Friday, April 30, 2010

The Murder of Roger Akroyd by Agatha Christie

Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Akroyd. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1985. (The book was orginally published in 1929.)

(I couldn't find a cover image for the edition of this book I read, so I chose this one. Isn't it fantastic?)

Somehow, the Connecticut detective book club had managed to go this long (over 2 years. Hard to believe we've been together that long, huh?) without reading any Christie. You knew we'd get around to her soooner or later, though right? I mean, you can't really be a detective book club and ignore The Dame.

I hadn't read any Christie since I was in my twenties, and most of what I've read of hers, I'd read long before that. As far as detective fiction goes, though (if you don't count things like The Hardy Boys and -- eleven-year-old-me's very favorite -- Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators), you could say I cut my teeth on Christie. In fact, you could say as far as contemporary adult fiction goes, I cut my teeth on Christie. I started reading "my first grownup book" when I was twelve. My sister had pulled an Agatha Christie from our shelves (sorry, but I don't remember exactly which one. I am pretty sure it was a Tommy and Tuppence, though) and told me to start with it. I was sure this adult book was going to be too hard for me, but I was determined (because my 13-year-old cousin had recently mocked me for still going to the children's room of the main, downtown branch of our county library). There we were, both lying on my sister's bed, reading, when I, all on about page 2 or so, came to the word "unshed" describing "snow."

"What's 'unshed'?" I asked my sister, pronouncing the word with one syllable, like "bunched."

"Huh? Unshed?" See? These books were so hard, even my sister didn't know all the words.

"Yeah. It says 'unshed snow.'"

"Let me see." I handed her the book.

"Un-shed. Un-shed," she said, laughing. I joined in, and thus, yet another family joke was born.

Once I got over that mysterious unshed snow, I went on to devour the book and then every other Christie we had in the house, as well as at the local branch of our county library, except the Miss Marple mysteries. To this day, I have yet to read a Miss Marple, because neither of my sisters liked her, and they convinced me not to read the books that feature her (and now you see what sort of sway two older sisters can have over a third daughter).

Now that I've read so many other mystery writers, I was curious to see how Agatha Christie would hold up. I was afraid this book might be as boring as The Yellow Room or that forgettable Ngaio Marsh we read, that my sophisticated palate would find her stultifying. Would Hercule Poirot seem like nothing but a pompous ass now that I've met the likes of Father Brown (who can be a bit pompous himself, but the stories are so much fun and so funny that you easily forgive him), Lew Archer, John Rebus, and (most recently) John Connolly's Charlie Parker?

I needn't have feared. Agatha Christie held up marvelously, and Poirot is no more pompous than he has a right to be. He's actually rather self-effacing and endearing, if judging him by this book. We first come across him throwing squashes over the garden wall in anger and frustration, because he had imagined himself capable of enjoying a nice, quiet retirement in the village of King's Abbott, and instead (reading between the lines), is finding it as boring as I thought this book might be.

The Murder of Roger Akroyd is definitely what, by today's mystery classifications, would be described as a "cozy" (a description I've always found amusing. I understand when you tell me that Miss Read is "cozy," even though I've never read her. I can just tell. I don't understand, however, how anything that involves murder can be considered "cozy." A "neat," perhaps, because it follows a formula and all is explained, with no loose ends, in the end. Or maybe a "no-blood-and-guts," but not a "cozy." I mean, if you had just discovered that your next-door-neighbor had been found with a dagger in his back, I don't think you'd respond, "Oh, how nice. Let's pour ourselves some tea and sit in front of the fire wrapped in blankets and play a game of Scrabble." At least I wouldn't. I'd be double-and-triple checking the locks on all my doors and calling up some of the biggest, toughest people I know to ask if they'd like to come over and hang out all night with a bottle of bourbon). We only have one body (not counting the obvious suicide on the very first page). The suspects are all known to each other. And the detective just happens to have moved into this village.

It could have been extremely dull, yet another chapter-after-chapter of questioning until you just want to throw the book across the room, because you care so little about any of it and are angry that it doesn't just end. Finally, something comes to light, and the detective manages to get someone to confess. By then, you've practically forgotten who's been killed and can't be bothered to decide whether or not the pulling together of all the clues, resulting in this conclusion, makes sense. The murderer confesses, and you just decide, "well, it must make sense. She confessed."

But here's where Christie's genius lay: the book is not the least bit dull. First of all, I am green with envy over her powers of description. She observes everything wisely and keenly, and nothing gets past her (I'm not sure I would have wanted to be her neighbor or a regular guest at her house, but these are just the sorts of qualities you want in a mystery writer), and she's just that little bit snarky enough to add fun without too much discomfort. As such, we really know her characters. She also knows her English villages. I loved this description of King's Abbot we got:

Able-bodied men are apt to leave the place early in life, but we are rich in
unmarried ladies and retired military officers. Our hobbies and recreations can
be summed up in one word, "gossip." (p. 7)

And she knows how to make a house that's full of secrets completely believable. Sometimes, when reading mysteries, I'm amused by all the secrets and all the odd things an author will have going on in, say, an English country house like this one, on any given night. Usually, I find myself thinking, "Oh, come on! Wasn't there a single person in the house who just ate dinner and went to bed? They can't all have had something to hide that might make them murderers." Here, I just found myself thinking, "Boy, she's so clever in the way she's managed to get me to believe all this."

Finally, she's got a great sense of humor that I just love. There's this fabulous scene in which some of the characters are all playing Mah Jong while gossiping and puzzling through the murder. The scene is beautifully executed, each character epitomizing different styles of play that suit their personalities perfectly. She certainly had me giggling.

I will say that I did figure out whodunit, but only for two reasons: a. I had a very vague memory of the surprising ending, despite the fact I hadn't read this in probably over 30 years. It's definitely an ending that ought to stick and b. the jacket copy, as well as friends, had gone on about the clever twist at the end. That put me on my toes and had me looking for the sorts of things authors throw in as clues that readers like I so often miss while being wrapped up in more exciting details of the plot (the old magician distracting the audience routine). I wasn't disappointed, though, just gratified to have been right, and I still found myself thinking, "Well done" at the end.

I imagine critics might say that she copped out at the end. To some degree, she did, but, really, I can't see what else she could have done. She'd done a brilliant job of setting up this whole thing, and I, for one, would have been quite disappointed if she hadn't ended it the way she did. Besides, when the death penalty is a guarantee, which it was in those days, my guess is that it wasn't quite so unrealistic for a case to end this way.

I wish I were going to be at the discussion this weekend, because I'm dying to talk about why this was such a great book to follow The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I'd like to make comparisons to The Moonstone. I won't do so here, though, because I am so loathe to include spoilers in blog posts about books I've enjoyed (and hope I didn't say too much in the previous paragraph). You're on your own to read all three books and to figure it out yourself.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Neglected Classic Meme

I got this one from Litlove. I've had a blog post floating around in my head about books nobody reads that they should, and then this came along. As I commented to Litlove, it seems highly appropriate to begin with this meme, and then I might get around to writing about other books soon. So, here you go: the neglected classic meme.

What is your neglected Classic?
Emma Who Saved My Life by Wilton Barnhardt. It was first published in 1989, so it's barely 20 years old. With the exception of a few people I've raved to about it (and a couple of readers of this blog who commented on it a few years back when I mentioned it in one of my posts, oh, and my sister, who read it independently of me), nobody I know has even heard of it, let alone read it. Does that mean it can't qualify as a classic? I think not.

When did you first read it?
I don't remember exactly what year it was but sometime in the late 1990s. It could have been the early 2000s, but was most definitely before Bob was in seminary (which means prior to 2003), because it was before we'd lived in New York. I do remember finding it on the shelves at one of Bob's and my favorite bookstores, The Hickory Stick in Washington Depot, CT. I bought it for him as a gift, thinking he needed something light and funny to read, because he was going through a rough period, and he read it first. I can still remember lying in bed, both of us with books in hand, and his roaring with laughter over this one. As soon as he was done with it, I just had to read it. It turns out, it's funny, but it's not really so light.

Give a brief summary of the book
In 1974, a young Midwesterner named Gil steps off the bus that has brought him to New York where he plans to seek his fame and fortune as an actor. He meets his friend Lisa, who has preceded him by three months and who is seeking her fame and fortune as a painter. Lisa introduces Gil to Emma, seeking her fame and fortune as a poet. So there you have it: the actor, the artist, and the writer, and they start by all sharing a sublet together. The fact that none of these three is a native New Yorker makes them, as E.B. White once mused, even more New York, doesn't it (New York being the city that is made up of so many out-of-towners)? Gil falls madly in love with Emma, who does not fall madly in love with him (at least, we don't think she does, but we only know her through Gil's first-person narrative. I've always thought it would be neat if Barnhardt -- or someone -- would write Emma's side of the story), and we spend ten years with this threesome -- but really twosome -- in New York City, experiencing all their very real ups and downs with seeking fame and fortune and love in New York.

What makes this book stand out to you?
Always witty (I'm a self-deprecating humor junkie, and Gil is Perfection in this regard) and sometimes uproariously funny (one of Gil's off-off Broadway experiences still makes Bob and me laugh if we merely mention it to each other), I also loved this book for being so real. I found myself wondering why Gil was infatuated to the extent he was with Emma. She was annoying at best and often just plain cruel. Nonetheless, he manages to make her sympathetic. I couldn't quite hate her. I have felt that way many, many times about friends of mine's ga-ga infatuations.

I also loved Barnhardt's portrayal of New York and the 1970s. The book made me so wish I'd had that experience of living in the city when I was in my twenties, which I never was brave enough to do, always feeling I didn't have enough money (I marveled at these characters, determined to make it there even so). There is a poignancy to the book that is not just about the characters. It is also about the city and the decade. Not only about the characters' loss of youth and innocence, but also about the city's and the decade's losses of youth and innocence. That sounds absurd for a book that takes place in the 1970s, I know, but so be it. It may be absurd, but Wilton Barnhardt accomplishes it. The book also reminded me that I am as madly in unrequited love with that city as Gil is with Emma, which is why I don't see all its annoying and cruel traits the way friends of mine might.

Name some similar authors
Armistead Maupin, sort of, but not really, because Maupin is more farcical. Richard Russo, but Russo is a bit older and more jaded, although less edgy. An American Nick Hornby, maybe? I don't know. If anyone has read this book, please feel free to help me out here.

What sort of person would you recommend to read this book?
Anyone who loves New York City, most especially those who, as twentysomethings, actually set out to seek fame and fortune in The Big Apple and hung out with other twentysomethings doing same. Anyone who wishes they'd known that city prior to the 1980s, when it was being over-run by yuppies, but loves it anyway. Anyone who has ever been an idiot in and for unrequited love. Also, anyone who loves a book with fantastic characterization and (one of my favorite author tricks) an author who knows how to make the setting one of the characters.

Do you have any quotes you'd like to share?
Here's Gil when he first arrives in New York:

Now, I very much wanted to look like Coolness, so I went to male prostitute/Pot-Heroin-Cocaine Central, the men's room, to Freshen Up and there I am before a dingy mirror trying to look tough, New York tough, Gil in the big city...nope, it's not gonna work. I'm still five-ten, I'm still a wimp, I can barely lift my suitcase.

(Even though I am a woman, I know exactly what he means about trying to look New York tough.)

This is Emma's take on nutrition (this quote is part of the marketing copy and helped sell me on the book when I first found it):

"It is important to have one representative from each of the four food groups. A caffeine, a sugar, a booze, and a grease. Now I had coffee and a doughnut this morning, and I'm going to drink cheap beer tonight. That leaves a grease--Fritos."

(That quote perfectly sums up why, no matter how annoying she may be, I can't hate Emma.)

And, there we have it. I have just convinced myself that I need to reread this book. The whole purpose of this meme is to spread the word about great neglected books. If you are reading this post, consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reading in 2020

Don't get me wrong. As many of you know, I am, by no means, anti-e-book. I have an iTouch, and I have downloaded free e-book apps (including The Kindle) and have played around with (oh yeah, and read) them. I have discovered that I don't have much trouble reading a book on the small screen (something I had thought would be a problem), and I love the convenience of it: instant books (I have not yet paid for a single e-book, which probably is not good, since I work in publishing. This will change when Bob and I get an iPad -- we're waiting for the second generation), one small gizmo to carry around in my bag (on my last business trip, I only took one print book with me. That would have been unheard of in my pre-iTouch days), and the ability to quickly look stuff up online while reading a book, if I want (I know. I know. Many say that sort of thing is ruining the act of reading, but I do it anyway, because...well, I can. The novelty may wear off at some point). And, as I've always suspected, I was thrilled when I began reading my e-book version of Eothen, or Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East by Alexander William Kinglake (great book, by the way. Download it and read it if you've got the Kindle app), got to my first endnote, tapped on the number, and was instantly taken to the note. When I was done, I tapped again and was instantly taken back to my place. Such service! What else could a reader want?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Sure, e-books provide plenty of conveniences, but conveniences always come hand-in-hand with inconveniences. You'd think they were sixteen-year-olds in love for the first time. You rarely ever see them apart.

We readers are an imaginative lot, and my imagination seems to love to play around with e-book scenarios. It's been making up all kinds of scenarios that might become reality if the likes of Jeff Bezos have their way and manage to kill print publishing. Even if, say, they don't make the mistake of catering to ADHD techies instead of readers, attaching all sorts of bells and whistles to the latest Neil Gaiman novel, and merely give us what we now have, the book in a downloadable format, I don't think I'll be too happy living in such a world. Here are a few of the scenarios my imagination has been serving up:

Scenario #1

Emily's Friend (EF): So, did you finish Cool Mysterywriter's new book yet? What a great book. I was so surprised. I just didn't see that ending coming at all.

Emily (E): Well,

EF: No? But you told me you started that at least two weeks ago. I couldn't put it down. I read it in, like, one day. Don't tell me you didn't like it. How could you not like it?

E: No. I loved it.

EF: You loved it, but you haven't finished it? God, you've got so much more self control than I have. I had to put my life on hold for that one.

E: It's not that. I wanted to finish it, was putting my life on hold, too. Then, it disappeared.

EF: What? Oh, God, not with that book. I'm always afraid that's going to happen to me with a book like that. Luckily, it hasn't so far.

EF: Yeah, well, it's the third one this year that's disappeared on me. I'd just started the next to the last chapter, and that was it. Gone. I checked all the files, everywhere it could possibly be. Nothing. Lost forever. And I refuse to pay for it again. Now I'm on the interminable waiting list at the library. But don't tell me how it ends. I don't want to know.

EF: Don't worry. I won't. But, God, I don't know how you can wait. I'd lend you my copy, but well, of course, you know, I can't.

E: I know. And to think, I thought I hated Amazon back in 2008. I knew nothing about hate back then.

Scenario #2

EF: Oh, I just finished the most fun book. It's Katie Chicklit's most recent, and it's so funny. You downloaded that one when you went to London, didn't you?

E: Yeah, but I never read it.

EF: Too bad. It would've been perfect airplane reading.

E: Oh, I'm sure it would've been. I had saved it for the plane ride back. But then, we got stuck on the ground before taking off from Heathrow.

EF: Oh no!

E: Yep. They loaded us all on board, wouldn't let us get off, and then we sat for 3 1/2 hours before we finally took off. I'd forgotten to recharge my battery the night before, which would have been fine, if we hadn't had that extra 3 1/2 hours tagged on. Of course, my #$%! battery died. I had enough power to finish up the one book I was reading, but not enough for Katie Chicklit.

EF: God, what did you do?

E: I was stuck watching some Godawful, barely memorable movie.

Scenario #3

Tech Store Clerk (TSC): I'm sorry. We can't fix this.

E: What do you mean you can't fix this??! I've got 1500 books loaded on that thing. You've got to fix it.

TSC: It's nearly two years old. We don't have the parts to fix something that old. There's nothing we can do.

E: There's nothing you can do? I just lose all my books? That's it?

TSC: Well, you could try "We Fix Everything." They sometimes have some of the really old parts.

E: And where are they?

TSC: Let me get their address and phone number for you.

E (while TSC is typing and looking at her computer screen): Do you have any idea how much that might cost?

TSC: It varies, but it usually starts at around $3000.

Scenario #4

Online Headline News:

"Amazon Spanks Readers with Worldtakeover II"

Jeff Bezos announced today that the Worldtakeover II, Amazon's new e-book reader, will be on sale in time for Christmas 2020...blah...blah...blah...blah. "Well, yes," he says, when asked to confirm rumors that those who want to read the latest John Grisham novel will have to purchase the $1500 Worldtakeover II, "it's true that none of the new e-books we'll be publishing will be compatible with the Worldtakeover I. But once readers see what these new machines can do, they will no longer want to read books on machines with that 6-month-old technology." Blah...blah...blah...blah.

Luckily, my imagination is truly unable to picture a world without books. It tells me that, although creating these scenarios is fun for it, I need not worry that I will ever actually have to live any of them. We'll see. In the meantime, watch me: I'm going to start stockpiling print books like crazy. Okay, okay. "Continue stockpiling print books like crazy."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Childhood Favorites

Dear Ms. Musings seems to pop back and forth between America and GB in a way that would probably exhaust me. Luckily, in this day and age of FB and blogs, I can live vicariously through her without suffering the exhaustion, and I also benefit greatly, because she brings me back Mars Bars. Eating Mars Bars on a fairly regular basis, which is something I hadn't done in years, has led me to think about how some foods that I loved as a child have changed almost beyond recognition. They are no longer any good. I would question whether the foods themselves have changed or whether I just have so many dead taste buds now that I can't taste them the way I did as a child. Possibly, it's just my faulty, aging memory.

But no, there are enough examples of foods that have not changed to convince me that it's the manufacturers and their obsession with "new and improved" (you can guarantee when you see that, that the "improved" is referring to an improvement in what was the high cost of producing whatever it is, not in the quality of whatever it is itself. The quality will suffer greatly, while the Check Spellingmanufacturer saves a bundle by, for instance, using some cheaply manufactured substitute instead of real cream, thus "improving" their margins), not my poor taste buds or memory, that have caused some foods to go bad. I've decided to share with you some examples of the foods that are still just as good as ever:

Mars Bars (the English version, not that American thing with snow white nougat and almonds -- although that was pretty good, too. Do they even make those anymore? I haven't seen one in years)
Do not mistake the American Milky Way for some sort of substitute. The Milky Way Bar (even the dark chocolate version) does not measure up in any way, shape, or form. It is a testament to how much I love this particular chocolate bar (must call it a "chocolate" and not a "candy" bar in deference to its nationality) that it is milk chocolate, and I (a dark-chocolate-the-darker-the-better-kinda-gal) still love it. It hasn't changed a bit in the 41 years I've been eating it: very thick chocolate, stringy caramel, and not-too-soft nougat. It's so sweet it can make your teeth hurt, so you need to eat it slowly, and it's the perfect accompaniment to any book.

Cheez Doodles
These are not to be confused with Cheetoes (although those are quite tasty too). I could easily eat a whole barrel full of these tasty little snacks. I don't care that my insides would then probably be stained that hideous orange color for life. Nothing else has the same salty, fake cheesiness as the original Cheez Doodle. Nothing else has the right combination of soft crunchiness (Pirate Booty tries, and comes close, but it's just a bit too crunchy at the end, the point at which it should be completely soft). Nothing else melts on the tongue quite the same way, if you let it. Nothing else hurts the roof of your mouth in the same way, if you eat way too many of them way too fast, giving you that 2-day reminder, every time you drink a hot liquid, of how good they were.

The Whopper, Jr.
This little hamburger was my first foray into the world of fast food. Sometimes, my mother would pick me up from kindergarten and I'd be all alone with her (a rare treat when you have 3 siblings), and we'd go out to lunch. I loved the Woolworth lunch counter and a local restaurant/ice cream shop called Mayberry's, but my favorite place to eat was Burger King, where I could eat exactly 1/2 a Whopper, Jr. and drink a small chocolate shake (back in the days when "small" meant "small," not "a tad bit less gigantic than large." By the way, the chocolate shake is one of those foods that has changed. They are still as thick as ever, but are not the least bit chocolate-y anymore and are pretty much indistinguishable from the vanilla shakes). I still love the Whopper, Jr -- the food that taught me that mayonnaise and catsup together were a great combination for a hamburger. I like that char-broiled flavor, which is why I've always preferred Burger King to McDonalds. The regular Whopper is too big and messy, still, but the Jr. is just the right size. I eat them very rarely, but they are my fast food of choice when I'm on the road.

Swedish Fish
Not much in this world provides a better sugar fix than these wonderful, chewy, sweet little gems. And there are so many different ways to eat them. You can bite into the head and pull and stretch the body. You can pop it into your mouth and suck on it. You can pop it into your mouth and chew. Or you can combine these various ways of eating one fish. Really, they are one of the world's most perfect candies. I like the multi-colored, multi-flavored, original sized ones the best, but I'll take all-red, if that's all you've got. I'll also take the mini-size (so cute but harder to stretch), if that's all you've got. Oh, and here are some words of advice from someone in the know: beware if you ever visit Lancaster County, PA. In some of the country stores around here, they sell these jellied fish that are not the same and that are very disappointing if you think you are getting Swedish fish. You must make sure they say "Swedish fish" on them to get the real thing. Luckily, the candy shop that is within walking distance of my house, makes the right kind. Also, beware the adult drink known as the Swedish fish. As good as the candy, but lethal. You have no idea you are drinking alcohol.

Frozen Chicken Pot Pie
Here in Lancaster County, there's this stuff everyone calls "chicken pot pie" that isn't. It's a chicken stew with big, flat noodles on top. Everyone else in the world knows that chicken pot pie should have a crust (it's a "pie" after all). And it should come in its own tiny little pie pan. It shouldn't have too many frozen peas and carrots, but a few are fine. It most definitely needs to be very salty and to be so hot that you probably burn your tongue on the gravy with that first bite. Oh, and it's best served by the babysitter who ignores all bedtimes and no-television rules when your parents are out for the night (or, better yet, away for the weekend).

Lucky Charms
They've added some new marshmallow shapes and colors, but the taste hasn't changed a bit. In composing this list, I'm beginning to realize I must have been a little masochist as a child (so, what's changed?), as this is yet another food that could rub the roof of the mouth raw if eaten too fast. But isn't it delicious in its perfect mix of sugary oat crunch and even more sugary marshmallow bits? I love the way those marshmallows are hard and crunchy until they soak a little in the milk. I love the way they sweeten the milk. I just plain love them.

Campbell's Tomato Soup
The comfort food to beat all comfort food. I like the heart-attack-in-a-can-full-salt version. I like to make it with milk, so it's creamy. It's especially good with a greasy grilled cheese sandwich. And again, a great accompaniment to any book.

Keebler's Pecan Sandies
They're so nice and thick. They're so buttery (even, if I suspect, it isn't real butter. I've never checked the ingredients). Again, they are that perfect combination of crunchy that melts correctly on the tongue. I had a boyfriend once who introduced me to the fabulous combination of putting pecan sandies in the bottom of a bowl and topping them with vanilla ice cream.

Now here's my question: if I remember correctly, my mother was, by and large, a health food fanatic. She strictly controlled our diets when we were kids. Junk food was rarely to be found in our cabinets. How is it that I developed such strong attachments to all this junk food?

And now, as you may have guessed, I am starving. Alas, I have none of these foods in my kitchen. I hope I didn't make you hungry as well.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nerds on Parade

I spent last weekend in DC attending the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). I've been to many librarian and teacher conferences in my day, but this was my first academic conference. You know what I observed? We nerds may call ourselves by different names ("librarian," "teacher," "editor," "historian..."), but basically, we all look alike. And no, it isn't that we are all wearing high waters, white socks, and pocket protectors.

Some of us actually look quite hip. Women have tattoos on their ankles. Men have diamond studs in their ears or long hair pulled back in pony tails. Still, you can tell we are editors, librarians, professors. Not a soul at any of these conferences would be mistaken for a model or a movie star or an athlete (well, except that one author of mine who is a history professor but who really does look like he could fit into any one of these categories. He seemed completely out of place. People probably thought he was someone else's guest).

I was perfectly comfortable at this conference. I felt like I'd been gathering with all these people for years. I could have plucked people off the exhibit hall floor and plopped them down on the exhibit hall floor at the next meeting of the American Library Association or the National Conference of Teachers of Math (yes. I said math. I know people think there is a huge difference between history nerds and math nerds, but really, a nerd is a nerd), and nobody observing them would be able to tell the difference.

You can tell us editors, though. We're the only nerds in the world who are also whores, the ones shoving our cards into the hands of every nerd who walks our beat, asking "What's your specialty? Would you like to write a book or perhaps an essay?" I'm shameless, preying on the younger, less-experienced when I ought to let them keep their innocence a while longer. As I mentioned to my friend Bob, who is very familiar with these conferences and us editor-whores, a frog could hop into the booth, and I'd thrust my card into its hands and say, "Might you be interested in writing about blue frog migration in green frog territory?"

The professors, of course, are just as easy to recognize. They aren't whores. They are beggars. They want to know if they can get a free review copy of this or that book. They want to know if we'll publish their dissertation on the history of the shoelace from 1960-1961. I'm sure this was an extraordinarily significant period in the history of the shoelace, but when confronted with such a proposal, I (whore that I am, not likely to let any potential writer slip through my fingers) am likely to respond, "Well, we might, if you broaden it a little. Here's my card. Email me, and I'll send you our proposal guidelines." The thought bubble above my head reads, "Broaden it to, oh, maybe the entire history of fashion. I'm sure he can do that." A year later, I will get a manuscript with eight chapters on the history of the shoelace from 1960-61 and one chapter on the history of fashion as a whole.

You can tell why I fit in so well with all these nerds. As I wrote that completely facetious paragraph (which might be more representative of the truth than you think), I found myself thinking, "I wonder what the history of the shoelace is. How have shoelaces come in and out of style over the years? Were laces used on such things as corsets before shoes or on shoes before corsets? And then there are the big questions: are these really dumb questions? Are these things everyone already knows except me?

Nerds: you can dress us up, but you can't take us anywhere. We will always be embarrassing you with all our questions and obsessions. We will always drag you into book stores, be forever thrusting books at you, and be most comfortable when surrounded by other nerds.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Letters That I'll Never Send

(I got this from The Daily Meme.)

Dear President Bush,
I so wish you were back in office.
Your Big Fan,

Dear Bob's Ex,
Did you have to leave it all for me to do? Couldn't you at least have trained him to put magazines and newspapers into recycling bins?
Your Curious Successor,

Dear Mr. Gates,
Could you please add 500 other ways to accomplish each task in all of your Office programs, on top of the 500 that already exist? Oh, and, just to let you know, I most like the ones nobody ever needs or wants -- like sending half-composed emails -- that can be done with a single keystroke (specifically those keys most likely to be hit accidentally when typing on a laptop).

Dear Angelina,
I really don't think there has been enough publicity out there about all your children. I hope you and Brad are planning on having and adopting more, so maybe you and they can get a little more attention. I mean, it's just so amazing how you've managed to be one of those very, very rare women who has children, and I don't know why the press doesn't play it up more.
Happy mommying,

Dear PA Department of Road Works,
I think it's just a swell idea to decide to do as much road work as possible over 3-day weekends, closing down lanes for miles on major highways and interstates when everyone is traveling. I'm so glad you are in agreement with me.
Your happy motor-er,

This is fun. Anyone else want to play along? If so, consider yourself tagged.