31.10.08

My beloved

Ten years ago, at this exact moment, I lost my best friend.

His name was Howard, and he was a beautiful, big, loving American Long Hair black-and-white cat. I'd put up a photo but I don't have any digitized. He was beautiful, though, with a huge purr.

Originally named Chaser, my sister asked me to catsit one winter break and I fell in love. When she needed to find him a home, I took him in and over the next ten years we spent more happy hours together than I can count. Howard's favorite position was to lie with his head on my shoulder, his arms around mine. When things got bad, he was there - as long as we were together, we could survive anything.

Vets didn't like treating him - my sweet baby became a raging tiger in the exam room. Unfortunately, he wasn't the healthiest of cats: asthma, epilepsy, FUS (which required a P-U, which cured the epilepsy), and finally idiopathic hepatic lipidosis. For the final two months of his life, I would take baby food, put it in a syringe, and shoot it down his throat. And he let me. He'd purr as I was feeding him, knowing that his Mommy was fighting hard to keep him alive.

At 7:29pm on 31 October 1998 he had a stroke. He was lying in my arms, wrapped in a blanket (he was so very, very cold) and he had a stroke. He was eleven years old, far too young for all the health problems he'd had.

I miss him daily. I miss sharing my cantaloupe and apples with him. I miss his stealing my broccoli. I miss him lying over my toes as we slept. I miss reading with him in my arms. I miss him coming to kiss me when I walked in the door. I miss knowing he's there, waiting for me to come home.

And today's when I miss him most of all.

Links Galore

28.10.08

Must.Stop.Watching.House.

There are so many ways in which information gets shared. Misinformation, too. Stereotypes get reinforced, unrealistic hopes built (and dashed), and people see the best, and worst, of each other. Television and movies are prime culprits in this regard, aren't they?

If you believe the movies and tv shows, all Germans are neat, organized and blue-eyed/blond-haired. The French won't speak to Americans because we don't speak French. Italian men are Lotharios. All Brits have bad teeth. You can't drink the water anywhere outside the US, orphans and whores have hearts of gold, and a twisty road is sure to have a car chase erupt regularly.

It's more than just culture, it's professions. Teachers care about even the most troubled students. Nurses (when not trying to sleep with doctors) have endless patience. If you believe Law & Order, cases are easily solved and rarely do the bad guys win. Local new stations resemble WJN. Teen girls dress and talk older than they should, while their mother's look as though they were giving birth at the onset of puberty.

And then there's House. If you believe the show, every trip into an MRI ends up with the patient bleeding uncontrollably... convulsing... going blind... having interior metal ripped out through their skin... going into V-tach...

Not the most comforting thoughts to have as you lie in an MRI machine for an hour.

Book meme - play at your own risk

Saw this over at the Little Professor and decided to play along.

What was the last book you bought?

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)

Name a book you have read more than once.

Just off the top of my head:
Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

I'd have to say (and for very different reasons) The Outsider, The Golden Notebook and the works of Robertson Davies. And, in the almost ashamed to mention it category, Audrey Rose.

How do you choose a book? e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

Author first, then cover design/summary (particularly true with ARCs, which have no "buzz" yet).

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

I'm shallow. Fiction.

What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

For Literature, beautiful writing. Genre fiction requires great plot.

Most loved/memorable character?

Wow. Very difficult to answer. They're such totally different things, aren't they? Heathcliff falls into the "memorable" category, while Joey Bettany falls into the "loved" side. There are others I could name, but those were the first two that popped into my head.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

One book on my nightstand: The Fire by Katherine Neville. It's her follow-up to The Eight

What was the last book you read?

Robertson Davies: A Portrait in Mosaic

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?

Several times, although usually I'm very bad about giving up on horrible books and struggle through to the end.. The most recent was The Orc King. No link because I'm not going to publicize it more.

26.10.08

Time to Retaliate

I don't know quite how the term started but...

When I was young, my parents would have dinner parties. Sometimes it was for a holiday (usually around New Year's) but often it was not attached to any specific occasion. My mother would carefully balance the menu and the guests, cleaning and shopping for days beforehand. Because this was the 70s, the height of chic vis-a-vis "nibbles" in Smalltown was Bugles and sour-cream-onion-dip (and if anyone knows where I can get a box of Bugles... not that they were great but the trip down memory lane would be fun).

Anyway, some of the guests were people my parents wanted to invite, and some were always invited because of what my mother called "retaliation."

Retaliation for what? Inviting my parents in the first place. To this day, she'll say, "We have to retaliate with the [name of hapless guests]".

Today I'm hosting a small gathering to show off my house. There are colleagues from work, people I hold near and dear to my daily life, and there are friends from other areas of my world. Family is included. And yes, like the good daughter I am, I am retaliating.

Take that, friendly people who've opened your house to me before!

23.10.08

ooooh - me want!

Whenever people ask the question, "what is your favorite book?" I usually can't answer. It all depends on mood, genre, what I've read recently and random factors. Yet there is one book that I come back to, again and again, particularly when I'm sick. Goodnight, Moon.

Seriously. Who can resist?

I've seen some parodies, but then, yesterday, I saw this.


Me want
. Me very much want.

20.10.08

I don't like Mondays...


(tell me why)




(þ: my assistant)

Notable Quotes

He thought marriage was an endless conversation. From the beginning, he sensed that we would be lifelong friends. You have to change together. If you can do that to understand one another, you can have a lifelong marriage.

19.10.08

It could have been worse

One of my personal rules as a school librarian is that if a student wants me to read a book - even if it's not in my "comfort zone" (eg, not a genre I like, or a graphic novel) - I will. Several years ago one of my students came running in to the library at MFPOW, very excited about a book he'd just read. Now, this student is dyslexic, so I knew that reading wasn't that easy for him. If he was excited about having read a book, I absolutely had to read it.

The book? City of Ember.

Even though I'm no longer at that school, we've kept in touch and when the movie was released, we decided to go see it. This morning I trundled down to NYC to meet him and see how the book-to-movie translation had gone.

Our verdict? It could have been worse. We didn't remember several of the "set pieces" that the movie provided (for example, the unraveling of the map didn't take place in the generator room), and at times it was a little too much like a Raiders chase or a Disney ride. Granny's role was truncated in the movie, and the mayor's expanded. Maybe because we knew the plot we didn't find it that suspenseful... and we thought that the director's opening sequence ruined the discovery of what the City of Ember was and why for the viewer.

Still, it could have been worse. And we're hoping that People of Sparks isn't made into a movie - we didn't like it (neither of us read Prophet of Yonwood as a result).

(Side note: saw the trailer forInkheart and, well, it seems that they've compressed the trilogy into one movie. Not sure how I feel about that.)

If I could turn back time...

Last night I finished reading Val Ross' oral biography of Robertson Davies. I've been a Davies fan for years (thanks to PET for introducing me to his work!) and reading about his life from the perspective of friends, family and colleagues was interesting.

More than that, though, it made me wish I could re-discover his stories. The characters he created and the worlds they inhabit are so real, so alive. I feel jealous of those that have not read about Salterton or Deptford (or met Samuel Marchbanksn and the other books/people) and the joys they have to encounter.

Maybe, one day, when Mt. Bookpile is down to one year's worth of reading, I'll re-read (although I do have fears about re-reading and losing the magic).

For those of you that have not yet read this remarkable man's novels: GO FIND HIS BOOKS AND READ THEM NOW.

14.10.08

Memento Mori

Years ago, I watched a Masterpiece Theatre dramatization of Murial Spark's Memento Mori (a book I later read). In it, a group of old people are terrorized by anonymous phone calls during which the other party only says, "Memento Mori". While at first this is seen to be a threat, eventually one realizes that it's merely a reminder. After all, everyone must die.

I've been thinking about this book, and possibly re-reading it (something I rarely do thanks to the size of Mt. Bookpile). Why? Because I just finished Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes, his memento mori. Unlike Sparks' fiction, Barnes gives us what are almost brief essays, some pertaining to his family, some to his "non-family" family of writers and influences and friends, all in one way or another about death. It's not as morbid as it sounds.

It's also tied into a discussion over on SpareOom about C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, a book I first read shortly after the horrific events of September 11. While the discussion has been more about whether or not this was autobiographical writing on Lewis' part (the vote seems to be "thinly veiled fictionalized autobiography"), some of the comments have been about the power of the book to capture the overwhelming grief one feels when a loved one dies. Another book I might just have to re-read soon.

Now, this isn't to say that I'm in a depressive mood, thinking about my death or the death of others! It's more of a confluence of reading and discussion that have made me reflect and memento mori.

13.10.08

THREE degrees of separation

Saturday, Thing One and I went to Millbrook Winery's Harvest Party. As we wended our way along country roads, he was getting a little tense - Thing One has a low tolerance level for what he thinks is pretension. Our initial entry into the Festival seemed to hit that level, and then surpass it. But we had some wine, and some good cheese, and he started to relax.

The organizers put us at a table with three other couples. Couple One was from Connecticut, and Mr. One kept his reflective sunglasses on throughout the afternoon. Yo! Dude: you're under a tent. No sun. So either you've got a problem with your eyesight or you think you're too cool for school (but, really, not so much). They seemed a little lost and didn't really participate in the conversation.

Couple Two were older (60-70+). Jerry was a psychologist at one of the centers located in the former Rockland County Psychiatric Center, literally five minutes from where Thing One's brother has lived for years. His wife, Irene, and he had just finished a book on schizophrenia (which played a semi-role in my recent mystery read, Scared to Live, so I was able to ask a question about it and sound semi-intelligent). Irene's now working on a book on female friendships and the way they end, and has a blog, Fractured Friendships. I mentioned Carol Gillgan's Making Connections (see kids - reading pays off!). Then we talked about where we were from. They knew MPOW because their son had played ice hockey with a boy who'd gone there; this boy's sister I knew through MFPOW when she'd transferred to pursue an ice skating career.

It was at this point that Mr. Two said that this whole "six degrees" thing was nonsense - all it takes is 2-3 questions for most people to find a connection.

Couple Three was a poet-tutor and his girlfriend. They'd been to Paris recently (where she'd lived for a number of years in the 90s), he'd lived in England. He tutored at schools, also acting as a poet-in-residence. The connection? He'd gone to Saint Francis Prep in Brooklyn, but had wanted to go to Archbishop Molloy in Queens (better track team). Guess where Thing One had gone to school? Molloy. They had a great time talking about the virtues and horrors of Catholic school education (trivia tip: nuns are worse than brothers).

So, there we were, at a table with at least two other couples with whom we could talk. Thing One relaxed, drank good wine, ate good food... and enjoyed the three degrees.

Notable Quotes

Memory is identity. I have believed this since -- oh, since I can remember. You are what you have done; what you have done is your memory; what you remember defines who you are; when you forget your life you will cease to be, even before your death.

12.10.08

The things we do to our children

Does this sound familiar? "You can't go outside looking like that - what if you got hit by a car?" or "Wear clean underpants. You may end up in an ambulance."

My mother and grandmother and aunts all said similar things, and I listened. So yesterday, I was in my car, in my pyjamas and no underwear, heading to the train station to pick up Thing One. And all I can think is, I need to drive carefully... what if I get hit by a car and end up in an ambulance.

Remind me never to do that to someone I care about.

10.10.08

Political earworms

SwissToni has a weekly feature, Earworms of the Week. It's all very interesting and often includes music I've never heard.

Today, inadvertently, I helped expose our entire Seventh Grade to an earworm: http://tv.4president.us/tv1952.htm.

We were holding a day devoted to learning about the elections, from what the candidates were saying about their policies to the issues to ads to a game of Capture the Flag. My role was to help with the mini-courses, specifically about the campaign ads.

We showed them archived versions of ads from the 1952 campaign (the aforementioned earworm), LBJ's Daisy ad ("horrible" and "really scary"), Carter's Commander ad ("he sounds like Bush - eww"), Reagan's Bear ad ("subtle but effective") and one from the current campaign. They liked the ones that assumed the viewers were smart, and that didn't attack the other candidate. The fact that the majority of the ads we showed didn't even mention the other candidate was great, according to them.

When it came to the current election, they didn't like the ads - the negativity and the lack of reasons why we should vote for one candidate over the other ("they tell me why the other guy is bad but not why they're good") were unappealing.

For the first time since I moved to NYC, I'm seeing ads for the presidential campaigns on tv. Compared to this lot, I'm not impressed.

9.10.08

We shall overcome

Can you recall the last time you held a grudge against someone? Perhaps it was a friend who betrayed you, a stranger who wronged you, a lover who left, or a parent who unintentionally hurt you. Perhaps this has happened recently and feelings of regret, resentment, and injustice are fresh enough that it still stings. What can we do to overcome these feelings and painful memories?
That overcoming, getting beyond toxic relationships and memories, can be difficult. Think Simple Now acknowledges the difficulties, and offers some tips towards getting past them.

I've been in "that place" for a few days now, thinking back to something someone said a few months ago. This person was angry and hurt about things, and to some extent this was my fault. But the depth of their anger and hurt was more about them than me, only we rarely take these things out on ourselves, do we? They said things that were, well, ugly. I took it, not because I'm the bigger person but because it seemed silly to get into a screaming match over something that would not change.

Still, those words have stuck with me, popping up at odd moments. I wondered if perhaps I could have done more, or different, in the situation. I wondered if others felt the same way about me as this person did. And I've resented this person for making me feel this way about myself and my choices.

Then a few days ago, someone else said something that completely negated what had been said. And yesterday, it happened again. Have I forgiven the first person? I don't know. I'd like to think so. My life feels less cluttered with the resentment gone.

5.10.08

Music ideas needed!

My niece is getting married next October (yes, over a year away). She's very anti those "cliche 80s first dance songs" and all the other party cliche songs (Ixnay on "Everybody Dance Now", "Hot Hot Hot", "YMCA", etc.). So... recommendations needed. What would you suggest they dance to? What would you suggest everybody dance to? I have ideas, but more are needed!

4.10.08

Interesting idea/great product placement

I just read that this new show, The Ex List, is co-sponsoring Ex-Day with 800-Flowers. Apparently, you're supposed to send your ex a bouquet and "reconnect" on October 16.

I kinda like the idea, but I wonder about all those "currents" who might be a little miffed. And then there's the brother of my sister-in-law, who sent his recently departed ex a beautiful bunch of roses, thanking her for a wonderful (albeit shortlived) relationship. She threatened to get a restraining order because he was "stalking" her. And no, she wasn't being punny about flower stalks.

Still, anyone want to get me flowers, I'll happily take them!

3.10.08

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Biography:
The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers Harry Bernstein Memoir of growing up Jewish in pre-WWII northern England
Hole in My Life Jack Gantos Gantos' story of his time in jail, following a drug deal (of sorts) that went wrong

Children's/Young Adult:
The Revolution of Sabine Beth Levine Ain Decent historical fiction about the American Revolutions ideas, and their effect on a young French aristocrat
Unraveling Michelle Baldini In so many ways I identified with Manda and her problems
Being Kevin Brooks Robert is different. Really, really different.
The Good Neighbors Holly Black Good plot, but needs to edit those anachronisms
Masterpiece Elise Broach Cute animal story, but just didn't do it for me
Martyn Pig Kevin Brooks Martyn hates his alcoholic father, and when Dad dies, Martyn makes some very bad choices
The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk, Bowser the Hound, The Crooked Little Path and The Adventures of Unc'Billy Possum Thornton W. Burgess I still don't know why Burgess' work is out of print...
Steinbeck's Ghost Lewis Buzbee I was worried that the two stories (about the closing of the Salinas PL and the mystery behind some of Steinbeck's stories) would be a problem, but my students seem to really love it
The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins This'll be huge. Just huge. Read more here
Lamplighter D. M. Cornish Once I got used to the changes in the language, it was enjoyable. But any book that comes with a glossary is just too much work to start with
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party Ying Chang Compestine Based on Compestine's life growing up during the Cultural Revolution
Not Like You Deborah Davis Yawn
Where I'd Like To Be Frances O'Roark Dowell Reminded me a bit of Sensible Kate
Underground Jean Ferris Historical fiction about the slaves who discovered/mapped Mammouth Cave
The Girl Who Could Fly Victoria Forester Yawn. Been there. Read that.
Jerk, California Jonathan Friesen A must read.
The Possibilities of Sainthood Donna Freitas I wasn't sure if my students could relate to this story of a girl growing up in a Catholic house, but they did!
Death by Latte Linda Gerber Just stay away
The Ghost's Child Sonya Hartnett Been there... and Who Was Victoria did it better.
My America: Our Strange New Land, Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary, Book One Patricia Hermes Good for younger boys
Brooklyn Bridge Karen Hesse Turn-of-the-century Jewish family that helped popularize the Teddy Bear
Do Not Pass Go Kirkpatrick Hill How do you deal when your father is in jail?
The Mouse And His Child Russell Hoban Possibly charming once upon a time, but no longer
The Foretelling Alice Hoffman Too many disjointed elements to be really interesting
Fallout Trudy Krisher Read too much like The Loud Silence of Francine Green
The Devouring Simon Hunt Not scary enough.
Warriors: The Lost Warrior Erin Hunter I don't get why this series is so popular with my Middle School boys, but it is!
RuneWarriors James Jennewein All too obviously the start of a series, and not necessarily worth a follow-up
Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls Lynne Jonell Cute, and worth it for younger Middle School girls
Belle Teal and A Dog's Life: The Autobiography Of A Stray Ann M. Martin The former didn't impress me, but the latter made me cry
Spindle's End Robin McKinley Not quite the Ella Enchanted of the Sleeping Beauty story, but good all the same
Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595 Patricia C. McKissack Historical biofiction that left me disappointed in the end
Gods of Manhattan Scott Mebus A mash-up of Un Lun Dun, Neverwhere and the Percy Jackson series, with New York's history thrown into the mix
Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici Carolyn Meyer I'm guessing that the hope is to interest people in the life of Catherine, but I'm not sure that this is the book to do it. Good historical fiction, though.
Harlem Summer Walter Dean Myers Pair it with Dave at Night and you have a winning combo
Friends Everywhere Donna Jo Napoli Words just fail me
The City in the Lake Ruth Neumeier I thought my students would like it. I was wrong
Melting Stones Tamora Pierce The latest from Pierce. 'Nuff said
Sovay Celia Rees Unbelievable. Really - it's that bad
When the Finch Rises Jack Riggs Another in the "been there, read that" column
The Maze Of Bones Rick Riordan Not sure that the conceit behind this series will sustain readers interest; reads like a slightly older version of A Series of Unfortunate Events
Shanghai Shadows Lois Ruby Did you know that Jews escaped the Holocaust by going to Shanghai? Life wasn't much better there, apparently. Read and learn.
The Cabinet of Wonders Mari Rutkoski Another obvious start to a series, and another question why
The Invention of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick Great drawings, so-so story, interesting way of tying the two together
Demon Thief Darren Shan Good sequel to Lord Loss and a definite hit with Shan's fans
Blue Jasmine Kashmira Sheth Another girl immigrates to America, this time from India
Skinned Robin Wasserman Who is Lia, really? Along the lines of Being and The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Shadows over Lyra Patricia C. Wrede Great trilogy, seemingly unconnected but with the world of Lyra at their heart
Larry and the Meaning of Life Janet Tashjian Larry doesn't quite know what's going on: is Gus for real? a scam artist? a mixture of both? The answer might surprise you
Tadpole Ruth White So much unrealized potential in this book
The Pit Dragon Trilogy Jane Yolen Need I say more?

Fiction/Literature:
The Steep Approach to Garbadale Iain Banks Dysfunctional, powerful family saga with the Banks touch

Mystery:
A Dedicated Man and Gallows View Peter Robinson With Ian Rankin letting go of Rebus, this is the perfect what-to-read-next
The Vows of Silence, The Risk of Darkness and The Pure in Heart Susan Hill Mysteries that aren't always resolved, and a detective that rivals Dalgliesh in complexity. What's not to love?

Non-Fiction:
Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?: The Play-at-Home Companion Book to the Hit Fox TV Quiz Show! Michael Benson
The Dangerous Book for Boys Conn Iggulden
The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph Dean W. Jobb Already reviewed

Number removed from Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 65
Number added to Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 56
Net loss: 9
Status of Mt. Bookpike: 335 books to go!

Links Galore

2.10.08

More book lists

I blogged about the list discussion on Fiction_L and totally forgot that I'd saved this review of the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. (for the complete list, go here)

As with all of these lists, I fall appallingly short. Perhaps if I take a job that requires less "younger" reading, I might do better. For now, though, I'll have to feel comfortable not being "well read" in 20th century literature.