Fast Camel
Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers
Startled by His Furry Shorts
Love Is a Many Trousered Thing

If you're a cat lover, you'll be glad to know that despite the build-up, Angus does not die in this book, and in fact survives to literally bite the hand that feeds him. If you're a mother, you'll be amused at the following teenage girl perspective:

"I can't go, though.
I'd like to because I haven't seen another human being for days. But I can't bear to leave Angus when he is so poorly.
I said that to Mum earlier on, I said 'Oh, I wish I had some human company while I nurse Angus.'
She said 'I've been here all the time as well.'
I said 'As I said, I wish I had some human company.'
And she had stropped off to have a bath. That was about two hours ago and she is still in there...I don't know what she does in there for so long, it's vair selfish."

If you've ever known a teenage girl, you'll be amused by this book. So far we don't let the men in our house read them, but on her site, Rennison has some comments from men who also like reading about Georgia and the Ace Gang.

Book bloggers appreciation week is coming up. (Thanks to SFP at Pages Turned for spreading the word.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


No, not the Phillip Pullman kind.

I've been thinking about dust since I got it all over my rental car (the one I'm driving until my minivan is repaired) on a gravel road this weekend. It was on the way back from the Peter Pan reunion picnic, when the cast and crew got together to put the songs back into each other's heads (I'd just gotten the "Wendy" song out of there, and now it's back in again). As I followed the car ahead of me, watching the dust rise and settle, I thought what an unusual sight that is in Ohio. It's always green and wet here. You don't see much dust, even in August.

It made me think of this W.S. Merwin poem, To the Dust of the Road, which I liked when I first read it because it reminds me of places that aren't as green and wet as the place I'm living now:

To the Dust of the Road

And in the morning you are up again
with the way leading through you for a while
longer if the wind is motionless when
the cars reach where the asphalt ends a mile
or so below the main road and the wave
you rise into is different every time
and you are one with it until you have
made your way up to the top of your climb
and brightened in that moment of that day
and then you turn as when you rose before
in fire or wind from the ends of the earth
to pause here and you seem to drift away
on into nothing to lie down once more
until another breath brings you to birth

I've been in places where shade actually makes a difference--parts of Texas come to mind--and the image of wind stirring the dust like this reminds me of being there, far away from all the responsibilities that are about to come crashing down on all of us. The college where Ron and I work is about to start the semester, and Eleanor and Walker go back to school on Friday. We need another few days of drifting, but instead we seem to be rushing around trying to get everything in before our free time is all gone.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Seeing the World Differently

Walker found a new YA book at the library and recommended it to me; The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd. It's like Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in that it's told by a narrator who has autism, or something like it. As the narrator, Ted, describes it:

"'It's like the brain is a computer,' I said. 'But mine works on a different operating system from other people's. And my wiring's different too....It means I am very good at thinking about facts and how things work and the doctors say I am at the high-functioning end of the spectrum....My syndrome means I am good at remembering big things, like important facts about the weather. But I'm always forgetting small things, like my school gym bag.'"

What's fun about this book is that Ted solves the mystery of his cousin's disappearance (from the London Eye, hence the title). What I liked about the book is that no one condescends to Ted. They do ignore him sometimes, but he's 12. When you're 12, people don't always stop to listen to you in a crisis, no matter what kind of brain you have.

Reading this book, I was reminded of the pleasure of reading Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana books, starting with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, because Ted's thoughts are so calm and collected, as Mma Ramotswe's often are. Here's a sample:

"Something terrible happened during those fifty-four minutes [as he waits to see if his cousin is dead]. No amount of making up shipping forecasts could stop me from thinking about it. Death. I realized it was real. I would die one day. Kat would die. Mum would die. Dad would die. Aunt Gloria would die. Mr Shepherd at school would die. Every living thing on this planet would die. It was not a question of if but when. Of course, I'd known about death before. But during those fifty-four minutes I really knew it. That's when I realized that there are two kinds of knowledge: shallow and deep. You can know something in theory but not know it in practice. You can know part of something but not all of it. Knowledge can be like the skin on the surface of the water in a pond, or it can go all the way down to the mud. It can be the tiny tip of the iceberg or the whole hundred per cent.
I thought of the long chain of all the days of my life and wondered how far along that chain I'd already got. Was I still just starting, halfway along, or nearing the end? If it was Salim on the cold slab, did he know when he got up this morning that he'd reaching the last link on the chain?"

This book is a quick, calming, and satisfying read, and at 323 pages, it won't take you too long.

Friday, August 15, 2008

No Surprises

Have you ever noticed that most chinese restaurants have the same kinds of names--Hunan or Dragon or Pagoda or China something? When I was in graduate school in College Park, Maryland, we called the local place by the name of our friend who discovered it: Kevin's Chinese.

Reading The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, by Jennifer 8. Lee, reminded me of the old Holiday Inn ads: no surprises. If you've read anything about the book, an examination of how "Chinese" chinese food actually is, or if you've ever talked to people from China about what they eat, you already know the author's conclusion: chinese restaurants cater to local tastes. For instance, you won't find "General Tso's chicken" in China, and broccoli is an American "chinese" vegetable.

But there are some interesting details along the way. The prologue is the most surprising part of the book--it begins with the story of how an unusual number of people won the lottery and reveals that what they had in common was picking their numbers from fortune cookies. It was mildly interesting to find out that there are a small number of people who write all the fortunes, and that Americans are intolerant of bad fortunes, so we only get good ones. It was also mildly interesting to find out that fortune cookies were invented by the Japanese and only became associated with chinese restaurants after WWII. I didn't know that the little packets of soy sauce you get with a takeout order are non-brewed (and therefore, technically, not soy sauce). The most memorable fact I picked up from this book is that the main difference between the food that Chinese people eat and the food we get in chinese restaurants can be seen in that there are lots of bits left over from the food Chinese people eat--beaks, feet, seeds, etc.

It's no surprise to find out that chinese restaurants in the NYC area began delivering, so that now you can get all kinds of food delivered (unless you live in rural Ohio, in which case the only places that deliver are pizza joints).

The most interesting chapter of the book is the one about chop suey, which she calls "the biggest culinary joke played by one culture on another." I particularly enjoyed the tone of this paragraph:

Since the country's Puritan and Protestant roots still maintained a tight influence on the popular culture, food was sustenance, not something to be enjoyed. Tempered by religious piety and frontier austerity, American cuisine was dominated by one characteristic: Aggressive Blandness. If there was a second guiding principle, it would be Extreme Saltiness. IN much of the country, highly seasoned or fancy foods were regarded with hostility and suspicion, as a form of sensual indulgence. Spicy foods were suspected of something worse than increasing the craving for alcohol: many people shared the notion that they stimulated extreme appetites for sex. Only the southern states--whose complicated settlement history had left them with an amalgam of African, English, French, Spanish, and Italian cooking traditions--escaped with a lively cuisine. They simmered and sauteed and used rich spices, while in the rest of America the cooking vocabulary essentially consisted of baking, boiling, and roasting--quiet, passive activities that more or less encapsulated Americans' attitude toward food. So Americans were suspicious of these foreigners [the Chinese] and their animated cooking over large flames. There were too many noises: chopping, clanging, the roar of the fire, chattering over meals.

Lee spends a lot of time trying to track down the originator of chop suey and is ultimately unsuccessful, although her conclusion to the chapter is interesting:

"Chop suey, I discovered, has become an American export. I have found it in Japan, Korea, Jamaica, Guyana, and the Caribbean. In India, "American chop suey" (often made with ketchup!) remains one of the most popular dishes on Chinese menus, a stalwart just across the border from China. In Los Angeles, a Chicano girl who worked at Avis confided to me that her family would sometimes drive four hours to Mexicali, the Chinese-restaurant capital of Mexico, to have chop suey. She added, 'You can't get it in the same way in the United States.'"

One of the quests Lee sets for herself is to find the "best" Chinese restaurant in the world, and she finally settles on one in the Vancouver (Canada) region called Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, because it has a good chef and a number of Chinese patrons, even though the chef is "self-taught" and his dishes have "a Chinese foundation" but he uses "European techniques."

The main message of the book is best phrased here:

When I stopped into an Indian-Chinese restaurant, the Indian-American customers told me that Chinese food is a taste of home more so than Indian food itself. After all, they can always cook Indian food in their own kitchens, even when they live outside India. But Chinese food served Indian style? That is something truly from India. These restaurants are authentic to those who want to be reminded of their native lands."

And her conclusion is phrased in computing terms:

"If McDonald's is the Windows of the dining world (where one company controls the standards), then Chinese restaurants are akin to the Linux operating system, where a decentralized network of programmers contributes to the underlying source code. The code is available for anyone to use, modify, or redistribute freely."

The final non-surprising thing about the book, at least for me, is that reading it made me hungry. Luckily, after watching Kung Fu Panda, the pickiest eater in our house has become enthusiastic about dumplings, so it's easier for us to visit our local chinese restaurant, the Hunan Garden.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Eleanor found a new book about what happens after the apocalypse, this one happening because an asteroid hits the moon and knocks its orbit closer to earth, causing tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. It's called Life as We Knew It and is by Susan Beth Pfeffer (see her blog here).

Eleanor read the book in one morning and was then very happy to come out of her reading trance and find that the sun was shining, it was summer, and we could have lunch. I read it in one evening, soon after. I found it less interesting than Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now because its scope is necessarily smaller (the characters stay in their small Pennsylvania town). There are some interesting parts, though. When the 16-year-old narrator, Miranda, does some research on the moon before the asteroid hits, she finds that

"lots of people didn't really care that there were men walking on the moon [in 1969]. They all watched Star Trek (the original, old lousy-effects Beam Me Up Scotty Star Trek) and they were used to seeing Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock hopping around the universe so real people walking on the real moon wasn't as exciting.
I think that's funny. Men were walking on the moon for the very first time in history and people preferred watching Dr. McCoy say, "He's dead, Jim," for the thousandth time.
I wasn't exactly sure how to turn that into a paper, so Mom and I talked about it, about how fiction can have more power than reality and how in 1969 there was a lot of cynicism because of Vietnam and the sixties and all that and there were people who didn't think men were really on the moon and thought it was a hoax."

The narrator simplifies issues in a way that does remind me of listening to 15 and 16 year old girls talk. But also, as a 9-year-old in 1969, I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the moon landing, mostly at the insistence of my younger brother (who has always been more aware of reality).

Just after the asteroid hits, Miranda goes into town with her mother and brother and sees the first changes:

"When we got to the road with McDonald's and Burger King, we saw there was hardly any traffic. We drove up to McDonald's, only it was closed. So were Burger King and KFC and Taco Bell. All the fast food places were closed.
'Maybe they're just closed because it's Sunday,' I said.
'Or because tomorrow's a national day of mourning,' Jonny said.
'They're probably just waiting for the electricity to run full time,' Mom said.
It felt weird, though, seeing them all closed, the same kind of weird when you see the moon and it's just a little too big and too bright.
I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald's would still be open."

I was reminded, in reverse, of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale at the moment when the handmaid sees a dish towel in the kitchen of the house where she is living, and it's jarring to her, that something so ordinary could look just the same when her life has changed so much.

In addition to the compliment I'm paying Pfeffer by saying that anything in her book reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale, one of my favorite books, I found moments when her narrator not only sounded authentically 16, but also phrased something in a way that was both amusing and frightening, like "Here's the funny thing about the world coming to an end. Once it gets going, it doesn't seem to stop." Or, towards the end, "Do people ever realize how precious life is? I know I never did before. There was always time. There was always a future." One of the most appealing ironies of Life As We Knew It is that Miranda and her younger brother, who are used to being regarded as the future of their family, keep having to reassess what kind of future that can be. That's what makes this book a compelling read, and will be especially appealing to the young adult audience.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Perfectly Overripe

I do love this time of year. July is the high point, but there's something so deliciously decadent about August. Everything in our yard gets overgrown and we stop trying to prune it back. Fruit flies invade our kitchen to get to the fruit that gets a little overripe if we leave it out of the refrigerator, and then they find the hermit crab cage and the birdcage, where I leave bits of cut-up apples and peach and blueberry. If I try to do any work, I find that the people I need to see are out on vacation for a couple more weeks. Might as well go to the pool, or the lake, or even on one more road trip, as the kids and I did last week.

We went to see my parents and then to meet my cousin and her family in Branson, Missouri. I hadn't been to Branson since I was a kid and my, how it's grown. We saw a country music comedy show, where Eleanor said she'd sprained an eyebrow (from having it raised so much.) I think her eyebrow reached its highest height when the entertainers plugged a "long-playing cd." Her second cousins, in the row in front of us, were similarly amused and appalled by the show. But they did all take their ear buds out. Walker and his second cousins played Chess and Risk and Rook and we all played Rage while we were there. We rented kayaks and the boys were surprised that I, who am so slow on land, can be so fast on water. We took out a pontoon boat one day and got so hot (being northerners) that we had to go sit inside in the air conditioning for about half an hour before we could go to the pool. Oh, and what a pool. The kids and I had been longing to go to a pool with a waterfall since we saw our first one last summer, on the big island of Hawaii, at the Hilton Waikoloa, where we had to pass the most gorgeous pool we'd ever seen on the way to what turned out to be a memorably good dinner with a spectacular view of the sunset (but no green flash). Then this summer, at Stillwater Resort, we got our long-delayed desire and got to splash into an intricately landscaped pool with a massive waterfall and a shady cave underneath with plants and a ledge to sit on and squirt each other with our hands.

That kind of perfect August happiness is described better than I can do it in this poem, From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee:

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom, to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Banned Books

While the kids and I were on our road trip through Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, Ron spoke in support of the school board's actions in the John Freshwater case at the Aug. 4 school board meeting. As he entered the room, he was given a sheet of paper by a man standing beside the door and told "this is a list of books we want to ban." Or was the word "burn"? Ron said there was too much background noise to tell for sure. I know we're not the only community to have people trying to ban books from schools, but it certainly is discouraging to find this in my own backyard. My reaction, of course, is to read any of the books on the list that I haven't already read (in fact, this morning I suggested to a local bookstore owner that she put up a display of these books and told her I'd bring her the list--she's the bookstore owner quoted in the Chicago Tribune article about the local controversy over Freshwater's firing).

Books to be banned (or burned?) by Freshwater's supporters (with accompanying notes):
*author Robert Cormier*
Fade (2 copies)
We all Fall Down
In the Middle of the Night
Daring to Disturb the Universe
*author Ann Brashares*
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood
Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood
*author Garret Freymann-Weyr*
Stay with Me
My Heartbeat
*author Laurie Halse Anderson*
Speak (1MS, 1HS)
Fever (HS1 MS1, Elementary 5)
The Way of all Flesh --Morton Zabel
Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle (lesbian)
The Giver --Lois Lowry
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
Bless Me Ultima
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
America by E.R. Frank
Fallen Angels Walter Myers
Stuck in Neutral Terry Newman
The Guy Book Marvas Jukes
Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
The Woman Warrior Maxine Hong Kingston
The Hot Zone Richard Preston
Native Son Richard Wright
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Ragtime E.L. Doctorow (6 copies)
The Moves Make the Man Bruce Brooks
A Room on Lorelei Street
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbson
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Forever by Judy Blume
Go Ask Alice by anonymous author
*author John Green*
Looking for Alaska (oral sex)
An Abundance of Katherines
*author Ellen Wittlinger*
Sandpiper (oral sex)
Heart on my Sleeve
What's in a Name
*author Toni Morrison*
The Bluest Eyes
Beloved (1CD 2 books)
The Song of Solomon
*author Chris Crutcher* (10 different titles, 13 copies)
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
Lucas --Kevin Brooks
Whale Talk (1 MS 2 HS)
The Secret Life of Bees
Athletic Shorts (1 MS 3 HS)
Under the Wolf Under the Dog
The Kite Runner Khaled Hussien
The Color Purple Alice Walker
I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings
Endgame Nancy Garoner
Doormat Kelly McWilliams
Doing It Right Bronwen Pardes
The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan
The House You Passed on the Way
101 Questions About Sex
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
Taking Responsibility: Teen Guide to Contraceptives & Pregnancy
Sexual Violence: Opposing View
The Glass Cafe Gary Paulsen
Peeps Scott Westerfeld
The Awakening Kate Chopin

This whole Freshwater fiasco has pushed me further away from the idea that Christianity can be a force for good in today's world (and if you still think it can, then please explain to me why The Handmaid's Tale and Things Fall Apart are on that list--the only possible explanation is that they put Christianity in a bad light.)

So I'm becoming a pastafarian. I just read The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (There's an associated website at The "Gospel" is a satire on creationism/intelligent design, written in reaction to the Kansas school board's attempt to work creationism/intelligent design into their school curriculum. It's a satire aimed at people just like the guy who addressed his letter to the editor to me, people who believe that "alternative theories (to evolution) must be taught in order to give our young students' minds a broad foundation." So The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster begins by saying that "The Intelligent Design proponents make a compelling, and totally legitimate, argument that if a theory has not been proven, then one suggested theory is just as good as another" and it goes on to offer alterative theories to the theory of gravity.

Read it and weep. I did.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Scott Westerfeld ( has a recent post about beginnings, and SFP at Pages Turned has a recent post about endings. And they've gotten me thinking about how I choose books. Most often, of course, it's because I read the first paragraph and get hooked. When I started thinking about the beginnings that hooked me most quickly, I decided to share some of my favorites, the ones that stick in my memory:

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

William Goldman, The Princess Bride
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

John Scalzi, Old Man's War
I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.

Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport."

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I'd half-awaken. He'd stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses.

Roald Dahl, Matilda
It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.
Some parents go further. They become so blinded by adoration they manage to convince themselves their child has qualities of genius.
Well, there is nothing very wrong with all this. It's the way of the world. It is only when the parents begin telling us about the brilliance of their own revolting offspring that we start shouting, "Bring us a basin! We're going to be sick!"

Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair
My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don't mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultraslow trickle. Dad had been a colonel in the ChronoGuard and kept his work very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that we didn't know he had gone rogue at all until his timekeeping buddies raided our house one morning clutching a Seize & Eradication order open-dated at both ends and demanding to know where and when he was.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees
I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I'm not lying. He got stuck up there. About nineteen people congregated during the time it took for Norman Strick to walk up to the Courthouse and blow the whistle for the volunteer fire department. They eventually did come with the ladder and haul him down, and he wasn't dead but lost his hearing and in many other ways was never the same afterward. They said he overfilled the tire.

Walker Percy, Love In the Ruins
Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?
Two more hours should tell the story. One way or the other. Either I am right and a catastrophe will occur, or it won't and I'm crazy. In either case the outlook is not so good.

Reynolds Price, Kate Vaiden
The best thing about my life up to here is, nobody believes it. I stopped trying to make people hear it long ago, and I'm nothing but a real middle-sized white woman that has kept on going with strong eyes and teeth for fifty-seven years. You can touch me; I answer. But it got to where I felt like the first woman landed from Pluto--people asking how I lasted through all I claimed and could still count to three, me telling the truth with an effort to smile and then watching them doubt it. So I've kept quiet for years.

These are some of my favorites, from memory (although I did look them up to get the words right). Tell me some of your favorite beginnings.