Monday, January 31, 2011

Running the Books

Our friend Miriam says it's hard to find books that Ron and I haven't read, so she sent us Running the Books by Avi Steinberg for Christmas. It was not a book I'd heard of, and definitely not one I would have picked up on my own, but it dovetailed with other things I was doing and reading.

I'm looking for more work; I spent the fall making the case that the local college should hire me full-time, or at least more than my current 1/6 time. That could be a very long-term project, so in the last few weeks I started looking around for other work I could do without having to commute. And then, of course, the high school finally put through enough of the paperwork that the director decided we could do an abbreviated musical this spring, so we're doing a little 90-minute, one set, contemporary costume, 7 song show entitled Olivia Twist. For coordinating parent volunteers (ticket selling, set construction etc.), listing and collecting props, writing synopses, ads, cast biographies, and the program, decorating the set, and being there for auditions, rehearsals, and performances, I will earn almost exactly as much as I make in a month at the 1/6 time job.

So as I'm still trying to decide what to be when I grow up, I started reading two books simultaneously. One made me cry with frustration and longing, about being the kind of idealized adjunct professor whose students become a sort of extended family--more on that later--and the other told me about what it's like to be a prison librarian. Well, I've tried the former, and as I read Running the Books, I imagined being the latter.

But I learned something from this book--I'm not a librarian at heart; I'm an archivist. At one point, a fellow prison librarian tells the author that he is, too:
"He told me that archivists and librarians were opposite personas. True librarians are unsentimental. They're pragmatic, concerned with the newest, cleanest, most popular books. Archivists, on the other hand, are only peripherally interested in what other people like, and much prefer the rare to the useful.
'They like everything,' he said, 'gum wrappers as much as books.' He said this with a hint of disdain.
'Librarians like throwing away garbage to make space, but archivists,' he said, 'they're too crazy to throw anything out.'
I think the line about gum wrappers is a bit much, but they are paper, and I do have to make myself throw away letters sometimes; there's a box of letters written by my grandparents to each other in my basement.

Books in a prison library are often used as delivery systems for notes, or "kites," and Steinberg saved some of the ones he found, saying that "there was some part of me that thought, Who knows, maybe these letters will be important to someone in the future? I majored in history and literature, and wrote newspaper obituaries. I spent many hours looking at letters and artifacts that some oddball had decided not to throw out. There is no history, no memory, without this."

The stories Steinberg tells about his experiences working in a prison range from the kind-of-heartwarming to the horrifying. When he tells about being mugged by a former inmate, he notes that "if this were an inspirational prison movie, this would be the point at which he would have given the money back to me, cried, and thanked me for believing in him....But that's not what happened." He finds that "a surprising number of inmates were the emotional age of was almost the norm....I recognized a childlike earnestness is the inmate, aged thirty-six, who pleaded with me to give him tape so that he could stick his name, which he had printed out in a colorful, calligraphic font, to his school folder." He watches both male and female inmates hold baby dolls. He says that "In the library, I saw a murderer suck her thumb."

Although Avi Steinberg--a short, slight, intensely Jewish urbanite--couldn't be less like me, he manages to make me and any other bookish reader identify with him; one of the ways he does it is with intensely personal observations and the other is with finely-tuned humor. At one point, talking about how a prisoner reminds him of his grandmother, he observes that "the talking cure doesn't do much for me. I tend more toward the brooding cure."

Occasionally--very occasionally--I reacted to the meaning he invested in his job with the same kind of skepticism with which I react to anyone who is over-reaching for meaning. For instance, I couldn't quite buy the depth of meaning he invested in a note that read:
"Dear Mother,
My life is"
He claims that it is "a life indefinite, unarticulated, open-ended. An unfinished, unsent letter. An infinity of white space."
Yeah, okay, but as he points out in other places, it could just be a letter written by a brutish person who got interrupted.

Like all good teachers, Steinberg learns from his students, and in his story about one named Jessica, he displays a sensitivity and earnestness that shows better than he can tell how out-of-place he was for a short while as an employee of the prison system. Another story that shows the kind of dilemma a prison librarian can find himself in is one about an inmate writing a biography who asks Steinberg for help, and how he has to weigh the risks:
"I kept imagining the tabloid headline, Outraged Parents: Our Tax Dollars Helped Our Teenaged Daughter's Rapist Write His Tell-All! The article would be accompanied by my prison ID photo, with my crew cut and my bewildered grin, bearing the caption 'I thought it was a good read.' These paranoid scenarios kept me up at night."

Sometimes you want to find a way to earn a living that will make a change in the way you live--and often when you feel that way, it's good to read a book that tells you all about that way of life so you don't have to experience its excitement and pitfalls on your own.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What William H. Armstrong classic tells the tragic tale of an unlucky mutt and his sharecropper masters?

Classics(?): What 1957 Ayn Rand opus devotes 57 pages to a single discourse on the principles of objectivism?

Non-Fiction: What Tidewater novelist devotes Fridays to writing nonfiction, some of which was published in The Friday Book and Further Fridays?

Book Club: What play, set in a Chicago real estate office, earned David Mamet a Pulitzer Prize?

Authors: What women's college hired Jill Ker Conway, author of The Road from Coorain, as its first female president?

Book Bag: What novel about a struggling Dublin band kicked Roddy Doyle's writing career into high gear?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


It's been a hard week so far. I've tried all my best remedies for winter: eating my favorite comfort food ("death chicken"), drinking glasses of wine, going to an indoor pool with sauna, taking vitamin D, watching DVDs with the family, looking at the price for various destinations on Expedia, sitting in front of a "sunlight lamp," and finally reading Todd Davis.

Still, every day seems like a repetition. Every night I'm tired again. The world stays black and white--black asphalt, black tree trunks, white snow, white sky. The Todd Davis volume I was paging through yesterday had this one in it, "Litany," and it's just the right poem for today:

We assure each other the days must grow short.
Yet our lamentations over the darkness that binds us
to this season are like the grouse's cry, useless

in its petition for the sun to return, to rise on wings
and roam freely above our heads. And so on this
Thursday in January, cold rain seeping from the sky,

ground closed and water running off
with the river, we know no language can hurry
the light from its perch. Like the litany the minister asks

us to speak each Sunday in church,
words will not make God walk across the earth
any faster, heat of the sun flying at his back.

What can we do but repeat the same words over and over to ourselves, waiting to get past this Thursday in January?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Book of Tomorrow

Cecelia Ahern is the daughter of Ireland's former prime minister and the author of P.S. I Love You, among other novels, so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, The Book of Tomorrow, I asked the people at HarperCollins to send me a copy. And I liked it even more than I expected to; it's a real page-turner.

The first-person narrator of the novel is a teenage girl named Tamara who is about the age of my daughter. She has been given everything in life, and appreciated very little of it--until her dad went bankrupt and killed himself, and she and her mother were forced to move in with relatives. The relatives have a lot of secrets, and that's part of what keeps you turning the pages.

Another thing that keeps you turning the pages is the actual book of tomorrow, which turns out to be some kind of magical blank book or diary. When Tamara looks in it, she sees diary entries from the next day. The interesting thing is that she's then free to try to change what will happen the next day. And the way she does it isn't mystical or anything like that; in fact some of the fun of reading the novel is in how she'll forget a detail and then understand why she's written about it:
"It was only when I landed on the grass and looked up at the house, at my bedroom, at the closed window, that I understood the meaning behind my message to myself to leave the window open."

The final thing that kept me turning pages is the quality of some of the writing, like the comment Tamara makes about her mother, early on:
"She wasn't a comfortable person and so had no comfort to give anybody else." It seems to me that the longer Ahern writes, the better she's getting.

This particular novel, though, has some unevenness in the the writing, probably due to her unfamiliarity with the genre that I'll here call "speculative fiction." One of the characters in The Book of Tomorrow is gradually revealed to be a one-dimensional, cardboard cut-out of a person, and it's quite disconcerting--you think you're reading a novel about how people relate to each other--and for the most part you are--except that towards the end, one character practically whips out a big black moustache, puts it on, and begins laughing fiendishly.

The character of Tamara herself, though, is very true-to-teenager-life. Most of her dialogue sounds like the kind of stuff I hear from the teenagers who flit in and out of my house, like this conversation between Tamara and the oddly-named Weseley:
"Where's your dad from?"
"Cool, like in the movie?"
"Yep, exactly like the animation" he said heavily.
"You ever go there?"
"How come he moved here?"
"Ah." I nodded understandingly. "Always a good reason."
We both laughed.

Tamara's explanations of why she does some of the things she ends up doing are convincingly adolescent, too:
"My life felt so out of control that I wanted to lose control of me too. Just for a little while, at least."

So, despite the cardboard-cut-out character and some of the clunkiness of the way Ahern takes her chick-lit-writing skills to the next level, I thought that reading this novel was quite a pleasant use of the couple hours it took me to get through it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Write a Sentence

Harper Collins sent me a copy of Stanley Fish's little book entitled How To Write a Sentence and How To Read One and I'm wondering who, exactly, it's written for. It's not for me and my over-educated ilk; we play with sentences the way he describes all the time. It's not for people who don't read; he assumes familiarity with the works of 17th-century poets like John Milton and George Herbert. The chapters remind me of nothing so much as the blog posts of Amateur Reader, little musings on the style and sense of a previous era in which how you said something was nearly as important as what you were trying to say.

Fish tries to appeal to a broader audience than usual by sketching out the inclusiveness of his project:

"Some people are bird watchers, others are celebrity watchers; still others are flora and fauna watchers. I belong to the tribe of sentence watchers. Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. I appreciate fine sentences....some of my fellow sentence appreciators have websites: Best Sentences Ever, Sentences We Love, Best First Sentences, Best Last Sentences. Invariably the sentences that turn up on these sites are not chosen for the substantive political or social or philosophical points they make. They are chosen because they are performances of a certain skill at the highest level. The closest analogy, I think, is to sports highlights."
(Note: some of these websites don't exist by anything like the name he gives them, and for others I can only guess he might mean a site like 100 best first lines from novels.)

So is he trying to appeal to sports fans? It seems heavy-handed and awkward to me, like an elderly, bespectacled professor assuming that the football players in his class can only appreciate ideas in terms of sports analogies, and that bird watchers will appreciate being singled out from the other "fauna watchers."

The distance between Fish's privileged position as an academic and his floundering attempts to connect with the "common man" results in sentences like these:
"This, then, is my theology: You shall tie yourself to forms and the forms shall set you free. I call this the Karate Kid method of learning how to write."

This imagined common man will, I predict, get tired of the more lectur-y parts of the book, like where Fish feels compelled to define "essay" and use the correct rhetorical term for a coordinate construction; Fish himself evidently feels this, as he inserts a parenthetical remark:
"(Don't worry about the term; you don't have to learn it, but it might be useful at a cocktail party.)"
Yes, Stanley, when we travel back in time to the 1950's and the Dean invites us over for drinks.

The writing is better later in the book, when Fish lets himself get more carried away by the raptures of George Eliot and Philip Sidney--although he slips back into his fake, jocular "appeal to the common man" when he describes the speed of an effect as "almost like fuel injection." When Fish allows himself a full academic expanse of utterance, he can illuminate his subject like no one else. Discussing a section from Milton's Apology, he says:
"This sentence, a mini-essay on the relation between ethics and aesthetics, enacts what it describes. It argues implicitly against the commonsense assumption that the craft of writing is one thing, the moral worth of the writer another. Milton insists that the two are one, and that without the latter, the former is impossible."

Perhaps because he's in full-blown academic discourse mode by the end of the book, Fish ends up twisting some of his own sentences into tortured grammatical form:
"...a novel nearly every sentence of which merits a place in this book."
Such an awkward phrase distracts me from the sense of what he's saying, and makes me aware of that elderly, bespectacled speaker again.

But then he regains his place in his lecture notes and all is well again. The reader can be carried away by a quotation from John Donne to the conclusion that "The same imperfection and finitude require from us the writing of sentences (as opposed to the instantaneous knowledge of everything), and some of those sentences, like this one...reflect self-consciously on the conditions of their performance."

The oddity of publishing these kinds of thoughts in book form at this point in the twenty-first century is highlighted by the epilogue, in which Fish invites "those readers who can't believe I failed to include their all-time favorite sentence to send it to me" without specifying a mechanism by which this might be possible. He needs to have a graduate assistant set up a website for him. If he did, would you send him your favorite sentence?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Half in Love

One day a couple of weeks ago, I opened my front door to find a package from Anne Sexton's daughter stuck inside the screen. It was a copy of her memoir, Half in Love: surviving the legacy of suicide (by Linda Gray Sexton). I got the book because I agreed to be part of the TLC book tour, and I agreed because I was intrigued; Linda Gray Sexton is the editor of my edition of Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems and, as her mother's literary executor, the author of Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters.

Since Anne wrote "confessional" poems, the whole poetry-reading world knows about Linda's "brown mole/under your left eye, inherited/from my right cheek" and that her mother ended the poem about taking a nap with her by saying "I promise you love. Time will not take away that."

It's hard for me to imagine what it's like to grow up with parts of your childhood so publicly on display, and also to understand why someone, especially a mother, would want to kill herself. Linda Gray Sexton is most successful at conveying the pain that can drive a person to consider suicide by giving the accumulation of detail that can lead to such a choice. The first paragraph of Half in Love is a description that I certainly identify with at this time of year:
"...I fell into a pit of loneliness and sorrow and couldn't climb out. I couldn't talk with those I loved about my grief or my despair, so afraid that by speaking about such things, I would make them even more real. I worried, unconsciously, that even if I described the pain wrapped around my heart, I would not be heard. I worried, consciously, that others--no matter how close--would perceive me to be preoccupied with myself in unattractive ways."

But it seems incredible that a beautiful woman whose professional life consisted of one literary triumph after another could ever experience depression; Anne "experienced success nearly immediately; prestigious literary magazines like the New Yorker and the Hudson Review quickly accepted her efforts, as well as other, smaller publications. Houghton Mifflin Company published her first collection of poetry....She went on to write nine volumes and established an enormous following of dedicated fans." And yet she attempted suicide multiple times, eventually succeeding.

Linda says that after her mother's suicide, "her oldest sister and her father's sister both killed themselves, handing the legacy down and on to another generation in their own families. I wondered about my cousins. Did they feel this same push, this intense desire to look out over the edge? And, if so, was that impulse simply a response to the way suicide expressed itself genetically, a bad balance of chemicals in the body? Or was it the influence of living with someone who was mentally ill? Or was it both?"

Anne's parents and siblings, Linda says, "did not understand why she couldn't simply 'keep a stiff upper lip.'" So Anne's daughters and husband also kept quiet about what it was like to live with her: "we didn't talk about the violence any more than we talked about her mental illness." This seems to be the major difference between Linda's experience and her mother's: Linda is not reticent about discussing what she at one point calls the "slide down into the rabbit hole inside my mind," even when one psychiatrist yells at her that her kid isn't difficult, but she is "a difficult mother!"

Linda chronicles the years she spent swinging back and forth from depression to strength, and lists all the drugs she was prescribed, starting with Prozac, the initial effect of which, she says, was "like driving with the parking brake off, for the first time in my life."

She becomes a cutter, which is the part of the memoir I am least able to understand, despite her characteristically bald description: "it's a way of letting the poison out. Taking control again." Reading about the cutting, at least, makes me aware of how fortunate I am to have never felt the kind of despair that can be temporarily relieved in this particular way.

This is Linda's gift, to explain what a state of mind most people have never experienced is really like. I doubt that many of her readers will be as clueless as the police chief who says "it had never occurred to him that a suicide could be driven by intense pain," but a few of them might be brought to understand a little more about the inescapability of depression. I particularly like her use of metaphor:
"I was still a novice at dealing constructively with my depression...and, despite my desperate attempts to combat it, I lay at its feet, day by day, feeling unbearable guilt that my love wasn't strong enough to help me to rise."

Even though Linda's own sister still evidently feels that her suicide attempts were " indulgence," the level of detail in the story Linda tells about her struggle will make it harder for readers to dismiss the idea that there can be a legacy of suicide, and easier to see where help might be available and maybe how it can be most effective.

Guest Post

Today at The 3 Rs, Florinda is allowing me to try to convince her readers to read Carolyn Ives Gilman's Halfway Human, a book I think everyone should read.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What Little House book tells of the Ingalls family's prolonged snowbound existence on the Dakota plains?

Classics: What Norman Mailer epic lands a squad of unlucky Marines on the Japanese-held island of Anopopei?

Non-Fiction: What author admitted in her memoir Operating Instructions that she thought motherhood "would be more like getting a cat"?

Book Club: What tale of two U.S. academics in London won Alison Lurie a Pulitzer?

Authors: What author once starred with his brother Malachy in a two-man musical review called A Couple of Blaguards?

Book Bag: What author landed his novels Bloodbrothers, The Wanderers and Clockers on the big screen?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


We woke up to black cold and saw Wednesday's paper delivered again on the ice of the driveway. All of us have somewhere to drive this afternoon, and it's supposed to snow. The rural roads do not see enough snowplow here.

In other words, it's a day I need more courage. I've been re-reading Anne Sexton and found a poem entitled "Courage," which seems to me another good one for the end of January:

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

Today will be a day when getting through the small things takes courage. Sometimes the small things take more courage than the big dramatic events-- although, ironically, one of today's small things is getting my kids to their last dress rehearsal for a dramatic event that opens tomorrow night, a local production of The Laramie Project. Help me hope for no literal broken legs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Greenery Street

I won a pretty little paperback book a few weeks ago at Books and Chocolate, a copy of Greenery Street by Denis Mackail. One of the purposes of the giveaway was to introduce new readers to Persephone Books and their reprints of "neglected classics" from the early twentieth century. This one is fun to read; it's about a newly-married couple, and will make any married person reminisce fondly about the first year of marriage. It made me remember the young matrons I worked with (as a file clerk in a medical office) when I was a newlywed, and some of the quelling things they'd say to me about what would change as I became an "oldywed."

One of the things I read about this book before it arrived is that the narrator has reminded at least one reader of the sometimes-intrusive narrator in the tv show Arrested Development. So in the time between finding out I'd won the book and receiving it, I watched some episodes of the tv show, but have so far failed to be charmed by it.

The narration of Greenery Street, however, is quite charming, often in a slightly self-deprecating manner:
"This is how Greenery Street thinks and acts. This is how Felicity and Ian thought and acted now. They wouldn't deny that they'd had a shock; but, as Felicity pointed out, so long as they'd still got each other, what did anything else matter? One expects these little jolts occasionally, so they told one another, but in Greenery Street there is an ancient phrase which will fetch its inhabitants through worse troubles than these. You find it in those multi-coloured fairy books on Felicity's hanging bookshelf. 'So they were married,' it runs, 'and lived happily ever afterwards.'
For 'and,' say the inhabitants, please read 'and therefore.'"

Felicity and Ian go through all the conventional stages of courtship and marriage. When Ian first meets her father, there is some awkwardness which reminds me irresistably of the time my father, stuck for conversation, genially asked one of my teenage boyfriends whether the large car he was driving was difficult to park, and the boyfriend, head full of the phrase "parking," which meant "making out" in teenager parlance of that day, was left almost completely at a loss for words.

This is what Ian and Felicity's father Humphrey say and do upon first meeting:
"'How do you do, sir?' said Ian, courageously. As before, he extended the right hand of salutation.
But old Humphrey, who was at least ten times more embarrassed than anyone else in the room, found himself incapable of making the necessary contact. Instead, he nodded at Ian with an odd kind of familiarity--rather as though they had secretly spent the whole day together in not very respectable surroundings--and began rubbing the tips of his fingers against each other.
'Infernally cold,' he observed."

Some modern readers find Felicity a little sillier than the spirit of the novel requires, because of things like her inexperience with keeping financial records. I find her experience true to life, as an increasingly rare modern woman who went directly from her mother's house to setting up a household with a husband. As newlyweds, we once went two months thinking we didn't have much money in our account because I'd forgotten to record our paychecks in the "deposit" section.

Felicity is as sheltered as a nice turn-of the-century upper-class British woman should be, and so her husband's process of learning about her is laced with something that is close to--but not quite--condescension:
"Ian pigeon-holed this information--delivered with such careless certainty--in the section of his mind which was invisibly labelled 'Felicity's philosophy.' He was always turning over the contents of this compartment, smiling at them, piecing them together and separating them again. Sometimes they made him feel that he was really learning a lot about life; at other times that he was learning a lot about Felicity; oftener still that the whole collection represented just so much childishness and general inaccuracy. But when he had finished, he was always careful to put everything back. He had no intention of losing any of it."
Wouldn't it be nice if that tolerant attitude could last for thirty years or more? And yet it rarely does; it's a bit fragile for long duration, like some of the wedding gifts.

One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Felicity wants to go to a dance, and Ian is initially reluctant. They are so in love that, by the end of their disagreement, Felicity isn't sure she wants to go, and Ian is positively enthusiastic, lest he disappoint her. It reminds me of a discussion Ron and I once had about where to go for a romantic Valentine's day lunch. I suggested one place, and he suggested another, and on Valentine's day we each went to the place the other had suggested and waited, wondering where the other was.

Almost as good is their attempt to meet each other halfway about settling into a hotel:
"She was unpacking... conscientiously, and Ian--who preferred to take things from his suitcase as the occasion arose--showed a little impatience....And then, because she was a good wife, she controlled her desire to rearrange all her things in different cupboards and drawers..." Since I'm the one who prefers to take things from my suitcase as the occasion arises, I appreciate Felicity's efforts to get on with the holiday.

There are a few situations a modern reader will have absolutely no experience with--the difficulty of firing a servant, for instance-- but since the strength of this novel is in the evoking of experience through details that are as often timeless as dated, many readers will find plenty to sympathize with and remember as fondly as Ian and Felicity end up looking back on Greenery Street, the first place they live together as a couple.

If you've ever been married, you know how the most absurd things about the first place you lived together can become fond memories. Our "honeymoon cottage," as my father still calls our first apartment, had roly-polies (sow bugs) that would sometimes crawl up the wall and partway across the ceiling before dropping, and I was afraid one would eventually drop onto my face while I was sleeping. Ron used to gallantly promise to stay awake and guard my face; that's a fond memory now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And the Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible

At this dead and frozen time of year, I'm looking for ways to get through each day, and so I've been reading more poems by Todd Davis. One of his poems is a strong enough tonic to get me through one more day towards spring; this one, "And the Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible":

Everything shines from the inside out--
not like the blaze of the sun, but like
the moon, as if each of us had swallowed
a piece of it. Our flesh opaque, milky,
indefinite--the way you see the world
when cataracts skim your vision.
What so many mistake as imperfection--
bulge of varicose, fatty tumor's bump--
is simply another way for the light to get out,
to illuminate the body as it rises.
We're caught up all the time, but none of us
should fly away yet. It's in the darkness
when your feet knock dew from leaves
of grass, when your hand pushes out
against the coffin's lid. Just wait.
You'll see we had it right all along,
that the only corruption comes
in not loving this life enough.

My favorite line of this poem is "we're caught up all the time." I like that it can be read at least two ways, one of them about how we get caught up in the busyness (business) of our own lives and forget to get a birthday card sent in time (sorry Sarah; happy birthday today!) or just to think about what someone else is going through at the moment. Sometimes I think about how nice it is not to have a sore throat. I don't have one now. Do you?

This poem makes me think about the time I spend in doctor's waiting rooms. In December I was at an ophthalmic surgeon's office, having a consultation about a little growth that was removed from my eyelid and turned out to be nothing worrisome, and I saw a lot of old people complete with things like red eyes and fatty tumors, some of them shuffling behind walkers. It helps me to be patient when I'm behind someone like that--let's say an old person who is confused about how to fill out the insurance paperwork--to try to see a physical imperfection as a daughter or son would, something so slight and so gradual that if you noticed it, you would only feel more love for the person who had to bear such a frailty.

Tomorrow I go to the orthopedist's office for the yearly checkup on my artificial knee, and I'll see a lot of old people who have been in pain so long it's affected their personality. I used to be like that, but part of my body has already risen. Now I can love this life enough--even in January, if I squeeze my eyes closed so the old snow in the background looks like light.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel is Cassandra Clare's latest YA offering; she's taken the basic plot and character types from her City of Bones/Ashes/Glass series and steampunk-ified them back into the Victorian era. The surprise is that it's still fun.

When Tessa, the main character of this one, tells Will, a Shadowhunter, that she loves to read books by Wilkie Collins, he observes that he's "never seen anyone get so excited over books before," and she asks "Isn't there anything you love like that? And don't say 'spats' or 'lawn tennis' or something silly" to which he replies "Good's like she knows me already."

One character, a friend of Will's, seems to be very obviously dying of consumption, until it turns out that it's something else altogether which ails him. Another character tells Will and his fellow Shadowhunters about the threat posed by "mechanical monsters meant to destroy the ranks of Shadowhunters" and the "binding spell that would animate these creatures not with mechanics but with demonic energies." So it's Victorian England, only not quite.

I also particularly enjoyed the part where Will kills one of a pair of demons, only to find out later that "her sister brought her back via a necromantic charm."

And I relished the histrionic descriptions, like this one of the demons' lair:
"A great crystal chandelier hung overhead, fronded with strings of gray cobweb that drifted in the disturbed air like ancient lace curtains. It had probably once hung over a grand table. Now it swung over a bare marble floor that had been painted with a series of necromantic patterns--a five-pointed star inside a circle inside a square. Inside the pentagram stood a repulsive stone statue, the figure of some hideous demon, with twisted limbs and clawed hands. Horns rose from its head.
All around the room were scattered the remains of dark magic--bones and feathers and strips of skin, pools of blood that seemed to bubble like black champagne. There were empty cages lying on their sides, and a low table on which was spread an array of bloody knives and stone bowls filled with unpleasant dark liquids."

It makes me think of the "children catcher" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the first kind of steampunk story I ever read. The description gives me the same delicious shiver, and the same feeling of removal--this is quite clearly a different world from our own.

My one complaint about this book is that we don't learn what the Clockwork Angel of the title is for, or what it does. True, the book cover warns that this is only "Book One" of a series that will be entitled "The Infernal Devices." Clare gets credit for bringing the events of the story to a satisfying conclusion. But why use the title to make a point about the angel itself, only to string readers along? That kind of cliffhanger served to bring my father back to the movie theater every week to see Flash Gordon, but I don't think it's necessary to coerce Clare's legions of readers into seeking the next installment of anything she cares to write.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What bestseller did Dorothy Kunhardt come up with in 1940, after pasting tactile objects into a book for her three-year-old daughter, Edith?

Classics(?): Who was the first of Vito Corleone's sons to bite the dust?

Non-Fiction: What sport's early history, including Merkle's Boner and Snodgrass' Muff, did Lawrence Ritter bring to life in The Glory of Their Times?

Book Club: What 1980 novel introduced a blue-eyed Cro-Magnon orphan adopted by Neaderthals?

Authors: What San Francisco novelist insists his name is real, despite its suspicious anagram "is a man I dreamt up"?

Book Bag: What debut Roy Blount novel tells the story of Guy Fox, the first man to impregnate a U.S. president?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Container Gardening

One of you recommended that I read Ellen Steinbaum's volume of poetry entitled Container Gardening, and I did. I was so grateful for the recommendation that I actually went back and tried to figure out who told me about it, but to no avail. My no-credit-no-blame system is too efficient.

My favorite one in the volume is this poem, "standing at the shore":

afterwards we will
look at it and say
this was when we still or
this was before
but then we will not be
at that same soft moment
grouped in pastel shirts
the children giddy with being
on the beach at nearly bedtime
digging their toes into the sand
wild to escape to the waves
get their clothes wet
looking back we may see
the messy instant of everyone
trying to be perfect or
we may see it
framed by then
that minute
when we did not know where
we would be looking back from

Possibly this is my favorite simply because this is the time of year when I call on memories of our once-every-two-years trip to the beach in South Carolina to sustain me through the long, northern winter. I think it's also my favorite because I tend to think of my own poems as snapshots; the last time I made a collection of them, I gave it the title "Preface to Photo Albums Three and Four." Most of all I like the lines "this was when we still or/this was before," because my photos of our beach trips cover years before one of the children was born, years when my parents sat on the porch with my friend's mother, years with portable cribs, and, recently, years with adult-size children who each require a bed of their own.

Steinbaum has a number of "snapshot" poems in this volume. "One Photograph" begins with the line "She will not become my mother for another thirty years." Another poem, "At the Time Exchange," demands that we "Picture them: the old/whose every waking is/a disappointment...." And in "How We Become Ordinary," you can see the process of a woman becoming "just a mother" in her child's future photo album: "It starts in such small ways...." The best of the lot, after "Standing at the shore," is the poem entitled "The Time Emporium" which asks "which was your favorite/bauble--the perfect summer evening....Or maybe the birthday/when you were six....Which, looking back, would you never/exchange for what was coming next?"

The title poem, "Container Gardening," is about plants that have to "sip water doled out by the cup" on a balcony where "no earthworms/ crawl among these roots, no weeds invade." It's similar in tone to "Order," in which the speaker informs us "I always know where/the tape measure is now." The idea of control pervades this volume, and each page gives readers the sense that the pot won't be big enough to contain all the days, "more days, if we are lucky,/than we will think to count,/piling up like shelter/at our door."

This is just the right volume for this time of year, at least for someone like me, who hates the dead of winter and can be sustained for a while by images of growing things.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

After repeated recommendations from Sophisticated Dorkiness, I found a copy of Anne Fadiman's nonfiction book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures). It begins as a story of culture clash between immigrant Hmong parents and arrogant American doctors, and tells both sides of the story without blaming either one.

As I read it, I got angrier and angrier. I'm an upper-class, well-educated American who speaks good English, but during the times that I've been subject to the dictates of our medical system, I've experienced some of the same bullying that Fadiman attributes mostly to cultural difference. Doctors are interested in lives, not in souls, she demonstrates, using one doctor's own words on the subject. It's bending to the needs of immigrants to do something like allow family members to stay in the room with a critically ill child. Why? Why do most Americans routinely knuckle under to the demands of doctors who don't see us as people, but as broken body parts?

I am the survivor of five hospital stays, three for knee surgeries and two for childbirth. I know first-hand how demeaning it is to be treated like a purely physical object who is required to obey every recommendation or be labeled "noncompliant." I was consistently bewildered to hear laments over "drive-through delivery," because I was forced to stay in the hospital longer than I wanted to (12 hours for my second birth) and not allowed to have my baby with me except at the whim of the nurses.

Perhaps you think that going to a hospital should require me to surrender my will entirely to modern medicine and its dedication to health at any cost, without any regard for quality of life. I would not agree--and as a result, reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (the title is a Hmong description of epilepsy) made me very, very angry indeed.

Let's take what happened to Lia Lee, the "Hmong child" of the subtitle. Her doctors got frustrated because Lia's parents, who speak no English and in fact have no written culture, were not carrying out the instructions that were written in English on the various medicines they prescribed, medicines that had--as so many do--unwanted side effects, both physical and behavioral. So what did the doctors do? They had Lia taken away from her parents and put into foster care!

Fadiman quotes the doctor responsible for this outrage as saying "I felt that there was a lesson that needed to be learned....I felt it was important for these Hmongs to understand that there were certain elements of medicine that we understood better than they did and that there were certain rules they had to follow with their kids' lives. I wanted the word to get out in the community that if they deviated from that, it was not acceptable behavior." Lia's parents did not see their child "for more than a month," and they weren't even told where she was "for several weeks."

Fadiman tells story after story of the arrogance of modern American health workers, from the ones at a refugee camp who "failed to win the cooperation of the camp inhabitants because they considered the relationship one-sided, with the Westerners holding all the knowledge" to the California home health care worker who told the Lees not to give a quick-acting laxative to their incontinent and brain-dead child "because if you keep using the medicine, then Lia will always have to have the medicine, and that is a bad thing."

Only after their "culture of biomedicine" fails to cure Lia do her American doctors seem to have any sense of perspective about what they've done to her. Her chart notes that after brain death, she no longer has seizures, and her soft food diet has "cured her obesity," prompting one of her doctors to observe that "she was real healthy....She was the healthiest she'd ever been. She was just perfect. A perfect vegetable." Another doctor observes that she had become "just the sort of patient nurses like" because "she had metamorphosed from a hyperactive child with a frightening seizure disorder and inaccessible veins into an inert, uncomplaining body who would probably never need another IV."

Fadiman tells some stories about medical professionals who succeed in communicating with and treating Hmong patients, like a man who was hospitalized for an infection and was upset about the "routine admission form" question about whether he wanted to donate his organs if he died. He clearly demonstrated unease in this situation; how many of us would have been more quietly upset, filling out such a form for ourselves or a loved one?

Stanford Medical School, Fadiman says "is trying to bring back what has been called the 'whole doctor--whole patient' model, in which the doctor brings his or her full the hospital, and the patient is viewed as a complete person (not just the appendix in Room 416). This model is nothing new; in fact, it is what all doctors used to be taught."

In so many areas, we're learning that science alone is not the answer to all our problems. The popularity of Michael Pollan's books, for instance, is one indication of our dawning awareness that a narrow focus on nutrition has not been effective at improving the eating habits of Americans.

Medicine is only one of the difficult topics Fadiman addresses in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, but it's the one that I obviously reacted to most strongly (here's a different review). Do you think I'm over-reacting?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Broom of the System

I won an audiobook version of David Foster Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System (read by Robert Petkoff) over at A Bookworm's World this fall. And I could barely stand to finish it because I was so exasperated by the characters and their situation. I ended up driving around yelling at the sound system in my car, trying to get to the end of the long walk across the desert. I mean that literally, as various narrative threads come together in a fictional manufactured desert near Cleveland (the Great Ohio Desert; note the acronym). Obviously, the situation of the novel is comical, and so a reader's response, however incensed, is going to be commensurately comical.

The character names alone are ample warning that nothing is to be taken seriously in this novel--especially if you hear them out loud, rather than reading them to yourself, silently: Mindy Metalman, Wang-Dang Lang, Biff Diggerence, Rick Vigorous, Candy Mandible, Judith Prietht, and Peter Abbott, just to name a few you're introduced to in the first pages.

Listening to these characters tell stories to one another and become disconcertingly aware that they themselves are in a story while driving around rural Ohio may in fact be the ideal way to experience this peculiar novel. The novel's concern with communication between people and the difficulty of defining the self and the Other comes across well out loud, although the supremely irritating psychiatrist, Dr. Jay, reaches the unbearable level sooner on audio than I think he might on the page. As is my habit, I had to find a library copy of this book after listening to the audio version so I could give you one of Lenore's therapy sessions with Dr Jay:

Jay: Rick knows he must forever remain an Other to you. Rick knows the meaning of membrane. Rick is like a sperm without a tail. An immobilized sperm in the uterus of life. Why do you think Rick is so desperately unhappy? What do you think he means by the Screen Door of Union?....He means membrane! Rick is trapped behind his own membrane. He hasn't the equipment to get out.
Lenore: Hey, you're not supposed to talk about your other patients.
Jay: Why do you think he's so possessive? He wants you in him. He wants to trap you behind the membrane with him. He knows he can never validly permeate the membrane of an Other, so he desires to bring that Other into him, for all time. He's a sick man.
Lenore: Look, stop trying to swim around. You've made your point.
Jay: No, you've made your point. All distinctions are shattered. I am not here. I am the sperm inside you. Remember that you are half sperm, Lenore.
Lenore: Pardon?
Jay: Your father's sperm. It's part of you. Inseparable.
Lenore: What does my father have to do with all this?
Jay: Admit.
Lenore: Admit what?
Jay: That you want someone truly inside you. That your membrane is crying out.
Lenore: Jesus.
Jay: Listen. . . Hear that? The faint cry of a membrane, isn't it? "Let me be an ovum, let--"
Lenore: He loves me.
Jay: He does? The Adonis? The valid Other?
Lenore: Rick, you dingwad. Rick loves me. He's said so.
Jay: Rick cannot give us what we need. Admit it.
Lenore: He loves me.
Jay: It's a sucking love, Lenore. An inherently unclean love. It's the love of a flabby, unclean membrane, sucking at an Other, to dirty. Dirt is on this membrane's mind. It wants to do you dirt.

This is the point where I got completely fed up and started yelling at the sound system in my car. That worsened as Rick continues to tell Lenore stories and she becomes less and less able to play his game. The reader--or listener, in this case--is similarly unable to play the novel's games anymore, and so I drove around aimlessly waiting for the resolution and relieved when the desert was finally traversed and I could put these characters back into their can.

It was an absorbing, if exasperating, journey. The point of it, as one character comes out and says, in the final pages, is to "play the game together. I promise that no player will feel alone." It might put you off of psycho-therapy forever, though.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crossed Wires

Last week I read what struck me as a mildly entertaining romance novel, Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton. It's fairly recent, published in 2008, but it reads like something out of the 1970s, with a character getting indignant about racism and the person being discriminated against keeping a stiff upper lip about it.

Part of the interest of the novel, for me at least, is that it's very, very British, and an American reader is left to imagine what kind of prejudices the male protagonist, a professor at Cambridge, has about the people in Sheffield, where the female protagonist lives, and vice-versa. When the female protagonist, Mina, thinks about the male protagonist, Peter, she "didn't suppose [he] had to spend his coffee breaks listening to people wittering about shoes. Although she found it hard to imagine what people in universities did talk about...."

The author, quite obviously of the professorial class herself, is at her best when describing the hysterics of a graduate student who has just handed in her thesis and is now discovering mistakes that she hadn't seen before. The scene reminded me vividly of a conversation I had years ago in a shared graduate student office with an older woman who told me that I had just veered over the line to what she described as "baroque worry."

Peter has a friend named Jeremy who livens things up every time the author allows him to make an appearance. As soon as he's introduced we learn that he has a partner named Martin and that "'Partner' was Jeremy's own word; when in company, he liked to follow it with the explanatory gloss 'partners in crime' and a lascivious leer." Peter suspects him of selecting packages of cookies "especially with innuendo in mind" on at least one occasion, when he is offered a "Viennese chocolate sandwich."

The novel ends predictably, with even the children of the couple falling immediately in love with each other. I feel a bit churlish about my lukewarm reaction, since The Zen Leaf and Moored at Sea had such nice things to say about it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What author uproots a Massachusetts family to the Gold Rush town of Lucky Diggins, in The Ballad of Lucy Whipple?

Classics: What followup to The Web and the Rock was Thomas Wolfe's last novel?

Non-Fiction: What nation did David Halberstam describe in Ho and The Making of a Quagmire?

Book Club: Whose 1998 novel Filth interrupts its narrator, Edinburgh detective Bruce Robertson, with comments from the 10-foot tapeworm inside him?

Authors: What pen name did Mary Challans grab from a 17th-century British play, for eight novels set in ancient Greece?

Book Bag: What real-life politician is skewered by Garrison Keillor's satire Me, by Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hard Rain

It was the fall of 2004, when Ron and I heard Eleanor's sixth-grade band begin to stomp their feet and clap their hands--stomp, stomp, clap! stomp, stomp, clap!--that we became aware that what we thought of as the rebellious songs of our adolescence had been fully taken over by elevators and middle school band directors.

Then, in the spring of 2008, we realized that it wasn't enough to be relieved when our kids weren't assigned to the creationist middle school science teacher, that we should have protested the first time we heard about him giving handouts about how dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and then collecting the handouts at the end of each class so parents wouldn't see them.

Now it's 2011, and 17 degrees outside. I've been thinking of going out to one of the two stores in town looking for a bouquet of cut flowers to help me bear having to take down the Christmas decorations. But I'm not sure I'm up to the whole ordeal--a parking place far enough away from the door that I'll have room to extend my stiff leg into the frozen slush to get out of the car, cheery smiles for the people I pass, soft muzak on the store speakers, displays of the headline in the local paper about three murders near the lake we like to frequent in warmer might all be too much.

It's like this poem, "Hard Rain," by Tony Hoagland:

After I heard It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood: there's nothing
we can't pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can't turn into a soft-drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hold golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.

"You can't keep beating yourself up, Billy,"
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
"about all those people you killed--
You just have to be the best person you can be,
one day at a time--"

And everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.

Dear Abby:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood--
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present.
Should I say something?
Signed, America

I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,

but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth--

whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.

I like the line about how "the level of deep feeling has been touched" because it seems to me to get right to the heart of the matter--what business is it of yours if my deep feeling is wrongly bestowed? Who gets to define "wrong" and why? Is there such a thing as evil, and if so, can I point my finger at a person and say that there's no more room for forgiveness, that he's already "History"?

Well, yeah. Not only can I, but I probably should. Although it would be a dreadful world if everybody stalked around showing their true feelings every day (no more of what Holden Caulfield calls "phoniness"), maybe one thing January is for is facing some of the gritty realities that get covered over with lovely growing things during the rest of the year.

Hmm, I'm not the only one thinking like this today; see this xkcd.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Three Seconds

Three Seconds, by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, is a Swedish crime mystery being released today in the U.S. in a new English translation by Kari Dickson. I was sent an advance copy by Katrina Alvarez, marketing director for the digital agency Wiredset, who is also providing two copies for the giveaway.

The winners of the giveaway, chosen by, are:
(comment#2) FreshHell
(comment#5) ReadersGuide
Congratulations! I'll be providing your addresses to Ms Alvarez, who will be sending you a copy of the book directly.

So what kind of mystery is this? I'd call it gritty; I learned all kinds of things I had no idea about that are evidently true, according to the authors' appendix at the end of the novel. Realistic details are part of the appeal of the novel; the book jacket identifies Anders Roslund as an "award-winning journalist" and Borge Hellstrom as an "ex-criminal." Here's an example of something I didn't know: amphetamine, evidently a popular drug in prisons, can be processed with and hidden inside tulip buds.

The protagonist of the novel, a secret operative named Piet, murmurs to himself a seemingly lovely but puzzling line about how he loves poetry and tulips, before it turn out that he uses the tulips for drugs and he doesn't read the poetry, but uses little-read library books to smuggle drugs and gun parts into a prison.

The real interest of the novel is taking the little bits and pieces of the mystery and trying to put them together to figure out what Piet is going to do before he does it. I failed. I had no idea what he was planning most of the time, especially the elaborate set-up with "the barrel of diesel and the window" in a prison workshop. The title doesn't turn out to be much of a clue, by the way.

The plot has to do with corruption of the police force in Sweden, a topic that isn't going to carry the interest of an American reader very far unless she assumes that cops are much the same everywhere:
"This damned system....Criminals working for the police. Criminals' own crimes being covered up and downplayed. One crime is legitimized so that another one can be investigated. Policemen who lie and withhold the truth from other policemen. Damn a democratic society."

The ending, in which Piet's story finally dovetails with the story of Ewert, a murder cop, is extremely satisfying, and the mystery is entertainingly complex. But the characters are quickly sketched, for the most part, and most of them are full of gratuitous angst. The writing is workmanlike and spare:
"The strong sunlight had become uncomfortably warm and made his jacket itch on his neck and his shoes feel too tight....Piet Hoffman had a dry mouth and swallowed what should have been saliva, but now was anxiety and fear."
These depictions of the Swedish spring sunlight and Piet's fear are so baldly stated that there's not a lot of room later to enlarge the description to evoke the even hotter sunshine of an Atlanta summer and the extremes of fear that the protagonist feels as his predicament worsens. He's got a dry mouth for the entire length of the novel!

If you like excitement, read this one fast. That's one clue the title does provide.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Three Men in a Boat

We've always had a good time on road trips with the whole family, except for the first year of each child's life (neither one of them could stand their infant car seats), and part of our tradition is to go to the library and find an audiobook we all want to listen to together. For our most recent trip, I got the audio version of Jerome K. Jerome's comedy classic Three Men in a Boat, because it's long been one of Ron's favorites while I'd never gotten very interested in it, and the kids had never heard of it before.

I chose Ian Carmichael's reading of this book because of a review at A Striped Armchair; that was the review that decided me, after reading about this book at Booklust and Things Mean A Lot. Although I don't usually remember who spurs me to read something, I always wonder what spurs a blogger revival of a particular classic, and note where the revival first comes to my attention. Also, I was looking for audiobooks for our upcoming trip.

Our enjoyment of the traveling tale was enhanced by the teenagers' insistence that we sing along to "I would walk 500 miles" (featured in a road trip episode of the tv show How I Met Your Mother) after every stop along the way.

Another thing that greatly enhanced our enjoyment is how recognizable the characters in the tale are--we grinned at the portrait of Eleanor--the hypochondriac--and then at a second portrait of her as the person afraid of two feet of water. Scarcely were we done grinning at that when we were amused by the portrait of Ron as the expert on packing who wants help with the manual labor. And then came the bit about singing comic songs, which, while not true in the details to the way Walker sings them, made us laugh in recognition anyway.

One of our very favorite parts was this true-to-dog-life portrait:
"he labored under the fixed belief that, whenever Harris or George reached out their hand for anything, it was his cold, damp nose that they wanted."

Another good part is when the three men try to open a tin of pineapple, using a pocket knife, scissors, a sharp stone, and finally the mast of the boat. They are ultimately unsuccessful and end up throwing the oddly dented tin into the river "...and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and rowed away from the spot..."

Three Men in a Boat is the kind of book that is best read at leisure; you'll enjoy the humor so much more if you're not in any particular hurry because it's a kind of quiet, subtle humor that builds to absurdity. Take this long example:

I knew a young man once, he was a most conscientious fellow, and, when he took to fly-fishing, he determined never to exaggerate his hauls by more than twenty-five per cent.
"When I have caught forty fish," said he, "then I will tell people that I have caught fifty, and so on. But I will not lie any more than that, because it is sinful to lie."
But the twenty-five per cent plan did not work well at all. He never was able to use it. The greatest number of fish he ever caught in one day was three, and you can't add twenty-five per cent to three--at least, not in fish.
So he increased his percentage to thirty-three-and-a-third; but that, again, was awkward, when he had only caught one or two; so, to simplify matters, he made up his mind to just double the quantity.
He stuck to this arrangement for a couple of months, and then he grew dissatisfied with it. Nobody believed him when he told them that he only doubled, and he, therefore, gained no credit that way whatever, while his moderation put him at a disadvantage among the other anglers. When he had really caught three small fish, and said he had caught six, it used to make him quite jealous to hear a man, whom he knew for a fact had only caught one, going about telling people he had landed two dozen.
So, eventually, he made one final arrangement with himself, which he has religiously held to ever since, and that was to count each fish that he caught as ten, and to assume ten to begin with. For example, if he did not catch any fish at all, then he said he had caught ten fish--you could never catch less than ten fish by his system; that was the foundation of it. Then, if by any chance he really did catch one fish, he called it twenty, while two fish would count thirty, three forty, and so on.
It is a simple and easily worked plan, and there has been some talk lately of its being made use of by the angling fraternity in general. Indeed, the Committee of the Thames Anglers' Association did recommend its adoption about two years ago, but some of the older members opposed it. They said they would consider the idea if the number were doubled, and each fish counted as twenty.

To make a long story short, this is a great book for a road trip; it makes short stories long and its effect is to make a long trip seem short.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Free E-book of the month

From Phoenix Picks science fiction publisher:
Our free give-away for January (by popular request) is Nancy Kress’ novella ‘Act One’ which was a Hugo and Nebula nominee in 2010.
Gardner Dozois of Locus writes that Act One is “one of the best of the
year...a compelling novella about a once-famous actress and her devoted
manager who get much more publicity of an unfortunate sort when they
inadvertently become embroiled with an act of biological terrorism with
potentially world-changing results.”
As a special treat for the new year readers will also be able to download
a short story by Hugo and Nebula winner, Alexei Panshin. ‘Sky Blue’ is
taken from Alexei Panshin’s critically acclaimed anthology, ‘Farewell to
Yesterday’s Tomorrow.’

The Coupon Code for January is 9992365. Instructions and download link (as
usual) at: