March 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

I’m taking a week off to go read trashy paperbacks in Hawaii.  Don’t worry, you wouldn’t want me to review those books anyway.

Can’t Touch This

March 20, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Rude Poetry | 4 Comments

With apologies to MC Hammer:

I can’t publish (5x)

I, I, ideas hit me so hard

Make me say, “Oh my Lord

Thank you for blessing me

‘Cause I’ve got free time and I type quickly.”

It’s no good, when they turn me down

As I shop my novel all over town

I don’t like it much:

The thing is my book, uh, they won’t touch

I told my agent (I can’t publish)

They ain’t even reading and you know (I can’t publish)

Look at my book, man (I can’t publish)

Yo, let me bust the funky lyrics (I can’t publish)

Spend the whole advance

On a penthouse flat, if I only had a chance

To prove I’m the elite

I’ll make the top ten and have them beat

It’s my calling, to write

Type a little bit and keep it going all night

No slack, no slack

Signed first editions stacked in the back

Then they’ll know, my talent’s much

But this is a book, uh, they won’t touch

Yo, I told you (I can’t publish)

Shouldn’t even dare, man (I can’t publish)

Yo, writing’s hell, just give in, sucka (I can’t publish)

I got a plot, twist ending

Make ’em sweat, it is just mind bending

Now, they know

You talking about this author you talking about a show

I type, all night

Always sweating to get it just right

So the page, will turn

What’s it gonna take for the public to learn

I’m so legit?

I work so hard and I’m not gonna quit.

Use words that you don’t know…

I can’t publish (3x)

I’ll break down!  Stop, writer time!

Go out on tour, it is said

That you’ll finally get famous after you are dead

Do something strange to your hair

Wear some weird clothes, and get that eccentric flair

Pulitzer, I’m a winner

Auction a chance to have me to dinner

Sit, on that rump

‘Cause at this minute I’m just in a slump, slump, slump…

Yeah… (I can’t publish)

Look, man (I can’t publish)

Glad I can type, boy, because you know (I can’t publish)

What the hell, I give in (I can’t publish)

I’ll break down!  Stop, writer time!

Every time you see me

I just sit there and type

I’m still pretty poor and there’s no success in sight

Now why did I ever start doing this?

I can’t stop writing novels I can’t submit

In bookstores ’round the world, from London to the Bay

It’s “Writer, O Writer, Mr. Writer, hey Writer”

And I swear I’ll have my day

I can’t publish (8x)

Vacation Planning

March 18, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 8 Comments

I’m packing for my trip to Oahu next week, and I’ve hit a little snag.  Help me out here, huh?

My packing abilities are legendary, partly because I can cram things into a tiny suitcase like a clown car and partly because the reading material usually weighs about as much as everything else put together.

“The Flying Troutmans”

March 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Fiction | 4 Comments

I loved this book.  I read it with a face-splitting grin.  I felt immediately that the characters could have been members of my family (though, if you’ve met them, you might not consider this a strong selling point).

Miriam Toews is on my hit-list for going back and reading everything else she ever wrote.  I liked The Flying Troutmans so much I had a momentary impulse to carry it around and memorize it.

This is one of those books like Downtown Owl that is full of quirky characters and random, inspired conversations, but “light on plot.”  At least, that’s what those pesky one-star Amazon critics say.  Personally, I’ve always been suspicious of plot-driven narrative anyway, but I thought this book had more plot than, say, my own life.  It’s a funny book about sad things.  The dialogue does what I prefer it to do, which is to sound like real people talk.  It could, and should, drop directly into an indie-movie script.

It’s under 300 pages, too, so why are you still reading this instead of going out and grabbing The Flying Troutmans?

Reading Callus

March 16, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

When I first noticed it, I couldn’t figure out where it came from.  There is a callus between the first and second fingers on my left hand, about the size of a pencil eraser.  There’s nothing corresponding to it on the other side.

“That’s weird,” I thought.  “I wonder where…”  I thought about it for about a week.  Finally I realized that the book I was reading was rubbing on it.

So now we know what happens after a person reads 500 books in 433 days.  Maybe I should stick to audio for a while.

“The Watchmen”

March 13, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

This is something that almost never happens:  I read a book and watched the movie nearly simultaneously, at a time when it was still in theatres!  I had been noticing that everyone seemed to be reading Watchmen, and when my man Rocket Scientist pointed it out at Borders, I told him I’d heard good things about it.  Neither of us realized there was a movie in the works.  (We don’t go to movies often because he insists on getting popcorn and I always make myself sick on it).  Anyway, we both read it and then went to see it a few days later.  We separated at the restrooms, and then I gleefully walked into the wrong theatre, not even realizing I was halfway through the storyline, wondering for 15 minutes where he could be.  (That’s why he’s the rocket scientist and I’m the secretary).

Now, I love graphic novels.  My introduction to comix came at the age of 4, when I used to read my dad’s Heavy Metal magazines.  I go through piles of these things.  Alan Moore is great, and Watchmen is definitely a classic of the genre.  It stands up to the test of time – oddly, talk of Afghanistan in 1985 has become topical again.

The problem with adapting any book is that the fans invariably hate it.  It’s surprising that “The Book is Always Better Than the Movie” isn’t actually carved into a stone tablet somewhere.  Watching The Watchmen, the comic was still so fresh in my mind that I found myself unable to watch it without comparing frames to panels.  I can’t really tell you objectively whether it was a great movie, the way I could with Iron Man.

Here’s what I can tell you.  It was a colossal labor of love.  The costumes were brilliant.  The sets were awesome.  The casting was so eerie that RS and I speculated plastic surgery could have been involved.  Entire sections of dialogue emerged intact.  Scene after scene looked exactly, angle for angle, the way it did in print.

Ah, but then they had to… add… a few things.  That soupcon of drama – the fight scenes were more graphic and seemed to last longer, there was more sex, there was a bit of chewing the scenery in scenes that did not come from the original.  It was a bit de trop.  And then!  They Changed the Ending.


My verdict:  read the comic.  Watch the movie.  But maybe watch the movie first and wait a year to read the comic so you won’t notice the changes – or at least they won’t beat you over the head quite so much.

Books for Depression

March 12, 2009 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

Do you ever find yourself reading for certain things?  For example, you have some dispute going on with your mother-in-law and suddenly everything you read seems to be about in-laws?  Or you perk up when a character works in the same field you do?  Well, lately economic matters have been on my mind – and, I don’t doubt, on yours – and I’ve detected a certain theme in my reading.

The Mill on the Floss is probably read as the story of an intellectual, independent woman.  At least, that’s what I’m guessing, since I never took any lit classes in college and I just read it this week.  What I saw in it, though, was the gripping tale of a family’s mishandled finances.  Suddenly, it seemed like modernizing the story of Maggie Tulliver would be too easy.

Vanity Fair is another one, and more amusing to boot.  You could put it up in a double feature with Shopaholic and the two heroines could be mall buddies.  (I read both books but didn’t see either movie, so you tell me).

I finished the third volume of Booth Tarkington’s Growth trilogy, alternately titled The Midlander and National Avenue.  There, again, you see the little dollar signs hopping about from page to page.

I’ve read several other books this year that dwell on the characters’ pocketbooks and how they manage their livelihood.  I Know This Much Is True had me banging my fist on the table, shouting (inwardly) (I think), “Just go over there and do the darn thing!”  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency likewise had me slapping my forehead, wondering how Precious would meet payroll.  The White Tiger?  Talk about financial issues!  The more I look through the list of books I’ve read this year, the more I notice: it’s very hard to tell someone’s story without also telling the story of the money, or the lack thereof.

The Grapes of Wrath fits so well with this theme that it’s just begging the question.  I confess, though, that I haven’t read it yet.  That book is my albatross, my Moriarty.  This year, though, I promise.

“An Imperfect Offering”

March 6, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | Leave a comment

This is the kind of book that, read at the right age, could transform a person’s career goals.  James Orbinkski, M.D., a past president of Doctors Without Borders, writes about his life in the context of his humanitarian work.  It sort of makes every other job seem pointless.

An Imperfect Offering is how Orbinski describes the tradeoff of amputating a man’s leg to save his life.  It also seems to refer to the fact that, as important as humanitarian efforts are, they never quite seem to solve the original problem and they can’t reach everyone who needs help.  Orbinski reminds me of Schindler crying out that if he had sold his ring he could have helped more people.  No matter how much he does, he wishes he could do more, and he’s probably more haunted by the people he couldn’t help than by memories of the people he did.

An Imperfect Offering is big, but it reads like a novel – like a potboiler, in fact.  It also contains some of the most gruesome scenes I have ever read in any book.  Oddly, all the accompanying photos are of smiling people – though some are carrying automatic rifles – and I could only feel grateful that they were not more, um, gritty representations of the story line.  All in all, it was truly a terrific read.

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”

March 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Posted in Fiction | 4 Comments

Certain books are just inevitable.  They come along and you read them.  You have to.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is such a book – the reason you’re seeing it everywhere is because it really is that good.  If you haven’t already, you might as well just give in and read it.

It’s a story told in letters, about an author who becomes interested in the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II.  Everyone is still recuperating from the war.  The story told through the letters is equal parts quirky, funny, romantic, and heartrending.  Okay, it’s normally the sort of book I would associate with Red Hat Club ladies, but I ate it up.  If you liked Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road you will love this.

Incidentally, Trish and I got to meet Annie Barrows at a book signing in Healdsburg last fall.  She is absolutely adorable.

Messy House, Messy Minds?

March 2, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 6 Comments

This article on Slate claims a link between household order and young children’s interest in reading.  I imagine this theory will capture your attention as much as it did mine, especially if you happen to be a parent.

It’s been said that I read more than average.  I’m not sure how my childhood would mesh into this particular study.   Dinnertime might be anywhere between 6 and 11 PM, and bedtime depended on what was on TV that night.  Our housekeeping, on a spectrum between the cover of Architectural Digest and a special episode of Oprah, would lean toward the Oprah end.  Factor in a couple of random events, such as a neighbor passing out drunk on the couch with a lit cigarette and nearly burning down the entire apartment complex, and let’s just say ‘orderly’ would not best describe my childhood home environment.

Why did I turn into such an obsessive reader?  I can only remember being interested in books from about age 4, when I was already habitually begging for particular titles.  I really have no idea what my parents did before that point.  My brothers didn’t turn out like me in this respect.

I will say that my house is quite orderly now – now that I live alone, that is.  There’s always somewhere to sit and I know where all my books are, among other factors.  Since getting my own place and not needing roommates, I have read more than ever before.  So maybe there is a link between household order and reading.  It seems to me, though, that the more literate the people I know, the less orderly their houses tend to be.


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