Thursday, August 30, 2007

Still MORE from the Attic

Okay, by popular demand (all right, all right: by two requests, but don’t say I don’t listen), I’ve decided to select two stories from My Story Book, written when I was nine or ten or so. I have to explain that I had cut out pictures from cards, stickers, etc.; pasted them onto notebook paper, which I’d stapled together; and then written stories about them. I’ve kept all original spelling and grammar (especially my interesting paragraph breaks) intact in these reprints.

Betsy’s Butterflys [love the alliteration. This one is accompanied by a picture of two white butterflies with orange-tipped wings hovering around some yellow flowers]

Betsy loved butterflys. She loved to look out her window at the beautiful butterflys she saw [I’m wondering where Betsy lived that butterflies seemed to be a dime a dozen from her window, certainly not in my hometown in N.C.].

One day she was looking out her window and saw the prettiest butterflys she had ever seen in her whole life [which is saying a lot, given the seemingly huge butterfly population right out her window]. Then she went to get a jar to catch them [it must have been one of those magical jars that could turn itself into a net and back]. When she got outside she caught two that were sitting on some flowers [on second thought, maybe Betsy was a butterfly whisperer and knew how to lure them without a net, since it all sounds so easy]. They were taken inside and put in her room. Betsy had forgotten that Butterflys [note the sudden capitalization of the word. Think it’s meant to add dramatic flair?] need air to live. She forgot to punch holes in the top of the jar and they died. [I have a sneaky suspicion the demise of the butterflies is based on a true story concerning some other sort of creature in a jar, but don’t quote me on that.]

But now when Betsy catches Butterflys she always lets them go. [Sort of like in those oh-so-popular-and-very-wise posters from the 1970s telling us if we love something to let it go and that if it comes back to us, it’s ours, but if it doesn’t, it never really was.]

The End [My "The Ends" in this collection are very fancy, almost as if
each story was written just to be able to produce these works of art at the

The Smart Goldfish [accompanied by a picture of a goldfish swimming among some sea plants]

Once there was a very smart goldfish. All the other fish would call him Smarty Larty. He would never go into old caves in case of a whale or octopus [because we all know how extremely dangerous octopi are to goldfish and how whales lurk in caves]. He would never go near plants that he could get tangled up in [the future scuba diver here knowing how treacherous it can be to get tangled up in plants]. He would always just miss them as he went by [marvelous
attention to detail wouldn’t you say, since the picture shows him swimming with such plants?]

One day it came to be the day (a very sad day) [I just love the way I put that parenthetical bit in there] that Smarty Larty wasn’t smart at all. Smarty Larty was having great fun, not watching out at all and he was killed by a shark [that’s what can happen to you, you know, when you’re having great fun].

But don’t you feel sorry for him now [sounds like I'd just seen Song of the South, doesn't it?] because he knew he was smart, and he acted smart, and he bragged that nothing could outsmart him [hmmm…seems that even in those days I wasn’t real big on pseudo-intellectuals. Also
seems that the easiest way to get to that fancy "The End" was just to kill off my characters].

The End

I have a feeling that the reason this little book of stories survived is what comes at the end. I’m going to risk the wrath of my two sisters, whose permission I did not get for these before making the decision to reprint them. Right after the Smarty Larty story is this story:

The Little Story Writer
Once upon a time there was a little girl. Now, this little girl loved to write stories. Whenever her big sister would write a story, she would write a story, too. She wrote about Teddy Bears [that was the first "book" I ever wrote at age 7, and I do still have that one], and her home state
[don’t remember this at all], and her father’s home state [nor this one]. She often wrote books with little stories in them.

One day her big sister found one of her story books that was unfinished [not hard to find one of those lying about the house. My storybooks were like diaries, usually fizzling out before
they were complete]. So her big sister wrote in that story book. The little girl was very surprised the next day, when she read in the book. "Why this story’s about me!" she cried, and so it was.

The End

And this one follows that:

Another Surprise
Once there was a family of writers. Well, almost a family of writers. The oldest sister wrote sad or serious stories (and poems). The middle sister wrote funny stories (she used to write dumb poems). The youngest sister wrote short stories. The mother wrote all kinds of stories. (The brother and father didn’t or couldn’t write.) [Actually, the father did write, but since he
was a professor, it was nothing his children had read, so we must have assumed he didn’t.] One day the youngest sister wrote a book full of short stories. At the end of the book the oldest sister wrote a story about the youngest sister. Then another story appeared at the end of the book. It was about the almost family of writers. At the end of the story, whoever wrote the story said that the oldest, middle, and youngest sisters would all become very good writers,
because they already are.

The End (Now we have to wait for the youngest
brother to learn to
write.) [And we all know that he became a very good writer
as well.]

So, that’s how it all began, but one day they all died. Don’t feel sorry for them, now, though, because we all know everybody has to die sometime.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More from the Attic

I spent a good deal of my childhood writing, and then either tearing up and throwing away what I’d written or burning it. As an adult, I’ve always been extremely annoyed with my former self for being so impetuous. Most recently, I was jealous of Courtney when, earlier this year, she posted on what she’d found in one of her childhood diaries (and now she’s posted more), thinking: why couldn't I have been smart enough to save what I wrote like she did? Then I started going through boxes of stuff in our attic and came across a little book of short stories I’d written circa age ten or so, and a diary I kept when I was in eighth grade. I am beginning to understand completely now why I felt compelled to get rid of all evidence that I ever put pencil to paper (yes, most of this stuff is written in pencil) between the ages of seven and fifteen, and I'm patting myself on the back for being smart enough to know I wouldn't want to revisit this stuff, even at age thirty-or-forty-or-fifty something.

I’m very surprised this diary has survived and I’m not sure why I kept it. Most of my childhood diaries were started with great gusto, long entries every day, and then they fizzled out before I’d even made it a quarter of the way through the thing, with final entries as informative as this, “I’m bored,” or “[My sibling-of-the-moment] is so mean [always written in the hopes that said sibling would find it, read it, and feel appropriately remorseful].” This is the only one, as far as I know, that has survived (then again, remember I’m the one who had completely forgotten writing a wedding fairytale a mere twelve years ago. Maybe I’ve got a whole box full of childhood diaries down in the basement or something).

Bob and I whizzed through the little storybook together, discovering I was quite a morbid child, these being some of my characters: a butterfly captured by a girl who forgets to give it air to breathe, so it dies; a girl who has a secret boyfriend who is very poor (although, apparently, what little money he has, he spends on her) and sick and no one ever sees him except her; a fish who thinks he’s extremely smart and clever who meets his end when he discovers he’s not smart enough to outwit a shark. The diary, although not lacking in embarrassing passages, is much more interesting, so thought I’d share some of the thirteen-and-fourteen-year-old Emily with you.

Lest you think I’ve always been the extremely kind, tolerant, minister’s wife I’m sure I am at this point in my life, here are some quotes concerning my feelings about classmates,

“I don’t want [my best friend Karen, who had recently taken up smoking] to turn out like all those other dumb butts [no pun intended, I’m sure] who think they’re so cool, especially Chad. How can all those stupid idiots fall for him? He thinks he’s too cool. You should see him strutting around with his cigarette.” (Three years later, I’d start smoking, a habit I didn’t manage to break until I was nearly 30. I wish my thirteen-year-old self had been around to kick my sixteen-year-old, dumb-butt self when I made that decision.)

“Andrea is the kind of girl who makes me feel like throwing up every time I see her. She thinks she’s so pretty.”

“Some other awful girls are:
Ladonna Brown
Theresa Chamberlain (better known as THING)
Carole Slater (better known as Carole Slutter).”
(What I want to know is: when and where were the “Heathers” try-outs when I was thirteen?)

And, for all those of you who think my siblings and I grew up in a Brady Bunch household, here’s how I was getting along with them at this point in time. I have to admit, I’m quite proud of my logic:

“I wish Forsyth, Lindsay, and Ian wouldn’t all call me a Goodie Two Shoes. It’s so stupid, and I hate it! I’m not a Goodie Two Shoes. Besides, Lindsay’s always telling me how selfish I am. How can I be selfish and a Goodie Two Shoes at the same time?” (Quite obviously, I was keeping this diary well-hidden from prying eyes, because if they’d read the previous quotes, I’m pretty sure they’d have been calling me something else.)

Here are some things that haven’t changed much:

“I seem to like guys who have a good sense of humor.” (Anyone who knows Bob can attest to this unchanged fact.)


“I wish I were only about eight years old again.” (There’s nothing like an impending move to make one wish such a thing well past the teenaged years. Then again, I’d have to live through those horrible years of thirteen and fourteen again, so maybe not.)

On household chores:

“Well, Mom’s making me go polish silver for her dumb 4th July party, so I can’t write anymore.” (I still wonder why the silver had to be polished, when we'd all be spending all our time outside with paper plates and plastic utensils, but that's my mother when it comes to entertaining.)

That “dumb” party in retrospect:

“We had a great July 4th. The Eggberts came, and we played whiffle ball. Scott Eggbert and his friend Billy were cute.” (Amazing what a couple of cute boys can do to turn a dumb party into something great.)

On writing:

“I’m embarrassed to tell my friends I write books…I write too much.” (If only I “wrote too much” today.)

From the pen of the future math and science editor:

“I had some awful algebra problems for homework that I know I did all wrong and a lab in science I didn’t understand at all.” (I had horrible math and science teachers that year.)

On one of those kids who for some reason always latched onto me and wanted to be instant friends:

“I have a new friend named Suzanne…only I don’t really know if I can call her a friend. I don’t think I like her very much. She’s not my type.” (I just love that: “She’s not my type.” Maybe she wasn’t enough of a Goodie Two Shoes.)

But what a disservice I’d be doing all of you if I didn’t include in this post some eighth-grade DRAMA:

“Yesterday, we had the annual [my junior high] Talent Show. It was very good, especially the group they had called “BACE,” which consisted of Scott M., Brad B., and Brett M. Yesterday morning [the school “dress rehearsal”], when I saw it, Scott threw a rose, and it landed between Karen and me, and I got it first. Then in Spanish [class], Carla P. asked if she could see it, and when I asked her if I could have it back, she took off with it. Then at lunch, Karen grabbed it back, and Carla got all mean about it and started calling us names and things, so I said she could have it [chump]. Then today, Shorty [nickname for my friend Ruth. God knows why. She was always taller than I was] told me that Carla’s friend Sally B. said that it landed in Carla’s lap, and I grabbed it from her, and that Scott had said, “This rose is for you, Carla,” which is all a bunch of BULLSHIT [I was so tough, wasn’t I?] and means that Carla’s telling lies about it, even though I did give her the stupid rose [and we all think office gossip is bad. Lesson learned: being a Goodie Two Shoes does not keep one immune from malicious gossip].

“But [in case you're just so enraged by Carla’s horribly unjust treatment of me you feel like throwing up] last night made up for it, because Karen and I went again [to the great junior high talent show. This time, the real thing] and got front row [!] seats, and Brad B. (who’s good-looking and also a good singer) [because I'm sure you were dying to know], threw a rose and a note, and the note [which will last forever!] landed right in my lap. It said:
From Brad B.
To Whoever
(I love ya)” (He loved me, so we’ll forgive him his grammatical error. I guess that was the end of the drama. Carla must not have been there to witness my second gift of the day, because there was no mention of stolen notes, and I then went on to talk about – what else? – a book I’d just read.)

Unfortunately, it all ends just before the family moves to England for a good part of the next year. The last entry is all about how depressed I am about moving. It seems the week before we moved, I did nothing but spend the night at various friends’ houses, but on this night I’d had nothing to do and was “more depressed than ever.” Good thing, in hindsight, I know I was about to have the best year of my teenaged life. Otherwise, I’d be shooting myself for never producing a sequel.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Once Upon a Memory

On September 23, Bob will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA. More importantly, it will be our twelfth wedding anniversary. Those of you who are relative newlyweds, take note. Those of you who’ve been married many more years, please give me some words of assurance: tell me the Swiss-cheese holes in my memory will begin to fill in along about year fifteen, and I will always remember all the best and sweetest things from our marriage, because right now, I’m beginning to wonder exactly when Mr. Alzheimer began sneaking in through the back door.

This week, it got very cold here in Connecticut for a few days, which means it was perfect weather for tackling the attic in preparation for our upcoming move (only a month away now), a space we’ve been loathe to tackle in 92-degree heat. Although Bob has been dreading the attic for reasons other than the heat, I’ve had a much more blasé attitude towards it, assuming we don’t have much up there. I visit the attic on a regular basis to return and deposit suitcases (that is, when I don’t just dump them in the little space on our second-floor landing, right at the top of the stairs, with the thought, “I’m leaving again in [2, 5, 10…] days. Why bother to lug them all the way up there?”). And I visit it twice a year: once to drag summer clothes up while dragging winter clothes down and once to drag winter clothes up while dragging summer clothes down. So we have a few suitcases and some off-season clothes up there. Should be a piece of cake to bring down that stuff and organize it for the movers.

Well, quite obviously, over the course of twelve years, those suitcases have been sneaking around mail-ordering boxes of junk to keep them company. The clothes have been reproducing at the rate of couples during wartime. And it must be the squirrels we often see lolling around on our back deck or leaping from rooftop to tree branch in the front yard who've mistaken memories with nuts the way they’ve crept into our attic to transform it into a time capsule in preparation for lean winter months.

Needless to say, the half hour I thought it was going to take us to get things down from the attic and sort through them is going to take a half year. Also, I have a terrible confession to make. Here, for twelve years, I’ve been accusing Bob of being the packrat in our house, when all he’s really been is the packrat who keeps all his “necessities” easily accessible in his cluttered nest, while I’m the packrat who’s been sequestering all her “necessities” in a separate little nest where they’ve been out of the way.

But I have an even worse confession to make. I’ve forgotten some very precious memories, things I’m sure back in 1995 I would have told you I’d never forget. There’s nothing like a box labeled “memories,” more than half of whose contents have been completely forgotten, to highlight this shortcoming. I always wondered what had happened to all those brochures I’d collected on our honeymoon. And there’s the still shrink-wrapped scrapbook I bought where I was going to glue them all with commentary for Bob for our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. Oops.

We can forget about the long fax sent to Bob when he was on a business trip that began, “I’m so hurt by you, because…” (immediately tossed on the recycle pile by both of us, having read no further. Why did he save that?), but how could we possibly have forgotten we’d made to-do lists with sweet messages on them leading up to our wedding day? Why don’t I have any memories at all of riding that steam train in Hawai’i that we so obviously rode? The worst thing to have forgotten, though, was the manila envelope.

The manila envelope was addressed to no one, but had this written under its flap, in my handwriting, “Relax and enjoy. Anything that could possibly go wrong now is out of our hands. I’ll see you walking down the aisle.” I’m sorry, but if it hadn’t been written in my own, very recognizable handwriting, I would have been wondering: who was this wise woman with whom Bob once walked down the aisle, and how come he never told me about that first wife?

But it gets worse than that. Obviously, this was something I’d given him that he was to open the morning of our wedding (we did the whole, old-fashioned, don’t-see-each-other-before-the-ceremony thing). Inside were type-written copies of the two readings Bob had chosen (we surprised each other, each choosing readings that the other didn’t know about until the ceremony) that he’d obviously slipped inside this envelope for safe-keeping, and behind those was a fairytale I’d written just for him. Yes, I wrote a fairytale for my husband as a wedding gift (it’s dedicated to him at the top, again in my handwriting, with “all my love on our wedding day”), and I had absolutely no recollection of it until this week. Not only that, but when I read the story, which is chock-full of in-jokes and details from those months of dating leading up to our engagement and wedding, I found myself wondering how long it had taken me to forget I’d written this. Twelve years later, I vividly remember the new suitcase full of new clothes I’d carefully chosen for our honeymoon (including a bathrobe that matched mine) that I’d assumed was the only wedding gift I’d given him. This far-more unique and precious gift, as far as I’m concerned, was a complete blank until now. I bet when I wrote it, it was the gift I thought I’d remember forever.

Well, all I can say is couples should either move or clean out their attics more often than once every twelve years. Maybe the divorce rate in this country would drop. Right now, I can’t think of anything that sparks up a twelve-year-old marriage better than a long-forgotten fairytale written especially as a wedding gift from an excited bride to her groom. It’s enough to inspire a twelve-year anniversary tale all about the long-forgotten tale.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unzipping the Loser

(Warning: wretched stereotyping ahead.)

Last week, while I was away, I subjected myself to watching a couple of "un-DVR-ed" movies on television. This means I also subjected myself to watching quite a few commercials. The most hideous of these (a category that was very difficult to discern, I might add) was an ad for one of Connecticut’s equally hideous casinos. The characters in this commercial arrive at the casino as bedraggled and exhausted rubes, looking as though they can’t take one more step. But then, with the help of a few computer graphics, they “unzip” themselves from head-to-toe, their tired-and-bedraggled-rube costumes falling around their ankles, where they quickly step out of them, having revealed their true selves: fun-loving sophisticates, ready to gamble away their children’s college funds at the roulette wheel.

Maybe the reason this commercial so irritates me isn’t really the concept or its obnoxious actors. Maybe it isn't even the fact I abhor the idea of anyone enticing people with no money to gamble, which is what those ads are all about. Perhaps, instead, it’s because I’m the one wearing the costume. Unzip me, and underneath what I like to think is a truly fun-loving, fairly successful, bright, and charming sophisticate is a loser. Do you doubt me? Well, let’s take a look at what else happened while I was away. My college roommate Tina and her husband stopped by to join us for a night on their way back from a vacation in Maine.

Tina and I, as we are wont to do, were doing a little bit of reminiscing late Saturday night, while Bob and Eric were talking about I don’t know what, since I wasn’t paying attention, but I’ll take a really wild guess here and pretend it was baseball. After about half an hour of this, Tina reminding me of all sorts of incidents that have been buried way down in the dirt-floored cellar of my memory, it was pretty hard to deny my loser tendencies, especially once two guys we called Mutt and Jeff came climbing up the cellar stairs.

We met Mutt and Jeff at a fraternity party during one of the first weekends we were at school. You have to understand that the fact we were both at a fraternity party is pretty amazing in and of itself. You see, our very first night at school, the night in which most of our fellow dorm mates (we went to a school in which all first-year students are singled out into dorms of their own) were getting a taste of what it was like to have the sort of freedom that allowed them to party all night, we were both in bed around 10:30. Oh yeah, we’d gone to check out one of the big parties, a party at which grain alcohol was being served, spying in from the doorway, but we’d quickly surmised it wasn’t for us. I can sort of understand two shy young women being intimidated by a roomful of people drunk on grain alcohol, but going to bed?? I mean, we didn’t even stay up talking or playing Backgammon or anything. We went to bed: Loser with a capital “L.”

Anyway, we obviously had come a long way from that first night (things happen rapidly during that first week of college) when we ventured out to this fraternity party where we met Mutt and Jeff. Jeff, who was all of about 5’5” (still taller than either one of us), took a shine to Tina, and Mutt, who was probably about 6’2," seemed more interested in me. All females in our dorm had already received the “don’t-walk-anywhere-alone-at-night-even-in-pairs” speech driven into them, accompanied by stories straight out of The Big Book of Urban Legends, featuring just about everything except a man's hook attached to a car door, meant to scare the bejeezus out of all of us. Thus, we’d asked these two gentlemen we barely knew to escort us back to our dorm when we were ready to leave the party, because, of course, two young men claiming to be members of a fraternity couldn’t possibly be the sorts who would force us into a car; drive us off to a secluded spot; rape, kill, and bury us; and bring our muddy shoes back to the dorm to leave posed mysteriously in front of our door as a message to our hall mates. We made it safely back and, giving credit where credit is due, Mutt and Jeff did nothing more than deliver us to our dorm room door. We, becoming ever-more adventuresome, probably stayed up all the way past midnight that night.

A week later, here’s what this Loser was doing on a Friday night: studying. Actually, I wasn’t studying. I was doing calculus problems. On a Friday night. Of course, I didn’t feel like a Loser, because I was rooming with someone who was doing much the same thing (although I think hers were French exercises as she wasn’t taking calculus). The whole weekend ahead of us, and there we were, sitting at our dark brown, institutional desks in our hard, dark brown, institutional straight-backed, matching chairs (in the days before repetitive stress syndrome), doing what I guess we thought we’d come to college to do: schoolwork. A knock at the door interrupted us. Who should it be but Mutt and Jeff? Their sole purpose for coming seemed to be to ask in astonishment,

“Girls, what are you doing studying on a Friday night? No one studies on a Friday night.”

They encouraged us to go out with them (I can’t remember where), but I’m sure it was a pity mission at that point. Needless to say, Mutt and Jeff didn’t pursue us much after that. This Loser had managed even to drive away Mutt and Jeff. I can imagine an entire fraternity house joking about those “girls,” the only two in the entire place doing homework on a Friday night. As a matter of fact, Mutt turned up in a class of mine the following year and acted as though he’d never laid eyes on me.

Now, you would think, fast-forwarding three years to our last year in school that I’d begun to shed some of my Loser status. Everyone knows we all learn much more in college about things other than what’s between the pages of our textbooks, and I certainly had. Tina and I were both far more sophisticated. We’d escaped from dorm living. We’d learned how to cook (sort of) and pay bills. We were now renting rooms in a house with male and female roommates. We knew how to hold our alcohol (or rather, knew that we couldn’t really hold more than three drinks). We’d both had our fair share of heartbreaking relationships. So, what do we do? We go out dancing together. I meet a very cute guy on the dance floor who can really dance.

Funny thing about loud dance clubs. It’s pretty difficult to single out the deaf people. Turns out Mr. Fabulous Dancer was deaf, which I discovered when we sat down with his buddy, and the two of them began signing. This didn’t deter me, though. I actually thought it was very, very cool. Maybe we’d go out again, and he’d teach me to sign. I’d learn a whole new language. We’d easily be able to communicate while on the dance floor without having to yell at each other.

As a matter of fact, we did go out again, to do what else? Dance. Then, I invited him to a party we were having at my house, a party to which my friend Scott had been invited. Scott, who was in the know about everything and everybody, took one look at Mr. Fabulous Dancer and said,

“Ohmigod, Emily. You haven’t done anything with him, have you? He’s so gay. He’s been out with just about every gay guy in town. If anyone has AIDS, he does.”

Of course he was gay. Why hadn’t I figured that out? No straight guy dances like that, especially no straight, deaf guy who would probably relish his disability as a perfect excuse not to have to ever step out on a dance floor. Leave it to the Loser to have found the only deaf, gay, most-likely-to-have-AIDS candidate in town to date. Tina, on the other hand, after three years, had definitely unzipped her “Loser” costume and was busy pursuing a relationship with a straight, non-AIDS-infected guy. It wouldn’t last, as most didn’t in those days, but it lasted longer than so many others had, and at least it was more normal. It would take me a while longer to find one of those.

Loser is very well hidden these days, though. As a matter of fact, the zipper’s broken. You’re going to need to find a talented seamstress if you want a look at her. Yes, you may think you saw her the other day walking around with an unnoticed, huge blueberry stain on her white capris, or sitting down in front of a TV, her nose buried in a book about the Amish, everyone sitting around laughing, her attention only grabbed long enough to ask “Who’s Stephen Corbert [sic]?” But that was someone else (maybe the other Emily Barton).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Official List

Thank you, Mandarine, for helping me get the button in here. It's nice to have my very own, personal, computer tutor, especially when he's so patient with my idiocy. I'm also going to follow your wise example and, rather than taking on the R.I.P. II Challenge, which is tempting me as much as this one did, do that one retrospectively, since I read my scary books in October and November every year. Starting that September 1, especially when I've just committed myself to this one, is just a little too soon for me. Actually, I'll be both retrospectively and vicariously (which is what I did last year), as I run around reading about what everyone else is reading. By the way, does anyone else remember that one of my blogging goals for 2007 was not to be so afraid of challenges, and here I am, one full quarter of 2007 left to go, and I've already (not very successfully) sworn off them? If only I could capture some of this flakiness of mine to mix into my pie crust dough...

Now, onto my list for this challenge.

All right, I have to admit that I did the old high-school thing of choosing books by page count. However, based on my failings when it comes to other challenges (thank you, all those of you who have made me feel I am not alone in this "failing challenges arena"), I’m not thinking of this as a lazy way to approach a challenge, but rather as a realistic way to approach a challenge. Then again, since I’m being completely candid here, I also have to admit that I didn’t approach this challenge realistically at all. You should see the long, marked-up list of titles I plan to take to the library with me next time I go, because, you see, I’m going to whiz through these five titles in no time (you know, while reading Faust, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Grapes of Wrath, and A Tale of Two Cities) and tackle at least 20 more before the challenge ends (yeah, right). Anyway, here are my choices:

Titles already in my hands:

Friends and Relations by Elizabeth Bowen -- the title that was discovered on my company’s library shelves, thus being a sign that I was meant to take on this challenge.
The Moon and Sixpence by W.S. Maugham -- haven’t read Maugham since I was a teenager, remember next to nothing except that I ate up everything I could get my hands on, and have wanted to re-read him for years. I don’t even actually know if I’ve read this one or not (I think I have), so it may be a re-read or it may be completely fresh.
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton -- my sister recommended this about a hundred years ago, even read quotes to me from a copy on Bob’s and my shelves. High time I got around to reading it, no?

Titles to be retrieved from the library:

The Father Brown Omnibus by G.K. Chesterton -- recommended by a friend who takes great pride in the fact he never agrees with me on anything, but who, for some reason, has never led me astray when it comes to books (needless to say, he also recommended The Man Who Was Thursday).
The Lady in the Lake by Walter Scott – thought I should have a little poetry, and I’d like to be able to say I’ve read something by Scott, especially since Dorr's gotten me interested in the idea of reading him. I’ll probably read some May Sarton, too, to add a little more poetry (can’t see myself resisting Letters from Maine: New Poems for too long), but I’m only committing myself to Scott for now.

The second cut:

If I do manage to read all of the above fairly quickly, these five will be explored next:

Dawn Powell – read about her years ago, more recently read excerpts from her diaries in a collection of New York writings we have, and have wanted to read more
Janet Frame – absolutely loved (and was devastated by) the movie An Angel at My Table, which I saw when it came out, but I’ve never gotten around to actually reading any of the books
More Ivy Compton-Burnett – she’s the kind of writer I can’t sit down and read too much in one go (too depressing), but I’d like to read more
Sybille Bedford – Never heard of her till now, but Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education sounds like it’s right up my alley
Italo Svevo – in my never-ending quest to quit being so Anglo-author-centered

And now, I've got to go cross-post this at the official site.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Yesterday: a Challenge; Today: a Meme

I found this one while relaxing in the striped armchair.

What are you reading right now?
Dreamland by Kevin Baker (Fabulous!)
Rumspringa by Tom Schachtman (Very interesting.)
Amish Grace by Donald Kraybill, et al. (Also, very interesting.)
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Better than the movie. Really.)
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (Fun, but nothing outstanding.)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Fabulous!)
Babycakes by Armistead Maupin (Fabulous!)

And, as if that isn't enough, Bob and I are on a little "mini-vacation," long weekend in New Hampshire, and we went to one of my favorite independent bookstores last night, where I picked up a copy of Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Dreamland got pushed aside last night as I started this one. This has been an odd month for me, as I usually don't read more than five or six books at a time. I think it's because I've been reading all this stuff about the Amish.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
I have some vague notions. I will most definitely read the next Maupin, and I want to read Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, and I plan to start The Math Gene by Keith Devlin.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
Cooking Light and The New Yorker

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
Fiction: Well, I wasn't exactly "forced" to read it, but I had nothing else to do. Years ago, before I'd moved to Connecticut, I was visiting from North Carolina, got stuck in the airport with nothing to read, and made the huge mistake of buying some Jackie Collins novel (because it was nice and fat and might last). I have no idea which one it was, but I never finished it, and it's the only book I've ever bought that ended up in the trashcan.

Nonfiction: Every science and social studies textbook I had to read from elementary through high school. I am amazed by all those textbook authors' abilities when it comes to making two fascinating subjects so extraordinarily boring and tedious.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
I have more than one, and all my friends and family members can attest that I've forced at least one of these on them at some point: Jack Finney's Time and Again, Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
Actually, they don't. They know my face, yes, unless they are extraordinarily unobservant, but I used to be a librarian and "am perfectly capable of finding the answers to all my questions myself, thank you." And now all the libraries I frequent even have self check-out, so I can get in and out barely being noticed.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
All right, friends, help me out here. What have I recommended that made you think, "Emily is definitely off her rocker?"

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving?

While eating: is there anything in life, truly, that is more enjoyable than reading and eating two delicious things together?

While bathing: besides reading and eating two delicious things together, is there anything in life, truly, more enjoyable than reading while immersed in a bubble bath?

While watching movies or TV: besides reading while bathing, is there anything in life, truly, more enjoyable than being able to pick up a book and tune out some stupid program your significant other has chosen to watch on TV or being able to mute the TV while a commercial is on and pick up a book while you wait for the return of whatever you're watching?

While you listen to music: is there anything less enjoyable in life than trying to finish a chapter while simultaneously trying to accompany Ella Fitzgerald?

While on the computer: oh yes, there is something less enjoyable in life than trying to finish a chapter while doing a poor Ella Fitzgerald imitation. It's called trying to read two things simultaneously.

While having sex: what I find truly more enjoyable and less enjoyable in this arena is none of your business.

While you're driving: I would imagine the most un-enjoyable experience of all would be to wind up a vegetable, plastered all over the media, politicians deciding whether you should live or die, having been thrown from your car during an accident that would have been completely avoidable had you not been stupid enough to have your nose buried in a book while driving. (I've noticed this does not keep certain people from doing so while driving in rush-hour traffic in CT. Nor does it keep them from doing things like playing the guitar, or eating yogurt, or putting on makeup. I would not be one of these sorts of people.)

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?
No. I was keenly attuned to "what to do to avoid being teased," and didn't let any of the other kids know how much I was actually reading. After all, I had enough things I couldn't avoid letting them know, like being one of the smallest kids in the class and having very fair skin. Anything I could hide, I hid.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffennegger

Tagging: all the usual suspects. You know who you are.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Challenge of Challenges

I started the year with three reading challenges:

13 adult classics
13 children's classics
The nonfiction five

The first two were unofficial challenges I spun off from the whole "Thursday Thirteen" meme. The third one seemed like a piece of cake, since I read many more than five nonfiction books a year (especially if you count all the books I edit, which I don't). The nonfiction five has been going along quite well; the children's classics is not too far behind; but before the half-year mark hit, I'd already decided that my 13 adult classics list was way too ambitious, and I altered it somewhat. Now I'm wondering if I shouldn't pretend I was doing a "Friday Five" instead of a "Thursday Thirteen." I read, on average, about 52 books per year. Whatever possessed me to make more than half of these books I "had" to read, especially since my job involves nothing but reading books I "have" to read, is a huge mystery. Five, as Ian noted recently, would have been much more realistic.

I bet you this year, I will read a record 72 books or so, because procrastination has been the name of the game, and so many other books I've had for years, as well as those people have been discussing on their blogs, have suddenly looked far more enticing than any of the books I have on my challenge lists. Although I may still make it through all the children's classics, and I've only got two more nonfiction titles to read, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to make it through all the adult classics by December 31. I think, sometime in the next week, as we head into the fourth quarter, I'm going to have to take a look at what I've read, what I've got left to read, and modify that one even more.

This is all to say that I had sworn off challenges. They're just not a good idea for someone whose eyes are obviously too big for her stomach, someone who can't leave the library with less than ten books in hand, knowing perfectly well she can't and won't read ten books in three weeks. But, you know, swearing off challenges is like swearing off coffee. Who can ever really keep that up forever? Sure, you go those first few weeks, drinking your herbal tea and your hot chocolate, telling everyone you don't miss it, that you feel so much better, that you don't understand why you ever felt you couldn't start the day without at least one cup. Then, one night, you're out to dinner, and the friends who are with you order the most delicious-looking cappuccinos, so lovingly served in beautiful big, white mugs, and you find yourself drooling with envy. You're too embarrassed to break down and order one in front of them, since you've made the mistake of extolling the virtues of no longer being a coffee addict to anyone who will listen, so you secretly stop at Starbucks on your way home and buy yourself a cappuccino that you're sure pales in comparison to the ones served at dinner.

Well, Imani must be a gourmet chef, having made the most delicious-smelling-and-looking (perfect foam, perfect mug) cappuccino over here, otherwise known as the outmoded authors challenge. Everyone is indulging his or her coffee lust and making me feel like I'm an idiot for having sworn off it. This is the challenge for those who don't do challenges, a challenge that includes all kinds of authors I'm planning on reading anyway, a challenge that allows participants to read only as many books as they'd like. Still, I was reluctant. I mean, I've got Faust to read, which I had planned to start in January, so I could read it very, very slowly throughout the year. It's now August. Have I even gotten past the cover? No.

But then something happened. I was visiting the office this week, where my colleagues have set up a library of books that people borrow (no due dates, no late fines), and there, on the shelf, was Elizabeth Bowen. I defy anyone to tell me that this wasn't a sure sign that I'm meant to take on this challenge, especially since Elizabeth Bowen is someone I've been wanting to read ever since I read my first Ivy Compton-Burnett, oh, about four years ago now, and one of Bowen's books was advertised in the back of it. Goodbye, Faust (maybe some other year); hello, about twenty outmoded authors.

So, now comes the real challenge: whittling down that twenty, a.ka. keeping myself from checking out ten books I know I can't and won't read in three weeks. I've been visiting and re-visiting that author list. They all look so tempting. Some, like Compton-Burnett, I've read, but only one book. Others, like Somerset Maugham, I read so long ago, I don't remember much except that I liked them, and I've been looking for an excuse to re-read. And then, there are those I've never heard of who must be explored.

I'm still mulling it over. I want to browse my shelves. I'm trying to narrow my extensive list down to four (no, not even five. Just four. In six months. Even I should be able to do that). I've still got two weeks to decide. As soon as I do, I'll go over there and post my list.

P.S. Would someone please tell me how to copy and paste the button onto a blogger site? I can't seem to get it to do so.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

This is So Cool

Can you tell I don't have much time these days to devote to blogging?

Your Score: Hieroglyphics

You scored

You are Egyptian Hieroglyphics! Monumental, ornate and even in technicolour! Your users contributed virtually all ancient knowledge on inks, dyes and writing surfaces - to the point where the popular reed of Papyrus became the universal name for organic, manufactured writing surfaces in the western hemisphere for thousands of years. Proud, upstanding and dignified.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by imipak on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Monday, August 13, 2007

Amish Intrigue

Because I am soon going to be living amongst the Amish, I've visited my local library and checked out a few books on the topic, as well as a couple of mysteries that take place in Amish country. Interestingly enough, I've learned quite a lot from these mysteries, and I can highly recommend Tamar Myers and her PennDutch Inn mysteries if you like mysteries a la Janet Evanovich. Magdalena Yoder, Mennonite proprietress of the inn and amateur sleuth, is enviously sharp, wry, and sarcastic. Bob's busy reading Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, which I plan to do as well. As our young friend who recommended it told us, "I mean, she's not a great writer, but she's good and will really drag you in," an opinion being borne out, judging by Bob's constant reading. Sarah Strohmeyer's Bubbles in Trouble had some interesting details, and it was okay, but it tried just a little too hard.

Meanwhile, the nonfiction has been somewhat frustrating. The more I read, the less I feel I know or understand this sect. Granted, one of the problems is that I've chosen books that appeal to the anthropologist in me. The first one is actually a book that didn't come from the library. In fact it hasn't even been published yet, but will be next month. It's called Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zerdner, leading authorities on Amish culture. This is a book about how the Amish responded to the 2006 tragedy of a one-room schoolhouse shooting of little girls. The second is Plain and Simple by Sue Bender. This book came out not too long after the movie Witness, when this country was all enamored with an overly-romanticized vision of the Amish, and I remember it being in high demand when I worked at the library. It's about a woman in search of art and simplicity and definition in her life who chooses to go live with a couple of Amish families for a period of time. Finally, I've been reading a book called Rumspringa by Tom Schachtman that evolved from the making of the documentary The Devil's Playground, which I haven't seen. It's all about a period for Old Order Amish youths (usually ages 16 - 19 or so) in which they are allowed to run wild or a period of "running around" (which is the literal translation of the Penn Dutch term). They are allowed to leave their communities and to take on the ways of "the English" (those of use who are non-Amish, regardless of national heritage, because rather than speaking their German dialect, we all speak English). During this period, the teenagers shop for clothes at Target, carry and use cell phones, stay out all night at parties drinking, etc. (in other words, behave like most American teenagers). Then, they decide whether or not they want to be baptized into the Amish faith or remain on the outside (but, I'm learning, it's much more complicated than that). These books have all been fascinating, but I'm not really getting a lot of historical background information, nor details of the church and its practices. Not to worry, though. I've developed a rather long bibliography of books to seek once I'm down there, where I'm sure they'll be more readily available.

Another problem is that the books I've been reading have all been written by "English" authors. We English seem to fall into two camps: those who are drawn to this seemingly wonderful and simplistic life in which everyone's roles and duties are defined and people live in real community (that would be me. Ahh, to live such a life in which the most important things, rather than being ten times removed, all revolve around the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and care for others) and those who have a very critical eye focused on these people who are so different, pretending the eye is completely open-minded and objective (that would be me as well. You know, it's not necessarily for me. I need pursuits that are more intellectually challenging in my life than trying to clean house without the help of such things as vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. However, it works for them, and they have a right to live their lives. What? The women aren't allowed to join in male conversations at the dinner table? That's barbaric! Someone needs to go in there and teach those women to stand up for themselves). This sets up a dynamic in which it's pretty difficult to figure out exactly what's true about these people. Of course, if I were to find books and articles written by the Amish (not always easy due to their tendency not to want to single themselves out from their communities), I'd still be confused, because these books would be bound to have their own subjective spins. I plan to do this, though, because it's the only way to get as complete a picture as possible.

The final problem is an assumption on everyone's part that these people can be lumped under the words "the Amish," and that any assumptions are going to hold true for all those under the label. From what I'm gathering, these people and their beliefs, in many respects, are as varying as "the Presbyterians," or "the Catholics," or "the Baptists," basically, any other Christian denomination (or religious denomination, for that matter). From what I can tell, it seems, like many denominations, the majority are following tradition more than they're understanding tradition or the reasoning behind it. And like any denomination, those who do study the reasoning behind the tradition often seem to be doing so in order to find loopholes that will allow them to make exceptions or changes that will make their lives easier.

So, this is my introduction to the Amish. I'm sure that in the coming months you'll be dragged along on this exploration of mine, whether you like it or not. I'm going to be very interested to see who wins the tug of war: the romantic or the critic.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Who Would've Thought?

Well, it's been proven once and for all. I'll have to scratch "control freak" off the list of words I use to describe myself. Now, what can I do to protect myself and to make sure no one around me suckers me into being controlled by them?

You Are 12% Control Freak

There's no way you're a control freak. You're totally laid back - and able to take life as it comes.

While you definitely have a healthy mental attitude, don't get suckered into letting someone control you.

But wait a minute. I'm also:

Who were you in a past life?

You were the man called Napoleon! You are ambitious, but a bit of a loner. You'd conquer the world just so you could tell it to leave you alone.
Take this quiz!


Make A Quiz More Quizzes Grab Code

Yep, that laid-back dude Napoleon.

But I guess there's no getting around the fact that I'm a loner:

Which mythological creature are you?

You are a unicorn! Unbridled and free, you are an independent and intelligent soul. Sensitive yet strong and willful, you prefer to be alone or with a few carefully chosen companions. You posess a lot of traits that are found as rarely as unicorns are :)
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

But where's the quiz about online procrastinating instead of getting ready and out the door to go to a wedding?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I Want a Paycheck

Sometimes I wish I had one of those sorts of husbands I could send to the grocery store with a list who wouldn’t arrive home having forgotten three very key things like coffee, milk, and bread while presenting me with fifteen bags of Fritos and ten boxes of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, because “They were on sale at such a great price!” But, I suppose (with that “you-can’t-have-it-all” rule so familiar to me), if I had that sort of husband, I’d have to relinquish the sort who whenever he goes anywhere without me and is offered something like a giant chocolate chip cookie, will ask if he can have two, so he can bring one home to me. I’d much prefer the latter sort of husband. Thus, since I also prefer to have some shelf space and food staples in my pantry, I do 95% of the grocery shopping in our house.

Grocery shopping isn’t quite as high on my “Hate-To-Do” list as clothes shopping is, but it comes pretty close. It wasn’t so bad when I could shop at this wonderful independent grocery store that had great meat selections and produce and extremely helpful employees (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that PA is full of such places, so I’ll be able to enjoy food shopping once we move) that was located right off the interstate that I could hop right back on to head down to Trader Joe’s (a store that really helps take the odiousness out of grocery shopping). I also nearly came close to liking grocery shopping when we lived in NYC, and I could go to Fairway, an over-crowded jumble of a place, but one that offers such a wonderful variety of unique and delicious foods, it’s worth the risk of claustrophobia. In my pre-telecommuting days, my office was located between Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s, so I could easily shop at lunch or after work. In the past two years, though, my independent grocer has been bought out by an unfamiliar and hideous chain; we no longer have the apartment in New York; and my office is no longer so conveniently located.

I’m stuck most of the time with the local “Stop ‘n’ Shop.” We have two that are probably equidistant from my house. Here’s my first complaint: why don’t grocery stores in the same chain all organize themselves the same way? Why is the produce section in “Stop ‘n’ Shop” A on the left-hand side of the store, while it’s on the right-hand side of the store in “Stop ‘n’ Shop” B? Why does “Stop ‘n’ Shop” A have a little alcove of its own, including a dairy section, for all its organic and natural foods, except canned organic beans, which are mixed in with the regular canned vegetables, while “Stop ‘n’ Shop” B houses all its organic food in one aisle, including canned beans, but mixes its frozen organic foods in with other frozen foods? It’s extremely frustrating for those of us anal enough to arrange our shopping list according to food locations in the store.

Also, it would be nice if these stores carried all the same foods. I shouldn’t have to remember that I can get my favorite yogurt at “Stop ‘n’ Shop” A (I’m beginning to hate the store even more as I write this, because it’s such a damned difficult name to type) but not at B. It took me forever to remember that I can get light coconut milk at store B (typing problem solved) but not at store A.

I bet I’m not the only one who’s noticed that these major chains, which seem to have hundreds of checkout counters, typically only have about three that are actually manned, and those are manned only by cashiers. In most stores, customers are being made to do more and more of the work. In the days when I worked as a grocery store cashier, each register had this being assigned to it called a bag boy, who did this amazing thing: put all the food into bags for the customers. Each grocery cart had a plastic number on it. The cashier would write the number on the receipt, the cart would be taken outside, and bagboys assigned to outside duty would wait for customers to drive up, would match the numbers to the carts, and would load the groceries into the customers’ cars. Talk about customer service! Other grocery stores had other systems in which the bagboys would roll the carts to customers’ cars for them and load them in the parking lot. Now, forget about curbside car-loading service. Most of the time, you're extremely lucky to get someone just to bag your groceries. And if you happen to be someone who brings your own canvas bags to the store, you end up preferring to bag your own, because baggers are always so sullen when made to use your bags.

First, it was customers having to bag their own groceries. Now, we have all these self checkout counters, so the customer does the work of the cashier and the bagboy. I have to admit, I kind of like the self checkout when I haven’t got too many items, not being the sort of person who loves to interact with strangers. I can get in and out without having to say a word to anybody, but still, the concept of the customer doing all the work bugs me. And now our stores have these gadgets you take around with you as you shop, scanning in each item as you go, and sticking it in the special register at the end to get your grand total. I draw the line at this one. At least at the regular self checkout, I can pretend it’s the good old days, and I’ve got a cashier there scanning in the items for me, but I’ve never had a personal cashier following me around the store as I go. That’s just a little creepy.

I’m beginning to wonder if we customers are soon going to have to take our own butcher knives from racks and chop our own meat. Maybe we’re going to be handed boxes of oranges and broccoli as we walk in the door and have to arrange them attractively in bins, as we try to avoid being hit by the showers from the automatic produce sprinklers. Maybe we’re going to have to start punching in and out on the time clock those people who are standing around with green smocks, "Stop ‘n’ Shop” nametags, and nothing to do. I want to know why we aren't getting paid.

Or, if I'm not going to get paid, a drop in prices might be nice. I mean, when a store is saving all that money by employing so few people, and when the customers are being made to do so much work, you’d think we’d benefit monetarily. But nope. The prices just keep going up and up. Trader Joe’s, which has plenty of employees to check out and bag your groceries (and where they will thank you if you bag your own) is far cheaper.

Maybe I need to rethink my attitude towards a husband who will go to the store looking for the cheapest items, regardless of whether or not we need them. At least he’s benefiting monetarily for all that hard work he’s doing.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Things Not To Do Two Months Before Moving Day

Accept every wedding and party invitation that comes your way.
I know. I know. You really are moving to Mars, and you’re probably never, ever going to see anyone in New England again. They’re all highly likely to forget you if you don’t spend the summer attending events where you can keep reminding them you exist. Forget the fact that you need weekends for cleaning out basements and attics and shopping for new things for the house and finding reliable movers. Perhaps you’ll find a bottle with a Genie in it on that beach in Rhode Island where your friends live, and she’ll blink her eyes a few times and get it all done.

Decide to keep all scheduled doctors and dentist appointments until you’ve moved.
This guarantees that your dentist and doctor will find things like a suspicious darkness at the base of a tooth that didn’t show up on the last three x-rays he took and will probably mean the need for surgery or a pulled tooth the week the moving van is scheduled to arrive. Meanwhile, your doctor will inform you that you have some nodules that are most likely nothing, but that he wants to keep an eye on with regular, every-six-months CT-scans for the next year or so, which means having to move to a new area and find some doctor who will do this for you, since you won’t be here in six months. You’ll have nodules, and your spouse will have indications that the blood work for his hypothyroidism, which has been under control for years, is indicating that his medication may need to be changed, something else that needs to be monitored every six months.

Decide to make love in every room in the house before you move.
Yes, when you moved into this, your first home together, and you were all starry-eyed, getting married in three months, you swore you were going to do this. Twelve years later, there are some very good reasons you never got around to certain rooms, like that tiny, overcrowded study whose only comfortable surfaces are chairs you both use for work that don’t just happen to look like they might break, chairs that are needed for the study in the new house.

Eagerly accept the six beautiful tomato plants your neighbor offers you back in early June, even though your thumb is about as green as a red light.
There’s a reason you gave up the vegetable garden you had the first few years you lived in this house, remember? Why did you choose to forget it the summer before you move? You know perfectly well that droughts only hit during the summers in which you’re trying to grow vegetables, which means constantly having to remember to water the damn plants. You also know perfectly well that these plants will be at their best, delivering hundreds of ripe tomatoes in early September, just when you’re fighting with movers and trying to plan an ordination service and reception. Your spouse, whom you know perfectly well hates to waste anything, will decide this is the perfect time to learn how to can, so you can take tomatoes with you to your new home, which means exploding cans of red tomatoes all over the kitchen, just as you’re getting ready to rent the house.

Ignore the mechanic when you take your car for its regular free oil change at the dealership where you bought it when he tells you in late May that you need new brakes on the car.
Of course the dealership is always looking for ways to make money, and of course the brakes were showing no obvious signs of wear-and-tear at that point. It was perfectly reasonable to wait and to take the car to your local mechanic once the tell-tale, brake-crunching sound, signaling a real need began. You should have realized, though, that the brakes would be just fine until August, the month that is already scheduled to the hilt.

Insist, despite all you have to do, that you really need a vacation of some sort or you’re going to go crazy.
Really. Planning a few days at the beach around scheduled meetings at your place of employment is not, in anybody’s book, a real vacation, especially when you don’t decide to do this until the last minute and can only get a room at something that looks like it’s just one step above a Motel 6.

Plan an intervention with a loved one who desperately needs to go into rehab.
Again, not when you and your spouse have never done an intervention, you have no idea what’s involved, nor how time-consuming it is, and you’re not that close to anyone else who might be willing to participate, but have to be the ones to call these people to see if they’re willing to do it. Oh yes, and then there’s that bit the counselor tells you about, the planting of the seed that involves approaching the loved one to announce you think rehab is a good idea before any intervention can take place, so that you have to plan a time and place to do that around all the weddings and party invitations.

I’m so looking forward to November this year, the month in which I plan to bask in the joys of a settled house, a husband who’s settling into a new job, and a settled (or at least a little more sane) mind.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What's All the Fuss?

Here I am, deep breath being held, because I am about to identify myself as one of the worst heretics of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I’m probably going to lose friends over this, very good friends, not to mention family members. My blog stats are going to plummet (not that they’re in danger of doing much more than scraping a knee if they do). Oh well, here goes (get your pile of stones ready): I don’t get all the fuss over Harry Potter.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m woefully behind in my reading, and I'm still kind of hoping this is the real problem. Everyone is now reading the last book in the series, and I thought until a few weeks ago I was on book number four. Come to find out, once I actually took a look at them, I’m only on book three. I decided I need to do a little catching up, so made it a goal to read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire by the end of the summer. Now I’m thinking, Goblet of Fire can wait till Halloween.

Unlike everyone else I know who’s read any of them, I wasn’t duly impressed with the first one when I read it, except that I had awesome dreams. Rowling does manage to cram into her books almost every ancient story, mythical creature, and symbol Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell would have us all believe are common to human brains and healthy psyches. One would expect awesome dreams to be a natural bi-product of that. When I finished it, though, instead of immediately reaching for the next one, which was already out by the time I got around to reading the first, I decided I needed to re-read E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet for comfort (by the way, I may have said this before, because I say it all the time, but it’s worth repeating: the Phoenix, as portrayed in this book, is absolutely the greatest character ever created in children’s fiction). Then I decided to re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a book I read as a child but of which I was not particularly enamored.

And that’s where the problem seems to lie for me. I will read all the Potter books eventually, just like I read all the Narnia books as a child, but I must be missing some important Jungian piece of the brain that makes these sorts of series so beloved by everyone on the planet except me. My childhood friends were all addicted to the Narnia books, and I’ve seen this addiction repeated with my friends’ children now, but I never really understood all the fuss about them either. Re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult made me wonder if even at that age, being hit over the head with such obvious Christian allegory was too much (I know, I know. Odd for a soon-to-be minister’s wife to say that, but I really like my religious allegory to be subtle or else, like The Pilgrim’s Progress, practically to have a big red banner across it saying: “Warning: beautifully written but nothing here except over-the-top Christian allegory.”) But obvious Christian allegory can’t be the problem with Potter (especially if some of those on the religious right in this country are to be believed, although they would probably find Bunyan to be the work of the Devil were he writing today), so I’m wondering: what is?

Plenty of my friends have said to me, “Keep reading Potter. They get better. They get darker,” so I was expecting that to happen with The Prisoner of Azkaban. I expected to read this one and not to want immediately to go back to E. Nesbit or Edward Eager. That didn’t happen. I’m about halfway through it, and I’ve already pulled The Enchanted Castle off my shelves. Granted, this third book in the Potter series is a perfectly fine read, even clever and fun at times, and it helped me get out of a bit of a reading slump I was in, morosely convinced I was never going to find anything as good as the fabulous Time Traveler’s Wife again, but the more I read, the more I find myself wondering when the really compelling part is finally going to make an appearance.

Seriously, if someone came and stole it from me right now, I really wouldn’t care. I’m discovering the main reason I’m reading these books seems to have more to do with the fact everyone else already knows what’s going to happen, and I hate to be the last one to know things, than with any true enjoyment I’m getting from them. Why are Rowling’s books attracting children and adults in a way so many other, better books don’t seem to be able to do? And why am I not compelled to drop everything and read them straight through the way I do when I read someone like Alan Garner?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I was talking to my mother the weekend practically everyone else in the family was hunkered down with the new release, and she told me she’s never read any of them. She said, “I suppose maybe I will one day, if I ever get stuck.” What a great way to put it: “getting stuck.” I can’t imagine what “stuck” might really mean: she’s trapped on a desert island with people who were asked what one book would they bring with them, were allowed to bring that one book, and they’ve all chosen a Harry Potter? However, I get the gist of what she’s saying. My response to her was, “Don’t bother, Mom. Just re-read E. Nesbit instead.” Then I had to add, “Oh, wait a minute. You can’t. I took all the E. Nesbits last time I visited.”

I also took all the Oz books. Now there’s a series I loved as a kid. I’d be willing to say that maybe my problem is just with series, but this one would belie that theory (besides, there were plenty of other series I loved as a child, like Scott Corbett’s “Trick” series – great fun with a magical chemistry set. A few years ago I re-read The Lemonade Trick, and it held up for me as an adult. And then there's the fact there are plenty of adult series I love, Maupin being the one I've discovered this year). I initially decided when I was in second grade, to read the Oz books, because they had such large print, but I got hooked instantly, and can remember spending many summer afternoons reading and re-reading all we had, while supplementing our collection with those we didn’t have from the library. Maybe instead of The Enchanted Castle I should return to that series next and see how it holds up to Harry Potter.

I'm wondering if those of you who have not stalked off in disgust at this point can be entreated to put down your stones and enlighten me. Possibly some of you can point out what I’m missing. Or maybe someone can assure me I just need to get to the end of this one, and I’ll be seeing the light, a brand new convert before the Inquisitors arrive, who will find me properly immersed in all the rest of books in the series well before Halloween. On the other hand, maybe some of you feel the same way I do. I’m kind of hoping so, just in case I don’t see the light in time to be saved. No decent heretic with no support has ever come to any good.