I found this sig file on one of the listservs I frequent:

An optimist is a person who does crossword puzzles with a ballpoint pen.

Now, most of the people that know me would say that I am not an optimist. Yet I do crossword puzzles (NYT, WSJ, G&M) with a pen - sometimes ballpoint, sometimes fountain, sometimes whatever comes to hand. Do I now have to reconsider my outlook on life?


Notable Quotes

Christmas Amnesty. You can fall out of contact with a friend, fail to return calls, ignore e-mails, avoid eye contact at the Thrifty Mart, forget birthdays, anniversaries and reunions, and if you show up at their house during the holidays (with a gift) they are socially bound to forgive you -- act like nothing happened. Decorum dictates that the friendship move forward from that point, without guilt or recrimination.
The Stupidest Angel, Christopher Moore


So many books...

As the holidays grow nearer and I look at Mt. Bookpile to determine what I'll read during my upcoming Break, some thoughts about reading crossed my mind. In part, they were inspired by a post by OGIC on About Last Night entitled "The Five Hundred Twenty". In it , she quotes from another blog and then comments:
My financial adviser informs me that I must die when I am 87 because I will run out of money at that point. So, assuming she is right, at two books a month I will read only 520 books more in my lifetime. Do I want to waste one of those precious allotments on an award-winning book that I find neither enjoyable nor enlightening? I do not.

My own expected number of books-yet-to-be-read is higher than 520. But that doesn't make it any less stark, wherever it may fall. This is why I want to know if Critic X didn't think a book was the best of the year as reputed, and why I don't want critics to pull their punches. It doesn't mean I implicitly trust any one critic's judgment (well, maybe Wood's, tried and true), but, like Marjorie, I do want as much varied input as possible, and I want critics to write with readers, not authors, in mind. The 2003 Booker showed me that awards committees can be every bit as fallible as critics; I hasten to add that the converse is also true. All we can ask of each is frank and searching judgment, and to please keep in mind the (shudder) 520.
Like OGIC, my total is above 520 (assuming I'll live to 87, that's another 44 book reading years and at my usual rate of about 100 books/year, I'll get 4400 in). That's books, which doesn't include magazines and newspapers, which I also read in quantity.

Now, 4400 sounds impressive - and it probably would be if I could guarantee that each of those books would be "quality" books. But, as I've mentioned earlier, some books are just disappointing. I don't judge quality by pages, or by good reviews, nor do I restrict my reading to serious literature/non-fiction. Genre fiction (particularly a good mystery) is just fine with me. Earlier this year I was introduced to a good YA/fantasy writer by one of my students and now I'm eagerly collecting the author's works. To me, that's quality: a book or author that leaves you wanting more, that gives you "earworms".

Still, I'm left feeling that if I've only got another 4400 books to read, there should be some criteria that will allow me to avoid the disappointing ones and concentrate my efforts on the really good stuff. Unfortunately, even the best of critics/recommenders and I diverge on occasion (the Confederacy of Dunces incident still rankles!). I'm also left wondering what on Mt. Bookpile should be gifted (or regifted) without being read... and if there's a way to organize them in a "read this first" order.

If you have ideas or helpful hints, please pass them along. I'm all eyes.


A propos of my Blog Thoughts posts

Martin from Chapel Hill has posted some questions for a Blog Ethics Analysis 2004. In essence, he's trying to figure out why we blog. Go help him figure this out. I plan to.


Good art gives you earworms!

I usually don't write about the arts because, quite honestly, I don't know that much about them. While I've been to many of the great museums, seen a number of operas and ballets and modern dance performances and plays and musical events, my "scholarly knowledge" of all of that is minimal. I do know when I like something and when I don't, but being able to express what I like (or don't like) in educated terms is something I can't do.

What I can say is that good art gives you earworms. What are earworms? That's the term for that annoying snippet of a song that gets stuck in your head for a while. For example, around this time you might find yourself "rum-pum-pumming" to "Little Drummer Boy" for no reason except that the tune is running through your mind. I admit that it's difficult for a piece of art to get stuck quite the same way that a melody does, but believe me, it can and does. Sometimes it's the color, sometimes it's the composition - but if you find yourself thinking about Monet's Waterlillies or Rosetti's Beata Beatrix, that's an earworm.

You may not realize what the dance step is called, but when you see a triple fouette it's impressive and the sight will remain with you. A hauntingly beautiful sonata can do the same. So can a passage from a book, or a movie.

What's "great" however, is up to you - the audience. I am of the opinion that even the mediocre can be elevated to great by one element. For example, to me, this lyric from Beau Dommage rescues an otherwise so-so song:
"Ne a Montreal
D'une famille normale
Eleve dans le noir
Entre la t.v.
Et le purgatoire"

(very loose translation: Born in Montreal to an average family, raised in the dark between tv and purgatory). What an image!

The movie Casablanca was considered mediocre, but how much of the dialog has entered our culture? I'm shocked, shocked that you would think that movie anything but great.

Almost 30 years ago I read Night by Elie Weisel. There's a passage that haunts me to this day - an earworm that elevated the book in a way that The Diary of Anne Frank has never done.

That's right: earworms strike again.

Last night I was at Rose Hall at the Jazz at Lincoln Center space. (Side note: if you ever get a chance to go, do so!) The performances were great, but the "earworms" I'll take with me are of tiny fingers flying over a keyboad producing a torrent of sound... the high note on "Ave Maria"... a string sextet weaving melodies onto melodies... What did I hear? It doesn't matter. It was great because those moments stayed with me and will live in my memory.

Don't let anyone tell you that you don't know great art. If you get earworms, you do.


Notable Quotes

Get your own geek.
Nicole Noone, The Librarian



I just love this list: Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year 2004. The top word is "blog" (widely reported on other blogs) but the others in this top ten are:

2. incumbent
3. electoral
4. insurgent
5. hurricane
6. cicada
7. peloton
8. partisan
9. sovereignty
10. defenestration

Given the events of 2004, I understand why people looked for 1 through 9. But number 10? Could someone please explain to me why this was the 10th most searched for word of 2004?



America believes in the separation of Church and State, right? But what about when the State mentions Church? Apparently, that's a no-no: Declaration of Independence Banned at Calif School.


Venti = "Weasel Snot"?

Confused by the new terms for "small", "medium" and "large"? Language Log takes a look at Latte lingo.

I have to agree with their comments. It's much like that AmEx Gift Card commercial where the snotty saleswoman refers to "flavors" instead of colors. When did good, old orange become "pumpkin"? And what's with all the names for blue? Even my Crayola box didn't have those colors! Sometimes I wonder if I should be looking for a "Venti Cashmire Cerise V-neck with No Cables" when I go to the LL Bean site or into Bloomies.

It's bad enough that at 5'4" I have to get "women's petite" clothing (and doesn't that sound like an oxymoron?!). Can't we just use the words we learned years ago? Let's take back our language! Who's with me?


Notable Quotes

There are three kinds of people in this world - those who can count and those who can't.


Plenty to be thankful for...

It's that melancholy time of year: days getting shorter, and grayer; faux holiday cheer on the streets and in stores; "buy buy buy" warnings from the media; and families trying to gather the strength for one more get together (hopefully less contentious or stressful than last year's). It's also the time when many of us reflect on the past year, our hopes for the next and our relationships to people and whatever we call the Higher Power.

Some time ago I clipped this from Hoarded Ordinaries
In their work on Christian pilgrimage, anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner use the word communitas to talk about the experience pilgrims share when they arrive at their communal destination. Although each seeker might have taken a separate path, the footsteps leading to a spiritual goal being entirely one's own, when seekers meet up at Lourdes or Canterbury or Lough Derg, they find themselves in a community of believers. After traveling separate paths, these seekers are united by a shared belief that this particular place is the sight of special spiritual power... We each have to walk our paths alone...but at the end as well as along the way, we share our walks with other people.

Over the past few years I've been studying the works of C.S. Lewis (under the guidance and tutelage of Jim Como) and have, in a slothful way, made a pilgrimage towards a better understanding of the Divine and what Lewis called "Mere Christianity". I was not alone in this pilgrimage, there were others with me, and we all arrived at the end with different appreciations and results but, as the above says, "united by a shared belief that this particular [person] is the [site] of special spiritual power." And I'm thankful for that.

I'm also thankful for the friends I've made throughout the years. Recently I remade contact with a friend (almost said "old" friend, which she is but I really meant "someone I knew years ago"). She's in Australia and I'm here in America, and we haven't seen each other in almost 20 years. We might get together in April, when she's here for a family gathering. She is the person (excepting family) that I've known longest in my life. Then there are the friends I've recently made, equally important in my life because of the fresh perspectives and insights they provide.

Despite doing "nothing" yesterday, I felt comforted by the presence of my beloved cats. And last night, with Bogie curled on the pillow next to my head and Mallory using my feet as his pillow, I felt surrounded by their love.

No matter how gray or melancholy it gets, there really is "plenty to be thankful for."

(For those of you that don't know where that quote is from, or where the title of this blog is from, go rent Holiday Inn now)



I think it's time to start a new section of this blog: things I just can't seem to wrap my mind around. Here's yet another one via MSNBC Of mice, men and in-between


Notable Quotes

[Y]oung Americans are currently taught only about the violence of war. They must also learn about the violence of tyranny. For if we teach only the horrors of war, we teach cowardice.


Notable Quotes

Previously seen on a colleague's sig file:

(until the Red Sox win the World Series)

Currently on that colleague's sig file:

(until the Celtics win #17)

Talk about greedy (although I have to admit I agree with the prayer)!


Notable Quotes

Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it.
- Moses Hadas


A humorous thought for today

Exploring Aravis contains this in today's post: "As I was driving through the town I saw something that struck me as funny. First there was the standard yellow street sign which read 'Caution Elderly Housing.' The next building after this sign was a funeral home.

Actually, the elderly housing development is across the street from the funeral home. I'm not at all sure that's an improvement. Whose poor granny gets the apartment that overlooks that?"


Notable Quotes

That unknown persons should think themselves entitled to comment upon so private a matter as a death and a resurrection, that they should vent their curiosity in letters to her daughter was a circumstance to excite Mrs. Wintertowne's utmost displeasure; she had a great deal to say in censure of such vulgar, ill-bred beings, and upon his arrival at Brunswick-square Sir Walter was obliged to listen to all of it.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Susanna Clarke


What's your WPM?

Yesterday Terry Teachout and Sarah Weinman blogged about how quickly they read. This ties into a discussion I've been having on TRP about how many books I have read (and cataloged) as well as how many are on Mt. Bookpile.

When I was younger I was tested at something like 1000wpm, but I think that's gotten considerably slower as the years have progressed. I usually manage to read about 100-150 books/year. Now, that total has gone down as I've become more professionally involved, and as my intake of magazines (professional and otherwise) and newspapers has gone up. The total for the summer, for example, was about 35 books in three months, but the number I'll be able to read during the school year will be less.

Some of the books are really short, YA/Child Lit books while others are longer (like Jonathan Strange...). The rate of speed really depends on the type of book, though. I mean, if I'm reading something "deep", something I really want to learn from, I'll slow down so that I can take in more of the ideas and think about them as I read. However, something "fun", like a mystery or the latest Cirque du Freak, I'll whip through in no time.

Does this mean I don't enjoy the reading? No. Nor does it mean that I read so quickly that all the plots and characters blend into each other. I may not be able to tell you in which Chalet School book Jo pulled what prank, but I can tell you what the books are about, why I like them and why they're worth reading (or not - there are books I really found a waste of time, effort and dead tree).

Reading for speed does raise the question of quality vs. quantity, though. I think that for many of us, the reality is that we read. Period. The fact that we read faster than some doesn't mean that we're going for quantity; in fact, it may mean that we also read a lot of dross. I do know that I enjoy the majority of what I read, whether or not it is considered "quality" by other readers. And ultimately, isn't that what matters most? The enjoyment of the book should be paramount, not how quickly you can plow through it and get on to the next one.

UPDATE: "Thomas H. Benton" writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the correlation between owning books and being an academic. He also reminds us of a New Yorker cartoon ("A couple years ago a cartoon from The New Yorker depicted a man in a book-lined study sipping a martini and talking to a woman in a black party dress. The caption: "These books represent the person I once aspired to be."). For me it's almost the reverse: my books represent the person I aspire to become.


Notable Quotes

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

William Arthur Ward


Notable Quotes

Bunny, for all his appearance of amiable, callous stability, was actually a wildly erratic character. There were any number of reasons for this, but primary among them was his complete inability to think about anything before he did it. He sailed through the world guided only by the dim lights of impulse and habit, confident that his course would throw up no obstacles so large that they could not be plowed over with sheer force of momentum.

The Secret History
Donna Tartt


Getting to know all about me!

Some time ago a person reading this blog commented "You seem to formulate opinions about everything going on around you very well, but you hardly write anything strictly about you. Other blog-browsers, such as myself, might be able to understand more where you are coming from if they knew more about you.... just a suggestion."

Well, I've thought about that and, unlike some bloggers, I'm not comfortable sharing with strangers intimate details about my life. However, to satisfy some reader's curiosity (รพ: The Little Professor)...

#1: Name three of your...

1. Pet Peeves: incompetence, ignorance, not having enough time to read
2. Favorite Sounds: purring, pages turning, purring
3. Favorite Flavors of Candy: chocolate, peppermint
4. Biggest Fears: heights, dying alone, not having cats in my life
5. Biggest Challenges: eating properly, making small talk with strangers (or mere acquaintances), getting time to read
6. Favorite Department Stores: Saks, Almys (now defunct), Kaufmans
7. Most Used Words: clearly, problematic, "not so much"
8. Favorite Pizza Toppings: cheese, mushrooms, garlic
9. Favorite Cartoon Characters: Fisher, the dog in Drabble, Violet from Peanuts
10. Movies Recently Watched: Paycheck, Secret Window, Collateral
11. Favorite Fruits: apples, peaches, pomegranate
12. Favorite Vegetables: green peppers, cucumbers, carrots


1. What is your favorite word? Book
2. What is your least favorite word? Anything to do with bad weather (eg, sleet, snow, blizzard, nor'easter)
3. What turns you on? Intelligence and wit
4. What turns you off? Incompetence
5. What sound or noise do you love? Purring
6. What sound or noise do you hate? Doors slamming
7. What is your favorite curse word? The "O" word (O'F*ck) ties with F*cksh*td*mnh*ll
8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Fiction writer
9. What profession other than yours would absolutely not like to attempt? Athelete
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say when you arrive at the gates? The bookstore is that way, everything's there and it's all free to take.


Notable Quotes

...if art does not reflect the times in which it is created, if it does not inspire us in some way, the artist is not worthy of our patronage.


My Sister Bernadette

Kitty Burns Florey writes about her youth: "Diagramming sentences is one of those lost skills, like darning socks or playing the sackbut, that no one seems to miss." She goes on to talk about Sister Bernadette, who taught her this "skill".

I had a Sister Bernadette - Miss Webster. She was half-Maori, all-Kiwi and very strict. One of the first things we learned was that New Zealand was not on the other side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, nor was it to be confused with Tasmania. If you answered a question without properly reflecting, she'd say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Since I was attending school in Geneva, Switzerland at that time and we were required to use fountain pens, my fine motor skills got quite a workout. If there was an ink splotch on the paper, we'd be asked what happened. Now, I was 10/11 at the time and my response was usually a variation on "My pen splattered." Miss Webster's raised eyebrows and her disapproving, "A poor workman always blames his tools" soon broke me of that!

Penmanship was important to Miss Webster. I still have copybooks filled with pages of properly (and improperly) slanted l's, m's, w's and other letters. Thanks to her I have two different styles of handwriting, the very upright looped version I was taught in my American public school and her version.

We were also taught "New Math" by Miss Webster. To this day I can do bases. In later years I was able to do quadratic equations and I was taught geometry, trig and even how to find f(x). Do I remember any of that? No. But her lessons have stayed with me:
  • how to write an interesting essay (remember not to repeat the opening word of any sentence more than twice)
  • how to write neatly
  • how to use a fountain pen (which I now use when solving the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle)
  • how to take responsibility for your thoughts and express them appropriately
  • how to play Maori stick games
  • how to diagram a sentence
  • how to be (and not be) a teacher.
She's also the only teacher I had in my early years that I remember with any clarity. The American teachers are all a blur, but she remains fixed in my mind. Back then we called her "Webby" and couldn't wait to get out of her class. I wish I had the opportunity to tell her how much she influenced my life, and how I now appreciate her.



Christopher Reeve.

I met him once, back in 1985. He was visiting Circle Repertory Theatre, where I was working. At the time I met him, I was doing concessions in the theatre in Seventh Avenue South. The space for a lobby was a bit cramped, and the brick walls were lined with framed posters of the famous Circle Rep productions from past years.

Christopher Reeve was not a small person and it was hard for him go be unnoticed. Despite this, he tried to blend in by sort of huddling along this wall. One of the other patrons noticed him and asked me, "Is that Superman?". Hearing this, Chris started, knocking several of the posters off the wall, and his attempts to fix things just made it worse. In a flash of inspiration, I said, "No, that's Clark Kent," causing Chris to bolt into the theatre and hide in the lighting booth.

Several seconds later the stage manager came over to me laughing, saying that whatever I'd said had really rattled Chris. That's how I remember will him, a normal guy caught in an abnormal situation and horribly embarrassed by it. Not as the man in the wheelchair, and not as the movie star.


I think he gets this wrong

Tom Watson blogs today about Howard Stern's announcement that he's leaving "free" radio for satellite. He compares the growth of satellite to cable, and mentions the cost/necessity of having multiple fees and receivers (as opposed to having many, relatively cheap radios that you can take anywhere).

I think the real story is the growth of the fragmentation of society. Way back when, you had a melange of musical genres and tastes on each station. Yes, some played "Free Bird" and "Stairway to Heaven" until you wanted to kill, but a quick flick down (or up) the dial brought you another song. Exposure was the serendipitous result - finding something or someone new to listen to and learn about. That's a lot harder to find today.

Why is this a problem? While the majority of us still use the radio, the homogenization of music means that the "aha" moment is removed. Those that opt for XM or Sirius remove that almost entirely, as they narrowly program their tastes and excise what they don't know.

One of my professors in graduate school thought this was an exciting development, that soon we could drive across country and only hear the music we wanted. That thought scares me. Diversity breeds knowledge and potential acceptance of the "other." Narrowing our choices (on the radio, tv, in life) ultimately hurts everyone.


So where's Kevin Bacon in all this?

Homicide: Life on the Street Crossovers & A Multiverse Explored. I found this on A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago:
"SIX DEGREES OF FRANK PEMBLETON: I refer you to this lengthy file. It comprehensively chronicles how 166 different TV shows are apparently taking place in the same universe (that is, inside Timmy Westphal's head, as revealed at the end of 'St. Elsewhere'). Try this one series of connections:

Sports Night on CSC is playing on a TV at the end of an episode of Spin City. Spin City made mention (in Michael J. Fox's final episode) of the existence of Alex P. Keaton, from Family Ties. Andrew Keaton, from Family Ties, showed up on an episode of Parker Lewis Can't Lose. Eddie Haskell (from Leave it To Beaver) showed up on Parker Lewis. Beaver's June Cleaver showed up on an episode of Hi, Honey, I'm Home! Hi Honey, also featured a cameo from Gomer Pyle from Andy Griffith, which was a spinoff of The Danny Thomas Show. Buddy from Dick Van Dyke appeared on Danny Thomas. Alan Brady from Dick Van Dyke narrated a film made by Paul Buchman on Mad About You. Mad About You ties into Friends through Phoebe and her twin Ursula (among other ways). Caroline In The City and Friends crossed over in an episode where Caroline's Annie was hit on by Chandler. Niles and Daphne from Frasier read the Caroline in the City comic strip. Frasier is, of course, tied to Cheers. Westphall, Craig, and Auschlander from St. Elsewhere all visited the Cheers bar.

Thus, every single one of those 15 shows takes place in the same universe, and there are still more connections. Everything from The Geena Davis Show to Becker to The White Shadow can be tied in somehow. The sound you just heard? That's my mind...blowing."
Not only does someone have waaaaay too much time on their hands, but I'm starting to worry that I've seen too many of these episodes!


Notable Quotes

"I hate it when villains quote Shakespeare."

John Chriton, Farscape


Why read?

Read on: "And this is the real pleasure of reading: not just the search for facts and information, which we can get just as well from other forms of media, but the connection to another human mind and heart that we can only experience when we enter a world that someone else has created."

No matter how often I use e-mail or IM or iPod, no matter how much tv I watch or how many movies I go to, this is the reason I read. The immediacy of touching the pages, turning them at my pace, allowing the characters to come to life in my mind is something that is not allowed by the other media.

Now excuse me, I have a book to finish.


Notable Quotes

There's one other benefit to fine writing, even if consumers don't know they're buying it. We are slammed by too many things happening in real time, as theorist Richard Powers writes. I'll just offer a handful: split screens, multitasking, news strips beneath the TV news, muting ads to have a hasty conversation, my pedometer talking to me as I walk to the fridge listening to my MP3, top 10 lists of lists, the notion that all stories have two sides.

Only when you are lost in a magnificent book, film or other work of art are you "in the flow." You have left real time behind. As Mr. Powers writes (evoking great emotion in me), "You hit that last sentence and look up. Humbert Humbert is in the train seat in front of you. Charles Bovary is beside you in the hospital waiting room. La Belle Dame sans Merci checking you out as the doors slide open and you step off at your floor."

Time is transcended. For once, we rest.

"The good things in life shouldn't be free", Heather Mallick


When it rains...

Last June, before summer vacation, I oversaw the packing of 107 boxes of books (about 4000 items). Why? Because my library was being expanded by about 1/3 and the books were in bookcases along a wall that would no longer exist.

Over the summer I kept hearing about the horrors of the construction: the cost overruns, the delays, the mess, the noise. I stayed far, far away.

September 7 was my first day back in the library and it was everything I expected. 107 boxes of books that had been neatly packed, labelled and stacked were strewn around the library in no particular order and with no particular care. Some had even been repacked (not so neatly). The wall was indeed gone and in its place were spaces for an ADA-required lift to the (new) 8th floor, a door to the (new) inside stairs on the west side, a (new) fiction nook, and a (new) extension to the conference/research room. The lights were clearly temporary and there was an aura of "half-finished work" about the place.

I started to plan how I'd attack the reshelving, got some stuff out of the storage space and went home.

September 8 was The Day Frances Visited New York City. Walking to work with water filling the roads and sloshing over my shoes up to my ankles was my first clue that not all was well with the world. As I approached the building, I saw a wave of water escaping the front door, quickly followed by a broom. "OK," I thought, "it's just water that got in when the door was open for the contractors."


It was whitewater rapids cascading down the east stairs. It was a plume of water descending through the elevator shaft. It was tiny rivulets of water on the (new) west stairs. And it was 1.5-2" of water pooling on the 7th floor. What saved the library? The fact that eight years ago, during the first renovation, they'd laid greenfield cables under the floor and hadn't removed them during this renovation. However, another inch or so and I'd be as underwater as the rest of the floor.

Breathing an ill-advised sigh of relief, I went back to the cafeteria to get something warm to drink. On my way back, something prompted me to look in the conference room. Sure enough: a rather persistent leak was emerging in the corner. A corner that hadn't had books unshelved. A corner in which we had all the art books (aka "the 700s").

Springing into action, a contractor and I removed an additional four bookcases of books from harm's way. A colleague and I then moved all 107 boxes to tables and study carrels so that they, too, could remain above flood level.

Needless to say, very little else got done Wednesday. Thursday as spent trying to rearrange the library shelving so as to maximize the new space. That and tracking down missing summer orders, many of which had mistakenly not been placed. Friday was more of the same, but plans were afoot to start reshelving books on Monday.

Over the weekend our electrical system shorted out, killing our intra- and internet access. So when I got to school Monday the 13th, all I could do was shelve. About half the books got reshelved then, with the notable exception of the art books (the corner was still leaking the occasional droplet of water). Tuesday, the rest got shelved, again with the exception of the art books.

Wednesday we regained intranet access and I was able to enter all the patrons into the catalog. Today, Friday, two weeks after school started, I am finally able to work on-line cataloging the new books and chasing down the last of my missing orders.

Still to be done? An inventory (with luck, everything that came off the shelves went back on). And all the other start-of-year things that I'm woefully behind in accomplishing. Still, I can teach and check out books and that's all that really matters, right?

Until Ivan Visits New York City this weekend, that is...



Bookslut pointed me to the Guardian article about touchstones: What kind of book marks a watershed in a woman's life? That was the question I was asked to address when the Orange prize for fiction, in association with Radio 4's Woman's Hour, commissioned a piece of research to establish a list of books read by women at formative moments in their lives - books they return to again and again.

Then So Many Books jumped on the bandwagon, listing Books: For All of Life's Moments Big or Small:
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Dune by Frank Herbert
Job: A Comedy of Justice Robert Heinlein
A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (poetry) by Adrienne Rich
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
A Room of One's Own (nonfiction) by Virginia Woolf
Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Some time ago on The Readers Place we started a post about touchstones from our youth. This was based on a lecture I'd been to on Wonder Tales, where we came up with a list that included:
Wrinkle in Time
Lord of the Rings
Wizard of Oz (both book and movie)
Peter Cottontail
Wind in the Willows
Peter Pan
Alice in Wonderland
Mary Poppins
Secret Garden
the works of Thornton Burgess

As I've compared the TRP and the Guardian-inspired lists, I've been thinking about what a touchstone really is. Is it something that is so embedded in your being that you can't imagine yourself as yourself without it? In which case, I'd have to add Goodnight, Moon to the list. Is it something that becomes an integral part of you, as many of the above have become? Is it like a security blanket, something you can put aside for long periods of time but that you pick up when you need to calm down/feel better about life/re-find your center? Or is it something to which you return again and again, finding both your old and new selves in the pages, learning new meanings as you age and experience more?

In A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel talks about reading for Borges. He'd start a book and Borges would finish it for him, from memory. Then they'd move to another, seemingly prompted at random from within Borges' brain. Manguel posits that our brains are the original hypertext: that each time we read (or listen to) something we make new connections with old and new favorites. The Guardian list, and the other lists mentioned above, seem to be making the same point as Manguel did. Which still doesn't answer the question of what comprises a touchstone. Perhaps there is no one answer, it's too personal.

Speaking of personal, what about aural touchstones? What songs and/or albums make up your interior aural landscape? Food for thought and fodder for another post.


Notable Quotes

A novel is not an allegory, I said as the period was about to come to an end. It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing. I just want you to remember this. That is all; class dismissed.

Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran


Notes from Mt. Bookpile

It's the offical end of summer: school starts today. My main goal this summer was to rest and relax and reading was a major part of that plan. So here's a list of what was read:

Yoga Hotel, Maura Moynihan
Lucky Girls, Nell Freudenberger
The Lemon Table, Julian Barnes
The Train Now Departing, Martha Grimes
Little Black Book of Stories, A.S. Byatt
The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler

The Language Police, Diane Ravitch
All the President's Spin, Bryan Keefer, Ben Fritz, and Brendan Nyhan
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
Parallel Myths, J.F. Breulin
The Meaning of Everything, Simon Winchester
Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
Idiot Proof, Frances Wheen
When Good People Write Bad Sentences, Robert Harris

Young Adult/Children's
Stormchaser and Beyond the Deepwoods, Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
People of Sparks, Jeanne DuPrau
Midnight for Charlie Bone, Jenny Nimmo
Homeward Bounders and Merlin Conspiracy, Diana Wynne Jones
The Stones of Green Knowe, L.M. Boston
Eragon, Christopher Paolini
Running Out of Time and Among the Hidden, Margaret Peterson Haddix
Mister Monday, Garth Nix
Confessions of a Not It Girl, Melissa Kantor
Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliett and Brett Helquist

The Winds of Change, Martha Grimes
Devil's Hearth and Witch's Grave, Phillip DePoy
A Cry From the Dark, Robert Barnard
Burglar on the Prowl, Lawrence Block
Black and Blue and Walks the Plank, Ian Rankin
Amber Room, Steve Berry
Bookman's Promise, John Dunning
Eyes at the Window, Evie Yoder Miller
The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Unsigned, Unbound, Untitled, Uncataloged, and Unsolicited, Julie Kaewert
The Intelligencer, Leslie Silbert

Hat Full of Sky, Terry Prachett
Lyra's Oxford, Philip Pullman

Stay tuned and see what descends from Mt. Bookpile next!


Notable Quotes

"Where am I? What does it mean to say: the world?... Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here?... Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought from a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality?... Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?"

Soren Kierkegaard


Notable Quotes

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in the boat and drink beer all day.”
(for other variations, go here, here and here)


A trip down memory lane

Yesterday I blogged about my visit to the Dutchess County fair. One of the fun things to do at a county fair is to forget your age and cholesterol level and just enjoy (forgetting the sunscreen is not, however, an option).

Since it was so hot and since it's a carny, why not have a Sno Cone? I'll tell you why not: sometimes they don't come in a paper cone. This is sacrilege akin to the Great Cotton Candy Loss (more on that in a second). No one gets a sno cone for the great taste. It's the eating of the ice with the bug juice syrup dripping down to a slushy mess in the bottom. Having a plastic cone with a rim and a straw just is not the sno cone experience.

Cotton candy, for those of you who haven't been to a fair or sporting event recently, no longer comes on a paper cone. It's in a plastic bag. Why is this disturbing? Part of the fun of cotton candy is the mess: it melts on your face, in your hair and on your hands. People around you are in danger of sticky sugar residue on their clothes. A bag of cotton candy you can save, eat neatly and not worry about others? Un-American!

Friday I spoke with my father, who as a child summered in Long Beach (NY). Friends of his family ran a concession shop and he worked there. When I was a child, we'd go spend part of the summer with my grandparents and a visit to the concession stand was a must. Daddy would slip behind the counter and make me a cotton candy cone. It was magical.

Now that magic is gone from the carny. I did find properly coned sno cones and cotton candy at the circus. Probably by the time you read this, that'll have changed, too.


An almost perfect day

Today I took the bus from NYC to Kingston, where a friend picked me up. We then headed for the Dutchess County fair. One of the hottest, sunniest days this summer, I slathered on Neutrogena UltraSheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, SPF 30 (before I left home I applied Shiseido's SPF 55 foundation) and off we went.

First stop: the beer garden for a quick bite and a glance at the map; we were entertained by Pal the Wonder Dog. I then made the mistake of seeing the same women at the Guess My Weight/Age booth that I'd fooled last year; this year she was right on the money. Now, of course, being the obsessive person I am, I'm worried that I really do look my age! And, sadly, it led to an impulsive eating binge (fried dough with powdered sugar). We ate that as we wended our way towards the 4H tent. We had been looking forward to the DC K-9 corps demonstration, but the cattle parade was running a little long.

If you've never seen a cattle parade, basically a bunch of kids walk around leading a cow. It's broken down by age (of child, not of cow) and judged on how well they handle the animal. To ensure fairness, the children swap cows once they're in the ring and have to walk a little with the new cow. All the participants got a ribbon, but there were Blue, Red and Yellow ribbons given to the three best; they were also invited to Sunday's finals.

Then it was time to look through the livestock pens. We'd just missed the sheep shearing, and the sheep were certainly shorn! Some of the sheep, apparently the Tunis breed, were wrapped in what could only be called sheep burquas. How appropriate.

The announcer at the cattle parade kept plugging what she claimed were the best milkshakes, all made with fresh milk. I have to admit, my vanilla was very yummy. I'm not a huge fan of milk (or milkshakes or ice cream) but I'd definitely go back for seconds. If you ever get a chance to have a real one, freshly made with fresh ingredients do not pass it up. Your taste buds will thank you.

More wandering, including a walk through the old machinery exhibit (including a corn sheller and a blacksmith, some fruit lemonade, and then it was time for the cattle costume contest. Apparently previous days had held a horse, rabbit and pig costume contests; today, it was the cows turn. The announcer wanted people not from the area as judges and so, much to my chagrin, I was nominated. My co-judges were also from NYC, but they'd never been to the fair before. Four entries walked in a circle: a little girl in nurse's scrubs with a bandaged cow, an older girl wearing a boa and a brightly colored Mardi Gras painted cow, a minor parade of four people announcing a race between Butterscotch and Wilma (in homage to the Olympics), and a girl dressed as Paul Bunyon with trusty Babe the Blue ox. According to the organizers, the nurse and the Mardi Gras were in classes of one, so they automatically got the blue ribbon. Our choice was between the racers and Babe. No contest: Babe won. Had we been given the choice of all four, however, it would have been the nurse, then Babe, then the Olympics.

Next stop: the crafts pavilion. This is where things like Rawcliffe Fantasy figurines compete with the amazing 22' ladder and the computerized personality reader for your attention. This is right next to the carny side of the DC Fair, and we wandered through the rides and games to the bumper cars.

There's something very wonderful about bumper cars: all your bad driving instincts take over, you can get your aggressions out, and you see everyone smiling. There were two parents with little kids and we all took care to almost, but not quite, bump them. Several times one father said thanks - the kid clearly loved the almost danger.

Then it was on to the grandstand for a few moments with Ms. Cuchi-cuchi herself, Charo. The only thing that could top that was a family of jugglers. Ok, a Daddy juggler/unicyclist and an 8-year-old juggler/unicyclist (aka "Daddy's retirement plan"). Finally, we saw Hilby, the skinny German juggle boy.

Time for the traditional "leaving the fair candy apple" and back home.

Here's a summer's end assignment: Take the time to visit your local county fair, fireman's field days or state fair. Revel in the smells and sounds. Get gypped out of a toy at the carny. Eat fried dough and takeaway sundaes and curly fried. Enjoy. Repeat next year.


Essential Tracks

Terry Teachout's co-blogger, OGIC, on About Last Night was on vacation recently and was able to listen to CBC's Radio One, which is exploring five essential tracks from each decade in the 20th century. Here's the list from the 80's:

1. 'Billie Jean' [Michael Jackson]
2. 'With or Without You' [U2]
3. 'Message' [Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five]
4. 'Fight the Power' [Public Enemy]
5. In a tie, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' [Joy Division] and 'When Doves Cry' [Prince]

The runners-up were Eddy Grant's 'Electric Avenue' and 'Hungry Like the Wolf' by Duran Duran."

While I'm not sure that I agree with the above, I'm hard put to come up with alternatives (at least, right now, off the top of my head - give me a little while and I'm sure I could). "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, perhaps, because it was prescient.

Read what OGIC says and create your own essential list.


And now, representing the US in the short story dash...

Not quite Olympic literary gold " Last week we mentioned that literature used to be an Olympic event until 1948... See the full list of winners here -- though you figure if they were trying to really be Olympic they would have at least awarded medals, not just cash."

I can see future events: the Complete OED lift, synchronized reading, and the ever-popular team penmanship competition.


I wonder what the onlookers did...

Thieves Grab ´The Scream´ From Museum: "Armed, masked thieves burst into a lightly guarded Oslo museum Sunday and snatched the Edvard Munch masterpiece 'The Scream' and a second Munch painting from the walls as stunned visitors watched in shock."

This is the second time I remember that painting being stolen. You'd think that by now "lightly guarded" would have changed.

Notable Quotes

Seasonal musings
"Of course it does. Everywhere has seasons. You just have to know where to look for them."

Delightful images formed in her mind and she smiled. She saw the seasons hiding: spring behind a tree, winter in the attic, summer in the shrubbery...

She found it interesting that there were publishing seasons. Spring, summer, fall, winter. She would sit on one of the benches that lined the platform and make whimsical guesses at what each "season" produced. Would autumn be ushered in with leaves of books drifting down to carpet the ground? Would winter produce snowballed books lying forgotten in high drifts, or bestsellers that readers could throw at each other and watch the splatter and disintegrate? Would spring come in with tiny new books sprouting from bookshelves like rows of beans?
The Train Now Departing, Martha Grimes


Get your cuddle on!

"A new kind of party is bringing together lost souls, writes Sarah Baxter in The Sunday Times of London. "At a cuddle party, you are invited to stroke a stranger clad only in your pyjamas. There are strict rules: no alcohol, no nudity and emphatically, no 'dry humping'. Partygoers must ask permission to touch each other and have the right to refuse. The parties last three hours and guests are welcome to exchange phone numbers and hook up with each other afterwards. The phenomenon is spreading from New York to California, has popped up in Canada and is set to invade Britain, according to its inventor, Reid Mihalko" (from the Toronto Globe and Mail)


This is wrong on so many levels

Death by Popcorn: "A family night at the movies became every parent's worst nightmare when a toddler choked to death on popcorn after repeated efforts by his frantic folks to save him, Nassau police said yesterday... It was supposed to be a celebratory day for the Queens Village family after the boy's dad, Eddie Riley Sr., 36, got a security job after being unemployed for months."
It's a terrible tragedy, but with a little parental thought and responsibility it could have been avoided.

1. Do not take a three-year-old to a movie. If you want to have a "family night", choose something more appropriate, like dinner at a restaurant. A child that age cannot sit still for the length of the movie, so why subject your fellow moviegoers to the noise and disruption? You also can't adequately supervise children when you're engrossed in a spectacle.

2. If you must take a toddler to a movie, don't make it an R-rated one. Save that for when you have a babysitter. It's rated R for a reason and even though technically you're doing the right thing (the children under 17 are with a parent or guardian) it's just wrong.

3. If there's no way you're going to follow 1 or 2, at least make it something other than Alien v. Predator.


I just can't help it

I promised myself I wouldn't rant about the Olympics. But, well, I just can't help it.

First, let's stop pretending that these people are amateurs. Venus Williams? The NBA gang? Please. Amateurs are the Jamaican bobsled team.

Second, I'm glad the men's basketball team got spanked by Puerto Rico. Why? Because they epitomize what's wrong with the NBA. It's not a team sport any more, it's a group of individuals who just happen to wear the same uniform. (heresy alert) Michael Jordan was one of the worst things to happen to professional basketball. He may have been a very skilled player, but he was a one-man team. The other four just let him do whatever he wanted, and officials became blinded to his constant walking. Instead of learning how to play, everyone wanted to "be like Mike". And this (login required) is the result.

Third, while I understand the tricky political situation that leads to Taiwan being called Chinese Taipei, exactly why do Puerto Rico and Hong Kong have teams at the Olympics?

Fourth, can the commentators just please shut up?

Fifth, who cares if Phelps does or doesn't tie Mark Spitz' record? Spitz competed during a particularly harrowing moment in history and did an amazing job for someone who's life was potentially in danger. Phelps v. the Thorpedo? Yawn. At least there's a real competition there, unlike when America's Sweetheart (Mary Lou Retton) was supposed to have been the best of the best. Exactly how we've arrived at that conclusion is beyond me. The people that could have (would have) challenged her weren't there.

I feel better now.

Time flies

It used to be that summer dragged on, a seemingly endless stretch of time. It didn't belong to anything; it was an interregnum between years. As I got older and moved into the working world, summer was a miserable time to be endured. Who wanted to wear suits and "grown up" clothes in all the heat and humidity that is summer in New York?

Fall would announce itself slowly. The first clue was the appearance of Concord grapes at the supermarket. Then, a few weeks later, pomegranates would take the place of plums or nectarines on the grocery shelves.

When I became a school librarian, the summer seemed shorter than I'd remembered but the clues that school, and fall, were here remained the same.

Until today. There, at my local supermarket, were pomegranates and Concord grapes. I couldn't resist, even though it shortens my summer just that little bit more.

Still cooking

Yet another is the culinary image: take Tobias Smollett, stew him in his own juice, reduce, mix in some finely chopped Poe, season with Patti Smith and serve with late Henry James.
This is from Tom Payne's article Circle of Cliches. He goes on to list many of the words we read in book reviews and book blurbs, many of which only appear in those places.

I read a book blurb last summer that stated that the book was "an Oscar-worthy wonder, starring a cast easy to care about and impossible to forget." Sadly, that line was the only unforgettable thing about the book.


From my e-mail inbox

bedfast matroidblandish commerce constantineconcubine cramp ebullientschedule ornately skullcapante mall telepathyares actinide strategistdifluoride kay grenadedefunct scallop dragonflythirst phd can'tmach atmospheric beneathmort upriver altermanerwin academy binchanson astray mannadrawl antietam martinicomponent delightful quellsarcasm lodowick jeffreybearberry bony autocorrelateshriek stealth napkindrowse thebes togetherbarge bluegrass alwayhitch reverend trefoilswordplay bile diplomatfleshy berate zoomboyfriend allen laocoonrousseau debenture pavannebagpipe mellow hookteratology antisemitic releasabletriangle ciliate mangelerudite gaucherie inauguralthey'd bemuse electrophoresissockeye suitcase effloresceindispose dervish preachybruit sport clamberalkali barrel intervalastound someplace conspireaugusta cheetah propensityriordan classic babelbremsstrahlung utter pierendogamy

I particularly like "ebullientschedule" and "pavannebagpipe".


Notable quotes

There are one-storey intellects, two-storey intellects and three storey intellects with skylights. All fact-collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-storey men. Two-storey men compare, reason, generalize, using the labour of the fact-collectors as their own. Three storey men idealize, imagine, predict–their best illumination comes from the above through the skylight.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Yummy reading

Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World by Gina Mallett (thanks to Jessa for the heads-up). This sounds as though it's going to be as good a read as Julian Barnes' The Pedant in the Kitchen (not available in the US for some obscure reason).

The first book I read that was about cooking and a delicious read was Susan Branch's Vineyard Seasons. It's pretty to look at, while the Barnes book is funny and gives you a new appreciation for the art of cooking. I can't wait to read the Mallett!


Who has time to re-read?

Study cites most re-read books:According to a study by the American Library Association, “The Color Purple” ranks among the fiction most commonly re-read. Others include the Harry Potter books, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Shakespeare’s plays...Also cited by the committee: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,” Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh.”

If I can ever get through what's on Mount Bookpile, I'd love to re-read some of these. Until then, I guess I'll just have to keep discovering new books. (link via LISNews.com)


First grammar, then memorization. What next?

In Defense of Memorization: If there’s one thing progressive educators don’t like it’s rote learning. As a result, we now have several generations of Americans who’ve never memorized much of anything. Even highly educated people in their thirties and forties are often unable to recite half a dozen lines of classic poetry or prose.
There are few things that I agree with in terms of constructavist learning. Alan November and the Sudbury Valley model may work well once students have a good grounding in the basics. But not before.

The goal of education shouldn't be to cram young minds full of useless stuff. Nor should it be to let students follow their bliss in learning. A balance needs to be found, where students are excited by learning but they also manage to learn fundamental skills. Rote memorization may be passe, but it certainly aids the ability to remember and recall, a skill everyone should master.

No thx. LOL.

Prof says teens' grammar shortcuts OK on blogs, e-mail

The problem that this professor sees is that teens aren't writing - so, in her mind, any writing is good. However (and I speak from experience), her comment, "Grammar is easier to teach in school than critical thinking or the love of writing, and if they can enter school with the latter two of the three, they are ahead of the game" is simply misguided.

Why? Because many English teachers are not teaching grammar. Because the time at which students should be learning this stuff is not when they go to college, but when they're in grammar school. Because there's a difference between blog/e-mail/SMS and real writing and students shouldn't be told that one equals the other. (link via Librarians Happen).


At least someone is trying to do something

Bill Cosby's creating quite the furor these days. In several speeches he's taken the black community to task for the lack of ambition and education and behavior of the younger generation: Bill Cosby Was (Mostly) Right ("Over the years, comedic icon Bill Cosby has taken on some humorous characters —Fat Albert and Dr. Cliff Huxtable come to mind—and shaped American culture for the better. But in his latest role, Cosby the prophet is excoriating young black culture, urging African Americans to take responsibility for their lives and to stop blaming the "white man."").

While some in the community are blasting him for his comments, others are defending him for speaking out: "There are problems that handicap poor minority children that we must keep fighting, but the most important now may well be "attitude." So I come back to Bill Cosby. I believe that his call to action came out of a deep heartfelt despair about what he sees happening to inner city youngsters. He has tried so hard himself to fight their problems with too little evidence of success. Getting angry at him won't solve their problems. I wish I knew what would help. But I do know that refusing to look realistically at the situation and not requiring students to earn their diplomas will not help." (Getting angry at Bill Cosby won't solve the problems).

Usually I think that entertainers should do just that - entertain - and not use their celebrity to express political or social views (anyone remember Meryl Streep and the alar fiasco?) But in this case, I'm 100% behind Mr. Cosby. Even if Boondocks isn't.


Something to think about

Bloggers Anonymous. One of Terry Teachout's correspondents writes about the lack of connection we can sometimes feel in this Internet age. This correspondent says (in part):
Technology is an absolute good, you say. Maybe. It seems an irreversible good, meaning that if you aren't on the internet, then the community changes without you. I'm without cell-phone or notebook or palm, but the people around me are less open to chatting with strangers because they have them, so I may as well get them….
I've been pondering this for a few years now. As we push students to do more and more work on laptops (lessening the contact they have with teachers in favor of typing into a small screen), insist that multi-tasking is a good thing, make ourselves available all the time via cell phones and e-mail, aren't we losing something? The ability to communicate one-on-one, the ability to shut off and not be reachable by everyone all the time... all facets of life that are no longer acceptable. And then there's the problem of simply accepting that this is the way it is, without questioning the lasting value or effects. It's a struggle for me to balance all this... a struggle I'm not sure I'm winning.


Notable Quotes

This seems a propos, given the current cultural wars and the DNC in Boston:
"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, "Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second, then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred."
From Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

He's got my vote!

ESPN.com: Page 2 - John Kerry: "7. When you get into office, would you consider passing an executive order that would prevent Pedro from signing with the Yankees?

I'd consider an executive order that abolishes the Yankees. We'll have to set up some very strict regulations with respect to Yankee behavior. I think the Red Sox may take care of it. I think there may be an A-Rod backlash this year. I think there may be a reverse curse here." (link via Annika's Journal and The American Mind)


Can I say this here?

Are We Censoring Hollywood? responds to yet another celebrity being fired for speaking his or her mind. In this instance, it's Linda Ronstadt, booed and fired for promoting Fahrenheit 9/11 during a performance.

What the article gets right is that this is not censorship. It's the market not buying the product:
First, only the government can "censor". All other aspects of speaking your mind are simply put...at the will of the people.

Certainly Linda Ronstadt has the right to praise Michael Moore, invite people to see his movie and otherwise support his views. But, with that right comes the responsibility to accept the freedom of speech and the will of her audience.

Her audience paid to be entertained, not to attend a political rally. They, too, have the right of free speech - including the right to disagree and boo her when she crossed the line from entertainment to politics. The hotel who was paying her also has the right to fire her. She was hired by the Aladdin to entertain. Once she crossed the line from entertainment to politics, she subjected herself to being fired.

A colleague of mine is insensed at the caving in of ClearChannel over the Howard Stern problem. He feels that CC is giving in to FCC censorship (the FCC being a GOP lapdog) and that there's a simple solution to the whole thing. If you don't like Howard Stern's act, don't listen. While I agree with that, I also think that ClearChannel has the right to say, "we don't support this type of broadcast, so we're not going to air it." In this case, he's right simply because The Howard Stern Show has been doing the same (now boring) thing for years. Yanking it now is yielding to political pressure.

In the case of Ms. Ronstadt, or Whoopie, Madonna and other "censored" artists, their employers didn't pay for what they got nor did the audience have the opportunity to turn off. Both sides need to take responsibility, blame and credit, for their actions.


A perfect moment

Over the weekend, I went to see Before Sunset. This is the sequel to Before Sunrise, and unlike most sequels it really works. 

It got me thinking about the nature of love. Can one meet someone and know - absolutely know - that this is "the one" that completes you? What happens if you don't follow through on that? Is it possible that there are either second chances or second possibilities? I'd like to think so. 

What made the two films work for me was that it was love, not lust, that was being portrayed. Sex was almost incidental; the attraction of two people for each other, the meeting of minds and ideas and values... how rare that is in the media today. How much more exciting and erotic to imagine what happens, rather than having that graphically spelled out by the writer/director/actors. 

One of my favorite love scenes is in Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Lord Peter and Harriet go punting on the Isis and pull off onto a bank for a rest. Peter falls asleep and Harriet sits there, entranced by the whorls of his ear. That's it. The ear. You can feel her mind working and her heart being filled with her feelings for this man. 

That's what you get from these two films. Go see them.

Evolution of the language

I'd been calling Farenheit 9-11 "historical fiction" but I rather like "flockumentaries". This, of course, leads to the natural follow-up: what do you call books like Ann Coulter's Treason or Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Lie Them? "Flocktion"?

OpinionJournal - Taste: "The documentary form is serving a political purpose at the moment. (You might even say that a point of view is driving it.) And why not? The form, at least as it is practiced here, is perfect for the task. It favors emotion over logic, helped along by shrewd editing, manipulative music, clever graphics and gonzo stunts. For their creators, such documentaries allow for 'reporting' without the messy business of fact-checking or the checks and balances of beat journalism. For the audience, they serve as, well, echo chambers.

Of course, the documentary form doesn't always function this way. At its best--e.g., Frederick Wiseman's films on high schools and hospitals, the weird constellations of 'Crumb' and 'Capturing the Friedmans,' the Vietnam-centered 'Hearts and Minds'--it is propelled by a sense of discovery. Neither filmmaker nor viewer knows what he is getting into until he really starts busying himself with it.

Movies like 'Outfoxed,' 'Control Room' and 'Fahrenheit 911' work differently. They begin by knowing their thesis--and their audience--and operate backward. In the process, artists keen to point up the propagandistic efforts of others show themselves all too willing to take part in such efforts themselves.

Yet to call these films propaganda is also to misunderstand them. They don't seek to convince the unconvinced or herd the untamed. They aim directly at the sheep. Little wonder that the main means of distributing 'Outfoxed' is through house parties organized by MoveOn.org, the group whose Bush-bashing is at least as bald-faced as anything on Fox. Call them flockumentaries, movies people attend en masse, to nestle together in easy confirmation of their most cherished beliefs--to learn, really, what they already know."


Notable Quotes

Mightily Oats: "It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of grey."
Granny Weatherwax: "Nope."
Mightily Oats: "Pardon?"
Granny Weatherwax: "There's no greys, only white that's got grubby."

Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum


A good idea but for the wrong reasons

Unbrand America

I was taught that the more a company had to advertise, the less reliable the product. My parents also instilled in me a dislike for wearing "named" clothes. Today, of course, both ideas are heretical.

Reading Brave New World, set in a year determined not by the birth of a religious figure but by the birth of Henry Ford, takes corporatism to the ultimate degree. I'm not one of those fanatics that thinks that the creeping corporate presence is a bad thing globally; I am one of those that bewails the loss of country culture.

What do I mean by that? I'm not (for example) anti-Starbucks. But I am anti three Starbucks within five blocks of work. I am anti Starbucks in Paris. I'd prefer to get my coffee or latte or whatever at a local place, soaking in local culture with my foam and biscotti. I try to shop at independent bookstores. And I think it's a shame that the EU has done away with the franc, the punt, the mark, the lira, etc.

Why I Hate Personal Weblogs

Why I Hate Personal Weblogs: "Chapter 2 - Why do they do it?
There are, I'm sure, as many reasons to keep weblogs as there are weblogs authors, however, some common threads surely exist between them. What could motivate someone to keep a public journal of their innermost thoughts? What possible reasons would someone have? Are some legitimately insightful or original, of course! Are most? No, probably not. So why? Well, I think most can be classified into one (or many) of several basic categories."

This is something with which I've been wrestling, ever since I decided to create a blog. What sort of blog should it be? While I disagree with some of the tone of this essay, the list of types of bloggers resonated:

  • The Reverse Voyeur
  • The Exhibitionist
  • The Self-Important Moron
  • The Obsessive-Delusional Ranter
  • The Town Crier
  • The Tragically Geek
  • The Ego Stroker
  • The Crossover Poster
  • The Aspiring Writer
  • The Pedant (a subclassification of Self Important Moron)

I'll leave it up to any readers to decide which type of blogger I am.

For what it's worth, my goal is to get used to blogging so that I can start one for my school library. Beyond that, it's a way to share thoughts and comments and nonsense with friends. Those that know me know I run a clipping service (both e- and print). Perhaps this can take the place of some of those mailings.


How can you choose?

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Cinderella named 'top fairytale'

Now, really. A "top fairytale"? Sadly, the entire list isn't revealed, nor are the voting criteria. In my storytelling class, we've read many different fairytales/folktales. Different versions, different countries, picture books, novelizations, updates, fractured renderings -- and I'll bet that my students couldn't tell you which their favorite was.

Then there's the Disney factor. How many people voted based on their memory of what Disney put on the screen, rather than having read one?

Finally, and this is a pedantic quibble, the article refers to the Perrault version of Cinderella as the one most known. I'd argue that the Brothers Grimm version is equally well known.


ArtsJournal: About Last Night: "Once I left Smalltown for the big city, I started to make friends whose interests resembled mine more closely, and in time learned to suppress the self-consciousness of my childhood. Yet it can still be inflamed by a certain kind of kidding, some of which has lately been occasioned by the blogosphere-wide spread of the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index. You'd be surprised -- or not -- by how many bloggers have posted comments about the TCCI that basically boil down to 'Dude, this thing's soooo highbrow!' Such talk rarely fails to trigger the same squirmy sensation I experience whenever a well-meaning stranger asks what I'm reading. Even now, there's a part of me that wishes I knew all about baseball instead of ballet."

I can identify with this. When I was younger, my friends found it odd that my favorite activity was reading their books, and that I had little tolerance (or ability) for playing Barbie. As I've aged, my "oddity" has become more ingrained (although I prefer to think of it less as oddness and more as semi-endearing eccentricity). Quite probably those around me aren't so tolerant.

Is this TMI? Well, probably. But this blog is a work-in-progress and the "tone" hasn't quite been set.

For the record, my TCCI score is 83%. Not that it means anything.


Starting Out

Here goes...

I've been uninspired to actually work, so I decided to start a blog. For one thing, my friends won't have their mailboxes clogged. For another, it's a good time waster.

Daily posts aren't promised but check back regularly. You never know!