Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where Can I Find the Nora Roberts's Novels?

Cathy, a new LibraryThing and Blogger friend, has a unique and inventive book blog called Kittling: Books. She is also a neighbor of mine if, in a metro area of 3½ to 4 million people, she can be considered a neighbor. All I know is that we share the same heat and the same mystery bookstore, the The Poisoned Pen, one of the best of its kind in the country.

And speaking of bookstores, Cathy found a site that shows some of the Most Interesting Bookstores of the World—including three shots of the truly famous Shakespeare and Co in Paris.

"Did you find Nora Roberts?"

For some odd reason an NYC Borders store at Columbus Circle is included, but it doesn't show any books. That's pretty typical for Borders since they haven't had a book I wanted in stock the last four or five times out, so I no longer shop there for books they don't have. [Conclusion of rant.]

So which bookstore do I like the best? The one in Calcutta; I'm betting that the proprietor knows every book he has in those stacks. Perhaps he has the books I wanted from Bord . . . oops.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Wintergirls

Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

Most of you know that I have a penchant for helping the adult little girl lost—it was my career, and my life, before lung disease disqualified me from the physical aspects of the job.

I was never qualified, however, to help the eating disordered, the subject of Anderson's magnificent new YA book. In a short 278 pages, Anderson managed to take me on a trip to a hell I never want to revisit.

This fictional story is told by eighteen-year-old Lia, or rather two Lias. Oftentimes Anderson will strikethrough a sentence (the real thought in Lia's mind) and immediately follows it with Lia's exactly opposite vocal response. In her mind Lia will say, "I would love a piece of that pizza," Anderson strikethroughs it, and Lia says, "No thanks, I just had a big dinner." It is a powerful technique that clearly conveys the depth and progression of Lia's illness.

Lia has a best friend, Cassie, bosom buddies since third grade, but Cassie dies at the beginning of the book alone in a sleazy motel room. Cassie was bulimic (gorge and purge) from the age of eleven, but her too-busy parents never noticed anything until she was found dead at nineteen.

Anderson's prose is lyrical, almost poetic, as Lia describes Cassie's "wake":

The line of people waiting to stare at the empty body snakes out the front door of the church and down the steps to the sidewalk. Dark chords from the organ slip into the night, turning our shoes into concrete blocks and pulling down our faces until we look like trees drooping with black leaves.

Let there be no doubt that this is a tough, tough book to read. The tension starts on page 1 and never lets up, not even for a moment. It is necessarily graphic but never pruient; it is not unlike reading Dante's trip into the downward spiral of the Inferno, except that Anderson is talking about today, the real world . . . and thousands of little girls lost.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Small Films 1: A Little Romance

Half of you don’t know this and the other half probably doesn’t care, but I am a Gemini. Yes folks, I’m twins, but I’m by far the better looking of the two of me.

The reason I mention the twin thing is because I read and review books and I watch and review movies. "Movies?” you ask. Yes, I’ve been having an argument with me and decided to review some small films that I and I love. Nothing against blockbusters, mind you, but who the hell can stand reading another review of Titanic (four thumbs down) or The Matrix (we never did figure out what it’s about)?

* * * * *

A Little Romance (1979)

Stars: Diane Lane, Thelonius Bernard, Sir Laurence Olivier

Director: George Roy Hill

Genre: Romance/Comedy

Awards: Oscar, Best Music Score

This is a delightful movie about falling in love—or I should say puppy love since Diane Lane was thirteen when she made this, her film debut. And what better place to fall in any kind of love than in Venice, Italy?

Lane plays Lauren, an American student, who by chance meets Daniel (Bernard), a young French boy who is likeable as all get out: part street urchin, daredevil, and non-stop talker. Lauren is bookish and shy, but she cannot resist Daniel’s outgoing zaniness and zest for life. The seeds of love are barely planted before we meet Julius (Olivier), a winsome, elderly gentleman who loves telling stories—most of which are hilariously skewed. He befriends the pair and becomes their guide to Venice, and what a tour it is. One of the best scenes in the movie is of a bicycle race through the narrow, cobbled Venetian calles, accompanied by a driving allegro of (whom else) but Vivaldi.

Sir Laurence was such an outstanding actor that I believed the story of the “Bridge of Sighs.” The fable says that if two lovers steal a kiss directly under the bridge at sunset and with the chapel bells ringing, their love can never be broken. Not long after, Lauren finds that she will be moving back to the U.S., and a plot is hatched among the three to make the fable come true. To give fair warning, this is about the time to find your hankie and keep it handy.

What makes this movie so appealing is not only the superb acting, Hill’s (Butch Cassidy) directing, and Venice itself, but also the year it was made. In 1979, innocence was still innocence. This film contains no profanity or drug use, Julius is not a pedophile, and Lauren dresses like a Lady instead of a Disney Tramp.

It is, without reservation, a family movie.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A bit o' Eire

In the grand tradition of thievery, I flat out stole this video from Stinkypaw in Montreal. I have also time-shifted the date so I'm not St. Patrick's Day-late.

At least I'm an honest thief.

Eat you heart out, Michael Flatley!

[Me pardonnerez-vous, SP?]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

In conjunction with spring cleaning, which usually means shoveling the dirt out the door, Martha decided to remodel our library over the weekend. It is truly amazing what one can do with a little forethought, some rough drawings on the back of the electric bill, and a few odds and ends from Ace Hardware.

Oh, I helped too. I stupidvised, of course, but I also did the ceiling frescos from a paint-by-number kit. I was lucky to get the last one; all the rest were of Elvis on black velvet, but I already have several of those.

[Thanks go to Joyce for finding this wonderful site of World Libraries. The library pictured is the Library of the Benedictine Monastery of Admont, Austria.]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: Soft Spots

Soft Spots, by Clint Van Winkle

Subtitle: "A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" [PTSD]

Definition: Soft spot: stepping on (or in, as Van Winkle did) the remains of a fellow Marine.

Published just eight days ago, this book is a sad, sad testament to the Iraq "war" and the effect it is having on way too many returning veterans. Van Winkle, with a Masters degree in creative writing, has written a tight horror story in a mere 213 pages—not one extraneous word, no soapboxing about the reasons for the "war" (other than "murky"), and definitely no James Frey-type chest-pounding bullshit.

Van Winkle, an active-duty Marine at the time, was deployed to Iraq on Valentine's Day, 2003 (over six years ago), very close to the beginning of the "war." His mission: to follow the battle plan and uphold the integrity of the Marine Corp.

The problem is, there was no battle plan. There were no terrorists yet, no homicide (screw suicide) bombers, and no IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, like roadside bombs). The fighting was with Saddam's loyalist fedayeen and, because they looked like any other Iraqi, there were thousands of civilian casualties—including a ten-year-old girl Van Winkle thinks he blew away.

And therein lies the PTSD part. Once home again, Van Winkle struggled with living a normal life and memories of battle. The story segues back and forth between the two, which the favored "expert" ARC reviewers on Amazon.com found confusing.

But that is the very nature of PTSD: the inability to distinguish reality from nightmare, as well as the veracity of the nightmare itself. The transitioning was not a literary device, as some reviewers suggested. These memories strike at any time any place, and Van Winkle drank heavily because the memories, the anger, and the hypervigilance stopped when he was drunk.

When Van Winkle sought help at the Phoenix V.A. hospital he was diagnosed with PTSD by a nurse, given a script for an antidepressant, and sent on his way. Period. A few weeks later, he was seen by a psychiatrist at the same clinic, given a script for an antidepressant, and sent on his way. Period. "It is all well and good to stick a 'Support Our Troops' magnet on your car," he says, "but the people who should be supporting me, the Veterans' Administration, is doing nothing."

This book made me extremely angry. And it should make every one of you angry as well if you choose to read it. It is graphic and profane, but in the safety of your reading chair it is probably 1/1000th of the real thing. And that is the sad, sad part: "supporting our troops" has taken a backseat to our personal economic problems and comfort.

* * * * *

If there is any good news about Iraq it is the announce-ment that the remaining 4,000 troops from the U.K. will be leaving by August of this year.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

At the Hop

Since design, editing, and production work has ceased on my book Soul Songs, much to my disappointment, I've decided to share "songs" from it with you. This is a nostalgia piece from the early 1960s with rock 'n' roll and Motown songs underlined—some of my favorites from the era.

At the Hop

Dropped. Ditched. Dumped. Discarded. Disposed. Dismissed. I was dumfounded by the number of d words there are to describe how she dissed me. There were Tears on My Pillow because she deserted and dumpsterized me for an old dude. I saw him only once while I was skulking around her house in the dark, but I was positive he was at least eighteen.

Oh, my heart was broken all right, especially when the words of my precious Baby Love, my beautiful Teen Angel, were still fresh in my mind: “You have the BEST lips in the whole wide world!” she used to tell me. She didn’t say that I was the best kisser, mind you, but just that my lips were the best.

Well the hell with her, I thought. Neil Sedaka was singing Breaking up Is Hard to Do every two minutes on the radio, but breaking up was a damn sight easier to take when My Girl was Runaround Sue. There Goes My Baby, I thought, and good riddance.

I figured there were plenty of other land sharks in the water, and all I had to do to land one was use my lips as bait. Not the best kissing lips, mind you, but just the best lips.

“Hey Peggy Sue, wanna go to the hop with me?” Like the jocks that pranced around showing off their muscles, I stood by her locker doing lip exercises to impress her: puffs, push ups, and my specialty, pouts.

“Yeeew, what in the world is wrong with your MOUTH?” Peggy Sue cried.

On second thought, maybe I should forget The Great Pretender and just be my usual charming self, the real me: calm, cool, collected, and remarkably mature for my age.

Help Me, Rhonda, and please say that you’ll go to the hop with me because if you say no I’ll die right here of embarrassment because I really like you and you always wear pretty sweaters and I nearly melt every time you smile at me at lunch but I get so nervous when I try to talk to you and I would call and ask you to go with me only I don’t know your phone number and even if I did I wouldn’t ask you anyway because after I dial the number I always lose my nerve and slam the phone down and I do it about eleven or twelve times in a row which really irritates me (not to mention whoever is picking up on the other end) so I’m asking you right here in person instead and boy am I nauseous so will you Come Go With Me before I throw up?”


Great. Two million girls in school and I fall in love with the chatterbox.

* * * * *

The most brilliant thing I ever did as a youngster was flunk out of high school.

At the end of my sophomore year, I bombed out of an all male Catholic school by failing three subjects. Well boo-fucking-hoo, let the door hit me in the ass on the way out, and Goodbye Cruel World ’cause I’m off to join the circus.

The circus, cleverly disguised as public high school, was the perfect place for a dreamer and a romantic like me. While my former all-male classmates were scrounging around for dates on street corners and in alleyways, I was busy learning the social graces in summer school.

Hello, Mary Lou, let me get that door for you.”

[WHAM, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle]

“Uh, excuse me, Mary Lou, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to wait until I open the door before you go charging through it. Boy, will ya lookit all this glass!”

Lesson learned: When practicing the art of courting girls, don’t expect to find the best and the brightest in summer school.

* * * * *

When a girl said, “Yes, I would love to go to the hop with you,” it wasn’t about conquest or scoring or sex.

It was about the thrill and the giddiness of knowing that a girl actually liked me. It was about dancing my brains out, and laughing like a fool, and just being a kid. It was about shyness, and awkwardness, and mutual blushing whenever they played a “slow” one.

It was constant worry, wondering if I was saying all the right things and not doing something stupid. It was treating her with respect like the young lady she was. It was pizza after the hop, and talking about everything and nothing both at the same time. It was walking her home in the dark and protecting her from the shadows—and not letting her know that I was as scared of them as she was. It was the electricity of holding her hand in mine if she offered it, or if it was winter, holding her mitten if she offered it. It was standing on her front porch with rubbery legs, trying to make the biggest decision of my life: should I kiss her, or should I peck her on the cheek, or should I shake her hand (or her mitten if it was winter) and thank her, or should I just run away . . .

You know, I still remember the three nicest things a girl ever said to me during my two years in public high school (listed in reverse order of niceness):

3. “You’re not nearly as dumb as everyone says you are.”
2. “I think big floppy ears are cute.”
1. “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You.”

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Review: Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri

I love this woman's writing and, sadly, I have now read everything she has in print. It seems like she sits down at a table, picks up a pencil, and effortlessly becomes the person she is writing about. What a talent.

Like her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, which won a Pulitzer Prize, this is another collection of short stories—eight of them, but not so short at 333 pages. The final three stories are connected using both POV and a narrator, and IMO are the best of the book.

Lahiri's territory is familiar: Wealthy and highly-educated Bengali immigrants to America, their children who quickly assimilate American culture and spurn tradition, and the frequent clashes that result between the two generations.

Are her stories all the same, then? Of course not. That would be like saying that all stories about Irish and Chinese immigrants are the same. While Lahiri's characters may all be from Calcutta and tend to settle in and around Boston, each one is a unique individual—and it is this uniqueness that is her fodder. One becomes alcoholic and his sister blames herself; another cannot get over the untimely death of his mother; and a third, a widower father, is afraid and ashamed to tell his daughter about his secret lover and companion.

Overall, I think this is a better book of stories than Interpreter, and I give it a full five stars.

[This book will be released in trade paper on April 7, 2009.]