Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
When we met up with Hobs and Dorr last month for hiking in Acadia National Park, we afterwards decided to have dinner in Bar Harbor. Dinner at Lompoc's (a nod to Hobs's California roots, although, according to our waiter, the restaurant was not named after that) included drinks from the cocktail list -- the sort of concoctions my father, in his younger days, would have referred to as "drinks for women and children." We 21st-century, food-network-trained drinkers like to think of them as "chances to expand our palate," which they most certainly did (the side effects of that being an expanded tongue that is not easy to hold). I can't even begin to tell you what was in mine. Nor do I know exactly what (I'm guessing at least vodka and blueberries?) was in the blueberry martini we stopped at a bar to have after that drink we had with dinner.
What I do know is that we should not, then (or at least I should not then) have been allowed to roam free in Sherman's Bookstore. Roam free, however, we did, commenting loudly on signs that blew down and hit us, as well as books. I'm glad we did, though. You see, this is when I discovered, as Hobs read dramatically to us from absurd cover copy and endorsements, that I am not alone when it comes to mocking cover copy and endorsements. (In fact, Hobs has me beat. Go have a fancy cocktail and a blueberry martini with him and see what I mean.)
His reading was so apropos. At the time, I was nearly finished reading Quinn Cummings's (of QC Report fame) Notes from the Underwire, and I had been so disgusted by two of the three cover endorsements. (The third, Bob Tarte, caught my eye. I must look him up. I mean, how can I not be interested in what someone who wrote a book called Enslaved by Ducks has to say?)
It's not as though the cover endorsements had any effect on me. I've been reading Quinn's blog faithfully for over two years. As soon as the book was released, I ordered it from Powell's, having no idea who'd endorsed it. I would have done so regardless of who had. But then I got my copy and began to look at it. I read the cover endorsement from Jen Lancaster, "Charming, hilarious, and just snarky enough to be ultimately satisfying."
"Jen Lancaster?" I thought. Who's she to be judging the likes of Quinn Cummings? She probably read it, seething the whole time that Quinn can write intelligent, bespectacled, subtly- wry circles around her. I finished the book and felt Quinn ought to be outraged to have this author endorsing her work, even if she does happen to be a bestseller. Really, it's like having Jackie Collins endorse Dorothy Parker or something.
Then there's the quote from USA Today on the back cover: "Erma Bombeck with an edge." I'm sorry. You could show me a portrait of Erma Bombeck painted by Picasso, all edges -- well, and a few points -- and no way in hell would I think, "Ahhh...sort of like Quinn Cummings."
Don't get me wrong. I love Erma Bombeck for what she was. But nothing Quinn writes encourages such thoughts as, "Oh, yes, green grass on that side of the septic tank." Quinn is not the typical 1960s suburban housewife trying to make something funny out of that dismal life. Quinn is leading her own, fascinating, 21st-century-female life and giving us an achingly honest and screamingly funny description of it, while letting us know how human she is and having no qualms when it comes to self deprecation or admitting that this life is often very sad.
Just like her blog, it's laugh-out-loud funny. It's annoy-your-husband-because-you're-laughing-so-hard-and he's-not-a-part-of-this-uproariously-good-time-you're-having funny. Did I mention laugh until the tears stream down your cheeks? I didn't? Shame on me!
Go on. What are you waiting for? I've been raving about Quinn ever since I discovered her blog. She's ten times funnier than I am. If you're reading me, you really ought to be reading her. Get her book. Now.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack? "A book without food is like a day without sunshine," I always say. Not that I really mind days without sunshine (just as I don't at all mind reading a book with no food to pair with it. But if I had to do that for days and days on end, well...), you see. In fact I love a nice, rainy day, which is almost always good for curling up with tea and toast and a book. But, really, I don't have a favorite reading snack. The food I eat, like the books I read, depends on my mood.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? If they belong to me, and they are nonfiction, I will mark them. I find myself doing quite a bit of arguing in the margins, when I'm not resorting to the boring old, "So true!" I don't mark up fiction much, unless I know I'm going to be writing a blog post about it or attending a book discussion meeting.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? Bookmarks, and I have lots and lots and lots of them, and still appreciate every single new one I get.
Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Both, but many of you have heard me say that I don't believe anything I read except fiction.
Hard copy or audiobooks? I listen to a few audiobooks every year, but I much prefer to read myself.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put down a book at any point? I stop wherever, knowing I can never plan when a phone might ring, cat might start meowing pitifully, stomach might start growling, husband might desperately need me to find a blue sock, etc. Also, I am someone who takes a book with me everywhere I go. If I'm waiting in line at the grocery store, I can't exactly say to the person behind me, "Just let me get to the end of this chapter, please, and then I'll check out."
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away? (Well, I used to worry I was pretty anal retentive and had at least a couple of toes over the OCD line until I read this lovely question, which has convinced me that I most certainly must not.) Never, which is probably why I only vaguely know what half the words I use mean.
What are you currently reading? I'm down to these four right now: The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift, Ill Wind by Nevada Barr, and The Village by Marghanita Laski (which means there is something terribly wrong, and I am due to pick up at least three more very soon).
What was the last book you bought? This is pathetic! I honestly can't remember. Let me think a minute and get back to you...
Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? Ummm, I think I answered that question two questions ago.
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? Every hour of every minute of every day, if I could, and in any comfortable spot, but beds are almost always nice places to read.
Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? Stand alones. Series are problematic for those of us who have only just discovered that we don't have those couple of toes over the OCD line, because, you know, you might think you have to start with the first one and then read all of them (in order), and it may be an old series, and some of them may be out of print and hard to get...(You know how it is, but those of us with all our body parts firmly on this side of the OCD line need not worry about such things, so perhaps we'll soon discover that we LOVE series.)
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? Unfortunately, I thrust Jack Finney's Time and Again on anyone who even whispers "New York City" to me. And, well, you know, then there's what some might call my obsession with David Sedaris.
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc). I fantasize about organizing all the fiction by author's last name and all the rest by subject and title. But everyone knows that fantasy is not reality, so you will never be able to find what you're looking for on my shelves unless you ask me (for some odd reason, I usually have a vague idea of where things are, despite the fact that Charles Darwin seems to be having tea with Maureen Dowd and Jack London).
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
1. High school. Some of you have heard me say that high school nearly made a non-reader out of this voracious reader and ruined lots of great literature for me by introducing it to me at an age at which I could neither understand nor appreciate it. What did we read most in high school? Short stories. And I did not have the sorts of teachers who seemed to care about making them relevant or bringing them to life for me. (God knows how I made those As in English. Must have been my ability to BS or something.)
2. A short attention span. I know that makes no sense, but hear me out here. In order to hold my attention, I need something that invites me in and asks me to stay awhile, that entices me with interesting little details and tidbits, that lets me get to know it. Most short stories are kicking me out the door by the time I decide that, why yes, I would like another cup of tea and slice of cake, and please, tell me what happened after she left you at the train station.
Things seem to have changed this year, though. First, I read The Twilight of the Gods, got to the end of it, and found myself craving more, very disappointed that it was the only published collection of stories by Richard Garnett. Then, I decided to read Richard Yates's Collected Stories (maybe it's not short stories. Maybe it's authors named "Richard" I like), each and every one of which invited me in for tea and cake. As I drew near to its end, I went browsing our bookshelves looking for more short stories (not hard to find since I'm married to a former high school English teacher. I'm sure, if I'd had him, I would have wound up loving short stories. However, I would not be married to him, because he does not believe in teachers marrying students, even former students. So I sacrificed loving the short story in order to marry the man I love).
I pulled from those shelves Viking's The Portable Dorothy Parker. I've always enjoyed Dorothy Parker (being a fan of light verse. To hell with the critics -- critics never like anything that's truly fun, do they? After all, she was a critic, so they're criticizing one of their own, and she could write circles around most calling themselves critics today), but I hadn't read too many of her short stories. I bought this book at a library sale a few years ago after watching the movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, and there it sat ever since, unread, until now (I highly recommend it. The poems and stories are great, but the most fun are her reviews. I'm in the midst of the section on plays from Vanity Fair and am laughing out loud at almost every one, a nice antidote for the depression caused by both her stories and Richard Yates's -- although her stories will make you laugh. His won't).
You can tell I'm reading Dorothy Parker (a Queen of Digression), because it's taken me this long to get to the point of this post, which is to post my thoughts on a movie, the aforementioned Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Long before I knew what a blog was (maybe even before blogs existed. I'd have to check that), I started keeping book journals where I jotted down my thoughts and feelings about every book I read. One of these days, I plan to start posting some of those "from the vault" essays, but today, since I am in the midst of reading Dorothy Parker, I thought it would be fun to post from my companion journal, the one I keep for movies and plays (which I have to admit, is not as well kept as the book journals. I often go long periods forgetting -- or being too lazy to bother -- to write about movies and plays, but I never forget a book). So, here you go:
(Note: you don't know HOW badly I wanted to edit this piece. So much of it needs to be reworded, but I've left it in its original form, word-for-word for you.)
(The answer is "yes," 2 1/2 years later.)
Date: April 21, 2007
Movie: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
Bob DVRed this one some time ago, thinking I might like it. Like it, I certainly did, but it was an extraordinarily disturbing movie. Poor Dorothy Parker comes off as an extremely unstable, distraught, and unhappy woman -- self-destructive in all the classic ways.
It's funny, because when Bob and I first started watching it, our comments to each other ran along these lines, "Man, wouldn't it have been so cool to have been part of the Algonquin Round Table?" "Can you imagine sitting around with all those people?" By the end of the movie, my thoughts were more like, "Thank God I've never been a part of something like that."
I'd like to know how true-to-life the movie actually was (as always, I'm led to wanting to read more: more by Dorothy Parker and more about her). I always find it so sad to discover that what I thought were a bunch of brilliant minds were really just a bunch of superficial egoists, drowning their depression in oceans of alcohol.
Of course, I never get away from accepting the fact that most brilliant minds are combined with an ultra-sensitivity that makes living in this world extremely difficult. These people often have to self medicate in order to survive. I've long since gotten away from wondering what they would have been like without the alcohol or the cocaine addiction, because I'm not so sure they could have produced what they did without their addictions.
What I found saddest about Dorothy Parker as portrayed in this movie was the fact that she was just such a typical woman trying so hard not to be a woman. Everyone else could see she was making mistakes in her relationships with men. Everyone else could see, despite her wry wit and less than flattering observations about love that she was dying to be madly in love with someone who was madly in love with her. Men were her downfall, and they were all both fascinated and somewhat repelled by her.
The movie was beautifully filmed. I loved the dark scenes of her little apartment life, the overcrowded Algonquin with all its dark wood, and the "Great-Gatsby-ish" garden party scene. I think the 1920s as portrayed in film are one of my favorite eras. I like the clothes both the men and women wore, the way everyone holds glasses with unidentified alcoholic beverages in them, and the way the men light cigarettes for women (oh, if only all that glamorous smoking with those long cigarette holders hadn't gone on to kill everyone, huh?). It must be really fun to get to dress up in that garb.
So, yet another bleak movie that's piqued my interest in picking up some bleak books. Let's see whether or not I do.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
1. Computers and printers hate each other, would much rather not talk to each other ever, and take it out on me (I guess because I'm always trying to get them to get along). This means that I could work for any company in the world and still have days like today, in which, instead of getting any real work done, I spend six hours trying to hook up a printer/fax machine that still isn't working properly, and I am doomed always to have to resort to "work-around" solutions.
2. The people who work in IT at every company are absolute saints. This week, I met St. Skip (who is already sick of me and how ditzy and inept I am, I'm sure). St. Skip had the presence of mind to tell me that it's good to be a Luddite. We spent so much time on the phone chatting today (yes, I was chatting on the phone. See how desperate I was?) while waiting for things to load and unload that I feel like we've known each other for years (it helps that he's from Philly, although living in California now, and actually knows this area).
3. People who can't string two coherent sentences together will always think they have a great idea for a book and want someone to publish it. Most likely, they will approach a completely inappropriate publishing company (say, an academic publishing company when they've got a memoir all about the time they were abducted by aliens who took them on a roller coaster ride to their galaxy).
4. I will always think there are enough hours in the day to accomplish the twelve things I have on my to-do list, will always forget that I might have to spend 3 hours chatting with St. Skip or the author who was abducted by aliens, and will always get to the end of the day despairing that only three things have been crossed off the to-do list. (Even when I have promised, promised, promised myself that with this job things are going to be different.)
5. Every day, some email will appear in my box that might as well have been written in Chinese for all that I can understand it. Usually, it has something to do with systems and is chock-full of acronyms.
1. A company that is truly set up for telecommuting. What? You've sent me a phone? And that phone plugs into my wireless router? And now people call me on a number with a California area code, and I never see the bill, and I never have to remember to submit said bill for reimbursement in a timely fashion to avoid having accounting people screaming for my head on a platter? How cool is that???
2. I am promptly addressing all emails, keeping them sorted and organized, immediately deleting what can be deleted, and will never again have five billion email messages hanging around with nowhere to go and no time to organize them (although I might get a wee bit behind on days that I spend urging computers and printers to get along with each other).
3. A user-friendly, intuitive, company computer system. Really. I'm supposed to get some training on it, and I suppose I will, but I've already been playing around with it and have figured out quite a lot, because it's well-designed and makes sense.
4. Already knowing so many people on my first day of the job (lots of colleagues from the company I worked prior to my last job now work for this company). It was so nice to log into my email on that first day and to have so many people welcoming me back and telling me they'd missed me.
5. Feeling like I can't wait to get to work every morning, and that what? This is a weekend? And I have to wait till Monday to contact people and pursue all these thousands of ideas I have? (Okay, this feeling won't last, I am sure, but right now, I am loving the job and am full of ideas of things I want to do.)
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Dorr tagged me for this on Facebook and then brought it to the blogosphere. I thought I'd do it here first and then post it on my FB page.
Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!
Describe Yourself: Food Matters (Mark Bittman) -- so do books, but food is very important. Food and books together? Well, nothing matters much more than that, does it?
How do you feel: Stiff (Mary Roach) -- did a new workout routine the other day
Describe where you currently live: Main Street (Sinclair Lewis) -- truly, although it's not called that, but it's the main street right in the center of town
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates) -- what it sounds like, not the dreary place it is in the book
Your favorite form of transportation: (anyway you can get me) Cross Channel (Julian Barnes)
Your best friend is: Sure of You (Armistead Maupin) -- more sure of me than I am
You and your friends are: A Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah) -- and we like it that way
What’s the weather like: In the Fall (Jeffrey Lent) -- which means it's gorgeous
Favorite time of day: The Twilight of the Gods (Richard Garnett) -- which gives way to Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers)
If your life was a(n): A Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby) -- I don't really understand this one but like the idea of my life being a polysyllabic spree
What is life to you: The Discomfort Zone (Jonathan Franzen) -- just when I think I'm getting comfortable...
Your fear: The Killing Kind (John Connolly) -- don't we all fear them?
What is the best advice you have to give: Equal Rights (Terry Pratchett) -- for all, everywhere
Thought for the Day: The Black Spider (Jeremias Gotthelf) -- I love spiders, and I saw a beautiful black one spinning a web just outside our kitchen window today
How I would like to die: A High Wind in Jamaica (Richard Hughs) -- well, the Jamaica Part at least, and I wouldn't mind its being windy and maybe being out on the water, but nothing violent or painful, please
My soul’s present condition: Lud-in-the-Mist (Hope Mirrlees) -- right on the edge of Fairy Land
Saturday, September 05, 2009
But I was completely unsuspecting. After all, this time Dorr and Bob and the ever-vigilant Muttboy were all going to be with me. That was the first mistake I made: assuming Bob and Muttboy would be with us. You see, the minute we hit the trails, Dorr and I were left far behind as the other three pretty much disappeared out of sight, whisked off under the maniacal powers of The Hobgoblin.
I have to admit that poor Muttboy did his valiant best to resist those powers, so worried was he that Dorr was in extreme danger. He was going to be sure she didn't get lost in the woods, and he seems to have a few magical charms of his own, having enough influence over The Hobgoblin that he was every so often released from The Hobgoblin's powers to rush back down the path to assure that Dorr had not fallen down a well or into a ravine or suffered some other such Lassie-like fate.
I also have to admit that I easily fell for The Hobgoblin's dastardly plan. You see, I was busy being impressed with how patient Dorr, someone who has all kinds of backpacking and hiking experience (not to mention someone who is in far better shape than I am with all her bike-race training, yoga practice, and possible-marathon training), was with my climb-up-on-my-hands-and-knees-and-slide-down-on-my-butt-if-I-have-to style of making it up and down mountains. I thought she was merely being kind as we began to lag farther and farther behind, and she chose to stick with me rather than accompanying the boys. Little did I know that we were both under The Hobgoblin's spell. She had no choice but to stick with me, as it was all part of his plan.
We went on two hikes that day, all above the Sand Beach area in Acadia National Park. I should have been on my toes. However, I wasn't. I paid no attention when halfway through the second hike, during a brief moment when Dorr and I had caught up to Bob and The Hobgoblin and Muttboy, Bob's cell phone began beeping. The Hobgoblin had obviously drained the phone's battery. He suggested we all turn off our cell phones so that we didn't all end up with dead batteries. Without questioning, Dorr and I obliged. I guess I was just way too busy discussing books and books and more books (oh yeah, and jobs and religion and hiking, and a few other things) to be on the alert.
But then, we came to a fork in the road with the familiar wooden-arrow signposts marking the trails. Bob is always ahead of me on trails (because I don't feel like jogging up and down mountains), but he never fails to stop at these forks to wait for me and to make sure I continue on the right trail. I like hiking this way with him, because it allows me to hike alone (which I love to do) while knowing that if something happens to me, someone knows where I am and isn't all that far away from me. However, he seems to have a real fear of losing me on the trail. Thus, I can only surmise that The Hobgoblin had cast a mighty strong spell, because no one was waiting for us as we approached the fork in the road.
I still didn't think anything of it. Being women, Dorr and I chose the logical path, the one with the sign that read "Sand Beach." After all, we were reaching the end of the trail, and I knew we were parked in the Sand Beach parking area.
Soon, though, Dorr began to get an eerie feeling. She was quite sure we'd already been on this path, that we were now climbing down the same trail we had ascended. We were not supposed to be doing this. The trail we had picked was a loop, because I avoid going up and down the same way whenever possible. Eventually, I too, began to get the same eerie feeling.
We met a man coming the opposite direction on the trail with a big black dog who could have been Muttboy's cousin. We asked if he'd seen two men with another black dog. He looked a bit concerned as he told us that he hadn't seen them and asked where we were headed. When I said, "The Sand Beach parking area," he said, "You're on the right trail then."
The right trail to get back to Sand Beach, but the wrong trail to find Bob and Muttboy, who were obviously being carried deep into the woods by The Hobgoblin. We couldn't call them, because Bob's cell phone battery was dead. Had he managed to escape and had found someone to lend him a cell phone (something Bob has done many a time), desperately trying to reach us, we'd have been oblivious, as both our cell phones were turned off per The Hobgoblin's instructions.
We were wise. We didn't panic. We knew where we were. We knew how to get back to the car. Dorr was the wiser of the two, though, because when I suggested we go back to the parking lot, she thought it best for us just to continue to the end of this trail, where we had begun the hike. This decision must have broken The Hobgoblin's spell (although I like to think that Muttboy's persistence, when he went off in search of us and couldn't find us, put a few cracks in the spell as well). We discovered all three at another intersection, The Hobgoblin in the midst of taking them back up the mountain and away from all civilization forever. Once the spell had been broken, The Hobgoblin and Bob (obviously still under his spell) tried to explain that we had not been hiking the Sand Beach trail. The Hobgoblin tried to sound concerned, relating how they'd frantically hiked a good ways back up both trails to try to find us (the spell lingered just a bit more late that night, after we'd all had dinner together, and Bob told me how fast The Hobgoblin had hurried up and down those trails in search of us).
I, however, at long last, was paying attention, and was not fooled. The Hobgoblin may be charming company, but I now know that's how he gets me off my guard. Who knows where he and Bob and Muttboy might be now if Dorr and I had not spoiled his plans? I'm pretty sure this little episode, had it not failed, was an experiment meant to be included in a book he's writing. It will be a transcendent book (although Dorr just might disagree with that).
Thursday, September 03, 2009
"I wish certain parts of the house to be reopened," I said, "and to be furnished, exactly as they were furnished at this time last year."Betteredge gave his imperfectly-pointed pencil a preliminary lick with his tongue. "Name the parts, Mr. Jennings!" he said loftily."First, the inner hall, leading to the chief staircase.""First, the inner hall," Betteredge wrote. "Impossible to furnish that, sir, as it was furnished last year -- to begin with.""Why?""Because there was a stuffed buzzard, Mr. Jennings, in the hall last year. When the family left, the buzzard was put away -- he burst.""We will except the buzzard, then." (p. 454)