Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." - Elie Wiesel

One of my favorite new book blogs is Nutmeg’s “Another Nutter.”
I can’t remember now how I happened across her, but probably through Lazy Cow if I had to guess. I am resisting my urge to call Nutmeg by the unutterably cute nickname of “Meg” because I hate it when people use unauthorized nicknames, especially for people whom they have never actually met. (But wouldn’t it be adorable?) (Nutmeg, feel free to virtually slap me.)

Anyway, it seems that Nutmeg and I share a common interest (well, probably several), but this quote from a recent post of hers sums up the pertinent one: I think this movie [“The Sound of Music”] went on to inspire my rather eccentric obsession with WWII fiction and non-fiction; Nazi Germany and later the Holocaust, in particular.

I too seem to read an awful lot of Holocaust-themed literature. I don’t rightly know if this is because there’s a lot of good stuff out there, or I am morbid, or what. But I meandered through my personal library shelves over the past few days and came up with this list of the books I have read, or I own, or at least Gina has read, that fall into this category. The range is enormous, and I know there are literally thousands more.

They are loosely divided into fiction, and non.
And feel free to add suggestions.

Leeway Cottage – Beth Gutcheon. On her website, Gutcheon lists a bibliography for Leeway Cottage. I haven’t read many of these books, but some of them look fascinating. And Leeway Cottage, while not Gutcheon’s best novel, addresses a relatively novel aspect of the Holocaust, namely, the Danish resistance to the Nazis.

A Thread of Grace – Mary Doria Russell. Russell also has a bibliography for A Thread of Grace on her website. This book is horribly sad, and haunting. I cried buckets throughout, and sobbed torrents at the end.

The History of Love – Nicole Krauss. I LOVED this book, and plan to reread it often.

The Tin Drum - Gunter Grass. I have heard of parallels being drawn between this, and Stones from the River. I have begun several times but never finished Drum.

Stones from the River – Ursula Hegi. Stones is in my top ten list of favorite books ever. I have read it several times, and routinely buy copies whenever I find them used, to give away. It is, among other things, a powerful portrayal of how ordinary people allowed the Nazis to perpetrate their evil.

Maus and Maus II - Art Speigelman. Oh, yes, it’s a comic book (excuse me, graphic novel) but it’s powerful. And while at first it didn’t grab me, Speigelman’s artistic style grew on me.

Exodus - Leon Uris. Also QB VII (a Nazi doctor sues an author over allegations about his responsibility for horrific experiments conducted in a concentration camp) and Mila 18 (the Warsaw uprising). Uris is not a particularly good writer, but he is compellingly readable.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne. I haven't read this, Gina has. And she recommends it. I do know it's fairly new, and is marketed as a children's novel.

The Book Thief - Markus Zuzak. This book too is marketed as a children's novel, which really confuses me. The beginning of this book was clumsy and self-conscious, but it picked up speed and grace as it went along. The ending hit me like a sucker punch. Even though it wasn't.

A Changed Man – Francine Prose. Gina read this, and liked it, and suggested it for the list. I don’t know much about it, but Gina’s recommendation is good enough for me.

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer. Ditto. I WANTED to love this book. But I personally think Krauss outwrites her husband by miles – I find him self-conscious and well nigh unreadable - but Gina really liked this, so I think I need to give it another shot.

I almost forgot William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice. I will say it was a bad choice to read this while I was pregnant, but it’s a heck of a book.


Night - Elie Wiesel. The king of Holocaust literature, if such a phrase can be appropriately used in this context.

All Rivers Run to the Sea - Elie Weisel. I have not read this, technically Wiesel's memoirs. So, if you've read Night, you should probably read this. It's on my TBR list.

The Leopard Hat: A Daughter’s Story - Valerie Steiker. This book was fairly unmemorable, but I found her writing about her mother’s life during the war achingly real.

After Long Silence: A Woman’s Search for her Family’s Secret Identity – Helen Fremont. The woman who wrote this had her own agenda for revealing her family’s secret, which does not make the book any less valuable or interesting, but her tangential forays about revealing her homosexuality to her parents annoyed me no end.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust - Edith Beer. I am reading this right now.

Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins at Auschwitz - Lucette Matalon Lagnado. This book horrified me. If you have kids, think twice about reading this. It still haunts me. As it should.

Rescue in Denmark – Harold Flender. Details the Danish effort to save their Jews. This was on my mother's bookshelves, and I read it several times when I was a teenager.

A Night of Watching - Elliott Arnold. Another take on the Danish resistance.

The Diary of Anne Frank: The Definitive Edition. Edited by her father, Otto Frank, and containing all the writing that was expurgated in the original publication. I have this, along with a couple copies of the mass market paperback diary version. Let's face it, as a teenage girl, this was compellingly angsty reading.

Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex. I read these ages ago. Technically fiction, I know, but solid part of the Anne Frank canon.

Anne Frank, A Portrait in Courage – Ernst Schnabel. Another book I read and reread and reread again as a teenager. Schnabel illuminates Anne’s short life through interviews with people who knew her.

[Note: While searching around for authors and commentary on some of these books, I found this seemingly comprehensive bibliography on Anne Frank. It may offer up some interesting reading material.]

Shoah - Claude Lanzman. I bought the book after I’d watched the Lanzman documentary. What a powerful and moving piece of work.

Schindler’s List - Thomas Kenneally. I bought the book after I saw the movie, in a theatre in Squirrel Hill, a primarily Jewish section of the city, and I was quite possibly the only Gentile in the entire theatre. I have never experienced the absolute silence at the end of a movie that I did with this one. Every last one of us was, quite frankly, stunned. (I will also point out - the voice of experience - that this is a VERY BAD CHOICE for a first-date movie.)

The Hidden Children - Howard Greenfeld. I picked this up in a bargain bin somewhere; it has moved me to tears at time. I am still on the look-out for the book about the Kindertransport, Ten Thousand Children: True stories told by children who escaped the Holocaust on the Kindertransport; I used to work for a man who was one of the Kindertransport children and while I didn’t much care for him, the fact gave me new appreciation for the difficulties he must have had to overcome. I like to imagine I would be brave enough to send my children away for their own safety, but God, the thought of it hurts so much I don’t linger on it and pray I never ever have to consider it.

When Time Ran Out: Coming of Age in the Third Reich - Frederic Zeller. This has sat on my shelf forever, I have not read it.

The Upstairs Room – Johanna Reiss. I read this when I was a kid; I didn’t know it had won a Newbery. I do remember it being riveting. Between this and Anne Frank, I spent a lot of time imagining what it would be like to be hiding, in fear for one's life, and figuring out where I could hide if the Nazis came for me. I was a melodramatic child.

The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom. I had to read this for school at some point. Also, Zvi, which it turns out is a book published by Friends of Israel, which is essentially the Protestant corollary to Jews for Jesus.

I am sure, as I said, that there are literally thousands more. There are especially a ton of children's books I have not read: I look at them all the time. I pick up When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit almost every time I am at the bookstore. One of these days I will buy it. Most of these books are emotionally wrenching, but I think it's important to read them, important to learn from them, important to remember.


Elie Wiesel: I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. And anyone who does not remember betrays them again.

Monday, February 26, 2007

"We're going on a trip in our favorite rocket ship, zooming through the sky..."

Things you learn while watching "Little Einsteins" with your sick kids (which I am not entirely sure Playhouse Disney WANTS you to learn):

Antonin Dvorak was a hottie.

See? Toldja.

I was trying to place the music they used in this morning's episode, “Melody the Music Pet.” I wasn’t paying attention during the show because Seg was whining about waffles and Terzo was tantrumming about waffles, and, well, I was dreaming of a giant mimosa.
It was Dvorak’s "Humoresque Number 7."
I was happy to discover this but it did not ameliorate my desire for a mimosa.
Or Antonin Dvorak.

Also, I fear I am developing a completely inappropriate crush on this guy who sings about worms, and wanting to be a puppy dog, between episodes of “Little Einsteins” and “Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse”:

I can’t decide if it’s the dorky glasses, or the gorgeous laugh lines.
This might be worse than harboring feelings for Greg Wiggle.


In the process of searching for the damn Dvorak piece, I ran across this blog.
Very entertaining, but good Lord, how much TV do their kids watch?

Although I too admit an inordinate fondness for Emily Yeung.
That link is the official site and has the incredibly catchy theme song which I now sing all day long, but the animation is just unbelievably horrible. For a better idea of just how very engaging and adorable Emily Yeung is (I just want to SQUEEZE her), look:

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

An apple a day keeps the doctor away> Ein Apfel ein Tag hält den Doktor weg> An apple one day holds the doctor away

Fun with Babel Fish

Email from H, in, of course, English:
Both Seg and Terzo managed to eat something at lunch and both are sleeping now. Seg looks a lot better.

Into Russian:
И Seg и Terzo управляли съесть что-то на обеде и оба спят теперь. Seg смотрит много более лучшим.

Russian back to English:
Both Seg and Terzo they controlled to eat something at the dinner and both sleep now. Seg looks much more best.

Email several hours later from H:
Seg not controlled for the food after all. Couch has seen better days.


Primo’s books-in-progress:

Meet Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I read up to chapter six and decided to take a break, I’d read enough.”)

Cam Jansen and the Ghostly Mystery (Lent to him by a teacher at school.)

Mike’s Mystery from the Boxcar Children series (“You can get me any number, they don’t join up like the Magic Treehouse books do. Like, for instance, the first Boxcar book is about when they are living in the boxcar, and the next will be about something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.”)

Primo’s upstairs book: Ice Hockey A to Z

Primo’s bathroom book: Fabulous Fallacies
(“Mom! Did you know that George Washington was really the NINTH President? And I read all about the story of Saint Patrick! I WONDERED how we got Saint Patrick’s Day!”)

I watched him walk down the steps from the second floor yesterday, his nose buried in a book. He cries when we turn the light out at night, even if we let him finish the chapter. He carries a book to school with him, to read in the car or waiting to be picked up. And about once a day he asks me to request a particular book or books from the library for him (at the moment we are waiting on a book about Helen Keller, and another about Harriet Tubman, plus a couple of Jim O’Connor hockey books).

He may look like H, but there’s no denying he’s mine!


Up next for me:
Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn, Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston, and Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon. Not necessarily in that order. Maybe all at once, for that matter.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. - I Thess. 4:16

I stopped reading Inheritance of Loss literally halfway through. The novel is gorgeously, sometimes even sumptuously, written; yet it’s not overbearing, not maudlin, not excessive or sloppy. Desai writes so evocatively, you just close your eyes and savor her words:

The caress of the mist through her hair seemed human, and when she held her fingers out, the vapor took them gently into its mouth.

Or this:
The cook came hurrying out with the leftover chocolate pudding warmed on the fire in a frying pan and the judge ate the lovely brown puddle and gradually his face took on an expression of grudging pudding contentment.
My face has borne that expression of 'pudding contentment,' I can feel it in my muscles right now.

Would that she were so skilled with character development.
I am 150 pages in (of approximately 300) and couldn’t care less what happens to any of the characters: not Sai the lovelorn, orphaned teenager, not her guardian and uncle, the judge, not the cook, not Biju the cook’s son trying to make his way in America. If there is an Indian stereotype that Desai hasn’t used, I can’t think of it. And perhaps that is because, as I like to say, often stereotypes are stereotypical for good reason. But it got tiresome and stale, and I can’t read anymore because I simply don’t care what happens to any of them. Lovely writing can only take you so far.

I found out a few days ago that my work library had a copy of the new and much-talked-about The Echo Maker; I was something like 35th of 70 holds at the public library so I checked it out at work and cancelled my public library hold, and started it that night, on the bus on the way home, motion sickness be damned. Can someone please tell me what the hell all the fuss is about? It’s downright boring. If you want to read an amazing probe into treatment of brain damage and trauma or stress, read this sad and shocking expose of Walter Reed Army Hospital, and the way our veterans are, at best, misunderstood and, at worst, mistreated by the Army administration. If you want to read a fictionalized account of something similar – an exploration of identity and the hidden undercurrents of relationships - I can with confidence recommend (even though I have not read it yet) Nicole Krauss’ Man Walks Into a Room; if it’s even a third as good as History of Love, it will still be about five times more compelling than Echo Maker (Don’t you love the way I throw these numbers around like they’re somehow based in fact and actual data analysis? And I promise to recant if I read Man and it’s dreadful.) (But it won’t be.)

So what the heck am I reading, picky, picky me?

I started Lauren Sandler’s Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement and am finding it fascinating - in the way that a car wreck is fascinating. Not because of Sandler, whose writing is just fine, if sometimes clunky, or generalized, but because these fundie youngsters are downright terrifying in their certainty and their world view, clearly delineated in black or white, heaven or hell, right or wrong. These kids are what I was meant to be; that is, if Randy Hogue and his ilk had had their way with me. As it were. I escaped, fortunately for me (and you, of course, because, um, if I were a nice little Baptist still, I would not be writing this blog). I am all for religion and faith, if that works for you; I myself have settled quite nicely into the Episcopalian faith and am comfortable and – dare I say? – fulfilled in a way I wasn’t before. But if Sandler is describing many of these religious movements accurately, then I have to assert that many of them are no better than a cult like the Moonies or even God forbid, the Branch Davidians. When I finish the book, I’ll let you know if my first impressions held out throughout the book. Also, I'll let you know if I ran across any of my former high school classmates, right at home in the center of the crazy fundamentalist movement.

Have I ever written about the classmate’s husband who revealed at our fifteenth reunion that he had not bothered saving for college for his kids, or for his and Jenny’s retirement, since the Rapture was going to occur on May 12, 2006? (To be honest, I cannot recall the date he quoted, but it was exact, and it is now passed.) Like the well-informed and -indoctrinated Bible scholars we were, some of us pointed out to him that the Bible says that Christ shall return “like a thief in the night” (I Thessalonians 5:2), and no one knows the hour or the day of His return (Matthew 24:36). Jim was not deterred. He was sure of his facts. Ahem. I sure hope Bob Jones University grants faith-based rather than need-based financial aid.

I grew up around this craziness, and I can’t just laugh it off. These people are dead serious, and out to convert the world, and it scares me.

So for lighter fare, I am reading The Nazi Officer’s Wife because what better to temper the serious scariness of evangelical fundamentalists than Nazis?

Now that I think of it, the new Maisie Dobbs came in the mail yesterday; I should probably keep that close at hand. Or maybe the newest issue of House and Garden.

Here, this might help:

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

If I were not a sonnet, I would be a haiku:

Short, terse, unfriendly,
Yet sometimes quite emotive;
I am the Haiku.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Yeah, pretty much.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Librarian is a service occupation. Gas station attendant of the mind." ~Richard Powers

Doppelganger at 50 books has some hard questions for information professionals.
Except, no question is impossible for the superheroes of the information universe. Or, um, something like that.
Anyway - here are my thoughts on the matter.

…are libraries as beleaguered as they seem?

They are certainly under funded. And librarians are certainly underpaid. But most of us knew that going into it. I don’t know what the actual stats are but I would be surprised if the majority of us were librarians as a first career. (It’s my third. And the one that makes me happiest, if the worst paid.)
Public librarianship makes me shiver, although there are librarians out there who LOVE it, which is a good thing because I would NOT. Public libraries seem to bear the brunt of stupid censorship attempts, funding cuts, and political and public ignorance regarding the worth of a good librarian. I am very happy cocooned in my little corner of higher education, and my personal trick is to work part-time so I can stay on the desk, actually doing research and serving patrons’ needs.

In the battle between good and stupid, is the library at the front lines of literacy?

See above. Every librarian has to deal with the occasional troglodyte (the bane of my existence is the senior student who proudly proclaims to me that he has never been in the library before), but I would guess that public libraries bear the brunt of abuse. I will say that I certainly know librarians who are stupid, too. Don’t kid yourself, the MLS degree is not a particularly rigorous one. Any decent program is still mostly what you make of it.

Should we give you guns, or at least some knuckle-rappingly hard rulers?

Rulers. One of those wooden ones with the metal edge. To go with my bun and spectacles.

What about your job makes you most nutty?

The aforementioned morons who proudly assert in the same breath that 1) our library SUCKS, and 2) they are seniors and have never set foot in the library before today. I do not think twice about tartly telling them that it’s not a good idea to ask for help from someone whose job you have just dismissed.
Also, the idiots who tell me that they found “everything I need” on Google, but why can’t they find the full-text article? Um, journal subscriptions COST MONEY. Which the library thoughtfully provides, using all kinds of funding, not necessarily “your tuition money.”
You can get most of what you need through the library, if you go about it the proper way. This might be one of those times when a competent librarian is useful.
Also? Graduate students and faculty members who can’t seem to provide a full citation for an ILL request if their life depended on it. Seriously, there are some of these folks that make me wonder how they made it through high school, let alone undergrad and a Masters/PhD program.
Minor annoyance: refilling the printer toner and paper, unjamming the printers every five minutes, fixing the microfilm readers, running the scanner, setting up personal laptops for wireless access – all things which I am perfectly capable of doing, but resent having to do. Perhaps because not every librarian feels so inclined to be so obliging. I try to make it be about the students, and that makes me feel better, that I am helping those whom I am here to help.

What makes it all worthwhile? It can't just be the fact that you're lusted after by a certain type of gentleman (and some ladies) with a penchant for cardigans and cool specs, can it?

It actually can be that. If such a strange person existed.
I love finding stuff out. I am dogged and creative in my search process, and often dig up results for questions on which other people have given up. I love dealing with hard-to-find ILL citations for that reason.
I love helping people who are trying to conduct thorough, well-thought-out research into a topic that fascinates and excites them. I love making them think differently than they had, to find information that they may not even have been aware was out there.
I love being able to request scholarly articles just to satisfy my curiosity, and popular novels for which other people have to wait weeks or months, through our library ILL system. I love that I don’t pay late fees. I love being surrounded by books, and more broadly, information. And I love knowing that I know how to ferret out information as necessary. It’s a strange little rush, but I believe that to be a superb reference librarian, you have to have that compulsion, and you have to love that feeling of utter satisfaction at having found the answer.

Well, that, and a cute little cardie.

Monday, February 19, 2007

My vegetable love should grow vaster than empires, and more slow. - Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"

DoppelGanger over at 50 Books had the brilliant idea of continuing the new year’s listmania by soliciting ideas for other book-related lists which she would then populate with her answers as she saw fit, or was moved, or whatever: see her Big List of Lists. I took the liberty of suggesting some ideas, and was flattered to see she’d selected one of my suggestions. This link will take you to her list of Books a Man Has Given Me That Made Me Swear NEVER to Go on Another Date with Him EVER Again.
And here’s mine, because this idea is such excellent fodder for a book blog that I am going to play right along throughout the year, shamelessly piggybacking on her cleverness.

Books a Man Has (or could have) Given Me That Made Me Swear NEVER to Go on Another Date with Him EVER Again

1. A Bible. I have several of my own, in several translations, thanks, in addition to a copy of the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Book of Mormon. I have no trouble with the Bible itself, indeed, I’ve read it and find it quite interesting on several levels. But anyone who gifts me with a Bible is trying to hint about something which I would rather they just come right out and tell me, so I can explain my scary and traumatizing fundamentalist childhood. And any man who gifts me with a Bible is not getting any – if indeed his religious convictions don’t prevent that anyway.

2. Any of the Chicken Soup for the [insert Soul-type here] books, and any self-help or inspirational books including but not limited to The Purpose-Driven Life, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

3. Any Star Trek novelizations, or any sci-fi/fantasy books featuring half-naked women on the front cover of the cheap mass market paperback.

4. Anything by Ernest Hemingway, damn misogynist.

5. Obvious poetry. You know what I mean – Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, Sonnets from the Portuguese, anything by Omar Khayyam. No Lord Byron, and for God’s sake, no Andrew Marvell.

Michael-the-boy-who-broke-my-heart-freshman-year gave me for Valentine’s Day a copy of Robert Fulghum’s Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten - that should have been a giant tip-off, hmmm? If his quoting “To His Coy Mistress” at the drop of a hat wasn’t enough of a sign.

H has given me a couple of books that I can recall, before he finally gave up and just started handing me money earmarked for the bookstore. He has lent or given me Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, PD James’ Children of Men, and a couple random mysteries by authors he thought I liked. (Never mind that he was wrong.)

A man I dated briefly gave me for Christmas a copy of Robert Harris’ Fatherland. No idea why, but it was a decent enough book. A dear friend, who happens to be a man, gave me Don DeLillo’s Underworld for my thirtieth birthday, and my younger brother has quite successfully given me books for Christmas almost every year in the past ten.

So a book as a gift is a fine, fine thing, but really only as long as you are not dating me, it seems.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Is it still raining? I hadn't noticed." - Carrie, in "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

I had a dream that H got remarried.
(H: “Why on EARTH would I do that?”)
I screamed at him and threw things and pitched a real fit but he was implacable – just like in real life.
I kept waiting for him to tell me he wouldn’t get married again, after all, but that never happened. (Even though we weren’t even separated, let alone divorced, in my dream - or in real life, either. In fact, tomorrow is our twelfth wedding anniversary. Ah, love. And stubbornness. Mostly stubbornness.)

This woman he married? She looked sorta like me, but shorter and thinner and with long, cascading dark hair. Conventionally pretty and feminine. Think Lorelai on Gilmore Girls, but more petite, maybe not as toothy.
(H: “Ok, I guess I can see that.”)

She had a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old daughter, pretty in a well-scrubbed sort of way, a little heavier than her mom, the type of teenager who wears patchouli and peasant skirts from import shops and Birkenstocks.

The new wife has dogs – maybe five, or six. Beagle-y types, with names like Charlie and Butch.
(H: “Now that’s REALLY crazy.” H doesn’t care for dogs.)

She lived in a weird little house with cement floors, and a two-lane highway running through the middle of the house, requiring you to look both ways before crossing the hall to use the bathroom. I was worried about what the boys would do in the middle of the night.

My mother-in-law-but-not-my-mother-in-law (in that odd way of dreams) was there, waiting with me for H to come home. She thought she should be there when I saw the happy couple together for the first time.
(H: “Why didn’t you go to the wedding?”
Me: “I don’t think I was invited, but I wouldn’t have gone anyway.”
H: “Really? Why not?”
Me: Silent, but give him a withering look of utter disdain, accurately conveying my feelings of how-stupid-are-you?)

H came in the door after the nuptials, wearing a surprisingly casual short-sleeved yellow plaid shirt.
(H: “Well, second wedding and all. Don’t want to overdo it.”)

And the New Wife said, “My husband!” and they embraced and kissed theatrically, her hair in a long swoop over H’s arm and down her back.

He SAID it wouldn’t change anything and I was relieved, but then I realized that he would be LIVING with her everyday, and not with me. I had that feeling I got my freshman year in college when the boy who’d just broken my heart told me he still loved me - but he was dating short, fat, chipmunky Jan Mullet.

New Wife was (H: “Obviously!”) going to be the boys’ stepmom, which would have been ok, I suppose, if I were DEAD.

“I thought you said you didn’t want to be married, to anyone,” I said to him.
He replied, “I have a lonely place, I deserve to have it filled.”
(H snorted. To be fair, so did I, upon recounting this bit of maudlin treacle.)


My dream last night was even stranger, involving a beloved ex-boyfriend’s wedding, and superhero villains, and this gigantic old house I lived in with my gazillion siblings and my dad (I don’t have a gazillion siblings, and my dad’s been dead for almost twenty years).
I can’t even begin to recall what I had for dinner, or if perhaps I didn’t eat enough, or...does anyone know if one of the side effects of amoxicillin is fevered dreams?

Or maybe I should quit smoking so much opium?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Let's put the blood back in Valentine's Day!" - MsCellania

Ok, dudes, I am not even going to TRY to be clever.
Go read Joke's explanation of the history of SAINT Valentine's Day, and the attendant comments.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, your heart will be warmed.

Happy VDay, all. (and is it wrong that I always want to type that VD Day? Hmmm....)


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Love is much nicer to be in than an automobile accident, a tight girdle, a higher tax bracket, or a holding pattern over Philadelphia. - Judith Viorst

I can be as snarky as I want about Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books being "what Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books would be if they weren’t so well-written;” but I finished the second Maisie Dobbs and IMMEDIATELY went online and bought the third. I thought I could resist, but then the first chapter of the next book was appended to the end of the second, and well….I am a woman and a reader of very little patience (and brain, some might argue).

Winspear really gets her fiction feet under her in the second novel, Birds of a Feather. The second is more cohesive, the plot managed more skillfully, and Maisie’s character fleshed out into a three-dimensional person. She stopped acting and feeling to me like a 1930s Nancy Drew and began acting and feeling like a real, live, flesh-and-blood girl, complete with insecurities, some uncalled-for moodiness and petulance, and even a couple potential love interests, but retaining her cleverness, optimism, wisdom, and gravity. Winspear still gives us some clunky writing, but her prose has grown more fluid and polished in her sophomore outing, and to her credit, as with the first book, the historical details are perfect, and clearly painstakingly researched.

So there I was, having turned the last page on Birds at 830 pm, and online by 840 to purchase the next, Pardonable Lies. I almost decided to buy the fourth book, Messenger of Truth, out last August, but I decided to wait. My chief complaint with is that you do not save on shipping costs even if you buy two or more books from the same seller; since this is the case, I decided to save the thrill of hunting for and purchasing the next book for later. Plus, I really like my books-in-a-series to MATCH. I know that’s nuts, but I have the first two in paperback, the third coming in paperback, I would really like to have the fourth in paperback also. They look so neat and orderly sitting on my shelf that way. Shut up. I know I am weird. You don’t have to rub it in.


Being sick in bed all morning, just anticipating my next dose of Magic Swizzle, allowed me to whip through the last few chapters of a very entertaining expose of the cosmetic plastic surgery business, Alex Kuczynski’s Beauty Junkies: Inside our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery. Junkies was just plain fun. I will never understand, but it was one good time reading about the crazy things that youth- and appearance-obsessed people ask for and the sometimes even crazier things the plastic surgeons advertise. I mean, the lengths to which some of these people go! Half the time I can't be bothered to dab on mascara, let alone tweeze my stupid fuzzy eyebrows, and they spend thousand of dollars and thousands of hours having these horrible-sounding procedures done to them! Reading this book was the literary (for lack of a better word) equivalent of going to the circus.

I have this small, coldhearted impulse to anonymously mail a copy of this book to my Perfect sister-in-law. S had a tummy tuck and a boob job a few years ago, so apparently they have more money than God (but not as much sense?). My mother-in-law virtually worships S, and if you’d listened to her, you’d have thought S was undergoing lifesaving cancer treatment or cutting-edge brain surgery, not elective plastic surgery to make her baby-paunch flat and her boobs bigger. She flew down there to [hushed voice] “be with her for the procedure.” We’d get these ridiculous phone updates about S “feeling a little stronger today” and being “so brave about the pain,” or “managing to keep down a cup of soup.”

What can you do but laugh and roll your eyes?

And mail her anonymous commentary?

OK, I won’t.

I probably am just jealous because I will never have thousands to spend on a tummy tuck. At least not without getting some serious grief from Suse about not spending it to travel to Australia instead - and deservedly so.

And really, what would be the point of a boob job, since I just bought all those nice new bras in a pleasant little B-cup?


In case you're wondering, no, I have NO FUCKING IDEA what fucking Blogger has done to my fonts. They MADE me switch to new Blogger and promptly fucked up all sorts of things. Don't get me started on paragraph spacing. No, really, don't.


It snowed all day. Then this evening the precipitation switched over to sleet. When the temps dropped after sundown, we were blessed with a lovely – and it IS very pretty - half-inch coating of ice on everything. When the temps drop a couple more degrees in the next few hours, it seems the sleet will change back to snow, accumulating another 2-4 inches.

The boys’ schools are already closed for tomorrow. But not before I churned up a batch of sugar cookie dough to roll out for heart-shaped cookies, because I have been too sick to get in the car and just go buy heart-shaped cookies like a normal human being. Oh well, I suppose it won’t kill me to bake it up anyway and have our own little Valentine’s Day celebration with my boys, with cocoa topped with whipped cream and pink sprinkles, and pink, heart-shaped sugar cookies.

I mean, I do LOVE them, and all...

Monday, February 12, 2007

"He never really liked me anyway." - Billy Ray Cyrus, "Achy Breaky Heart"

I just bullied a doctor into giving me drugs.

The glands on my neck are so swollen that they are visible to the casual observer. Both of my ears hurt, and my throat feels as if it is coated with ground glass. I have been running a mild fever off and on for the past three days, which means I am taking 600 mg of Motrin every six hours round the clock – both for the fever and to alleviate the pain enough for me to sleep or function.

I contract some lovely form of this every winter – usually it starts out in my sinuses and migrates to my ears, although usually only one. I got – lucky? - this year as it pretty much started out in both ears, all at once.

So this time, rather than torturing myself trying to sleep or rest (have you met my three small children?) while feeling like I have hot pokers inserted in my eardrums and shivering away under the down comforter, multiple wool blankets, and the hot water bottle, for well onto two weeks before finally caving and hieing myself to the doctor, I called the doctor first thing this morning (Monday) and scheduled an appointment for this afternoon.

Yes, it exhausted me to bundle up two small kids and pack them into the car and chivvy them from parking lot to elevator, from waiting room to examining room. But I sustained myself by thinking how much better I was going to feel even just tomorrow morning, after two doses of killer antibiotics.

After twenty minutes of distracting and entertaining my boys by looking out the window and enthusiastically exclaiming “Bus!” Every. Single. Time. a bus passed (and my doctor’s office is on the main thoroughfare), the doctor finally came into the room.

Now, I have a wonderful PCP. She’s young and energetic and sympathetic and really listens to me. But due to the nature of the practice, sometimes I am unable to get in to see her on such short notice. And when that is the case (not often), the practice gets me in to see a doctor as soon as they can, which I do appreciate. And let’s face it, we’re not talking intricate brain surgery or even any sort of complicated care of a chronic disease – we’re talking giant swollen glands and hurty ears. If I could write prescriptions myself, we could all save everyone here a whole bunch of trouble. But I digress – Dr H was not available today so they set me up with Dr L. Who looked to be about eighteen, and had the acne to match. He came into the room wearing gloves (this does not fill me with confidence re: the sterility of said gloves, how do I know he put them on new after his last patient?), gingerly examined both ears, had me say AHHHH and looked at my throat from, I am not kidding you here, three feet away – his arm was fully outstretched, little otoscope-y thingey held by the tips of his fingers. I have to say here that if anyone in the room were worrying about catching something gross from someone else, *I* was not the one with four or five huge oozing cold sores all over MY mouth. But again, I digress.

Then he looks at me and seriously – SERIOUSLY – suggests that my symptoms are “probably” viral, and sinus-related (except my sinuses are the ONLY part of my head that doesn't hurt), and that means treating the symptoms (with Motrin - duh! and something called Magic Swizzle which, frankly, to me? Sounds like a sex toy) and riding them out. Rest, sleep, etc. (Have you met my three small children?) If my symptoms persist in “a week or two,” I should return and we would “reassess.”

This is where I turned into the patient I always swore I would never ever be – and I fixed him with my steely glare and said, slowly, deliberately, “Give me the antibiotics and no one will get hurt.” Okay, I was minimally more polite than that, but you get the idea.

He right-quick agreed to a course of amoxicillin – “I like to give a ten-day course, even though I see Dr H generally gives you a seven-day course” (in the thought bubble over his head: “because you scare the piss out of me and I never want you to have to come back here again, ever.”)

Ten minutes later, I was on my way, with my achy breaky ears and my sore, swollen throat, and my fever of 100, prescription clutched in my hot little hand.

Don’t start pontificating to me about the abuse of antibiotics leading to resistant killer strains of monster bacteria pummeling the crap out of the human race and its collective immune system – I don’t have time for that. I don’t care. I need my drugs NOW. I need to be able to swallow and breathe without pain, because in case you haven’t noticed, those two things are sort of vital for everyday living. And I KNOW I do not get adequate amounts of rest and sleep – have you met my three small children? But right now I am snuggled in bed under all the blankets, a hot, sludgy mug of tea with lemon and honey and a healthy slug of brandy at my side. RESTING. If only the damn children would go to sleep.


Apparently Magic Swizzle is used for (among other things) numbing the throat. Check this page out. But does anyone lese notice what I did? Yep, you did? Hard to miss, no?

The medication may be helpful in the management of mouth ulcers and canker sores.

Gives entirely new meaning to the phrase, "Physician, heal thyself."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"'What kind of bra will you be wearing today, honey?' That was always the area of big decision, from the neck to the navel." - Donna Reed

In the past twenty-four hours, I have bought six bras.

Yes, six.

For the past six years, I have been wearing a variety of nursing bras. My nursing bras – grotty and grayish, stretched-out and stained – are good for nothing but the garbage now.
And can I just tell you how exciting it was to buy a cute little bra whose cups didn’t unsnap or unhook and flap open in front?

Pre-babies, I never even wore a bra. As a double-A (and that’s being generous), there was no need. I got away with stretchy little camisoles or tank tops, or even those ribbed sleeveless mens’ undershirts. So this was indeed a momentous occasion, and also somewhat fraught with anxiety due to all those articles screaming about how the perfect bra will change your life, and take off ten pounds, and lift and separate and maximize, and make you look sixteen again.

Apparently just about every woman on the planet is wearing the wrong bra size. (I fear this is somewhat akin to my husband refusing to allow me to buy him 36-inch-waist jeans; “I wore 34 all through college, and I can keep wearing them.” Um, yeah. You can wear them and not breathe, or wear 36s and breathe.)

But I grew brave and picked out a handful of bras and repaired to the dressing room at Target, while I was there buying the new teakettle, and two new booster seats for the car. I tried on about fifteen bras, and bought two.

One bra was a beige Playtex, which is turning out to be wildly uncomfortable, although in Playtex’s defense, 1) I have a patch of eczema on my back exactly where the bra strap hits – and there’s no way Playtex can be held responsible for my sensory issues, and 2) if I hadn’t worn the second bra first, this one would seem comfortable, but it suffers by comparison to the (tada!) Gilligan and O’Malley wireless plunge bra.

The Gilligan and O’Malley plunge bra is seamless and tagless, has no underwire, and has lightly – lightly! - padded cups so that I don’t have to worry about nipple exposure (hey, I’ve nursed three babies. My nipples have grown bold and sadly, they don’t care to be concealed.) The only problem with the Gilligan and O’Malley wireless plunge bras was that they were on clearance. Well, that AND I seem to wear the world’s most common bra size. (Altogether now: “36B!”) AND they came in funky colors like coral and charcoal and turquoise and eggplant, nary a beige or pale pink or black or white one to be found. But I figured for a seven-dollars clearance price, I could experiment and took home the only 36B I could find, which was eggplant (which I think looks sort of sporty after all with charcoal or black panties.)

It is the most comfortable bra I have ever worn. It was so comfortable that it did not even feel like I was wearing a bra. I FELL ASLEEP IN IT, that’s how comfy it was.
(And it makes the otherwise mildly uncomfortable Playtex bra feel like an instrument of torture.)

So, far be it from me to exercise any sort of restraint, when I couldn’t find them online, I drove to another Target on my lunch break today, where the bra selection was either much better or just more organized. Much like the Visigoths sacking Rome, I swooped in, bought five Gilligan and O’Malley wireless plunge bras – black, beige, white, coral, and another eggplant – and swooped out.

I seem intent upon updating my undergarment wardrobe. About a month ago, I went online and ordered twelve new pairs of underwear. (I was only going to get nine – enough for little more than a week, but if I spent ten more dollars, I got free shipping…how do you turn that down?) (And I KNOW they fit as for years now, the only underwear I will wear is Jockey string bikinis - in neutral colors.)

See, I could kick myself for not buying several pairs of the perfect khaki drawstring-waist cargo pants from Old Navy that I live in – when I am not wearing my long black stretch skirt, also from Old Navy, and of which I own only one, also a huge mistake. But never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes. Which explains why I own five sports bras – all Moving Comfort Coolmax racerbacks. And half a dozen pairs of grey ragg-wool-and-cotton socks. And now a dozen pairs of underwear, and six bras.

If I ever find the perfect little zip-front cardie (maybe this LLBean model?), I will buy more than one.

Because I am smarter now.
In addition to being lifted, separated, maximized, and looking sixteen again.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things!"

Regardless of the sad state of the world in which we live, there are a few things pleasing me right now.

Things making me happy this week:

This. (As in, there are none, yes.)

This is making my boys – and therefore me – very happy right now.
The cold makes it impossible for them to go outside for any length of time, and this was the solution. The attic playroom has been cleaned and straightened beyond recognition and is now home to my mini-Marc-Andre Fleurys and Sidney Crosbys (Crosbies?). Primo likes to holler running commentary a la Mike Lange (which also makes me strangely happy).

Books I am involved in and enjoying right now include The Inheritance of Loss (lovely writing but not a fast read), Birds of a Feather (the second Maisie Dobbs, which I find interesting enough to pursue, regardless of their flaws), and this just came in for me: The Nazi Officer’s Wife, requested on the recommendation of the friend who led me to The Sparrow and Thread of Grace.

These. And it’s all Carolyn’s fault, you evil enabling woman! (I mean that lovingly.) She sent me a package once with a bag of the mini caramel wafers in it, from Trader Joe’s. And now? When they are in stock? I BUY THEM. AND EAT THEM. And therein lies the problem.

This on baguette rolls (which provide better crust-to-cheese-ooze ratio than a regular baguette). Mmmmm. It’s even perfect for breakfast, with a nice mug of strong, sweet tea.

My new teakettle. I wanted this one, but I bought this one, because I was physically at the store and didn’t feel like waiting one second longer for a new kettle. (Besides, is it a have all cobalt appliances?) The past three weeks have been a combo of microwaving water (heresy! AND disgusting as it never gets hot enough and leaves that whitish scum on top of your mug) or using a saucepan which takes FOREVER to boil.

These, the fitted sheet in pale yellow, the top sheet in pale green, and the pillows a mix of the two. Very pretty, and very cozy.

Blogs I am especially digging right now include Gray, which features a serial story in the making, and Comics Curmudgeon, because Josh is finally back from vacation!

Every once in a great while Giant Eagle will have these. Since Dunkin’ Donuts stopped making them, they can be extremely hard to come by. This morning Giant Eagle had both vanilla AND chocolate. I bought four, two of each. Breakfast for the next two days, with a cup of hot coffee. Yum.

H got a promotion, and while his new title sounds remarkably similar to something like Monty Python's "Minister of Silly Walks," he has worked very hard for this, and I am very happy for him.

I have a date Saturday evening with half a dozen friends, to celebrate another school mom’s anniversary - of her husband announcing his departure, a decision in which she had no say, but she has landed on her feet and persevered, even prospered, and so we celebrate. B promised she’d buy, but I think it’d more appropriate to buy her drinks, and so I shall.

I found out my boyfriend’s name last night. (Ok, so I am old enough to be his mother, it doesn’t mean I can’t be appreciative of cute, sweet, charming eighteen-year-olds, does it?) And it makes me happy to know his name. (It probably made him pretty happy to have me locate resources for him, and proofread his APA-style citations.)

So, I'll let Maria warble about girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, and any kind of winter at all, but I am - oddly enough - fairly happy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Guys, I am feeling scattered and unfocused. I have half a post written about a funeral I went to last week; I have another idea for a post rattling around in my brain, about our children and the freedoms we allow them (or don’t) but I have lost the initial inspiration behind it.

Because right now it seems that so often in this world, a child’s worst enemy is the one person who should be willing to lie down and die for him or her.

I have been sickened – literally, nauseated and breathless, and mostly speechless - by this.

I am trying to not think about it too much; I don’t know what else to do.
This? Is the weather report for that day.
Poor, poor little baby girl.

(Makes this kind of look downright silly, doesn’t it?)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"You couldn't get off this bus if you tried." - The Arizona Republic

Is that supposed to be an endorsement?

At lunch I finished reading Riding the Bus with my Sister by Rachel Simon. I had started Inheritance of Loss this morning, but felt I needed to wrap up this one first, regardless of how annoying I found the author, her sister, or the saccharine, one-dimensional characters of the bus drivers.

Ok, straight up? I HATED this book. I hated Rachel Simon for being such a pushover, and I hated how sanctimonious she is about people who innocently ask her about her sister; no matter what they say or ask, she finds fault.
I hated her sister Beth for abusing the system and her caregivers, and acting like her disability is an adequate excuse for annoying, obnoxious, and rude behavior.
I hated her mother for insisting her daughter not be institutionalized, and then running away and leaving the rest of the family holding the ball.

I was relieved to read this Barnes & Noble review, if only to prove I am not the only heartless reader: ...this book turned out to be a huge disappointment...I found it excruciatingly difficult to get through, and I had to force myself to finish it. The story line is bland and uninspiring. Furthermore, I don't know what city this is where bus drivers are would-be philosophers who dole out sappy proverbs on a daily basis and say things like 'The only thing that's going to satisfy me is to do good in this life.'

I hated the drivers for being such namby-pamby smarmy do-gooder caricatures, or maybe just the author for portraying them that way, and then I hated everyone involved for demonizing the drivers who didn’t care to endure Beth, her disruptiveness, and her constant need for attention.

The only part I found in the least compelling were the bits Simon writes about her childhood, but even those eventually veer off into stereotypically dysfunctional-family territory; bizarre actions by family members are unexplained (her loving, stable mother throws the children out of the house and runs off with an ex-con she’d met a week before), and conclusions are drawn with no evidence to support them (when one previously friendly driver begins ignoring her sister, Simon states melodramatically that “Rodolfo abandoned Beth.”) (Truth is, if I were one of these bus drivers, I’d have lost my patience a long time ago. Beth spends HOURS riding a bus with her newfound friends – HOURS. There you are, trapped driving your bus, with someone chattering away at you as you try to do your job. For those hours, she takes up a prime seat and expects to be defended to other (also handicapped or elderly) passengers, she acts belligerently to these other passengers, and pouts if you stop paying attention to her and focus on your job.)

I suggest we just ignore the clunky, didactic writing, and the whinging self-pity oozing from Simon’s every pore.

I am happily returning tonight to the cool and evocative writing of Kiran Desai, and not a moment too soon.


Monday, February 05, 2007

"Cold is God's way of telling us to burn more Catholics." - Lady Whiteadder

School was closed today on account of cold.
Yes, cold.
Not snow.

The high is projected to be 8 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius for our Aussie friends), with wind chills in the negative numbers, and I suppose the school administrators didn’t want to risk frostbite or hypothermia among those children who have to wait for buses, or walk to school.

Just about every school in the county is closed.

I generally feel guilty about taking the three minutes to check my email every morning before taking the boys out to school, but it’s a damn good thing I did it this morning. Gina had emailed me how happy she was that The Boy’s school was closed. And I thought, “Hmm. How…odd. There’s hardly any snow on the ground.” But I figured I had better check, and sure enough, public schools, and therefore also Seg’s preschool: CLOSED.

My boys were fed, dressed, “Little Einstein”-ed, dosed up with medicine, lunch and backpacks packed, hats, mittens, and coats on, and were more or less on our way out the door.

I came downstairs and announced, “School is closed.” and much happiness ensued (remember that fabulous feeling, from when you were a child? And remember how disappointed your parents looked?)

All I know is that when *I* was a child, we walked to school barefoot, uphill both ways, in the cold and snow, and we LIKED it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

" A danger foreseen is half avoided." Lucky numbers: 3, 26, 5, 32, 31, 16 - from Friday's fortune cookie

What people were reading on the 6pm 71A Saturday, on my way home from work:

A young black dude carrying a stuffed backpack: Money from Thin Air: The Story of Craig McCaw, the Visionary who Invented the Cell Phone Industry, and His Next Billion-Dollar Idea by O. Casey Corr (yes, I look up the titles when I get home)
Another young black dude sporting a head full of short dreads and a curly Van Dyke: The University of Pittsburgh newspaper
A middle-aged black man wearing spiffy gold hoops in each ear and a KC Royals cap: the sports section of the Saturday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An immaculately turned out young woman all bundled up in stylish black: the Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal
A short, stubby bespectacled white guy who looked like he was on his way to or from his job at a comic book shop or computer superstore: Elminster’s Daughter - Ed Greenwood
Me: The Ha-ha by Dave King

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"Seas go dry and the sun grows cold, but the documents must be signed." - from "The Consul," Gian Carlo Menotti

Gian Carlo Menotti died Wednesday, at the age of 95.

Most people, if they know him at all, know Menotti for his Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and, if for anything else, as founder of the Spoleto festival. You may have heard of one of his other operas (there are more, but these are the most commonly performed): The Saint of Bleecker Street, The Medium, or The Telephone.

I admit I had only vaguely heard of Amahl when I was asked to design Carnegie Mellon Opera Theatre’s season almost a dozen years ago now. I was a successful and constantly-working scenic artist, but a young set designer, with not much design experience at all under my belt, and I was anxious to build my resume.

The first show was comprised of two one-act operas: one a Puccini drama titled “Suor Angelica,” and the other a lighter, more modern (composed in 1982) comedy, “Suor Isabella.” These operas are often performed as companion pieces, and the set had to work for both. I solved the problem by designing (and painting) a set comprised of moving platforms and about six large stained glass windows, each depicting a different, and relevant to the plot(s), saint. I wasn’t thrilled with it but the director liked it well enough, and H thought it was lovely, and at the time those were pretty much the only people whose opinions I cared about.

The second opera of the season was Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul.”

“The Consul” is an English-language opera (which I thought at first was a strike against it – hello, Benjamin Britten, anyone? - but I hadn’t counted on Menotti’s genius) set in an unidentified Eastern bloc country. Magda Sorel, the heroine, attempts to procure papers to leave the country and join her husband John in freedom. She spends her days trying to avoid the secret police which are hounding her for the names of John’s political associates, and waiting - fruitlessly - at the consulate to have her visa approved.

I don’t always fall in love with shows I have designed – my senior year I designed “110 in the Shade,” the musical version of “The Rainmaker” and I not only recall none of the music from the show but if I never heard it again, it would be too soon, I do remember hating it that much. But "Consul’s" score and libretto are so heartachingly beautiful, so yearning and gorgeously intricate, but at the same time, lean and spare and strong, that I kept my score, and my tapes of the show (2 cassettes), and played them until they quite literally fell apart. I have never been able to locate a recording of the full show – one MUST exist, but I have yet to discover it. I can still remember snatches of songs, and bits and pieces of arias, but I would love to have it on CD. [I take that back – I just found a 1999 recording on Amazon, which I have ordered.]

My set design consisted of large, looming, almost columnar beige walls, which rolled and reversed and spun on moving platforms. Scenes were set using different configurations of the walls and a few props – a curtain, a cradle, a painting, some institutional chairs, a typewriter. I was very pleased with the design. I felt like I had created and captured the bleakness and oppressiveness of a police state, and yet made each setting distinctive enough that the audience could tell where the characters were, and what the significance of the space was. We ran into some technical issues – how to make sure ten-foot high walls can stand upright AND be movable? – but my TD figured out a solution and the set was built and painted without a hitch. The director loved it; the actors loved it; I loved it. (And I NEVER love my own work.)

I wonder what Menotti would have thought...


The Times obituary for Gian Carlo Menotti


Gian Carlo Menotti
July 7, 1911 – February 1, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Goin' Off the Rails on a Crazy Train

Look at those books! Who would DO that? WHY?!?!?

This is from Pottery Barn, by the way.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Knock knock. Who's there? Goliath. Goliath who? Goliath down, you looketh tired.

There was Christmas money to spend.

So I betook myself to Half Price Books, where they gave me a dollar-fifty for about a dozen duplicates of Magic Treehouse, A to Z Mysteries, and Time Warp Trio books of Primo’s, and I gave them almost ninety dollars for the following bonanza:

Baker Towers – Jennifer Haigh. ($1) Gina just read this and LOVED it. Good enough for me.

Birds of America – Lorrie Moore. ($1) Moore is consistently mentioned as one of the best short story writers.

The Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks. ($1) I dig plague books, and this is a wonderfully written book. I could not remember if I had my own copy of this or not, but it was a dollar. I figured it was worth the risk. (I didn’t already have it. And I have NO IDEA why not.) I will say that, much as I loved this book, I could not even finish her newest book, March.

Jenny and the Jaws of Life - Jincy Willett. ($1) I read Willett’s second book Winner of the National Book Award, with its librarian-heroine Dorcas, and really enjoyed it. Willett was funny and sharp and wry.

Riding the Bus with my Sister - Rachel Simon. ($5) No idea why I picked this up; I think Sarah Louise was reading it recently…we’ll see how it is. Maybe I heard an NPR piece on it…?

Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear. ($5) I finished this last night, and ordered the next one from for 43 cents. It’s what the Mary Russell books would be if *they* weren’t so incredibly well-written. Winspear has developed a charming and interesting character, but I am not sure how realistic her books are, and the writing is at times rather elementary. But mostly, this book was entertaining, and I learned facts about World War I that have heretofore escaped my notice. I had to go do some research on the Battle of the Somme, and Passchendaele, and the Battle of Messines. Horrifying.

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff. ($5) I believe it was the Jessmonster who threw this recc my way.

Case Histories - Kate Atkinson ($5) LOVE Kate Atkinson. Love. Her. Must own everything she’s written. I am rationing her books the way I do Josephine Tey and Jane Austen. Fortunately – for her and me – she’s fairly young.

The Wife - Meg Wolitzer. ($5) I fell in love with Meg Wolitzer while reading The Position. So I am collecting her books as well. This goes on the TBR shelf right next to Surrender, Dorothy which I picked up last summer at the church book sale.

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica - Sara Wheeler. ($5) I can’t remember who I was having this discussion with, but I like to read about all sorts of things that I never intend to do: climbing Mount Everest, deep-sea diving to look at the Titanic, performing autopsies, undergoing a sex-change operation. Traveling to and living in Antarctica falls into this category. Apparently Wheeler discusses much of the great Antarctic exploration literature, so I have a feeling that my TBR list is going to grow as a direct result of reading this book, although the chances will be decent that I will already own many of the books. It’s a minor fetish of mine.

Eight Months at Ghazzah Street - Hilary Mantel. ($5) No idea. I want to read Beyond Black which was up for the Booker; so why not this earlier novel too?

PopCo - Scarlett Thomas. ($6) Gina adores Scarlett Thomas. I got this for her for her birthday. We are very unromantic : ) I called her and said, “I am at Half Price Books. Need anything?” and she said, “If they have any Scarlett Thomas…” which they did. And then I said, “Happy birthday!” Easy peasy.

Spy for George Washington. ($1.50) Remember those “Choose your Own Adventure” books everyone read in grade and middle school? This is one of those, of which there are now, apparently, hundreds. It’s for Primo, who loved it and immediately demanded more. Yesterday I brought him home from the library the Titanic one, the Mount Everest one, and a baseball one.

History of Love - Nicole Krauss. ($5) Read this recently, loved it, need I say more?

Man Walks into a Room - Nicole Krauss. ($5) No brainer.

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis. ($3) Has been on the TBR list for simply ages. Or at least since Lazy Cow read it and told me it was good AND it was about the plague.

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith. ($5) A gem by the author of One Hundred and One Dalmatians - which is a great book and (strange for me to say this) an even better movie (the original Disney cartoon version, not, please, the Glenn Close version). But Castle is charming and sweet without being saccharine and stupid; Gina told me to read it, and I really liked it.
There was a movie made of it, but I don’t recognize any of the actors except Bill Nighy, of whom I seem to be growing inordinately fond. I first saw him in “Love Actually” and even in that I found him strangely hot. He is in the new film “Notes on a Scandal” which I want to see very much. Because I also happen to harbor a serious girl-crush on Cate Blanchett.

The Ha-ha - Dave King. ($5) H nearly fell into a ha-ha at Versailles. Not that that has anything to do with this book. But ha-has (walls located in the bottom of a ditch so as not to disrupt the view of the landscape, often used in English gardens) fascinate me. They are in the realm of crazy garden accoutrement that were wildly popular in 1800s England; I first encountered the ha-ha in one of my favorite plays, Tom Stoppard’s brilliant Arcadia, and found the idea absolutely nuts but also functional. Those crazy English – they are masters of the useful. Plus, apparently they name their children things like "Capability Brown."

Kaaterskill Falls - Allegra Goodman. ($7, hardcover) I enjoyed Intuition so much that I felt like I wanted to try more Goodman, even if I would swear I had tried to read this before and found it slow going.

Confessions of a Slacker Mom - Muffy Read-Ferro. ($1) I was on the Hold list at the library for this forever, and ultimately got so sick of waiting canceled my hold. I swear, it must have been a year. And now that I have read it (I whipped thru it in about an hour one night last week) I do not get what all the fuss was about. It’s not especially entertaining or funny, which is sort of what the title leads you to expect; in fact, the author is strangely earnest and more than a little naïve. She’s like a slacker fundamentalist. Her “slackerness” refers to her characterization as a parent who won’t give in to buying all sorts of electronic toys, and who won’t leap to her child’s aid every time she whimpers, and who doesn’t childproof her house because, really, where do you stop and haha, didn’t we all stuff forks into electrical sockets when we were small and live to tell the tale? I get her point, but I still found her almost insufferably smug and wildly annoying. I could write an entire post on this and how and why I disagree with her, and the things with which I do agree, but all that will do is generate lots of the same old arguments about mothers and children, and for that you can go see Melissa at Suburban Bliss and the NBC video of her guest appearance on The Today Show in which she does come across as a moron, but in which Meredith Viera - also moronically - acts like the patron saint of mothers (whom we DO NOT require, thank you very much), and I am just so not interested in that tired old debate.
Can’t we all just get along?

A Prayer for the Dying - Stewart O’Nan. ($1, hardcover) O’Nan is one of the most underrated writers around. This short, spare novel is haunting.

Feeding a Yen - Calvin Trillin. ($1, hardcover) Food. Calvin Trillin. A buck.

Big Book of Knock-knock Jokes. ($1) This is for the boys who at the moment are very very into knock-knock jokes. God help me. My contribution to the epidemic was this:
Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Dwayne who?
Dwayne the tub, I’m dwowning!

I know, I oughta be ashamed of myself.

The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett. ($2) The first installation of the Discworld series, for H.

When I got them all home, I had to resist my overwhelming urge to empty them out of the shopping bag and roll around nekkid in the pile.
(I apologize for that visual.)