Wednesday, April 30, 2008


This blog should be getting back to its usual chirpy self in another week. At this point I just have to get through N.C.'s primary on Tuesday (I'm precinct judge: Ack! Responsibility!) and all the distractions I've been dealing with for the past couple of months should be behind me.

I. can. not. wait.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Privileged Are You?

(Via Dark Orpheus and Imani)

The original authors of this exercise are Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, and Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Bold the true statements. You can explain further if you wish.

1. Father went to college
Valedictorian of his high school class, my dad won a scholarship to Wake Forest University. But since my grandmother had recently died (my grandfather had never returned from a trip into town to sell a load of logs when my dad was three), he wound up going into the machine shop business with two of his older brothers instead.
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
My mother dropped out of high school at 17 to marry my dad
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
First, second, and third cousins
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
I don't think so, but I never counted
9. Were read children’s books by a parent
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
Guitar, art, ceramics were the ones I liked
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Since when are people with hillbilly accents portrayed positively?
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp
For one week one summer. Went to tons of vacation bible school, though.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Motels or relatives' homes.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
Two, actually. A used Ford Pinto so that I could drive myself to band practice and then a Datsun 310 as a graduation/Christmas/wedding present
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
25. You had your own room as a child
From the age of 9.5 until high school, when I had to share with a cousin
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Flew back from Washington, D.C., with my grandfather one summer
31. Went on a cruise with your family
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
No, but I went to horse shows, cattle auctions, the Daniel Boone wagon train, and weekly bingo night at the fire station with my dad.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cat show!

A frou frou kitty

An Abyssinian

A Maine coon

And my own personal show favorite, a Tonkinese with the softest fur imaginable.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A poem for Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter—bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

--Stephen Crane

The best summary of last night's so-called debate that I can come up with this morning. Continue eating your hearts out, corporate media.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Latest dozen books

Dreaming in Cuban. Cristina Garcia. For Slaves of Golconda at the end of the month.

The Canon. Natalie Angier. I tried to find a review copy of this at ALA last summer. When I couldn't, I decided to wait until it came out in paper.

Great Writers Great Stories Regional writing from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. edited by Edward Allan Faine. My friend W. from California (that's in Maryland) brought me this when she visited last month.

We are Now Beginning Our Descent. James Meek. I've heard it's not near as good as The People's Act of Love, but then, what could be?

Hunter's Run. George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham. A recent hit at Readerville.

No-Man's Lands. Scott Huler. Yay for review copies!

Child 44. Tom Rob Smith. Another yay for review copies.

A Quiet Storm. Rachel Howzell Hall. I mentioned this one last week.

The Solitary Vice. Mikita Brottman. I started this a few weeks back, but felt like arguing with everything she said. I've set it aside until my mood improves.

Dark Places of the Heart. Christina Stead. Took a trip to the used bookstore when W. was in town, came home with this and an MLA handbook for S. (for which he showed not one lick of gratitude).

Hearts and Minds. Rosy Thornton. An autographed review copy.

The Age of American Unreason. Susan Jacoby. To wait in the wings for reading after I finish Freethinkers. . .

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Salon

The Sunday
Would the same thing happen to me? Maybe Johnnie was right; maybe once you stripped away the rationalizations, it always came down to a simple matter of escape. An escape from poverty or boredom or crime or the shackles of your skin. Maybe, by going to law school, I'd be repeating a pattern that had been set in motion centuries before, the moment white men, themselves spurred on by their own fears of inconsequence, had landed on Africa's shores, bringing with them their guns and blind hunger, to drag away the conquered in chains. That first encounter had redrawn the map of black life, recentered its universe, created the very idea of escape--an idea that lived on in Frank and those other old black men who had found refuge in Hawaii; in green-eyed Joyce back at Occidental, just wanting to be an individual; in Auma, torn between Germany and Kenya; in Roy, finding out that he couldn't start over. And here, in the South Side, among members of Reverend Philips's church, some of whom had probably marched alongside Dr. King, believing then that they marched for a higher purpose, for rights and for principles and for all God's children, but who at some point had realized that power was unyielding and principles unstable, and that even after laws were passed and lynchings ceased, the closest thing to freedom would still involve escape, emotional if not physical, away from ourselves, away from what we knew, flight into the outer reaches of the white man's empire--or closer into its bosom.

--Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father

I could happily spend the rest of the morning finishing Obama's memoir--I'm a little more than halfway through--but I think I need to devote some time to the other books in progress: I'm nearing the end of the third book in The Once and Future King and I haven't touched Les Miserables or Silas Marner in days.

Let's see what I can accomplish between frantic bursts of housework.

Happy reading, Sunday Salon participants.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

In honor of Margaret, who very kindly elevated me to the level of hillbilly music the other day, I'm offering a link to Goin' Across the Mountain, which will provide you with eight hours of fine bluegrass music this overcast Saturday.

Enjoy. WNCW is the best radio station in the area. Too bad I can only pick up the signal online.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I have been tagged by Alison at BORN TO READ and knit.

For the book tag, here are the rules:

Pick a book at least 123 pages long.

Open that book to page 123.

Find the fifth sentence and post the next three.

Then tag five other people to do the same.

Since March I've had Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True on my desk (I've actually been using it as a mouse pad). Anyone who's read my six-word-memoir ought not to be surprised that I'm trying to accumulate several future reads on mental illness and sibling responsibility. I also have Rachel Howzell Hall's A Quiet Storm close at hand for the project, so what the heck--I'll quote from both of them.

From the Lamb:

I'd given up caffeine the year before--felt better, slept better. Then I'd started up again--back in the summertime, when all that Kuwait stuff had started. It was all Thomas would talk about: those Biblical prophesies that were going to come true, all that Armageddon crap. That's a pattern with Thomas when he's starting to spiral down--he latches on to one thing and he won't let go.

From the Hall:

"Stacy, please," Mommy said. "Don't make this worse--"

"And who made you in charge of what I eat?" I asked. "You can't cook to save your life. You need to grow up and shut up because I'm tired of your shit."

I won't tag anyone, but feel free to quote from p. 123 if you like!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What I'm reading

I'll start with a confession: last month I got a Kindle.

I'd wanted one since I first read about them last November, but we're not the type of people to ever get expensive first generation technical devices. Heck, we'd been married for more than a decade before we got rid of the rabbit ears and paid for basic cable.

But the reason I wanted a Kindle sort of necessitated getting one now: I need to lose weight. I get so bored walking on the treadmill that I can't manage to stay on it long enough to do myself any good.

I've tried audiobooks, but I don't get along so well with them. I've tried reading while walking, but my reading glasses slip down my nose and sometimes actually fall off; and if I'm walking slow enough to read I'm certainly not giving myself much of a cardio workout anyway. Self-defeatist that I am, I'm soon off the equipment and onto the sofa, finishing up whatever chapter I happen to be on in slothful fashion.

I had a suspicion that a reading device that would allow me to up the font would be precisely what I needed. I could put the device on the little shelf, walk at a brisk pace, and still be able to read, right? And with Amazon offering a 30-day trial period, I could send the Kindle back if it didn't work the way I'd hoped.

It works beautifully. Additional perk: by upping the font, I can now read in the car without getting motion sick.

I broke the Kindle in by first reading Firefly fanfic, Steven Brust's My Own Kind of Freedom. I moved on to Wives and Daughters, which Dorothy had recommended as the best Elizabeth Gaskell novel with which to start. I started George Eliot's Silas Marner over the weekend, but it's playing third fiddle at the moment to Tobias Wolff's story collection Our Story Begins and Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father.

In regular book format I'm reading T.H. White's The Once and Future King (all the talk about birds is making me want to read The Goshawk, which I picked up at ALA las summer) and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I'm reading Les Mis with the Into the Parisian Underworld group: please join us! It's go at your own speed. I've only finished the Fantine section while a few others appear to be halfway through.

les mis

Biography in Fiction

Half the drama of biography occurs within the biographer. Yet how many biographers include themselves as characters in their books?

Biographer (and Readerville denizen) Carl Rollyson provides his top ten list of novels that deal with the tensions between biographers and their subjects.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Boy and Girl Tramps of America

Working in reserves at the library has its perks: sometimes I'll come across a fascinating book or article while I'm processing a professor's list that I probably never would have otherwise encountered.

Today's find was Boy and Girl Tramps of America. Thomas Minehan, a journalist and sociologist, obtained a firsthand view of the life of homeless, transient children during the early 1930s. He set out to write a sociological study, but soon realized "[t]o describe their life in statistical terms was not only inadequate, it was untrue. Such a description omitted the most important phases of their lives, their strife against cold, their battle for bread, their struggle to obtain and repair clothing, their hates, their humors, and their loves. . ."

Unfortunately, this one is long out-of-print and there are only a couple copies available at Amazon--cheapest one at $49.95 is still too steep for me.

I'm attempting to read through the whole book this evening; I'll have to give the book back to the professor tomorrow after I complete her list.

Good thing there's always ILL. . .

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rosanne Cash on songwriting and brain surgery:

Sitting in the audience, I felt my songwriting engine get turned on by hearing Joe, wonderful Joe. Sitting in the audience, I lifted my head from where it had been glued on that little flashlight circle of the mundane and torturous and my scary adventures in pain and neurosurgery. I went home and started writing about John and Eric, with Kurt’s signature phrase “so it goes” in my head.

Friday, April 04, 2008

This afternoon. . .

We snagged third row seats.


A case of guilt

Last weekend I pulled a goodly portion of my unread hardbacks off the doublestacked shelves in the study and corralled them on a wicker etagare in the bedroom. I'm calling the collection my Case of Guilt. If these books are the first things I see when I walk into the room, surely I'll want to read them next, surely I'll not be as quick to order additional hardback brethren for which there is no room. At my current rate of speed it would take me at least a year to get through them all and shouldn't that realization be deterrent enough?

I hope I won't reach the end of the year and realize what I've really assembled is a Case of Neglect. If so, I'll need to turn these shelves into, say, a favorite authors showcase and turn these books back into the herd.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


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When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)



My daughter, who'll graduate from college next month with a degree in Slavic linguistics, started reading Dostoevsky back in 8th grade. At some point in 9th grade she informed me that she'd determined the distinguishing element that separated a work of literature from mere fiction:

It had to have a prostitute in it.

Such a witty girl.

Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

Something else my daughter told me.

She took an intro to philosophy class (discussed Dostoevsky's prostitutes with the instructor), then told me she'd figured me out: I was a hedonist.

What took you so long? I asked, no doubt offering her a chocolate chip cookie.

All that highbrow stuff, she said, between crumbs. But you just read it because you like it.

Aren't I lucky she's never taken an abnormal psych class?

Booking Through Thursday

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...