Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Books

Hey, it's banned books week. (Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for alerting me to it.)
I'm always stymied to find a very good sex ed book for kids on the list of frequently banned books, It's Perfectly Normal. I think it's probably on there because it says that homosexual feelings can be normal for some people. Also there's the perennial favorite Huckleberry Finn, because the "n" word outweighs the egalitarian ideas, naturally. And then there are those dangerous witchcraft manuals, the Harry Potter books!
Learn more about banned books here, and then tell me what's your favorite banned book!

The Book That Follows a Masterpiece

I feel sorry for Christopher Buckley's new novel, Supreme Courtship, because it follows Boomsday, which is his masterpiece.

Supreme Courtship is enjoyable, like Florence of Arabia and Thank You For Smoking. It just doesn't have lines like Boomsday's motto of the Association of Baby Boomer Advocates (ABBA): "Ask not, what can your country do for you. Ask, what has your country done for you lately?"

The U.S. President in Supreme Courtship is that rarest of Buckley characters, a good man. "Faced with a national debt mind-boggling even by Washington standards, Donald P. Vanderdamp had rolled up his shirtsleeves on his first day in office, unscrewed the cap of the presidential veto pen, and gone to work. He wrote No on every spending bill that the Congress sent to his desk." He is not well-liked by anyone in government, and so has trouble getting his supreme court nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. After nominating two judges with "impeccable credentials," indeed, one who "seemed to have been put on earth precisely for the purpose of one day becoming a justice of the United States Supreme Court," and seeing them thrown out because one wasn't enthusiastic about seeing To Kill a Mockingbird in elementary school and the other offered to marry a woman he'd gotten pregnant, Vanderdamp gets mad. He nominates a television judge who is so overwhelmingly popular with the public that the Judiciary committee can't find a way to sabatoge her nomination. She becomes a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and then gets to decide the result of the next U.S. presidential election.

It's wonderful satire; I enjoyed it and recommend that you read it this fall, during the final months of the presidential campaigns. But if you're going to read only one novel by Christopher Buckley, let it be Boomsday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fiddling Around with Fairies While Rome Burns

I feel a little Nero-ish, talking about a book I recently read and liked in light of the google news headlines ("WaMu tumbles") I just went past to get here. But since I have rejected the suggestion that I boycott my blog in order to bring congress to its knees, I think I'll just go ahead.

I've been waiting for Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy since I began reading about it this summer on Bookshelves of Doom, Whatever, and Justine's own blog. Did you know that she's married to Scott Westerfeld? Anyway, the book was worth the wait.

The main character of the book, Charlie (for Charlotte Adele Donna Seto Steele), has a parking fairy. Whenever she's in a car, it gets a primo parking space. Being only 14, she doesn't appreciate this. So she's trying to ditch her fairy by walking everywhere. Evidently, a fairy will go away eventually if you don't use it. Only one person in the book seems to know much about fairies, a character's mother, named Tamsin, and she doesn't publish her book about them for fear that it's not yet "complete" enough. So the world is left knowing only that "some people don't think it's a fairy that makes sure that every car I'm in gets a parking spot. Some say they're ghosts or some kind of spirit, and some people, like my dad and Steffi, don't believe it's anything but luck."

Charlie and the reader become believers in fairies, however, when Tamsin shows Charlie her fairy's "aura" in a special mirror, and when Charlie uses Tamsin's book to trade fairies with Tamsin's daughter Fiorenze, who has a boy-attracting fairy. Charlie thinks it will be great to have all the boys' attention, but soon finds out that it's a nuisance and that most of them don't really like her, but are merely compelled to act as if they do.

Fiorenze tells Charlie that Tamsin herself has had
"'at least six different fairies....The current one is a never-being-late fairy. I think it suits her best. She's very, um, OCD. It drives her insane when she's late because of trains or planes or whatever. But now nothing keeps her from being on time.'
'And before that?' I asked.
'The first one I know of was a loose-change-finding fairy.'
'Hmmmm, bog ordinary. I can see why you'd want a different one. But not exactly a nightmare fairy....'
'The second was a good-hair fairy,' Fiorenze said...."

At the end of the book is a "list of known fairies," and here are some of them:
Bacon: Ensures your bacon is always cooked just how you like it.
Bladder: You never need to go in the middle of a movie, and when you do need to go there's always a bathroom around.
Cat: All cats like you even if they bite or scratch everyone else.
Clean clothes: No one will ever spill ketchup on your white sweater again.
Clothes shopping: You will always find clothes that flatter you and they will be drastically marked down.
Getting out of trouble: When you break the rules, teachers and parents don't notice.
Good hair: your hair always looks good.
Good skin: your skin is always clear.
Grip: Whatever you pick up stays in your hands until you decide to let it go.
Photogenic: You look great in every photo ever taken of you.
Never getting cold
Never getting lost

You get the idea. This book has started a debate at my house, about what kind of fairy we'd each like to have. The best fairy, we all agree, would be the one that gives you daily benefits. My idea that a getting-hired fairy would be good was rejected on this basis. I'm currently debating between a never-falling-down fairy (traditional fairy stories make me fear that although I wouldn't fall, I could still twist ankles or knees while upright) and a what-you-should-have-said fairy (I'd always say that thing you think of right afterwards, what you should have said). Ron is thinking that he'd like an apt quotation fairy (you'd always have an apt quotation spring to your lips at the appropriate moment). I asked Walker if he'd like a catching fish fairy, but he said he thought a never-being-late fairy would be more useful to him. I proposed a safe swimming fairy to Eleanor, and she quite likes the idea, although being fifteen she really wants a good hair or good skin fairy.

So now you are invited to join in--what kind of fairy would YOU like? Let's have something to distract us from the headlines of impending doom!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Seeing, the Thrill

We got electricity yesterday at 5 pm. As far as I could tell, no workers even looked at our line after the storm on Sept. 14 until this last Sunday afternoon, a week after the storm, and then the trucks came back yesterday with three new transformers and one new utility pole. A couple of hours after they started working, a lamp came on in my house. Now the refrigerator is starting to get cool.

I've read that it takes seven days to change a habit, and I can tell you that after nine days, I no longer reach for the light switch when I enter a room.

My level of satisfaction with ordinary things is way up. Just being able to go home after dinner and read the newspaper is cause for rejoicing. And then I read this poem, and it seemed to sum up some of my relief. Also it's about a device that you can't use unless you have electricity...

Rock Polisher, by Chris Forhan

Your father bought it, brought it
to the basement utility closet, waited
while a test pebble tumbled in it.
One week: he'd willed it to brilliance.
The grit kit's yours now, the silicon
carbide pack. Split it, have at it.
Jasper, agate, amethyst crystal,
it'll churn to a luster. Listen
to small rocks grind the big one down.
Stones in the driveway, pry them up, why not,
they'll fit, glass knobs on your mother's
bathroom cabinet, your baseball
and mitt, polish them, polish that
zero-win Peewee League season.
The thing your sister said and then
took back, you still have it, polish it,
polish the snowless Christmas
when all you'd hoped for was snow.
It's way past lights out now; you're crouched
above the barrel, feeding it
your school shoes, your haircut
in eighth grade--flat bangs
to the bridge of your nose--the moment
that girl on the track team touched
your wrist, then kept her fingers there,
the way you loved dumbly
and do. If the sun's up, it's nothing,
you're polishing, you're pouring in
the ocean rolling rocks into cobbles
too slowly, and the sky, it was
Mozart's, was Christ's sky,
no matter, dismantle it, drop it
in the tumbler, and you, too, get in there
with your dad and your mom and the cat,
one by one, the whole family,
and God's mercy, perfect at last.

I think it's that line "if the sun's up, it's nothing" that really got to me, when I first read this poem in dim light. Now that we can have it every day, at least for a while, I'm sure that the thrill of having electricity will wear off. But for a while, everything is better. We're all feeling the thrill in the everyday. Actually, I should say we're seeing it; we're no longer limited to feeling around in the dark.

Monday, September 22, 2008

For Purposes of Corruption

We recently got out the copy of Uncle Shelby's ABZ book that our friends John and Val gave us as a new baby present, with the inscription "for purposes of corruption." For fifteen years, this book has been on the top shelf of one of our tallest bookcases. We don't ever have to hide books from our kids; we just shelve them and see if they're discovered. The possibility of discovery has increased in the last few years; 15-year-old Eleanor is now about 5'10" and 12-year-old Walker is already 5'3". But there are a lot of bookshelves in our house....

The kids were greatly amused to find out that something their dad has always said, that he's going off to work so he can buy them "toys and oatmeal," is from the ABZ book. They were even more amused by the wickedness of the suggestion that daddy can't afford a haircut ("poor, poor, poor daddy") and he's taking a nap, and look, there are the scissors....

I'm not a big fan of picture books, generally. I don't have a lot of nostalgia for the days before my kids could read. But we did have a lot of fun with the ABZ book, almost as much fun as we had with Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children, or Roald Dahl's Vicar of Nibbleswicke, Revolting Rhymes, and George's Marvellous Medicine. I found a review of George's Marvellous Medicine on Amazon that sums up the attraction of these kinds of books quite nicely:

3.0 out of 5 stars You won't want enquiring minds to know about this, February 24, 2005
By Amanda Richards "Modest to the extreme" (Georgetown, Guyana)
While all Roald Dahl's books push the envelope somewhat, I thought this one went far too far. As an adult, I did find it amusing, but as I read, the thought of my child copying this stuff kept popping to the front of my mind.
Yes, it is an extremely preposterous concept, and no-one in their right mind would take it as anything else than gross humor, but this is definitely not a book I would place lovingly in the hands of a young child, especially one in my care.
It's full of horrible people saying and doing terrible things, and Dahl isn't one whit apologetic about it. Even Jerry Springer does a little serious bit at the end of his show to try to soothe the bruises and soften the impact.
This book revolves around a little boy who uses non-consumable and extremely dangerous household items to make a batch of "medicine" for his miserable crone of a grandmother, without censure from his parents, one of whom actually encourages him to make another batch.
Nope, I like it, but I can't seriously recommend it for the children of people I like.
Amanda Richards, February 24, 2005
Ooh, obviously another one to put on the top shelf of your highest bookcase! Here's one more sample from the ABZ book--it's the first two pages:

A is for apple. See the nice green apple. M-M-M-M-Good. How many nice green apples can you eat? Make a circle around the number of nice green little apples you ate today.
1 2 3 4 7 12 26 38 57 83 91 116

B is for baby. See the baby. The baby is fat. The baby is pink. The baby can cry. The baby can laugh. See the baby play. Play, baby, play. Pretty, pretty, baby. Mommy loves the baby more than she loves you.

I hope my friends are pleased with our time frame for corrupting our children. We could have pushed it along a bit more, I know, but some things just can't be rushed if they're to be done correctly.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

This is the official list of the blogs participating in Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I'm just now listing them here because I haven't had power for a week. This afternoon about 3:30 five trucks pulled up in front of our house and workers began cutting off the enormous limbs that were still lying on the power lines; one of the workers told me that I could hope for electricity to be restored tomorrow around noon. I said wouldn't that be lovely?

1 More Chapter
2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
248 Book Club
The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness
49 Writers No Books
4 the Love of Books
A Book Lover
A Bookworm’s World
A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

A Lovely Shore Breeze
A Mom’s Book Blog
A Peek At My Bookshelf
A Platypus with a book walks into a bar…
A Reader’s Journal
A Well Watered Garden
A World in the Pages
A Writer’s Dream
Adventures in Reading
Age 30 - A Year of Books
Alabama Book Worm
All I Have To Say
All the Saints
Allison’s Attic of Books
Alpha Heroes
Amateur de Livre
The Amazing Adulthood of

Amber Miller - Author, Writer, &
Web Site Designer

Amber Stults - Book Reviewer and Author
Amy’s Corner of the World
Antique Books
Apooo Bookclub
Apprentice Writer
Arch Thinking
As Usual, I Need More

At Home With Books
Aunt Rowena sez:
Babbling Books Review
Badger Books
Bart’s Bookshelf
Becky’s Book Reviews
Bermudaonion’s Weblog
Better World Blog
Between Sundays
Bibliophile Support Group
Blacklin’s Reading Room Reviews & More
Blog Book Tours
Blog Business World
Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!
Blue Archipelago
Bluestocking Guide: Reviews by a Partial, Prejudiced, and Ignorant Reader

Bobbi’s Book Nook
Boats Against the Current
Book Binge
The Book Blog
Book by Book
Book Chatter and Other

Book Chic
Book Club Girl
Book Crazy
Book Critiques
Book Dads
Book Dweeb
Book Escape
The Book Girl
Book Hangover
Book Junkie Melissa
Book Kingdom
The Book Lady’s Blog
The Book Mine Set
Book Minx
The Book Muncher
Book Nook Club
Books and Movies
Books for Kids
Books on the Nightstand
The Book Reader
Book Review Maniac
Book Reviews
Book Reviews Today
The Book Smugglers
Book Tsunami
Book Zombie
Booked Books
Booking Mama
Bookish Ruth
Bookroomreview’s Weblog
Books ‘N Border Collies
Books and Authors
Books I Done Read
Books, Movies, and Chinese

The Bookworm
Breaking the Spine
Breeni Books
BTripp’s Books
But If You Look At Me Closely…
Café of Dreams
Candid Canine
Canadian Book Worm
Cheryl’s Book Nook
Cheryl Rainfield
Chick Lit Teens
Christian Bookworm Reviews
Christian Children’s Book Review
Christian Novels
A Christian Writer’s World
Cindy’s Love of Books
Civil War History
Clear Shining After Rain
Confessions of a Bibliophile
Confuzzled Books
Critty Joy
Cubie’s Confections
Cupid’s Chokehold
Damn Heart…
The Dark Phantom Reviews
Deborah Vogts
Devourer of Books
Diary of an Eccentric
Dog Ear Diary
Dolce Bellezza
Elizabeth Willse
Everyday I Write the Book Blog
Experiments in Reading
Fashionista Piranha
Fizzy Thoughts
Fnord Incorporated
The Forgetful Faerie Queen
The Fox Reads
Free Spirit
Frequency of Silence
Fresh Ink
The Friendly Book Nook
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Grasping the Wind
Good Reads
The GRITS Online Reading Club
Heather’s Books
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Hope’s Bookshelf
I Read What??
I Smell Books
Iced Tea - Books, TV, Etc.
In Laurie’s Mind
In Spring it is the Dawn
The Indextrious Reader
Into the Fire
It’s All About Books…
Jace Scribbles…
Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup
Janicu’s Book Blog
Japanese Literature Challenge
Jen’s Book Thoughts
Jenn’s Bookshelf
Jennifer’s Random Musings
Journey to the End of the TBR Pile
Joy’s Blog
Julie’s Jewels
Just A (Reading) Fool
Just Your Average Carpool Queen
Katrina’s Reads
Kawzmik World
Kimani Press
Kittling: Books
Kristina’s Favorites
Leafing Through Life
LadyVampire’s Lair
The Lair of the Undead Rat
Lesa’s Book Critiques
Lesley’s Book Nook
LesleyW’s Book Nook
Letters On Pages
Library Hospital
Life According to B
Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker
Linus’s Blanket
Literary Escapism
Literary License
The Literate Housewife Review
Liv’s Book Reviews
Lori’s Reading Corner
Lost In Books
Loud Latin Laughing
Love To Read
Lucky Ladybug
Lurve a la Mode
The Luscious Literary Muse
Madeleine’s Book Blog
The Magic Lasso
Mama Bear Reads
Marilyn’s Romance Reviews
Marjolein’s Book Blog
Maw Books Blog
Mayra’s Secret Bookcase
Me, My Book, and the Couch
Medieval Bookworm
Melanie Anderson
Melody’s Reading Corner
Mervi’s Book Reviews
Michele - only one ‘L’
Midnight Twilight’s Book Blog
Minds Alive on the Shelves
Mirek’s Blog–Reading Books
Miss Daisy Anne
Mistress of the Ancient

Mog’s Blog and More…
Mrs. Magoo Reads
Muse Books Reviews
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
My Christian Fiction Blog
My Fifty Book Challenge
My Friend Amy
My Life in Books
Mysteries in Paradise
Necromancy Never Pays
Never A Dull Moment
Nose in a Book
The Novel World
The Nursery @ The
Literate Housewife

OCD, Vampires, and Amusing Rants, Oh My!
The Octogon
Off to Turn Another Page
On My Bookshelf…
One For The Books
Out of the Blue
The Page Flipper
Pages Turned
Paper Bridges
Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Peeking Between the Pages
Pop Culture Junkie
Popin’s Lair
Presenting Lenore
The Printed Page
Quiverfull Family
Ramblings on Romance
Read, Read, Read
Reader’s Respite
Reading and Ruminations
Reading Keeps You Sane
Reading Romance Books
Reading, Writing, and Retirement
Reading Room
The Reading Spot
Reading with Monie
Reading Circle Books
Readingjunky’s Reading Roost
Real Life is Overrated
Rebecca Reads
Red Lady’s Reading Room
Relz Reviewz
Reviews by Jesse Wave
Reviewer X
Rhapsodyinbooks’s Weblog
Rhonda McKnight on Urban Christian Ficton
Rip My Bodice
Romance Author Buzz
Romance Book Wyrm
Romance Rookie
Romancing the Desert
Ron’s Baseball Bookshelf
Rose City Reader
S. Krishna’s Books
Sassymonkey Reads
Savvy Verse & Wit
Seaside Book Worm Blogger
See Ya On The Net
She is Too Fond of Books
She Reads and Reads
She Reads Books
She Treads Softly
Shelf Life
Shhh I’m Reading
Shooting Stars Mag
Should Be Reading
Simply Books
Simply Romance Reviews
The Sleepy Reader
Smiling Sally
SMS Book Reviews
So Many Books… So Little Time
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Socrates’ Book Reviews
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Southern Sunshine
Stacy’s Place On Earth
Stamped With Grace
Stephanie’s Written Word
The Story Siren
Straight from Hel
Strategist’s Personal Library
Stuff as Dreams are Made on
Survival of the Book
Talk About My Favorite Authors
Tara’s View on Books
Teen Book Reviews
Teen Troves
Terra’s Book Blog
That Book Addiction
Things Mean A Lot
This Book For Free
Thoughts from an Evil Overlord
Thoughts of Joy
The Thrillionth Page
Through the Looking Glass Book Review
Tiny Little Reading Room
TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog
Too Many Books
Tower of Books
Traci’s Book Bag
Tree Swing Reading
Trish Perry - Reading, Writing, and the
Stuff In-Between

Trish’s Reading Nook
Under the Cover
Vixen’s Daily Reads
Well-Mannered Frivolity
Walking on Sunshine
Welcome to Married Life
Wendi’s Reading Corner
Wendy’s Minding Spot
What Came Down Today
What Cheesy Reads
What Vanessa Reads
Window To My World
With Intent To Commit Horror
WORD up!
World According to Books
Writer’s Block Reviews
Writing By Faith
Writing On The Edge
Yankee Romance Reviews
Young Readers

Friday, September 19, 2008

Prolonged Whining

So it's been an entire week without power. I've made my first impression on my students after dressing and brushing my hair in the dark. We've been to all the local restaurants (it's a pretty small town). Rather than becoming closer as a family, like all the local newspaper columnists gush, we've attempted to make it to our usual after school and evening events, and then we've come home and showered in the dark, while Ron has spent most of his evenings at work. We've discovered that we can make hot water on the side burner of our propane grill, and that has made the black and chilly mornings more bearable. Our local Wal-Mart got a delivery of D batteries and ice, so we can keep the carrots and lettuce that we feed to the guinea pig and the rabbit from rotting and can continue to light our way from room to gloomy room.

The bright spot in my week has been this award from Harriet:
arte y pico

She says she likes reading the poems I often post, so in her honor, there's a new one for today. One of my most outdated skills is that I can touch-type about 100 words per minute, so most of the time when I quote or reprint something in its entirety, I'm typing it in. I think this makes me stand out in the world of book blogs... maybe my ability to provide poems from obscure sources makes up for some of my technical incompetence. I can hope!

Since I'm in a whiny mood and the headlines have been so bleak, between the local storm damage, the Texas storm damage and gas prices, and the financial markets, it's kind of a pessimistic poem. But since it's by W.H. Auden, it's not without an ironic edge.

The Fall of Rome

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extoll the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

Don't you just love the idea that the literati have imaginary friends? I wish David Foster Wallace had been a bit closer to his. I also love the image of the evening gowns growing more fantastic. If the public utility structure continues its decline, perhaps the gowns will feature little battery-operated Christmas lights up and down the skirts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

American Gods

We're here in the hurricane did a hurricane (Ike) make it all the way to central Ohio on Sept. 14? We still have no power and American Electric Power is still telling us that it could take until Sept. 21 or even longer. Most of the trees have been cleared off the roads, and we've been hopelessly searching for ice and D batteries since Monday. There's a bad smell coming from the refrigerator, so it's too late for ice. (Yes, we have considered just replacing the refrigerator without opening it, like Dirk Gently in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.)

I'd never been in a hurricane before, and it was really impressive, as is all the damage. The radio kept saying "straight line winds" but there are some big trees that were obviously stirred around in a corkscrew and torn apart three or four different directions at once. Yesterday the road crews got most of the trees off of the major roads. We have four small trees (redbuds and ornamental pear) lying in our front and back yard, one with the cable line wrapped around it where Ron pulled the line off the street. There are a number of big trees down up in our woods. In the next yard the enormous tree trunk that fell on the power line is still lying on the line.

On Sunday it was kind of an adventure. We played cards by candlelight. On Monday it was less of an adventure. Even businesses were closed. McDonald's was closed, which gave Eleanor the unpleasant sensation that we were in one of the post-apocalyptic novels she'd just read. There was no school and the local colleges had to cancel classes.

Today most businesses and schools have power, but many of the residential areas, like mine, are dark and quiet. The motels and restaurants are full. The libraries are full. Most of the schools are open. I'm at the college library, because the public library is so full that it's hard to find a free outlet. And when I find a good book (I found two yesterday), it's hard to find any time to read, because most of my reading time comes in the evening, and I find it hard to concentrate when my book light keeps dimming.

I did finish a book right before the hurricane hit. It was American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I picked it up because we'd listened to the audiobook of Anansi Boys this summer and found it compelling enough to keep us going through miles and miles of the midwest. American Gods was written before Anansi Boys, though, and I found it more loosely plotted. One character is martyred and then resurrected by a god named "Easter," and another comes back to life by means of unintential necromancy by leprechaun gold. It turns out that (naturally) necromancy doesn't pay:

"'Did you ever figure out how to bring me back from the dead?" she asked.
"I guess," he said. "I know one way, anyway."
"That's good," she said. She squeezed his hand with her cold hand. And then she said, "And the opposite? What about that?"
"The opposite?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I think I must have earned it."
"I don't want to do that."
She said nothing. She simply waited.
Shadow said, "Okay." Then he took his hand from hers and put it to her neck....
He closed his hand around the golden coin that hung around her neck. He tugged, hard, at the chain, which snapped easily. Then he took the gold coin between his finger and thumb, and blew on it, and opened his hand wide.
The coin was gone.
Her eyes were still open, but they did not move."

There are some good parts, but I'm thinking that Gaiman is a writer who got better as he went along. If you're a fan, you'll probably like this book. If you're not, don't start with this one. Start with Anansi Boys, and then read Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul before you read American Gods.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Parents and Paranoia

All the recent talk about how today's parents are obsessed with safety ("In my day we didn't wear helmets to ride bikes") finds me occasionally agreeing with the old people who "had to walk a mile to school in the snow" and had to "lay their infants on the front seat, putting out a hand at stoplights so the infant wouldn't roll onto the floor." The occasion for my disagreement is the proposals to raise the driving age. Where does all this parental safety stuff stop? Are we going to wrap all our children in bubble wrap until the age of 18, when they'll have to be pried out of our protective hands and shipped off to college?

When I took my kids to the beach and let them swim in the ocean this summer, I admitted to them that it's a fairly dangerous thing they still get to do. My daughter is paranoid about sharks. I don't mean just a little, I mean won't-go-in-the-water-above-the-ankles paranoid. None of my talk about the greater dangers of highway driving, or the statistical unlikelihood of shark attack or anything else I've said in her entire lifetime makes a difference. This is how she sees the ocean, as Edward Field wrote about it in his poem "Toothy Lurkers":

The shores are patrolled by sharks,
east coast and west alike,
Don't look, they're there all right--

better squeeze shut your eyes
as you dunk yourself
in the sharky sea.

Right now my greatest fear
is to wake up and find myself
floating with bare toes.

How do surfers dare
go so far out
with those toothy lurkers in the waves?

"How true!" says Eleanor, upon reading this poem.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Loving Laurie

I love most books written by Laurie King. Her wife-of-Sherlock-Holmes (Mary Russell) books are good enough to make me buy them as soon as they come out, because I know I'll want to reread them. And her Kate Martinelli mysteries have always been absorbing and well-written. So when her new novel, Touchstone, came out this winter, I ordered it from Amazon on my bed, waited anxiously for it to come, and began reading it as soon as my son brought it in to me. I was disappointed in it, and decided to take some time before I thought about why. Part of it is that it's a fairly gloomy book, and since I was recovering from a knee replacement and it was the dark month of February in Ohio, I was not in the mood for much more gloom.

Looking at it again, though, I find it weighted down by the enforced gravitas of the subject matter, the uneasy balance of international affairs in the time between the two world wars (after the War to End All Wars). Somehow this translates to the writing, which is as heavy and ponderous as the subject. Here's a sample, picked by opening the book to a random page:

"The following ten months had been fraught with the knowledge that time was short, that life would never be the same, that their friends and family were being swallowed up in the carnage across the Channel. And finally, in July 1915, Bennett had come to her house, wearing his uniform and an expression of manly apprehension. She had wept; he had laid his hand across her shoulders and pulled her to his woolen chest, then given her a clean handkerchief and vowed that he would come back to her."

I mean, really. You have to wonder if Laurie decided it was time for her to write a "serious" book after all those frivolous mysteries. Maybe getting the Lambda prize for the latest Kate Martinelli stirred it up in her. I don't know. But she needs to get back in the entertainment business, because this kind of writing does not become her.

I want the Laurie I love back. The Laurie who writes like this (the following is from the random page I opened to when I opened up the Mary Russell book The Moor):

"'Come along, Russell. You mustn't avoid your host simply because he is a rude old man. Besides which, he has quite taken to you.'
'I'd hate to see how he expresses real dislike, then.'
'He becomes very polite but rather inattentive,' he said, holding the door open for me. 'Precisely as you do, as a matter of fact.'"

Michael Chabon points out in his essay "Fan Fictions on Sherlock Holmes" (included in Maps and Legends), that "fans and nonbelievers alike seem to feel compelled to try to explain Sherlock Holmes' lasting appeal" and after his own (quite satisfactory) effort to explain it, he concludes that "all novels are sequels; influence is bliss."

That's what I'm missing from you, Laurie. Take yourself less seriously. Let me love you again.

Laurie King's Mary Russell books:

Kate Martinelli mysteries

Monday, September 8, 2008

Moderation Kills

I am not a moderate person. In fact, I'm delighted when I discover someone else who is over the top about anything, like the guy who writes The Borowitz Report. He does not go in for subtle, moderate humor.

This morning's newspaper reprinted The Borowitz report from Aug. 31, which I hadn't yet seen, about how "the world's foremost expert in the cinema of Goldie Hawn, Davis Logsdon," said that "in choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, Sen. John McCain is taking a leaf from an unproduced Hawn vehicle from 1984 titled Contestant in Chief" in which "an evil presidential candidate chooses the American he thinks is the least likely to catch on to his nefarious plans to destroy the country...enter Goldie, a former beauty-pageant contestant, small-town mayor and hockey mom. She turns out to be smarter than she looks and exposes her running mate on national TV, becoming president herself in the process."
"Logsdon cautioned that, in the case of this year's GOP ticket, life will probably imitate art only up to a point: 'In real life, if Gov. Palin becomes president, she will most likely ban abortions, destroy wildlife habitats and blow up the world.'"
I laughed at this immoderately, not least because I'd just come from the letters to the editor page, which had a reference to Sarah Palin as "Caribou Barbie." Also there was this tag paragraph: "Elsewhere, Palin said she is looking forward to the vice-presidential debate, or, as she called it, 'the talent competition.'"—Andy Borowitz, New York online humor columnist, who in his satirical reports includes commentary from University of Minnesota professor Davis Logsdon, a character he made up. (There's a newer Borowitz report from yesterday here).

I've been having what I hope is an amicable, but certainly not a moderate, disagreement with Mythusmage over Sarah Palin (he disagrees that she will blow up the world). And thinking about not being moderate made me think about David Kirby's poem "Moderation Kills," which I discovered recently in the book version of Poetry180 (Kirby's poem is no longer on the site, but it does still include Tom Wayman's "Did I Miss Anything," which richly deserves its continual rediscovery by academics at this time of year.)

Moderation Kills (Excusez-Moi, Je Suis Sick As A Dog):

I'm tackling this particularly chewy piece of sushi and
recalling the only Japanese words I know,
"Fugu wa kuitashii, inochi wa oshishii," meaning,
"I would like to eat fugu--but live!"
which, I've read, is something Japanese executives say
when contemplating a particularly risky

course of action, because whereas the testes of the fugu
or blowfish are harmless
yet highly prized as a virility builder, the liver,
which is almost identical
in appearance to the testes, is toxic, so that
a less-cautious individual,

a fisherman, say, who thinks himself as skillful
as the chef who has actually been
educated and licensed in the preparation of fugu,
might eat the wrong organ and die,
face-down in his rice bowl, chopsticks nipping
spasmodically at the air.

Coming in from the vegetable patch, the fisherman's wife
sees him cooling in the remains
of his meal and shrieks, and I don't know
the Japanese for this,
"You have eaten fugu--and died!" True, though
for anyone other than the new widow,

why should his death be exclaimed upon as though
it were a failure or defeat,
since the fisherman had finished a good day of work
and was not only enjoying his tasty snack
but also looking forward to the enhancement
of his powers of generation,
this being therefore a fine moment in which to expire
and certainly preferable to
countless moments of life as a fumbling drooler
(since fugu liver can paralyze
as well), a burden to his loved ones as well as
the object of their contempt.

Then someone across the table from me says he's heard
of a state of mind called boredom
but never actually experienced it, and I wonder,
Can a mind that never sinks
into the cold gray waters of boredom ever rise to
the blue-and-gold heavens of ecstasy?

Then someone else shouts, "Excusez-moi, je suis sick
as a dog!" and disappears
laughing, but that's okay because "ecstacy"=
"ex stasis"= "get off the dime"=
"fish or cut bait" = "lead, follow, or get out
of the way," does it not?

Besides, who's to say the fisherman didn't hate
his wife, couldn't stand her?
And had to eat fugu testes in order to be able
to countenance her and
therefore is better off dead and unknowing than
alive and fully sentient of such misery?

Or hated himself and therefore is better off dead, etc.?
And therefore who is
more admirable, the executive who fears death
or the fisherman who actually dies?
Does the former feel brave merely because
he has talked of taking a risk?

Would the doughty fisherman have said "Fugu wa kuitashii,
inochi was oshishii" and taken pride
in his temperance? Certainly not--
offered the same challenge under identical
circumstances, he's have said, and I don't know
the Japanese for this either, "Moderation kills."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Being Conspicuous

Once when I was in high school, I walked through the doors of the local Dairy Queen with a couple of my friends and then turned to them and shouted "DON'T DO ANYTHING TO BE CONSPICUOUS!" As I remember it, they dissolved in giggles and the few people in the store turned back to what they had been doing.

Every once in a while I'm seized with an urge like this. The urge rises whenever I order a coke in a restaurant and the server says sweetly "will pepsi be okay?" "NO!" I want to shout. "JUST BRING ME WATER, THEN!"

When we were first driving around in our rental car this summer, the kids and I were searching for a radio station. We found a rap station just as I was turning off for the house where we'd been catsitting, in a neighborhood where all the neighbors waved as we came and went and lots of preschoolers were playing on the yards and sidewalks. The urge came over me to roll down the windows, and so we drove up to our catsitting house with rap blasting out of the windows of the rental car. My kids, who have always begged for a reprise of the Dairy Queen line, wanted to put the windows back up. Sometimes it's hard to be conspicuous.

The heroine of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl is the character who has not been conspicuous in history, Anne's younger sister Mary. She tells the story entertainingly, as a good courtier should, and it's fun to fill in the gaps between what you know with Gregory's version of what could have happened behind the scenes.

There's the occasional bit of anachronistic feminist philosophizing from Mary, especially with regard to the position of Queen Katharine:

"I was near to delighted laughter because Katherine of Aragon was speaking out for the women of the country, for the good wives who should not be put aside just because their husbands had taken a fancy to another, for the women who walked the hard road between kitchen, bedroom, church and childbirth. For the women who deserved more than their husband's whim."

But mostly Mary presents herself as a woman who is not terribly intelligent, much less charming and witty, as Anne is. At one point during Anne's time as queen, the king walks with her:

"'Your married life seems to suit you, Mary,' he said intimately as we went down the stairs, half of the gentlemen of the chamber following us. 'You are as pretty as when you were a girl, when you were my little sweetheart.'
I was always wary when Henry grew intimate. 'That's a long time ago,' I said cautiously. 'But Your Grace is twice the prince you were then.'
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I cursed myself for a fool. I had meant to say that he was more powerful, more handsome now. But, idiot that I was, it sounded as if I was telling him that he was twice as fat as he had been then--which was also appallingly true.
He stopped dead on the third stair from the bottom. I was tempted to fall to my knees. I did not dare look up at him. I knew that in all the world there had never been a more incompetent courtier than I with my desire to turn a pretty phrase and my absolute inability to get it right.
There was a great bellow of sound. I peeped up at him and saw, to my intense relief, that he was shouting with laughter. 'Lady Mary, are you run mad?' he demanded.
I was starting to laugh too, out of sheer relief. 'I think so, Your Grace,' I said. 'All I was trying to say was that then you were a young man and I a girl and now you are a king among princes. But it came out...'
Again his great shout of laughter drowned me out, and the courtiers on the stairs behind us craned their necks and leaned down, wanting to know what was amusing the king, and why I was torn between blushing for shame, and laughing myself.
Henry grabbed me round the waist and hugged me tight. 'Mary, I adore you,' he said. 'You are the best of the Boleyns, for no one makes me laugh as you do. Take me to my wife before you say something so dreadful that I shall have to have you beheaded.'"

Mary desires little more than to mother her children and live with a man who loves her. She succeeds in her desires, in the novel, and escapes London after her sister Anne's beheading because she is not conspicuous enough to make anyone look for her. She is a proper woman of her time, or so it seems, keeping her head down and seeming to obey all the men in her life.

Mary is the central character in three novels: Court Cadenza (later published under the title The Tudor Sisters) by British author Aileen Armitage, Karen Harper's The Last Boleyn and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

Gregory's novel will make any woman want to go out in public and laugh as loudly as I did the other night in an Indian/Greek restaurant, where two dark-haired men stared at me as if to say "in my country, you would be forced to be quieter."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As It Was Left

It's a lot quieter around here during the day, with the kids back in school. Sometimes there are brief explosions of activity, like yesterday when I came home from buying cat food and guinea pig litter to find Ron home for lunch, the local roofer parking his truck right behind me, and the Orkin guy pulling in behind him. Ron finished lunch and took off, the roofer climbed around on the roof and promised to send me an estimate, and the Orkin guy sprayed for wasps around the deck and then left. Once it was quiet again, the birds gave some experimental chirps, just to see.

Since I work at home some days, I'm awfully good at blocking out what it looks like, at least when I have interesting things to do like try to schedule forty students to work at times that will fit into the rest of their frenzied schedules. Sometimes, though, I come into a room and think of this Philip Larkin poem, Home is so Sad:

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Are These Books Worth Mentioning?

Some books I read, I don't want to talk about, usually because they aren't worth mentioning, but occasionally because they're so good, there's just not that much to say besides "read this!"

The Last Colony, by John Scalzi, is a whiz-banger of an ending to the wonderful story begun in Old Man's War and continued in The Ghost Brigades. As late as the last fifty pages, I didn't see how he could resolve all the conflicts he'd set up. And then he resolved them in grand style, and I was highly gratified. It is a fitting end to a great series.

Then I read Zoe's Tale, which is the same story from the 16-year-old daughter's point of view. There were a couple of really interesting additions, but for the most part, I'd already read this story, so I didn't find it that compelling. I'll leave it around for my kids to discover, I think, despite the risk that it will spoil The Last Colony for them--they might as well read this one while it's fresh, because no kid wants a huge backlog of books that they "must" read.

I was sorry I'd read The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer and Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan because they didn't resolve the conflicts they set up, and they were bleak stories to begin with. Why immerse yourself in gloom when there won't be a resolution and the writing isn't especially enjoyable?

Amy's mom sent me Nora Robert's Tribute, and I enjoyed it. It's a good car book. (One of the important things about car books is that the plot is not so complicated that you can't pick up the book a week later and immerse yourself again in what was going on.)

The first part of The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, by the ever-prolific James Patterson, strikes me as so unpromising that I may just take it back to the library unread. If Walker picks it up and likes it, maybe I'll think again, since this is a book written to interest more boys in reading.