Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jasper Fforde's Deep Well of Cleverness

Jasper Fforde isn't the first to think of putting well-known fictional characters into different, incongruous circumstances. Whether it's the graphic artists responsible for the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Baz Luhrman, the director of the 1996 modern Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare danes in the title roles, sometimes you just meet a character too good to pass up.

It's a lot harder to give the same treatment to nursery rhymes, though. Someone like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations is a fully-formed character who passes the Perkins test (you'd recognize her on the street and know how to react). How would you characterize Mary Mary Quite Contrary, though? She's a good gardener, sure, but is she young? old? nice? unpleasant? funny? smart? With most of the nursery rhymes, there's nothing to go on, but in his Nursery Crimes series, Jasper Fforde manages to make much out of them.

The two stars of the book are Jack Spratt and his partner, Mary Mary, who together make up the Nursery Crimes Investigator unit (NCI). In The Fourth Bear, they are investigating the disappearance of Golidlocks. They deal with many peripheral distractions, such as the escape of the notorious, merciless serial killer the Gingerbreadman, and the mystery of Jack's used car, recently purchased from Dorian Gray's Used Automobiles which never shows any damage no matter what you do to it (I laughed at that device for about ten minutes). The convoluted plot also involves explosions, cucumbers and dates with aliens. It was quite good, but I wonder if Jasper Fforde hasn't decided to retire the Nursery Crimes series. The Fourth Bear is a couple of years old now, and the ending features a wrap-up of what happened to all the characters. I like the Thursday Next books better, but I'd forgotten how funny the Nursery Crimes were.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Danielle Ganek's Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him was one of those books that I'd been noticing in bookstores for a while now. It came home with me from my last trip to the library, and I don't really know what to say about it.

Readers of this blog will know that's unusual for me. After spending a few days with a book, I can usually form some kind of opinion. Generally, they'll make me laugh, or make me think differently about something. Sometimes, they'll make me wonder what the point was, and on one memorable occasion, they'll be so bloody awful that even nine months after I finished it, I still blog about it once a month (Citizen Girl anyone?). I can usually at least say that I considered the book either a fun way to pass some time or a colossal waste of time and paper.

Lulu, however, didn't really spark any of these feelings in me. I've put off writing about it for a while because of that. I can't even really say that it was boring or unmemorable. I remember it, all right: narrated by "gallerina" and aspiring artist Mia McMurray, it is the tale of how the attempt to acquire a painting (the title of the book) by an artist who was hit by a car and killed the night of his opening affects all of those involved. The niece of the deceased painter and several well-known collectors all attempt to stake their claim. In the midst of all this are pretentious gallery owners (like Mia's boss), Mia's snotty fellow gallerinas, a sexy art dealer, and a sexy but rough Irish artist. Mia speaks as your guide through this universe, a docent perhaps, encouraging you to notice this and observe that. The chapter headings are clever, generally phrased as invitations ("Please Come For March Book Club at the home of Mrs. Martin Better"). And Mia herself is likeable enough.

So what's missing? I still don't know. I'm not even sure if it's missing from the book, or missing from me. But even after a week's worth of thought, I can still state definitively that I have no opinion about Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. I can't even peg it as typical chick lit, because it's really not. So if anyone out there has read it and has any thoughts, I hope you post them. I'd be interested to hear them. I can't conjure up a one.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Further Misadventures of Stephanie Plum

I've never been big into mysteries, or serials, but several years ago, I started reading the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich and got hooked.

Unlike most mysteries, these are pretty safe to read even in the scariest of circumstances. Along with your flashlight, blanket and bottle of water, you can pack one confidently on your next overnight trip alone to the abandoned house near the graveyard where the triple murder was committed on Halloween night. The biggest danger is that the ghost of the murderer will find you by following the sound of your laughter.

Stephanie Plum is not your stereotypical bounty hunter. She got into the business after being laid off from the lingerie company where she worked. Unable to find a job in her field, she did what any self-respecting Jersey girl would do: she blackmailed her cousin into hiring her at his bail bonds agency. Her co-workers are Lula, former 'ho and current filing clerk; Connie, the office manager/Mafia liason; and Ranger, the ultra-macho, super-sexy, super-scary bounty hunter entrusted with bringing in the most high-bond cases. Stephanie covers the small-time criminals, and something always goes wrong during apprehension. One guy saw her coming, took off all of his clothes and slathered himself in baby oil. Another guy, an amateur taxidermist, denotes an exploding beaver bomb on her, covering her in hair and guts. Even the willing ones are funny: one woman looked forward to her time in jail, explaining that she'd needed some dental work done for a while now.

The main attraction of the books is Stephanie's tangled personal life. Over the course of the series, two men have been vying for her attention: Ranger, mentioned above, and Joe Morelli, a police officer, onetime ladies' man, and Stephanie's high school sweetheart. Stephanie also has to contend with her gossip-fearing mother ("Erna Malecki's daughter has never burned down a funeral home"), her crazy grandmother (her main hobby is attending viewings, and she doesn't let a closed casket deter her), and her father. Her sister made an appearance in the last few books, but is absent from the newest one, Lean Mean Thirteen.

The plot of these books has always been somewhat incidental to me. I come for Stephanie and her hilarious life. These books will never be mistaken for War and Peace, that's true. But they're a fun read, especially for this time of year when your relaxation time is short.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Suckiest Bunch of Sucks that ever Sucked

I try not to do too much stuff just because someone on Craigslist says to. But someone on Craigslist recommended the book The Devil's Candy by Julie Salamon. I went for it, and ended a very pleasureable week with it last night.

As I read the book, I wondered, what makes a work of nonfiction interesting? On the same library trip, I checked out a biography of Sir Thomas Mallory, author of Le Morte D'Arthur. I read the book in college and enjoyed it greatly, and was interested to know more about the author's life. I figured that since I'd been very interested in Arthurian legend, and liked European history, I'd like the book. Hated it. Abandoned after about 40 pages. This book, on the other hand, is about the making of a movie I didn't see and only dimly remember, based on a book I haven't read. And it held my attention all the way through. I was actually sorry when it ended.

The book is about the making of the 1990 movie "The Bonfire of the Vanities," starring Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis and directed by Brian De Palma. Unlike the movie, however, hundreds of other people have major roles in the book. Ann Roth, the wardrobe designer. Eric Schwab, the second unit director, responsible for the scenes in the movie that establish mood. Lucy Fisher, Rob Friedman, and other execs at Warner Brothers. Aimee Morris and the other production assistants. Salamon thoughtfully provides a list of players before her tale even opens, which I found myself referring back to frequently.

Salamon keeps the book interesting by putting real characters into it. As she follows Eric Schwab out onto the airport runway in pursuit of the most spectacular plane landing scene he could film, she also follows the thoughts in his head: his burning ambition, his desire for recognition, his dreams of doing his own picture, so that you see why it matters. You get invested in everyone's petty triumphs and setbacks in the course of making the film. You're happy for Aimee Morris, who earns a promotion from production assistant to Brian De Palma's personal assistant. You cheer for Schwab when he gets his shot and wins a $100 bet with De Palma that he could never film a plane landing innovative enough to make the final cut of the movie. You feel De Palma's frustration at not being able to find the courtroom he needs for the movie's pivotal scene. And you're pissed at the studio for shutting down the New York production and moving it to Los Angeles where they had more control. Yet, when you hear the decision from their angle, it makes sense too.
This book is a good look at how movies are actually made. If you've ever wondered just what a grip does, or what exactly is the responsibility of the production designer, this book will explain it better than any of those "Who Does What in the Movies" types of books. It explores the millions of decisions that have to be made on every single shot (day or night? how many people in the background? what kind of weather? what will the hair look like? makeup? clothing? how about on the background people?). You can see where $40 million dollars could go. You may even be amazed that it's not a whole lot more.

Bonfire flopped. I'm not ruining the ending by telling you that, even if you don't remember on your own. The title of the last chapter is "You've gotta be a genius to make a movie this bad", and you can feel the book building towards a less-than-satisfactory finished product. The book made me want to see for myself, so I rented the movie the other night. I fell asleep before the end, but I didn't like it much. I thought Tom Hanks was a total nonentity in his role. He was supposed to be a shallow, venal bond trader and philanderer. He came off like a stick of vanilla. The movie was slow-moving, but funny at parts. And yet, I could see its potential. Eric Schwab's opening skyline shot from the Chrysler Building was breathtaking, as was his sunset Concorde landing. I liked the way the trading room floor was shot, with the distortion around the edges, and the deal scene shot from overhead ("from the perspective of a true Master of the Universe.") It was a good bad movie.

It was hard to tell the true moral of this story. The problems with the film didn't seem to be easy to lay at the feet of any one individual. It was more like a stacking effect. And maybe also bad timing: the book was supposed to be the definitive 80s satire, and yet the movie came out as that era was ending. It was too early to be a period piece, too late to feel contemporary. Salamon alluded to problems with adaptation, as well: how the book had an edginess that would be difficult to translate to the big screen. Tom Wolfe had minimal involvement in the film project, and once it was released, stayed diplomatic. Maybe involving the author more would've saved it.

Or maybe not. This movie should've been a winner, packed with big-name actors, based on a best-selling novel, with an excellent director. They tested it several times and re-edited based on the results, and it still flopped, grossing only 15.4 million over 45 days. I came to appreciate what a tricky business it is to forecast what people will like. Even with all of Hollywood's research methods, they still get it wrong -- frequently. Not true for Salamon. She wrote an excellent book about moviemaking, and I recommend it. I don't know how much of it still holds true, but I'd love to see her write another similar book if she hasn't already, now that it's been nearly 20 years.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Zoos, not Zeus: The Modern Ark by Vicki Croke

I carried this book around with me for the past couple of weeks, and would bring it to the break room to read during lunch. Invariably, though, someone would walk in and sit down at the table with me and ask what my book was about. And they always thought I said "Zeus", but it's really about zoos, and much more interesting than a book about Zeus would probably be.

Erstwhile readers may recognize the author's name from The Lady and the Panda, the incredible true tale of how a dress designer and socialite succeeded in getting a live panda out of a remote region of China where seasoned adventurers had failed. The Modern Ark is an entirely different sort of book, but is guaranteed to raise issues you've probably never even thought about unless you work in a zoo.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that this planet is poised to lose a great deal of its biodiversity in as short a time as the next 20 years. It's enough to scare the hell out of anyone other than Bush and Cheney, but the zoo community is on the front lines of trying to do something about it.

What, though? Is it better to save animals in the wild or in the zoo? Well, the wild, of course, but habitat destruction and human encroachment make it impossible for some species to survive. So, how do you choose what goes in your zoo? The animals Croke calls "charismatic megafauna" (you know, pandas and white tigers and whatnot) are guaranteed draws. When the baby panda was born at the National Zoo, it caused a national uproar. Their server kept crashing because so many people were logging on to watch the Panda Cam. Tickets to see the panda sold out faster than Hannah Montana. It brought in a lot of money, which the zoo needs to keep going. But these megafauna aren't representative of the wild. There are more lizards, fish, invertebrates, rodents and bugs out there, but will the public wait in line for three hours to see a rare Amazonian slug? Is it better to interbreed subspecies and combine the Siberian, Bengal and Sumatran tigers into a "tiger soup" or should you keep them separate, in the hope that the habitat will come back?

And when you've chosen who will go in your zoo, then what? You need the right kind of enclosure, with the right kind of stimulation, or the animal won't breed, and it'll go nuts. Speaking of breeding, what are the right conditions to make an animal breed? Why won't cheetahs breed in captivity? How do you keep the male clouded leopards from killing the female ones during courtship? Do female clouded leopards have the right to say no to unwanted advances, and how can you build zoo exhibits to facilitate that right, especially on a limited budget? In the wild, elephants develop their own social groups. They're highly social animals and their behavior will be off if they're isolated or kept in the wrong kind of social grouping (imagine if you were forced to live with your parents, your husband's parents, all of your ex-boyfriends and all of your husband's ex-girlfriends. How much breeding would YOU want to do?)

Croke doesn't have many answers, but asks all of these tough questions and more. She's talked to dozens of zoo directors, keepers, biologists, and curators. She examines the fates of many different species and shares enough success stories that you end the book feeling energized and optimistic, not depressed and hopeless. The book came out in 1997, just before Disney's Animal Kingdom opened, and she talked to the man who designed it. I have visited it many times, and it sounds close to the ideal that Croke described. It emphasizes conservation heavily. The attraction that I still consider the focal point is the Safari Ride. If you hit it wrong, you'll be in line for a couple of hours, but it's pretty worth it. The best thing about it is that you can ride it a hundred times and have a hundred different experiences. I saw a baby giraffe one time. Another time, a herd of bongos ran out in front of the Jeep. Our guide was totally shocked: she said they were like the ghosts of the safari ride, very rarely seen. If you look carefully, you'll see how the animals are kept in the proper areas simply through the design of the landscape. You wonder if they even know they're in captivity.

Of course, that's Disney, and they have considerably more money and land than the local zoo. I've always viewed Animal Kingdom as a positive step, though. They do an excellent job of educating the public and making connections between the public and the animal. They hammer the conservation point home pretty hard. I hope Vicki Croke writes a sequel to this book. I'd like to see what, if anything, has changed in the last ten years and if the zoo community has arrived at any answers to these impossible questions that, in a way, will determine the fate of us all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Announcing a new feature: "Why I love him" (or her)

So, I know I haven't been back here since I totally rocked NaBloPoMo with my awesome daily posting. I've been working on a book that is interesting, but not compelling: the sort you enjoy while you're reading but won't move heaven and earth to spend time with. Then I realized that if I didn't post soon and innovate on my blog, I would've failed NaBloPoMo in the larger sense. Like the kid with the ability to memorize all the facts out of a history book but without the ability to analyze, extrapolate and make comparisons, I would've rocked the test only to fail the subject. Plus...I missed you, and missed my blog!

So, the idea behind this feature is simple. On my sidebar is a massive list of "Authors I love, guilty pleasures included." So, from time to time, I'm going to pick one and guessed it..."Why I love him (or her)".

Today, I pick V.C. Andrews. When I was in grade school, I was scared shitless of her books. I think it's because the movie version of Flowers in the Attic was marketed as a horror movie. (I finally saw it when I was in college. It's scary, all right, but not in the way the producers intended). I remember there was a girl in my math class, Melanie Tobias, who was working on If There Be Thorns (the second-to-last book in the FITA series). I used to look at her book all the time (it was more entertaining than math) and it made me feel afraid: the hints of mind control and evil possession freaked me out. I think I approached the series differently than most, though. By the time I'd gotten around to reading them, she'd gone back and written Garden of Shadows, a prequel to the series. Most prequels to anything are blatant money grabs and add little to the saga. This one actually made you empathize with someone who was portrayed thereafter as thoroughly evil and twisted. You understood what made the grandmother the way she was, and what fears and disappointments drove her. Would any reasonable person act the way she did over the course of the next two books? Probably not. But still, it lent humanity to her bizarre behavior.

After I finished the FITA series, I read the Dawn books, the Heaven books and her stand-alone novel My Sweet Audrina. They started to seem horribly derivative. Every girl had a dark secret and an evil relative (who usually knocks her up and then blames her for it). Every girl wound up a captive of some sort for a brief period of time. The girls generally started off with nothing and wound up rich through various quirks of fate, rarely through hard work and effort. There was always incest, often consensual. Blah blah blah.

I know that the V.C. Andrews books aren't particularly good. Although I re-read the FITA series from time to time, I haven't touched most of the rest since the first time I read them. So why does she have a place on my favorites list? I guess it's because of the way the books made me feel. Not only did they make me feel grown up, but they made me feel part of a community of readers. Most of the other stuff I gravitated towards, I couldn't really share with anyone except my best friend growing up. When I checked out a V.C Andrews book from the library, the library volunteer would often say "Oooohh, that's a really good one", or someone in line behind me would say "After you finish this series, you've gotta read the Dawn ones, they're even better." I knew they were trashy at the time, but they were totally absorbing. And that's "Why I Love V.C. Andrews."

Friday, November 30, 2007

We Made It!

One full month of posting every day. I didn't think I'd be able to do it, frankly. I knew I'd have a lot going on this month, and I also figured that there was a strong possibility that I'd just forget about this. But I didn't -- yay!

Doing NaBloPoMo was a bigger experience than I thought. I made a few great new blogger friends, like Stella Devine and Momof3gr8kids that I'll continue to visit, and hope they continue to visit me too. I wasn't really expecting to meet anyone through this. It also helped me break out of my self-made mold for this blog, which was basically that I'd read a book, then blog on it, read a book, then blog on it, rinse and repeat, with occasional interruptions apologizing to anyone out there who may be a fan for not posting for a while. I shared more of myself than I usually do, which was nice. I did some memes, which I haven't done much of before. Above all, I gained a new respect for those people who do post every day. My friend Hedwig, for example, can come up with three or four worthwhile posts virtually every day, and I don't know how she does it, after trying it myself.

Will I post more now than before? We'll see. In some ways I'm relieved this is over. I hated the days where I felt forced into posting some bullshit just to keep on my pace, so it'll be nice not to have to post. But I think I will probably wind up posting somewhat more frequently. And I'll definitely be back to do Nablo next year. Who knows, I may even try NaNoWriMo!

Congrats again to all the other NaBlo peeps. Even those who didn't make it, it's good to have something to strive for, even when you don't succeed.


Being a curator is generally not considered a dangerous occupation. Sure, I heard some grim stories in graduate school about textiles experts who spent their careers working in unventilated rooms with things that had used arsenic and lead in the dyeing process, and the bizarre brain cancers that cut their lives short. But by and large, the worst hazards a curator faces in the course of her work are overwork, exhaustion and that terrible coffee the volunteers insist on brewing in the breakroom. Imagine my surprise to find myself a crime victim not once, but twice this week. The first time was bad enough, when robbers entered our office overnight and stole our digital camera and all of our money. The second time felt more personal, as they took my computer.

The museum is located in a fairly sleepy little town, so not surprisingly, this has received a lot of media attention. People keep asking me if insurance will cover it, but that's not the point. I said that I feel unsafe at work, and although two board members have reassured me that it's probably just teenagers who wouldn't mean me any harm, that's not the point either. Being a victim of a robbery like that makes you feel violated in some intangible way. They touched the photo of my sister and I dressed up for Halloween when I was a kid. They dumped out one of the boxes a friend made for me by hand, looking to see if I had any money in it. In my desk drawer was a leatherbound planner my boyfriend gave me for my birthday, which they didn't get, but still. I took all of my personal stuff home with me. I don't want the robbers touching it if they come back.

I can't help but wonder, who would do something like this to a museum? Of all the places to attack. Not that it's OK to hit a for-profit business or a private home, but the museum exists solely to do good things for the community, without ever demanding anything in return. It's supposed to be an egalitarian place, where everyone from the well-to-do to the welfare recipients can come and enjoy an afternoon with their families. It preserves the history of us all, including the robbers. Seriously, what a shitty thing to do. I felt very discouraged, but I think the community is going to step up and help, which makes me feel much better. But not safe, still.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Childhood Favorites

My old description used to say that this was "A Blog About Books, From a Lifelong Fan of Them." It's true. Ever since I can remember, I've been a reader. When I was 13, I went to a school dance and slept over at a friend's house, and my dad said that he was pretty sure it was the first time I'd gone anywhere for an extended period of time without a book. Even now, I'll often carry an "emergency book": for example, you never know when you might be waiting on the side of the road for Triple A with nothing to do.

As a kid, one of my favorite authors was Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who wrote a lot about children who had encounters with the supernatural or imaginary worlds. My favorite by her was The Changeling, about Martha and Ivy's friendship. Martha came from a socially prominent family. Even her older siblings were popular, but Martha didn't fit in. She never had a friend until she became acquainted with Ivy Carson. Ivy, too, was a misfit in her family: the only one without any criminal aspirations. Ivy was into magic, and showed Martha a whole new way of looking at things. They talked to horses and trees. They spent a lot of time babysitting Ivy's sister, who had past-life experiences. They had a magic place where they hung out. It was totally my kind of story.

I talked a few days ago about how much time we spent searching for the gateway to Narnia; obviously that series was another favorite. I also loved the Prydain chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, which I wrote about in detail when he died.

L.M. Montgomery was another favorite author of mine. I got to know Anne of Green Gables through the made-for-TV version with Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla and Richard Farnsworth as Matthew. I went on to read all eight of the Anne books. I grew up near the Canadian border, and went to Toronto regularly. There was a large bookstore there, in the days before Barnes & Nobles and Borders inhabited every strip mall. Not only was it huge, but they had books that Waldenbooks didn't. I read several more of L.M Montgomery's books this way. My favorite was the romantic The Blue Castle. The heroine, Valancy, awakes on her 29th birthday deeply depressed. She is unmarried and lives with her overbearing mother and aunt. She has never done anything her whole life: she's never had a close friend, or a suitor, or any memorable experiences at all. She sees a doctor -- secretly -- about some pains she'd been having and learns that she has a serious heart condition and only a year left to live. This book is the tale of what happens to her in that year. For some reason, I identified strongly with Valancy. I re-read this one regularly at one point in my life, and have read it so often, in fact, that I probably really don't need the book anymore.

Lest anyone think I was a pure child, I'll point out that I also loved things I knew I wasn't supposed to read. I'd often make an incursion into the young adult section, and my parents didn't censor my choices much (although I thought they might start when I told my mom about the book About David, which is about a teenaged girl whose best friend David murders his parents and shoots himself. I think I was 9 at the time.) The "problem novels", with all the sex, were always enjoyable. I'm pretty sure that I learned where babies came from in one of these books. I also liked Erma Bombeck's Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, although I wondered what the first oldest profession was until I was in middle school. Judith Viorst's Yes, Married was probably dated by the time I got my hands on it, but there was a lot about sex in that book too. I'm sure it was mostly in a context like: "It's hard to have energy for sex after spending the day washing dirty socks and cleaning up after the kids" but still, it fascinated me, probably more for the glimpses of adult life than anything else.

And like any good child of the eighties, my friends and I were all titillated by Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. We never read the whole book, just this one particular part. I'm not even sure who turned me on to it, but there's apparently a pretty graphic sex scene in there somewhere (well, graphic if you're ten, anyway). The only phrase I remember is "thick and throbbing." It's never been enough to induce me to attempt them as an adult (although maybe it'll go on my list...) but was a surefire giggle inducer growing up.

What were some of your favorite books growing up?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Short Takes

Over at NaBloPoMo, Elizabeth Coplan asked me about short fiction. As I've been running out of gas a bit the past few days, her comment was like manna from heaven for me: here was a topic I hadn't thought of, that was actually related to my theme, unlike the random memes (which are fun, but I think the fact that EVERYBODY does them dilutes the effect somewhat. I mean, how excited do you still get to find out which Hogwarts house your friends are in?)

I love short fiction. I started my New Yorker subscription especially because of their excellent short fiction. I'll give almost anything a try. Anyone who's looking for good short fiction has an excellent annual one-stop shop in the Best American Short Stories anthologies. Each anthology has a different guest editor (Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Chabon, Stephen King and Ann Patchett are some recent ones). I was introduced to the wonderful George Saunders through that series, and it's also a good way to "save" some of the ones you especially like. I read part of a Richard Russo short story in this year's anthology at the Barnes and Noble opening I went to last month, and it was very good.

Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut, is still a favorite collection of mine. Not everything in it is pure gold; there were plenty that escaped me altogether. "All the King's Men" was one of the most suspenseful things I've ever read, and the last sentence of "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" still reverberates in my head ("...with that last, terrible sentence flitting through my head, I rolled fifty consecutive sevens. Good-bye.") George Saunders also writes great fiction, especially his premise fiction.

In a completely different vein, almost all of the Alice Munro collections are good too. Munro is good at establishing the texture and feel of a particular time and place. There's also a wide variety in her stories. Many writers basically write about themselves over and over again, and while you can see a lot of common threads in her stories, she's not afraid to try something different.

E. Annie Proulx's stories are very enjoyable. Everyone knows how terrific "Brokeback Mountain" was, but she's got a couple of collections out that really establish the modern American West, and touch on themes I don't believe anyone else is writing about. She can make you care passionately about things like the disappearance of the small ranch, things you normally don't even think of and wouldn't give a shit if you did. I believe that Bad Dirt is her most recent collection of short fiction.

Some other stories that stand out in my mind are "Haunting Olivia" by Karen Russell, "Brownies" by ZZ Packer, "The Alpine Slide" by Rebecca Curtis (don't you just ADORE the online archives of the New Yorker?), "First, Body" by Melanie Rae Thon, and "Early Music" by Jeffery Eugenides (I know it was in The New Yorker, too, but can't turn it up in the archives). Enjoy!

Monday, November 26, 2007

One from the archives

Well, I've mentioned before my love for Motley Crue's autobiography, The Dirt. It's time to finally post about it!

I am not a big fan of The Gilmore Girls, but I have watched it from time to time. Lorelei had a fine explanation of this book: "It's like, just when you think you've read the most disgusting thing, they come up with something else." That's a pretty fair explanation. If they were to film this book as written, it'd get an NC-17 for sure, for large amounts of sex scenes, heavy drug use, snorting of ants, drug-fueled violence, depiction of a telephone inserted into a girl's vagina while another girl talked on it, depictions of urination in a bar, multiple drug overdoses, and other things I won't mention since I don't want this blog to be NC-17.

The book is told in all four of their voices. Each of the bandmates (Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, and Vince Neil) take turns narrating their tale from their own perspective. Sometimes, other guys (like their producer, their manager, and the guy they hired to replace Vince Neil when he quit) get to talk. But mostly, it's the band. The bones of it are the traditional Hollywood story: the early years, when they all share a shithole apartment and play every gig that comes their way; the big success where they get record deals, women, private jets and everything; the personal descent into drugs and alcohol; hitting bottom; then clawing their way back.
Motley Crue is a little different in that they've done this cycle a couple of times.

One thing about this book, and probably the reason I like it so much, is that it's honest. They say, straight up: "The reason we drank and drugged so much is that we thought it was fun." They don't try too much to rationalize their mistakes. They talk about cheating on their wives and girlfriends, fighting with each other, destroying property at hotels, the whole nine yards. They're also honest about other, harder things. Mick Mars has suffered from a rare degenerative disease called ankylosing spondylitis since he was in his twenties. The disease limits his motion and has condemned him to live in crippling pain. He never revealed it until this book. Vince Neil talked about two deaths that hit him hard: that of a friend of his in the 1980s, which he himself caused by driving drunk; and the cancer death of his three-year old daughter. Tommy Lee described his version of what happened between him and Pamela Anderson that caused him to go to jail for spousal abuse. And Nikki Sixx opened up about his painful upbringing and its influence on the rest of his life.

I don't want you to think that these guys wind up looking good. With the exception of Mick Mars, they really don't, and I would say Mick Mars looks more like a tragic figure than "good". But with the heavy population of drug dealers, strippers, groupies, mud wrestlers (yes, Vince Neil's ex-wife), drug addicts, sleazy record business types, cops, judges, rehab counselors, and loudmouthed fellow musicians in this book, and with the four larger-than-life narrators, it's a good time. Motley Crue, as they themselves would admit, have always been about fun, cheap entertainment. I don't think they're doing too much of that with their music anymore, but the book provides quite a bit of that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Summer of Good Books

The year was 2005. I'd just finished graduate school, and took an internship in Western Massachusetts to fil the gap between college and gainful, full-time employment. A few days before I left, I learned (much to my displeasure) that I'd have to share the intern housing with another woman, and that we had no cable TV or internet. The horrors of it all! Without any real way to back out, I headed out into the wilderness.

I had the time of my life. My roommate turned out to be a lovely Australian woman named Sophie, the housing and grounds were absolutely beautiful (my NaBloPoMo photo was taken on the grounds that summer), and my internship was fabulous. But best of all were the books. Sophie is one of the very few bookfriends I've had in my life. I can think of maybe two other people I've met IRL that enjoyed reading and talking about books as much as I do. And I'm counting my ENTIRE life, since elementary school. The library in Stockbridge was surprisingly wonderful, well-stocked, with late hours that allowed us to go after work. Friday nights would find us down there, taking advantage of the internet and stocking up for the weekends. On a saturday, I would be frantic: the library closed at 2 and didn't reopen until Monday. The thought of having no book for that day and a half was horrifying, worse than having no food.

At nights, Sophie and I would have the run of the 50-some acre estate. Sometimes we would take our books and our tea up to the temple in the Chinese garden, or lie in the grass under the oak tree that overlooked the whole valley, where the family who built the estate picnicked over 100 years ago and decided they HAD to have their summer home there. Sophie had another weekend job with the agency at a property nearby, and one Saturday I went up there with her to see the place, keep her company between tours, and read my book in the grass near the house. Another time, for my 29th birthday, I took my book to Edith Wharton's summer home and treated myself to a dessert from the cafe (Sophie was working that day). But mostly we'd just stay on our own second-floor screened-in porch, listening to the crickets and the bluegrass on NPR, swatting away the mosquitos, and enjoying the summer nights.

I read a lot that summer: the first three Traveling Pants books, Life of Pi, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,Al Capone Does My Shirts,The House of Mirth (a direct result of my visit to The Mount, and in fact, what I read when I was there), Into the Wild, Assasination Vacation,Clockwork,Blue Latitudes,Jack the Ripper:Case Closed,Cloudsplitter,Seventeen Against the Dealer,In Cold Blood,Lost in a Good Book,The Inner Circle (a novel about Kinsey) and several others that I have no memory of but just see here on the list I was keeping that summer. We did a lot, too: I took a trip to the North Shore by myself, we went on hikes, visited all of the historic sites in the area, became well-acquainted with the Red Lion Inn and the Great Barrington Brew Pub, fell in love with the SoCo Creamery (I can still taste their Brownie Batter ice cream!!!!), swam in Stockbridge Bowl, and attended a concert at Tanglewood.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. I got a job in Central New York. Sophie stayed until the end of the summer and spent the next year in London. She went back to Stockbridge the summer after that, and I visited her several times. She took a job in the West for a brief time before returning home to Australia. I haven't heard from her in a while, and miss her a lot. It's funny: in the movies, the main character's Last Free Summer usually involves lots of drinking, sex and wild escapades. Mine involved lots of friendship, books and nature, but it was the best.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Stupidity, migrated north

Good news: Canada has finally started to attack its stupidity surplus problem! They've started small, mind you, but any move after years of rationality is a start. Kudos to the Halton Catholic District School Board for getting the ball rolling, in their decision to ban The Golden Compass simply because its author is atheist.

Of course, that's not the only reason. As any internet message board these days will tell you, the trilogy is explicitly anti-religion, with one of the characters planning to kill God in the final book. Apparently, one of the parents in the Halton Catholic School District has been out on the internets lately, too, and has requested a review of the book. I suspect it's been in the library for several years, and largely ignored by parents except when the student who checked it out failed to return it on time or remove it from the dinner table before it was time to eat.

Now that it's a movie, of course, it's worth increased scrutiny. A committee will read it and then evaluate it based on "a 'wide variety of criteria' including grammar, plausibility, language, plot, etc." It seems rather unfair to evaluate a book that features talking bears, witches, truth-telling devices, and externalized manifestations of the soul on "plausibility", but never mind. I have to wonder just what the Halton Catholic School District is afraid of. When I was in grade school, my best friend and I absolutely loved The Chronicles of Narnia. We read the books obsessively and spent a lot of time trying to find the gateway to Narnia (hint: it is neither at my house nor her house). I don't know about her, but I never became a practicing Christian. The message in the Narnia books was just not strong enough to overcome my secular upbringing. So why would children who are so Catholic that they even go to Catholic school turn their backs on their faith just because of a novel? Isn't that what "faith" is, belief in spite of lack of proof or evidence? It seems to me that if faith is true, it shouldn't be so easily swayed.

At the same time, though, the whole point of education is to teach you how to think for yourself. The prospective removal of these books, because they might allow students to do just that, is disturbing. It may also backfire. When I was in college, they removed the book Ordinary People from a classroom in the district my father taught in. It was a huge mess, and the union wound up getting involved and everything. But you know what? I went out and read the book, and I'm guessing a lot of students who would've slept through the book otherwise did too. It inspired me to attempt a short premise story in which a high school student is investigating a parent's group that's pressing for a book to be banned. The student sneaks into a meeting and learns that it's actually a massive collusion among teachers, school librarians, school administration and school board members to encourage kids to read the targeted book. I never fleshed out my story very well, but I still believe in the point it was trying to make. Maybe the Halton Cahtolic School District actually wants these books read? Could it be?

Thank you to PZ Myers over at Scienceblogs for posting about this first.

Friday, November 23, 2007

First Among Sequels!

I finished the newest Thursday Next book, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, a couple of days ago. Unlike Speed 2, Star Wars Episode 1, or Freddy vs. Jason, this was a sequel that could stand proudly among the original quartet of Thursday Next books.

For those of you who are woefully unacquainted, Thursday Next is a person who exists in a sort of parallel reality to our own, in which the Crimean War dragged on into the mid-1970s, croquet is a full-contact sport, and a special division of the police is devoted to literary detective work. This is what Thursday Next does. She becomes so noteworthy at it that the book world takes notice and she is invited to become a Jurisfiction agent and work within the books themselves. This series was what inspired me to read Great Expectations (Miss Havisham was Thursday's partner in Jurisfiction; she disliked men, raced cars, wore tennis sneakers with her wedding dress and socialized occasionally with the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland).

It doesn't matter if you haven't read all of the books that the series references. I'm sure there are a number of hilarious Jane Austen jokes that have gone flying over my head. But there is enough of other types of humor in these books to make them worthwhile: the over-the-top name games are an obvious example ("Agents Hurdyew, Tolkien and Lissning heard you talking and listening..."). There are also hilarious concepts, like Hamlet hiring a conflict resolution coach, or the stupidity surplus I mentioned earlier that's featured in this book, or the Dirty Bomb that the Racy Novel is threatening to unleash on all of literature, that would sprinkle dirty words and sexual innuendo where they were never intended to be. I've read all of Jasper Fforde's work except for The Fourth Bear and I'd have difficulty outlining the plots of any of them, even the one I just read. But they're so good it doesn't matter. If you've never partaken, get lost in one today (if you have partaken, you're probably groaning at that!). First Among Sequels could stand alone, but I recommend starting at the beginning with The Eyre Affair.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cheating a Bit Today

Although I finished my Thursday Next book and have it all queued up and ready to be blogged about, it's Thanksgiving here and dammit, I just don't feel like posting that much today! However, I did want to pop on and wish my readers a very happy Thanksgiving (or simply a nice day, for those from other countries who won't be celebrating it today). I'll have more about Thursday Next tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Report on Phillip Pullman

My sister came over today. I don't think she has time to be a guest blogger, but she told me all about her experience meeting Phillip Pullman in New York City! About three weeks ago, she got to attend an exclusive party where he was the guest of honor. It sounds terribly fancy, right? But she said it wasn't: they had pizza and she made daemon-shaped cutout cookies.

Phillip Pullman was very nice and friendly, but very tired. Apparently, he doesn't like traveling much, but had been doing a ton of PR based around the release of the film version of The Golden Compass. He is happy with the casting and felt the movie was true to the spirit of the book, which my sister took to mean that there were things he liked and things he didn't but obviously wasn't about to speak negatively of the project. She said that he eats pizza with a fork and knife, that they talked about Charles Dickens, and that New Line Cinema is extremely concerned about what will happen with the religious right and the trilogy.

She also said that there were a number of other interesting people there, all of whom were trying to play it cool and failing miserably. She got a picture of herself with him and his autograph.

Had I had the chance to meet him, I would've told him that, like he said in The Amber Spyglass, I believe that when you die, you do become part of everything, not just nothing, and that it helped me a lot. Because thinking about it literally, it's true whether there's an afterlife or not. Your body will nourish the soil, which will help things grow, and those things will be eaten by all sorts of animals. You'll help keep everything going in death, regardless of what you've made of your life. Dead people and animals were indirectly responsible for the food I ate for dinner, the trees used to build my house, the cotton that was used to produce my clothes, everything organic I come in contact with. They could've been kings and queens or long-lost ancestors, or criminals or just ordinary people. It's a very comforting thought, I think.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scary Shit

After my recent experience with horror, I was feeling quite cocky at Central last week, as I jauntily plucked the H.P. Lovecraft anthology The Horror in the Museum from a display of recommended books. Last night, I read the title story. It scared me so badly that I made my boyfriend go to bed at the same time as I did. I almost don't even want the book in the house anymore!

I wish I could offer some sort of analytical perspective of this story. Maybe talk about the reasons why I think it has the power to frighten despite not being a very good story in a lot of ways (stilted dialogue, flat characters, the main character's disbelief in the nature of his friend's wax museum sustained past the point of logic to become comical), but I can't. The story was just so creepy that I don't really want to think about it anymore. I have started the infinitely safer Malory instead.

Monday, November 19, 2007

All For One!

I've had a lot of fun doing NaBloPoMo this month. I would like to think it's made me a better blogger. I have some readers now. I've met a few people. NaBloPoMo's more than halfway through now, and there's this feeling over there like the night before term papers at grad school were due, and everyone was in the computer lab all night long, working on their projects. We weren't working together, but people would brew coffee for the group, go on vending machine runs, help each other out with computer paper, stuff like that. Everyone at NaBloPoMo, I think, feels much the same way I do: that it's been fun, but hectic, that they're starting to run out of steam, but don't want to see anyone else fail.

With all that in mind, I visited my page over there and learned that I'd been tagged for a meme! So here it is: I post this list of 150 thing. The things I've done are bolded, the things I haven't are just regular. Depressing, 54 out of 150. Some of the things on the list I'd love to do, others I hope I never have to. And there are some that don't seem like experiences worth remembering one way or another, like "bought everyone in the bar a drink." And I could run downstairs right now to cross off "hugged a tree" if I want to, but who cares? Others are just so not me. "Hit a home run?" Not bloody likely. I felt great when my bat connected with the ball in gym class. Still, it's a good list.

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said “I love you” and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper (no, but I have an adult's)
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36.Danced like a fool and didn’t care who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake River
82. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
83. Gotten flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
98. Passed out cold
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone’s heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a T.V. game show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone’s life

Sunday, November 18, 2007

No Time to Read?

Lately it seems that way. I never thought it'd happen to me. I'd heard that lame excuse offered up for years, from people who I knew FOR A FACT watched three hours of Law and Order: SVU or CSI Miami a night. I always saw it for what it was: lame. But increasingly, reading seems to be something that I "squeeze in" rather than something central to my life. What's it been replaced with? I'm not really sure. Well, blogging for one. Hanging out with my boyfriend. Trying to keep this apartment from looking like a hurricane just blew through it (maintaining a one-week-after-landfall appearance at all times!). Working. A lot. Cleaning up after houses catch on fire. And yeah, sometimes multiple episodes of CSI or SVU a night. Stuff like that, I guess. I don't really know. But I wish I had more time for the books.

When do you all like to read? I mostly read at night and on my days off. At lunch during work is good, on the rare occasion you go out alone or can get a co-worker to respect the fact that it's your FUCKING BREAK and not to give you phone messages or load you up with shit to do. I usually end each day by reading in bed at night, since I go to bed earlier than my guy while he's still looking for a job. I am on track to finish Thursday Next: First in Sequels by its due date, though!

Which reminds me, someone asked me about the "stupidity surplus" in that book. Tantalizing, eh? Well, I won't spoil anything by revealing that it's basically caused by too much common sense, in government or elsewhere. As Thursday explained, most governments let off their stupidity a little bit at a time (and some, I would argue, have been running a massive stupidity deficit since their first term in office, which ten generations of sages still wouldn't be able to pay off). The one that Thursday and her peers are living under hasn't done a stupid thing in years, leading to a massive surplus that could ruin the country if it all gets let off at once. They've been talking about various measures they could take to alleviate this problem, but it's already been proven that a National Walk Into a Lamppole Day isn't effective.

See, this is why these books are so great. You've gotta admit, that concept is fucking hilarious, and there's just one after another of these in all his books: Hamlet hiring a conflict resolution counselor, the Mispeling Vyrus that tendz to enfeckt all the wirds neerbuy, the apostrophe slug's that belch out exces's apostrophe's for paragraph's, even page's. But I'm going to wait until I finish the book to write my review.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Random Meme, or Manna From Heaven

A couple of days, I joined a NaBloPoMo group for people who were running out of blogging topics. I asked the group for help, thinking that people would mostly commiserate. Everyone had really, really good suggestions instead! I went back tonight, to re-read all the really, really good suggestions. And they sparked nothing in my brain for some reason. It wasn't them, it was me. I could tell they were good ideas but didn't know where to go from them.

So getting tagged for this random meme by was manna from heaven today. This is what you've gotta do, if you're tagged:

Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

OK, so seven random things:

1. I can both roll and fold my tongue. Tongue-folding (the long way) is relatively common. Tongue-rolling (rolling back towards the throat from the tip) is rare.

2. My favorite cocoa is Ghirardelli Chocolate Mocha.

3. I hate onions, except in the context of French Onion Soup.

4. Within the past year and a half, I conquered my fear of dogs. I used to be terrified of them, although I always liked them in theory. Now, I pet them all the time. I didn't freak out when I met a Lab puppy who wanted to chew on my coat sleeve, and I've even driven some white German Shepherds on transport.

5. One summer, I read the last few chapters of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth in the cafe at her home, The Mount, for my birthday.

6. I make my own gretting cards out of those puffy scrapbooking stickers for my friends and family on their birthdays.

7. I was at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. to tag??? I know, I know, I know!

1. Momof3gr8kids
2. Stella Devine
3. Emma

And...that's all I have time for before mindight. Anyone else out there in bloggerland, if you read are tagged too, if you want to be!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Visit to Central

Today, I had the occasion to go to the Central Library. Its website boasts that it was voted "Best Library Branch in the Region", which I think is a little unfair. It's like Beyonce entering a high school talent show, for crying out loud. Central has about as much floor space as an average Target, and features exhibits of Mark Twain's original manuscripts, rare book exhibits, a massive local history room, a cafe, a used bookstore, a huge number of DVDs and CDs and more computer terminals than you can shake a stick at. They have self-checkout, and when you use it, you get a Wendy's coupon. They have a security guard at the door. There are three levels in there, and two entrances. It's the home of all the bookmobiles in the county. They get all the new books first and have such a large collection that most of it isn't even out: you have to make a special request.

Naturally, I tend to go a little nuts in a place like that. Not just because a little part of me worries that one day they'll realize what an incredible luxury libraries are -- and all for free -- and start charging huge amounts (beyond my late fines) until only the rich can go there. Despite this being the region in which I grew up, today's trip was probably only my fifth or sixth to Central. Even though I'm a ten-minute drive away from it now, a trip to Central still seems like a special occasion. There's the Organizing of the Quarters (needed for parking; there's nowhere to park down there). It's right in the heart of downtown, so you have to fight a lot of traffic to get there and find a spot. And there's just SO. MANY. BOOKS.

One day, I'm going to go down there with $10 worth of quarters, stay all day and really take my time. Today, I only had an hour, so I had to budget my time. The purpose of my trip was Thanksgiving children's books, for work, so I took care of that first. After that, I was free to have a little fun. Here's a list of what I picked up for myself:

The Modern Ark, Vicki Constance Croke
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, a film biography (hope it's not boring)
Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur's Chronicler, Christina Hardyment (ditto that one)
The Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood, Julie Salamon
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde
The Horror in the Museum, H.P. Lovecraft

Not bad, eh? They had to send down to closed stacks for The Modern Ark, so I cooled my heels with the Thursday Next book, and honestly, I can already see myself abandoning my Nazi book for it. Not that the Nazi book isn't interesting, but how can it compete with a stupidity surplus? (Don't ask.) Anyway, it's a 7-day book, so I'll have to get it done. Awwwwwww, too bad!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Happiest Blog On Earth!

When I was about 10, my family made its first trip to Disneyworld. For three of us, it was a nice vacation. For the fourth (my mother) it was almost akin to a religious experience in its transformative effect on her life since then. She went from someone who casually had fond memories of Disney movies from her childhood, to an absolute Disney fanatic. She started collecting everything she could get her hands on and putting it up everywhere. We went to all the Disney movies in the theaters multiple times, and bought them the minute they came out on VHS. When Fantasia was re-released, a local restaurant held a party with a Disney trivia contest, where you could earn various pieces of Fantasia swag. When everyone at our table had a couple of things in front of us, they barred us from entering the contest again. My mom has Disney collector friends, has joined multiple Disney fan clubs and has virtually every book on the topic.

But for her, the parks have always been the big thing. The rest of the family loves the parks as well, but I didn't love them until recently. We would go in August, when it was hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk and the crowds were at their worst. I hated the extreme heat, the long lines, battling all those people. I wanted to do different stuff for vacation: go to Alaska, or Europe, or somewhere I'd never been before.

So I never had too much interest in any of my mom's books. But for some reason, I picked up Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales (both by David Koenig) a few years ago, and I absolutely love them! Both books give a behind-the-scenes, employee perspective of Disneyland (he apparently has a new one out, about Disneyworld; I'll have to get that from my mother). Koenig conducted many interviews with former and current employees to get the stuff Disney doesn't want you to know about.

The books are alternately hilarious and disturbing. Sprinkled throughout both are actual quotes from guests ("Excuse me, where's Toiletland?" "Do these stairs go both up and down?") as well as funny tales of employee pranks and misbehavior (I personally loved the innocent-looking Storyland guide who had an after-dark, adult-only dirty version of her spiel, where she'd tell all about Cinderella and the ball, Pinocchio and the fairies, etc. At night, there would be hordes of Marines waiting to ride. Boggles the mind, eh?)

But on the disturbing side, there are indications, shocking as they may be, that Disneyland may not actually be the happiest place on earth, not all the time. The chapter on Disney's police was disturbing. As you can imagine, security issues are tremendous at the Disney parks, particularly shoplifting. In the early decades of the park, shoplifters who got caught were either kicked out or arrested, depending on how cooperative they were. But soon, Disney caught on to the fact that businesses could seek up to $500 in damages from a shoplifter, to cover their expenses in handling the case. The security department soon became another profit generator, with them bringing in everyone they caught and seeking money from them whether or not they decided to arrest. When the lid got blown off that story, the park went in the opposite direction, taking such great pains that their security didn't appear over-aggressive that there was almost no point in having a force.

But the ultimate in "disturbing" came at the end of the second book, with a detailing of the perfect storm of mismanagement that led to the death of a visitor. The killer attraction in question, surprisingly, was the river boats. Changes in maintenance led to important things not getting done (such as the replacement of rotted wood around the cleat on the boat). Cost-cutting across the board led to inappropriate equipment (a stronger, cheaper nylon rope to loop around the cleat instead of more expensive hemp that would've snapped under too much tension). Finally, inadequate cross-training and staffing policies meant that the woman working the dock didn't realize the boat was coming in too fast and that she shouldn't throw the rope around the cleat. The rope held, the iron cleat tore loose from the boat, sheared off the dockhand's foot, and struck two tourists in the head. One never regained consciousness and died two days later.

The Disney parks are often held up as the ultimate well-oiled machine. The cast members are generally friendlier than your own family, the landscaping is perfect, and you could eat off the ground you walk on, even at the end of the day when you know it's probably been stepped on by over a million people. When you go there, it's hard to imagine a day when people stop coming and the parks close down. Koenig's extremely unauthorized books hint at how that might happen, how the quest for profit may ultimately be its downfall. At the same time, though, he humanizes this idealized company by describing how its employees, like employees anywhere else, get disgruntled, fail to perform up to standards, disagree with management, etc. His Disneyworld book should be interesting too.

Thanks to the People Who Commented!

I was thinking about today's entry, a little ashamed of what I posted yesterday. Even though it was real and honest, it was also a little whiny and worse, left me nowhere to go. I mean, how can you say you've got nothing worth sharing and then go on blogging? So it was nice to come here today and see two comments. I'm glad that you both like my blog enough to come here on a regular basis. I will have to come visit you now, too!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

NaBloPoMo in shambles

Well, it's happened. I'm out of shit to write about. I chose the wrong book off my TBR list to read this week. Inside the Third Reich, while interesting, weighs in at around 600 pages. It's engaging but slow going, if you know what I mean, and is going to take a while. All of my library books are due back, and who knows when I'll be able to go get some more.

And it forced me to face facts: my life is boring. All I ever do is work, watch TV, read books and hang out with a. my parents or b. my boyfriend. I can barely even remember the last time I got a phone call that wasn't from one of the two of them. No one even reads this blog anyway, here or at NaBloPoMo, so why am I still even writing it? It's a depressing thought. If I don't want the rest of my life to go like this, I've got to start getting out there, trying to get involved in more stuff. But work just seems to take up so much of my life, that I don't have much energy or tolerance for people I don't know at the end of the day. And I wonder where you even meet them.

The easy answer to my not having much of a life is that I've moved around too much, but I know that's not the real answer. I was in my last town for almost two years, which should've been long enough to get to know somebody. But I didn't. The few people I met there seemed to lose interest in me quickly, not that we had much in common anyway. It seems like it gets harder to make and keep friends as you get older, even cyber-friends. It's hard to make yourself make the effort, knowing the odds of it just getting slapped back at you. And it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that way: you reach out to someone and they don't respond, so the next time someone reaches out to you, you're less likely to respond, which means that person may stop reaching out too. It seems like people in their thirties mostly hang with their families and boyfriends and that's it. I guess a lot of people make friends through work, but I only work with two other people. It's a depressing state of affairs, but I don't see it changing anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What the Hell? Or, Things I never imagined I'd be blogging about

Picture it: 5:30 AM. My guy and I are both sound asleep in our bed. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, we both snap awake. The house is filled with a burning, scorching smell. Holy shit! Did we forget to blow out the candle before bed? Did we fail to turn off the oven? The motion detector light snaps on behind the house. Don't ask what inspired us to do this, given that the stray cats around here set it off about ten times a night, but we both hop up and look out the window. There's something...strange back there. Something glowing. Something dark and smoky. HOLY SHIT, THE HOUSE BEHIND US IS ON FIRE!

All through the early morning, we could hear the windows of the burning house cracking and the occasional gust of water hit our own house. At one point, I looked outside and realized I could see right through the gable of the house. The whole roof is basically over here now. My guy went out to move our cars because they were getting pelted with water, foam, leaves, and pieces of charred wood and asphalt shingles. It still stinks over here. I don't know if you've ever smelled a house burning, but it smells really, really bad, not nice like a campfire, but acrid like burning plastic. No one was hurt, or killed or anything. I guess the house was abandoned, and slated to be torn down anyway. Well, it's happening now!

Fortunately, I had today off from work. We spent most of it catching up on the sleep we lost, then cleaning all of the pieces of roofing, charred wood, broken glass and nails out of the driveway. Fortunately there was a garage between the burning house and our cars, house and driveway, or we'd be in real trouble. There's a vacant lot right next to us and the area up by that house is crammed with debris. I took my car to Delta Sonic and got it all cleaned off and shined up. One tire was almost completely flat, and I'm hoping we didn't back over a nail or anything when my guy moved it for me early this morning (awwww). It's still all wet back there, too.

So here's a list of things I didn't know about house fires:

1. They smell really, really bad.
2. The electric company comes while the fire is still in progress to cut the power.
3. In addition to all of the utilities you'd expect to show up pre-demolition, like gas, water and electric, the phone company comes as well.
4. Debris scatters about 50 feet.
5. The house can still look more or less the same (except for the fact that the whole roof is on the property behind it) and still need emergency demolition.
6. "Emergency demolition" doesn't necessarily mean "that day." The house is still up right now.

Mostly, I hope the city comes to clean the vacant lot next to us. Even though it's not our property, we still have to look at it every day. It's bad enough that there's the rusted-out grill out there and the fallen-dwon chain-link fence. I don't want to be staring at charred wood and pieces of shingle all winter!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some nice children's books, for Veterans Day

Believe it or not, this is a really hard topic to find books or resources on. I had to do it for work -- we did a Veterans Day program for kids. I wanted to do stories and crafts. It was hard to find something that didn't glorify war (society in general does enough of that) and lent itself to being read out loud. Because of bureacracy, I couldn't get a library card for the town my job is in without going through the library director. So one of the board members went for me.

My favorite was This Land Is Your Land. I think Woody Guthrie is credited as the author. You all know what that one's about, but the illustrations in it were really beautiful. You could have framed each of them. There are also some verses at the end of that song that generally don't get sung, questioning how free the country really is, and whether this land really is made for you and me. I'd never heard them before and it made me smile at how that song's always turned into a rah-rah patriotic song. It's like when Ronald Reagan used "Born In the USA" as his campaign theme song. I guess he didn't listen to the verses!

Another good one was called The Star-Spangled Banner. It was more factual and explained all the symbols of the country: the different places, people and objects that just scream "America". Finally, Yankee Doodle told the story of that song. I wish I had the books with me so I could say who wrote them. But I can't remember -- shame, as I'm posting this partly for anyone else who anticipates finding themselves in the same boat next year. If the board member hasn't picked up her books by later in the week, I can post them.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Removed from TBR, with a tinge of sadness

Most people's favorite movie is something normal, like Gone with the Wind, or the Star Wars trilogy, or Citizen Kane. My choice is a little more offbeat. I've loved Apollo 13 ever since it came out. I've probably seen it over 100 times. Because of that movie, I planned last year's vacation around a shuttle launch (scrapped, unfortunately).

I think the real hero of that movie, and of the corresponding real-life saga, was flight director Gene Krantz. Through a combination of expertise, steely determination and excellent team management, he was able to address each problem as it arose in order to bring the astronauts home safely. The government agreed with me; he won a Congressional Medal of Freedom for his role in the mission.

So it was with a lot of excitement that I purchased his autobiography, Failure is not an Option. I was looking forward to reading the inside stories of the Apollo and Mercury programs, from the perspective of one who'd been there, not that of Hollywood. I moved it from apartment to apartment for nearly seven years before finally sitting down and giving it a real shot. I did not get far.

The early parts of the book are extremely technical, and fairly dry for such an exciting topic. Tech junkies would probably love the book, and perhaps that's who it's aimed at. Maybe one day I, too, will push through to read the more human tales of the moon landing, the launchpad fire, and the tense days of Apollo 13. I'm not going to sell the book yet, or anything like that. But for now, it's pretty far down on my TBR list.

Loyal readers, if anyone out there can recommend a book about the space program that might be more along the lines of what I'm looking for, leave me a comment!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eeek! Nightmares Tonight

Normally, I eschew the horror genre, after reading the allegedly non-scary Stephen King book Gerald's Game the summer before college and having the shit so thoroughly scared out of me that I missed out on an entire summer's worth of sleep. But I saw Sophie by Guy Burt, and decided to give it a try.

Throughout the book, it promised to disappoint. The book tells the tale of Sophie, who is being held prisoner by Mattie (a guy). Mattie has her tied to a chair in an abandoned house, and says he wants answers to what happened in their childhood. So does the reader. There are all kinds of hints of bizarre doings: someone named either Ol' Grady or Ol' Greedy, who I could never determine whether he was an actual person or a manifestation like the Boogeyman, but who Sophie apparently killed. Their mother spends all of her time confined to one room of the house. Their father is always gone. The extraordinarily intelligent Sophie takes care of Mattie. They spend their days together and share their own world, made for two and two alone.

The tale vacillates between the present day (told through the eyes of Sophie) and the past (told from Mattie's point of view). Like most horror books, it's hard to tell too much about it without spoiling the ending. I will just say that the last fifty or so pages of the book make it worth it. If you decide to try this one, try not to get bored before then. And try not to get annoyed with all of the clumsy foreshadowing ("You knew, even then, didn't you? Tell me, what was the real purpose of the barn? How long had you been planning it all?"). Maybe other, more seasoned horror readers will find the ending predictable. I sure didn't. And it is genuinely scary too. It taps into a fear that I believe most people have, and what's revealed at the end makes the rest of the book all the more scary, as it challenges where your sympathies have lain all along.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Update: there, it's done

Wow, that really needed to be done! I feel as good as I feel after cleaning the bathtub after ignoring it for three weeks. There was some dead wood on there that I'm not quite ready to admit defeat towards, but mostly it was books I've come across that I want to read, but haven't. The new Barbara Kingsolver, Jasper Fforde, and Jen Lancaster. All those books that my parents wanted me to give to the book sale. Some other stuff I've heard of here and there. I see the beginnings of a World War II thing, as well as further continuation of my aborted colonial history thing. Plus more trips to the library, and more posts!

When NaBloPoMo gets tough

The tough get NaBloPoMo...or something. Alert readers probably spotted the flaw in someone who maintains a blog about the books she reads participating in such a NaBloPoMo thing. I didn't spot it until early this week, when I realized I was current on all the books I'd read when I didn't have internet access and wasn't due to complete anything anytime soon. Yesterday's book was a godsend that way. I came across it when unpacking, and thought: I know! Children's short stories! That'll go fast! It did, too. It only took me about an hour to read, but then I was right back where I started.

I visited the NaBloPoMo site, sure that this would be the day when I fail. Then I came across a new group: List Lovers...for people who love to make lists! Sweet! I like to make lists. I like it so much that I have a notebook full of different lists I've made. Some of them are things I'd like to do. Some of them are lists of things I have done (the whole list book idea started because I got tired of trying to list off every guy I'd ever kissed every time I kissed someone new). So I thought maybe this would salvage today's entry.

But after giving it some thought, I can't come up with a much better list than a new and improved TBR list. The one on the sidebar has a ton of dead wood and mostly came from this post, where I went through my book collection and set aside the ones I'd never actually read. Maybe it's time to admit that my interest in some of them has passed, that I'm never going to pick them up, and that it's time to pass them on to someone who will read them and take them off my list. At the same token, there are some books that I do want to read that aren't on there. Also, I could cheat and put the book I'm reading right now on my list just so I can vanquish it right away, a trick I frequently employ with my more mundane "to-do" lists.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another TBR book vanquished!

Books can join a TBR list in a variety of ways. Maybe it's one that a friend recommended, or a professor assigned the week you had three papers and two projects due, or that you heard about on NPR or in the New Yorker or someplace equally tony (I certainly never put books on my TBR list after hearing about them in People magazine or on Craigslist, not that I even know what these things are!!!) Others may come into your life in a more passive way: you receive them as gifts, or your parents were going to donate them to the library and you decided to keep them. The Book of Changes by Tim Wynne-Jones, came into my life in about the most passive way imaginable. Six years ago, I presented at a librarians' conference about the services my museum offered to school libraries. Each conference participant got a goody bag. I would imagine it was the librarian's version of the goody bags guests to the Oscars receive: in addition to the boring branded letter openers and tape dispensers, there were notecards with animals encouraging people to read, this roll of shiny silver tape, and best of all, the chance to receive one book from a selection of seven or eight. They had extra bags, so I got this book.

Your first question may be, does this Tim Wynne-Jones have anything to do with Diana Wynne Jones? After looking at about fifteen different websites, I still can't tell you for sure. I visited both of their official websites and read their autobiographies. They don't match. Diana is much older (hers dwells mostly on memories of her childhood during World War II), whereas Tim has young children. However, Tim does have a sister named Di, which could be short for Diana, so she could be a relative. None of the websites mentioned any relation between the two, but how many "Wynne-Jones" can there be out there?

Tim does have an interesting background, though. He grew up in England (Diana is British, too...) and emigrated to Canada with his family as a little boy. He played in a rock band and wrote music for "Fraggle Rock." How terrific is that? He's an author and editor of children's books, and designed his own home.

The Book of Changes is a book of short stories, aimed at older children. There are seven stories in the book, and each deals with themes that kids can relate to. "The Clark Beans Man" is about negotiating the complexities of the social scene at school. The kid in "Madhouse" feels his family stacks up unfavorably to that of his friend -- until he takes a closer look. The kid in "Hard Sell" learns how good it can feel to defend someone else.

My favorite was "The Ghost of Eddy Longo", for its supernatural element. It was the tale of a teenaged hockey phenom, a goalie who had never been scored on, a third-generation local hockey great. His grandfather was so famous in town that there was a statue of him outside the local arena. His father, however, for all his promise, had disappeared the night of the unveiling of the statue...or had he? It was much less "lessony" than some of the other stories, and more human, but still conveyed its central moral: that it's not about winning or losing, but about how you play and how much fun you have.

The title story, "The Book of Changes", was also clever, and evocative. The main character had to do a project on some aspect of Chinese culture. The day before it was due, he still hadn't started. The girl who presented that day was presenting on the I Ching, and he boldly asked the I Ching what he should do for his project. It actually had an answer for him, too, although it wasn't apparent right away. As he sweated through the night, made false start after false start, procrastinated, worried, I was right back there in fifth grade (or grad school, or NaBloPoMo) facing an impossible deadline.

But yet, I feel I missed Tim Wynne-Jones's target audience. I don't know if kids would like these or not. I didn't dislike them, I just felt that they weren't aimed at me. Which they weren't, but still, I don't feel that way when reading the Harry Potter books, or books by Phillip Pullman.

If anyone can enlighten me on whether a connection exists between Tim Wynne-Jones and Diana Wynne-Jones, please do so!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

From vaudeville to late-night video

For some reason, I've always loved Hollywood tales, true or not. I've read several biographies of Marilyn Monroe, each with their own theory about how she died, from murder to a mishap involving enemas, sleeping pills, lack of fluids and overwork. I read Lillian Gish's account of the dawn of the moving picture, back when the concept of close-ups and feature-length films were new. I enjoyed Lana Turner's autobiography, as well as seamier stuff like that of Tatum O'Neal and Danny Bonaduce. In fact, I still have a booklet I received in my Easter basket as a child, published by one of the tabloid magazines and called "Hollywood Mysteries," where I first learned the stories of the Black Dahlia, the unsolved murder of Thelma Todd, the mysterious death of the first Superman (whose real name I don't remember), etc.

So when I saw Niagara Falls All Over Again, a novel by Elizabeth McCracken, I decided to check it out. This novel follows the careers of the fictional comedy team Carter and Sharp, told from the perspective of straight man Mose (or Mike, as he's known professionally) Sharp, from vaudeville to movies, radio and television.

The story makes the typical arc of any show-biz tale. There are the early years, full of struggle and optimism. The future icons have nothing but dreams and hopes. They work hard, travel a lot, sacrifice all material comfort in pursuit of their ambition. Then, the big break comes. They ride high, they get all the material comforts they want and then some. This period cannot last, though, and then there's the long fall from grace, often fueled by drugs and alcohol. If it's an autobiography, it usually ends with the main character getting clean and vowing (if not actually succeeding in) a comeback. If it's a biography, that usually means that the subject didn't survive, and died of an OD, often in a run-down hotel room, or the beat-up Chevy in which they were forced to live.

The end of Carter and Sharp's tale is free from that particular melodrama. Rather, it ends with the more mundane issues that dissolve the partnerships, careers and attachments of an average person. One person changed while the other one didn't. Committments to home and family take over committments to friends. One person starts to feel taken advantage of, which makes the other one defensive. There's alcohol and infidelity involved, but it plays a secondary role.

There aren't really a lot of novels on male relationships. I guess there's something in our culture that makes it almost impossible for straight men to admit they love one another, although women are free to declare their love for their female friends without having their sexuality questioned in the least. That was one thing I enjoyed about this book. Despite the fact that their partnership doesn't end on the best note, Mose isn't shy about proclaiming his love for his larger-than-life partner, who he still misses well into his eighties.

Vaudeville is fading from our collective memory. There aren't many performers left who got their start that way. Those that did, like Gracie Allen and George Burns, or Laurel and Hardy, belong to a whole other generation, existing in the collective subconscious (as Mose points out Carter and Sharp did) only as answers to crossword puzzles, or names on DVDs in Wal-Mart's dollar bin. The early chapters of the book introduce it to the generations like my own, whose grandparents didn't even get to see vaudeville live. You get to experience the surreal quality to the acts (like the one-legged contortionist), the sweat and hard work, the impermanence of it all (Mose goes from replacing a straight man who left the industry, to stepping in for anyone who was sick, and gets his big break stepping in for a straight man who was too drunk that night to go on -- virtually none of it under his own name).

That's always been one of my favorite things about fiction: the way it can preserve the past like nothing else can. Museums can save the material pieces of the past. Documentarians can describe what the past was like. But a good novel, like Niagara Falls all over again, can actually take you there.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It'll make you LOL: a blogger makes it big

A few days ago, I alluded to a faboo book that I couldn't stop reading, even after I'd read it. That book? Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster.

Jen's tale is, as she describes it in the author's note, "a modern Greek tragedy, as defined by Roger Dunkle in The Classical Origins of Western which 'the central character...suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected.' In other words? The bitch had it coming." Jen is high on life and success as the book opens: she just won a corporate award for her sales presentation, and plans to spend the large cash prize on more designer everything. She's living the sweet life, in a sweet pad, with her similarly successful live-in boyfriend.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Two weeks after September 11th, she's laid off. Her job hunt starts out confident, then grows increasingly desperate as her unemployment runs out and her boyfriend (husband by then) gets laid off too. Many people who've hunted for jobs recently will recognize her misadventures: there's the startup that asks her to prepare a business plan to help them make their decision, takes notes a little too ardently when she presents it, then never contacts her again. There are the offers taht mysteriously and inexplicably vanish like fireworks. There are the mind-dulling temp jobs, the Nordstrom managers who won't hire you because you don't have enough experience. For some reason I've never understood, tales of the working world interest me a great deal, so I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book.

The best part about it, though, was Jen herself. Judging from the description on the back, I'd expected to hate her and cheer when she failed, but I didn't. She has such a forceful, charismatic personality that it reaches right through the page at you. Her intimate tone (which I suspect may come partly from all the blogging) makes you root for her. Even when she's at her most shallow and materialistic, you know that she's also a human with feelings and admirable characteristics too. She's able to laugh at herself throughout the book, which (like I said in the title) will also make you LOL at some of the stuff she does (I loved the drunken Big Lebowski story). At the same time, however, she's clearly an intelligent woman who deserved her past success, which made me respect her.

Another great thing about this book is that she learns something. One thing that made the horrid Citizen Girl and the Plum Sykes books so annoying, is that the protagonists (and I use that word loosely) fail to learn anything. This despite the fact that blindingly obvious lessons are repeatedly shoved in their faces throughout the tale (The kind most of us learn in junior high, too: Don't Date Men Only Because They're Rich or Good-Looking, It's Not All About You, Success Doesn't Happen Instantly, etc.). Jen changes a lot throughout her journey. As she admits, she was defined by her job and her possessions. When she was stripped of both, she had to find new things to define her. And yes, I know that this is a true story, whereas Citizen Girl and the Plum Sykes books are more fanciful than your average JRR Tolkien tale. But the point is that a reader can get something out of Bitter is the New Black. The ending is much more satisfying than CG's continued martyrdom, or seeing a Plum Sykes protagonist rewarded for behaving like a stupid bitch. It gives you hope for people.

As a big animal person, I'd also like to mention an aspect of the story that I loved: Jen's work with rescue dogs. Desperate for a way to occupy her days, she volunteers at an animal rescue. She starts out terrified of the pit bulls, and only stays after the volunteer coordinator challenges her committment. But she grows to love it, and states flat-out that all the crap in the media about vicious pit bulls is that, exactly: crap. She even takes in two dogs from the shelter. I hope that the pit bull advocacy people have taken note of this. With these dogs being overrepresented in shelters and vilified in the media, they need all the good publicity they can get. Her chapters on Maisy and Loki may have just saved a life or two.

A final note: if all of this intrigues you and you want to test her out, she also maintains a blog. She too is doing NaBloPoMo (that's where I heard about it, actually). If you like, you can visit her at The URL is also on my sidebar. I recommend it, she's a good writer, and probably a fun person too!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Gone Underground

After languishing for over a decade on my TBR list,I'd enjoyed Bastard out of Carolina. Seeing that Dorothy Allison had written several other books, I was determined to give one of them a whirl. I wound up with Cavedweller. I'm still not sure what to make of it.

I loved Bastard out of Carolina for its honest, unflinching look at both childhood and poverty, and for its vivid, complex characters. Cavedweller's characters were outstanding, but its aim less focused, its purpose less clear. It promises at first to be somewhat of a darker and more white trash version of the Reese Witherspoon movie Sweet Home Alabama: the main character, Delia, had run off to L.A. over a decade ago to seek her fortune as a singer and escape an abusive marriage. After the man she left home with dies in a motorcycle crash, she takes their daughter home to Georgia to reconcile with the two daughters she left behind when fleeing her marriage, and to face the rest of her old demons.

However, the tale doesn't stop there. I've read books that I felt took way too long to get to the point, 1000-page tales that could've been told in less than half of that. This is one of the only books I've read where the tale itself seems to spin out for far too long. Somewhere, the story stops belonging to Delia, and the disparate tales of her three daughters take over: Amanda, the religious fanatic who chooses early marriage and motherhood; the rebellious Dede, who sluts around and works a variety of jobs before settling down with someone most unexpected; and Cissy, the daughter from L.A., who finds herself at the bottom of the town's network of caves. Delia becomes barely a secondary character in her own story. Everything from her tale fades: her daughters grown, her abusive husband dead, the grandfather who raised her barely making an appearance.

If this was meant to be an epic, there's not enough "epic" here: barely any struggle in the lives of the girls, including the struggle to find themselves (they all seem pretty damn sure) or become a family (which they never really achieve: Dede and Cissy have a more friendlike relationship, while Amanda rejects the sinful duo in favor of her more godly church pals). It's a rather long denouement to what starts as an exciting tale, and only Allison's skill as a writer keeps you intrigued.