Monday, December 22, 2014

Sticking it to the man, and other essays

Plugged by David Sedaris, this book was indeed all that it was cracked up to be.  I finished this about a month ago, and still think about some of her words from time to time.  The essays collected here intersect in surprising ways.  Largely, they are about overcoming insurmountable odds:  writing a book, passing a police academy test, opening an independent bookstore, going through a divorce.  There are the less obvious:  standing up for the right to read in the face of censorship, tending a dying grandmother, burying a dog, surviving a book tour.

I loved the essay about opening a book store in Tennessee.  My girlfriend visited it recently and said it was fabulous. It really makes me sad that our 2 independent bookstores in Roanoke have closed.  I have to shop at Barnes and Noble or her arch nemesis:  Amazon.   Here's a quote from "The Bookstore Strikes Back". 

And maybe it's working because I'm an author, and maybe it's working because Karen works like life depends on this bookstore, or because we have a particularly brilliant staff, or because Nashville is a city that is particularly sympathetic to all things independent.  Maybe we just got lucky.  But my luck has made me believe that changing he course of the corporate world is possible.  Amazon doesn't get to make all the decisions; the people can make them by how and where they spend their money.  If what a bookstore offers matters to you, than shop at a bookstore.  If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book.  This is how we change the world:  we grab hold of it.  We change ourselves.

 Other good essays were the ones about her dogs.  Patchett is childless, by choice, and her dogs are fiercely loved.  From  "Dog Without End":

Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half.  It's everything in between we live for.

All in all, these essays are worth reading, if not for the sheer beauty of her language but for the universal themes and the "how to" feel of the whole book.  A reader learns what it's like to qualify to be a Los Angeles Police officer, drive a Winnebago, weather a painful divorce, care for an aging relative, care for an aging dog, hide out in the Bel Air Hotel, start a book store, love a nun. And of crouse -- why you marry someone you said you wouldn't.

Here's an NPR interview with Ann Patchett in case you are interested!  I have to admit I was never captured by her novels (Bel Canto, State of Wonder), but these essays -- wow!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nothing Gold Can Stay


It was a balmy 60 degrees plus here in Virginia.  My 11 year old son and I walked the dog after school up on the trails together.  We were wearing t-shirts.  The sun was beginning to set.  He reached for my hand to hold.  If there is a moment in life I want to hold onto, this was it.


Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

jack and his sister, one week ago

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Want to know what to read?  Pay attention to the National Book Awards.  Any finalist or author/poet on the long list is worth exploring.  Here are the winners of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adult.  

The star of the evening was Ursula Le Guin.  She received an honorary award and then brought down the house with a radical speech.  Here is a description of her career:

In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh award recipient.
For more than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction. Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.
“Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”


Here is her bad ass acceptance speech.  The idea that such radical women are still shaking up the world makes me so happy. 

I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Please do give a listen.  I've got it all loaded up for you to do so.   It's quite moving, and a strong reminder of the power of art.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What's The Point?

I never thought Go The F*ck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach was funny when it came out. 

And guess what?  I don't think his predecessor, You Have to F*cking Eat is any better.  It's another book for adults that tackles the unending battle of wills that is parenting:  in this case, food.

Here's a clip of Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle) reading from the new book.

I am sure hipster parents are a big fan base.  Or parents who possess acerbic senses of humor.  Or curmudgeons. 

I just don't like the parodies.  I think that it's perfectly fine and normal to think these thoughts IN YOUR HEAD but there is no need to put them into print.  Seriously, what's the point?  What are you going to do with these books?  You don't exactly want to put them in your children's bedrooms or on a coffee table.  What do you think?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

once in a blue moon

This weekend my husband took my son to Baltimore for lacrosse, and I stayed here with Sophie.  She originally had plans with her "special" friend (cross country boyfriend) for Saturday night, but apparently they fell through.  I asked her if she wanted to watch a movie and lo and behold she said yes, so we watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I made some popcorn on the stove (butter and Kosher salt since I am doing a low iodine diet these days), and settled in to watch the movie.  I absolutely loved it!  The adaptation from the original story by James Thurber is quite a stretch (here's the story published in The New Yorker in 1939 if you want to give it a read).  The story is far more pessimistic and dark than the movie.

Ben Stiller directed and starred in this movie, so it was obviously a labor of love.  He takes the story and transforms it into a midlife melodrama with Walter being a hero at the end, unlike Thurber's Walter, whose "everyman" is more pitiable.  I guess that's Hollywood for you.  It all worked for me despite this departure.  It was a great movie to watch with my 15 year old daughter--no sex, profanity or perversion.  We both liked the soundtrack and I downloaded it from amazon this morning to listen to on our drive to Lynchburg today.    So although I hadn't planned on spending Saturday night this way, I am glad I did.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

funky funk

Despite Friday night being a blast, the rest of my weekend took a big nose dive.  The weather let me down, people disappointed me, and, per usual, I annoyed my daughter.  Now that isn't hard to do.  She's 15 and pretty much everything I do embarrasses, annoys, or irritates her!  I get it.  But sometimes it wears on me, ya know?

Back to Friday.  So I dressed up as myself, circa 1984, for Halloween to make the rounds with Jack and his buddies.  We had a blast!  Stopped at 2 official open houses, and one unofficial stop to refill our solo cups.  Sophie and her "special friend from cross country", aka "boyfriend" manned the house and passed out candy until I came home, which was awesome of them for they wanted to hit the road and go to a friend's house to watch scary movies.  I don't think she appreciated the lecture I gave the young man about driving in the rain/on Halloween/with my precious daughter in his car. 

1984 Vintage kilt, field hockey stick, watch, sweater and charm bracelet. 
Boots from JCrew, 2012.

On Saturday I was supposed to get away with a dear friend but the weather forecasted at our destination was for winter storms and our husbands put the big KIBOSH on it because neither of us has 4-wheel drive.  So I spent the day moping about and eating Halloween candy, wallowing in self-pity.  I watched 2 episodes of American Horror Story.  Then we made popcorn and watched part 2 of Gone With The Wind, topping out my tv watching/sitting on my butt time at 4 hours.  I cried and embarrassed my daughter in Gone With The Wind.  Who doesn't cry when Melanie dies???  When Scarlet holds the earth from Tara and vows to return to her land and worry about Rhett another day???  Who???  Only someone with a heart of stone, that's who.  Or a teenager.

Sunday we got up and ran with the dog up on the trails and that lifted my mood quite a bit.  I went to a new class at the Y called Groove, which was a blast.  I demonstrated my killer moves to the family and embarrassed my daughter again.  I then proceeded to annoy her by making her prep our dinner and do her laundry. 

I decided it was time for a good old check out from reality and finished up this feel good novel by Anna Quindlen. 

I didn't actually read the large print version

I agree 100% with this NPR review about her 7th novel being comfort food.  What better novel to soothe one's soul when one is in the dumps?  It was a perfect rescue.  I had been reading it this week and saw where the plot was taking me and saved the happy ending for this weekend.  Thank god I did.  It it were a food it would be meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

I finished it with 5 minutes before Sophie and I were due to leave for church.  That's our thing these days; she is forced to spend 1 hour with her mother on Sundays either going to evening church or candlelight yoga.  It's her choice, but there's no getting out of either.  I probably didn't make things better by playing Taylor Swift in the car (that NYC song is catchy!!)

I found myself thinking during the service that I hope someday she remembers the times I made her go to church with me and leave her phone at home.  I hope she is grateful for having been made to do chores.  I hope she remembers how to make a vinaigrette with honey.  I hope she appreciates, eventually, the way we intentially tried to pass on the values we hold dear to us.  Right now I feel like all I'm getting is a bunch of attitude, but I'll hang in there.  What goes around, comes around, right?  I know I dished it out to my mom back in the day, back when I was wearing that wool kilt and playing field hockey.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Percy Jackson "Problem"

So here's a secret:  I still read to my son before bed and he is 11.  It's usually a long-ish classic--something he might not otherwise read on his own since he is really into fantasy and dystopian novels.  Right now we are reading Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting. 

The chapters are about 3-4 pages, so perfect for short bedtime installments.  I figure it will take us about a month to finish.  I haven't mentioned to him it was made into a movie and then later remade with Eddie Murphy, but maybe we'll watch the former. 

Jack is a night owl, so getting him upstairs is quite a process.  It's an easier sell if we go upstairs with the dog (who sits on his bed) for some reading.  If it's not too late, I leave him to read by himself and turn his own light out.  I think over his childhood I have read a lot of classics to him, though he has enjoyed reading quite a few on his own.  This summer it was Johnny Tremain

But he does gravitate to the popular books/series being published for kids like Ranger's Apprentice and Percy Jackson.  And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.  In fact, I just bought him the latest Rick Riordan novel.

However, a recent article published in The New Yorker raises an alarm about a steady stream of popular fiction.  Is this an unbalanced diet that will leave a child malnourished?  Will the child ever strive to read something more "worthy" or "challenging" or "educational"?  Or, let's face it, read what we did?  Here are some of the questions raised in the article: 

What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?

Personally, I'm not losing any sleep over this.  We own both D'Aulaires' book of mythology and the modern update by Riordan.  One elicits chuckles and the other doesn't.  He has enjoyed both.

There are plenty of kids who aren't big readers who enjoy kicking back with Diary of a Wimpy Kid instead of tackling less accessible books.  To me, this is fine.  Reading is reading.  It's an act, not a performance for bragging rights.  And who knows, maybe readers of Captain Underpants will grow weary with his juvenile antics and want to pick up a classic novel like Treasure Island for a change of pace.