Monday, November 23, 2009

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

Bob's and my first year of marriage was the roughest one for me (take note, all you never-marrieds and newly-engageds). Like everything I do in life (it seems), I entered marriage completely ignorant and unprepared, riding in on romantic notions of that wonderful "honeymoon phase." Our marriage, of course, would not have a mere "phase." We would be different. We would have a honeymoon life.

How long did that last? I can still remember calling my mother one day, about two months' shy of our first anniversary, and asking, "Why does everyone act as though the first year of marriage is such bliss? How come no one told me how hard it was gonna be?" Her (wise) response was, "What difference would it have made if anyone had told you? Would you have decided not to get married?"

My initial response was "yes," but of course, the real answer was "no." After all, I had already eaten enough crow for accepting an engagement ring after swearing to anyone who would listen that I was never getting married. I didn't need to eat the beak and feet as well. I wasn't about to change my mind again.

But it was tough. Bob and I weren't exactly spring chickens when we got married. Living with others, no matter who they are (family members, friends, strangers), is not easy. Throw romantic love and sex and personal expectations when it comes to marriage into the equation, and it's really quite amazing that more spouses don't kill each other. Bob and I had both been living on our own (or, at least in my case, with roommates who had no expectations other than bills and rent checks getting paid on time and kitchen sinks free of dishes) long enough to be set in our ways and unused to compromising. In other words, we were both quite selfish (and stubborn) and quick to find fault with each other.

Up until then, I'd always been amazed by the statistics on how many marriages end before the first anniversary has even been celebrated. But each time I slammed out of the house and drove away, furiously swearing I was never going to return to someone so [fill in the blank: thoughtless? selfish? clueless? mean?], I came to understand that I could ace a test based on that particular statistic.

Ultimately, though, we obviously had whatever it is that gets couples through that rough time. We began to listen to each other. We each began to give a little more. Yes, we had a lot of moments that make me cringe now when I think of them (and I am oh-so-glad no one ever had a hidden camera in our home), but we also had fun. We made each other laugh. We understood each other. When I had something good to tell, he was always the first person I wanted to tell.

However, I understand how relationships can crumble. Nothing, it seems, has made me understand divorce better than being married. How anyone who has ever been married can judge others for getting divorced is beyond me, unless they are those who really ought to be divorced themselves, and they're bitter in their own traps. So much of it just seems to be the luck of the draw, as far as I'm concerned. I am extremely lucky that my husband did not walk out on me or into the arms of another woman (as other statistics about marriage indicate that many do) when things weren't as idyllic as we'd both expected them to be. He is extremely lucky that I always came home after driving off in a fury.

There was a song that came out during our early years of marriage. It was poignant to me in that its narrator attempted to convince his skeptical lover that they had things in common. Grasping at straws, he mentions the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's (a movie both Bob and I love). She says she thinks she remembers the film, and that they both kind of liked it. He resigns himself to saying, "Well, I guess that's the one thing we've got."

I'd listen to that song and think, "God, I don't want our relationship to fizzle away until we barely have one thing in common." Somehow, though, I knew it never would. We had so much in common. We just both needed to grow up a little and to learn how to live with another human being, flaws and all. We did.

The song is still one of my favorites. I'm pretty sure I'd love it no matter what (it's a catchy tune), but I love it all the more for those bittersweet memories of the early days of our marriage. I can listen to it now and be so proud of us for weathering those storms, for never having to search desperately for one thing "we both kinda like."

Breakfast at Tiffany's
by Deep Blue Something

You say that we've got nothing in common
No common ground to start from
And we're falling apart.
You say the world has come between us
Our lives have come between us
But I know you just don't care.

And I said "what about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's?'"
She said, "I think I remember the film,
And as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it."
And I said, "Well, that's the one thing we've got."

I see you -- the only one who knew me
And now your eyes see through me
I guess I was wrong
So what now? It's plain to see we're over,
And I hate when things are over --
When so much is left undone.


You say that we've got nothing in common
No common ground to start from
And we're falling apart.
You say the world has come between us
Our lives have come between us
But I know you just don't care.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Of Evolution and Suburbia and Anticooks and Kitchens

McGinley, Phyllis. Sixpence in Her Shoe. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960.

I don't know why I find myself, time and again, so surprised by the fact that things never change all that much over time. I mean, I know perfectly well, and am very happy to inform anyone who will listen, that I have read Euripides, and Aristophanes, and Shakespeare, and Jane Austen, and the one conclusion I can draw for certain from all four authors is that human beings evolve at an incredibly slow rate, that we have barely changed at all since Aristophanes had audiences laughing at characters on his ancient stages. I can also tell you, though, that each time I picked up something written by one of these authors, I did not expect to draw this conclusion. Draw it, I did, nonetheless, and I try to remember that, really, when you look at the history of our species, a thousand years is not that long a time, so I should not be surprised. In fact, given how slow humans are, I really ought to be marveling that we ever managed to become bipedal.

One would think that, at this point, I would pick up any older book with the idea that it, too, will verify the fact that human beings just don't change that much over time. But no. Stick a book in my hand that is fifty or sixty years old, and I will expect it to be as old-fashioned as they come, full of quaint details and oddities (like references to the hi-fi and ladies wearing gloves even in summer) that I may vaguely remember from my childhood, but surely not much that we would recognize in our lives today. Time and again, I am astonished to find passages in these books that could easily have been written yesterday, so accurately do they describe what I am observing all around me today.

The most recent example of this is Phyllis McGinley's Sixpence in Her Shoe. This is a book I found while browsing the shelves for books for my TBR challenge. (It should have been added to the challenge list, but instead, it has become an "accidental read." I'm hoping you all know what I mean by that?) It was written in 1960 and is a book for housewives of that era extolling (humorously) the virtues and fun of having a home and family and caring for them. I immediately categorized it as a curious period piece from a time long past when most middle class women were doing just that: caring for hearth and home. That's certainly what my recently-married, young mother with her first-born child was doing the year it was published.

Sometime (I am presuming in the early sixties, it doesn't say), my father bestowed this book upon my mother with this inscription (which simultaneously appalls my feminist eyes while filling me with tenderness when I put it in its time and place to give it context): "To A., who is the personification of Miss McGinley's perfect mother and housewife with love from W." A couple of years ago, my mother wrapped this book up and sent it to me for Christmas. Added to my father's inscription is now one from her that reads, "& now this is yours, Emily, to enjoy! Love, Mom. (Dec. 2007)"

Curious period piece it was until I began to read it. In fairness to me, a lot of it really is a product of its time. It assumes the husband is the primary (if not the only) breadwinner. It assumes (while giving some lip service to those women who are happier holding down careers and who might be unhappy in the home) that most women are meant to be happiest in the home. A chapter titled "How Not to Kill Your Husband," instead of being all about keeping yourself from strangling your husband, because for two months he has promised to take that air conditioning unit that is sitting on the bedroom floor, and that is too heavy for you to lift, down to the basement and who tells you to quit bugging him about it every time you mention it, is all about catering to your husband and his specific needs, so that he doesn't die at a young age. The insinuation is that nagging, unresponsive wives are the ones responsible for the fact that men don't live as long as women do.

But then I got to the chapter on buying a house. McGinley describes the process of making the decision to move from an apartment in Manhattan to a home of their own in Westchester County, NY. Remember, the book was written in 1960, and I found myself assuming she was talking about buying a house in the mid-1950s, so it wasn't really all that surprising that her description should sound so familiar. I mean I think of the 1950s as the beginning of the "boom" years of suburban house-buying. She and her husband eventually settle on an old Victorian house, much too large she says for their little family of three (at the time) and in need of lots of repair, but so much more affordable than all the newer homes in pristine condition. That's all very understandable and familiar, isn't it? It's made even more so by passages such as this one.
No suburban landscape is complete in late April or May without its band of searchers, addresses in their hands, trudging from listing to listing...they are innocents, for I know the image each carries in the mind's eye. What they are looking for is The Perfect House...Death and taxes are no more certain for them than disillusion. (pp. (54-55)
You know them, don't you? Perhaps you will be one soon. If you own a home in the suburbs, you certainly have been one at least once in your life. If you are me, it's an experience that taught you that you are one of the most picky people on the planet. Things haven't changed all that much since 1955, have they? Read on with me to the end of the chapter, though. Here you will discover that Ms. McGinley and her husband have been living in this house for 25 years. Do the math. Let's say she was writing this chapter in 1958 or 1959 (highly likely for a book published in 1960). That means they were buying this suburban home in 1933 or 1934. Really? That oh-so-familiar suburbia and house-shopper existed way back then? That was before World War II. My mother was a baby then. My God, this could have been my grandparents buying a house. How could it still be such a similar experience today, especially when that "old Victorian" (given how long Queen Victoria lived) might have been merely a few decades old, instead of the ancient old crumbling thing I envision when I envision a "Victorian home in need of repair."

As if all this weren't surprising enough, then I got to the chapter on kitchens. McGinley is most amusing when she talks about cooking and kitchens. One phenomenon she mentions that I was not surprised to find had not changed (after all established Laws of Physics don't tend to change all that much over time) is what she refers to as the Unwatched Pot or McGinley's Law:
You are stirring a mixture which obstinately refuses to boil, even to break its placid surface with a bubble. The phone rings. And in the instant between lifting your hand from the spoon and picking up the earpiece [okay, that is a curious oddity of its time, one that spell check doesn't recognize], the stuff not only will begin furiously to bubble like a witch's cauldron, but will boil over, trailing its sticky spoor down the freshly cleaned stove onto the floor. (p. 139)
To read about something that I am sure has been going on since the invention of fire and the pot made perfect sense, the same way Romeo and Juliet's, overly-dramatic, impassioned, young love makes sense when I read about it, but her descriptions of kitchens and what she calls anticooks (not to be confused with noncooks, who are merely those poor souls who can't cook despite a desire to do so) nearly had me dropping the book with surprise. Here's how she describes the anticook:
Gastronomically, they are Philistines; worse than Philistines, Puritans, who feel there is something sinful in owning a palate or cultivating the holy art of cuisine. They are the people who, when planning a meal, ask themselves (as does a friend of mine), not "which vegetable is freshest and tastiest this time of year"" but only, "what shall I serve for a carbohydrate?" (p. 148)
Then she goes on to describe the anticook's kitchen:
She owned a kitchen, which architects call the "heart of the home." But it was a heart which throbbed faintly and emanated no warmth. It was a room not to live in but to get rapidly away from.

I had no quarrel with her wish to get away...The emancipation of women undoubtedly began when they could leave sink and kettle and move into what seemed to them a larger world. But then why this emphasis on show-window gadgets? Why the shelves of cookbooks unspotted by use? Decorations merely, like Victorian antimacassars. Her kitchen was one way of keeping up with whatever Joneses she might care to rival. And it is her influence on the national kitchen which I deprecate. (pp. 150-151)
Huh? There were women in the late 1950s "keeping up with the Joneses" via elaborately impractical and unusable kitchens just as there are today? And then more women, like me, who were furious with them for influencing all the impractical fads that make no sense, and that yet, every kitchen now has (huge coffee makers that take up half the counter in order to make one cup of coffee, while you practically have to go to an estate sale to find a good-old fashioned percolator that makes a far better cup of coffee, or that breakfast nook that only seats two so that if you have children or house guests, you must eat breakfast in the dining room or at some island that takes up 3/4 of the kitchen, has uncomfortable bar stools you need a ladder to reach, and that affords 2 inches of leg room)?

I will never forget when a former colleague of mine was re-doing her kitchen. I was so envious, because at the time, Bob and I were newly-married and house poor, having put all our savings into buying our home. I was dying to re-do our kitchen, which I now understand had been designed in 1959 by an anticook, and I was living vicariously through my colleague. I dreamed that she was doing to her kitchen what I hoped to do to my own one day: getting rid of that impractical wall oven that was quite obviously taking up what could be more storage space and that would let me extend the minuscule counter space. I wanted to knock out the pantry and bar and get rid of the breakfast nook to make a larger room where I could put a kitchen table in the middle of the floor that even people who were not the size and shape of stick insects could walk by to get from one end of the room to the other.

I didn't pay too much attention to my colleague's descriptions of granite counter tops (I just wanted counter tops and a back splash that were not 1950s pasty-speckled, diner-bar-lookalikes) and custom-made faucet (I just wanted a faucet that didn't break and leak all the time, one that had two handles, "hot" and "cold", instead of one swivel handle that was determined either to scald or freeze my hands, but never to get a decent temperature for washing dishes). She seemed to have endless fights with workmen (if I remember correctly, I think they put in the wrong granite counter tops or some such thing). As the project dragged on and on, she began to complain ad nauseam, and I began to get tired of the whole thing, beginning to think that if kitchen renovations were this troublesome, maybe I could make do a while longer with my anticook kitchen. Finally, one day, after hearing another long litany of all that had gone wrong, I said,

"But won't it all be worth it when you can cook all those fabulous meals?"

She turned to me and said, very disdainfully, "Oh, this isn't a kitchen for cooking."

If, at the time, I had read Sixpence in Her Shoe, maybe my jaw wouldn't have bruised itself on the ("hard wood, certainly not Pergo") floor: I had just encountered a perfect specimen of the anticook. Had Ms. McGinley been in the room, she would have looked at me and said,

"Get over it, dear. I've been dealing with this sort for years. Yes, they really do spend that much time and money on a kitchen where they will never, if they can help it, cook. Let's go to Trader Joes and get some things to make a delicious dinner. I'm thinking lemon...and butter...and rosemary..."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Questions About Books and Guilt

The day that Dorr announced she was thinking about joining my attacking the TBR tome challenge (with some wise modifications), she set off quite an interesting conversation in her comments section, most especially from Zhiv, who seemed to think that my idea of not buying new books until I'd read what was in my challenge was pretty silly. Those comments got Dorr thinking and led to her asking some questions in a different blog post. Basically, she was thinking about the guilt behind buying books and not reading them soon after buying them, and she asked us: how many of you have had a similar experience and feel a similar guilt? How do you deal with it?

First of all, I have to say that, although I find myself feeling guilty about all kinds of things, I don't tend to feel at all guilty about buying books, even when I don't read them forever (if at all). I love books. I love being surrounded by books. I love living in a house where I can browse the shelves and think about all the good stuff I have to read. Really, it's almost as good as visiting a small public library and browsing the shelves. I'm an anticipatory sort. In other words, I sometimes think I love the anticipation of something good more than I love the actual thing. An anticipatory book lover has no problems with a house full of unread books.

Recently, I read this quote:

Those who aspire to the status of cultured individuals visit bookstores
with trepidation, overwhelmed by the immensity of all they have not read. They
buy something that they've been told is good, make an unsuccessful attempt to
read it, and when they have accumulated half a dozen unread books, feel so bad
that they are afraid to buy more.

In contrast, the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread
books without losing their composure or desire for more. (Zaid, Gabriel, So Many Books, Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, p. 12)

It's so snobby, isn't it? What a ridiculous generalization. And yet (because, let's face it, I am a consummate snob at heart), I found I was patting myself on the back (all those trips in which well-meaning people dragged me to less-than-stellar art exhibits, off-Broadway "experiments," screenings of unintelligible foreign films, and the opera having paid off) and thinking, "I must be one of the most truly cultured people on the planet." (Bob, too, of course.)

Visiting a bookstore with trepidation? Bookstores are my "warm, fuzzy" place. I don't worry about all I haven't read. I rejoice at all I have yet to discover. The only trepidation I might feel is if I'm stuck at a store that doesn't seem to have anything on the page of my TBR tome that I happen to be carrying in my purse at the time. That lasts all of three minutes, though, before I happily go off and find five books I've never heard of that all look extremely good and interesting.

When I created this challenge, it had more to do with guilt over never completing any challenges than it did over buying too many books, that, and (this may sound odd), but guilt over not reading the books that so many people have given/recommended to me. The minute someone lends me a book, I begin to feel guilty about it until I've read it, and I will start setting myself deadlines as to how long I should keep it before I give it back unread. I always, always return books to their rightful owners, but sometimes, I keep them for 2 years before doing so, and then I feel guilty about that. If someone enthusiastically recommends a book to me, sure I will love it, I feel obligated to read it. The TBR tome is full of books that friends and family members have told me I must read and that I never get around to reading.

Finally, we have run out of shelf space in our house, and that bothers me. I keep thinking (wrongly, I am sure), that if I start reading more books from our own collection, I will be in a better position to decide which ones really can be given away. I promise you, this is a ridiculous thought on my part, because I manage to think of reasons to keep almost every single book I read, the most common being, "So-and-so might visit, and I'm sure he/she would love to read this book while here, so I'd better keep it." (Forget the fact that so-and-so has just moved to Indonesia and hates airplanes.) Still, I am hopeful that I might decide I can depart with some books to make room on our shelves if I start reading more of them.

The fact that I decided part of this challenge would be not to buy any books until I'd read those on my list tells you a lot about me. You see: I want to read these books. I want to complete a challenge for a change. Therefore, I need an impetus to do so. It's all purely selfish. I did not think about writers and the publishing industry (shame on me, since I want to be a published writer, and I work in the publishing industry). I did think about libraries, but now that I've begun choosing books, it seems I will probably just be reading from my own shelves (shame on me again, since I used to work in a library, have a graduate degree in library science, and Pennsylvania libraries need all the support they can get these days).

It's sort of a combined punishment and reward system, I suppose. My punishment is that I can't buy books until I've read 20 from the TBR tome, so if it takes me all year to read them, I have to go a year without buying any books. On the other hand, if I finish them all by February, my "reward" will be to get to buy books (and there's no telling what I might do. I might go to The Strand and come home with two bags full of books).

So, there you have it. It's guilt, but it's guilt of a different sort. Very rarely do I buy a book and feel guilty for not having read it, which is a blissful thing for me to have figured out (thank you, Dorr, for getting me to think about it). That's a very good thing, because there are plenty of other things taking up the guilt section of my brain (right now, in the forefront, there are unwritten blog posts, unread posts written by blogging buddies, pen pal letters to write...the list could go on and on).

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Jorge Sosa Story (Part II)

So, now, here we are in (the old) Yankee Stadium. Finally. It took us long enough to get here, didn't it?

This is a place Bob discovered when he was a wee lad (which is how this kid born in Dayton, OH of Cleveland Indian fans came to worship the Yankees). Bob's father, shortly after Bob was born, took a job as an attorney for General Electric, which meant many moves for the family throughout Bob's childhood. They spent four years in Queens, when he happened to be just the age at which most boys discover baseball: 3-7, I think it was, and (no matter that they eventually moved to Cleveland), his team was the Yankees and would be forever more.

Thus, now that we are at Yankee Stadium, you have to understand that we are accompanied by a little boy. He is very excited. He wants to get there hours before the game. He wants to walk around the park, maybe be there for batting practice (because, you know, we might catch a ball. We do happen to have a bag full of balls, somewhere, that have been caught over the years).

Today, the Yankees are playing Tampa Bay. We have arrived suitably early. We've had our ritual walk through Monument Park. I've bought my Cracker Jacks. Later, I will have my hot dog and beer. Bob has dragged me down with all the real little boys to watch the Tampa Bay players "warm up" for the game.

I am surrounded by cute, hopeful young men on both sides. They've got their gloves on. Some of them are waiting shyly, hoping for balls to come magically their way. Others are trying to draw attention to themselves, shouting out players' names. Soon, I begin to get bored. I have no glove. I have no interest in catching a ball. I (as always) have a book with me to read. I'm longing to go sit down and read until the game starts.

"I'm bored," I tell Bob. "I'm gonna go sit down."

"No. No. No," Bob tells me. "You can't go sit down. You might catch a ball."

Yeah. Right. Me. The one balls have always hits on the head/in the stomach/anywhere that might knock her flat. Bob is very persuasive, though. Somehow, he manages to convince me to stay.

Within minutes, Jorge Sosa, pitcher for Tampa Bay, looks up into the stands. All the little boys around me hold their gloves out hopefully as they notice he has a ball in his hand. I watch the boys and hope one of them manages to catch it.

Suddenly, Jorge points at us. No, wait a minute. He seems to be pointing at me. Whoa! I look to my right and gesture questioningly at the little boy standing right next to me. Is he pointing to this guy? Nope. Jorge shakes his head and, decidedly, points right at me. Double whoa! I gesture to myself, and he nods his head up and down. Uh-oh. He plans to throw the ball to me. Will it hit me in the face? Will I break a finger trying to catch it?

You know, there is a reason these guys are professional pitchers. He tosses it gently up to me through the crowds, and (for the first time in my life, I am pretty sure) I catch a baseball. In case you are wondering what pure bliss feels like, I can tell you (just take a look at that photo).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Shadow of the Shadow

Paco Ignacio Taibo, II, translated by William I Neuman. The Shadow of the Shadow. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 1991.

(The book was originally published in Mexico in 1986. Don't you just love that publisher's name, "Cinco Puntos Press"?)

I am way behind these days. The CT mystery book club actually met to discuss this book last Saturday, but life has gotten in the way of reading as of late (at least reading anything that needs close attention), and I didn't get it read in time to write a post that would do it justice. Thus, here we are, nearly a week after everyone has already discussed it and probably has no interest in what I have to say. Oh well...

I have to admit that I approached this book with some trepidation. I'm not a big fan of historical mysteries, for some reason, and, being a typical American, I (despite being an editor of multicultural studies) know nothing about Mexico and its history. I feared references to all kinds of stuff I wouldn't understand and the need to spend hours on line trying to wade through material that would fill a semester-long course on Mexican history. I needn't have feared.

Yes, there were references to historic events that I didn't understand, and this book may have been better if I weren't so ignorant, but it didn't matter. Somehow, I just found the book so appealing (horrible violence and all. Someday, I'm going to have to figure out my relationship with violence. I think I don't like it, often find its details to be unnecessary, but I seem, sometimes, to have a high tolerance for it). First of all, all the main characters (a poet, a Chinese-Mexican union organizer, a journalist, and a lawyer), our "detectives," if you will, all get together to play dominoes on a regular basis. (Here's one of those little-known facts about me that I probably ought to save for the next Facebook meme I get tagged to do: I love to play dominoes. Not straight-up dominoes, but fun variations like the Mexican train game, chicken foot, and wildfire). Each of the chapter openers for this book had a picture of a domino bone or two with the dots that corresponded to the chapter numbers (a clever design element that immediately made me appreciate the publisher). How could I possibly not be drawn to a book whose first chapter is entitled "In Which the Characters Play Dominoes," with subsequent chapter titles such as "In Which the Characters Play Dominoes and Discover That the Trombonist and Lady Are Connected" and ""In Which the Characters Play Dominoes and Decide That the Archangel Gabriel is Calling on Them to Intervene?" Not all the chapters involve playing dominoes, but I came to look forward to the ones that did.

I can't quite pinpoint why, but somehow, this book had a very G.K. Chesterton feel to it. Maybe it was the hint of surrealism. Maybe it was the way that events, which at first seemed random and completely unconnected, soon found themselves falling on top of each other (yes, just like setting off a row of dominoes), so that it became impossible for one thing not to affect another (or for each falling domino not to knock down another). With a lesser writer, this might not have worked, might have been all too obvious and seemed very contrived, but I felt it worked beautifully in Ignacio Taibo's hands, and I loved it for its cleverness.

Or maybe I thought of Chesterton (especially The Man Who Was Thursday) because so much wasn't what it seems to be. For instance, we have a poet (how romantic, right?) who is really someone who writes ad copy. We have a lawyer (how noble, huh?) who defends prostitutes, becoming involved with one. We have a Chinese-Mexican who can't pronounce his "r's," even though he has lived in Mexico all his life and doesn't speak Chinese.

It's all quite humorous, and that's what I didn't expect. I don't know why I keep forgetting that humor seems to be a strong component of this genre. Certainly, so many of the books we've read for this discussion group have made that clear, but still, I picked this one up, expecting it to be dead serious from beginning to end. It wasn't, at least, not completely. Yes, a good deal of it was very serious: murder and revolution and violence and all that, but it was handled with humorous reprieve. Some of that humor was quite subtle. I loved this line when I came across it,

"Jacinto Huitron was scheduled to speak following the overture (Wagner, oh well)." (p. 56)

That's my sentiment exactly (despite being married to a man who has been desperately trying to get me to like Wagner from the moment we met).

This was definitely not a book for a nineteenth-century Lady, though. Some of the humor was quite raunchy, and talk about "boys being boys." Not that that is a criticism coming from me. I happen to love boys, especially when they show that they know how to have fun and not take life too seriously and banter back and forth over endless games of dominoes (well, except when they forgot those are real guns and knives they have in their hands and that fighting can lead to death).

I had no problem getting into the whole "whodunit?" aspect of the book, either. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but believe it or not, I often find myself thinking "Oh, who really cares?" if a murder or mystery isn't portrayed in just the right way. This one was good. Things happened very matter-of-factly but in such a way that I wanted to know why, wanted to know what was really happening, especially as the friends got together and discussed the various events they had witnessed or had been a part of. And "matter-of-fact" is how I would describe Ignacio Taibo's writing style, as well. (Although the thought did cross my mind: how much is that his true style and how much is the translator's? It's difficult to know when you can't read the original). He's a very interesting writer, though, because he is very straightforward and then will suddenly surprise with some insightful, often poetic, detail, as he does here:

The widow stared at him, searching for some sign in the journalist's face.
But her violet eyes probed deeper, until she found the wound left there by
another woman, the wound with its vulnerable scar tissue. (p. 53)

Ultimately, though, the whodunit didn't matter so much. These characters had endeared themselves to me. I wanted to read just to see what was going to happen to them. I like it when an author seems to have a genuine fondness for his characters, when he's aware that we're all human, that we all have good and bad sides. It takes talent to get a reader to warm up to characters who are engaging in reprehensible acts. But I did. I just wanted to walk into that bar, pull up a chair, order a strong drink, and play dominoes with them all night.

And there you have it: yet another example of a book I didn't think I was going to like that I ended up liking very much. Will I read more Ignacio Taibo? Probably not, but I'm glad I read this one.

(Oh, and there is one good thing about being late to post on this: I can tell you what the next book is. We're going to be reading The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Jorge Sosa Story (Part One)

All right, the Yankees just won the World Series. What better time, then, to tell my Jorge Sosa story? I know. I know. Nobody in his or her right mind would associate pitcher Jorge Sosa with the New York Yankees, but bear with me, okay? We'll get to that. Today, though, is Part One: The Backstory. Here you go:

Back when Bob and I lived close(r) to (and in) New York City, we used to try to get to a Yankees game at least once a year. It's still odd for me to hear myself tell people that. You see, I grew up in North Carolina. We had no professional baseball teams in the state. I was sort of a lukewarm Atlanta Braves fan, if anything. Truth be told, though, I just didn't care much for baseball.

Anyone who has ever lived in North Carolina knows that there is one sport and one sport only. The rest are merely games. But basketball? Well, the mega Southern Baptist churches know who their competition is. And we're not talking pro basketball here (at least, not since Jordan left the Bulls). Charlotte had some team called the Bumblebees or something, didn't it? (Now, before I get a million emails from 21st-century American literalists with no sense of humor -- an invasive breed that does not understand words like "facetious" or "sarcasm" -- I will take the sting out of the humor: yes I do know that they were the Charlotte Hornets. And I hope that some of you are with it enough to have caught an intentional pun.) No, we are talking college hoops. Before you even learn to say "mama" or "dada", if you happen to be a baby born in North Carolina, you know how to say, "Go 'heels!" or "Go Wake!" or "Go Wolfpack!" (My omission here, for those in the know, will tell you where my loyalties lie.)

Yes, I was a basketball fan. I was also a football fan. I can still remember my father teaching me the rudiments of the game -- all about first downs and touchdowns -- as we watched The Washington Redskins lose, yet again, on our black and white TV. My football knowledge was furthered when my brother got an electronic football game (BTW, don't let the British boys fool you when it comes to American football. Ian took that thing to England with us when we went to live there, and we barely managed to get our hands on it with all the boys in our village passing it around, mesmerized by it, trying to outscore each other, while telling us out of the other sides of their mouths what a wimpy sport American football is).

So, I was a basketball fan and a football fan. Then I moved to Connecticut (in the days before the Internet) where all I could find in the local papers, papers that didn't seem to care less about the ACC (until March, of course), were UConn scores. Getting information about the teams I loved was suddenly nearly impossible. Thus, much to my surprise, my interest in basketball began to wane. My interest in football, which I had never liked as much as basketball, even more so, now that I had no one who wanted to watch it with me.

And then I met Bob: a sports fanatic all around. He'll tell you he's not, but he is. You just have to be able to intuit, somehow, that just because he will sit in front of a TV watching football for 2-3 hours doesn't mean he's really into it. In fact, despite the fact there is no leisure-time activity you're not that into that you would waste 2-3 hours of your precious time on (unless, you know, it's six months into a new relationship that seems to be going somewhere, and your new love thinks nothing is more fun than spending a Saturday train spotting with you), you're supposed to believe him when he tells you he's not that into football (despite the fact he played the sport in high school and coached it when he was a teacher).

Actually, though, it's easy to believe he's not that into football if you've ever seen how he relates to baseball. Most specifically: Yankees baseball. You can tell it's different because he has to sit a certain way while watching it. You can tell because, unless the Yankees are ahead by 8 in the bottom of the ninth, you will never be able to engage him in idle chatter. You can tell because, if it's the 6th game of the World Series, and the Yankees suddenly go ahead by 3 runs, you'd think someone had come along and told him he'd won the $70,000,000 jackpot.

It's infectious. I've long since lost interest in basketball. I've come, pretty much, to dislike football (such a stupid, violent sport that brings out the worst in men when there's so much of the best in men that needs attention). But baseball? Bob has taught me all about what an incredibly cool sport it is (and it is. It's truly the thinking man's -- and woman's -- sport). And Yankees baseball? Well, I'm all over that (except I have a hard time watching it, because I am convinced I am bad luck for the team). No, nobody likes Steinbrenner, and I'm not somebody, so I fall into that camp. However, I do like the majority of the players on the team and have ever since Bob infected me. (My favorite was Paul O'Neill, who has long since retired.)

And so, Bob and I used to go to Yankees Stadium (the old one) at least once a year, which is where this story that is to be continued really begins, and where you will meet Jorge Sosa. I'll see you in Part 2 (sometime next week) at Yankee stadium.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Oh What the Hell? Another Challenge. Let's Call It The Attacking the TBR Tome Challenge

I know. I know. I came up with three challenges earlier this year and almost immediately abandoned them, so can you really trust me when it comes to challenges? Probably not. However, a new year is on the horizon. I always become my most hopeful self when a new year is on the horizon. I'm the sort of person who if you're going to tell me I've got an incurable disease and only have six months to live, you should tell me in late November, with a new year right around the corner. I will respond with, "Ha! Incurable for most, but not for me Emily Barton, who can conquer anything come January. Just give me till January 1, and you'll see. I've got at least 50 more years in this old body." Tell me the same thing in March or May, and I'll be saying, "Six months, you say? You'd better start digging my grave now. I'm pretty sure it won't be more than two weeks."

2009 (and what disappointments it may or may not have) is already being swept under the carpet as I focus on how much better 2010 is going to be. And what's the first thing I want to attack in 2010? My TBR tome. I know, most of you only have a list, so this challenge is probably going to be a little easier for me than it is for you, given that I will have many, many more titles to choose from than you will. I also know that many of you refer to your TBR pile, an idea that just amazes me. To actually have nothing more than a mere pile (okay, some of you have piles but still) of books to read? I have a whole houseful of books to read, thanks to having married my husband, the former English teacher and pack rat (I hope those of you who have visited will attest to this fact). Not that I can blame it all on him. I didn't used to buy books at the alarming rate at which I buy them now, but I'm like a bulimic. The slightest excuse (broke a fingernail, it's raining/snowing/a brilliantly sunny day, I need a change of scenery...), and I'm off to the nearest bookstore to purchase at least five books, eyes too big for stomach, finding the need to purge (or at least set aside for months on end) after reading only two.

So, here is how this challenge works. It begins December 1, 2009 (because I always believe in challenges that give you more than one year to complete) and ends no later than December 31, 2010, but it really ends whenever you manage to complete it. Here are the rules:

1. Choose 20 books from your TBR list (or tome, if you are like me), and post them on December 1, 2009. If you'd like, you can tell us why you chose each book (I'm sure you can guess what I'd "like").

2. Read those 20 books.

3. Oh, did I mention? You are not allowed to buy any of them. If you don't already own them, you must beg, borrow, or steal them in order to read them.

4. Oh, I guess I forgot the other difficult part: you are not allowed to buy any new (or used. No, you can't get around it that way) books until you have read (or attempted to read at least 30+ pages) of all the books on your list.

5. There is one exception to the rules (because I am a fair kinda gal and belong to 2 book discussion groups): you may buy books you have to read for book discussion groups before you have read all 20 on your list, if you can't get them any other way (i.e. your library system doesn't have them and employs the Sloth Express to deliver all interlibrary loans). However, I highly recommend that you encourage your book discussion groups to read books from your list of 20.

6. And then that final thing: write a blog post about each book as you finish (or decide you can't finish) it.

That's it. Who's joining me?

(And now I'm off to flip through the pages of the TBR tome and start narrowing down my list.)