Monday, July 31, 2006

Mystery of the Day

I've been steadily going through my bookshelves, reading many books I've been promising myself I'd get around to "some day." The latest was Elinor Lipman's THE DEARLY DEPARTED. Maybe it was the Art Deco-inspired jacket, but after I finished the Lipman I suddenly had a yen to read something by Thorne Smith. I have three long out-of-print volumes by him; apart from an I. D. bracelet and a tietack, they're all the possessions of my father's that my mother retained after they divorced.

One of the Thorne Smith books had a piece of folded paper sticking out of it. I pulled it out and flattened it. To my immense surprise, it was a sheet of notepaper printed with the name and Fifth Avenue address of Mrs. Laurance Rockefeller.*

For the life me, I can't figure out how that notepaper got there. The only Rockefellers I ever knew were poor relations (maybe) who attended my public high school.

I started reading THE GLORIOUS POOL in the THORNE SMITH 3 BAGGER (Doubleday Doran, 1943), which I'd last read at age 13, lured by the line drawings of topless women in scanties. (In my youthful enthusiasm, I'd thought that signified there'd be hot passages. There weren't; all the sex was totally cloaked in allusion.) It has a good premise--magical pool restores an aging man and his over-the-hill mistress to their glorious, dissolute youth--and some good descriptions, but waaaaay too much "clever" repartee impeding the action. And oh, all the cocktails! You can tell this was written during Prohibition, and that Thorne Smith was a major lush. (According to Wikipedia: "Smith drank as steadily as his characters; his appearance in James Thurber's The Years With Ross involves an unexplained week-long disappearance.")

I gave up around Chapter 3, and made it through maybe three grafs of the next novel in the collection, SKIN AND BONES. But then I hit TOPPER and stayed. Is there any better description of the stultefying suburban commuter life than this? (Note reference to child labor.)
On Monday morning, after exchanging pennies with a small Italian child for a stillborn edition of a New York paper, he greeted his friends with his habitual placidity. No, he had not heard the new one about Bill's furnace. He was sorry that Mrs. Thompson was having servant trouble. Too bad. Was that so? Jennings had made a killing again. Great stuff. Surely, he'd bring the Missus over first thing. Wednesday evenng? Good! Good! His tulips? Doing splendidly! A whole bed of them--all blooming. No, not brewing, just smousing about. Is that so! How about your own cellar? None of that stuff, Jack! The whole town knows about you. The farmer's daughter and the tramp? Sure, he'd like to hear about it. Wait till they got aboard.

And off went Topper with his boon companions, all of whom he decided were perfect strangers to him.

Another mystery:
What do Topper and Kramer of "Seinfeld" have in common?
(See answer in comments section.)

*Motto: "My husband is so rich, he doesn't have to spell his first name right."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Recovered Memory...and Camera

Fun at the Denver Zoo, April 2006
Several people have asked me how long it takes to get over a concussion. I often wondered myself. Now I know: about 3 months.

I know this because our digital camera had been missing since my Great Fall on May 1. Eventually I pinned its disappearance on Darling Husband, who I remembered had commandeered it a week earlier, when his daughter was visiting. But a month ago, the Boy Wonder recalled that I had used it last to take pictures of a hailstorm that had come at the frigid end of our day at the zoo, which had started off sunny and in the 80s. I barely remembered taking those pictures, and didn't have the foggiest idea of where the camera could be. I tore the house apart, searching every nook, cranny, drawer, bag and pile. Nothing. Maybe I'd left the camera in the car and the cleaners took it at the carwash? Or maybe someone who came to the house had nicked it? (An ugly thought, as I'd supposed all our visitors and contractors to be scrupulously honest.)

And then I woke up this morning, and while I was lying in bed suddenly rembembered takng photos of the hail. Hmm, I thought. What would I have done with the camera? Why, hang it on the coatrack in the foyer--under my coat so no one would walk off with it, of course. I marched downstairs, lifted my coat off the first hook and...Voila!

Moral: Don't leave winter coats hanging in the foyer all year.

The hail pix were a bust, but here are Darling Husband, me and Jenny
at the Buffalo Bill Museum & Gravesite the day before.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Virtual Getaway

It's been hot and mostly arid here in Denver, with temperatures in the 90s forecast for the next few days (though I've learned not to trust the weather predictions here). Except for day trips with Darling Husband, I'm stuck here for the rest of the summer while I wait--often impatiently--for my body to heal.

So here's a refreshing photo I took in Lancashire, UK, last year, just after going with author Mary Sharratt on what may turn out to have been the last trail ride of my life. (That is, if DH has anything to say about it. We have radically different views of my equestrian future.) Pendle Hill, of Quaker fame, is off in the misty background.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Rumors of the Book Tour's Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

"I think we can all agree that the traditional bookstore author tour is dead," says Jessa Crispin in The Book Standard. Well, I don't, especially since the only bookstores Crispin considers are suburban Borders and Barnes & Noble. There are still many independent bookstores and other chains across the country, and--surprise!--many are located in non-suburban areas.

True, as Crispin laments, echoing author David Milofsky in his
Pity the poor author at those painful book readings in the Denver Post, all too often at readings there are
no audiences, no publicity, sometimes the only person you’re reading to is either your mother or a homeless person who came in out of the rain.
But it's time to stop laying all the blame on the bookstores, and for authors to take some responsibility for themselves. Authors should go to places where they know they'll have an audience: through personal connections (family, friends, alma mater), a receptive community (say, Milwaukee for a book on beer), business/professional connections (e.g., Seattle for a history of Boeing). And those local connections must be PRIMED via email and postcard mailings for each stop along the way. Which is why authors must build up their mailing lists.

Of course, reading at a bookstore that does lots of publicity and advertising helps. On July 6, I went to the first author event at Tattered Cover's new flagship store. Francine du Plessix Gray read from her memoir Them (which I have most happily read now that my right arm is stronger). There were some 25 people in the audience--for a paperback reissue! in July! in Denver!--of which at least 10 bought books and had them signed.

Katharine Weber had an audience of 80 at Politics & Prose in D.C. last night for her marvelous new novel, Triangle. I wasn't there, but I know from having had her on panels at the VaBook Festival, that like du Plessix Gray she gave a well-organized, polished, easily audible presentation.

Crispin extols non-bookstore reading series, especially ones with alcohol (tipsy people buy more books), as the wave of the future. It's certainly a wave, but not the only one on the beach, and it's not going to wipe out well-run bookstore events any time soon. Besides, there's no guarantee that the authors at a reading series will be any better performers than the ones at your local Borders.

I've sat through deadly readings by the nominees the night before presentation of the National Book Critics Circle Awards. You'd think all those authors would be brief, audible and well-rehearsed, but NOOOOO. One year, the first reader (who shall remain nameless) went on...and on...and on!... for twenty-five minutes. I was itching to run up with a hook--or at least an umbrella with a curved handle--and yank him off the stage. If the other readings had been that long, we would have been there for 7 hours. As it is, they got shorter and shorter (a good reason why one should have a set of different-length readings prepared). Nominee #14 brought the house down when he prefaced his 3-minute reading with the proclamation, "I am the last man standing...[dramatic pause]...between you and a DRINK!"

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Reality" Indeed...

Quick! What's wrong with this headline?

'Next Top Model' Writers Threaten Strike
They say producers of the reality show, which is a key part of the new CW network lineup, have ignored their request to join a union.
By Richard Verrier, LA Times Times Staff Writer, July 21, 2006

"America's Next Top Model" is getting ugly. Writers of the hit reality show walked off the job for an hour Thursday and threatened to strike today, alleging that the show's producers had snubbed their request to join the Writers Guild of America, West.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Real Politician: The Kinkster

Back when I was a dissolute art student, one of my favorite bands was Kinky Friedman & His Texas Jewboys. Kinky penned such ditties as "Homo Erectus," which begins:

I left Barber College
Searchin' for knowledge,
Went to the university.
I must confess, Sir
This lady professor
She turned me on to anthropology.
Now I'm a Homo Erectus
Got to connect this
Bone that I discovered yesterday.
Lived in the forest,
Died because its heart got in the way.
Dear Doctor Howard
Come down from your tower
And join me for lunch at the Y.
Although you're thirty
I still think you're purty
Let's give it that good ole college try.

Many years and one divorce later, I knew I'd found my soul mate in Darling Husband, who loves Kinky's music and devours his comic mysteries. What greater demonstration of love can there be than DH letting me goad him into playing "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" on his Christmas morning radio show--in goyische central Virginia, no less? (It was 6am, but still!)

Even though DH doesn't give a hoot about Texas politics, the lone bumper sticker on his car reads "Kinky Friedman for Governor." There's a great feature on him by Peter Carlson in yesterday's Washington Post, "But Seriously, Folks." You gotta love a politician who calls Democrats and Republicans "the Crips and the Bloods," and who:

complains about people who complain that his speeches are full of one-liners: "All politicians speak in one-liners and sound bites. They're just not as funny as mine."

He quotes Mark Twain. He quotes Oscar Wilde. He quotes a pig farmer he met while campaigning: "You ain't worth a damn," the farmer told Kinky, "but you're better than what we got."

I sure hope he wins!

See Bookslut Dec. 'o5 interview with Kinky.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Dog of a Gift Book

If Jenny (Max the Cat's housemate) could talk, she'd say, "I'm a Gemini...I think." Way back when, the SPCA gave her age as "14 weeks" and I did the math. So Flag Day was made her official birthday.

Yesterday's mail brought a press release and sample photocopied pages of DOG STARS: Astrology for Dog Lovers, by Teen Vogue astrologer Sherene Schostak and dog portrait photographer Wendy Lam, coming in November from Viking Studio. Jenny's and my reaction: "Oy! Owwoooo!"

According to the release, "This book tackles the big questions such as:
  • What does your dog look for in an owner?
  • Why are some dogs more affectionate than others?
  • How can you tell what sign your dog is?
  • If your dog could talk, what would he/she want to tell you?"

Here are my very own big answers:
  • Someone who will treat it kindly and give it food, water, shelter and plenty of walks.
  • Depends on its breed (or breed mix) and how it's been treated and socialized.
  • Duh, figure out when it was born. But in my experience, breed trumps astrological sign. A German shorthair pointer will always be zippier than a Bassett hound, no matter what their birthdates.
  • "Put down that book and pet me, walk me, feed me."
Preesentation Coutns!
Verbatim quotes from sample page 22:
It is jdog's breed to see what sign he/she is.

Use this chart to figure oout what sign your pooch is by birht day or typical breed*

*Gemini's only entry is "Mutt," which Jenny finds offensive, as she has always referred to herself as a "Designer Blend" (Australian shepherd-Golden retriever, to be exact). There are many purebred dogs born May 22-June 21 who will be equally offended; and zillions of mixed-breeds born at other times of year who will be very surprised (e.g., all the dogs I've ever had).

Special note to Miss Snark and her legions of fans: No poodles!

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Truth Will Always Come Out

I've tried to hide my shameful secret since my dad's death in 1994, but alas today I received an email with this subject header [sic spelling]:
You inherited a small dick from you father and think there is no way to help it.
But fortunately there is hope, as per the body of the message:
We promise th@t after trying Penis Enlarge Patch you dick won’t look like overly boiled sausage.
Guess I'd better get that little thing out of the safe deposit box and see what the patch can do for it. Though I don't find the notion of boiled body parts--even underdone ones--at all erotic. I wonder if I should let my new pen pal know that 1) I'm female, and 2) I prefer my sausage grilled?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Just When You Couldn't Stand Any More Good Writing

Yessss! The winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for hilariously bad writing have been announced.

My favorites:
Sex with Rachel after she turned fifty was like driving the last-place team on the last day of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the point no longer the ride but the finish, the difficulty not the speed but keeping all the parts moving in the right direction, not to mention all that irritating barking.
--Dan Winters (Runner-up: Romance), Los Altos Hills, CA

Scarcely three months after he had promised Purity that he would stand by her no matter what, and a bare two hours after he had witnessed the unorthodox birth of her pointy-eared alien child, George somewhat dazedly approached the information desk at the public library and sent the matronly attendant into paroxysms of mirth by asking for a baby care book by Mr. Spock.
--Lionel Monash Hurst (Dishonorable Mention: Science Fiction)

His mistake, Shut-eye McBlamaway reflected, was not in standing up to a gang of desperadoes and rustlers on the high country, but in standing up to a gang of desperadoes and rustlers who had just left the set of a Sergio Leone shoot, and were thus equipped with those guns that never run out of ammunition.
--Samuel Goldstein (Winner: Western), Los Angeles, CA

When she sashayed across the room, her breasts swayed like two house trailers passing on a windy bridge.
--Stan Higley (Special Salute to Breasts Category), Fairport, NY

Getting the performance rating of highly successful, although clearly nothing to be ashamed of, left Blevins somewhat oddly dissatisfied, like when you realize, upon having the triage nurses greet your ambulance, that your underwear, as far as you can determine, is in pretty decent condition*, but you'll, nonetheless, never pull through the surgery.
--Jim Lubell (Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention), Mechanicsville, Maryland

*Jerry Seinfeld was right: It doesn't matter if you're wearing clean underwear when you get hit by a bus, because they'll be covered with blood. Also, as I discovered in my stint at the hospital, if you're in bad enough shape, the ER techs slice all your clothes off & throw them away--even items that easily zip off, like my leather riding gaiters. (Grrr!) Which is how I wound up wearing nothing but a hospital gown--or two, for walks in the hallway--for an entire week.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Little Jab'll Do Ya

Since I broke my right arm on May 1, I've been unable to bend the thumb and index finger on their own. Upon waking and throughout the day I try to make the "OK" sign (which, incidentally, is very much not OK in Brazil). Nothing doing: my index finger always stays ramrod straight.

This morning was the same, and once more I despaired of ever getting my hand--and my life--back in working order. So I went for my weekly appointment with osteopath Dr S in no great frame of mind.

After pulling my arm up, down and sideways (I was astonished at its range of motion), Dr S had me lie down. First he did some osteopathic manipulation--aah, what a relief! Then it was time for acupuncture (definitely not always painless; the finest of needles in certain areas of my face and head bring me to tears, if not sobbing panic attacks).

"I'm going to try some electrical stimulation," he said, then put a bunch of needles in my forearm, to which he attached electrodes. They throbbed, but not unpleasantly. He put more needles in my hand and wrist, scalp and face, but no electrodes.

Twenty minutes or so later, he pulled out all the needles. "Make a pinch," he commanded. To my astonishment, for the first time in more than two months my index finger easily curved and touched the thumb, tip to tip. OK!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I'll Die Unliterated

Miss Snark cites an article at Wordwing Editors, Read It Before You Die, which lists 30 titles that a poll of British librarians determined every adult should read before relinquishing this mortal coil.

In order, they are:
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. The Bible (by God!) [sic]
  3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien
  4. 1984 by George Orwell
  5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  8. All Quiet on the Western Front by E M Remarque
  9. His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman
  10. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
  11. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  12. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  13. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  14. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  15. Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne
  16. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  17. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  18. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  19. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  20. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  21. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  22. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
  23. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  24. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  25. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  26. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  27. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  28. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  29. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  30. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Evidently the librarians are better at literature than math, because the two trilogies bring the volume count to 34, not 30. But if we accept each trilogy as a single title, then I have read half the ones on the list. (However, I think I should get extra credit for having read the entire Pullman trilogy aloud to the Boy Wonder.)

Shame-faced confession: I've never read (or seen) To Kill a Mockingbird. I'll do it this summer, honest! But I sure as hell won't read Gone with the Wind anytime soon--if ever.

I read the Tolkien at 13 and had such horrible nightmares about the Ring Wraiths that I never went near his books again. I didn't see the movies either. I read Tess after seeing the Polanski movie, and that put me off Hardy for good.

I'd never heard of two titles: Birdsong and Master and Margarita. I've read parts of the Old Testament (known to my crowd as "the Torah.")

I loved The Lovely Bones, but think that Love in the Time of Cholera is infinitely more essential. Couldn't get past page 10 of Time Traveler's Wife, nor page 5 of anything by Coelho. And why list them instead of, say, Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby?

I love Dickens, but why three of his works and not Madame Bovary--or any French titles? Oh,'s a British list. No wonder. (Reminds me of my honeymoon with Husband #1. We were at a restaurant in a fishing village in Cornwall, where many of the exterior walls were embedded with oyster shells. We eagerly ordered oysters, but were told they'd all died of "a French disease."*)

Most of all, why are all the books, with the exception of The Prophet (puh-leeze!), by whites from Europe or the U.S.?

*an archaic term for syphilis

I Could Have Written That Book!

Over the long weekend, Darling Husband took me to Barnes & Noble to redeem a gift card that a friend sent me. On a bargain table I espied Better Homes & Garden's 3 Steps to Weight Loss.

"Huh!" I said to DH. "Three steps? That's easy!" I rattled them off, as follows:
  1. Smash up your mouth so you can't bite with your front teeth or chew anything harder than a Cheez-It.
  2. Smash up your arm so you have to eat using your non-dominant hand.
  3. Take medications that screw up your gut.
Here are the allowed foods:
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir (like runny yogurt)
  • Cottage cheese (like chunky yogurt)
  • Tzatziki (made with yogurt)
  • Hummus
  • Baba ghanouj
  • Refried beans
  • Eggs
  • Chopped or shredded meat
  • Soup or stew (if w/ meat, must be very soft)
  • Tomatoes, cut small
  • Strawberries, ditto
  • Lettuce, ditto
  • Tuna salad with minced onion/scallion/celery
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Ice cream (w/ no nuts or hard chunks)
  • Pudding (preferably Kozy Shack Tapioca or Chocolate)

Voila! Sure-fire weight loss.

I've been following this regimen and have lost almost 20 lbs in just two months. And with no end in sight to my mouth and arm problems, I'm likely to continue a good while longer. Just 20 more pounds and I'll be back to my high school graduation weight. (I still have the dress I wore and it's in style again...)

My Son the Politician

A couple of weeks ago, the Boy Wonder went to the National Forensic League championships in fabulous Grapevine, TX ("gateway to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport"). His event is Student Congress, and he gave an authorship speech in support of a bill to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency. He knew his goose was cooked when one of the judges walked in carrying a book entitled 50 Gospel Songs for Children. He didn't make it past the first round. But he had a great time for a week, and at least now I can truthfully say that my 6'2", 122 lb. darling competed in the NFL when he was in high school.

BW is now working for the state senate campaign of the father of another kid on the speech team. He canvasses at the homes of registered Democrats who voted in the past two primaries.

"So, what do you say to them?" I asked BW over dinner the other night. Darling Husband and I were all ears.

"It depends on who comes to the door. I have a couple of different speeches."

"OK," I said. "What would your spiel be to me?"

"Well, if you came to the door I'd talk about health care," he immediately replied.

My mind raced: Oh my God, do I really look THAT old?


Then I remembered that my right arm is in a sling and bandaged from elbow to shoulder, and there's an Ace bandage wrapped around my upper chest and shoulder.

"Oh, right. Health care."

We laughed so hard my face hurt.