Monday, June 26, 2006

Please, Not Before My Coffee!

This morning, the Boy Wonder and I moseyed up the block to the just-opened Tattered Cover, which moved its entire inventory to the new location yesterday. We walked in the side entrance, closest to the cafe, and right in front of us was a large shelf unit marked "Bestsellers." At eyeball level was GODLESS: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter, whose smirking face I can't abide, especially first thing in the morning.

"Eww! She sure doesn't look like she goes to church," I remarked. "She looks like a devil."

"She is the Devil," Boy Wonder snapped back.

Darling Husband just returned from his tour of the store and he too was creeped out at being greeted by Coulter. He and Boy Wonder insist she's a tranny; BW claims she has an Adam's apple.

To give the Devil his/her due, try your hand at this fun--and scarily challenging--Hitler vs Coulter quiz. You'll be amazed by who said what! (I scored a 10; DH 9; BW 8.)

EDIT: For an antidote to the forgoing, see the Borowitz Report: U.S. Threatens to Launch Ann Coulter Towards North Korea.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Updike: Blogs not a part of "real society"

Today's Rocky Mountain News features a reverential interview with John Updike by books editor Patti Thorn. She spoke with him a month ago at BookExpo, a few hours after he had given an "impassioned speech, lamenting another recent Times article predicting the demise of books as Internet technology takes over."

Updike had this to say about Internet culture, which he admits to not understanding:

"You type in your blog, and some other people read it, and so you create a print society apart from real society and you're getting the gratification of expressing yourself . . . It's a way to develop a public persona, but it's very undiscriminating, and very 'me-minded.' We're all me-minded. We all have egos."

But writers in the past, such as Upton Sinclair, went beyond ego to serve a greater good, he says. "They were trying to improve the world . . . I get a feeling this electronic stuff is all kind of a game, another form of a video game."

I think similar things could have been said about 18th century pamphlet and broadside writers (except for the bit about video games; which, incidentally, I don't play). They created a print society apart from that of their compatriots, the vast majority of whom were illiterate. Yes, there's a lot of "me" in this blog and many others, but I hope that in some way we're all serving the greater good. I sure would like to improve the world, too, though I think it's the height of arrogance to even imply that my writing will do the trick.

How interesting that Updike decries the current generation of writers for not being like Upton Sinclair, when he sure as hell isn't either. Sinclair was an ardent Socialist whose books reflected his politics, and who thrice ran for office in spectacularly unsuccessful fashion.

Thorn writes that Updike's new novel, Terrorist:

... was born the day he attended a child's birthday party in an apartment in Brooklyn Heights. From the window, featuring an expansive view of downtown Manhattan, he saw smoke billowing from the Twin Towers. ..

"Suddenly, the thing went down and we heard it. There was a kind of tinkling, a delicate sound, almost like wind chimes. I suppose it was all the glass shattering. Then, whooomp and dust covering the towers, and the whole island of Manhattan was wailing with sirens."

Very affecting, but who has a kid's birthday party from 8:30-10:30 on a Tuesday morning in September? Something's out of kilter here.

UPDATE 6/19: Per Galleycat, which did the Proper Journalistic Thing and checked with Knopf:

Updike did in fact go to Brooklyn for a child's birthday party, and though it wasn't on the morning of 9/11, he was still in the city, and that's when he saw what he saw...

Let this be a lesson on the importance of clear writing and good editing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

In Praise of Light Reading

A publicist of whom I'm very fond sent me a get-well package containing a beautiful bottle of white wine and a copy of a novel she's representing. Her lovely note begins, "Curl up with your cat and this book."

How sweet and considerate! How...FRUSTRATING!

Why? Here, let me count the ways:

1) First and worst of all, given that this is my third concussion--or is it the fourth? my memory's a bit hazy for some reason--I was forbidden any alcohol for six months. (I am much obliged to Miss Snark for her generous offer to have an extra pail of gin in my honor. Check out the especially terrific posts and comments on her blog today.)

2) No curling up for me, thanks to a broken right arm and two bottom ribs.

3) I have to keep my right arm--and myself with it--horizontal as much as possible. Sitting-up time is saved for the computer and meals. So I do almost all my reading lying flat on my back in bed or on the rented electric-powered La-Z-Boy recliner (assuming I can pry Boy Wonder off the latter).

4) Max (see About Me at top) "curls up" by draping his 13-lb self on my chest and nestling his head under my chin, making reading--and sometimes breathing--impossible. Then I usually also have to reach down with my good hand to pet jealous Jenny the dog, who isn't allowed on the furniture.

5) My right hand isn't functioning, so when Max is draped elsewhere, I have to hold up and keep a book open with my left hand alone.

6) The novel the publicist sent is in hardcover, 747 pages, and weighs 2-1/2 POUNDS. I could hardly hold it up closed for a few seconds; forget holding it up open for many hours. Whereas The Great Gatsby is in paperback, 180 pages, and weighs 5-7/8 OUNCES. Guess which book I read yesterday? (More about that in another post.)

I really wanted to read Them by Francine du Plessix Gray, but at almost 2 lbs in hardcover, with 530 pp set in fussy, hard-to-read Centaur MT, I gave up in exhaustion on page 26.

Today I'm reading a year-old ARC of Rattled by Debra Galant, 243 pp, 10-5/8 oz. (Love that new kitchen scale!) The blurb by Tom Perrotta reads: "Debra Galant does for the McMansions of New Jersey what Carl Hiaasen did for the swamps of Florida." I'm only on page 15 and loving it already. And damn if Galant isn't a ringer for Carrie Fisher.

More Lightweight Books to Take to Bed, or Anywhere:
  • The Vanishing Point by Mary Sharratt. Trade paper historical fiction that absolutely won't put you to sleep.
  • When All Is Said and Done by Robert Hill. Hardcover, 220 pp, only 12 oz, and absolutely brilliant! More later.
  • Coupon Girl by Becky Motew. Super-light mass market & a total hoot. Don't be fooled by chick-y cover; Darling Husband, who favors Hiaasen & Mob capers, thought it was a gas too.
  • Around The Next Corner by Elizabeth Wrenn. Trade paper "women's fiction." Don't gag: It's funny, profound & poignant--with an adorable puppy too!
  • I'd Hate Myself in the Morning by Ring Lardner Jr. Hardcover, 224 pp; also in even lighter pb. Memoir of the blacklisted, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, with many creepy parallels to today's political situation

Quotes for the Day (and all time)

"If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools and next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers... Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding. Always feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers; tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind."
--Clarence Darrow, Tennessee vs. John Scopes, 1925

"The net effect of Clarence Darrow's great speech yesterday seemed to be precisely the same as if he had bawled it up a rainspout in the interior of Afghanistan."
--H. L. Mencken, "THE MONKEY TRIAL": A Reporter's Account

For more great quotes: Marta Randall, Quotations about Writing and life and etc

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why It's Called a "Deadline"

On the front page of today's Denver Post, there's the sad tale of the death of artist Luis Jimenez, who was killed by a falling portion of his massive sculpture of a mustang that had been commissioned by Denver International Airport more than 13 years ago. Jimenez had missed four deadlines--most recently on May 31--and according to the DP, "In 2004, a mediator had to intervene when the artist refused the city's request to refund its money and allow someone else to finish the job." I imagine there are editors who have fantasized (or will now) about similar fates for authors of long-overdue manuscripts.

In other art news...If like me and Darling Husband, you gag at the icky-poo world depicted in the images manufactured by Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light" you MUST see these hilarious creations at Something Awful (again, thanks to the Boy Wonder). My favorite is on its own page, "so as not to infect any other images."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tempest in a Teacup

Thanks to Galleycat ("Real Book Critic Wags Finger at Online Upstarts") for calling attention to the snit over a June 8 post on Critical Mass, the National Book Critics Circle blog, questioning the reliability of lit bloggers who (gasp!) have permalinks to booksellers. Reminds me of the old Henry Kissinger quote: "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." They're even smaller in book reviewing, trust me on this.

I was compelled to leave a comment in support of the bloggers, even though I'm an NBCC member and have no commercial links here or on my writings & reviews website.

It's a Two-Fisted, Right-Handed World

This winter, I read David Wolman's A LEFT-HAND TURN AROUND THE WORLD: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw because I had invited him to be on my "Travel with a Twist" panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. The book is fascinating, funny and densely packed with medical and scientific research--and best read when the mind is sharp and focused (i.e., not at bedtime). But truth be told, I read it somewhat as a curiosity. I'm very much right-handed, so most of what Wolman wrote about didn't apply to me.

And then I broke my right arm.

For the past six weeks, I have been exclusively left-handed, and may be so for quite a while longer. Suddenly the world is different: Doors open on the wrong side, and are too heavy. (And what's with having a turn handle on the door of a multi-stall public bathroom? I couldn't get out of the ladies' room at Whole Foods without inside help.) Even if I was recovered from the concussion enough to drive now, I couldn't turn the ignition key or shift gears.

I can't use my front teeth, so Zip-loc bags were impossible to open till the Boy Wonder used his blazing intellect and E.T.-like fingers to figure out how. (It still ain't easy, and no way if the bag is at all greasy.) But forget about opening a new bottle of vitamins, with its layers of safety features; or a 1/2 gallon tub of Dreyers ice cream (my fave); or a childproof medicine container; or a new plastic bag of cheese with one of those sliding seals; or a wide-mouth jar; or a can of food; or or or...

However, I've become a one-handed typing ace, thanks to long fingers and a smallish laptop keyboard. (My handwriting is nothing to brag about, though. On a good day, it looks like that of an 8-year-old; on a bad day, a 98-year-old.) It hurts my arm to bend way over, so when I drop something and the picker-upper gadget isn't handy, I use my toes, which are also long (thanks, Mom!). I amazed and impressed Darling Husband by picking up a jar top and placing it in his hand--twice. I can also use my toes to work the turn controls on our little floor fans.

As Wolman explains in his book, the left hand-right brain/right hand-left brain stuff of popular culture is mostly hooey. However, there are differences in brain activity between people who are predominantly right- or left-handed. Beyond being scrambled by the concussion and then painkillers*, I wonder how my brain has changed?

*I'm off 'em now, thank dog, and--go figure!--am thinking more clearly, much less dizzy and much steadier on my feet. Every Rx for Neurontin should come with a free cane.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Genuine Article

This morning, the Boy Wonder told me that one of the forums at Something Awful is happily abuzz over some footage of Mr. Rogers vs. Senator Pastore, described thusly:

In 1969 the US Senate had a hearing on funding the newly developed Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The proposed endowment was $20 million, but President Nixon wanted it cut in half because of the spending going on in the Vietnam War. This is a video clip of the exchange between Mr. Rogers and Senator Pastore, head of the hearing. Senator Pastore starts out very abrasive and by the time Mr. Rogers is done talking, Senator Pastore's inner child has heard Mr. Rogers and agreed with him. Enjoy.

Even more moving is a 1997 Esquire feature by Tom Junod, Can You Say ... Hero? This passage brought tears to my eyes:

And so, once upon a time, Fred Rogers took off his jacket and put on a sweater his mother had made him, a cardigan with a zipper. Then he took off his shoes and put on a pair of navy-blue canvas boating sneakers. He did the same thing the next day, and then the next…until he had done the same things, those things, 865 times, at the beginning of 865 television programs, over a span of thirty-one years. The first time I met Mister Rogers, he told me a story of how deeply his simple gestures had been felt, and received. He had just come back from visiting Koko, the gorilla who has learned—or who has been taught—American Sign Language. Koko watches television. Koko watches Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and when Mister Rogers, in his sweater and sneakers, entered the place where she lives, Koko immediately folded him in her long, black arms, as though he were a child, and then … "She took my shoes off, Tom," Mister Rogers said.

This is in praise of all the genuine people, not least of whom was my husband's aunt Vivian, whose funeral was this morning. I wish that I was whole enough to attend.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Music to Get Cut By

One of the most emailed articles at today is While in Surgery, Do You Prefer Abba or Verdi? Funny they should ask, because yesterday I had 3 root canals, courtesy of my equestrian fiasco on May 1.

The only drugs I'm resistant to are injectable oral anesthetics, so Dr V, who has a traveling knock-out practice, came to the endodontist's to do the honors.

"OK, now we're going to give you some happy gas!" he announced, and the tech stuck a foam-rubber hose contraption over my nose, which (1) itched, (2) hurt the broken bone, (3) smelled stuffy and (4) was difficult to breathe through.

No matter how little happy gas I was actually inhaling, I found it hilarious that the song toodling throughout the office as Dr V prepared me for the IV was "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." I said as much, and he and the tech found it funny too. What I didn't find so funny was all the agony and expense this girl has been going through just because she wanted to have fun on horseback.

At least my mouth isn't hurting much worse now than before. And Dreyer's (aka Edy's) Real Strawberry ice cream is a very tasty and effective analgesic.

You Stab My Back, I'll Stab Yours...

At a National Book Critics Circle program a few years ago, I asked the bow-tied panelist from the NYT Book Review why they had authors review books by their competitors. While exaggeratedly rolling and fluttering his eyes, he stated in condescending uber-George Plimpton tones distinctly at odds with his African-American looks, "Oh, we NEVER do that at The Times."

"Bushwah!" I thought, having recently read a smackdown in the Times of a first novel by the author of a similarly themed novel that just happened to be coming out that very same week.

And now we have John Dean of Watergate fame reviewing Mark "Deep Throat" Felt's memoir in the NYT. (See Rush & Mulloy piece in the June 9 NY Daily News & coauthor John D. O'Connor's letter to the NYTBR with reply from Dean.) Double bushwah!

What's next: Reviews of true crime novels by the criminals? Oh wait...we sort of have that already with the Dean review. Maybe some of the Bushies (Karl Rove? Dick Cheney?) could review books on global warming, or on the oil crisis, or on the rise of Christian conservatism. And Rumsfeld could review the next "Iraq is a mess" tome.

When I was reviewing for the Washington Post not so long ago, I had to sign a contract stating that I had no personal or professional relationship with the author of the book, didn't share an agent or publisher, nor had the author reviewed my work. And there are tales about a NY book review editor so strict, he/she (I forgot which), wouldn't assign a review if the reviewer had so much as shared an elevator ride with the author.

Oh brave new world...

And DON'T get me started on how few reviews are by women, or of books by women--even though women comprise more than 50% of the population and buy 80% of the books. The WashPost is just as guilty as the NY Times in this regard. Men generally review "serious" nonfiction (even when authored by females), while women get fiction, lite nonfiction and, of course, children's and YA. The pink collar thrives and is chafing more than ever.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Origins of Ancient Myth Revealed!

For years, there has been much earnest--and sometimes irate--talk in writers' circles as to the merits of including a self-addressed stamped envelope when submitting a manuscript to a literary agent or editor. Some writers insist that including a SASE is a tacit hint to the agent/editor to reject the work; no SASE means that the author has confidence it will be accepted. Whereas to agents such as Miss Snark and Kristin Nelson, no SASE means that the manuscript will most likely end up in the recycling bin.

Many people have wondered how and when the no-SASE myth began. Well, today I cracked the mystery! As frequently happens with great discoveries, I stumbled upon this one unawares. In my current state of painful inactivity, I've been avoiding all news except of the book biz--and have cut way back even on that--instead only reading novels and memoirs. (No creepy or violent movies, either. Hence I turned off "Pulp Fiction" midway through & switched to "The Fabulous Baker Boys.")

So this morning I started reading the very entertaining 2000 memoir I'D HATE MYSELF IN THE MORNING by the late Ring Lardner Jr. ("M*A*S*H"), the last surviving member of the HUAC "Hollywood Ten," with a sobering introduction by Victor Navasky. And look what I found:
In 1924, when F. Scott Fitzgerald sold Max Perkins of Charles Scribner's Sons on the idea of a collection of Ring Lardner short stories, Dad... accepted Scott's title, How to Write Short Stories. Instead of a serious introduction, though, he wrote: "A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor. Personally I have found it a good scheme to not even sign my name to the story, and when I have got it sealed up in its envelope and stamped and addressed, I take it to some town where I don't live and mail it from there. The editor has no idea who wrote the story, so how can he send it back? He is in a quandary."

Monday, June 05, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood!

I may not be able to drive--in fact I'm on my back for at least a week so that the nerves in my right arm heal properly--but in 3 weeks I'll be able to totter just 5 doors down to The Tattered Cover, one of the best bookstores in the U.S. All those times I interviewed owner Joyce Meskis and fiction buyer Margaret Maupin on the phone for Publishers Weekly years ago, little did I know that one day we'd be neighbors.

As reported today in Galleycat and Shelf Awareness, the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post were all over the story this weekend. Amazingly, the old location will be open for business as usual on 6/24 and the new one will open on 6/26, with the ENTIRE MOVE occurring on 6/25. There will be an army of staff assisted by many volunteers, who started offering their services as soon as word got out. Shows how strongly people feel about their bookstore.

Also moving in, though not right away, will be a record store, movie theatre with real food
(!) and a folklore center. I'll hardly need to drive (or ride) anywhere. Which may be just as well, as we who park on the street have been nervously eyeing the progress of the new parking structure on the next block, which doesn't even have elevators in yet.