Monday, March 31, 2008
The problem is, nine times out of ten, the one cowering in the corner (when it isn't a "thank you" note), deferring to Ms. Numchuck Champion, is The Novel. I've mentioned the fact in other posts this year that about two months ago I wrote a prologue for a novel that pleased me immensely. I then wrote the epilogue, which was not half as satisfying (in case you're wondering, Bob agreed with me, so it's not just me). Since then, I've re-written the epilogue (and I think made it even worse) and written half a chapter. Just this week, I decided the whole book had to be about something entirely different (it's a brilliant idea that I've given a hefty allowance in the hopes that it will buy some whips and chains of its own instead of running off to the Caribbean and telling me it's sure I can replace it with something else). What's wonderful is that with this new idea, I can dump that unsatisfying epilogue. However, it means re-writing the whole prologue in a different way.
So, what have I been doing? Well, have you noticed that I've written more blog posts this week than you've seen me write in a single week in, oh, about a year? (In fairness, some of that has to do with the fact that I'm on the road. It isn't easy to work on a novel when one is on the road, because there's really no time). During the couple of months since I started writing The Novel, I've written half of a draft of a new ghost story, the first few sentences of another one (because I have to do that, or I'll forget the brilliance of those sentences that popped into my head while I was driving), and the entire second draft of an old one (anyone else remember that one of my two new year's resolutions was to write new stories and not to revise old ones this year? So much for that. But, you see, I didn't realize The Novel was going to come along, begging me to do anything other than pay attention to it, when I made that resolution). Oh, and believe it or not, I've got three hand-written blog posts that were composed when I was in places where it was much easier to pull out a notebook and pen than a computer (train stations and hotel lounges, for example) that need to be transcribed at some point.
I guess that means my #1 procrastination technique for putting off writing is blogging. Now that is certainly ironic (no matter how you think the word should be defined). Anyone else out there do that?
Sunday, March 30, 2008
I'm here to say to you: don't do it. Please, please don't do it. I spend quite a lot of time out here browsing through blogs written by all you oh-so-talented twenty-somethings, and I find myself thinking over and over again, "Oh, I hope he/she doesn't decide to go into publishing," because, chances are, if you go into publishing, I'll never get to read your book, and I want to read your book. You see, once you get a job in publishing, your life-long desire to want to publish a book of your own will plummet the way the stock market does whenever Republicans are in power too long. The publishing industry is a place meant really for editors, not for writers. And don't fool yourself into thinking, "Well, yes, she may be right when it comes to getting jobs at major trade publishers, but I'm not doing that. I'm just applying for this job at Tiny Little Publisher That Publishes Travel Guides or Midwest University Press, and this job certainly won't interfere with the novel I'm writing in the evenings and on weekends."
Once you've taken a job at Non-Trade Publisher, you'll find yourself sitting in meetings, listening to discussions about whether or not to publish a book and why, and it won't be long before you're thinking, "Man, if it's this bad here, imagine what it must be like at Major Trade Publisher." You will see books you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole receive high praise in the review media and find yourself thinking, "Huh? We held our noses and stuck that piece of crap into production, because we were being hounded to make sure it made the fall list. Did the reviewer even do more than read the table of contents and the introduction?" You will read a gem of a proposal on restaurants in Australia and be the only one voting to publish it, because "we just have too many books about Australia on the list already." Besides, no one else thinks the author has enough clout, and "we need more big-name authors here." During the same meeting, someone will propose a book on hiking in Antarctica by Ms. Nobody, and everyone will be oooohing and ahhhhing, talking about how hiking in Antarctica is the next "hot thing," and "we can be the company that builds a name for Ms. Nobody."
You will also see great books on important topics turned into 16-page picture books, because the company does not want to pay the printing costs for a book that long. You will see the company's major authors wined and dined while slaves write their books for them. Meanwhile, you'll have to tell your "lessor" authors you're sorry but unless they can deliver triplicate manuscripts written in blood, the company won't sign a contract with them.
It's quite disheartening. I, too, once thought I wanted to be a published writer, but I no longer want to pursue that path. I've met very few colleagues in the world of publishing (at least on the editorial side of things) who did not at some point in their lives have dreams of becoming a writer. However, I have only known one or two with published books (and none of those were fiction, despite the fact I know one of these editors writes novels), so I have a feeling I am not the only one whose desire to publish was ruined by working in the publishing industry. I still love to write, but these days, the only place I plan to publish is in the blogosphere, so that those who enjoy reading me can do so, whether a group of ten people sitting around a table thinks they'd want to or not. I'm waiting for blogging software to improve to the point that it will be easier to post serial fiction, and then I will start doing that (I'm hoping I will have some final drafts of things written by the time the software catches up).
However, I don't want everyone publishing the way I plan to publish. My writing needs an editor (editors cannot edit their own writing. It just doesn't work), and the best way to get one of those is to publish the old-fashioned way. Besides, I don't want books to die. I don't even want publishing companies to die (although I wish they'd become less greedy). That means we need lots and lots of writers who have not become jaded by an inside view of the publishing industry. So, I'm begging all of you writers, yet again, to choose a different career path. Consider library science (you still get to be surrounded by books and readers all day). Consider teaching. Consider being a ski instructor. Leave publishing up to the editors (believe it or not, there are people out there who were born to edit, not to write, and who are perfectly content doing just that). Just do two things for me please: keep writing, and never give up.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
ZM and Becky immediately informed me that my problem is not that I try to carry too much, but that my purse is too small. Becky is the one, remember, who doesn't carry a bag unless it will hold a book. One of our other dining companions that day, who happens to be about the size of your average ring box, informed us that she won't carry a bag unless it will hold both a book and a magazine. I don't know how she does it; I can't imagine lugging around something that's bigger than I am (although she is awfully fit).
I still can't help thinking that I really must carry less. Since this was a new bag, before showing off its contents, I did happen to have taken out some of the truly unnecessary articles I found in my old bag (like about five extra pens and the ticket stub to the high school musical Bob and I went to see last month, and an empty mint box), but that doesn't seem to have done a whole lot of good, because the item count is still pushing 20:
1. Keys (more on them in a minute)
2. Change purse, which holds cash and change
3. Credit card holder (more on that in another minute)
5. mini bottle of Excedrin, because I'm prone to headaches
6. contact lens re-wetting drops
8. bottle of hand lotion taken from some hotel (because I'm the former child who, due to her super dry skin, once asked her mother if she could possibly be related to alligators)
9. phone charger for my Blue Tooth (which I don't normally carry with me, but I do when I'm traveling long distance anywhere by car. Why, I don't know, because I hate the Blue Tooth, and if anyone wants to know why, just say so, please and I'll compose an entire post on it one of these days, which will also include information on why I hate ear buds)
10. cell phone
11. Blue Tooth (ditto the charger)
12. 2 feminine hygeine products
13. beautiful monogrammed silver business card case given to me as a going-away gift by my former boss when I left my old company, and which I always forget to refill with business cards (I don't care about such things, but I'm sure he'd want me to tell you it's Tiffany's)
14. an envelope with business receipts (added since Becky and ZM saw the contents of my bag)
15. a grocery store coupon that has expired and will be thrown away now, so it won't be going back into the bag when I'm done with this exercise
16. 2 pens
17. one mechanical pencil
18. Burt's Bee's lip shimmer (rhubarb), because I like the practicality of lip balm and lipstick all in one
Normally, I have mints, but I haven't bothered yet to replace my empty box with a new one
Now, let's talk about keys. They are quite obviously my biggest, heaviest objects. I blame it on Volkswagen, who makes a very cool car key that folds up into itself and would be fantastic (could even fit into those pracically non-existent pockets so fashionable on women's clothing) if it were the only key anyone ever had to carry. However, stick it on a key ring with other keys, and it becomes nothing but a huge, boxy nuisance that immediately increases the entire chain's weight by 110%. The key to the Prius isn't really much better, once you add its separate remote (we have the old-model Prius, not the one that starts with the push of a button as long as the key is somewhere on the premises). On my keychain, I also have one key to the manse (which could come off, because I don't need it, since our back door has a combination lock. But if I take it off, that will be the one day the combination doesn't work); a key to the house in Connecticut, which we are renting to others right now; a fob to the office; a key to the company apartment; and the key to my brother-in-law's house (also in CT). You may be asking, "Well, why does she have to carry all those keys around all the time?" The answer is that I don't happen to be fifteen anymore, and when given the number of things that accumulate in a brain throughout a lifetime of living, mine likes to remember such extraordinarily useful things as my first boyfriend's birthday rather than trivial matters such as the fact I'm arriving at the company apartment at 10:00 on a Sunday night and will need my key to get into it. I did decide, though, while perusing the contents of my pocketbook as I am, to take all my keys off the main chain, grouping them together on several rings with fewer numbers of keys on each, which makes my purse less bulky. We'll see how this works once I start using them again (right now, all I've been using is the hotel room key card).
And speaking of cards, let's take a look at the credit card holder. Wouldn't it be nice if all it held were my driver's licence and one credit card? But no, that would mean I lived a very simple life, which we all know I don't. Here's what my credit card holder contains:
personal credit card
company credit card
AAA card (which is about to expire, I see)
BJs membership card (something I wouldn't have except it's one of our company's perques, so why not?)
health insurance card
dental insurance card
I also have a little laminated card made by someone at the office that has the cell phone numbers of all those at the company who have company cell phones (this comes in awfully handy when you arrive at the apartment after work hours to discover your key is bent and won't open the door and you need to call the office manager)
(Can you understand why I have a complete and utter fear of losing this very important little holder?)
So, there you have it. Is it so much or not? How do you women I see carrying around nothing but wallets manage to do it? What does everyone think I should weed out first?
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I am currently in the midst of a ten-day business trip in
All this New England exposure is making me feel good, but oddly enough, it’s making me feel good about
I haven’t given too many details about life in
But we’ve now been in our new home for six months, and I’m feeling settled (granted, sometimes I feel I’ve “settled” somewhere like Pluto, but I’m still feeling settled). One thing I have to say about Pennsylvanians is that they are very down-to-earth and ingenuous people. I’ve been told this isn’t the case, that they don’t tend to welcome newcomers to the area, but my experience has been nothing of the sort. We’ve been welcomed with open arms, and not only by our church members. Neighbors and others in the community seem to be eager to get to know us and have been making attempts to do so. We’ve been invited to “escape” to secluded farms where we can walk and sit on the front porch with our books when we feel the need to get away. We’ve also been invited to hang out at others’ swimming pools this summer, “especially during the day, because no one’s here all day long, you know.” I had to know people in
I love other things about
When one gets tired of being too much of an environmental goody-two-shoes, just a half-hour drive away is Wegman’s, a store that puts the “super” in supermarket (and where I finally discovered I could get the Greek yogurt I’ve been hooked on ever since reading French Women Don’t Get Fat -- a book, I am convinced, that single-handedly created a successful market for Greek yogurt in this country -- which has saved me from having to break down and make my own). If you’re going to have to move away from NYC’s Fairway market, try to make sure there is a Wegman’s somewhere nearby. Apparently the chain is developing its own organic farms, and they make the news quite often for being a place that treats both its customers and its employees well (ever seen any other supermarket chains that actually provides seats for its cashiers?).
Oh, and speaking of food: you know, those Amish can certainly bake. I guess they do it all the time, have an abundance, and don’t want to waste it, so they offer it up to us English who don’t mind at all paying for their sumptuous cherry or chocolate pecan pies, as well as their soft, doughy breads. Sometimes they just stick tables right out in front of their homes with things like gooey cinnamon buns for sale. I’m not sure the Amish invented whoopee pies, but they are tasty little treats as well. (I guess there’s a reason I’ve gained five pounds since moving here, despite all my walking.)
Here’s another terrific thing about
So, you see, it’s growing on me more and more every day. Just wait till the day we finally move to
Sunday, March 23, 2008
(This is my second 2008 graphic novel challenge. The book was originally published in 1949. Drake Waller is the pseudonym for the two authors Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller.)
Rust Masson, the conniving businesswoman of this fun little graphic novel, could certainly give Gordon Gekko of the film Wall Street a run for his money. It's almost as if Gekko had been based on her character, as similarly ruthless as they both are. But then, this is no original character. Throughout history, we've seen plenty of fictional (and even nonfictional) business tycoons who will stop at nothing to get their way. These characters never have any feelings or sentiment for their fellow human beings, and (in fiction at least), they tend to lose out in the end.
I find it interesting, though, that the authors of this book (basically regarded as the first real graphic novel -- defined thus, from what I understand, because it had both panels of pictures and words to tell the story, unlike earlier works that told stories with panels of pictures only) chose a woman to be their "evil businessman." All kinds of things could be said about this, since the book was written right after WWII, a period when women had more or less been running the show in this country while the men were off fighting. Granted, Rust hasn't risen to power due to years of working her way up the ranks. Rather, she set her sights on marrying the man who "owned Copper City," and when he dies, the city becomes hers. Still, she's a powerful woman who knows what she wants and sets out to get it. Quite obviously, she was never some "trophy wife," oblivious to politics and business deals.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, that's Rust on the cover. Isn't she fabulous? Isn't the whole cover fabulous? Can't you just picture an old-fashioned, newsstand-type bookstore, this book on display amongst similar-looking comic books and non-graphic crime novels? I love the front cover copy. "She was greedy, heartless, and calculating. She knew what she wanted and was willing to sacrifice anything to get it. AN ORIGINAL FULL-LENGTH NOVEL." The cover tells you everything you need to know about the black-and-white illustrations inside. I'm reminded of the stuff I never bothered to read in the funnies as a kid (Dick Tracy, Mary Worth, et al.), because, of course, those were "comic strips for grownups." They weren't funny.
"For grownups" is right. Perhaps It Rhymes with Lust isn't even on display in that old bookstore. Perhaps it's hidden behind the counter with other "unmentionables," available only by request. Or maybe one can only buy it in one of those unsavory sorts of stores, those places where ladies and gentlemen would never be seen.
After all, the book is so clearly written to appeal to what could almost be called The Collective Male Fantasy. A seasoned newspaper man has been bewitched and beguiled by the evil Rust Masson (always dressed in low cut, revealing blouses and cat suits), and he must fight her and all the temptations she offers that will certainly lead him straight to hell if he's not careful. Meanwhile, there's good, sweet Audrey Masson (Russ's stepdaughter. Always dressed in modest turtlenecks and blouses) with her cottage in the country and desire to do nothing more than take care of a man. Both women (of course) desperately want him, and it's up to him to decide which way to go. (I'm betting I don't need to tell you who wins out in the end, but not until he's had a little fun with the other.)
We could read so much into this, couldn't we? The powerful woman is the bad one. The woman who longs to play homemaker to the man is good. Men were feeling somewhat powerless, I'm sure, upon returning home from the war and finding that women had, rather than botching things up and being completely helpless without them, kept this country running just fine on their own. But I'll choose not to do all that analyzing for now. It's a fun read, one best read right after a Sunday afternoon nap, a big wad of Bazooka Joe in the mouth and a bottle of root beer handy.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Your Score: Roo
You scored 13 Ego, 12 Anxiety, and 13 Agency!
"We can't get down, we can't get down!" cried Roo.
"Isn't it fun? Pooh, isn't it fun, Tigger and I are living in a
tree, like Owl, and we're going to stay here for ever and ever.
I can see Piglet's house. Piglet, I can see your house from
here. Aren't we high? Is Owl's house as high up as this?"
"How did you get there, Roo?" asked Piglet.
"On Tigger's back! And Tiggers can't climb downwards,
because their tails get in the way, only upwards, and Tigger
forgot about that when we started, and he's only just
remembered. So we've got to stay here for ever and ever--unless
we go higher. What did you say, Tigger? Oh, Tigger says if we
go higher we shan't be able to see Piglet's house so well, so
we're going to stop here."
You scored as Roo!
ABOUT ROO: Roo lives with his mother and his friend Tigger. He is the youngest member of the Hundred Acre Wood, and loves to go along with his friends on their adventures - when Kanga will let him. No matter what happens to Roo, be it falling into the river, getting stuck in a tree, or being kidnapped by near-strangers, he enjoys ever minute of it. Roo isn't one to worry about such things. That's Kanga's job.
WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU; You are a positive, fun loving person. You take life as it comes, and feel sure that everything will be all right. You can usually find a silver lining on every cloud.
It's lucky that your friends find you so endearing, because you do tend to lean on them a lot. You are not always very self sufficient. You tend to rely on the help of your family or friends when things get tough. You don't always take the initiative to do things for yourself. You feel like you can't do a very good job at these things, so instead you ask your more capable friends and family to help you. It's time you decided to stand on your own two feet!
|Link: The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test written by wolfcaroling on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test|
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008
So I sat down to do Becky’s meme about stuff I need (i.e. what’s in my purse). I’d planned to do it last week, but then I ended up in the emergency room with a severe reaction to MSG (monosodium glutamate, for those of you who don’t know. Why is this obviously hideous ingredient still added to foods? Do you know how many people I know react to it? Even one of the nurses in the ER said to me, “Oh, I have terrible reactions to that stuff”) that was wearing an extremely clever and convincing heart attack disguise. Lesson learned: do not eat Asian food whose ingredients you do not know followed by junk food whose ingredients you do not know (no matter how delicious they may taste). Other lesson learned: avoid the emergency room like the plague, which it most likely is. I’m still waiting for whatever I’m sure I caught while there to make its appearance. And yet another lesson learned: it would be kind of nice to lie in a hospital bed for a couple of days, nurses taking care of you, if only they weren’t taking your blood/temperature/blood pressure every other second and saying, “Sorry. I know it’s been twenty hours since you ate anything, but the instructions say, ‘nothing by mouth’ until all the tests are done.” Advice to others: if you’re about to say to your spouse, “I think we need to go to the emergency room," stuff your face while your spouse is locating and putting on shoes, because once you enter through those glass doors, you will no longer be allowed to eat or drink a thing.
Anyway, back to Becky’s meme. It didn’t start out as a meme. She was just creating a brilliant blog post based on the contents of her handbag. However, she then invited readers to comment on the contents of our bags, and I found myself thinking, “Great blog post for a rainy day.” Well, maybe it’s the fact that it’s brilliantly sunny here, but this is not turning out to be a great blog post. You see, I’ve convinced myself that I’m a minimalist, and I just so hate it when the bold facts prove my convictions utterly and completely wrong. You realize I’m one who (despite always being drawn to them in shops) hates purses. I want to be hands free at all times. I’m just about to begin my grand lobby for more pockets in women’s clothing (the sorts of pockets men get to have. Why is it that men’s blazers have those wonderful inside pockets, as well as nice deep front pockets, whereas women’s blazers often have nothing more than decorative flaps where pockets ought to be?). I don’t want to throw my back out lugging around a scary, twenty-pound pocketbook full of useless items (and, I might add, one that obviously enjoys eating pens, because there’s nary a pen in sight when I need one, despite the fact I know I’ve thrown at least ten into it). I trimmed down last year, discarding everything but the bare necessities, swearing it would be something I didn’t even have to carry a good deal of the time.
I actually started on this post while lying in my hospital bed. I was worried that I might finish one of the two books I’d brought with me (yes, the only things I brought with me were my pocketbook and two books, which tells you just about all you need to know about me), so I decided writing might be a good idea, but I hadn’t brought any paper with me. Luckily, Bob had brought a whole bag full of stuff with him, figuring, I guess, he might end up having to write a sermon while hanging out in the ER for 72 hours, so I asked if I could borrow some paper from him. I began listing the contents of my handbag. I got to item #3 and began to feel a little faint. It must have been the lack of food and the loss of all that blood they’d taken. It couldn’t possibly have been that I was appalled by all the junk I haul around with me. I gave up.
Now, a few days later, I’m absolutely fine (well, except for being paranoid that there’s hidden MSG in every single food item in my fridge and pantry). I brought out my purse, started rummaging through it again, and realized it’s still full of junk (what? Those weren’t hospital hallucinations?). I just can’t bring myself to post on it all (maybe one of these days, but not now. I guess I’m not doing a very good job of embracing my inner Junkyard Junkie). So, instead of the stuff I need to have, I’m going to give you the stuff that fills up my brain (i.e. some really stupid thoughts I’ve discovered myself having lately). Meanwhile, any of you women out there (or men. I don’t want to be accused of being sexist, if you happen to be a purse-bearing sort of man) who might like to reveal the contents of your handbag/purse/pocketbook (see what a curse they are to me? I never even know what to call the damn things with my Southern/English/Yankee influences), please feel free in a blog post of your own.
And now, without further delay, Stupid Thoughts from Emily’s Brain:
Stupid Thought (ST): “Man, I can’t believe all these people out there who actually manage to write blog posts about every single book they read. I could never do that.”
Why It’s Stupid (
In Fairness to Me (IFTM): A few scribbled pages to remind myself of how books affected me do not a blog make. Also, I only read about half as many books as it seems the average book blogger reads.
ST: “He’s going to visit
IFTM: Obviously, I’m adapting well. People in these parts think a half-hour drive is, if not exactly going to
ST: “That is SUCH a cool old house! I wish I lived there.”
IFTM: It would be much cooler if it weren’t on a busy highway right next to Bob’s church. This summer, we won’t exactly be sitting out on the front porch, cranking up Amy Winehouse, and getting drunk on mint juleps.
ST: “I wonder if The Library of America ever looks for new editors.”
IFTM: It would be fun to get paid to read all those classics all day long, and to choose which ones to publish, wouldn’t it?
ST: “I’d like to learn to knit!”
IFTM: Little old ladies with arthritic hands can knit those beautiful sweaters. I most certainly ought to be able to knit more than four rows. I am not going to let two little wooden sticks with points and three skeins of yarn conquer me (yet).
I’m sure there are plenty of other stupid thoughts hanging out in popular spots in my brain, but they’re having too much fun to come out right now, so these will have to do for this post.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
All right, I’ve said it before, but I guess it’s about time I really came out and confessed: I’m a total book slut. Whore. World's #1. Call me whatever you want. I’ve got a feeling there are others out here in cyberspace, because the webzine Bookslut seems to be quite successful, and judging by the growing number of (little black, I’m sure) book blogs out here, I know I’m not the only one who keeps track of her conquests. However, I'm pretty sure no one is as bad as I am.
I’m not proud of this fact, you know; I didn’t even own up to it until I was nearly thirty. When I was in college, it was really bad, and I can remember many a time hiding the fact that I'd spent my Christmas break with, say, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy rather than Ulysses. I really do wish I could be the book connoisseur so many of my friends seem to be, and I’m still not extremely comfortable stating what I am in mixed company. I like to pretend I’m not quite so indiscriminating. I’d like others to think I’m perfectly capable of resisting a tantalizingly handsome package of bound pages.
All the symptoms are there, though. I’ll never forget when I closed the cover on Crime and Punishment. I swore to myself I was never again going to read anything that wasn’t at least as powerful, well-written, and significant. My days of sleeping around with no-good trash were over. No more would I cheapen my body and soul with the literary equivalent of Swedish fish. I went to Border’s with my list of significant works in hand, and there, front and center as I walked through the door, was Tom Corcoran’s Mango Opera. His cover was so cool. At first, I was just flirting with him a little, but then I invited him to come join me for a cappuccino at the café. From there, it was really easy to convince him to come home with me.
A couple of weeks later, after running off to the library to pick up a few more mysteries, whose names I don’t even remember, I had a bad taste in my mouth. I felt empty. What was I doing? I called my old friend The Cider House Rules. When he started hitting on me, I told him I wasn’t really in the mood, but boy did I need some of his substance. I didn’t plan to take him on a scuba diving vacation to
So, you see, no matter how much I want to change, want to be a real book connoisseur, want to be able to say things like, “Oh, I would never bring a contemporary novel or a mystery or (God forbid) some chick lit into my house. It’s 18th-and-19th-century or nothing (and preferably first editions) for me,” I just can’t. Yes, I may wake up many a morning regretting what I’ve done, but I have no ability to quit leaping into bed with Tom (Brown), (Deadeye) Dick, and Harry (Potter) when they cross my paths, first edition or not. Most of them don’t leave me longing for their phone calls after they’ve left, the way I wait with high hopes for Don Quixote to return my calls (who, of course, will never call, because he knows I’m nothing but a slut and thinks he’s not all that special to me), but that doesn't stop me. I know this is no way to behave if I want a real relationship, but I just can’t help myself.
Others seem concerned for me. I think they’d like to see me settle down. They give me classics and first editions as gifts. They encourage me to try at least to keep myself to only one book at a time. I’m hopeless when it comes to this. I can be deeply immersed in giving my whole heart and soul to The Innocence of Father Brown, but then I’ll put him down to go out to the kitchen, walk by The Moon and Sixpence, looking so attractive, and I find I just have to ask him to come out to the kitchen with me while I wait for the kettle to boil. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to tie myself down to only one at a time.
Well, you know, it’s not my fault, really. I’m sure any good psychologist would tell you my parents created this slut. What else could I possibly have become growing up in an old farmhouse full of bookcases in every nook and cranny? And it’s not exactly like they were the most chaste of beings when it came to spending hours in bed, pages spread wide, right in front of me. I know it’s less fashionable these days to blame parents for all woes, but in this instance, it makes perfect sense not to be able to think of anyone else to blame. A child would have to be awfully tough not to be affected by such an environment, either following in her parents’ footsteps or swearing off books for life.
Oh, hold on, there’s the phone. Caller ID says it’s an “unknown number.” My heart just went pitter-pat. You don’t think it could possibly be One Hundred Years of Solitude after all these years, do you?
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Hammett, Dashiel. Marcus, Steven, ed. Hammett: Complete Novels. New York: Library of America, 1999.
(The book was originally published in 1931.)
So, friends of mine in
Although I’ve read Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, both of whom I love, I’d never, for some reason, read any Hammett. Being the movie illiterate that I am, I haven’t even seen such classics as The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man (although that one featured in Shirley Damsgaard’s Witch Way to Murder, which is the last mystery I read), so this was a good “opening act” for me as far as this new book discussion group goes. What was nice about this particular book is that, although most of Hammett apparently takes place out west
Now that I’ve had this brief introduction to Hammett (and sticking to my new “give every author at least two chances rule,” I will be reading more, especially since a friend of mine upon hearing I was reading him told me to “drop everything and read The Maltese Falcon”), I can say that maybe the reason I haven’t read Hammett is that I somehow intuited I wasn’t going to like him as much as Chandler and Macdonald. That’s not to say he isn’t terrific and that I didn’t enjoy this book; it’s just to say, based on this one book, I like the other two authors better.
However, one of my father’s favorite quotes (or at least it was when we were children, apt to be complaining about how you can’t get good pizza in England or you can’t get good chocolate in America) is “Comparisons are odious,” so let’s quit comparing (although, is it really possible to write about one of these authors without comparing him to the other two?) and get down to the business of talking about the book. First of all, you may want to give yourself a double shot of testosterone before settling down in your huge, dark brown, leather chair facing the deer head on the wall, whiskey glass in one hand, cigar in other, to read this book. Then again, maybe you don't need to dose yourself as this book could serve as the double shot of testosterone you’ve needed to help you face that nasty co-worker/neighbor/other driver. I’m not complaining: must be the tomboy in me who every so often really loves a good, testosterone-laden read. Just don’t expect to find any realistic female characters.
In a (teeny-tiny) nutshell (one even the squirrels can barely find, because I so hate to give away plot), The Glass Key is about gambler and political-fixer Ned Beaumont who happens across the dead body of a Senator’s son. This is hard-boiled fiction, so naturally, we have plenty of rough-and-tough guys (including Mr. Beaumont, of course – a tall, thin, dark and handsome sort of rough-and-tough), corrupt politicians, and the mob all involved. We also have some young, angry, tough-talking ladies. And we have mysterious, threatening clues, along with someone who seems to be the obvious murderer. That’s all I’m revealing. Oh, except for the fact that you’ll also come across plenty of telephone-bells ringing (when did telephones ditch their bells and begin to ring on their own?) and people who smile tepidly, which they no longer do now that adverbs are sinful. Tell me I’m hell-bound, but I just love people who smile tepidly.
I love the matter-of-fact way these old hard-boiled novels are written. At least, I love it when I read it in an old hard-boiled novel. I’m not too keen on the fact that everyone from romance to epic-family-saga writers tries to imitate it these days. This is the genre to which it belongs. Finding it elsewhere is like finding a mastiff in the midst of a miniature poodle competition. Here’s a beautiful example of what I mean, taken from page 692, which is somewhat random, because I could have taken it from any page:
Ned Beaumont walked five blocks through the rain to a drug-store. He used a telephone there first to order a taxicab and then to call two numbers and ask for Mr. Mathews. He did not get Mathews on the wire.
Terse is also wonderful, when it’s used this way,
“Hinkle smiled with bad teeth…” (p. 662)
If I’d been describing Hinkle, I probably would have provided three or four sentences to tell you the exact state of his teeth. But, I read a book like this and think, “Gee, I wish I could be so succinct and still manage to get readers to conjure up perfect images.” Again, though, “terse” has become too trendy now, and most writers can’t pull it off nearly as well, so that instead of giving readers perfect images, they provide readers with big fat question marks taking up full pages.
I was interested that Hammett obviously wasn’t allowed to use any bad language in the book. I love the way this is handled, with such phrases as “He swore,” just as matter-of-factly as the rest of the book. However, given the lack of something as innocent as a “damn” or “hell” here or there would be, I was surprised at how extraordinarily violent the book is. I know violence is an important feature of hard-boiled novels, but I was thinking that violence in a book where no one can swear must not be quite so violent. Wrong.
At one point, Ned Beaumont (I refer to him first-and-surname, because Hammett refers to him that way throughout the book. He never becomes plain old “Ned”) is held hostage and beaten over and over again every time he stubbornly makes for the door to try to escape. I haven’t read anything so brutal in a long time (I used to be able to handle violence both in books and on film much better than I do these days, and I have to admit I was beginning to feel a little queasy after all those beatings, convinced he surely ought to be dead by now). I was dragged right in, as I always am when I read mysteries, heart pounding, wondering how on earth he was going to get himself out of this one, knowing perfectly well he would (and also knowing perfectly well that Ranger, dressed head-to-foot in black and toting mysteriously-gotten illegal weapons, wasn’t suddenly going to appear in the window, a la a Stephanie Plum mystery, to rescue him, although I was half-convinced he should). I must say, the way he did finally get loose was one of the more clever escapes I’ve read in a long time (then again, maybe I’ve just read too many Stephanie Plum books).
Despite the violence, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If it weren’t so embarrassing to admit it, I’d tell you that the poignant ending very nearly put a lump in my throat (I mean, who gets lumps in their throats reading testosterone-laden fiction?). I did a little research on Hammett after I’d finished and discovered that this novel, apparently, was his personal favorite. So, it will be onto The Maltese Falcon and others soon to see if I can figure out why he would have felt that way. Oh, and maybe it’s time to do a little re-reading of
Friday, March 07, 2008
Five Kind Things Meme
Here are the rules:
1. List five kind things you do for yourself.
2.List five kind things you do for your closest friend, partner or child.
3.List five kind things you have done for a stranger.
4. Have fun!
5. Tag five people.
1. Five things I do for myself
- Blog (I guess I do this for those who read my blog, too, but I’m doing it mostly for myself)
- Spend money on good food and drink (I’m cheap and am thus reluctant to spend money when it comes to just about everything but food and drink)
- Read (and the fact that I don’t do so 24-hours-a-day proves what an unselfish person I am)
- Write (well, one of the reasons I’m not reading 24-hours-a-day is because a huge hunk of time needs to be given to this as well)
- Luxuriate in hot baths (but not too often, because I know it’s a real waste of water, and I’d feel guilty, which would defeat the whole purpose of being kind to myself)
2. Five things I do for my closest friend, partner or child.
- Make tasty, healthy foods (but sometimes it’s just tasty food. I firmly believe it is possible to be too healthy, a.k.a. “boring,” and I imagine those for whom I do this wouldn’t consider it such a kindness if carrots and broccoli were all I ever served)
- Make them laugh (not always intentionally, but since “laughter is the best medicine” I don’t really care how I manage to achieve it, as long as I’m achieving it)
- Try not to hurt their feelings (not always an easy task)
- Buy them surprises just because I’m thinking of them (such things are much better than gifts on gift-giving occasions, aren’t they?)
- Let them interrupt me when I’m reading (even when I’m at the most exciting part of a novel. Now that qualifies me for sainthood, wouldn’t you say?)
3. Five things I have done for a stranger.
- Offered them gum/mints/candy on buses/planes/trains (I never thought to do this until someone once did it for me, and then I thought it was such a nice gesture, I decided to start doing it myself)
- Given them directions (and prayed I didn’t get them more confused than they already were)
- Picked up their litter (I don’t always do this with the most kind thoughts in my heart)
- Recommended books they might like to read (people probably think I’m nuts, but I’ve been known to do this in bookstores and libraries, despite my overwhelming shyness)
- Held doors open (I believe it’s polite to open doors period. I don’t care if you’re male or female. And if you’re letting a door swing shut on me, I consider you to be extremely rude)
I got this second one from Make Tea Not War. It’s been a while since I did any sort of food meme, I think, and I loved the “open-endedness” of this one (sort of like an essay v. multiple choice test. Guess which I always preferred?). Here are the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 food facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them)
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs
1. There isn’t much I don’t like to eat. In fact, I’ll try just about anything once, and the only things that I don’t particularly want to try are animals that I haven’t grown up eating (especially really cute ones like rabbits) and organ meats. The only other thing I can think of that I just really don’t like (and I mentioned this in some other food meme once) are sundried tomatoes.
2. Every day I teeter on the brink of becoming a vegetarian. It’s gotten harder and harder to justify my meat-eating habits now that I live in farm country and walk by the cows in back of our home every day. Right now, it’s Lent, so I’m not buying meat, as we give it up every Lent. I like this new term I’ve discovered: flexitarians, who basically don’t eat meat unless it’s offered to them by others (which actually is what we do during Lent. We don’t refuse meat that’s served to us by others, figuring fellowship is more important than strict rules about what we are and are not eating). If I become a full-time flexitarian, will those of you who do eat meat promise to invite me over to your houses every time you’re having hotdogs?
3. Although, occasionally I love a good dinner out at a good restaurant, especially when accompanied by good friends (and most especially when I’m somewhere like Chicago where fantastic restaurants are a dime a dozen), overall, I much prefer staying home and cooking my own meals.
4. I usurped the kitchen very early on in our marriage. Preparing food is relaxing for me, and I worry too much about what might happen if Bob did the cooking (Frito, habanero, and cheese casserole, anyone?). However, I let him cook Chinese food for us (and even for others), as he’s much better at that than I am.
5. I read cookbooks cover-to-cover and very rarely follow recipes to the tee when cooking. I do when I’m baking, because I don’t trust my own ability with chemistry. However, cooking is much more a matter of taste than chemistry, which is probably why I prefer it to baking. That’s not to say that I don’t prefer eating baked goods to cooked goods, which I often do. I’d just rather let someone else do the baking.
Tagging: same five as above (only because I'm too lazy to go back and link to others, not because I don't secretly want everyone in my blog roll to do this one, so consider yourself tagged here if you see yourself over there to the right).
Next week's meme (because you know, there has to be one): Becky's stuff in my handbag meme.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I recently told this story to someone who said, “That’s one of the funniest telecommuting stories I’ve ever heard. That ought to be in a book.” Well, how about a blog instead of a book?
Mandarine has informed me that I’m not allowed to refer to myself as a Luddite anymore, and he’s right. After all, I telecommute, which a true Luddite would never do, and I’ve created more than one blog, and I’ve even been known to copy HTML code when needed (although don’t ask me to remember anything I copy). However, although I may not (in true Luddite form) be destroying mechanized looms, I’m still on some level afraid of them, always sure they’re just going to quit on me and that I’m going to be left stranded in the middle of a task, unable to produce the material someone somewhere is demanding I produce. This fear, like most, is usually buried way down in the bottom of my brain as I go about my day, but it doesn’t take much to get it to come popping up to the surface. Thus, one morning sometime last year, I turned on my computer to find I couldn’t get into the company network. Of course, this happened to be on a day when I had some important report or manuscript deadline or something, and I was completely dependent on network access.
Panic set in. The one good thing about computer panic at our company is that the extension for our IT helpdesk is extremely easy to remember. All of our extensions begin with “1,” and the helpdesk extension is 1911. How can anyone forget that? (I mean, the inability to get into the network is an emergency right up there with car accidents and intruders in the house, isn’t it?) It’s a very lucky thing for me that the extension is so easily remembered, because when I can’t get into the network, I don’t have access to the document that provides everyone’s phone extension, and, being the impractical person that I am, I’ve never bothered to print out that document, always thinking I can just get an extension from our receptionist if I’m not online. Well, at 7:30 a.m., our IT people are around (do those guys ever sleep?), but our receptionist isn’t. You’re out of luck if you don’t know the helpdesk extension.
Anyway, here I am in panic mode, so I pick up the phone to call the helpdesk (whose extension I can remember even in panic mode), and my call doesn’t go through. Instead, I get a rather strange dial tone (typical!). Now worried that the whole system up at office headquarters is down (sometimes everything goes out up there: computers, phones, and all), I re-dial and manage to get through to the helpdesk. As is often the case, our extremely helpful techie indicates that everything is fine up there, and he has no idea what might be the matter with my connection. Am I sure my ISP is working? Yes, I’m sure. Did I try rebooting? (Yes, even I know to do that much before releasing the reins to panic.) He suggests I try rebooting again, which I do, and due to some mystery well beyond human reason and logic, it works this time, thus making me look like a complete liar for telling him I’d already tried rebooting. So I thank him profusely as I always do and get to work.
This happened to be the morning after Bob had been up half the night, for reasons I can no longer remember (probably he was reading a Harlan Coben mystery or something). He had decided he was going to sleep in and had asked me to try to be quiet and not to bother him. No problem. My office in those days was nowhere near the bedroom, and I didn’t plan to have any visiting marching bands before 10:00 a.m. or anything. I settled in for a nice quiet morning of undisturbed work while Bob slept.
When I’m working, I don’t tend to be someone who looks out the window all that often. Thus, when the doorbell rang shortly after 8:00 a.m., I was yanked out of cyberspace and looked up and out the window to see two cop cars sitting in the driveway. Huh? Why would there be two cops coming to our house? Luckily, I was dressed in something other than a tank top and boxer shorts (which isn’t always the case in the summertime), and I raced down the stairs to answer the door. Meanwhile, Bob was yanked out of dreamspace and jumped out of bed to look out the window himself to see two cop cars sitting in the driveway.
I opened the door, and the cop standing there said,
“We got a 911 call from this house.”
I looked at her, blankly I’m sure, and said, “You did?”
“Nobody called 911 from this house.” Then it hit me. Yes, I had called 911. I’d been in such a panic over the computer that when I’d picked up the phone to call the helpdesk, I’d dialed the extension without first dialing the office number. That was why my first call hadn’t gone through. Doing my best Idiot imitation, I’m explaining to the cop that, oh yes, wait a minute, I did (silly me!) happen to dial 911 this morning. (I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to dial 911 unless it’s a real emergency, isn’t it? Or is that just some urban legend perpetuated at teenagers' slumber parties? Somebody at 2:30 a.m. knowingly and sincerely tells everyone, “You know, my friend so-and-so once dialed 911 when there was no emergency, and he was sent off to reform school, and we haven’t heard from him since.”) Luckily, the cop seems to be much more upset about the fact that none of the houses on our street has clearly-marked house numbers at the end of their drives, telling me how they had a terrible time finding our house and how dangerous that is if anyone ever has a fire or something (what? The firemen wouldn’t be able to see the smoke billowing up from one of the seven houses that were on the dead-end road? But I'm not going to argue with a cop), than she is about my false 911 call.
Idiot is mumbling, “Yes, yes, you’re right,” when Bob suddenly emerges at the top of the stairs, hastily-thrown-on shirt half-unbuttoned (the jeans, thankfully at least, were fully buttoned), hair uncombed, wanting to know what’s going on. Idiot begins praying to herself that he doesn’t look too much like Mr. Wildman who might have someone hidden in the closet, someone who was trying to dial 911 earlier this morning. You know how on TV and in movies, when someone like that suddenly appears on the scene, the cop gets suspicious and really begins to investigate? Well, luckily, we weren’t on TV or in the movies. The Idiot repeated again how she’d dialed an extension without first dialing the office number, the cop repeated the need for house numbers on the street, and then she left, which was a very good thing in this case, but left me a little nervous for those who might actually be held captive in Mr. Wildman's closet in my former town of residence.
Let’s see: mysterious outage that can’t be explained. Peaceful morning ruined by the arrival of cops. Husband, probably not for the first time, lamenting the fact he married the Idiot. Is it any wonder I fear mechanized looms? But don't worry. There's no way on earth the Idiot could figure out how to destroy the damn things.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
You are Spider-Man
|You are intelligent, witty,|
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the "Which Superhero am I?" quiz...
Not only can I climb walls, but, after getting this one from Charlotte, I've discovered I can also aid you in stringing two thoughts together. (However, it really bothers me that the comma is facing the wrong direction in this picture, so maybe I'm not so open-minded after all.)
You Are a Comma
You are open minded and extremely optimistic.
You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.
You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.
You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.
Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to.
(But with so many competing interests, you friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)
You excel in: Inspiring people
You get along best with: The Question Mark