Friday, December 31, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What red-haired orphan is saddled with the middle name Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter?

Classics: What 1873 novel gets moving after a 20,000-pound wager at London's staid Reform Club?

Non-Fiction: What book did Pat Conroy base on a year teaching poor kids on South Carolina's Daufuskie Island?

Book Club: What Pulitzer-winning author returned to the Chesapeake of his youth in three stories published as A Tidewater Morning?

Authors: What trend-setting author coined the expression "social X-rays" when describing extremely thin society women?

Book Bag: Who "co-authored" the 2001 novel Candyland with his alter ego, Ed McBain?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

O Taste and See

League of Imaginary Friends--

Harriet the Spy, Mr and Mrs Unfocused, Lemming, Permanent Qui Vive, Mr and Mrs Non-Necromancy

As Denise Levertov says in her poem--talking back to Wordworth--the world was not with us enough, so my small-town family set out on an expedition to the big city over our holiday break. We went to Chicago. Our group consisted of my family, my brother's family, and my parents--ten people, the youngest 10 and the oldest 81.

Our first scheduled delight was lunch and champagne under the enormously instrument-laden Christmas tree at the Walnut Room in Macy's, where a fairy princess came by and waved her wand over the head of each kid (including my 17-year-old), saying that she could grant their "New Year's wishes."

Next we met the League of Imaginary Friends in a sushi bar right in the hotel where we stayed, the Fairmont. It was an extraordinary delight to meet each of them in person, but somehow also a bit anti-climactic. I feel like I know these people; I talk to them almost every day; seeing them in the flesh really doesn't add that much. But it is much more fun to have real drinks together than virtual ones. We had to leave after a couple of hours and as we went up in the elevator, Eleanor turned to me and said "You know, I could see them too."

That evening we went to see White Christmas, which is delightfully schmaltzy and features a song my father sang almost every sunny day throughout my entire childhood, Blue Skies.

The next day we went to see the modern wing of the Art Institute, which hadn't been open the last time we were in Chicago. We sometimes display a moderately irreverent attitude towards modern art and I personally laughed so loud at a comment Eleanor made about a Dali painting that a woman in the gallery hissed "shhh!" at me, which made us scurry off with our noses in the air whispering a line from the movie Love Actually: "it's not funny, actually, it's art."

We went to tea at the Drake, in honor of my parents' 53rd wedding anniversary. It was elegant and fun, as having afternoon tea at a nice hotel always is, and one of the best moments was when the tea was drawing to a close and my ten-year-old niece came up to her sister saying "I brought you something from the bathroom" (it turned out to be a paper towel with a dragon on it).

That evening we went to see Wicked, which was fine spectacle. As my theater-director father said, it's all done with lighting. All of us had seen it before and had been eager to repeat the experience--Eleanor observed that she liked it better this time because she hadn't read the book so recently, and we all agreed.

The next morning we went to see the Chicago History Museum, partly because it had been particularly recommended to us by Lass and partly because we'd all read The Devil in the White City and wanted to see some of the 1893 World's Fair exhibits. We lingered over the White City diorama for a while, placing where the Wooded Isle must have been and where the Ferris Wheel, and then we went back to the hotel and looked out the window at the Field Museum, and after that we took taxis down to the Museum of Science and Industry and walked around inside the dome looking up at the lighted Christmas Tree and thinking a little about the building's 1893 origin.

The ten of us had a farewell dinner at Morton's of Chicago in a private dining room, which was really fun although the food was absurdly expensive. We were living the high life. This is kind of how I felt about the whole holiday:

The world is
not with us enough.
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination's tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry and plucking
the fruit.

After all these delights, we had to pack our things and return home, where we will live the small-town life for a long while.

My mother says we eat black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's as a relief from the rich holiday food and to remind us of our southern roots. I've met Americans with Scandinavian roots who eat herring, and Americans with German roots who eat sauerkraut for the same reason. What do you eat for good luck in the New Year?

Thursday, December 23, 2010


There will be no "Trivial Pursuit for Booklovers on Friday, Dec, 24; it will be back--as will I--on Friday, Dec. 31.
Post image for Blogger Unplugged

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day

I'm a believer in long winter's naps. I think if I lived by myself, I would pretty much hibernate for the winter. So I didn't get up--or worse yet, stay up--to see the lunar eclipse last night. I did see that the moon on the crest of the old-fallen snow gave the luster of sunset to objects below. That would have been around 4 am U.S. eastern time.

I share John Donne's fear of the dark in his poem about the winter solstice, "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day"--a poem written after the death of his beloved wife:

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks,
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world's whole sap is sunk;
The general balm the hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interred; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring:
For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruined me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by love's limbeck, am the grave
Of all that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drowned the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means, yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my Sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night's festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her Vigil, and her Eve, since this
Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is.

When I think of the line about "absence, darkness, death," I also try to think of the ending of this poem, in which the speaker resolves to "prepare towards" summer and to "call/This hour her Vigil." I like the way it implies that a person will be nobler after suffering through these long nights.

How about you--do you curse the darkness or light a candle?

Monday, December 20, 2010

If Moore's "A Visit from St Nicholas" were written by Robert W. Service

Have you ever read a poem by Robert Service? He's probably best known for "The Cremation of Sam Magee."

This is a parody of "A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, written by Frank Jacobs (in the style of Robert Service).

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up on a Christmas Eve one year,
All full of cheap whiskey and hoping like hell that St. Nick would soon appear,
When right through the door and straight out of the night, which was icy and cold as a freezer,
Came a broken-down sled, pulled by eight mangy dogs, which were whipped by an old bearded geezer.

His teeth were half missing, and flapping his frame was a tatter of red-colored clothes;
He was covered with snow from his head to his toe, and an icicle hung from his nose;
The miners all cheered when the geezer appeared, and the poker game stopped in mid-bet;
Each sourdough smiled like a young, happy child at the thought of the gifts he would get.

They pushed him aside and went straight for his bag to be sure that they'd all get their share;
And, oh, how they cried when they found that inside there was nothing but old underwear;
So they plugged the old geezer, which was a great shame, for if anyone there had been sober,
He'd have known double-quick that it wasn't St. Nick, 'cause it only was early October.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What Ted Hughes story of a misunderstood metal monster, minus its Australia-sized "space bat" nemesis, became an animated movie classic?

Classics: What 1965 Thomas Pynchon novella introduces a heroine with the unlikely name of Oedipa Maas?

Non-Fiction: Who took time off from spinning tales of the high seas to pen Picasso: A Biography and Joseph Banks: A Life?

Book Club: What John Fowles epic brings a Hollywood writer back to Oxford to bury a college chum?

Authors: What novelist was known as Alyssa Rosenbaum in her native St. Petersburg, before changing it to protect her family from Stalinist retribution?

Book Bag: What quadriplegic sleuth uses cohort Amelia Sachs as his eyes and ears, in Jeffrey Deaver thrillers?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Three Seconds giveaway

Three Seconds is a crime novel by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom that most recently won the award for Swedish Crime Novel of the Year, an award previously won by Stieg Larsson.

The novel will be released in the U.S. on January 4, 2011. I have two copies to give away to U.S. residents in honor of the U.S. release, courtesy of the Marketing Director at Wiredset.

My review will appear on the release day, January 4, and that is also the day that I will pick two winners (with the help of So if you're interested in this book and you're a U.S. resident, please leave your email address in the comments.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zombies Vs Unicorns

Either a book I've already read or a book of short stories is what I prefer on my nightstand, for reading right before I go to bed. For the last couple of weeks I've been enjoying one story each night from Holly Black's and Justine Larbalestier's collection entitled (pictorially) Zombies Vs Unicorns. I preferred the nights I could go to sleep after a unicorn story (go Team Unicorn!), but the zombie stories weren't that bad, either.

My favorite story is Naomi Novik's "Purity Test," about a unicorn who appeals to a skeptical girl for help:
"So there's this wizard--"
"Wow, of course there is," Alison said.
"--and he's been grabbing baby unicorns," the unicorn said, through gritted teeth.
"You know," Alison told her subconscious, "I've got to draw the line somewhere. Baby unicorns is going too far."
"No kidding," the unicorn said. "You don't think I'd be wasting my time talking to a human otherwise? Anyway, wizard, baby unicorns, where was I--Oh, right. Probably he's trying to make himself immortal, which never works, except wizards never listen when you tell them that, and we would really prefer if he got stopped before he cuts off the babies' horns trying."
"Let me guess,"Alison said. "Is his name Voldemort?"
"No, what freakish kind of name is Voldemort"? the unicorn said.

What happens when Alison asks where the unicorn comes from is fun, at least for a ailurophile:
"we're always here, you idiots just don't notice anything that doesn't shove itself in your faces. You've never spotted the elves, either, and they're taking up half the tables at Per Se every night."
"Hey, Belcazar," a cat said, walking by.
The unicorn very slightly flicked his tail. "Social climbers, cats," the unicorn said with a sniff after they had passed farther on.
"Belcazar?" Alison said...."So, if I help you get the baby unicorns back, this is all going to stop, right? I don't need to be hearing cats talking."
"Who does?" the unicorn said evasively.

The climax of the story, involving the titular "purity test," is great fun--such fun that I really don't want to spoil it by saying any more.

My second favorite story from this collection is Diana Peterfreund's "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn," which is set in a world in which unicorns are known to be dangerous creatures.

If I have to pick a favorite zombie story--ew--I think it might be Maureen Johnson's "The Children of the Revolution," which includes a celebrity caricature, or Scott Westerfeld's "Inoculata," in which he presents an interesting solution to a zombie "plague."

Truthfully, though, all of these stories are favorites in the sense that I savored the chance to read one--just one--each night. It was a nice little treat at the end of the day. I highly recommend rationing your reading of the Zombies Vs Unicorns stories so they'll last as long as possible.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Young Apple Tree, December

We got the news this weekend; Eleanor was accepted to her first choice college, Grinnell College in Iowa, which is about eleven hours away from here by road. She is happy. We are happy, because you want the place your child wants to want her. The other reason we're all happy, of course, is that this means she only has to apply to the one college. She only had to take the SAT once. We made only one last-minute run to the post office. Now, as Ron says, all we have to do is figure out how to pay.

Her joy at finding out she had been accepted (on their website; prospective students no longer have to wait for the fat or thin letter) made me think of a poem I was given a copy of years ago, by a person I knew for one quarter at the commuter college; her name was Ellen. She thought I'd like Gail Mazur's "Young Apple Tree, December" in December of 1999, when it was first published in The Atlantic. I did, but I like it even better now because of the way I'm feeling about my first child going so far away:

What you want for it you'd want
for a child: that she take hold;
that her roots find home in stony

winter soil; that she take seasons
in stride, seasons that shape and
reshape her; that like a dancer's,

her limbs grow pliant, graceful
and surprising; that she know,
in her branchings, to seek balance;

that she know when to flower, when
to wait for the returns; that she turn
to a giving sun; that she know

fruit as it ripens; that what's lost
to her will be replaced; that early
summer afternoons, a full blossoming

tree, she cast lacy shadows; that change
not frighten her, rather that change
meet her embrace; that remembering

her small history, she find her place
in an orchard; that she be her own
orchard; that she outlast you;

that she prepare for the hungry world
(the fallen world, the loony world)
something shapely, useful, new, delicious.

Most of all, I think I like the line "that change/not frighten her" because that's part of why she made this decision, to find out how well she can manage away from everything familiar. But I do believe she can "take hold" in the place she's chosen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Remembered

On Saturday night, at a fancy dinner party on campus, I heard someone mention the movie Elf, and I unintentionally derailed a snark attack by leaning forward enthusiastically and exclaiming "oh I love that one!"

Okay, so I'm unironic (I hope those of you who know me are doubled over laughing). I have never been able to act cool and detached for more than about a minute. Seriously, though--what's wrong with being enthusiastic about holidays? I'm enthusiastic about Christmas because it's the holiday I grew up with, but invite me to a Hanukah dinner, a Kwanzaa celebration, or a Santa Lucia breakfast, and I'll show up in what I think is appropriate holiday attire, with bells on.

My daughter has asked me to get all my Christmas sweaters and shirts, plus the earrings and brooches, out for her to wear to school next week for "ugly Christmas sweater week." Joe Blundo, a columnist in my local newspaper, has something to say about that:

"Why the ridicule? In a culture where 10-year-olds dress like prostitutes and hipsters sport more ink than an illuminated manuscript, I don't understand why a Rudolph sweater with a light-up nose would even merit much notice. So wear a Christmas sweater--as long as you don't wear it ironically. Be proud and defiant in your jingle-bell pullover. If you catch some too-cool observers rolling their eyes, you'll know you've succeeded."

I read this out loud to Eleanor. She politely refrained from rolling her eyes while in my presence.

Blundo also discusses the "creepy Santa" photos that lots of teenagers have been chuckling over on the internets, saying "any photo of a stranger interacting with a child could be painted as 'creepy' if taken out of context. Cut it out." I agree; it's painting everyone with the same brush, kind of like the way my kids call the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" the "Date Rape Song." Okay, I giggle at that; I admit it.

What I like most in Blundo's column is what he says about the snarky remarks in the photo-laden article "11 Most Ridiculous Inflatable Christmas Decorations" at The Huffington Post: "Basically, the decorators are being convicted of exuberance. Sheesh. It's a cold, dark December out there. Even if a blowup Santa in camo gear isn't quite to my taste, I think I can appreciate the effort to brighten things up a little."

So when Joe recommended Tomie DePaola's Christmas Remembered in a comment on my post about The Box of Delights last December, I searched for a copy--even though it's not the kind of thing I would ordinarily read. For one thing, I've never cared for the bits of DePaola picture books I've seen as I leafed through in libraries and bookstores. But this is a "book for all ages," so I read it this December (it's a short book and doesn't take long). Each brief chapter consists of a glimpse of different holiday celebrations.

There's one memory of working at a candy store in Connecticut I liked because it describes how to make candy canes, including "crooking" the part at the top.

There's one about making paper "roses" to decorate his first tree away from home that reminded me of Jenny's comment on "Evening Without Angels" about missing her tree traditions this year (she's having a hard holiday season; New York took her gloves). I also like this one for his conclusion about the decorations he made because he had no money:
"I toyed with the idea of real roses in glass vials once, but when I held some real roses against my tissue paper ones, they paled. What a surprise! But maybe not--maybe at Christmastime, art or artifice can masquerade quite successfully as life."

In San Francisco people evidently celebrate Christmas the way I grew up celebrating it in southern Missouri and Arkansas--they put up a Christmas tree soon after Thanksgiving and take it down before New Year's Day, because it's bad luck to have the holiday decorations still up when you greet the new year. DePaola, a native New Englander, celebrates the way Episcopalians do: "I've always waited until just before Christmas to put my tree up and traditionally leave it up until at least January 6."

One year in Santa Fe, during a "Christmas Eve Walk" in which Christians carried candles and sang carols, DePaola saw "a festive group carrying a Menorah made out of flashlights duct-taped together, singing a Hanukah song." And there's an illustration of the flashlight Menorah!

When he had Australian friends spending Christmas with him, DePaola "found out that in Australia, Santa wraps all the presents he brings" and says that when he was a child, "Santa's gifts were under the tree unwrapped on Christmas morning."

In my experience, Santa fills the stockings and puts any gift too big to fit in the stocking right beside it, unwrapped. Does Santa come to your house? If he does, how does he leave gifts--wrapped or unwrapped? Have any of you achieved a cool, ironic attitude toward the holidays?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What Barbara Robinson favorite describes what happens when "the worst kids in the history of the world" misinterpret the Christmas story?

Classics: Which of the Little Women sells her hair to help pay for the care and safe return of their ill father?

Non-Fiction: What notorious how-to book did author William Powell later renounce as "a misguided and potentially dangerous publication"?

Book Club: Whose seven-book "Narratives of Empire" series includes Burr and Lincoln?

Authors: What Brooklyn-born crime writer has penned novels under the pseudonyms Curt Clark, Tucker Coe, Timothy J. Culver and Samuel Holt?

Book Bag: What author first pits heroes from the Word against villains from the Void in Running with the Demon?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Evening Without Angels

This past weekend we brought a cut tree into our living room, put multicolored lights on it, and hung ornaments from it, a process always regarded with intense wonder by our cats, who thinks it's odd and exciting. On the top of the tree, we put a star.

When I was growing up, we were only allowed to put birds and pears on our tree, with an angel at the top. In reaction to that, I've always hung anything and everything on my own trees, including bits of baked and painted clay or bells twisted up with pipe cleaners that my kids brought home from preschool. I hang ornaments people have given me as gifts, including a number of very pretty angels.

Looking at the lighted tree this morning, when we all had to get up before dawn, made me think of the poem, "Evening Without Angels," by Wallace Stevens. Like most Stevens poems, it's not one that I feel like I completely "get," but I like the way the words make me feel. It's not a poem I think you need to try to understand; it's enough to try to absorb the images as they go by:

Why seraphim like lutanists arranged
Above the trees? And why the poet as
Eternal chef d'orchestre?

Air is air.
Its vacancy glitters around us everywhere.
Its sounds are not angelic syllables
But our unfashioned spirits realized
More sharply in more furious selves.

And light
That fosters seraphim and is to them
Coiffeur of haloes, fecund jeweler--
Was the sun concoct for angels or for men?
Sad men made angels of the sun, and of
The moon they made their own attendant ghosts,
Which led them back to angels, after death.

Let this be clear that we are men of sun
And men of day and never of pointed night,
Men that repeat antiquest sounds of air
In an accord of repetitions. Yet,
If we repeat, it is because the wind
Encircling us, speaks always with our speech.

Light, too, encrusts us making visible
The motions of the mind and giving form
To moodiest nothings, as, desire for day
Accomplished in the immensely flashing East,
Desire for rest, in that descending sea
Of dark, which in its very darkening
Is rest and silence spreading into sleep.

...Evening, when the measure skips a beat
And then another, one by one, and all
To a seething minor swiftly modulate.
Bare night is best. Bare earth is best. Bare, bare,
Except for our own houses, huddled low
Beneath the arches and their spangled air,
Beneath the rhapsodies of fire and fire,
Where the voice that is in us makes a true response,
Where the voice that is great within us rises up,
As we stand gazing at the rounded moon.

This is a time of year when a lot of us feel like our most "furious selves," isn't it? And we're approaching the longest night of the year. Despite the pronoun, I feel the lines "we are men of sun/And men of day and never of pointed night" because even during this magical time of year, with Christmas lights and trees and angels all around, dawn comes to me as a relief and dusk as something to ward off with lamps and candles, "huddled" in the house.

What is (or will be) on top of your Christmas tree?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, by Kathryn Davis, is a fascinating novel with a repulsive main character. I didn't like reading it, but am very glad to have read it because the ideas and the way it's written are worth the trouble of getting to know Helle Ten Brix, a Danish woman who thinks her musical genius excuses everything.

The narrator of the novel, Frances, is fascinated by Helle, a musician twice her age who wrote complex operas that are difficult to stage, among them one based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale and titled The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf. This opera becomes a metaphor for Helle's life, and that should have been a warning about how repulsive Helle's actions would become before her end, which is where the novel begins. Frances is haunted by Helle, a woman whose love for Frances is spectacular and selfish, like most of the acts of her life, a life which is recounted from Frances' point of view.

Frances has twin daughters by a man whose identify is never revealed. She works as a waitress and hints at former aspirations that have been disappointed, like when she says that "the only practical use I'd found for the manual agility developed during my four unhappy years at Juilliard was shoplifting." She is having a love affair with a married man and trying to piece together the truth about Helle's Norwegian past in order to figure out how to end her last opera, a task Helle has left to her.

I didn't much like reading about Helle or Frances; what kept me reading, at least in short spurts, were the descriptions of Helle's music and the interesting turns of phrase, like "when I said 'real,' what I meant was 'boring'--wasn't it?"

Frances isn't much more sympathetic to me than Helle; I don't find out enough about her to care about her plight. Early on, I find out that she's the kind of person who shoplifts for no particular reason and that she can be cruel:
"Once I even plucked a blue parakeet out of a crowded cage at Woolworth's and carried it, chirping and nipping, its claws digging into the palm of my hand, right past the cashier. Why did I do this? To see if it could be done, I guess. Or maybe just to watch the bird fly into the overcast sky above the dull gray sidewalks and parking meters...."

And yet I kept being interested in Frances because she says things like this, things that almost everyone has felt:
"it never occurred to my mother that as far as a child is concerned, a house and everything in it belongs to the parents. Whereas my parents' myth held that what was theirs was also mine, which was just another way of saying that they owned my soul."
Even better, when Frances talks about her mother, many readers will identify with her (perhaps operatically magnified) sense of being twisted about by the woman:
"I was...troubled by the fact that my mother's annual letter had been surprisingly short this if there might be some genuine problem at home. None of the expected references to 'your father,' for example. Was he dead? It was like my mother, I thought, to suppress such a piece of information, and then hold it against me that I never went to the funeral."

Mostly Frances is the voice of common sense and a normal, if very sensitive, perception of the world. Once when she hears voices and can't see the speakers, she concludes that it must be teenagers "because their voices hadn't yet been dulled by resignation and its attendant sorrows." Towards the end of the story she gives her opinion on the story about the girl who trod on a loaf by saying "probably it wasn't a good idea to step on something another person had labored over."

I particularly loved the passage in which Frances thinks about a conversation she had with Helle about her married lover, Sam:
"If I wanted to understand Sam--which she assumed I did, for otherwise there was no reason to have sex with him, was there?--then I should remember that his character had been shaped negatively, that he'd set out not to be whatever he'd found most humiliating about his family. That's what we have in common, I replied, and Helle snorted. Only he turned out to be a philosophy professor and you turned out to be a waitress, she said. Think about it, Frances."
In my own idiosyncratic reaction to the novel, I like Helle for being so much on her friend's side while I hate her for assuming that whatever job a person has defines that person.

There are places like that one where I could almost come to like Helle, especially in the parts told as if Frances understands her point of view. Sometimes it's just because the way she thinks is so beautifully articulated, like when "the snow had a delicate crust on it, and with every step she heard a familiar sound, the same sound you hear when you apply the butter too roughly to a piece of toast." And sometimes it's because she understands people so well, even though she judges them quite harshly: "Maren seemed to be an easygoing woman, but it drove her crazy when people were late for supper. That was what happened to you when you decided to believe in comfort; you became despotic."

Especially when Helle is a girl, it's easy to sympathize with her over the death of her mother, Ida: "Death had nothing to do with time--it was a location, a place where Ida had gone. At first Helle patiently waited for her to come back, until she was eventually forced to give up, preparing for the more adult confusions about death we think of as facing reality."

I often like the way Helle's operatic imagination magnifies emotion, as here: "According to Helle, if you made the mistake of returning to the cradle of deceit--by which she meant the house where you'd spent your childhood--you would shrink; go back once too often and you would vanish altogether." Also I particularly like her idea that "Jesus, that aspect of God encased in a human body [is] food-loving, overweight women. Whereas it was the Devil, Helle said, who went for the skinny ones."

The descriptions of music are the main pleasure of this novel:
"A single note, Ida explained, was like an act of nature that took you completely by surprise....The finger of a mindless god moved, then came down suddenly. You could call it an accident, for there was no doubt that the single note shot through your heart like a stray bullet from a hunter's gun, although it didn't really have anything to do with pain. Pain had to exist in time: the note had to be struck more than once. And if you did so--struck the same note over and over--what happened was that the note wanted to resolve itself in its own dominant. D,D,D,D,D, Ida played with her little finger....You could hardly restrain your thumb from falling onto the G. The fifth degree, the bass tone, the root of the dominant triad."

What ultimately makes Helle a completely repugnant character is what she does near the end of the novel. HERE IS A SPOILER: she shoots Frances' married lover, out of as pure selfishness as I've ever seen in literature. She ruins the already-shadowed life of the woman she desires because she can't have her entirely. It's big and tragic and operatic and entirely in line with the rest of the novel.

There's a kind of genius in that--Davis creates characters who can inspire extreme emotion. Reading The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf is a lot like going to the opera in that you can't just sit there and watch. You must either get deeply and emotionally involved or watch in absolute disgust and revulsion; there is no middle course if you stay in the theater. I stayed with the book because of the incidental pleasures and then found myself caught, staring at Helle in morbid fascination while the crawling creature she's already caught sings the story of how the web was woven.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman, is a YA novel I picked up at the library because the kids and I all loved his previous novel Unwind and had enjoyed The Schwa Was Here and Antsy Does Time. Bruiser goes places the previous novels didn't, though; it almost makes me wonder if Shusterman was anticipating the new sign we've seen sprouting up in YA sections of various bookstores this month--"teen paranormal romance."

The novel alternates between the viewpoint of Tennyson and his twin sister Bronte, whose parents are on the verge of divorce, and Bruiser and his little brother Cody, who live with their uncle. Bronte starts dating Bruiser, and eventually the lives of all four characters get inextricably tangled up.

Shusterman is a good writer, and there are lots of delightful passages, like what Bronte has learned about dating from watching her friends:

"1) From Carly I learned never to go out on a date with the younger brother of the most popular guy in school...because he thinks he has something to prove, and he'll try to prove it on you.
2) From Wendy I learned that playing ditsy and stupid will only get you boys who are stupider than you're pretending to be.
3) From Jennifer I learned to avoid any boy with an ex-girlfriend who hates him with every fiber of her being...because chances are there's a reason she hates him so much, and you may find out the hard way.
4) From Melanie I learned that, while it's true that guys have one thing on their mind most are greatly relieved and easier to deal with if you make it emphatically clear right up front that they're not going to get that one thing in the foreseeable future. Or at least not from you. Once that becomes clear, either they go after some girl who never learned the warning signs, or they stick around."

Bruiser's favorite poem is Alan Ginsburg's Howl, and one of his chapters is written in imitation:

"I saw the weak hearts of my classmates shredded by
conformity, bloated and numb, as they iced the
wounds of acceptance in the primordial gym, hoping
to heal themselves into popularity,

Who have devolved into Play-Doh pumped through a
sleazy suburban press, stamped in identical molds,
all bearing chunks of bleak ice, comet-cold in their

Who look down their surgically set noses at me, the boy
most likely to die by lethal injection with no crime
beyond the refusal to permit their swollen, shredded
cardiac chill to fill my heart as well...."

Bruiser's secret is unbelievable, and luckily it's not the entire point of the novel. Tennyson says, near the end of the novel, that everything that's happened is "because we longed for healing and happiness--as if happiness is a state of being. But it's not. Happiness is a vector. It's movement. Like my own momentum across the pool, joy can only be defined by the speed at which you're moving away from pain."

This is not Shusterman's best, but it's an enjoyable fast read.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What Natalie Babbitt classic leaves Jesse Tuck stuck as a perpetual teen, after a sip from the fountain of youth?

Classics: What Thomas Hardy novel sees the Yeobright family tromp up and down old Egdon Heath?

Non-Fiction: What Farley Mowat book told of his excursion into the Arctic to find why caribou were vanishing?

Book Club: What Mark Medoff play finds a teacher at a school for the deaf engaged in a sign-language battle of wits with a rebellious kitchen-maid?

Authors: What romance author, living in Invergowie by Dundee, was Scotland's highest-earning writer until J.K. Rowling started bewitching readers?

Book Bag: What Elmore Leonard book stars "Big Bob Gibbs, a judge who likes to throw the book at crooks?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Snowflake Which Is Now and Hence Forever

Yesterday, appropriately enough for the last day of November, I was looking out the window and hearing Pooh's hum that starts:
"Oh the wind is lashing lustily
And the trees are thrashing thrustily
And the leaves are rustling gustily"
And then today, on the first of December, I woke up to snow. It started out as flurries, but right now it's coming down rapidly enough to make me hear the the Hogwarts Christmas music from the first movie.

The autumn of my underemployment is over; both the places I've worked since Walker was born were on the quarter system, and that means everything was finished by the end of November and we had a month before the next quarter began on the Monday after New Year's. So what would I have had at this point that I don't already have, besides the money? Fifty people who had read and discussed some of the books I think they ought to. More miles on me and the car. It would have been more of the last twelve years, never a culmination but just another beginning.

The first-of-the-season snowflakes falling outside the window are reminding me of the speaker in this poem by Archibald MacLeish, who is thinking about the mark he wants to make on the world:

The Snowflake Which Is Now and Hence Forever

Will it last? he says.
Is it a masterpiece?
Will generation after generation
Turn with reverence to the page?

Birdseye scholar of the frozen fish,
What would he make of the sole, clean, clear
Leap of the salmon that has disappeared?

To be, yes!--whether they like it or not!
But not to last when leap and water are forgotten,
A plank of standard pinkness in the dish.

They also live
Who swerve and vanish in the river.

No one gets reverence in his lifetime--at best, if he's devoted and also unbearably smug, he gets a show of it. But whether something lasts is always the measure of whether it deserves reverence, and there's no sense living only for the promise of eventual greatness. If there's one thing time off from my usual work has shown me, it's that the flurry of little efforts I usually put off when I'm busy can produce results almost as much as the bigger projects that usually have priority. Some snowflakes "swerve and vanish in the river" while others accumulate.

Are you making little efforts today that might eventually add up to something?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

Since reading David Foster Wallace's title essay from Consider the Lobster, I haven't read any more compelling discussion of how a carnivore who is concerned about the ethical treatment of animals should live, until I found Hal Herzog's new book entitled Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat on the shelf at the public library. The first part of the title is shown on a puppy silhouette, the second on a rat, and the third on a pig.

Early on in this book I was pleased to find out that the image I've been stuck with since watching the animated 101 Dalmations as a child--that of the dogs resembling their owners--has some basis in fact. Two-thirds of the time, people in studies successfully match an owner and a purebred dog (rates are lower for mutts, since their appearance as adults is not as predictable).

Other than providing scientific evidence for some of the things I have always believed about animals, however, the first two-thirds of the book struck me as overly general and simplistic. Probably that's because Herzog is writing an introduction to some of these issues for folks who haven't really thought about them before. His section on cockfighting, for instance, proposes an either-or scenario that didn't work for me; it's obvious to anyone concerned with the ethical treatment of animals that fighting cocks do live a better life than factory-farmed meat chickens or even laying hens. That doesn't mean that it's a good comparison, though--much less the only choice. I was irritated by his conclusion that "while the great chicken-eating public...will sleep easy tonight knowing that cockfighting is now banned in every state, teams of chicken catchers from Maryland to California will enter darkened broiler houses and stuff 35 million terrified birds into wire crates in preparation for their journey to the processing plant tomorrow morning." I mean, why this contrast and no other? Some people keep pigs for pets, and the stories I've read about commercial pig production (in other places than this book) are even more horrifying than the stories Herzog tells about chicken production.

The 279-page text didn't really start to tell me things I didn't already know until page 228, when Herzog declares that "Congress should extend the Animal Welfare Act to include all vertebrate species" and begins exploring why "people who oppose all animal experimentation are up against their own inconsistencies and paradoxes." Again he sees only two approaches, but this time simplifying the issue does clarify it for me. The two approaches he opposes are utilitarianism and deontology: "Utilitarians believe that the morality of an act depends on its consequences. Deontologists, on the other hand, argue that the rightness or wrongness of an act is independent of its consequences. They believe that ethics are based on universal principles and obligations....In other words, you should keep your promises not because bad things will happen if you break them, but because you made them."

Discussing Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation (1975) as the representative of utilitarianism and Tom Regan, author of The Case for Animal Rights (1983) as the representative of deontology, Herzog shows the flaws of consistency in applying either approach, ultimately presenting Joan Dunayer's book Speciesism as an example of "what happens when you take logic too far." He concludes that "if you really believe that how we treat creatures should not depend on the size of their brains or the number of their legs, you wind up in a world in which, as Dunayer suggests, termites have the right to eat your house."

Herzog goes through the steps of thinking logically about an ethical system for the treatment of animals; I like the step where he rejects "moral intuition" as a basis for judging, pointing out that "for thousands of years, it was common sense that slaves were property and that homosexuality was a crime against nature." I also like the step where he explores "the implications of living in a world that is morally convoluted, in which consistency is elusive, and often impossible" and declares that the answer is not to "throw up our hands in despair." Herzog's answer involves an attempt to be kind when you can, to accept your own hypocrisies about the treatment of animals while working to better the fate of the ones you care about most.

I think in the end he comes down farther on the side of the utilitarians, and I guess I do, too. It seems a better thing to do something small than to wring your hands uselessly or make a grand gesture that deprives you of some pleasure you might otherwise harmlessly enjoy.

While I don't work at the local humane society as much as I possibly could, I have done it consistently throughout my life. And while I occasionally buy chicken or bacon at the local grocery store, I try to buy those things from a local farmer more often. Because doing what you can is at least doing something. It's nice to read a book that doesn't demand a whole lot more.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Since we didn't have to travel, our Thanksgiving was mostly about food--so I decided to read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, to make sure that I didn't stray too far from the weekend's theme. I had already been warned that it isn't a book to linger over, so I was skimming through it pretty fast. That wasn't enough, though. I should have put it down and gone on to something better. The novel begins with a lemon birthday cake topped off with chocolate icing; that nauseating combination should have tipped me off.

What really made me angry, though, is that the heroine, Rose, who can taste the emotion of the cook in the food, never really does anything with her talent, and that includes telling much of anyone about it. The final straw--and this is a spoiler, not that I think any of you need to read this far in the novel--is that the big mystery about her older brother turns out to be that he can turn into a chair. Yes, that's right; he also has a talent, and that's what he uses it for.

The intriguing premise, with someone who can do something most of us can't, was entirely spoiled for me by the extraneous angst of Bender's novel. There was no reason for Rose's mother to stay with her husband while having an affair with another man. There was no reason for Rose's father to fear his own talent, at least none that we know of, since he is so afraid that he refuses to even try it out. And there's certainly no reason for anyone in the family to care about the brother, who would rather be a chair than part of this family--not that I blame him.

The boy Rose loves, her brother's only friend, George, tells her early on that she "should become a superhero." She does not, though, continuing to hide what she can do, letting George drift away and eventually marry another woman, and generally nurturing her loneliness and angst.

I don't mind angst in a novel, but when there's no reason for it, I do mind it. Save yourself some and avoid even a taste of the sorry, sad lemon cake.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What Eve Bunting book tells the tale of the fabled Irish figure Finn McCool outwitting his Scottish nemesis?

Classics: What Pulitzer Prize-winning poet was portrayed as Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums?

Non-Fiction: What comic pledged to walk New Hampshire "from side to side, and then diagonally" while running for president, in his book Why Not Me?

Book Club: What real-life crime boss plucks Billy Bathgate out of the gutter, in E.L. Doctorow's 1989 novel?

Authors: What pseudonym did author Peter Finlay adopt, representing an escape from his sordid past that left him "Dirty but Clean"?

Book Bag: What detective from Michael Connelly's books was named after a 15th-century Flemish painter?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Looking for a Thanksgiving poem to leave you with for the rest of the week, I found one that wasn't exactly what I had in mind--not a poem about harvest or gratitude, but about eating. And the more I looked at this poem, "Gastronomy" by Todd Davis, the more I liked it:

A glacial erratic sits unmoved by the garden, purple and white
cosmos lifting up what's left of September's skirt. Like a bit
of pesto on the lip's rim, this boulder was forgotten when ice
pulled its tongue back inside the world's mouth.

How long does it take to digest a planet? How much wine
is in the oceans that circle us? My sons ask where the broccoli
and tomatoes, the melons and pumpkins disappear
when we throw them back upon themselves.

In the dim sun of a cold wet month, we turn soil, spread ash
from our little fires, cover the bed with leaves. New stones
swim slowly to the surface as everything becomes everything else.
In the dark, all that's left is to eat each other and savor our goodness.

As an omnivore, I enjoy the last line. As a fan of puns, I love the suggestion of "dim sum" in the "dim sun" phrase, so apt for a day like today--this morning I saw a flurry of red leaves whirl in a wind off of our ornamental pear tree in the front yard, with an almost black storm cloud behind it. And then, of course, there's the "wine dark sea" allusion from The Odyssey.

After all, it's really not Thanksgiving until you've had dinner, is it?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Devil in the White City

It was an exceedingly strange week to finally read a book that Eleanor had been urging me to since last spring, when she read The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, as part of her research for a history project on the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Subtitled "Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America," this history is so well written that it reads almost like a novel, due largely to Larson's liberal use of foreshadowing. All the descriptions of the activities of the murderer H.H. Holmes are so chilling in their detail that-- along with the descriptions I was reading of the activities of a murderer in our midst--the book gave me the shivers in a very big way.

The "white city" created for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair showed Americans what a city might be, and--according to Larson--may have even been an inspiration for Disney World and the land of Oz. The Ferris Wheel was invented for it. The electric incandescent light bulb was popularized at the fair. The Pledge of Allegiance, still recited almost daily in American schools, was written for its opening. If you go to Chicago, you can still see the fair's Palace of Fine Arts, which, "transformed into a permanent structure, now houses the Museum of Science and Industry."

I wish modern ferris wheels were still made like the first one, with "thirty-six cars, each about the size of a Pullman, each holding sixty people and equipped with its own lunch counter." The closest I could get would be the London Eye, but it doesn't have lunch counters!

Even the architectural details in this book are interesting, mostly because of all the context Larson provides. He takes readers from the erection of the first skyscrapers on the unstable soil of Chicago to the hurried construction of the world's fair buildings. He tells the stories of the architects themselves, complete with sub-plots like that the sister of the man who married the architect John Root was the poet Harriet Monroe, who Larson claims hid an unrequited love for her sister's husband all her life.

The activities of the serial murderer Holmes are interspersed throughout the descriptions of the other activities surrounding the world's fair, and they get increasingly spooky. Larson describes Holmes' "charm" and how easy it was for him to pay little attentions to a woman until she became "an acquisition to be warehoused until needed, like cocooned prey." Even at the end of the history, Larson is unable to give an accurate count of how many people Holmes murdered, explaining that the number is somewhere between 9 and 200.

When a "hotel" Holmes built--using so many contractors that no one but him had ever seen the complete building--was finally searched by the police, they found rooms both normal and airtight, a walk-in soundproof vault, and a basement complete with "a vat of acid with eight ribs and part of a skull settled at the bottom; mounds of quicklime; a large kiln; a dissection table stained with what seemed to be blood." Searching the building only because Holmes had been arrested for life insurance fraud, the police also found:
"Eighteen ribs from the torso of a child.
Several vertebrae.
A bone from a foot.
One shoulder blade.
One hip socket."

Holmes, at one point, buried two little girls three feet down in a dirt cellar, borrowing a shovel to do it and telling the shovel's owner that he was storing potatoes. One would think that it would be harder to hide bodies today, but one of the chilling details Larson traces is how many of Holmes' victims were originally small-town girls who became lost in the anonymity of the big city of Chicago.

The Chicago Times-Herald said, according to Larson, that Holmes was "a prodigy of wickedness, a human demon, a being so unthinkable that no novelist would dare to invent such a character." And yet, over and over, people are surprised to find that the man next door, where they let their children play, the man who worked for their lawn service--as Matthew Hoffman worked for the service we used last May--was all along a person who would plan to kidnap and kill his neighbors.

Thrills and chills, this book--kind of like going to a fair. I can hardly wait for my next trip to Chicago, now that I know more of its history.
(Update: Here's another recent review by someone who reads more nonfiction.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What "weird" Michigan family sets out in 1963 to visit Grandma in Birmingham, Alabama, in Christopher Paul Curtis' 1996 travelogue?

Classics: What playwright's last completed play was A Moon for the Misbegotten?

Non-Fiction: What historian based Firehouse on the brave souls who operated Engine 40, Ladder 35 on 9/11?

Book Club: What Donna Tartt novel finds college freshman Richard Papen falling in with a mysterious circle of Greek scholars?

Authors: What novel did Sylvia Plath initially publish under the pen name "Victoria Lucas," feeling it wasn't a "serious work"?

Book Bag: Who explains the proper way to drape yourself in a toga, in her "Masters in Rome" book series?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Till I End My Song

I said I was finished with the autumn poems this year, and I am, really--but then I saw that someone else had just come along with an anthology of poems about signs of impending death. It's Harold Bloom, who is now 80 years old; his title is Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems. It's available from Harper Books, and they sent me a copy so I could tell you about it.

Bloom has lost none of the ability to turn a phrase that made him such a prolific literary critic for so many years; he says, in his preface to the volume, that "lastness is a part of knowing" on the way to explaining that they are not all "death poems" because "we hope to learn from the poets not how to die but how to stand against uncertainty." The use of such a volume, Bloom says, "is to propound the perpetual possibility of the self, fated to dissolve, living on in the minds and hearts of those remaining."

He's chosen some very interesting poems--a hundred of them, one from each poet and at least one poem from each of the major periods of British and American literature. I enjoyed his inclusion of the final monologue from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, with the last minute "I'll burn my books!" immediately before Prospero's farewell from Shakespeare's The Tempest, ending with "I'll drown my book." This theme plays out in many of the poems, including Rudyard Kipling's seldom anthologized "The Fabulists" with its pessimistic ending ("we are not, nor we were not heard at all").

There are plenty of devotional and nihilistic last poems--the latter category unexpectedly contributed to by Alexander Pope, with the final section of The Dunciad, and by Walt Whitman's final lines of "Night on the Prairies"--"O I see now that life cannot exhibit all to me, as the day cannot,/ I see that I am to wait for what will be exhibited by death."

Another of the themes that particularly struck me is the concentration of the poet's or character's power in the extremity of his own end. Milton has the father of Samson Agonistes say "Samson has quit himself/Like Samson." Jonathan Swift shows characteristic modesty in imagining himself judged as he has judged others in his verse: "Go, go, you're bit." A poet Bloom calls "deliberately minor," Robert Louis Stevenson, might be said to have done this most simply in the famous lines "Glad did I live and gladly die,/ And laid me down with a will."

The effect of the collection is no more depressing or maudlin than the effect of reading some of the finest poems in the English language can be. A sense of limitation, expressed so wonderfully in Edward Thomas' poem "Liberty," does pervade the volume: "There's none less free than who/Does nothing and has nothing else to do,/Being free only for what is not to his mind,/And nothing is to his mind." But the limitation of mortality defines the triumph in some of these poems, like Conrad Aiken's "Tetelestai," which ends with the lines "This, then, is the one who implores, as he dwindles to silence,/A fanfare of glory. . . . And which of us dares to deny him?"

Stevie Smith's "Black March" even paints a picture of a welcoming figure who says "I am a breath/Of fresh air for you, a change/By and by." And Dylan Thomas, in "Poem on His Birthday," observes "that the closer I move/To death, one man through his sundered hulks,/The louder the sun blooms/And the tusked, ramshackling sea exults."

Bloom's introduction to each poem welcomes the novice reader of poetry while it amuses and enhances the enjoyment of more experienced readers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For The Win

Do you know how big a fan I am of Cory Doctorow's YA novel Little Brother? For the last couple of years I've kept an extra copy around in case we need a last-minute birthday party present. Because what teenager doesn't need to read that book?

Well, Doctorow has a new novel out, and it's entitled For The Win. It's about gaming, so I wasn't going to buy it, but when I saw it at the library I brought it home and Walker read it. He thought it was good enough that I should read it, so I started it and read a little, but didn't get all that interested. "Do I really need to read more of this?" I asked him and he said "yes, you really do; it gets more interesting." So I kept at it, and of course, he was right. It's about more than gaming; the title has a nice ironic resonance. It's not the kind of book I'm going to get extra copies of--or even buy, for that matter, but it was worth reading.

One of the thing that makes it worth giving to your kid to read is the clarity and brevity of the explanations. In a few places, the narrative demands that an idea like "inflation" be explained, and Doctorow manages to have one of the characters deliver enough of the idea, along with some context, to allow young readers to seriously consider the worth of an idea that the gamers are about to implement, like here:

"There's a saying from physics, 'It's turtles all the way down.' Do you know it? It comes from a story about a British physicist, Bertrand Russell, who gave a lecture about the universe, how the Earth goes around the Sun and so on. And a little old granny in the audience says, 'It's all rubbish! The world is flat and rests on the back of a turtle!' And Russell says 'If that's so, what does the turtle stand on?' And the granny says 'On another turtle!' Russell thinks he has her here, and asks, 'What does that turtle stand on?' She replies, 'You can't fool me, sonny; it's turtles all the way down!' In other words, what lives under the illusion is yet another illusion, and under that one is another illusion again. Supposedly good currency is backed by gold, but the gold itself doesn't exist. Bad currency isn't backed by gold, it's backed by other currencies, and they don't exist. At the end of the day, all that any of this is based on is, what, can you tell me?"
"Belief," Yasmin said. "Or fear, yes? Fear that if you stop believing in the money, you won't be able to buy anything. It is just like game gold!"

Another thing I like is the way the kids communicate; they're inventive, like the kids in Little Brother. Here's how some of the characters in China send messages to each other and to people outside their country:
"We just pick a random blog out there on the net, usually one that no one has posted to in a year or two, and we take over the comment board on one of its posts. Once they block it--or the server crashes--we switch to another one. It's easy--and fun!"

There are some interesting insights into online security issues and collective bargaining along the way. One of my favorite parts is a variation on civil disobedience, when some kids decide that the way to show their solidarity with a worker protest is to buy ice cream and walk around in front of a business eating it. And if the police arrest them for that, one character says, they're going to try smiling, to see if the police can arrest them all for smiling.

There's a personal appeal, for me, in reading about people who are faced with an impossible task but don't give up. And on that note, I would like to announce that I'm less underemployed now--I got a job as music director of the spring musical at Eleanor and Walker's high school, which means, among other things, that there will be a musical this spring! Win all around!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Intended

Well, the choice is made. Eleanor applied for an early decision to a college that is eleven hours away by road. We'll know in a month if they will accept her for next year.

She's been asking for copies of some of her favorite books. She got a nice, leatherbound copy of the Narnia stories for her birthday in August, she already has The Lord of the Rings and The Borribles, and we might need to get her a set of the Harry Potter books.

Probably she'll leave the framed print of the Lady of Shalott that she carried in her suitcase all the way home from the Tate Gallery when she was six years old. She may leave the seascape she picked out when she was nine from the children's gallery at a local arts festival. But I wonder if she'll take her Hiroshige print.

I'll be thinking about this poem, Mary Ruefle's "The Intended," all the next month:

One wants so many things...
One wants simply, said the lady,
to sit on the bank and throw stones
while another wishes he were standing
in the Victoria and Albert Museum
looking at Hiroshige's Waterfall:
one would like to be able to paint
like that, and Hiroshige wishes
he could create himself out of the
Yoro sea spray in Mino province where
a girl under the Yoro waterfall wants
to die, not quite sure who her person is,
but that the water falls like a sheet of tin
and another day's thrown in the sieve:
one can barely see the cherry blossoms
pinned up in little buns like the white hair
of an old woman who was intended for this hour,
the hour intended to sit simply on the bank
at the end of a long life, throwing stones,
each one hitting the water with the tick of
a hairpin falling in front of a mirror.

When "another day's thrown in the sieve," there have to be a few remembrances caught in the bottom--a story, a picture, a shoe so old it has the imprint of a foot in its sole.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What children's author tapped out Circus Shoes, Movie Shoes, Theatre Shoes, Dancing Shoes and Ballet Shoes?

Classics: What novel sold the most copies during the 1970s--Jaws, The Godfather, or Love Story?

Non-Fiction: What former law clerk to Clarence Thomas penned Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN are Subverting America?

Book Club: Whose book Child of God did the New York Times call "the greatest necrophiliac novel ever"?

Authors: What Mississippian tore up the only copy of her short story "Petrified Man" after one too many rejection slips, then later rewrote it from memory?

Book Bag: What fictional spy was based on decorated Scottish World War II commando Patrick Dalzel-Job?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wives and Daughters

Lately I've seen a renewal of interest in the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, so I decided to try one; a Victorian novel seemed like a good thing to have going in the background of my other reading this fall. The only Gaskell novel I found on the shelf at my public library was Wives and Daughters, so that's the one I read.

Now, I should have read the preface and the afterward, but I often skip those for the Victorians; they're so rarely interested in subverting the text, and usually any supplemental material is by an editor or some other college professor I don't feel the need to read like. But I should have read some of that for this novel--because the author very inconsiderately died while writing it. So for the whole second half of the story, while I was slogging through way more than I cared to read about how insipidness pays off for the proper Victorian heroine, I was waiting for her marriage to the man she fancies who will surely, in the end, appreciate her--and the novel doesn't get there!

The most fun I had reading Gaskell was in appreciating how catty she could be to her characters, especially the step-mother of the heroine, who reminds me a little of Elizabeth Bennett's dingbat mother in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

The step-mother, Mrs. Gibson, has the same comical need to keep up a genteel appearance; "dinner," or the main meal of the day, was evidently taken at lunchtime by farming families and at suppertime by the imaginary genteel families of which Mrs. Gibson has heard or read:
"At lunch Mrs. Gibson was secretly hurt by my lord's supposing it to be her dinner, and calling out his urgent hospitality from the very bottom of the table, giving as a reason for it, that she must remember it was her dinner. In vain she piped out in her soft, high voice, 'Oh, my lord! I never eat meat in the middle of the day; I can hardly eat anything at lunch.' Her voice was lost, and the duchess might go away with the idea that the Hollingsford doctor's wife dined early; that is to say, if her grace ever condescended to have any idea on the subject at all; which presupposes that she was cognizant of the fact of there being a doctor at Hollingford, and that he had a wife, and that his wife was the pretty, faded, elegant-looking woman sending away her plate of untasted food--food that she longed to eat, for she was really desperately hungry...."

Even cattier is the passage in which the author of the novel describes Mrs. Gibson as a person who
"had no great facility for understanding sarcasm; it is true it disturbed her, but as she was not quick at deciphering any depth of meaning, and felt it to be unpleasant to think about it, she forgot it as soon as possible."

And most fun of all is the authorial comment on a neighbor's remark:
"'Well! Mrs. Gibson, I suppose I must wish you joy of Miss Cynthia's marriage; I should condole with some mothers as had lost their daughters; but you're not one of that sort, I reckon.'
Now, as Mrs. Gibson was not quite sure to which 'sort' of mothers the greatest credit was to be attached, she found it a little difficult how to frame her reply."

If I ever decide to read anything else by Gaskell, it will be North and South, as Nymeth recommends. Perhaps this time I took my undirected reading a little too far--being more underemployed than usual makes me understand better why many book bloggers make lists. I probably won't go that far, but will think about whether I should continue reading as unsystematically as I usually prefer to do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: The Book of Shadows

This review is part of the Green Books Campaign, bloggers reviewing books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper to try to make everyone more aware of "green" books. The folks at Eco-Libris sent me a copy of Carlos Reyes' New and Selected Poems, The Book of Shadows, which is printed on recycled paper. I didn't see any difference between this paper and the paper in other volumes of poetry I've read, even after my attention was drawn to it.

The Book of Shadows was my introduction to the poetry of Carlos Reyes, and I enjoyed the way his subjects range from Portland, where he now lives, to places like Panama and Ireland. There are poems about the loss of love, about survival, and about ships, gambling, and Alaskan Yupik spirits.

Many of the poems are deceptively simple, like this one, where the simplicity is self-conscious and starkly illustrated:

Once There Was a Way, Maybe

How to get back
to the simplicity of it
--the skating
on the small pond, on thin ice--
where it was always possible
to break your nose
over a girlfriend
and live through it,
to get your heart broken
and get over it right then
and there.

Years later
things are not so simple.
Your head is a balloon
full of words, your fingers
something like honeyed batwings
(when they come to visit),
reality something
poking through on rare occasions
full of bones
on Sunday afternoon:
a plastic bag
full of chicken
but bones all the same
when the picnic's over.

There's a series of poems about what shadows do, and this one is my favorite, Shadow Piscator:

A shadow can fish
If you have seen

what happens
when clouds get

between the sun
and water on the lake

You'll know what I mean
the fish go crazy

If shadow
has a bucket or a net

or can cup his hands
he will catch many fish

What I liked best in this volume--and perhaps it's just because I've been collecting so many autumn poems since September--are his poems about autumn:

A Few Days Before September

I am under
a pale finger-
nail paring moon,

jarred from my reverie
by an intensely silver
almost wingless propeller-
driven airplane

across the zenith
of my pleasant
Sunday morning,

awakening the still
dead, those sleeping, those
with hangovers,
those with morning after

those who thought
today was their day
and nothing more,

to the dying of time
that this might be the last
most beautiful day
of summer

when all
the natural world
is on the verge.

Beauty gives way
to grim survival
in a corner
less lit by the sun.

I love that one purely for the line breaks in "the last/most beautiful day/ of summer."

And this next one... I wouldn't have thought any other poet could put the cap on my autumn theme after Merwin's poems yesterday, but the ending of this one is a fitting ending to the theme--not an ending, really, but a fading:

In the Fall

I walk the dangerous edge
of damp graveled roads
the perimeter of aging forests
the changing leaves
the gold instead of green
twirling in a colder wind.

How I enjoy
the smell of wild apples
beginning to turn cidery
with bitter frost
crabapples like dim lanterns.

Hoping for one more day
before the rains arrive
I walk down the leafy lane
to see a break
in the clouds and bright
sun once more

before winter tightens
its jaws around the trees
before the grey pulling
clouds suffocate the wind
before lakes, rivers and seas
fall from the heavens
drown every green thing
fading all green all gold
to dull and papery pale.

This is indeed a book of shadows, of things already out of sight. And it's about seeing the world in such a clear-eyed way that you no longer believe you can sew a shadow back on to stop anyone's crying.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Merwin and the End of Autumn

It began as terribly as any ordeal by airline ever does, short of the airplane actually crashing; we arrived at our local airport after an hour's drive through the Ohio countryside to find that our first flight was delayed. When it was still delayed, we were moved to another gate. Once we finally got on the plane, sitting with our legs up on the carry-on bags that almost but not entirely fit under the seats in front of us, there was another delay as the ground crew figured out that the weight on our plane was not balanced, that they had no ballast to correct this, and that three passengers would have to get off. Finally they ousted some people and we got in the line to take off, arriving at a different airport twenty minutes before our next flight. But we would not be on it; no, we would still be standing in the aisle waiting for an airport employee to stroll over and push the button to extend the skyway. My daughter shouted helpfully toward the front "open the door and I'll jump!" but her voice went disregarded. Despite our no-doubt-entertaining sprint for the connecting gate on a different concourse, we missed our connection. We did arrive at our destination airport right before the rental car counter closed, and then proceeded to drive down strangely deserted highways under a vast, starry sky for a little more than an hour until we found our motel, looking as if it stood alone in the darkness of the middle of the prairie.

That was how I spent the first weekend after the high school marching band season with my daughter, visiting the college she's most seriously considering. Early decision applications are due next week, so the beginning of November marks the end of any more consideration; it's time to submit.

Our trip back from the college visit went as well as any airline adventure ever can--our flights were on time, and our connecting gate was right next door to the gate we came in, adjacent to a restroom and a small restaurant. When we got back to our local airport, we watched the carousel go around for less than half its circle before our checked bag appeared in front of us. We made it home with plenty of time to get to the W.S. Merwin reading at our local college.

He read--I think "sonorously" is the best word for it. Although I'd been looking forward to this event for months, it took on a dreamlike quality; I would hear the beginning of one of the poems I'd liked best from one of his many volumes and would drift off into contemplation of a word, a line, an image. I think I dreamed a sort of unity between three of his poems and the "too soon autumn" theme I have had going on here since the beginning of September. So I will present you with the three, as another way to mark the end of autumn.

I think of this one with our initial journey late into the prairie night:

Lights Out

The old grieving autumn goes on calling to its summer
the valley is calling to other valleys beyond the ridge
each star is roaring alone into darkness
there is not a sound in the whole night

Isn't that lovely personification? Of course I love the image of the old grieving autumn--it's me--here I am, sampling the bittersweet fruits of having raised a child to be self-sufficient enough to move away.

The next one seems to me to be related because it describes something of how I feel about the end of daylight savings time at the end of this particular autumn:

Long Afternoon Light

Small roads written in sleep in the foothills
how long ago and I believed you were lost
with the bronze then deepening in the light
and the shy moss turning to itself holding
its own brightness above the badger's path
while a single crow sailed west without a sound
we trust without giving it a thought
that we will always see it as we see it
once and that what we know is only
a moment of what is ours and will stay
we believe it as the moment slips away
as lengthening shadows merge in the valley
and a window kindles there like a first star
what we see again comes to us in secret

Yes, overlaid on this fall is the memory of my first fall away from home at college, and the lengthening shadow of Eleanor's first fall away from me. I am going to be only a window kindled in the darkness, a first star, a point to measure the length of her journey.

But there are so many pleasures in the company of an increasingly adult daughter, and in the conversation of the first person I ever had a hand in helping to grow to her full autumnal glory--it was for her that I learned to buy clothing in shades of gold and brown, the colors that suit her best. She is like

One of the Butterflies

The trouble with pleasure is the timing
it can overtake me without warning
and be gone before I know it is here
it can stand facing me unrecognized
while I am remembering somewhere else
in another age or someone not seen
for years and never to be seen again
in this world and it seems that I cherish
only now a joy I was not aware of
when it was here although it remains
out of reach and will not be caught or named
or called back and if I could make it stay
as I want to it would turn into pain

She will not be called back. If I could make her stay as I want to it would turn into pain. It's the pleasure of this moment, the beauty of the butterfly in flight, that, like the autumn, has reached a musical pitch that continues straining forward and forward towards what eventually turns into distance.

Monday, November 8, 2010

White Cat

When I saw a book by Holly Black on the shelf of new books in the YA section at the library, I picked it up even though it says it's book one of a series called The Curse Workers, and I've gotten a bit leery of anything that advertises itself as the first of a series. But I like her YA series Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside enough to try almost anything else she writes. I haven't read the Spiderwick books, for younger readers, but I did see the movie and thought it was mildly entertaining.

Anyway, this new book is entitled White Cat; it begins with the first-person narrator, Cassel Sharpe, in a number of tight spots, and proceeds to rapidly tighten them and sharpen your curiosity about how he got into them until you've read the whole short book in one quick gulp.

Cassel is like Sam in Hold Me Closer, Necromancer in that he is horrified to think that he could have the power to do evil. He's like Artemis Fowl in being born into a family situation that requires him to be underhanded and sly, and often on the wrong side of the law. He's like any good YA hero in being able to find his own way with the help of some friends, and to assert his own will in opposition to the will of some of his family members. And that's about all I can tell you about this novel, because it's full of secrets, and one secret is built on top of another, and they're fun to discover.

Just be warned--little that Cassel thinks he knows about the world turns out to be true, in the end. He warns you early on that
"I spend most of my time at school faking and lying. It takes a lot of effort to pretend you're something you're not. I don't think about what music I like; I think about what music I should like. When I had a girlfriend, I tried to convince her I was the guy she wanted me to be. When I'm in a crowd, I hang back until I can figure out how to make them laugh. Luckily, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's faking and lying."

One of the delights of reading the novel is how true that turns out to be, and how sometimes, especially for a young adult, faking and lying is how you can begin to fulfill your potential for greatness.

Haven't you ever faked your way towards becoming as confident and brilliant as you wanted to appear?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Trivial Pursuit for Book-Lovers

Children's: What was the last name of the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm who published Children's and Household Tales in 1812?

Classics: What title kicks off Paul Scott's Raj Quartet?

Non-Fiction: What landmark is celebrated by Nicholas Shrady's book Tilt: A Skewed History, cut at a rakish angle?

Book Club: What daughter of a Pulitzer winner for nonfiction was nominated for a National Book Award for her novel Gorgeous Lies?

Authors: What author of The Screwtape Letters was better known by his first two initials than by "Clive Staples"?

Book Bag: What romance author made a successful crossover to "chick lit" with L.A. Woman?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sermon, Now Encrypted

If you're going to like poetry, you've got to get in the habit of reading it out loud. Then even when you don't read it out loud, you hear it in your head as though you were, and the words and meanings resonate the way they should if you're going to like it.

Because I hear poems out loud, I'm a complete sucker for sermon poems. In the back of my mind, I'm hearing the sonorous tones of MLK, Jr. or Jesse Jackson (the latter sometimes reading Green Eggs and Ham in a sermonic voice) or even Robert Duvall in The Apostle. My favorite sermon poem, of course, is Howard Nemerov's "Boom!" But I found one I like hearing almost as much recently, and it's ever-so-much-more-up-to-date, Ander Monson's "Sermon, Now Encrypted":

After passing through the box
that churns our text into scrambled digit strings--
the veil that separates us from our secrets
as indented, magnetic on all our hard drives
and Zip disks, we have found our way unto
the bottom of the stack. People, consider this
an instruction unto you to go home and clean scum
from your blenders, clear your Internet Explorer caches,
and expel the browser cookies like a sickness
into the majesty of the shredder or the trash.
We do not need to keep these things close to us;
they are not our names, identities, nor are they addresses
through which light or product might find its way to us.

There is no halfway house back from sin.

There will be no grinning in the crowd.

There is not a land beyond this one when
the screen has cleared and our lives have been
lifted away like a spider net is from a set of ferns,

Stanch your laughter and the bloodflow from your cuts.

What we need here is a tourniquet
to stop the daily intake of information
or calcium in the form of milk.

Give away your USRDA.

What we need is to reduce the accidental deaths
of too-long stowaways on transatlantic flights.

Let us think of the parable of the man
who tried to hide himself in the recession
into which the landing gear of the Airbus A320
leaving Amsterdam for New York was meant to close.

Let us consider the shape of the constellations we have made
among the stars.

There will be no more coughing.

There will be buy-one-get-one-free in the ever-after.

There will be galaxies collapsing for everyone who's present
at the cleanup from the after-party, after-prom, and after-after

Let us take no for an answer only this one time.

Let us dispose of all our husbands' collective dated aftershave
in the toilet or in the sink. It will not haunt us from the drain.

Let us grieve for those who have left us for warmer cultures
or for other, younger partners.

Let us grieve for the pretenders to the throne, those other balls
of paint or twine or rubber bands or anything that can be wound,
those hundred-foot Paul Bunyans dotting the Midwest,
strung with sadness, strung with stories, worry, glory.

Let us grieve for those whose passwords are their pets'
or maiden names, or other easily-guessed items such as words
from the dictionary.

Let us find our way back to what light there is for us remaining.

Don't you just love the certainty of this poem? My favorite lines are "There will be no grinning in the crowd" and "There will be no more coughing." And I do like the impulse to "grieve for those who have left us...."

How many of us feel certain enough about anything to preach a sermon on it? (For those of you in the U.S., a lesson on yesterday's election?)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Devil's Kiss

Devil's Kiss, by Sarwat Chadda, is a YA novel, the first of a series, that mixes together Arthurian legend with Templar mythology and then tosses in a handful or two from Paradise Lost, with just a pinch of the Crusades. I enjoyed it, but felt like I'd sampled from the pot before.

There are a few new spices in this recipe. The Templars, in this world,
"had been formed to defend the Holy Land, but that battle had been lost long ago. Their war wasn't for Jerusalem, not anymore, but for mankind's soul. Their war was against the supernatural evil that preyed on humanity."
Okay--an obsolete order fighting imaginary evil. Got it, kids? We're going to throw some Latin in here (a la Rowling) and call it "The Bataille Tenebreuse."

There's even some reasoning for why the modern Templars have to train with ancient weapons:
"Immortal didn't mean unkillable. Not even a ghul walked away from having its head chopped off. It was one of the main reasons the Order still trained with hacking weapons."
I like a story that at least attempts to explain why you can't just shoot the suckers.

There's a predictable bad boy who taps into the heroine's teenage angst and need to rebel against her father. But since the boy's name is Mike and he's described in angelic terms, while the father's name is Arthur and he has a big sword, you know who has the heroine's best interests at heart. The heroine, by the way, has an Arabic name and goes by "Billi," which shows you, I guess, that you won't be able to guess which way she'll jump.

I get to add this to my list of books in which necromancy doesn't pay (on the sidebar):
She didn't know the book still existed. It was a book of necromancy, the darkest maleficia.
"Where d'you get it?" She stared at it warily, as if it were some deadly dormant creature.
"Off some fool who thought he could summon the devil," said Arthur.
"You're joking, of course."
Arthur looked at her. It wasn't his joking face.
"What happened to him?"
"Something bad," said her dad in the tone that meant the conversation was over.

Later, "Billi had read enough about necromancy to know what might happen if things went wrong." And we know they always do.

There's a prophecy, and no one is able to interpret it correctly, and so the ending is a surprise after all. It's a quick read, and if you already know you like these flavors, it'll go down easy.

For a more sensitive and nuanced review, try this one at Bookgazing. It shows you more of how an actual young adult reacts.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halfway Human

Rhetorically speaking, Carolyn Ives Gilman's science fiction novel Halfway Human is the most interesting thing I've read since I first moved to the north and found Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in the public library. It's not until page 313 of this 325-page novel that you'll realize how thoroughly she has trapped you, how she's using your emotions about a fictional alien character to show you something important about what you notice and how you act towards others on your own planet.

I really want to gush about this novel; I went to bed with it one night and had to force myself to put it down, two hours after I would usually have been asleep. And the next morning I got up and started reading it again. At that point I felt I had to see how it came out, even though I had guessed all the important parts already. I had to know what happened to the main character, Tedla, and everyone it affects on two worlds.

Yes, "it." Tedla is a neuter from Gammadis, a planet where neuters are used as slaves and not considered human. The story of its early years on Gammadis and its time on Capella, a planet more like our own, is horrifying and compelling, especially because of the "human" lens through which the portrait has to be viewed. Before the age of 14, when all Gammadians are neuter, the children (proto-humans, or "protos") passed around rumors like that "eating beans will produce male genes, the bite of a needletail will make you female. There were diagnostic tests: If you looked at your fingernails palm up rather than palm down, you were sure to be a man. Looking over your shoulder to see the sole of your foot was a sure sign of a woman."

On Capella, the planet I think is most like our own (although a character points out that all people call their planet some variation of "earth"), "knowledge was its principle export, and its only major industry." Like the country of Gilead in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the planet of Capella has things in common with our own planet, but they're obviously far in the future and much more exaggerated--showing where we could be headed. The problem with the knowledge culture is that "the companies need us all to be alienated from each other, because it cuts off routes of communication they can't control. If everyone shared information openly, it wouldn't be a controllable commodity, and no one could profit from it."

Tedla's story is masterfully told, moving backwards from the point at which she attempts to kill herself, alone on Capella. As she tells stories that reveal the horrors of slavery on Gammadis, we react along with the xenologist to whom she is telling her story, Val. It's clear that what happens to the neuters, "blands," as they are called on their own planet, is wrong. Even though Tedla denies that it was a slave-- "we weren't slaves. Neuters are never traded for money"-- it's clear that blands are treated as such, and the details (including torture scenes) are right out of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Told from birth that "blands" are less than human, Tedla believes it, despite growing evidence, as her story continues, that its intelligence is greater than that of the gendered humans whose every whim it must anticipate and gratify.

I keep typing "she" when referring to Tedla, and I think it's because the reader identifies with this character; I assume that a male reader might stumble over calling Tedla a "he." There's another reason I think of "it" as a "she," though, and that's the way the humans (both Gammadians and Capellans) want to use it sexually because it is extraordinarily attractive; that makes me think of stories about the lot of beautiful slave women in the American south before the civil war. Tedla is frustrated by the degree to which "we have to think about your sexuality all the time." She says:
"Some humans--maybe all--are actually attracted by asexuals. Even your standards of beauty tend to be androgynous. I don't know why it is--the ambiguity of identity, perhaps, or the novelty of a transgender experience. Then there are people who are attracted to anything dangerous."
"What is dangerous about it?" Val asked.
"On Gammadis, sexual encounters with neuters are absolutely forbidden," Tedla said. "The idea is horrible, shameful, disgusting. Anyone found molesting a neuter would be ostracized, and penalized by the harshest laws we have."
"But it's done?"
"All the time," Tedla said bitterly. "Everyone condemns it, then they do it anyway. It's the central hypocrisy of my planet. They all learn not to see it. The only thing more forbidden than doing it, is talking about it."

About halfway through the novel, Tedla meets its first alien, and the events that lead to it escaping to Capella commence. The reader is increasingly implicated in the view that what the "alien" Gammadians do is bad, and what the more "human" Capellans do is good. Val asks her husband Max, after hearing most of Tedla's story:
"Do you think we deserve to be human?"
"God knows what the test is, if Tedla couldn't pass it," Max murmured. "I'm glad we didn't have to take it."

What drives Tedla to suicide on Capella is partly what she learns about the "blands" on that planet:
"It is not just a matter of poverty, as you seem to think. Here, where people can inherit money, or get it from partners or royalties without earning it, you have many well-t0-do blands. But most of them are poor. They live shabby, circumscribed lives--aware of, but never aspiring to, the humanity around them, though they will live off it parasitically if they can. They are the eyes behind all those windows in the housing tower you saw. They take whatever chances others give them. They complain, but not so that you hear them."

Hearing this is enough to cut an emotional reader like me to the quick. And as if that isn't enough, the satire becomes even more pointed. It points to me more clearly than the parents of my kids' friends who group me with "those college liberals":
"...I began to understand something about you Capellans. I had always thought--in fact, you always claim--that you are a perfectly secular society. But that's not true. The feeling you have for knowledge is very close to the awe others feel for the sacred. Faith in knowledge is the principle you will never back away from, the thing you protect when everything else is gone. Creating is your highest calling. Destroying it, or polluting it, is the unforgiveable sin. Learning is your righteousness, research is your sacrament, discovery is your revelation. You believe not in a trancendent God but in a transcendent truth that we all can strive toward through learning."

The genius of Gilman's satire lies partly in its indeterminacy--she doesn't even point her finger at Earth, and she doesn't suggest that the way we keep our "blands" quiet is evil. It's you who will suggest this to yourself, as you read Tedla's story. The story is rhetorically magnificent; it traps you like a slave who will inevitably be recaptured every time it tries to run away.

You must read this book! Because the only thing worse than mistreating slaves is shutting yourself off from the feelings of the humans who share your planet.

I got my copy of Halfway Human from Arc Manor publishers. Their free ebook for this month is L. Neil Smith's 'Tom Paine Maru--Special Author's Edition.' The Coupon Code for November is 9992224. Instructions and download link (as usual) at: Tom Paine Maru will be available from November 2nd through November 30th.