Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Writing is writing."

Last night I became a NaNoWriMo winner for the first time. For those of you not in the know, to accomplish this feat I had to write a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days.

At first glance, such a task might seem intimidating at the very least, and quite likely impossible, but only if you take the challenge too seriously. The focus is the fifty thousand words much more than the novel. The exercise is not about editing and quality. Those things can be dealt with on December first. November is all about writing.

It was definitely a challenge, but also definitely worth it. I highly recommend the experience, even and especially to people who think that they cannot possibly write a novel. If you have or ever have had a story to tell, you can write a novel. Lock up your internal editor and whatever naysaying little voices might be in your head and write. Scribble madly. Type with two fingers. You could probably even dictate it into some sort of recording device and then transcribe it later. Whatever method works best for you is the one you should use.

For me, the word count part wasn't too difficult -- five hundred or a thousand words at a time weren't difficult to come by, and I think that I might have my journaling habit to thank for that ability -- but the writing every day was definitely a challenge. My little progress chart shows big spikes on the weekends and pretty much flatlines during the week.

Now that I have passed the magical fifty thousand word mark, I would say that as a whole, the project is about half written, as in I am about halfway to a true rough draft. You see, another beautiful feature of NaNoWriMo is that goal is not necessarily to write a complete novel.

I have interesting characters, engaging conversation, lots of back story and what might be called extensive exposition -- I need to learn how to say just enough that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions without me spelling everything out on the page -- strung together in a not terribly coherent manner. The plot part of the project is decidedly lacking. Also, about halfway through, as I was struggling to get the plot to really take off and go somewhere, I realized that I had committed what is arguably one of the cardinal sins of fiction writing -- I didn't start in the middle of the action -- so the first big chunk of writing really needs to go all together. It's not a bad beginning. It's just boring and not very active. The material can even be used later in the story as a sort of flashback or memory, but it doesn't belong at the very beginning.

I like the first sentence, but it doesn't, to paraphrase a quotation which I cannot remember verbatim and which I cannot readily find online, grab the reader by the throat, sink its thumbs into the jugular and refuse to let go. (Somebody famous said something like that, but I cannot remember who.)

Lots of scenes are sketched out as ideas. There are lists of questions and options. There are notes about things to research for accuracy. I don't think that I have left any huge plot holes yet, but there will be plenty of time for such things I am sure.

Motivation for some of the characters is proving to be a bit tricky as well. I know what I want to have happen, but I need a reason for the characters to do what they are doing.

I think that I have an ending, but the climax needs development.

Some events and ideas are the products of unintentional influences (read: stolen from all of the books I have read in my lifetime) for sure, but I have at least one idea that I think is completely my own.

I'm going to try to get a few more scenes and ideas written down before the official deadline of midnight tomorrow, and then I need to figure out how to take it apart and revise it. In looking forward to that revision process, I am investigating some of the references to "novel writing software"I have seen on the NaNoWriMo forums. Silly me, I always thought that novel writing software was a word processing program.

It turns out that there are plenty of novel writing software packages out there, but I think that they might be more complicated than what I want. They seem to be more about breaking down a big document into smaller pieces so that you don't have to work on the whole thing at once. Some of them almost seem to inspire laziness or complacency (as so much of technology does -- I think I might know all of two or three phone numbers anymore thanks to the contact list in my mobile phone) by keeping track of characters and plotlines for you. Almost seems to defeat the purpose if you ask me, but I haven't really tried it yet.

Some of them are even recommended based on the sort of book you plan on writing. If you want to write a fantasy novel, try this package. If you want to write a mystery, then this one is the way to go. Call me crazy (and plenty of people do), but the way to learn how to write a mystery novel is to read lots and lots of mystery novels. Read good ones and bad ones. Read the classics and contemporary offerings. Decide which ones you like. Decide which ones work and which ones do not. Don't let a software program determine the structure of your book.  You've got a brain that is perfectly capable of performing that function, I promise.  I would even go so far as to say that it was designed to do your thinking for you.

All I really want is the feature of the truly antique versions of WordPerfect which used to ask every time if you wanted to save over the previous version of the document. I would like an easy way to preserve multiple drafts so that if I chop out big pieces that I decide might be useful or do extensive rearranging that I decide I don't like, I can go back to the previous version and start again.

I'll have to experiment and find a system that works.

In the meantime, more writing because, "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing." (E.L. Doctorow)

P.S. Reading books about plot devices and character development (not to mention all of the guides to finding an agent and getting published) is also not writing, so put them down and keep writing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The purpose of libraries

"Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life."

Read the rest:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pink Hair for Hope

While I am all in favor of finding a cure for breast cancer, I am not always so much a fan of the pink everything everywhere.

I saw a banner for this promotion on the sign of a local salon, and thought, "Now that is an awareness promotion that makes sense!!"

Cookies and pens and instant drink mix might not have much of a connection to the disease, but hair certainly does.

Having been a chemotherapy patient (about thirty years ago at this point and not for breast cancer), I was proud of my baldness.  (Of course, I was four, so having my hair fall out wasn't particularly traumatic.)  My mother even had t-shirts saying "Bald is Beautiful" made for family and friends.

I wasn't much for wigs or hats (again, I was four), and no one shaved their head in solidarity, but pink hair, or a pink hair substitute might have been fun.

So add a little flair to your hair!!

(I think I just might.  I need a haircut anyway.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

Apparently Banned Books Week is no longer necessary:

Sex and violence (so prevalent in movies, music and, well, the daily news) top the list of reasons why a book is unsuitable:

Read a banned or challenged book this week.  Find out what the fuss is all about.  You might learn more than you bargained for.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A president armed for a battle of wits

What is wrong with people???

Times are tough pretty much all the way around these days, but wouldn't it make more sense for people to help one another out in any little way they can (sometimes it is the smallest gestures which are the most meaningful) rather than hurt one another?

Maybe it is supposed to be survival of the fittest (or the most devious?  or the most desperate?), but mutual relationships benefit everyone.

Such is my naive hope for the day.

I want to go! I want to go!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Food for the masses

Since I have moved into a real house with a real kitchen (though neither is terribly glamorous or state-of-the-art), I have been trying to eat less pre-prepared, processed food (though I still have a weakness for frozen pizza and potato chips) and do more of my own cooking.  The effect that sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen for a living has had on my body in the last two and a half years also has me trying to eat less junk.

Having a madly tomato-ing (to the point that I have no idea what I would do if there were more than one), gargantuan tomato plant outside providing me with an abundance of wonderful, fresh tomatoes every day makes me want to grow more of my own food and patronize more local farmers.

In the various and sundry food reading I have done in the last year or so, I have been waiting for someone to summarize what I think really needs to be done to get people to really eat (and not just consume) food.  I always knew that the trick was implementation.  How to get good food, real food to everyone and not just those who can afford it.  After all, I have what I consider to be a decent paying job, even living as I do in a part of the country with a dauntingly high cost of living, and I frequently feel as if *I* can't afford it.

Today, I read the following paragraph from Julie Powell's Julie/Julia Project blog, and she summed it up for me clearly and concisely with some lovely real world examples, so I thought I would share.

"It seems to me – and I've been thinking about this quite a bit – that any revolution in food and agricultural has to be two pronged.  Yes, by all means, extol the virtues of the artisanal this and organic that, patronize the small farmers and the renegade cheese-makers, if you can afford it.  But the goal is to make good food available toeveryone, isn't it?  And that means doing more than opening a hoity-toity restaurant.  That means lobbying and teaching and bringing the food to Mohammed, and otherwise getting your hands dirty.  Get the peach to the inner city kids killing themselves with Krispy Kremes.  Get the peach to the 22-year-old mother of three living off welfare checks, dependent on the Bargain Market in the strip mall.  Do that – and I don't know how you do – and you've really got something. "

  --Julie Powell in her blog about the Julie/Julia Project on March 18th, 2003.  The complete entry is here if you care to read it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In case there are any writers out there reading

I have become rather enamored of the no-nonsense brilliance of Lilith Saintcrow.

While I suppose that I should be embarrassed to admit that I have not in fact read any books by this woman (although there is at least one in my library waiting to be read), I feel the need to tell whoever might venture into my microscopic space in the blogosphere that I enjoy reading her blog immensely, for her style and for the information contained therein.

She talks quite a bit about the writing life and work, as writers tend to do, I suppose, and while she may not always be saying something new and previously unheard of, her perspective makes a lot of sense to me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'm not sure that it is a revolution, but I think that it's good news.

The article addresses volume and variety rather than quality and technique, but the point about audience and tone is key.

"What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A moment of sisterly solidarity

I know that it only scratches the surface as far as the mind boggling level of need in so many parts of the world (sometimes even including the United States), but you have to start somewhere, right?

Must one be a writer to catwax?

Reading while riding in NYC

There are a number of organizations out there with similar goals, but it always makes me happy to hear (read) about people finding ways to share books.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


This afternoon, after somehow wrangling a file cabinet upstairs from the porch where it has been patiently languishing since last December, I decided that it was a good day to go to the movies, so I took myself off to see Julie & Julia, a film about a woman who decides to cook her way through 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of a year and also about the woman who inspired the project (and co-wrote the revered cookbook).

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci play Julia and Paul Child with enthusiasm, respect and fearlessness. Especially Meryl Streep. You can tell she just embraced Julia's larger than life, enthusiastic approach to everything and didn't worry about anything else. Amy Adams is delightful as Julie Powell. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who will wish for more Julia and less Julie, but I enjoyed the balance.

The film had all of the necessary elements of a good film. I was transported to another time and place for two hours, and in the process was made to think and feel -- the hallmark of good art.

I laughed at Julia's feet hanging off the end of a too short bed, the ill-fated hat making session, the determination which resulted in a mountain of chopped onions (and Paul's reaction), and, of course, the lobsters.

The scene where Julia gets the letter from Dorothy saying that she is pregnant was utterly heartbreaking and brought tears to my eyes.

I worried about their future as Paul is investigated by Senator McCarthy.

When the editor at Knopf discovers Beouf Bourginon, I could practically taste the delicious recipe, and I had a sudden inclination to rush home and prepare it myself.

Oh, and the film definitely made me want to live in Paris. And New York.

If there was any flaw it was that the movie had to be movie sized and could only hold so much detail.

When I moved into my little house on Water Street, one of my great sources of excitement was the kitchen -- a *real* kitchen, with counter space, a dishwasher and a gas stove. The presence of the gas stove especially went a long way to influencing the purchase of the house. For (I believe) six years prior, my cooking had to be done on an electric stove and in an electric oven ... and with zero actual counter space. Any preparation had to be done on a small cutting board on the stove top, on the ever-cluttered kitchen table, or on top of the washer. And by washer I mean clothes rather than dish.

I grew up in a kitchen with a gas stove, and it always seemed to me to be the only way to go. My general stance on most subjects of preference is "to each his own," but why anyone would actually want to cook on an electric stove is quite beyond my capacity to understand. (But then I tend to avoid using the microwave, so I'm sure that plenty of people would argue that I'm not quite right in the head myself.)

Lack of counter space + electric stove = not much in the way of serious cooking.

When I did cook, meals often didn't turn out quite right, and I was never quite sure whether to blame the electric stove and oven or my relative lack of practice under less than user friendly conditions. One notable exception was the Thanksgiving turkeys, which did tend to be a success, even if the stuffing was not. Perhaps I will have to see what Julia says about stuffing a turkey. (This year I have delusions of preparing a turducken, but I think that they may have to remain delusions a while longer.)

Many of my cookbooks were stashed away or scattered haphazardly about the apartment because I didn't have a proper, central location for them. In the house, I have cleared out a small bookcase, and it houses the cookbooks almost perfectly. It's in the living room rather than the kitchen, but at least they are close by, and it's not as if I generally need to use more than one at a time.

At about the same time that I was looking to buy a house, I started reading about food -- in fiction and non-fiction -- and one of the first books I read was Julie & Julia. Reading Julie Powell's various (mis)adventures in the kitchen with Julia encouraged me to keep reading about food and reminded me how much I loved Julia. I have fond memories of watching The French Chef on on Sunday afternoons, and I remember Mastering the Art of French Cooking sitting alongside my grandmother's recipe box in my parents' kitchen.

My parents no longer live in the house where I grew up, however, so when I asked my mother about the book -- technically books, I suppose, since it is a two-volume set -- I learned that it had been among the donations when they moved to what I still refer to as the "new house," even though they have lived there at least half a dozen years now ... maybe even as many as ten. (I could sit here and figure it out, but chasing after such details would only detract from my little story, and I think that the shaded ambiguity lends an air of mystery.)

Apparently, I was distressed enough by the knowledge that my parents no longer had Julia in their library that I blocked the information from my memory, causing me to repeat the question on at least one more occasion, and though it wasn't really meant as such, my mother took the hint and tracked down a nice copy of the fortieth anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and had it sent to me. It sits proudly on the shelf next to a rather battered (I would like to think well loved and used) copy of Simca's Cuisine.

I have not yet cooked my way through Julia's extensive offerings, but I do consult her advice from time to time.

I have been labeled as "adventurous" in the kitchen, and as I become more so -- which I think I shall be once I truly find the courage of my convictions to flip a potato pancake or an omelette in a frying pan -- I am sure that I will spend more time with Julia and Simca.

While the film is still fresh in my mind, however, I am sitting here with copies of Appetite for Life and My Life in France next to me on my desk, trying to decide which one to read first. I am likely to start with My Life in France because I would like to hear more from Julia in her own words. I know that the book was written with the help of Alex Prud'homme, who is her grand nephew, I believe, but based on her introduction, I am quite convinced that he was mostly the means for telling her story, almost as if he played the role of pen and paper, or perhaps typewriter. (Somehow I can't possibly see Julia sitting in front of a computer.)

Julie Powell did sit in front of a computer, however, so the Julie/Julia blog might be the real place to start, rather than rereading Julie & Julia as I had briefly conisdered doing.

I'll let you know how it goes. And perhaps once I have spent some more time with Julia, I will finally delve into the works of another venerable foodinista -- M.F.K. Fisher.

Edit to add:. In the end, I did decide to start with Julie's blog. If you share the inclination, start here.

Edit to add (on January 10, 2010): Now that Julie & Julia is available on dvd, I can watch the film almost any time I care to, and one of the times I cared to was this evening while I had the house to myself for a while. What I really love about the movie -- about the story of each of these women actually -- is the reminder that success doesn't come from talent so often as it does from hard work and perseverance. Find a way and the time to do what you love. Work at it and keep working at it, and success will follow.  Maybe not millions of dollars and international fame, but success in the form of personal growth and satisfaction.  Such is my wisdom on this particular Sunday evening.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Waiting to be convinced -- one way or the other

In my mind, the “phenomenon” of the Kindle has become synonymous with a train wreck which I cannot help but watch. Any in depth article I read impresses me only for its indecisiveness.

Last night, Twitter took me to this article ( from the New Yorker, and I reached the end of it completely baffled as to whether or not the author was in favor of the device or not.

Nicholson Baker lists plenty of reasons to either stick with the tried and true paper, ink and glue version or to choose another gadget, but in the end, he succumbs as the Kindle performs as advertised and “disappears.”

I already know that I will not be purchasing a Kindle. Nor will I add one to my Christmas list. I would like the opportunity to spend about a week playing with one (and such an experience might change my mind), but all I can think of is how many real books (especially used books) I could purchase with that much money and then sell to or share with others.

The list of books which are *not* available gives me pause. To quote Baker ‘There is no Amazon Kindle version of “The Jewel in the Crown.” There’s no Kindle of Jean Stafford, no Vladimir Nabokov, no “Flaubert’s Parrot,” no “Remains of the Day,” no “Perfume,” by Patrick Suskind, no Bharati Mukherjee, no Margaret Drabble, no Graham Greene except a radio script, no David Leavitt, no Bobbie Ann Mason’s “In Country,” no Pynchon, no Tim O’Brien, no “Swimming-Pool Library,” no Barbara Pym, no Saul Bellow, no Frederick Exley, no “World According to Garp,” no “Catch-22,” no “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” no “Portnoy’s Complaint,” no “Henry and Clara,” no Lorrie Moore, no “Edwin Mullhouse,” no “Clockwork Orange.”’

The simple fact that it is electronic is also a significant deterrent, and not simply because I tend to be a Luddite at heart. I pay the phone company an extra five dollars a month essentially as insurance against myself. If I lose the phone, or drop it in a puddle, or step on it, or some other catastrophe befalls it, I will not have to pay to replace it. A Kindle living with me would be exposed to the same sort of risks, and it costs at least twice as much as my phone.

I just imagine the heartbreak of losing hundreds of books because something happened to the Kindle.

Paper books are much sturdier, heartier creatures and can withstand an impressive amount of abuse.

Maybe that is another part of my suspicion – I consider books (especially the ones I really enjoy) to be almost living creatures. They are my friends and companions who see me through the best and worst of times. Can an electronic device really inspire the same depth of feeling?

I highly doubt it, and for most of his article, Baker seems to agree. I can’t help but wonder what caused him to waiver in his judgment. It makes me curious to find out, but not for $300.

The supposed ease and accessibility – start reading an impulse purchase in under a minute – is tempting to be sure, but I can’t help thinking that this might be a case of something being too good to be true.

For the present, I shall retain my skepticism.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind

For some reason I thought that The Pillars of Creation was separate from the epic Sword of Truth saga, and arguably it is in the sense that the primary characters in the previous books play secondary, offstage roles for the majority of this installment. I have not read the previous six, and I am not planning to read the subsequent four, but I can't help wondering if this book is meant to be a sort of transition or intermission to give the author time to figure out what really comes next.

I'm not much for the epic fantasy sagas, and if this book is representative of the series as a whole or even the sub-genre, it is a good reminder of why.

It takes the author more than thirty pages to say that two characters escaped the palace. And it is not even a particularly hair-raising escape. The hard part -- getting out of the dungeon -- was already done.

Lots of repetition and lots of words to say not very much made the book an easy, if somewhat tedious, read.

On the bright side, the ending (the last three chapters or so) was quite satisfying, mostly because so much happened and came together in such a short period of time, in comparison to the previous seven hundred pages. If the rest of the story had been a little (okay, a lot) tighter, however, then the ending might have seemed a little too convenient and contrived.

I'm quite sure that it sets the stage nicely for the next book, but I have too much else to read to find out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why I love the Right Wing

The entertainment value.

If I wanted to be a bit more accurate, I could make the heading, “Why I love loud public figures.”  That phrasing would probably make more sense, but I am going to pick on the Right Wing because, as I recall, that is where Pat Buchanan hangs out.

Anyway, I came across the following quote:

"With regard to Levi, I think First Dude up there in Alaska, Todd Palin, ought to take Levi down to the creek and hold his head underwater until the thrashing stops."
-- Pat Buchanan

Am I the only one who doesn’t see how this is the business of anyone but the Palin family (and possibly the readers of People magazine)?  But then minding one’s own business isn’t any fun for loud public figures who spend an inordinate amount of time being concerned about whether or not anyone can hear them.

And then there is the heavy dose of irony in the statement.  Terminating a pregnancy is terrible, sinful, should be illegal, etc., but drowning the kid who knocked up your daughter (or who was perhaps seduced by your daughter) is acceptable.

Killing is bad unless it is in the name of God or family honor?

Do I have that right?

Or have I grossly misinterpreted the statement so that I can twist it to strengthen my own ill-informed, misguided liberal bias?

Squishy green stuff

Although I am generally not much of a fan of guacamole (to the point that I am not even entirely sure how to spell it properly), Martha’s recipe -- Mix juice 1 lime, 4t crushed garlic, 5 chop scallion, 1C chop cilantro, 1 mince jalapeƱo + 3 ripe avocado – intrigues me.

Perhaps garnished with tomato and black olives.

Nom nom nom. Now I’m hungry.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's nice to know that I am not alone.

The titles listed here make for a fairly short list, and urban fantasy stretches far beyond vampires.

Take Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, for example, which was one of my first forays into the realm of urban fantasy, and while there are magical beasties aplenty, I don't recall vampires. I might even go so far as to say that cautious parents would deem it "safe" for teenaged girls to read, although I do have a hard time applying "safe" as a description to almost anything having to do with the printed word. I follow the fairly basic analogy that good art (in this particular context, good writing) should do two things: make you think and make you feel. Thoughts and feelings are dangerous and wonderful things at pretty much any age (and arguably more so in those treacherously formative teenage years).

I second the vote for Holly Black's stories.

I am also going to add Charles de Lint. Yes, he's a man, but given the wonderful female characters he writes to life (teenaged and adult), he deserves a vote of solidarity.

The article focuses mostly on the teen audience.

Once they have grown up a bit, I would suggest the adventures of Jaz Parks and Cat Crawfield. Perhaps even the first few installments of the tumultuous life and loves of Anita Blake.

There are more worth mentioning, I am sure, but I need some time to let them surface in my mind.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fifteen books in fifteen minutes

In response to

1. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
3. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
5. Agyar by Steven Brust
6. War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
7. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
8. A River Runs through It by Norman Maclean
9. Taste of Power by Elaine Brown
10. The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
11. The Iliad by Homer
12. The Odyssey by Homer
13. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
14. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
15. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

The first four were easy, and I am willing to bet that if I make another list in ten years or five years or even one year, half of the books on the list will be different, depending where I am in my life. I am a big believer in finding and reading the right book at the right time. Sometimes it is something which complements events or my state of mind and even provides insight. Sometimes it is to escape into something completely different or to find a heroine who handles her problems the way that I would like to be able to handle mine.

Fifteen minutes after having completed my list, I find myself wishing that I could add more, but I can't decide what to replace.

I read The Power of One when I was seventeen and have never looked back. "Little beat big, if little smart. First with the head, and then with the heart." Words I try to live by each and every day. For years, a sterling silver charm of boxing gloves hung from a chain around my neck. Some days it still does, when I need a little something extra to face the world. I have given away no fewer than half a dozen copies, mostly to the men who have wandered in and out of my life. As far as I know, only one finished it. Maybe two. It's the book that says the most about me, from a philosophical perspective.

To Kill a Mockingbird became a part of my life even earlier. For some reason, I get a lot of comfort from this book, and I tend to read it when my life is chaotic. I have read it at least four times. Miss Maudie's house always burns down. Atticus always defends Tom Robinson. And Boo Radley always comes out. I know that you can make a similar case for any book -- every time you read it, the same things happen, but for some reason, it's only important in To Kill a Mockingbird.

When I was little, I wanted to be Fern in Charlotte's Web, Templeton the rat is one of my all time favorite characters, and "salutations" is a permanent resident of my vocabulary.

Sydney Carton's speech at the end of A Tale of Two Cities brings tears to my eyes every single time. I think that he is the first imaginary man with whom I fell in love.

Agyar was my first vampire novel -- the beginning of what will probably be a lifelong seduction. Now if I could just get around to reading Dracula.

War for the Oaks was one of my early forays into the world of urban fantasy. The power of the music and the way the author writes about it really spoke to me. It's a perfect example of finding and reading the right book at the right time. The specific circumstances escape me, but the book most certainly has not. The Little Country by Charles de Lint followed soon after, and I have been hooked on the genre ever since. It is unfortunate that Emma Bull has not written more novels on her own. Territory is also excellent. A magical retelling of the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

Autobiography of a Face was a memoir I almost could have written myself, although my own illness was far less obviously physically scarring.

"I am haunted by waters," says Norman Maclean in A River Runs through It, echoing my own kinship with the element. The pulse of the rivers runs in my veins, and my heart beats to the waves of the tide.

Elaine Brown's Taste of Power is the story of the Black Panther Party from a woman's perspective. Her story is harrowing and beautiful.

I have read all of Nicole Mones' novels, except for Cup of Light, which I have been somewhere in the middle of for several years. All of her heroines are stunningly gifted in one respect while being almost tragically flawed in another, and yet it is their flaw which enhances their gift. The Last Chinese Chef is the first book of hers I read, and even though it is fiction, it started me down a path of reading about food which has led me to such titles as Shark Fin and Sichuan Pepper and The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry and A Pig in Provence.

The Iliad and The Odyssey were a central part of my education. I have read parts of each in their original Homeric Greek. The language is exquisite, and the stories are timeless. Greek and Latin are the keys to so much of the English language that even a passing acquaintance with either language can open up whole new worlds of understanding.

My best friend gave me a copy of The House of the Spirits one year for Christmas, with the inscription "This sounds like us." Even though she hadn't read the book herself at that point, it turned out that she was absolutely right. I promptly went on to devour Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, The Stories of Eva Luna, and The Infinite Plan. Many years later, I have resumed reading Allende's work, and having recently finished reading The Sum of Our Days, I feel inspired to read the rest -- fiction and non-fiction.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is a powerful story in its own right, but for me it is another gateway book which has led me to seek out memoirs of women who write with insight about their own lives and are frequently in extraordinary situations where they change the lives of others for the better. The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo and Kabul Beauty School come immediately to mind.

All Creatures Great and Small set me on a path to veterinary medicine in the sixth grade. I never actually got there, but I have also never forgotten Herriot's stories.

There you have it -- my fifteen in fifteen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Magical perspective

I say that if you take magic literally and expect to be able to apply more, er, scientific laws of physics and perspective, you are missing the point.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

When you doubt the possibility of having it all ...

... just take a look at the current residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Now, that's the way to lead by example!  Care for a healthy dose of family values, Right Wing?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

More linkage than post

Someday there will be a real post which isn't just a spur of the moment thought to be shared with whatever small part of the world is out there paying attention, but for now there is simply a link to an article about Neil Gaiman.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fan girl alert!!!

Moments liks this are why I love, love, LOVE Bruce Springsteen!!!!!

There is no substitute, and there is nothing better.

Monday, April 27, 2009

To prevent readers and writers running out of source material

In reading Neil Gaiman's journal today, I followed a link over to John Crowley's journal where he recommends a list of books to writers, especially writers of science fiction and fantasy.

I link to it here not only for the list itself, but for the ensuing discussion as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My next reading assignment

Okay, so maybe not my immediate next reading assignment, but I think I might need to read this book.

Having arrived at work at about six thirty Friday morning (my attempts to defend my sleeping territory not being exactly successful), I decided at about eight thirty or so that breakfast was in order.  On the very short drive to Panera for a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich (protein, grease and salt - yum!), I heard the author of Arabian Knight being interviewed on npr and was captivated by the story of the meeting between FDR and the Saudi king.

It took me a while to track down the book because I was not spelling Lippman or Knight appropriately, but I got there eventually.

Part of yesterday's adventures included a stop at the bookstore to investigate this particular volume a bit more closely.

Before I even consider joining the United States Marine Corps (or Uncle Sam's Misguided Children as I was told by one member of their ranks a number of years ago as he changed the tire on my car), I must finish Isabel Allende's The Sum of Our Days, which is proving to be a somewhat difficult but rewarding journey.

It is a book to be savored rather than devoured, and it is a bit of a challenge to read because of the rather disjointed nature of the narrative as well as the deeply personal nature of the material.  It's written more like a letter or a journal with the intended audience a close relative or friend -- in this case her daughter Paula, who was the subject of a previous memoir.

The writing style and the language she uses are as beautiful as any found her novels which I have read, and I am inspired to dig out the rest and push them closer to the top of my reading list.  Her description of the process of researching and writing Aphrodite motivated me to order a copy.

Given all of the food related reading I have been doing lately, I'm a little surprised that I didn't think about it, but now that I have, it should fit in nicely with my current curriculum.  (I was recently described as being adventurous in the kitchen.  Personally, I hadn't really thought of it that way.  I just like to cook and want to be able to replicate some of the fabulous things I have eaten.)

When Allende describes writing her novels Portrait in Sepia and Daughter of Fortune, as well as her trilogy for younger readers, the way that she narrates her creative and writing processes is incredibly inspiring.  Even when she describes her written correspondence with her mother:

"The purpose of that methodical correspondence is to keep pulsing the cord that has joined us since the instance of my conception, but it is also an exercise to strengthen memory, that ephemeral mist in which our recollections dissipate, change and blend together; at the end of our days it turns out that we have lived only what we can evoke.  What I don't write I forget; it is as if it never happened.  That's why nothing significant is left out of those letters.  Sometimes my mother calls me to tell me something that has affected her in some major way, and the first thing I think to say is, 'Write me about it, so it won't fade away.'  If she dies before I do, which is probably, I will be able to read two letters every day, one of hers and one of mine, until I am one hundred and five years old, and as by then I will likely be deep in the confusion of senility, it will all seem new to me.  Thats to our correspondence, I will live twice." (pg. 200)

I am fairly certain that I keep my own journal for many of the same reasons.  I try to keep track of the major, important events, so that I can go back and renew my memories.  In a journal, it is not just events.  there are thoughts and emotions and observations as well.

"Writing is like magic tricks," Allende writes thirty pages later.  "[I]t isn't enough to pull rabbits from a hat, you have to do it with elegance and in a convincing manner."  Which makes me wonder how similar that notion is to speaking clearly and with authority.

She continues in her philosophical vein and eventually moves from writing to religion and faith:  "...the world is magic, and ... all the rest is man's delusion of greatness, given that we control almost nothing, know very little, and have only to take a quick look at history to understand the limits of the rational, it isn't strange that all things seem possible to me."  (pg. 231)

And a little later she addresses Paul directly: "Here in this world you left behind, men have kidnapped God.  They have created absurd religions that have survived for centuries -- I can't understand how -- and continue to grow.  They are implacable; they preach love, justice, and charity, and commit atrocities to impose their tenets.  The illustrious gentlemen who propagate these religions judge, punish and frown at happiness, pleasure, curiosity and imagination.  Many women of my generation have had to invent a spirituality that fits us, and if you had lived longer, maybe you would have done the same, for the patriarchal gods are definitely not suitable for us: they make us pay for the temptations and sins of men.  Why are they so afraid of us?  I like the idea of an inclusive and maternal divinity connected with nature, synonymous with life, and eternal process of renovations and evolution.  My Goddess is an ocean and we are drops of water, but he ocean exists because of the drops of water that form it." (pg 233)

Perfect.  Just perfect.  Perfectly and clearly and beautifully stated.  I couldn't agree more.

Right now, I am about forty pages from the end of the book to which I believe I shall devote part of my lazy Sunday.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bow ties are not just for nerds!

I’m not sure which part I find most amusing – that the Wall Street Journal has a fashion column or that the president is a nerd.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Every once in a while (which might actually be fairly often), I think about meditation. Meditation would be a healthy addition to my life because I have a lot of trouble powering down my mind, especially when I go to bed for the nigh. Relaxing my body into the dark and quiet of my bedroom seems to be an invitation to my brain to kick into overdrive. I have become dependent on a murmuring radio to give my mind something to focus on so that I can leave the rest of the day behind and achieve sleep. Even then, sleep is frequently invaded by whatever might be causing stress in my life. Work is the most common culprit.

After a day of constant correspondence and conversation via e-mail and instant messenger, as well as ringing phones and surrounding conversations, I like to come home to peace and quiet. I will turn on the radio but not the television, and I have moved away from “popular” music and back to the classical music and public radio programming which were the background of my childhood.

I have read several memoirs involving meditation and yoga and retreats, and I wonder if such an environment would have a salubrious effect on me. Could I really spend a week in a silent retreat not speaking to anyone? Would I have any interest in starting to speak again once I had spent a week not doing so?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Moral Dilemma

As a small town hermit, my personal world is pretty small -- by choice, by nature and by circumstance.

I tend to not read magazines since I let my New Yorker subscription expire.  (Too many of them were piling up unread.)  I rarely watch television and refuse to pay for cable.  Despite spending quite a bit of time online, I don't wander around on the web much.  Social networking sites are pretty much lost on me.  Never having been one of the popular kids, I am much more of an observer than a joiner.

While I see signs of a struggling economy all around me, I have thus far been fortunate enough to not have it hit too close to home.

The other day, however, I found a reason to be genuinely (albeit somewhat selfishly) concerned.

As a self-described book junkie, a significant amount of my disposable (and sometimes some of my not so disposable) income is handed over to bookstores of one sort or another -- some new, some used, some online, some brick and mortar.  Sometimes I give in to the need to have something as soon as it is published and rush right out to a store to pay full retail (although usually minus a membership discount).  Occasionally, I have the patience to wait a few days for a shipment to arrive from an online retailer.  More often, I try to acquire titles, especially if they have been available at least long enough for the hardcover to be issued in paperback, used, either in a shop, online, or at a library sale.  I get more for my money that way, books get a new home, and I feel a little bit better about the piles of paper surrounding me.

In short, I don't have a lot of loyalty to any particular literary resource.  Usually, I land somewhere between efficient use of money and going where I can find the titles I want.

On Friday, seeing the noticeably depleted (perhaps reduced or streamlined would be a better word choice since I don't believe that brisk sales are the culprit) shelves of a fabulous local independent bookseller ( was a sobering and somewhat depressing experience.  As usual, the Toadstool Bookshop had the title I wanted, and I found a few others I decided I couldn't live without.  All three books came off the used shelves in the back.  Also in stock were two newly released hardcovers which have piqued my interest.

Herein lies my dilemma: Do I purchase the two hardcovers at full price (for a total of about fifty dollars) and support a wonderful local business, or do I purchase them online at a discount (for a total of about thirty-three dollars) and save myself the equivalent of a tank of gas?

Of course, the wiser choice would be to wait for the books to be released in paperback (because it is not as if I don't have at least a year's worth of reading in the house already) or become available used.

Nevertheless, the experience made me think a little bit about buying more than just food locally.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do people *really* think that the Senator is recommending suicide?

"The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them, if they'd follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things -- resign, or go commit suicide."
-- Sen. Charles Grassley, on AIG execs

This quote is all over the place, and based on what I have heard so far, people are completely missing the point.

Granted, the Senator probably could have made his reference to Japanese culture a little more tactfully, but more than that I think he needed to make it a little more clearly.

The reference is to the high value placed on integrity and honor, and shame is taken very seriously.  It’s an ancient code.

Given the magnitude of the personal greed and betrayal of public trust, the resulting shame is sufficient to warrant apology and resignation at the very least, and according to the ancient Japanese code, seppuku is not out of the question.  The suggestion only seems ridiculous by isolationist American standards.

People need to take responsibility for their actions rather than continuing to work the system to avoid consequences.

One might argue that hearing such a recommendation from a politician is the epitome of irony, but that’s a debate for another day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Personal Aspirations

Some say that it is better to give than to receive. Some say that you should treat others as you wish to be treated. There is a theory out there somewhere that love should be unconditional.

I finished reading In Buddha's Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center by Kimberly Snow this past weekend. As I was reading: I found the following passage, and it spoke to me pretty clearly:

"'Most of the relationships in our country are based on a sort of ledger model,' says Lama S. 'I make you a cup of tea, but on some level, somewhere, I'm expecting you to make me one in exchange. If a week or so goes by and I haven't gotten my cup of tea, then I start this angry little dialogue within myself about how "you" aren't fulfilling "my" needs. But any relationship that is founded on the idea that another person will make you happy is doomed from the very start. The only ones that will ever succeed are those that begin with the question "What can I do to make the other person happy?" And this motivation needs to be the ground of the relationship, not just a temporary attitude that you adopt to make yourself seem like a good person. You really can't be waiting for that cup of tea to come back to you but must learn to give freely. A cup of tea, a smile, a little kindness, there is always something that we can offer. Only through our unimpeded generosity do we become happy. ... The center of the universe has shifted a little from you to the outside. This can be done within a relationship, within the family, with the world at large. Give. Love. Help. But without wanting something back to balance the ledger. You'll find that this makes you deeply happy all the time.'" (pg. 160-161)

Give of yourself and give freely. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Not that I can't do things for myself and pursue my own interests or set limits and boundaries (although the ideal is probably to give with no boundaries).

Nevertheless, to give with no expectation of reciprocation is one of my personal aspirations.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As you sow, so shall ye tweet? (Or perhaps as you tweet, so shall you reap?)

The real fun of Twitter is the interesting tidbits I get from the people I follow.

I'll have to find a few more interesting people to follow.

The first find of the day is courtesy of Neil Gaiman:

Sadly, and not terribly surprisingly, these wonderful trinkets are out of stock.

Do not despair!  There are more to be found nearby at

Or click over to for Lady Macbeth Claw Polish.  Or perhaps Mme. Moriarty Claw Polish is more to your liking?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is it scandal? Libel? Or not even news?

Articles like this one from the New York Times: tend to make me wonder.

What is really at issue here?

Is the article supposed to be about wasteful government spending for installing coffee makers costing more than I will spend on food for the entire year?

Is it about the loss of face for the Cimbali company when it was implied that their machines made inferior espresso?

Is it about the risk of poor water quality?

As none of these subjects are treated with any kind of depth or seriousness, who can tell?

Any of the three subjects, properly researched, has the potential for an excellent article, but the three jumbled together end up being meaningless.

And this is the news which is truly fit to print?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New & Improved!! (But is better actually any good?)

As is so often the case in my world, I started with one article (about a portrait of Shakespeare), moved on to another (the one about the author who sold the manuscript for her second novel for five million dollars referenced below), and another (about a "divisive" French novel), until I happened upon an article which interested me enough to read all the way through:

Ever since I first heard of the Sony eReader, I have contemplated the possibility of adding such a gizmo to my household.  There were two primary inhibitors -- the price tag and the availability only by mail order.  I wasn't about to pay that much money for something I couldn't try out and play with first.  Even my most outrageously expensive pair of fabulous shoes didn't cost that much (although I do have my eye on the three-thousand dollar Chanel boots, but my fashionista aspirations are best left to a whole other blog post).  The only things I have come close to spending that much money on are tickets to a Springsteen concert and a signed, limited edition of a biography of Stuart Sutcliffe.

Then Neil Gaiman started writing about this mysterious device he had been given to play with, and eventually he revealed that it was a Kindle, so I would occasionally look at it on the web site.  I would read some reviews and ponder the possibilities.

The real attraction has always been the possibility of carrying all sorts of books at once so that I wouldn't have to worry about not being in the mood to read whatever it was I had with me, especially when traveling.

That attraction is still there, but I think I would need at least a week with the device to determine whether the attraction is deep enough to sustain a long term relationship or just a mere infatuation.

I have seen one live Kindle.  It was in the hands of a fellow airplane passenger on the return trip from the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. last year, but she was reading, and I couldn't bring myself to disturb her.  I find it an almost unforgiveable intrusion when someone interrupts my reading as if the book I am holding is an invitation rather than a ticket to my own private world.

The key sentences in the article are (my commentary follows each sentence in italics):

"Unlike a laptop or an iPhone, the screen is not illuminated, so there's no glare, no eyestrain — and no battery consumption. You use power only when you actually turn the page, causing millions of black particles to realign."

(I have visions of a Kindle being possessed by a gremlin of some sort who insists or realigning the millions of particles into random pages in random books, or even with secret messages, rather than the next page in sequence.  Or perhaps it is the particles themselves who rebel and refuse to realign as proscribed.)

"It's all a thousand times more convenient and more exciting than loading books from a PC with a cable, as you must with Sony's Reader, the Kindle's archrival."

(More exciting than loading books from a PC with a cable?  What is less exciting?  The convenient part I will agree with, however.)

"But as traditionalists always point out, an e-book reader is a delicate piece of electronics. It can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub."

(As someone who carries at least one book pretty much everywhere she goes -- sometimes stuffed in a bag and sometimes completely unprotected -- I find the sturdiness of a real book tough to beat.  Even if pages get torn, stained or wet, they are still legible.  I have had more than one book take a bath, and even the ones which weren't the waterproof erotica anthologies survived to be read another day.  I have insurance on my cell phone because the salesman who sold me my first phone about three years ago told me that it meant replacement of my phone in case it was lost, stolen ... or dropped in a puddle.  I was sold.)

"The point everyone is missing is that in Technoland, nothing ever replaces anything."

(And marketing departments everywhere cheer!!  You can't just replace one thing with another.  You have to buy more.  Seriously, though, and somewhat less cynically, it's almost impossible to replace the original.  Pens, pencils and paper are still around because the personal computer hasn't been able to vanquish them either.  You will always need a backup and a contingency for something which requires some kind of power.)

"The reading experience is immersive, natural and pleasant; the book catalog, while not yet complete, is growing and delivered instantaneously; and apart from the clicky keyboard (an unnecessary appendage 99.9 percent of the time), the design feels right."

(That word "immersive" is highly seductive because I consider books my means of escape from reality.  If you say reality is for people who can't handle drugs, I say reality is for people who don't have the courage to fall in love with an imaginary man or woman.  If this little electronic gadget can truly take me to Redwall or Pern or Hogwarts or Maycomb, Alabama, then I might just be willing to hand over that much money for a literary toy.)

The NYT article is the first discussion of the Kindle which has addressed the issues which are important to me, and I have a better understanding of the device than I had previously.  I maintain, however, that until the Kindle and I are properly introduced (or some admirer presents me with one in homage), I shall continue consuming my reading material in a more conventional format.

It's like a recession, but not.

Author Audrey Niffenegger sold the rights to publish her next book for nearly five million dollars.

Congratulations are certainly in order for Ms. Niffenegger because didn't President Clinton only get a million for his memoir? Or maybe that was just the advance.

I'm glad nobody told Scribner about the recession going on and isn't listening to those who are portending doom and gloom for the publishing industry as a whole, but I do wonder if a move like this means that more midlist or unknown authors will the chance they need or if their numbers will become ever slimmer.

Stay calm. Breathe deeply. Enlightenment is within your reach.

Today I am spending my lunch hour reading In Buddha’s Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center by Kimberly Snow.

In chapter three, the author describes dealing with a particularly aggravating individual, and the response of one of the Lamas is that she is “Good practice for bardo … very good practice.”  Bardo is the state after death and before the next rebirth, and it “is often filled with wrathful deities, terrifying sights, loud noises.”  Staying calm and keeping your wits about you while in a bardo state is the path to enlightenment.

One of the tweets I read today was a quote to the effect of “What angers you, controls you.”

It has been a while since I have encountered these sorts of reminders about coping with the trials of daily life.  The timing appears to be apt because I feel calmer already.  Not so much enlightened, but definitely calmer.

Playing in cyberspace

I spent a large portion of Sunday playing in cyberspace – setting up a twitter account, overhauling my blog, chatting online, downloading a new program, and doing a bit of web surfing.  It was fun, but I don’t know that it was particularly productive.  The conversation was interesting, and I learned a few things in articles I read, but I wonder about the use of time.  Most likely, I should just accept it as fun and not worry about it, even if I do sit in front of a computer for a living.  Seems like I ought to have more active things to do with my time off.


Monday, March 9, 2009

The hazards of extensive (excessive?) connectivity

Today’s Doonesbury sums up the problem nicely, I think:

Of course, most people probably don’t think of it as a problem.

It’s just the Luddites like me whose computer and internet usage really hasn’t changed in the last fifteen years who think it’s an issue.

YouTube, FaceBook and MySpace are not part of my daily life, and probably eighty or ninety per cent of the minutes on my cell phone plan go unused every month.

I signed up for a Twitter account yesterday, so maybe that will rock my world. After all, instant messaging programs have become a major player, and I never thought that would happen.

By contrast, however, the hermit in me appreciates being able to communicate without having to actually talk to anyone.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Something Awful

Testing posts via e-mail

My blog is about to become something of an experiment.

Somewhat against my better judgment, I have created a twitter account, so I can tweet at will.

I have also (hopefully) created a couple of avenues to make posting easier (and therefore hopefully more likely).

There's quite a bit of hope in that last sentence.

The ultimate hope is to stop worrying about the audience (who or even if it is) and just write, and with a little luck, omphaloskepsis will not be the only result.